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THAAD MAD BAD, Pt. IV: Great Power Geostrategic Play in the South China Sea

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] here is a fascinating interplay that goes on today on the global level when it comes to foreign affairs. On the whole, the United States often feels that it can present information across enough disparate venues that potential adversaries will not be able to strategically connect the dots in a manner that they might find threatening.

Many times this has often proved true. But in the case of the South China Sea it has horribly backfired against American objectives. Two primary examples illustrate this point. First, War on the Rocks contributor Robert Haddick analyzed an intriguing piece written earlier in the year by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, who argued that U.S. policymakers and military planners should think about how to prepare for the next big war. Their stimulating essay identified six gaps — munitions, weapons platforms, manpower, planning, technology, and stamina — that a big war against a peer competitor could reveal. These important articles combined together were ultimately a de facto call for the United States to improve its planning for mobilization and on a surface level would seem fairly benign to almost all readers, ie, there is no specific ‘big target’ named in either article or intimation against whom the next big war and American mobilization should be aimed. At least, there isn’t until a completely separate piece of information is connected to it.

On March 18, 2016, Deputy Secretary for Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Amy Searight, told reporters that the Department of Defense had already submitted notification to Congress about a new maritime capacity-building initiative for Southeast Asian states near the South China Sea. While the DoD has been relatively secretive about the exact details, some information has leaked out about the point and purpose of the initiative:

Speaking generally due to the sensitivity of the issue, [a DoD source] said that more advanced intelligence, surveillance and radar (ISR) capabilities might enhance ‘sensing’ of allies and partners in the South China Sea; technical “supporting infrastructure” would facilitate ‘sharing’ maritime information across the region to build a common operating picture; and expanded exercises, training and other engagements would lead to more ‘contributing’ from allies and partners. MSI is more about equipment, supplies, training and small-scale construction that fit within this broad approach, rather than hardware.“What you hear is improving the ability of allies and partners to sense, share and contribute,” the source said.

In other words, this maritime capacity initiative is built around improving planning, manpower, platforms, technology, and stamina of most if not all of the smaller littoral South China Sea states. It is built around improving the abilities of American allies in exactly the manner in which contributors to the War on the Rocks articles declared as being crucial for US readiness in fighting the next big war. The idea that China would be unable to piece this together or draw its own stark strategic conclusions was wishful diplomatic thinking, at best. As it turns out, it was wishful thinking misplaced.

At almost exactly the same time period as when the above events were transpiring, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a huge announcement to ‘buoy the country’s faltering economy’ by bringing military research and development back under the jurisdiction of the People’s Liberation Army. The reason for this new restructuring was in order to launch a new agency that would be modeled directly after the famous US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This new agency will aim to ‘strengthen management of defense science and technology, promote indigenous innovation in national defense, and coordinate integrated development of military and civilian technologies.’ In other words, China, having connected the dots between disparate American strategic analyses and policy developments, responded with basically doing the exact same maneuvers and initiatives. Arguably, the timing and speed of the Chinese response is directly predicated upon what it considers to be disconcerting American initiatives that seem more potentially offensive and aggressive rather than defensive and reactive. Even this distinction, between offensive and defensive, between action and reaction, is a constant source of opacity between China and the United States when it comes to the South China Sea.

The following are excerpts taken from an assessment of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper given to Sen. John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was a formal letter meant to address the ‘Chinese reclamation and militarization of disputed holdings in the South China Sea.’

Feb. 23, 2016

Dear Chairman McCain:

Thank you for your letter of 29 January 2016 in which you articulated concerns about China’s reclamation activity in the South China Sea and the impact this will have on China’s ability to deploy military capabilities across the area. Unclassified answers to the specific questions contained in your correspondence follow:

Would you assess China has militarized its reclaimed features in the Spratly Islands?

We judge that China has the capability to provide basic self-defense at its Spratly Islands outposts. China has also installed surveillance systems to improve situational awareness and is building airfields and ports that can support military operations. Based on the extent of land reclamation and construction activity, we assess that China has established the necessary infrastructure to project military capabilities in the South China Sea beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts. These capabilities could include the deployment of modern fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (SAMS), and coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as increased presence of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface combatants and China Coast Guard (CCG) large patrol ships.

