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A NATO Equivalent for the South China Sea

by John Brian Shannon | July 31, 2016

China is growing and modernizing rapidly, of that there’s no doubt. With an economy second only to the United States, and home to 1.35 billion citizens, it’s the country that created the largest manufacturing sector in recorded history.

Due to globalization, events in China (whether positive or negative) can have profound and worldwide ramifications

Therefore, it makes sense that China is attempting to shore-up it’s marine security in the South China Sea through which $5 trillion worth of goods pass annually.

A good case could be made that China would be remiss if it didn’t take reasonable measures to ensure that all shipping in the region (whether it is en-route to China or not) is safe from at-sea piracy attempts and seaborne terrorist attack

It has been noted by sailors for hundreds of years that complex navigational hazards await those ships that navigate through the busy South China Sea.

The waterway is full of sandbars, shoals, partially submerged islets, and some islets are only visible at low tide, while others lurk only a few feet beneath the surface of the sea — safe enough for 5-person sailboats to pass over, but exceedingly dangerous for container ships to traverse. Running aground and getting stuck half-out of the water on top of the shoal or sandbar is incredibly dangerous.

Once a distress call goes out, pirate ships operating in the region are ‘magnetically attracted’ to those grounded ships. If you think that piracy-at-sea is a big problem with a ship capable of running at full speed and able to quickly change course, you’ll understand what happens to a ship and crew that is stuck on a sandbar for a few days. You don’t want to be that crew, ever. Just one more reason to have a strong anti-piracy component operating in the South China Sea.

South China Sea dispute

South China Sea nations. Image courtesy of AFP.

Where such islets are located in North American waters, they were long ago deemed navigational hazards and were either destroyed via explosive charges or had lighthouses with foghorns installed on them to constantly warn ships of their location. A few have a runway installed so that patrol aircraft can refuel. Which is exactly what China has been working on in recent months.

Surprising to nobody is that some of China’s neighbours are concerned that the huge and powerful nation not all that far from them could become even more powerful than now, and it could decide to be not as nice to deal with as it has been in recent years.

In such case, those islets could be heavily militarized and used as jumping-off points for an attack on the much smaller South China Sea nations. (At least, that’s the fear)

Which gives more reason for all South China Sea nations to work together to craft a common strategy for China’s security and their own security.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of China to the global economy which depends on it to drive demand for resources and agriculture

Building upon the uber-successful NATO model, an organization of Atlantic Ocean member nations and having conducted millions of operations in the Atlantic ocean since it’s creation on April 4, 1949, is the most logical way for China to gain the additional security it needs — while proving to regional neighbours that it poses no threat to them and is merely working towards a clearly demarcated, safe shipping zone for the South China Sea.

Even the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation the United States of America, know that nothing of lasting significance can be achieved by one country acting alone.

Therefore and in that context, I respectfully urge President Xi Jinping of China to work with all of the nations of the South China Sea in a spirit of mutual trust and goodwill in an effort to jointly address the opportunities of regional maritime security.

Mr. President, please make the South China Sea nations ‘part of the solution instead of part of the problem’

In this way, by taking the lead in the creation of a mutually beneficial organization, not only will maritime security in the region improve, but other upgrades to diplomatic relations around the world will surely follow.

‘Free Riders’ or ‘A New Hope’?

by John Brian Shannon | April 27, 2016

In a recent interview, President Barack Obama called some U.S. allies “free riders” in regards to perceived American largesse, but supposedly “cleared the air” while meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the April 20th Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Now that one side has ‘cleared the air’ let’s allow the other side to share their grievances publicly — except they won’t because there is danger in that for them — and also because ‘it’s just not done’ diplomatically-speaking.

FACT: From 1932 through 1973 (in almost every year) the U.S.A. purchased Saudi oil at a price lower than the cost of production.

Yes, you read that correctly. For most of 41 years, Saudi Arabia massively subsidized the American economy by selling it’s oil for lower than the cost of production. (“Otherwise, the West will lose the Cold War.”) Does everybody understand how that card was played?

I’d call that a very big debt.

(Yes, such treatment ultimately led to the Arab Oil Embargo, although events surrounding Israel were cast as the publicly-stated reason for the Embargo. ‘Those in the know’ at that time are very well aware of this and it’s an open secret among historians and the people who were present in the halls of power in that era)

FACT: During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia mounted more Cold War operations against the former Soviet Union than all other countries combined. (Let that one sink in for a moment!) Saudi Arabia’s Cold War operations against the Soviets were second only to the United States — and countless operations were joint U.S./Saudi operations.

