Foreign Policy Blogs » Foreign Policy Blogs | Author Archives The FPA Global Affairs Blog Network Tue, 03 Mar 2015 22:37:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Only Bad Options in Eastern Ukraine Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:26:33 +0000 "We took back some folks." (Photo Credit: Pete Souza)

“We took back some folks.” (Photo Credit: Pete Souza)

The recent meeting of German, French, Russian and Ukrainian leaders to begin a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine has already been broken. The rail hub of Debaltseve in Eastern Ukraine has been evacuated by the Ukrainian army after a heavy rebel attack. There were limited hopes for the success of the latest cease-fire negotiations, but with a plan likely already in place by rebels in their conflict with the Ukrainian army, a cease-fire may only hold when yet unknown objectives are met or a face saving agreement can be established to the satisfaction of Vladimir Putin.

Western countries are having a difficult time handling the situation in Ukraine. Despite a civilian airliner being shot down in 2014 and evidence to show that Moscow is supporting the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, Europe and the United States have no idea to what extent Russia may go if NATO decides to openly support Ukraine with lethal weapons support. The structure that kept the Cold War “chilly” no longer exists. The nuclear arms race of the 1960s to the 1980s is not deterring aggression in Ukraine, and it seems as if NATO and its larger force are unwilling to challenge Russia in order to support a wholly independent Ukraine. Only bad options exist for Western countries that are tired of wars in the Middle East. A strong response with troops on the ground could readily extinguish threats in Iraq and Syria, but Western countries will not even take on that achievable challenge, never mind challenging the Russian army.

It is highly doubtful that Western countries would want their young soldiers dying on the fields of Eastern Ukraine. The average Russian likely does not want to reignite the Cold War, but there is a good chance a limited hot conflict would be in the cards if Russia’s direct border is facing a threat. Ukraine has always been Russia’s “English Channel,” keeping strong opponents away from its borders. Giving up regions of Eastern Ukraine is one option that policy experts have discussed, as it is clear that the Ukrainian army will get little support in defending those regions on the border. Acquiescing to rebels in Ukraine may satisfy their demands and re-establish the feeling of protection Russians have had for generations. There is a good chance however that a creeping conflict deeper into Ukraine might be the end result, and at some point lethal support will become more palatable to Western countries.

Discussions on what kind of support should be given to the Ukrainian army vary, as the size and strength of Ukrainian forces is the subject of disagreements. Suggestions of giving defensive support to Ukraine in the form of anti-tank missiles, likely the Javelin weapons system, might serve to injure the rebels and their armor enough to create a real cost for Russia and sour any local support for further conflict. Such weapons can destroy heavy and expensive tanks and armored vehicles and create a situation where rebel soldiers would feel vulnerable and hesitate venturing deeper into Ukraine. While Russian army regulars do have systems to knock out anti-tank rockets, they are on a limited number of tanks and would be overwhelmed in a larger conflict.

Challenging Russia might give Putin more incentives to open a full conflict between the Russian army against Ukraine. Bad options seem to have come soon after the failed cease-fire. If the cease-fire does not hold any longer Western leaders may have to abandon Ukraine or ask generations of young people to contribute to a new terrible war. To what extent seems to be Putin’s option.

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Fairness, Equity and Revenge Mon, 09 Feb 2015 19:26:51 +0000

Photograph by Ahmed Muhammed Ali / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh was executed in an extremely brutal manner by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week after negotiations between it and the Jordanian government failed. It’s unclear whether ISIS had any real intent to send Muath and a Japanese hostage to Jordan. Jordan, which lifted its ban on capital punishment in 2014, executed two jihadist loyalists in response to Muath’s murder and the murder of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. The father of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh sees the death of two jihadis by Jordan as an inadequate response. He believes Jordan needs to end the lives of more than two ISIS sympathizers and is calling for a bigger response by Jordan against the terrorist group.

The response by Jordan may be viewed differently from the perspective of Western legal systems, where revenge and the rights of victims often do not play a role after the commission of a criminal act goes to trial, even for brutal crimes. This thought process would run contrary to many of the political conclusions that Jordanians and their Western allies committed to in dealing with the hostage situation with ISIS.

Rehabilitation has been the focus of much of the legal systems in Western countries, and the execution of prisoners has always been done after years of trials and appeals for the most severe crimes against society. Executions during war have also been discouraged and are illegal in conflicts between two nation-states. Historically, though, that hasn’t always been the case. During World War II, many captured German SS officers and soldiers were often shot promptly after their capture. The field executions of SS officers were also informally condoned because SS divisions often would execute allied captives during the war.

However, nothing in modern Western legal systems offers victims that type of instant and permanent resolution to crimes committed against individuals outside of a war. The Common Law tradition embraces laws based in fairness, named the Laws of Equity. When judges applied the laws and it was believed that the written law did not allow for enough fairness toward one or both of the parties, the judges were given the leeway to adjust the rulings to balance fairness for one or both parties. Criminal systems are limited in this regard as victims of criminal acts are dependent on state compensation funds if they receive reparations for a criminal’s actions. These funds are often limited and are often the only help for those who have suffered permanent loss of property or severe physical hardship due to being assaulted criminally. In the Common Law system, most jurisdictions hold criminal acts against individuals as offenses against the queen, monarch or state.

Revenge against groups like ISIS may not be legitimate on a state-level, but for Kurdish, Yazidi and Iraqi Christians, its often one of their main self-defense mechanisms against these threats. For Jordan, their response will become clearer over the next few weeks as allied Arab countries are pushed further into the fight with ISIS. Western countries have chosen to intensify legal protections locally after homegrown attacks. A measured response abroad remains difficult, however, as a balance between local condemnation of further conflict and the desire to strike back as hard as possible needs to be maintained. A just revenge often leads to few solutions in the long term, and strikes from the air have limited effectiveness. Allied nations currently fighting in the Middle East have few options beyond being committed to assisting those fighting in defense of a peaceful society.​

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Nigerian Security in the Era of Cheap Oil, #Hashtags and Terror Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:41:56 +0000

This photo taken from video by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, Monday, May 12, 2014, shows the alleged missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. (AP Photo) | AP

While the world mourned the terrorist attacks in Paris this past week, a tragedy of unspeakable brutality was occurring in Nigeria. A village in Nigeria was nearly wiped out by Boko Haram — estimates are that between 150 and 2000 people were murdered. The massacre began after a child was sent in with a bomb attached to his body and detonated in order to neutralize a security checkpoint. Once the checkpoint was eliminated, the village was set upon by soldiers and destroyed. The Nigerian government set the death toll at around 150, but the lack of action by the government in challenging Boko Haram and the muted response from officials leaves the true number of those killed in question. According to Amnesty International, the number is most likely well over 150 victims.

