25 September 2019

The New Campaign to Convince Trump to Exit Afghanistan

by Curt Mills 
Source Link

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” declares the start of a new ad from Concerned Veterans for America. Only the speaker is not an anti-war agitator—the speaker is the sitting president of the United States addressing Congress. 

The pull quote from Donald Trump’s State of the Union serves as the launching pad for a new television buy—around $200,000 on top of a $500,000 digital and mail campaign—to convince the president to, finally, end America’s longest war. “The president’s unique foreign policy message during the 2016 campaign was a key part of his appeal to an American public tired of endless,” William Ruger, vice president of foreign policy for the Stand Together Coalition, told me. “He would do the country a great service to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And it would also service him well in 2020.”

The ad notes that America has been mired in “eighteen years of conflict” and that “the war has cost the U.S. about $45 billion every year that we have been in it.” The pocketbook focus is tailored to a president who has long criticized an America taken advantage of overseas and in the midst of a generation of foreign policy failure. True to form: the ad will primarily run in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia, on both Fox News and the politically influential Sunday shows that Trump tends to watch.

Peace Making in Afghanistan: Future Pathways

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

The much-awaited peace deal with the Taliban by the U.S. collapsed before its final approval by President Trump. This was hardly surprising given the roadblocks that existed to such deal making. This calls for the rationale behind the now-derailed peace talks, which had overlooked the fact of centrality of Afghans in an externally mediated peace deal, to be reviewed. A series of necessary conditions need to be met before another attempt is made to make peace with the Taliban. Till such conditions are met, hasty attempts at negotiations will only lead to increase in violence, insecurity, and chaos in the conflict-ridden country. 

Deal Breakers

Peace talks with the Taliban ‘as far as I am concerned are dead’, declared U.S. President Trump on 9 September. Two days earlier, he had called off the plan to host the Taliban representatives and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David for signing the peace deal. Just a few days before the commemoration of 9/11 attacks and the election campaign of 2020, Trump ostensibly didn’t think a peace deal would go down well with the voters. The Taliban, in response, promised more bloodshed in the days to come. The U.S. reciprocated by unveiling plans to hit the insurgents harder. Afghanistan has witnessed bloodshed for the past decade and the future, sans settlement, will remain equally violent. This paper takes stock of how the ‘post-no deal’ scenario may unveil in Afghanistan and the conditions which must be fulfilled before another effort at arriving at a peace settlement is made with the Taliban-led insurgency[1].

ASEAN Wants a U.S. Counterbalance to Chinese Regional Ambitions

by Richard Javad Heydarian

Reflecting on the future of Sino-American competition in Asia, the late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew argued that there is a widely “held consensus that the U.S. presence in the region should be sustained,” because “military presence does not need to be used to be useful,” and that American “presence [alone] makes a difference and makes for peace and stability in the region.” An enlightened realist, Lee saw this formula most relevant in the case of the South China Sea disputes, since “China will not let an international court arbitrate territorial disputes in the South China Sea”—a claim that proved prophetic, when China categorically rejected the Arbitral Tribunal award at The Hague years later.

For the Singaporean leader, the best antidote to Chinese revanchist instincts and defiance of international law is “the [continued] presence of U.S. firepower in the Asia-Pacific” so that the “[United Nations] Law of the Sea [will] prevail.” In short, he saw international law effect so long as it’s anchored by America’s naval prowess. And it’s precisely within this context, namely Southeast Asian nations’ desire for an American counterbalance to Chinese hegemonic ambitions, that one should understand the relevance of the inaugural ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX) in early-September. The five-days-long exercise covered a vast expanse of waters, stretching from the Sattahip naval base in Chonburi province in Gulf of Tonkin to Cape Cà Mau on the Cà Mau Peninsula in Vietnam.

The Ultimate Weapon: Could China Build a 'Nuclear' Aircraft Carrier?

by Robert Farley
Source Link

Credible reports confirm that the PLAN is already building at least one conventional carrier in the 80,000-ton range. Given how quickly Chinese shipbuilding has accelerated, does it make sense for the PLAN to think nuclear for its next generation of ships?