I’d call that a very large debt.

FACT: During the massive Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, the CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, and the Saudis combined forces to evict America’s #1 enemy the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. (See the movie, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ which isn’t far off the truth — except it misses the point that Saudi Arabia paid for the whole effort)

The CIA provided a dazzling array of options (technical support, 3rd-rate new or refurbished weapons, realtime satellite intelligence to designated ‘advisors’ on the ground, and cover) while the ISI provided transport, shelter, fighters, and other logistical capabilities.

(In retrospect, in exchange for *being allowed* to get a reasonable price for their oil, it almost looks like Saudi Arabia was expected to shoulder the entire cost of the Soviet/Afghanistan war. Which probably removed most of whatever profits they had hoped to achieve from the new, post-Embargo oil price that the Saudis were *allowed* to charge)

Another big debt to Saudi Arabia.

FACT: “Saudi Arabia has *executed* more terrorists than the U.S. has ever *captured*.” (That was true until 2004, but it was a common refrain until then)

Yes, in Saudi Arabia, when they catch terrorists, they generally execute them with little fanfare. Good riddance!

Saudi Arabia has passed onto the United States intelligence agencies more information about terrorist individuals than any other country.

Of course, U.S. intelligence agencies and some law enforcement units are only too happy to take the credit for apprehending such terrorists, rendering them abroad, incarcerating them without trial, and then casting vague aspersions at Saudi Arabian culture for (possibly) creating them.

Which works quite well, I must say. It has kept the Saudis busy trying to dig themselves out of a contrived hole — a hole contrived by some Western intelligence agencies in order to keep the Saudis quiet about all the free riders Saudi Arabia has given the West since 1932.

I’d call that a moderate debt to the Saudis.

It’s interesting that there was little ‘Islamic terrorism’ prior to the Soviet/Afghan War. And what there had been, was tiny bits of terrorism scattered around Asia and the Middle East. (Usually it was a case of personal attacks — one warlord against another)

But there is a reason for the rise of Islamic Terrorism and we in the West, helped create it.

Instead of castigating people for being ‘free riders’ — trying to keep them ‘down’ and ‘on the defensive’ — we should be meeting every country ‘where it is’ and helping them to destroy terrorist networks and individual terrorists wherever they may be on the planet.

That’s the difference between managing a problem on the one hand and scoping out a much broader, more inclusive, and cooperative vision on the other hand — one that has an infinitely better chance of success.

Finally, terrorism didn’t suddenly just happen. We in the West helped to create it during the Soviet/Afghan War with CIA training, the ISI’s training, and Saudi money.

When our allies the brave Mujahadeen sometimes called the West’s freedom fighters returned home to places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern nations, their particular indoctrination did not simply vanish…

A New Hope

We need a better vision — one that is at least one order of magnitude better — for dealing with what is probably going to become a widespread problem in this world, with many Western-educated young people joining such groups.

Yes, thousands of Western non-Muslims are joining ISIS and other groups — and in the future it’s likely that other groups will arise with even more tantalizing ideologies (at least to easily-swayed and ‘out-of-place’ young people) who feel they haven’t a real chance at fulfilling their potential in our world.

Every one of our young people who leaves to join such a group represents a massive failure on the part of our society.

And we will only have ourselves to blame for what comes after — whatever that may be.

Therefore, let us put our efforts into providing real opportunities for our young people, and with some urgency, create employment opportunities in the Middle East where the youth unemployment rate ranges from 29% (Saudi Arabia) to 24.8% in Egypt and worse, in rural areas.

Young people from any country with a promising future ahead of them, do not run away from their communities to join groups like ISIS. Providing the opportunity for a real future for young people is where we must put our best effort — and we can’t afford to waste a moment in support of that important goal.


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2016: Year of Global Risk or Global Opportunity?

by John Brian Shannon | December 31, 2015

While my default mode is to proactively engage with vision, leadership, pragmatism and organization, in order to preempt or preclude situations that allow dangers to form and thence for risk to concern us — there is certainly a time to take stock, to measure our place in the world, and to put our perceptions to the test in order to assess future threats.

Each year-end presents a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.

We must keep in mind that every problem on this planet is a human-caused problem — and because we’ve caused them — we can solve them if we choose.

Humans alone wrote the madcap play that we’re the actors in.

Will 2016 be the year of global risk, or of global opportunity?

Will 2016 be the year of global risk, or of global opportunity?

The Eternal Question: Should We Steer Our Ship by the Stars, or by the Sea?