Nigeria is one of the largest and most conflicted oil producing nations in the world. With the country divided on religious grounds, the mostly oil producing Christian areas are economically distinct as compared to many non-Christian areas of the country. Nigeria’s government is somewhat stable, but they have been criticized for not successfully challenging Boko Haram’s forces, especially in light of kidnapped girls and recent slaughters in various regions of the country. Fearing economic blowback, Nigeria’s oil dependent government has worked hard to distract and avoid the discussion of threats as they possess a limited capacity to directly oppose them.

The recent drop in oil prices may have a long term negative effect on Nigeria’s fight against terror. Nigeria has received limited assistance, and a well-meaning hashtag campaign, #bringbackourgirls, is having a limited, and mostly intangible, effect on the conflict.  Outside assistance might be required to bolster Nigerian army capabilities as actions by Nigerian forces have often lead to a stalemate or retreat against terrorists in the country. If the crisis worsens, Nigerian army capabilities will surely fall short without outside help.

Acknowledging terror threats is the first step to challenging the threat in society. While the #bringbackourgirls campaign made a not-insignificant impact on the international community, the real effect of the campaign faded without committing any real help for those kidnapped girls. Actions and campaigns must address African issues in an effective manner. Creating moral equivalencies or ignoring terror will only numb us to another massacre by Boko Haram, and could even risk a situation like in Rwanda, where the world knew of and ignored the genocide, with much of it taking place in front of UN observers.

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The BRICS Under Cheap Oil Mon, 05 Jan 2015 20:34:55 +0000

The rapid rise in the value of the U.S. dollar and the effect of new riches in the U.S. energy market has left many adversaries of the U.S. with serious future financial issues. Unfortunately, it has also made it difficult for allies of the U.S. to operate, especially for those economies dependent on their energy revenues for a significant bulk of their GDP. Countries like Canada, where oil revenues make up a large part of their economy, have to rethink their budget surplus. Despite having a large energy sector, Canada’s economy is fairly diverse and has usually been able to take advantage of its manufacturing sector when commodity prices have fallen. With a low Canadian dollar, manufacturing and the right policy mix can balance out losses in the energy sector.

The energy “anti-crisis” may have caused a significant shift between BRICS countries as some have fallen and others have risen in a cheap oil market.

Gains by China and India over the last few months have pulled those two BRICS economies away from those of Brazil and Russia. Both Brazil and Russia have been unable to diversify and create a policy atmosphere where it can take on too many negative effects of a falling oil price. (Russia is one of the largest energy producers in the world, and Brazil was also poised to become a larger player in the energy market.) In Russia particularly, the political conflict in Ukraine in 2014 has spun one of the world’s major economies out of its path and taken a heavy toll on Russian GDP.

Brazil’s economic troubles, meanwhile, seem to be a symptom of local politics slamming into international issues as well. Oil and currency issues have pushed Brazil’s wobbly economy further into a place where re-elected President Dilma Rousseff had hoped to avoid. President Rousseff has been walking a thin line with Brazil’s public after months of protests and only winning a slight victory over the opposition candidate. Cuts in spending and further taxes on those services that effect everyday living expenses in Brazil has done little to deflate the public’s impression of negligent and corrupt government. The upcoming Olympic Games will amplify future protests that see the Brazilian government spending on FIFA, the Olympics and international companies over the needs of its own people. If Brazil will sink further into economic and political confusion, oil and currency issues will likely add fuel to already sensitive issues.

While there is little the U.S. can do to curb the effects of its new energy strength, the U.S. and their allies should work in conjunction to numb the negative effects of cheap oil and a high U.S. dollar. Oil can resolve as many issues as it can create, and while the U.S. will likely benefit in the end as their adversaries run out of revenue, its allies must also become part of the larger equation.

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Strength and Pride in Diplomacy Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:34:30 +0000

Last week an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to end a sixty year freeze on relations ended. Canada and the Vatican had been  working in secret with U.S. and Cuban representatives in order to end a freeze on relations that has lasted three generations. Part of the impetus is the Vatican’s paradigm shift under Pope Francis. Canada, too, has changed significantly throughout the years as well — it’s shifted from its position as a meek peacekeeper in the 1960s to one of the countries that have adopted a “stiff upper lip” approach to policymaking.

Canada was touted as an example of how to respond to threats after its response following two terrorist attacks one week in October 2014. The Canada that years ago left its U.N. representative, Commander Romeo Dallaire, alone in a war-torn Rwanda has changed, to the benefit of its reputation and political image.

In the past, Canada’s foreign policy was one where Canadian prime ministers played with Castro in order take political shots at the Americans and gain local political support, while ignoring political prisoners in Cuba. Despite having a small military force, renewed Canadian pride in their values now criticizes Cuba’s abuses and takes a strong stance on human rights. It was revealed last week that a critical yet proud Canadian diplomatic core and the Vatican worked for a deal between Cuba and the United States. With the new pope as a representative of not only the Vatican, but Latin America at large, Canadian government officials and Pope Francis were able to use their pride in their purpose and diplomatic skills to help end the rift between Cuba and the United States. While it is not clear of how positive and how open the new relationship between Cuba and the U.S. will become, it is the efforts of all four parties to the new relationship that will produce a positive outcome, as long as all four parties will stand with pride and strength to ensure that their values remain paramount in all future relations with each other.