Has the United States observed the construction of infrastructure or deployment of capabilities that would enable military-grade early warning, target acquisition, and/or target track radars?

China has installed military radars, most likely air-surveillance/early warning radars, at Cuarteron and Fiery Cross Reefs and a beacon for aircraft direction at Fiery Cross. Additionally, China is employing a combination of solar, wind, and stable base-load generators to power the outposts.

Has the United States observed the construction of infrastructure or deployment of capabilities by China that would enable the deployment of surface-to-air missile systems?

None of the infrastructure developed to date is consistent with the deployment of SAM systems to any of China’s Spratly Islands outposts. However, China’s mobile SAMS are field-deployable and do not require fixed, prepared sites

Do you assess China will pursue further reclamation in the South China Sea or East China Sea?

While we have no evidence that China has plans for any significant additional land reclamation at its Spratly Islands claims, there is sufficient reef area at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs to reclaim more than 1,000 additional acres. We further assess that the underwater features at the four smaller reefs would support additional land reclamation. We do not assess that China will conduct reclamation efforts in the East China Sea.

Do you assess China will seek to militarize its reclaimed features in the Spratly Islands in the 2016-2018 time period?

We assess that China will continue to pursue construction and infrastructure development at its expanded outposts in the South China Sea. Based on the pace and scope of construction at these outposts, China will be able to deploy a range of offensive and defensive military capabilities and support increased PLAN and CCG presence beginning in 2016. Once these facilities are completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017, China will have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region. China’s continued construction activity and press reporting indicate that Beijing may view the establishment of “defensive” capabilities similar to what some other claimants have installed as consistent with not “militarizing” the dispute. The Intelligence Community continues to monitor these and other critical developments in the region using our full array of collection capabilities to produce analysis with explanatory and predictive power to inform decision makers ahead of emerging trends. Please contact me with any additional questions you might have.

Sincerely,

James R. Clapper

What usually gets overlooked on the American side (but emphasized on the Chinese side) is how much Clapper’s analysis confirms maneuvers that are being positioned militarily and declared diplomatically as ‘defensive’ in nature, only to quickly counter with the retort that America believes it would not be difficult to adapt and transform such defensive postures into dangerous offensive ones. But that same retort was used by the Chinese in not only discussing the creeping deployments of the THAAD missile defense system but with general American postures and initiatives throughout the region:

China has taken aim at the United States over its criticism of what it considers China’s militarization of the disputes in the East and South China Seas. Washington has considered such actions as violations of “international norms.” As a result, it resumed freedom of navigation patrols in the western Pacific last year. But China considers Washington’s reaction as hypocritical. How, Chinese officials ask, can the United States criticize China for militarizing the South China Sea, when it uses military forces to conduct its freedom of navigation patrols near Chinese-held islets and has expanded its Asian military alliances, most notably through the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines?

The purpose of these excerpts, indeed of the entire analysis, is to show just how much of the disputes and tension in the South China Sea are about competing narratives over intentions, objectives, and ‘real’ meanings. It has very little to do with verifiable dispassionate evidence based on military action. Most important is to acknowledge that these competing narratives do indeed exist and that the effort to characterize one as wholly righteous and another as wholly unjustified is not only unhelpful but actually exacerbates conflict in the region. There is strategic manipulation, diplomatic exploitation, and military posturing going on all over the South China Sea today. But it would be naïve and unproductive to think all of this is happening only on the Chinese side. It is happening on all sides, by and against all the players, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Coronavirus: Bioterrorism or Not, Who Is the Winner?

Sajad Abedi

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Authors: Sajad Abedi and Mohammad Amin Zabihi*

It has been so long since the early instances of using toxins, chemicals, and diseases as agents of assassinations and/or even mass murder. There are numerous historical and even modern instances of using toxins in assassinations, or using contagious diseases in warfare without even knowing about the bacteria or virus. For example, (allegedly) the first registered event of such method goes back to 14th century when Tatar army, desperate to win after three years of siege, threw corpses of plague victims to the Caffa city[1], causing an outbreak of this disease within the city. But the most important part happened afterwards; some soldiers could manage to escape on boats – Caffa was a port city on the Crimea Sea – to Italy, unaware of the fact that they were already infected. Nevertheless, most of them died along the way, but infected rats and remaining bodies caused one the major waves of plague pandemic[2] all over the Europe.