Current Carriers

China has taken huge steps forward in the past decade, acquiring and modifying an old Soviet carrier, and building a new ship to the same design. China will follow up the Type 001— essentially a half-sister to Liaoning, itself a half-sister to Admiral Kuznetsov—with the Type 002. Reportedly already under construction, the Type 002 is expected to use conventional propulsion, along with a series of technological advances such as an EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult system.

The Army thinks China will surpass Russia by 2028. Here is how the service is planning to take them on.

Haley Britzky 

If you've paid even the slightest bit of attention in the last few years, you know that the Pentagon has been zeroing in on the threat that China and Russia pose, and the future battles it anticipates.

The Army has followed suit, pushing to modernize its force to be ready for whatever comes its way. As part of its modernization, the Army adopted the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, which serves as the Army's main war-fighting doctrine and lays the groundwork for how the force will fight near-peer threats like Russia and China across land, air, sea, cyber, and space.

But in an internal document obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army Transition Team for the new Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, argues that China poses a more immediate threat than Russia, so the Army needs make the Asia-Pacific region its priority while deploying "minimal current conventional forces" in Europe to deter Russia.

Beyond China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter

By Rick Joe

With the J-20 stealth fifth-generation aircraft entering service with front line combat units in the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), it is likely that the initial variant of the J-20 is approaching the completion of its development program. This marks a suitable time to start considering what is known, rumored, and not known in regard to Chinese stealth fighter initiatives beyond the J-20.

In particular, this piece will review the likely trajectory of the carrier based 5th generation fighter intended for the PLA Navy (PLAN), as well as early indicators for prospective Chinese 6th generation fighters. Given the secretive nature of the topic matter as well as the long timelines involved for Chinese 6th generation efforts, much of this piece is preliminary and likely subject to change as new information comes to light in coming years.

A Carrierborne FC-31?

Trump Focuses on Defending Saudis, Not Striking Iran, for Now

By Helene Cooper and Michael Crowley

WASHINGTON — President Trump is sending a modest deployment of American troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with air and missile defense systems, in response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which the administration blames on Iran.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper called the decision, which came on Friday during a White House meeting with top national security officials, “defensive in nature.” Defense Department officials said the Pentagon would deploy additional antimissile batteries to Saudi Arabia and might also deploy additional warplanes. The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln may extend its stay in the region as well, the officials said.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the precise number of American troops headed to the region had not been determined, but that it would be a “moderate deployment” in the hundreds, not thousands.

Navy SEAL who oversaw the bin Laden raid says China's massive military build-up is a 'holy s---' moment


China's technological strategy and innovation are serious threats to US national security; now, according to retired Adm. William McRaven, the US has reached a 'holy s---" moment, and needs to invest more significantly in technology research and development to keep its edge.

"As we talk about the rise of China, the gap [between American inovation and Chinese innovation] is narrowing," McRaven said.
In some cases - like with 5G commercialization - China is already beating the US, and their intellectual property theft of US technology only compounds the rapid pace at which they're developing new technologies.

The legendary former Navy SEAL Adm. Bill McRaven, who was head of Special Operations Command during the 2011 operation on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound, said at an event on Wednesday that China's technical and national defense capabilities were quickly approaching - sometimes surpassing - those of the US, representing what he called a "holy s---" moment for the US.

China Is Waging a Silent Media War for Global Influence

by Daniel Wagner

Beijing is expanding its ability to influence societies around the world through its exercise of soft power. This is best exemplified by its Belt and Road Initiative, but there is another, more stealthy effort occurring along-side it that has potentially profound implications for Chinese foreign policy—Beijing’s growing influence in the Western press. China’s state-run media companies are expanding their integration with Western news outlets and having some surprisingly significant impacts.

The Chinese Communist Party has rapidly expanded its efforts to influence discussions about China beyond its borders to attempt to suppress criticism and make international media to refer to China in a positive light. In 2018, Xinhua, China’s largest state-run news agency, announced that it was expanding cooperation with the U.S. news service the Associated Press (AP). Xinhua declared that the two news agencies had established broad cooperation in such areas as new media, economic information, and the application of artificial intelligence.