Canada, despite having a history of past governments that only considered internal political motivations at the detriment of many innocent people abroad, has proven it’s been able to pick itself up over the last few years. The recent attacks on Canadian soil has seemed to make the country stronger, and not due to the size of their military but their objectives and purpose in the international community. All democracies should have infinite resolve to make a better world and stay strong despite adversity.

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Cheap Oil and Missed Opportunities Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:36:01 +0000

OPEC’s recent decision to keep production at its current levels lead to the realization by many investors that the current oil price may become the new norm. The recent price drop in oil may rebound, but if oil continues to drop it will have a lasting effect on the international political status quo. Oil prices have hit its lowest rate in many years and it will create a situation where governments and countries that depend on this one commodity may have shortfalls in their national reserves or become insolvent if their economies depend solely on oil.

Countries with diverse economies and sound economic planning might take a small hit, but stay productive in the long run. Countries like Canada that have large oil reserves but also have access to other commodities and a large manufacturing base will likely weather the storm if balanced economic decisions are taken. Countries like Iran and Venezuela, where the political leadership depends on oil revenue to implement their national political strategies, will have a problem. The nationalization of many different industries in places like Iran and Venezuela removed the wealth and know-how from indigenous companies and acted as a shield against foreign investment. When oil became the source of national revenue and other industries were co-opted by the government or dismantled, oil and state became one entity. With a severe and sudden drop in oil prices, their economic model will directly affect politics in every oil dependent country.

Venezuela was having internal political issues since the election of Nicolas Maduro as the successor to Hugo Chavez. With Venezuela’s economy in trouble before the price drop, it will be a difficult run for Maduro as oil is as much of a political tool as a national resource for his government. Iran, with its negotiations with the US and Europe over its nuclear program, depends on oil more than any other OPEC nation. Saudi Arabia, also a member of OPEC, is currently in a Cold War with Iran in Syria and Iraq and is better managed to weather a low oil price over the long run than Iran. Iran is heavily dependent for its economic and political stability on oil. Sanctions would likely follow a failure of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in an economic climate that is very dangerous for Iran’s leaders. If the US and its allies decided to not extend negotiations, Iran would face its toughest struggle since after the 1979 revolution as internal pressures and external diplomatic moves would leave Iran in an economic quagmire.

The price drop in oil came from recent information that showed that the US will start producing large quantities of its own oil and gas, reducing the dependency on oil from OPEC for the US economy. Russian aggression in Ukraine and the fears in Central and Western Europe that political restrictions on Russian oil and gas will leave Europe in the cold left the Europeans in a tough position. Defending the independence of Ukraine may have a negative effect on Europe, but with suspected Russian incursions into Eastern Ukraine having a negative economic impact on Russia, the recent drop in oil prices has hurt the Russian economy two fold. Conflict and the plummeting value of Russia’s main commodity have weakened Russia at a time where Russia would prefer to look very strong. The question remains, will the US take advantage of its unexpected position of strength? Perhaps not.

US foreign policy has been pushed into helping minority groups facing extermination in Iraq and Syria. While the US was pulled into a limited response to counter genocide committed by ISIS on almost every small group in the region, the reaction has been mishandled when Assad’s Syria became the focus of US policy in line with combat against ISIS. The Syrian Army is the only force on the ground challenging ISIS that meets US goals. Assad’s help with Russian weapons and Iranian soldiers has left Syria in a stalemate with ISIS. Assad has not been able to claim a victory with all the help he has received, and this gives the US an opportunity to create some links with anti-ISIS forces in the region and become a valued player in Syrian negotiations.

US economic power can be used to ensure the security of the US and its allies. US and Canadian oil and gas could supplement any flows restricted from Russia, and put Putin at the negotiating table in order to salvage Russia’s economy. Iran is one of the most oil dependent countries and governments in the world, and negotiations that came from a desire to reduce sanctions will have an exponential effect with low oil revenues, allowing the US and its allies a strong bargaining position against Iran’s nuclear program and their role in Iraq and Syria. The largest effect, allowing the US to grow its economy without dependence on oil and gas from abroad will release the traditional shackles of fuel dependence by the US on foreign energy. A strong US economy and the ability to make policy without dependency on OPEC’s control over oil prices leaves the US in a good economic position, and with the opportunity to make productive international policy if good decisions can be the result of recent fortunes. The first victim of a long term low oil price will likely be Venezuela; US responses to Venezuela’s economic shortfall will likely become the standard policy until the end of the Obama administration.

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The Challenge of Heavy Weapons in Iraq and Syria Sat, 29 Nov 2014 00:00:04 +0000

Business Insider published an interesting article last week detailing many of the heavy weapons captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There has been a lot of discussion on how to help Kurdish forces and other opposition forces in the fight against ISIS. One of their most notable and consistent requests has been for help Western weapons systems that are strong enough to neutralize these advanced weapons.

Many of the heavy systems possessed by ISIS are common Cold War Soviet client state kit. It is estimated that they now are operating approximately 30 T-55 tanks, 15 T-62 tanks, six BRDM-2s, two MT-LBs, 20 BMP-1s, some ZSU-23-2 mobile anti-aircraft artillery and two ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft systems. The ones that pose the biggest threat to the local opposition and Western powers are captured Humvees, three 2S1 artillery systems, 10 T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft shoulder-launched systems (e.g., the Stinger and Russian SA-16 and Strela-2), and Russian- and Chinese-made BM-21 class multiple rocket launch systems. Field artillery and anti-tank rockets are also present, with the RPG-7 being the most common anti-tank rocket being used in the region.

There is a limited amount of information on captured weapons systems — usually they are only seen in combat — so it’s possible there are others. A few weeks ago, a helicopter was downed by a Chinese-made anti-aircraft system; it’s also likely that ISIS has captured some Iraqi M1 Abrams.