The paramount point is that in our modern world, it is just a matter of hours to leave New York and land somewhere else, thousands of miles away, even before the first symptoms of your disease manifest itself. In fact, the most horrifying factor of any contagious disease could be its latent period.

On the other hand, considering the unprecedent pace of ever-growing biological technologies, many developed countries possess the ability to develop an intelligent virus equipped with customized features in order to remain unnoticed on the victim’s (vector’s) body for quiet a time, and only manifest itself after it infected a considerable number of surrounding people. More interestingly, such customized virus can be planned whether to disable a specific organ or to metastasize within the whole system of the host. Even more, it can be planned according to the genetic map of people within a given region.

Looking at the whole picture with broader perspective, it does not matter whether the agent is toxic, chemical, or biological. The capability to produce and employ a virus, bacteria, or toxin by malicious actors, namely terrorists or criminals, could bring disastrous results.As we witnessed such case during 1990s in Japan – the Aum Shinrikyo Cult.

In fact, if we are going to prevent such disasters, first we should find the potential actors who may resort to such actions, investigate the probable ways, and also understand the costs, benefits, motives, and risks of which for these potential actors.

Of course, terrorists and criminals are the first probable examples which may pop up in our minds, but looking more rigorously, state actors are also among the potential cases. In the case of Coronavirus outbreak, if one considers it as an instance of bioterrorism/biological-war act, the probability of participation of terrorist or criminal organizations seems to be low, due to the complexity of production process and the highly advanced technologies required to produce such virus at the first place. On the other hand, a terrorist organization typically claims the responsibility of such attack in order to earn the reputation, and a criminal organization may demand ransom prior to release the virus – otherwise it would not be beneficial, unless they already have the cure (vaccine/antidote) ready to sell. In any case, it doesn’t seem probable. 

Considering the fact that, in the case of a pandemic, finding the main cause and the zero patient in this complex, interconnected world is significantly difficult (if possible), state actors may resort to such options due to multiple reasons. They may try to initiate a hidden biological war against another country (countries), in order to cause economic interruptions, socio-political chaos, create power vacuum in a specific area, forcing another actor to leave a region, or just simply to enjoy the economic benefits of selling the vaccine or antidote to victims. Obviously, there will be some serious prosecutions and consequences in the case that some concrete evidence shows any tracks of participation of an actor – whether a sovereign state or even a pharmaceutical company; but in such cases, states usually start to throw allegations at each other anyway.

We are living in a world that any kind of news affect the open markets immediately; the more important the news is, the deeper it affects the markets. In this case – Coronavirus – we witnessed a serious drop in international stock markets –especially oil markets – all over the world, which coincided with Russia’s ambivalence approach regarding the cutting supply decision made by OPEC – and also Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the whole story. Altogether, these factors caused a serious drop in different markets which, in fact, started with the news of Coronavirus outbreak at the first place. Who gets the best use of such scenario? The oil and gas producers are the main victims, obviously; but if one (the alleged perpetrator) knows the whole story before it happens, he would sell at the highest price and buy at the lowest price again – after the price crash, president Trump ordered to stock up the US oil reserves.

Although it seems pretty convincing, but is it really rational? What are the risks and costs? In reality, the pandemic of a dangerous virus – one like Coronavirus – equipped with a two-week latent period, in a high-populated country like China can cause sever problems in almost every corner of the planet; in fact, the bigger economy you have, the deeper your challenge would be. The implications of such outbreak are considerably wide: (1) it causes decrease in oil prices which will result in budget deficits in oil-dependent countries – like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia; (2) it interrupts the production process and consequently the sale chains – like China; (3) reduces the tourists travels which will consequently result in budget deficits in tourist-dependent countries – like Turkey and most of EU; (4) it causes sever socio-economic costs, especially for populated countries – like China, US, and Russia.