Bomb Iran? Trump Should Not Go to War For Saudi Arabia's Mistakes

by Daniel R. DePetris 
Source Link

Last weekend’s attack on the Khurais oil field and the al-Abqaiq facility, Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing plant, jolted crude markets over the short-term and added another layer of concern to a Middle Eastern region already teeming with problems. U.S. officials have reportedly provided Riyadh with intelligence suggesting the attack, done in part by cruise missiles, may have been launched from Iran. While the Saudis have yet to attribute responsibility, officials in the Kingdom have assessed the assault was conducted by Iranian-made weapons. Who launched the attacks is only part of the analysis. It’s critical to remember that it was Saudi Arabia, not the United States, that was attacked. But Washington doesn’t seem to care about that distinction, conflating core U.S. national security interests with Saudi ones.

The Pentagon is now preparing for possible military action against Tehran in retaliation and presenting the president with a number of strike options, including action against Tehran’s largest oil refinery. The rush to hasty military action is popular in most of Washington, with Senator Chris Coons telling Fox News that military strikes may be appropriate.

Iranian Drones Watch Every U.S. Ship

TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- A fleet of drones has allowed Iran to watch every U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf region and develop an archive of their daily movements, Iran’s top naval commander said in an interview published Tuesday.

The comments come days after Iran denied President Donald Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone and subsequently released a video of a U.S. ship that proved its version of events.

Rear Adm. Hussein Khanzadi, the head of Iran’s navy, expanded upon the point, saying that every U.S. ship in the region is watched by drones.

"Our drones have significant ranges and have no limitations in communication links. We have a complete archive of images of American vessels approaching from very far distances,” Khanzadi said in an interview with the Young Journalists Club.

Khanzadi added that there is "an immense archive of the day-to-day and even moment-to-moment movements of American forces, whether in the Persian Gulf” or the Gulf of Oman.
Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and North Africa editor at Jane’s Defense Weekly, said there was little doubt that Iran could track ships going through the Strait of Hormuz, the Washington Post reported.

Khanzadi’s comments highlight the central role that unmanned aerial vehicles are playing in the dispute over the Persian Gulf. Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that had entered its airspace. 

Trump claimed Thursday that a U.S. Navy ship destroyed an Iranian drone that came too close to it. The drone came within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz before the crew "took defensive action” and "immediately destroyed” it, according to the president.

The next day, Iran rejected the claim and said that all of its drones had returned to their bases.

A senior IRGC commander said Sunday Trump’s lie was so big that even the Iranian military first believed it.

"After Trump’s claim that the U.S. had shot down an Iranian drone, we checked our various drone units for several ties,” IRGC Aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh said.

"That was why we had a few hours of delay in dismissing the news, and finally we found out that our unmanned aerial vehicle had monitored the U.S. fleet’s activity from the time it entered into the Strait of Hormuz to the time it left the strait,” he said.

"It was not believable for us that he would personally tell such a big lie on TV.”

Though Iran uses its drones primarily for surveillance, U.S. officials and experts have expressed concern that they could be fitted with weapons and used in combat by Tehran and its allies.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency suggested Tuesday that American military leaders were worried about risks posed by the drone technology.

"Pentagon generals are deeply concerned that if Iranian drones can pass their radars without being tracked by their terminating mechanisms, they might as well carry out military attacks on their vessels if needed,” the article said.

A top adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday praised Iran’s downing of the U.S. drone and the seizing of a British-flagged tanker as turning points in "Muslims’ struggle”.

"Islamic countries... are today stronger than before as shown by the seizure of the British oil tanker or the downing of the U.S. drone which violated Iran’s territory — which are milestones in the history of Muslims’ struggle,” said Ali Akbar Velayati.