The Syrian army is in possession of many Soviet systems and has been supplied with newer weapons from Russia since the beginning of the conflict. While T-55 tanks and BMP-1s will be fodder for Syrian army T-72s, it’s possible some of their systems have been captured by ISIS, and it’s unlikely the regime would alert the public of these captured systems. In the event ISIS has captured some modern Russian systems, weapons like the 2S4 Tulypan, the world’s heaviest artillery system, or the TOS-1 heavy fire system could be used in a horrific manner laying siege to towns in the region. A captured anti-aircraft system like the SA-6 KUB or the SA-11 BUK would pose a huge threat to the limited air strikes by coalition forces in areas protected by these systems.

At the moment, the 1970s materiel in ISIS’ possession would have limited capabilities against Western forces on the ground; however, as the assistance going to the Kurds and other forces doesn’t include heavy weapons systems, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for those allies in the region to defend against the direct expulsion and death of their communities in Iraq and Syria. Accepting the reality of the situation should have been learned by the international community in Rwanda. Allowing another Rwanda is unacceptable by any legal or moral standards.

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Developments in America’s Backyard Wed, 05 Nov 2014 22:02:42 +0000

Latin America often receives secondary attention with the world’s focus on the Middle East. For North Americans, however, issues with regional partners may have more weight on the average person in the U.S. and Canada than problems in Iraq and Ukraine.

Mexican President Pena Nieto is facing the greatest challenge to his presidency to date. With kidnappings and drug violence dominating the news, police and state officials from Guerrero are being tied to 43 missing students after they were arrested at a protest in September. With mass graves being found in Mexico, the story of these 43 kidnapped victims might tie state officials with local cartels. While the brutality of the cartels compete with the lack of effective tools to counter kidnappings and violence in Mexico, the government has been trying to create a response to increased protests by the public and calls for justice for the 43 missing student protestors.

Al Jazeera America’s program “Fault Lines” has produced a show this week called The Disappeared in Mexico. Host Teresa Bo investigates the effect and response to the violence and kidnappings by individuals and community leaders to the layered problems of corruption and cartels. The show was broadcast on Nov 1st and will be broadcast again on Nov. 4, on Al Jazeera America. This issue may be the defining moment for the Pena Nieto administration and could affect relations between Mexico and its neighbors indefinitely.

Brazil’s recent re-election of the Worker’s Party under Dilma Rousseff received a great deal of attention from all over the globe. Protests against the high costs of living and corruption scandals put Dilma Rousseff in a tight race with her opponents. President Rousseff edged by her competition, but her election came off as more of a message from Brazilians that she should curb corruption and introduce policies to benefit them rather than foreign companies and the Olympics. While many critics of Rousseff see her as Brazil’s left-wing candidate, economic policy under her party’s mandate followed a balanced economic policy approach inherited from President Cardoso and followed by President Lula Da Silva. Brazil’s economic bounce is slowing and the pressures are showing the cracks in Brazil’s economic system, revealing corruption that is siphoning off public funds. The expectation that Brazilians have of their country’s growth and newly found confidence on the world stage has set a high standard for any President of Brazil. Dilma Rousseff will have to not only be president, but a president of a thriving, proud Brazil.

American relations with those in its region may meet an unexpected change as Venezuela’s economic issues start to face the challenge of rapidly falling oil prices in the world market. Countries like Russia, Iran and Venezuela that have much of their national wealth tied to the oil industry and are losing a lot of their revenue as oil prices fall, which affect relations with their neighbors and the U.S. in the medium term. President Maduro of Venezuela has a lot of his political influence tied to the value of Venezuela’s national oil industry, and without the revenue to push past domestic issues and opposition criticism, Maduro may face a massive challenge to his leadership from his political opponents. U.S. relations with its regional neighbors have been challenged by the rise of regional leftists groups, as well as the independence oil has given countries like Venezuela. While Maduro’s leadership may take a hit from his revenue loss, leaders like Rousseff will likely maintain solid ties with the United States. Allies like Pena Nieto might find himself in his own quagmire as evidence builds and international leaders seek to distance themselves from his administration. Choices can be made to change or improve relations abroad, but serious challenges must be met to maintain the status quo in each of these countries.

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Investments Taking Precedence Over Rights Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:38:43 +0000

A silent controversy is taking place in my community in Canada as the leaders of some of the Provinces in Canada plan to set off on a trade mission to China. The area surrounding Toronto is one of the largest immigrant communities of those from Hong Kong outside of China, but provincial political leaders have brushed off any serious courtesy to protestors in Hong Kong and haven’t seriously acknowledge the violence being mounted against them by the Chinese government. Hong Kong and Canada shared a common political system, history and set of values coming from the British Commonwealth system and democratic tradition. Still, no one in the provincial governments seem to realize that going on a trade mission in the middle of a crackdown on democratic protestors is not only in very bad taste, but is an offense to democracy.

Some may argue that China and its economic power takes precedence over foreign interests in local Chinese political issues. The standard defense is that sovereignty trumps a foreign country’s claims over internal Chinese political conflicts. The open trade policy the United States has with China is an example of economic weight taking precedence over rights — the U.S. and EU openly promote trade with China, while an embargo continues to plague U.S.-Cuban trade relations and penalizes third party countries and non-U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. Hong Kong is different. It has always been a part of an international community of democratic states who have carried a great deal of weight in the international financial system. Denying the rights of citizens in Hong Kong is not simply the West failing to install democracy in a country that never had it before; it’s tantamount to abandoning a healthy democracy to the tyranny of a one-party state.

Investments by the international community may be becoming more allergic to the rights of citizens than we may realize. Although the President of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, survived the first round of elections in Brazil, many continue to see her as someone who’s done nothing to stop corruption and economic stagnation, exemplified by her committing to FIFA 2014 and the next summer Olympics. The protests before and during FIFA 2014 created a strong movement against Dilma’s government, and many protestors losing their lives at the hands of Brazilian security forces. The view that corrupt leaders and foreign investors, not Brazilian citizens, benefited from the country’s economic growth pushed voters toward other candidates during the election. While Dilma did make it into the second round and will likely win by a small margin in the end, Brazilians will continue to protest her government and the IOC as they approach the next Olympic Games. If Dilma Rouseff gets another term in office, it will be one shrouded in citizen protests.