Altogether, if one state actor decides to initiate a biological war against another state, using a virus agent which has the potential to cause a global pandemic, it should consider the possibility of backfiring the same gun inside its own country in numerous ways. In an interconnected world like the one we are living in, such actions cause gargantuan reactions in different ways, one may not be able to predict all of them. Considering such costs and also the risk of being traced back and accused of committing such horrifying act, the possibility of state-sponsorship in these cases will be considered relatively low (but still possible). It is not like creating a computer virus – like Stuxnet – that may or may not blow back to your face; it is the matter of people’s lives. 

*Mohammad Amin Zabihi, MSc. Regional Studies, Allameh Tabatabaei University


[1] Nowadays it is Feodosia, Ukraine 

[2]Also known as Black Death

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Cybercrime effecting banking sector/economy of Pakistan

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Cyber-crime is not a conventional offence as its ramifications transcend borders.  It affects a society in different ways. The term “cybercrime” denotes any sort of illegal activity that uses a computer, cell phone or any other electronic device as its primary means of commission. The computer and electronic devices serve as the agents and the facilitator of the crime. Cyber criminals take full advantage of obscurity, secrecy, and interconnectedness provided by the internet and are able to attack the foundations of our modern information society. Breaching of cyber space is an issue of utmost concern for the banks and financial institutions. The menace of data theft is growing in magnitude with huge financial impact. As custodian of highly valuable customer information, banks have always been the favorite target of the cyber-attacks.

Moreover it is estimated that banks are more frequently targeted by the hackers than any other business organization. IT based financial solutions of the banks such as ATMs, mobile banking and internet banking are exposed to various forms of frauds including skimming and phishing etc. Affected banks may also witness decline in their share prices. Banking industry is more susceptible to the breach of cyber security due to its financial lure for the transgressors. In Pakistan, banking is increasing its user base at a brisk pace; the resulting threats are also multiplying. Financial services in Pakistan i.e. credit cards, accounts information and other, can also be acquired for theft or fabrication. During last few years Pakistan faced some serious cyber breaches in the banking sector. In 2018 it lost US $6 million in cyber-attacks as online security measures failed to prevent breach of security in which overseas hackers stole customer’s data.Data from 19,864 debit cards belonging to customers of 22 Pakistani banks has been put on sale on the dark web, according to an analysis conducted in year 2018 by Pakistan’s Computer Emergency Response Team, PakCERT.

However Cyber breaches of January 24 and January 30, 2019 included such data in large quantities pertaining to bank Meezan Bank Ltd. Gemini Advisory; a body that provides guidance with addressing emerging cyber threats stated that the compromised records posted between January 24 and January 30, 2019 is associated with a compromise of Meezan Bank Limited’s internal systems. Cyber security company “Group-IB”on  a February  22,2019  in advisory stated that money mules use the fake cards, to either withdraw money from ATMs or buy goods” that are later resold by fraudsters. Despite efforts of banks to eliminate ATM card fraud, criminals still find ways around security measures to acquire card data at the point of sale.

The impact of a single, successful cyber-attack can have far-reaching implications including financial losses, theft of intellectual property, and loss of consumer confidence and trust. The overall monetary impact of cyber-crime on society and government is estimated to be billions of dollars a year. While, the banks in Pakistan claim that they have insurance policies, they do not seem much interested in securing their system and the public remains highly affected by such attacks. There is growing sense of distrust in the online banking. Several banking organizations fail to provide proper insurance to their customer. That is why people are more comfortable in keeping their money and reserves at home rather than banks. This is one of the major factors that add to country’s severe economic decline.

Pakistan needs to develop its cyber capabilities infrastructure and should invest in the youth to build a cyber security force of young experts. Simultaneously, there is a need to focus on artificial intelligence, block chains and software robots as suggested by Chief Technology Officer Huawei (Middle East and European Union) Jorge Sebastiao in the recent international seminar on Global Strategic Threat and Response (GSTAR). Establishing a stronger cyber infrastructure will provide stronger security guarantees to the IT enabled services especially to the banking systems of Pakistan. This will in turn enhance the economic growth and security. Furthermore, the transnational nature of cyber-crime makes cyber-security a global challenge and, hence, demands collective and collaborative measures at the international level with flawless and strong legal and cyber policy framework.