Drone Attack on the Saudi Installation and Tensions in the Gulf

Amb D P Srivastava

The attack on Saudi oil field in Khurais and refinery in Abqaiq on Sunday has knocked out 5.7 million barrel per day of oil supplies. This is half of Saudi daily oil production; it amounts to 5 percent of global oil supply. There have been attacks on the shipping and oil pipe-lines in the recent past in the Gulf. But in terms of scale, this is vastly different. This has the potential of triggering a major conflagration.

Houthi spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack. But US Secretary of State Pompeo has directly blamed Iran. Saudi statements have been more circumspect. They have confirmed the origin of the equipment as Iranian, but stated that they are still investigating the place of launch. UK, France and Germany have not accepted the position that Iran was responsible for the attack. Iran has disclaimed any responsibility for the attack. Foreign Minister Zarif described US statements linking Iran with the attack as expression of ‘maximum deceit’, in an obvious reference to oft repeated description of Trump Administration’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’.

A damaged pipeline at a Saudi Aramco oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia

PRESIDENT TRUMP has so far responded with sanctions and diplomacy to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities last weekend, which his administration and the Saudi government have blamed on Iran. But he has dispatched U.S. reinforcements to the Persian Gulf and has not ruled out military action; if there are more Iranian attacks, Republican hawks will demand it. That raises an essential question: Is it a vital U.S. interest to defend Saudi Arabia or its petroleum infrastructure from attack? Should U.S. soldiers or pilots put their lives on the line for the regime of Mohammed bin Salman?

Three decades ago, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened the Saudi oil fields, President George H.W. Bush quickly concluded U.S. military intervention was essential. Now, for a variety of reasons — including Mr. Trump’s reckless and inept behavior — the case for U.S. action is far less clear.

Explained: Why Did Iran Attack Saudi Arabia's Oil Industry?

Iranian protestations of innocence notwithstanding, the arrows following last week's massive drone and missile strikes on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia all point toward Tehran. In this, there's one key question that's on everybody's mind: What is Iran after? While Tehran's aggression has made the probability of a U.S. or Saudi military strike on Iran higher in the short term, the Islamic republic does not necessarily intend to trigger such a strike and the ramifications it would entail. On the contrary, Iran is hoping to force an end to the United States' maximum pressure campaign sooner, rather than later — even if that requires riling up the world's superpower even further.

Getting on the Front Foot

Ever since the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iranian nuclear deal, in May 2018, Iran's hard-liners have emphasized that the country must maintain credible deterrence. This means that Iran's escalation has served two interests: Make the United States and its allies pay a higher cost for its pressure campaign and establish the credibility of Iran's threats. Iran has clearly accepted the risk that such an escalation could result in a conflict with the United States, but its demonstration of a credible regional threat and a willingness to use it is forcing the United States to think twice about conducting a strike on Iran.

5 Reasons Why the Saudi Oil Attacks Won’t Lead to War with Iran

by David M. Allison Stephen Herzog

Almost immediately after Saturday’s attack on a major Saudi Aramco oil production facility in Abqaiq, the first fingers were pointed at Iran. While Tehran’s Houthi allies in Yemen claimed responsibility, unnamed U.S. officials told the media Iran had launched cruise missiles and drones from its territory. As Saudi oil production halved and U.S. gasoline prices spiked, President Donald Trump raised the stakes. He warned that the United States was “locked and loaded” following identification of the perpetrator. This led numerous outlets to claim that a U.S.-Iran war is likely or even inevitable. Fortunately, there are five reasons why it’s not.

1. Americans don’t want war with Iran.

Despite four decades of tense relations and the popular slogan “Death to America” in Iran, the U.S. public simply does not want to fight Iran. We collected original weekly public opinion survey data in June and July 2019 to gauge the willingness of Americans to support military action against Iran. The data revealed that strong majorities of Democrats (86 percent), Independents (81 percent), and Republicans (81 percent) would all support a presidential decision to take no escalatory action. There was also common support for imposing additional sanctions (52, 61, and 89 percent, respectively), but support for military options was substantially lower.

Pentagon sending 'defensive' troops and missiles to Saudi Arabia after Iranian oil attack

by Russ Read

"The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which are primarily defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a surprise briefing Friday night. "We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves."