When U.S. economic allies choose to ignore democratic movements in China or push frivolous spending against the needs of Brazil’s democracy, it hurts the United States. The U.S. loses because it takes long standing economic and political allies and reduces their struggle to an inconvenience for a few Provincial trade ministers and Premiers from Canada. When the U.S. does not criticize its economic allies and ignores future strong democratic partners, it creates permanent rifts between Brazilians and the West. When the IOC is allowed to abuse Brazil’s democracy for the sake of their games, it creates an irresponsible precedent placing the games over citizen’s rights. Trade and investment is a crucial part of the international system, but it must be done with consideration for the rights of locals in China, Brazil and all other countries that are openly demanding their democratic rights.

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The S-300 Missile Threat in Middle Eastern Conflicts Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:46:54 +0000

Two components of the S-300VM system on display at the MAKS air show in Russia in 2013. The one on the left is the 9A83M3 transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicle, while the one on the right is the 9A84M3 loader-launcher vehicle. Source: PA Photos

While the U.S. and the coalition against ISIS make attacks on targets in Iraq and Syria, there remains an uneasy relationship between Assad’s government and the U.S. While there has been some passive allowance of U.S. strikes against Assad’s enemies in Syria, a relationship between the two sides seem disjointed and non-productive. An error by either side could turn Syria’s advanced anti-aircraft systems against the solely air based assets used by the U.S. and its allies in its war against ISIS. The limited threat from ISIS comes from some shoulder launched missiles based on the SA-7 system and possibly some ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft gun systems. The real threat comes from Assad’s air defense network. Using mostly Russian systems, Syria’s air defense was designed to take on the Israeli Air Force, a modern air force that has similar capabilities to the coalition currently orchestrating its war using only air assets. The potential damage Assad could cause would be notable and could change the entire conflict in the region with a few well placed radars and missile batteries.

With the agreement to dissolve Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, the future order of the long range S-300 anti-aircraft and ballistic missile system has been stopped. The S-300 is likely the most advanced exported missile system in the world today, and if installed in eastern Syria would give Assad near complete control over the airspace in the region. The range of the S-300 would be able to cover over Syria’s borders in many cases, and would force a change in US policy in the current conflict. Syria was not able to obtain the complete system from Russia, mirroring a past cancelled delivery of the system in the region.

The S-300 system was the focus of great concern for many in the region when Russia and Iran signed an $800 million contract for the S-300 system in 2007. After a U.N. resolution against Iran, Russia would no longer sell the S-300 system to Iran, leading to a $4 billion claim due to Russia’s contract violation in the agreement. To mitigate the strategic loss of the system, Iran sought to create its own indigenous system while Russia offered a less capable S-300VM to compensate for the violation of the agreement. With Syria and Iran no longer having the opportunity at the S-300, the S-300VM might become the main export system to the region. Currently Egypt is seeking an agreement for the S-300VM, and Iran is still trying to get access to the initial S-300 system to protect against possible future air strikes.

The S-300VM may become the mainstay of Russian support to the region. A system that is very capable but will not significantly change the balance of power allows Russia to remain a power player in the region without pulling itself directly into conflict with regional powers or the U.S. This may change however considering Russia’s position in Ukraine, but for the moment the S-300VM seems to be the only best option for Russian allies in the Middle East. While not the S-300, it is still a dangerous system for U.S. and coalition air power in the region.

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The Continuation of a Failed Policy Analysis on Iraq and Syria Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:00:08 +0000

Tracked Version of S-300 anti-aircraft missile system

The Arab Spring could certainly be seen as having moved on to a dark winter as dictatorships re-established themselves and protestors were met with little support against those governments that took the option of brutality over negotiation. The earliest democracy movement in the region in Iran in 2009 left protestors bloodied and disappeared without even clear verbal support from the West. The same tactic left opponents of the Syrian regime as eventual targets, as force became the standard response to citizen protests and a lack of international support. The locally based Syrian rebels became a mixture of outside groups that might have once been present to promote a future democracy, but now is likely more dangerous to the future of Syria’s citizens than any member of the Assad family.

With the U.S. and an international coalition seeking a mandate to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the painfully belated topic of helping the Syrian rebels have been placed back on the table. Support for military action in the region eventually came to help prevent minority groups in Iraq from being wiped out by ISIS and to help the Kurds maintain integrity over their territory. Actions to preserve some of the oldest cultures in the world is well justified, as if there was a way to stop one of the biggest tragedies in human history it should be committed to without haste. If there was a way to stop a horrific act, would we not act to stop it? The choice is clear in Iraq and Syria. The methods to accomplish this task, however, are mired in bad policy begetting bad information that may produce a conclusion that ignores the essential facts to produce a practical solution. Media coverage on the subject have been drawings several unsupported conclusion with facts and analysis that are either themselves confused, or are following a policy approach that lacks knowledge of the Middle East in general. As a whole, this mission has been poorly represented to the public.

In a Sept. 15 interview, policy analyst Alessandro Bruno gave a proper detailed account on the conflict and engagement by the U.S. and its allies in Syria. He pointed out that while Assad is fighting a brutal war in Syria, to attack ISIS in Syria requires the permission and support of Assad. Bruno has a point — Syria is still a sovereign state and has the authority to limit strikes in its territory. Recent talk of supporting Syrian rebels has become intermingled with discussions on ISIS threat as a policy approach coming from the Obama administration. The U.S. and Assad share a common threat, and to try to backtrack and put the Syrian rebels into the equation looks to be a disjointed policy approach. Bruno points out that the Syrian rebels likely are made up of Al Qaeda affiliates that will never give any support to the anti-ISIS coalition. Bringing back a policy that was never implemented and has failed in the process might do nothing more than to limit permissions from Assad to operate in Syria and make cooperation in Syria an impossible diplomatic goal. Bruno also details the role of Iran in the current conflict and the wider implications of the Sunni-Shia civil war.