In this regard, Pakistan’s cyber-law provides for ‘international cooperation.’ It has the membership of the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats (ITUIMPACT) and participates in Asia Pacific Security Incident Response Coordination Working Group (APSIRC-WG). However, cyber-security does not appear to be a priority on the country’s agenda for international dialogue and agreements.  Pakistan needs to review the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill which will contribute mainly to increase the security of banking systems.

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‘Da Cui Yun’ – False Flag Operation

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“Customs detains Karachi-bound ship in Gujarat: Report”

February 3, 2020, the tragic day of sheer propaganda where India claimed Ship was carrying a dual-use autoclave in it. Indian customs officials detained a ship bearing a flag of Hong Kong and bound for Port Qasim in Karachi. The officials seized the ship as it was carrying an autoclave — a pressure chamber that is used for launching ballistic missiles.

India accused that the autoclave has been certified as a “dual-use” item. India wrongly ascertained that their examination has proved that the item can be utilised for military application. Whereas the authorities from both sides (China and Pakistan) firmly denied any such application of the item this was claimed to be utilised for Ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has confirmed that the item or the autoclave was a heat treatment furnace casing system which has numerous industrial applications. MOFA also cleared that the item was correctly declared in the relevant documentation and this item is not listed in any international export control list.

This is not the first time, of course, where in the backdrop of major events that happened in New Delhi where President Trump was expected to arrive in India and Islamabad’s resorts to tackle the FATF issue, India has started highlighting another fake incident where they captured Chinese ship carrying suspected cargo to Pakistan fearing wrong estimates of nuclear proliferation in the region.

Such were the headlines features that occupied the front pages of Indian newspapers and were displayed as news tickers on all Indian news channels. The practice remains to linger till date while the fact remains that the authorities in New Delhi have failed to come out with any hard substantiation regarding the incident. The Indian authorities started to blame Pakistan right off the bat while the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) still engaged in a battle of how to go ahead with such folly.

New Delhi once again is brewing the anti-Pakistan curry in its witches’ cauldron by persistently accusing Pakistan. The recent News coverage shows that only few Indian sources have started raising the issue of Chinese ship involving it with a larger interest of blaming both partners for Indians own aspired goals.

For maligning Pakistan’s repute in the international arena, India has never ever spared a moment from blaming Pakistan over insubstantial grounds. This can be further understand by analyzing the major past events that happened in India i.e.   From unrest in India to the chaos in Karnataka and the Mumbai attacks etc. Pakistan has been apprehended with unjustifiable accusations for every incident of restlessness in New Delhi. New Delhi not only contends Pakistan but also convinces other major players in the international arena to think the same. In the meanwhile, whenever proof has been claimed from New Delhi, their government has always nose-dived to produce any in front of international statutory bodies.

Unfortunately, truth and logic are what lacks in the Indian investigations. We have observed that 26/11 has been proved a false flag by none but New Delhi’s own Intelligence agencies be fooled themselves. There are various books, interviews and articles that have thoroughly described the sham, that ‘claims’ regarding 26/11 actually are. ‘Who killed Karkare’’ and ‘Betrayal of India- Revisiting the 26/11 Evidence’ by Elias Davidsson are among the notable books published.

Nevertheless, a number of questions arises to one’s mind where important facts are going to be overlooked as similar to the trial of the Mumbai attack i.e. ambiguities in the investigation procedure, no provision of proof beyond reasonable doubt against Pakistan blaming, differences in the witnesses’ confessions, etc. and most importantly this all event questions that before any investigation and without any evidence why India started blaming Pakistan immediately with unfounded accusation of proliferation. Indian version in every case was totally concocted, based on deceit and outright lies.

Lastly, India must refrain from acting so recklessly and irresponsibly to just pick out their biased side of the story and fuel to the already present hatred towards Pakistan.

Rather than tirelessly blaming Pakistan, New Delhi needs to secure her own domestic environment. While there is an urgent need by Pakistani media of countering such fake allegations of India and Indian media with rationale and logic. There is also a need of taking such issue to international forum by Pakistan where India continuously mudslinging Pakistan to harm its sovereignty or international standing. In the end if India appears unable to provide the concrete proofs of such incident then they must be penalized for their every fake accusations.

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