"We are contributing to Saudi Arabia's defense. We would be looking, as the secretary said, for other international partners to also contribute to Saudi Arabia's defense," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford added.

Neither official would say how many troops the United States is providing, but the number will likely be in the hundreds. Nothing is happening immediately, and Dunford said he will present more specifics next week.

Trump Approves ‘Defensive’ Deployment to Middle East


The U.S. will increase air and missile defenses from Iran at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pentagon leaders said.

President Trump has approved a “moderate” deployment of troops to the Middle East to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against Iran, senior Pentagon leaders said in a brief news conference late Friday afternoon. 

The deployment will be “defensive in nature” and primarily concentrated on air and missile defense, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford said, but provided no details about the precise number of troops to be sent. Dunford said that the number would be “not thousands.” 

The deployment comes at the request of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Esper said. 

5 Reasons Why the Saudi Oil Attacks Won’t Lead to War with Iran

by David M. Allison Stephen Herzog
Source Link

Almost immediately after Saturday’s attack on a major Saudi Aramco oil production facility in Abqaiq, the first fingers were pointed at Iran. While Tehran’s Houthi allies in Yemen claimed responsibility, unnamed U.S. officials told the media Iran had launched cruise missiles and drones from its territory. As Saudi oil production halved and U.S. gasoline prices spiked, President Donald Trump raised the stakes. He warned that the United States was “locked and loaded” following identification of the perpetrator. This led numerous outlets to claim that a U.S.-Iran war is likely or even inevitable. Fortunately, there are five reasons why it’s not.

1. Americans don’t want war with Iran.

Despite four decades of tense relations and the popular slogan “Death to America” in Iran, the U.S. public simply does not want to fight Iran. We collected original weekly public opinion survey data in June and July 2019 to gauge the willingness of Americans to support military action against Iran. The data revealed that strong majorities of Democrats (86 percent), Independents (81 percent), and Republicans (81 percent) would all support a presidential decision to take no escalatory action. There was also common support for imposing additional sanctions (52, 61, and 89 percent, respectively), but support for military options was substantially lower.

Iran says it will destroy any aggressor

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will pursue any aggressor, even if it carries out a limited attack, and seek to destroy it, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday, after attacks on Saudi oil sites which Riyadh and U.S officials blamed on Tehran.

“Be careful, a limited aggression will not remain limited. We will pursue any aggressor,” the head of the Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said in remarks broadcast on state TV. “We are after punishment and we will continue until the full destruction of any aggressor.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved sending American troops to bolster Saudi Arabia’s air and missile defences after the Sept. 14 attacks.

Iran denies involvement in the attack, which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, a group aligned with Iran and currently fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s civil war.

Trump’s move drew fire in Washington on Saturday from U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called it his “latest outrageous attempt” to circumvent Congress.

Pompeo favours 'peaceful resolution' to crisis after Saudi oil attack

Sarah Stewart 

Dubai (AFP) - The US wants a peaceful solution to the crisis sparked by attacks on Saudi oil installations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday, after Iran raised the spectre of "all-out war".

Pompeo has blamed Iran for the dramatic weekend assault on two facilities, condemning an "act of war" which knocked out half the kingdom's oil production.

The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.

After meeting with allies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Pompeo said there was an "enormous consensus in the region" that Iran carried out the attacks, despite its denials and Yemeni rebels' claims that they were responsible.

But Pompeo said the US was intent on finding a way out of the confrontation.

"We'd like a peaceful resolution. I think we've demonstrated that," he told reporters.

"I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way."

Refighting the Balkan Wars Won’t Lead to a Seat at the Table in Brussels

Source Link

Historical feuds between Balkan nations are rarely solved once and for all. In most cases, the concerned countries either come up with temporary solutions, such as reaching out for international arbitration, or choose to ignore these disputes entirely, sticking to their version of events, as Turkey and Greece do with the Northern Cyprus issue. 