If the U.S. and its allies enter Syria without permission and cause harm to the Syrian army, it must remember that the Syrian army has advanced anti-aircraft systems that are as modern as the SA-11 BUK-M1 that shot down the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Syria has older SA-6 and SA-8 systems used in the wars with the Israelis, but also has the SA-11 BUK and modern systems like the SA-19 Tunguska and SA-22 Pantsir. The S-300 system currently being exported to Syria is one of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world today, and would surely shoot down many evasive fighter planes entering Syria. While ISIS likely have some shoulder launched SA-7/SA-14 type systems, the threat to aircraft and the success of a strike by U.S. and coalition planes will come mostly from Assad, and not ISIS. Since last week there has been some talk about cooperation between Assad and the anti-ISIS coalition, but a final agreement has not been reached or reported on in detail to date.

There needs to be a clear policy to address this issue, as it seems that a lack of knowledge is leading the development of the actions against ISIS at this point. While the policy as well as the reporting on the policy seems to be the main cause of public relations grief, it seems that the choice is clear in Iraq and Syria. With all adversaries and allies having the same objective against ISIS, the strategy in confronting them has only one defined conclusion, which is to act and act now.


You can find the interview with Alessandro Bruno here.

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The Cold War 2.0: Re-instating Deterrence Wed, 10 Sep 2014 18:09:25 +0000

After the end of the Cold War, Ukraine and the Soviet Union’s former Warsaw Pact neighbors agreed to remove some of their security apparatus in order to maintain stability in the region. Ukraine was rid of all of its nuclear weapons after independence in an agreement that sought to quell Russian interests in Ukraine and gain some support from Western countries. Meanwhile, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary sought NATO membership, but were unable to have NATO bases in their territories in order to appease any perceived threats to Russia.

As one of the darlings of emerging economies, no one expected that at the very end of Sochi 2014 that Putin would take steps that mirror actions during the Cold War. The difference between the current situation and the Cold War is that during the Cold War there were plans and a strategy to not simply go to war, but to deter any further actions that would lead to war.

The Cold War system of deterrence came out of a generation that suffered from wars in Europe and invasions by Germany during World War II. The costs of large conflicts between nations were felt personally by many of that generation, especially in the Soviet Union. Thus, the Soviets formed the idea of patriotism at all costs in order to protect the Soviet Union and Russia in general. The lack of response from NATO in helping Ukraine comes from an informal claim that Russia has always asserted over its neighbors; while Ukraine is an independent nation, Western powers are weary of helping a country that was the battleground between the Soviets and the fascists in some of the largest battles in human history.

Russia’s and Ukraine’s destinies may likely never be separate from each other; nevertheless, under international law and the agreements signed after the Cold War, Ukraine is an independent nation that is owed sovereignty in the international system. Placing arms on the border with Russia may antagonize the current situation, but as during the Cold War, arming the borders of a nation is not done simply to escalate a conflict. A well-equipped army can be used in a delicate manner to ensure a level of deterrence that can avoid a Cold War becoming hot. The Cold War ended peacefully in the end because the objective was always about keeping peace in Europe through diplomacy and a position of strength.

While the U.S. and its allies seem to have no official strategy, it seems as if history has already given them a blueprint of how to handle Russia. Cold War strategy lead to NATO and the Soviet Union avoiding a war that many believed could have turned our planet into a nuclear winter. If there was a way to stop one of the most horrific acts against humanity from our history, would we not act to stop it? Not just in Russia, but also in Iraq and Syria, and with all adversaries and allies having the same objective, the strategy in confronting them has only one defined conclusion, that is to act and act now.

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The Dangers of Investing in Conflicted Areas Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:48:16 +0000

Investments in Colombia in the ’80s and ’90s were often limited to large multinational companies. These companies would take the risks to mine in Colombia’s regions despite the dangers present to their employees. On many occasions, Colombians and foreign nationals were kidnapped for ransom, and many international workers and influential Colombians would not survive or were kept in captivity for years upon years. Currently, Colombia is one of the best places to invest in Latin America. With a reduction in threats to the Colombian government and a loss of control by many drug cartels in a slowly diminishing conflict zone in Colombia, peace within Colombia has brought prosperity to the country. While the internal conflict has not disappeared by any means, and other factors have influenced growth and debt in Colombia, the reduced threats to Colombian society and international workers on the ground has opened up the country as an attractive place to do business.

Now, with conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and other parts of the world becoming the norm, a discussion of the value of investing in conflicted areas should be paramount in the minds of many investors.

Last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Fareed Zakaria broadcast a commentary on the positive news in the world to counterbalance news of wars going on in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He discussed the advancement of the Mexican economy and the opening of their energy industry. He pointed out that a growing and stable Mexico would make North America one of the strongest economic blocs in the world. While his positive approach was enlightening, there was little mention of the internal drug conflict taking place in Mexico and how the high crime rate in Mexico City and various northern regions of the country has affected everyday life and the cost of doing business. The fact that Mexico’s internal conflict has had a limited effect on the country’s economic growth seems to run contrary to the thought that peace is required to bring prosperity. While violent crime and drug wars certainly wards off foreign investment and local growth, Mexico seems to have been able to grow despite heavy fighting in some parts of the country.

The question for investors is whether or not personal risk or the safety risk of employees is worth the burden of working in regions where conflicts take place or might take place. Places like eastern Ukraine that are blocked off by rebels and the Ukrainian army may not be a place where investment is possible; however, the rest of Ukraine is working normally. Country risk, as researched by investment companies, often does not give a comprehensive security outlook to investors or employees on the ground in many of these places. As one commercial associate of mine mentioned, “You can delay payment on items, but there might not be a post office working in a few weeks because we hear there are Russian tanks nearby.” The question on whether central and western Ukraine is in immediate danger, or a place like Georgia or even Poland might be a risk remains in question in each situation.

While places like rebel controlled Syria, ISIS controlled Iraq and Gaza would not be able to take investment at the moment without a heavy shift to stability in those areas, it really depends on the region and type of conflict taking place to determine if a financial and personal security risk is worth the investment. Revolutions and conflicts have often ended and produced some stability and investment, but in most cases if there is no stable region in the country, there would be a limit to doing business in any case. To invest in the broken areas of Iraq and Syria, a special relationship would be required, one that goes well beyond country risk assessments and an honest handshake.