Some of these disagreements stretch back to more than a century ago, others only as far as the turmoil of the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s. However, in recent years, there has been a big prize that tempts these countries to settle such issues: the prospect of joining the European Union. So far, only Slovenia and Croatia have been succesful in their European endeavors, while the other countries that were once a part of Yugoslavia are still very far away from reaching that landmark—as are Turkey and Albania.

The EU has been perceived as the “promised land” for many of these small and undeveloped countries, which have struggled to make ends meet after the painful transition to democracy. The appeal of establishing an efficient rule of law and a functioning market economy also serves as the best motivation to put the past where it belongs and to move forward. 

Oil Prices and the Attack on Saudi Oil Infrastructure

The sophisticated attack on Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia on September 14 was unprecedented. It caused the single largest daily volumetric disruption to the oil market in history. While oil prices surged significantly on September 16, with Brent posting a near $9 dollar gain for the day, half of those gains reverted by September 17. Brent now stands less than $5 above where it was on Friday of last week before the attacks occurred.

Despite the scale of the disruption, the oil price surge on Monday ranks as only the fourth largest relative daily movement in Brent prices since the contract’s inception in 1987 (see chart below). With more information now available on the severity of the damage to Saudi oil infrastructure and with Saudi Arabia assuring the market that supply levels will not be affected while restoration work occurs (by drawing down stocks and increasing production from elsewhere), prices have fallen.

The Popular Backlash Against Migration Is Making a Global Problem Worse

Around the world, the popular backlash against global migration has fueled the rise of far-right populist parties and driven some centrist governments to adopt a tougher line on immigration. But with short-term strategies dominating the debate, many of the persistent drivers of migration go unaddressed, even as efforts to craft a global consensus on migration are hobbled by demands for quick solutions. Learn more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

Around the world, migration continues to figure prominently in political debates. In Europe, far-right populist parties have used the Migrant Crisis of 2015 and latent fears of immigrants to fuel their rise and introduce increasingly restrictive border policies in countries, like Italy, where they have entered government. The popular backlash against immigrants has also pushed centrist governments to adopt a tougher line on immigration at home, while working with countries of origin and transit to restrict migration, whether through improving border controls or strengthening economic incentives for potential emigres to stay in their home countries.

Oil and Rentier States: How Falling Oil Prices Will Affect the Middle East

Kevin Butler
Source Link


Less than a decade after weathering massive geo-political upheavals from the Arab Springs, the Middle East is on the verge of yet another crisis; the plummeting price of crude oil. “Rentier states” in the Middle East, have for several decades, secured their status-quo by building an overwhelming portion of their economy dedicated to the sale of crude oil.[i] While the rentier system has been successful in propping up Middle Eastern governments for decades, the downside to this system is the economic and political uncertainty created by the rapidly changing value in a single commodity.[ii] With an anticipated drop in the price of crude oil, the recent stability of the Middle East is likely to become vulnerable as governments begin to experience a significant economic downturn.


The term “rentier state” comes from the sale of “rents”, or single commodities, established to fuel a state’s economy and overall political structure.[iii] For example, a form of universal basic income exists in Kuwait; while this placates the middle class and prevents upheaval, it is only made possible through the sale of massive amounts of its country’s natural resources.[iv] Conventional wisdom suggests the primary recipients of these consequences will be the oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. However, non-rentier states such as Jordan and Egypt find themselves at large risk for upheaval as well; oil profits from rentier states have been subsidizing major parts of the economies of neighboring nations in order to foster alliances and stability.[v] Thus, an oil crisis is set to affect not just rentier countries, but virtually the entirety of the Middle East. The purpose of this project is to analyze the consequences of a possible permanent drop in oil prices, and the possible follow-on effects to the stability of Middle Eastern governments. It is important to note that the Middle East isn’t just facing an immediate crisis from the immediate drop in prices, instead it is a long term problem that will take decades to return from.

Esper Describes DOD's Increased Cyber Offensive Strategy

Cyberspace is a warfighting domain, and the U.S. military must take an active role in defending the country and its allies from threats in that realm, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said yesterday.

Speaking at the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's second annual Cybersecurity Summit near Washington, Esper said the National Defense Strategy sets the tone for the military's aggressive stance in the cyberworld.

Cyber is the domain of choice for states and groups that wish to attack the United States, its interests and its allies. ''Strategic competitors such as Russia and China are asserting their military power and challenging the rules-based international order,'' he said. 

Esper said the U.S. military has been waging war on land and sea for more than 200 years and in the air for 100 years, and that it remains dominant in those domains. But only in the past decade have officials been figuring out what fighting in cyberspace entails, he said. 

The Saudi oil attacks could be a precursor to widespread cyberwarfare — with collateral damage for companies in the region

Kate Fazzini

The Kingdom and oil and gas industry have been slow to shore up defenses, raising red flags about the possibility of longer term fallout in the region, experts said, including those who have responded to incidents in the region.

Investors should be wary of a long-term possibility of cyber espionage and flare-ups of malicious activity, including the potential for destructive attacks that hurt the value of companies in the region beyond Aramco. 

udi defence ministry spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Malik displays on a screen drones which Saudi government says attacked an Aramco oil facility, during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 18, 2019.

A recent attack against Saudi Aramco damaged the world’s largest oil producer and delayed oil production, roiling oil and gas markets. The Saudi government and U.S. intelligence officials have claimed the incident is the work of Iran, while Iran blamed Yemeni rebels.

This is a real-world continuation of a long-simmering cyberwar between the two countries, which has spilled over into other global powers.

In recent years, Iran has deployed destructive computer viruses against Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom and oil and gas industry have been slow to shore up their defenses, raising red flags about the possibility of longer term fal-out in the region, experts said. Investors should expect long-term cyber espionage and flare-ups of malicious activity, including the potential for destructive attacks that hurt companies in the region beyond Aramco.

Saudi Aramco declined to comment for this article.

Learning from history

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been cyberwarfare proving grounds for more than a decade.

Activity across the Gulf has concentrated on oil and gas companies, which gather terabytes of data related to drilling and oilfields. The oil and gas sector has long relied on potentially vulnerable “internet of things” devices to measure information about the availability of oil, and to power the complex machinery that finds, extracts and refines it.

Iran’s nuclear facilities were attacked by a virus called Stuxnet in the mid-2000s. This malicious software was sophisticated, built in a “modular” format. Attackers could use it not only to extract intelligence but also to control and destroy sensitive machinery.

Iran reacted to Stuxnet in a surprising way: they didn’t talk about it much at all. But they did take action, said Lieutenant Colonel Scott Applegate, an expert in the history of cybersecurity and a cyber professor at Georgetown University.
One theory is that Iran took some of what they learned from Stuxnet and created a new weapon, which they then deployed against Saudi Aramco in 2012.

That virus, known as “Shamoon,” was modular and multi-faceted like Stuxnet, but had only one purpose: To find and destroy data. It did this quite successfully, said Brian Hussey, vice president of cyber threat detection and response for cybersecurity company Trustwave.

“You saw that at Saudi Aramco, 30,000 boxes got bricked,” said Hussey, describing how 30,000 of the oil agency’s computers were erased over the course of the day, destroying swaths of data.

The attack laid out Iran’s cyber capabilities for the world to see, but had little financial impact on Saudi Aramco, costing only a small fraction of the oil giant’s daily revenue, Applegate said.

“While they made a big impact on the world stage, they did not bleed over into the wider system. Historically, cyberattacks have not played a huge role in the oil and gas industry, other than from a hyperbolic rhetoric point of view,” Applegate said.

But what happened after Shamoon is more alarming.
A slow change problem

Following the Shamoon attack, Aramco took several years fortify its defenses. Saudi Arabian officials were interested in installing American-style cybersecurity best practices throughout the company.

But one cybersecurity engineer who participated in the response to Shamoon said he observed a corporate culture throughout Saudi Aramco that was resistant to change. It was difficult to “spark urgency” in workers and leaders, he said, because their jobs “simply weren’t on the line, like they are everywhere else when there’s a breach.”