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The Difficulties in Handling a Melee of Policy Decisions Mon, 04 Aug 2014 14:39:13 +0000

The last three weeks in world politics has been nothing less than a complete disaster of the international community. Since the end of the 2014 World Cup, it appears that anything that President Obama would have considered to be a major issue has appeared as a crisis upon a crisis. Unfortunately, there has been mostly a passive response coming from the White House in challenging this melee of problems. Despite their efforts, there doesn’t seem to be any positive results coming from Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry or any willingness from their political adversaries overseas to discuss an end to any of these conflicts. It seems that any response will be challenged vehemently by supporters from either end of the political spectrum, but in order to discuss these policy issues silence must not become the Golden Rule of navigating policy challenges, even if silence would be welcomed by most people who have been immersed with news of the various disasters on the global stage.

After writing for many years on policy issues in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, I will offer some brief insight in how to address some of these issues facing Mr. Obama. Due to the overarching effect of these issues, they will naturally involve both security and economic challenges. The likely response may be to attack the ideas of a writer or their personal character, but accepting that it has become the norm in recent weeks I wish to address these issues without fail, realizing that the last few generations have suffered more than ourselves and had proceeded to create a time of peace and prosperity coming from their values. They always had the willingness to voice their opinions in the worst of times, valuing disagreements as a healthy part of freedom.

Central America is often taken as a side issue in the debates on immigration and issues with Mexico. Over the last few years, many of America’s immigrants have come from countries often ignored as being just an area between the two great American continents. To the surprise of many experts, thousands of children recently voyaged through Mexico and ended up at the U.S. border. Many of their parents are still alive and these parents sent their kids to the U.S. to live without poverty or violence. Since the beginning of the Great Recession net immigration coming to the U.S. has been quite low, but the shock of thousands of children on the U.S. border has created an ethical dilemma for the United States.

It is clear that a measured and moral response is needed, as children likely do not have any negative intent on harming U.S. society or culture and should not be treated as a threat. Facilities need to be created to process them as individuals and give them basic rights while a dialogue and understanding of the violence that has plagued Central America needs to be acknowledged. With refugees worldwide finding shelter in countries that have a fraction of the means of the United States, the U.S. must accept some obligation to shelter and process these children from Central America. There are no good options, but in many cases fewer options lead to more defined results.

There is a lot to say about this issue and it has been repeated by everyone, so I will say little. The war in Gaza is the latest crisis to affect the Middle East, and with thousands of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan coming from Syria, and likely soon from Iraq, it might be worth finding a method to keep civilians in Gaza away from the war zone. Many Syrian refugees have left or have been removed from fighting in their own country by moving across the border. It has been shown that there is likely little that can be done at this point to stop the conflicts in Syria, Iraq or Gaza, and it would be sensible for the U.S., U.N. and Egypt to provide a safe haven for innocent children and their parents outside of the conflict zone. Egypt, with aid and support from the U.S., U.N., EU and other interested parties should do anything they can to get the children from Gaza outside of the Gaza Strip and into a refugee zone in Egypt. It is unclear what restrictions are preventing Egypt and the negotiating parties from pushing for this temporary remedy, but with both sides justifying their own versions of a prolonged war, this might be the best solution in a part of the world that currently has no solutions.

Economically, Argentina’s recent default on a debt payment was able to pierce through all the other media stories and create some concerns about a new economic crisis in the world economy. While the current Argentine situation pales in comparison to the 2001 crash of Argentina’s economy, the legal conflict surrounding the restructuring and repayment of debt comes with some concerns of an economic contagion affecting Brazil and other emerging markets. Politics and a more confident and better funded Argentine economy might promote some compromise, but the influence the U.S. and its court system has over the Argentine economy may be more of a useful tool for President Kirchner’s popularity than a solution to resolve the debt issue. Argentina will likely distract and delay payments to the bond holders while working with them towards a settlement that they find acceptable and can be digested by her political supporters and Argentina’s dollar starved financial and business community.

As another challenge to the U.S., the BRICS countries have decided to set up their own version of the World Bank and IMF in order to fund governments that do not wish to be economically hindered by the U.S. or EU. While Brazil feels somewhat similar toward U.S. economic control over their country as their neighbors, the economic weight of China over the new financial institution and the political influence of Putin’s Russia might not only pull emerging economies away from U.S. trade and investment, but also might give Putin an economic fire escape from his economic challenges with the EU. Supporting economies with potential like Argentina and Brazil might come easier with a limited acceptance of their economic faults and negotiations without legal deadlines, as sending in the lawyers may turn them on to a new financial institution or hinder trade altogether. Political ammunition is not good for business in many cases, in the end there will be some payment to bond holders, likely in the near future.

The firing of a SA-11 BUK-M1 missile on a civilian airliner has been claimed as a war crime by both sides of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine — more simply it is just a crime. While theories on who was responsible for the firing of the missile abounds, it was accepted by most that it was a missile that downed the airliner, and the effect of the missile was to tear it apart at its cruising height. There are no good options in dealing with an aggressive Russia; unlike Syria or Iran, Russia has the economic, military and political power to challenge any economic or security threat. Seceding parts of Ukraine to Russia makes any side at a negotiation look very weak, and may spawn further annexations of land from Ukraine.

The only playbook that has ever existed in the short independence of Ukraine is to re-assert NATO’s security apparatus in the region and have the willingness to respond to active military challenges with the appropriate amount of force or deterrence. In regions where wars will likely continue, there is no sense in appeasing a situation that only offers bad options. Understanding the strategic motivations of Obama’s adversaries and responding with the appropriate level of economic sanctions and security enforcement is the best worst option. The current lack of influence of the United States on the world stage could not recover all the lost souls in Eastern Ukraine, and without a decisive response from the Obama administration, every conflict will be extended and become more dangerous to U.S. allies and U.S. citizens.