Workers, many of whom were guaranteed lucrative jobs because of their family ties or tenure, expressed indifference at some security basics, he said. The result was a “slow change problem,” that made it difficult to implement the types of controls that are often required at American companies, especially following a security incident, he said.

Two other cybersecurity experts who worked in Saudi Arabia at the time concurred with these observations. All requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with press.

The engineer said he was not surprised when he saw that Saudia Arabia had suffered another series of attacks by the same Shamoon virus in 2017, five years after the initial attacks.

Also in 2017, reports surfaced that Saudi Aramco’s industrial safety systems may have been “tested” by hackers looking to see how they could turn those systems off. This dark turn showed how cyber conflict could have a significant effect on public safety and the wider oil and gas industry.

“There is certainly potential if they can get into the SCADA systems that there is a potential to disrupt oil and gas production, and that would be a much more serious incident,” Applegate said. He also cauthioned that Saudi Arabia’s slowness to respond tot to very similar attacks, years apart, may have been a bad sign in terms of preparedentwo
What happens next

There hasn’t been a discernible increase in cyberattack activity in the region yet, said Nicholas Hayden, global head of threat intelligence for cyber intelligence company Anomali.

But while “nothing is standing out right now in the region, there’s a good chance that there are nation-state actors” readying for potential cyber conflict, said Hayden, who has served as a cybersecurity operator in the electrical sector.

“We’re certainly paying more attention than we normally would to that area. When stuff like this happens, we tend to put our ear a little bit closer to the ground.”

Iran has been well-known for increasing cyberattacks when it comes into conflict with countries, Hayden said, and that can also mean collateral damage in other companies -- not just Saudi-owned -- doing business in the region.

Hayden said he was pessimistic about readiness in the oil and gas industry. “They’re probably not very ready. The biggest attack that they may have seen is a ransomware attack,” he said. That means oil and gas firms and their third parties may have little hands-on experience fighting a fiercer attack from a foreign adversary.

John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for cybersecurity company FireEye, was somewhat more optimistic. These companies have “made a lot of big strides over the years,” and have become very familiar with the threats they face from nation-states.

Still, collateral damage is often a side-effect of regional cyber conflict, Hultquist said, and companies operating in Saudi Arabia and beyond should also be alert for changes.

“Anyone with operations in Saudi Arabia, or I should say, the Gulf generally, could be a target,” in the event of cyberattacks in the region. That includes those with home bases far away from the region, he said.

The U.S., too, has been traditionally targeted by Iran in times of conflict, particularly when the federal government imposes new sanctions on them, Hultquist said. If the Trump Administration issues new sanctions, watch out.

Hultquist said he didn’t see indicators of an uptick of cyber activity in the region but that “it’s generally hard to measure espionage operations.”

All of the experts polled by CNBC agreed on one conclusion -- since Stuxnet, and despite economic odds stacked against them, Iran has become one of the world’s most significant cybersecurity powers.

“They’ve never been the most technically sophisticated,” Hultquist said. “But they have made up in their brazenness, their willingness to destroy and disrupt. They have really separated themselves on this from others, as if they have nothing to lose.”

Moving the Encryption Policy Conversation Forward


The encryption of data and communications has long been understood as essential. Strong encryption thwarts criminals and preserves privacy for myriad beneficiaries, from vulnerable populations to businesses to governments. At the same time, encryption has complicated law enforcement investigations, leading to law enforcement calls for lawful access capabilities to be required of encryption technologies.

The 2016 San Bernardino legal dispute between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Apple over access to an encrypted iPhone provided a snapshot of the contentious debate on law enforcement access to encrypted data. Law enforcement initially argued that mobile device1 encryption presented a significant barrier to its efforts to investigate a deadly counterterrorism case. Apple responded that the FBI’s request that it create software to circumvent its encryption raised unacceptable implications for the security of its broader customer base. The ensuing legal showdown left little room for compromise. The dispute ended when the FBI found a way to access the device without Apple’s assistance, so the courts did not resolve the issue.