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The best defense has always been the game changer Sun, 20 Jul 2014 18:20:28 +0000

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern town of Sderot Photo: REUTERS

“Iron Dome” has entered our lingua franca as one of the most well-known anti-missile systems globally. It is not commonly known how advanced Iron Dome actually is to most people. To hit planes out of the sky is no longer difficult for modern anti-aircraft systems, but the technology to shoot down cruise missiles, rockets, ballistic missiles and artillery shells is very unique. While claims of a high success rate by Patriot missiles in shooting down active SCUD missiles 1991 were greatly exaggerated, the new technology to keep an area clear from surface to surface missiles may do more to facilitate the end of a hot conflict than any piece of military technology in the last fifty years.

Israel’s Iron Dome and Arrow Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) system are one of the few successful anti-missile systems available to any Western country. While systems like the Patriot were designed to hit ballistic missiles and aircraft out of the sky with a high success rate, the lack of effectiveness in 1991 and recent US media reports of a lack of an effective system to defend against North Korean missiles likely makes Iron Dome and the Arrow program the best defense provided by any Western nation. The need for ABM systems is clear for Israel. Iran has one of the most prolific ballistic missile programs in the world with several types being researched from the current rockets being shot down over Tel Aviv to larger SCUD type indigenous systems that could deliver chemical, biological and nuclear warheads into Israel or against other adversaries. It remains to be seen whether or not Iran will fire a long range missile into Israel during the current conflict, but if that occurs the Arrow 3 missiles may become active alongside the Iron Dome.

Traditionally, Western nations have trailed behind in the development of anti-aircraft systems with the Soviets developing, using and surprising Western air forces with the capabilities of their air defense systems. Being occupied by the Germans in the Second World War gave the Soviet Union a great deal of awareness in the defense of their territories during the Cold War. The history making missile, the SA-2 SAM was the Soviet missile that dictated the development of the Cold War for both sides. A U-2 spy plane flying at great altitudes was unexpectedly hit by a SA-2 in one of the first uses of the missile, embarrassing the US at the time when the pilot Gary Powers was captured by the Soviets. The SA-2 system found its way to the conflict in Vietnam, keeping the powerful US Air Force and Navy on their heels and forcing them to develop new technology and tactics to accomplish their missions. Vietnam’s SAM shield put the fear into every airman who would enter into a foreign territory in future conflicts.

The next major conflict that introduced new missile systems into the air war was the SA-6 missiles used in the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel. The SA-6 mobile SAM system was used to protect Egypt’s ground forces while they retook the Sinai region from Israeli forces by shooting down many of Israel’s strike aircraft. The Israeli’s suffered major losses to the new SA-6 missiles at the time, and only when Egypt’s army moved beyond the SA-6s protection zone did Israel regain an advantage in the conflict by using its air force. Learning from the experience with the SA-6, Israel’s conflict with Syria in 1982 lead to new techniques using drones and radar jamming technology developed during the Vietnam War to avoid the SA-6 and other missiles and achieve their goals.

The conflict in 1982 lead to a combined tactical and technological game that involved new radar jamming systems and stealth technology facing off against SAM missile systems. To counter, SAM systems started to use new phased array radars and more reliable and advanced anti airborne artillery missile systems. Traditionally, the SA-2 fixed system was used to hit medium and long range threats. Radar guided artillery like the S-60 AAG, ZSU-57-2 and ZSU-23-4 worked with the SA-2s by covering short range targets with cannon fire when aircraft flew lower in order to avoid the SA-2 radar. The Soviets eventually created the SA-3, developed for closer targets, also being used in a fixed position. The SA-4 was developed as the first mobile system to be used in the 1960s, but was designed to hit long range targets. A fixed long range system, the SA-5 was developed as well and is still used by many armies today. The SA-6 that gave rise to the next generation of missile avoidance techniques and incentives for new technologies was mobile and medium range, and was used to keep cover over a mobile force. The SA-8 was created as a mobile short to medium range missile system that would hit strike aircraft and helicopters to work alongside the SA-6. Many client states of the ex-Soviets were using improved SA-8 style systems like the SA-9 and SA-13 around the time of the first Gulf War. With the threats coming from cruise missiles without advanced capabilities to challenge airborne artillery, there was a need for Russian forces to develop systems that could not only knock out attack planes and helicopters, but also hit cruise missiles and artillery attacking their forces.

Effective Russian systems that are similar to the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome were developed first with the SA-10 and SA-12, or S-300 family of missiles. The large S-300 missiles combined with advanced radar systems were designed to hit many long range threats, including cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. The S-400 improved version and S-500 have continued to take on this role, currently only being used by Russian forces. The radar technology on the S-500 is likely the most advanced in the world and it is claimed that it can detect and kill stealth aircraft. For medium and short range threats, the SA-11 BUK-M1 and more advanced SA-17 BUK have taken on the modern role of the SA-6. A system that operates similarly to that of Iron Dome is the SA-15 TOR system. This system is designed for short to medium range threats and likely would support the S-300 missile systems. The SA-15 TOR-M1 is currently the system that is protecting Iran’s most valuable nuclear assets with variants of the French designed Crotale SAM system covering gaps in the SA-15 TOR’s network. While the SA-15 TOR-M1 could likely operate like the Iron Dome to hit GRAD type artillery rockets, the newer Pantsir systems, often mounted on the Tunguska ZSU system or a truck would likely complete with the Iron Dome most effectively and uses two cannons to assist its missile system to defeat targets.

With generations of anti-aircraft systems and the vigilance that no foreign power would be able to enter Russia again, the Soviet Union had developed and still possesses the best air defense systems in the world. While the U.S. and NATO have their own systems, traditionally the Soviets had lead the technological race in developing defense systems while Western powers have worked diligently and successfully in defeating them. Being in a defensive position as well as having dealt with SAM systems, the Israelis have developed a necessity for a system like the Iron Dome, and have worked with the U.S. in developing Iron Dome and Arrow in order to not repeat the failures of the older Patriot systems. There is no doubt that Iron Dome is effective, but in time all systems enter the historical trend of advancement and defeat as each conflict reveals their strengths and weaknesses. Despite this, these systems often alter the nature of a conflict, and can take the urgency away from a full retaliation or heighten the need for a competing technology.

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