1. We must remember that when viewed through the prism of American or European thought, we in the West cannot fully understand the Russian mindset.

Yes, the Russians look like us, they buy many of the same products, they may even vacation in similar locales. But it would be a big mistake to think they are us or think like us based on those superficial comparisons.

Their national experience since October 1917 couldn’t be more different than our own.

Although the Soviet Union was founded on revolution, their experience in WWII (for example) was much different than ours. The people of the USSR endured almost inconceivable suffering and millions more deaths happened on the Soviet front as compared to our side of things during WWII, and so consequently, their response to us during the Cold War and their evident bias to not only end the Cold War but to disband their entire bloc and rewrite their constitution, were shaped by those experiences.

Suffice to say that the worldview of everyday Russians and their leaders are significantly different from North Americans and Europeans.

If we base our policies and subsequent actions on a flawed interpretation of the Russian mindset we are likely to be enablers of dangerous situations, resulting in increased risk.

Therefore, everything Russia must be viewed not only from the American or European world viewpoint, but through the lens of the Russian leadership and of the citizens of that country.

And frankly, that hasn’t been done as well as it could and should have been done, since the days of Kissinger, Brzezinski and James A. Baker III.

Our #1 risk factor isn’t Russia, it’s our lack of understanding.

2. China is a large country that isn’t going anywhere. We’ll be dealing with China for many decades to come. And they’ll be dealing with us.

If anything, we should avoid conflicts with China — and instead of always trying to ‘put them in the wrong’ we should become their guide, their facilitator, their mentor, and always be trying to ‘put them in the right.’

Every day of the year, we humans are teaching other humans how to treat us.

If we teach China that we are all about hostility, they’ll learn that fighting us is the way to deal with us. If we constantly criticize China, they’ll condemn us in return. If we give China reason to fear, we all know that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”

It’s a great Star Wars line, isn’t it? Still, it’s just as true on Earth as it is in adventure movies.

To lower our risk with China, we need discipline. We need to be setting the bar, showing the way, shining the light, and using constructive criticism — praising publicly and criticizing privately.

In this way, we’ll be the Father, the Mentor, the Guide, the Explainer — and what we teach China about who we are, will tell them how to treat us.

If we teach China that use of force always works and that diplomacy doesn’t — we’ll be the worse off for it, and so will they.

Yet, it will have been us that wrote that madcap play.

Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy to Peking (Beijing) as it was then-called by the West, was a great start.

Smatterings of constructive engagement since, have been helpful (but only in a smattering kind of way).

And Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ may yet turn out to be, in retrospect, inspired — if handled correctly and properly followed-up. And the recent joint U.S.-China CO2 reduction plan seems to have added some amount of normalcy that has been otherwise lacking in that relationship.

Yet, the Windows of Lost Opportunity have been stupendous!

It’s a somewhat unmanaged relationship, with far too occasional bright moments of successful diplomacy.

Had the Sino-American relationship been handled proactively and correctly all along, the $1 Trillion dollar Apple success story would have represented only one of many similar stories. Perhaps a thousand similar success stories.

In reality, thus far, the relationship between China and the U.S. has been one of staggeringly huge, missed opportunities, and even worse, minor sabre-rattling.

Although China seems a willing partner and wants to engage, the same cannot be said of America. Europe is doing a little better, but only recently.

If China represents a risk to the West, it’s because we’ve been very busy with less important matters.

3. Except for the Western-inspired ‘Arab Spring’ the MENA region might have made some small amount of forward progress in the 2010-2020 timeframe.

I doubt anyone would suggest that citizens of the affected countries are any better off now, as compared to pre-Arab Spring.

Yet with the Iran nuclear deal secured and Israel now turning to domestic issues, the >1400-year-old chess game between Sunni Arabs and Shia Persians will continue as uneventfully as ever, I suspect, for many decades. (Lots of smoke, very rarely, any fire)

Containing ISIS and keeping Western nations safe from ISIS terror attacks would be best served by getting Western nation forces out of Syria (leaving the Syrian situation to the Syrian government and the Russians) and concentrate on increasing the coalition presence in Iraq, with plenty of assistance for Turkey, which has two problems: millions of refugees and a security threat on its southern flank.

4. The world (not just the U.S. and Europe) needs a dedicated (and properly funded) cybersecurity organization on par with INTERPOL, but geared to identifying and combatting cybercrime in realtime, and to offer all manner and levels of support to domestic agencies involved in countering cybercrime.

EXAMPLE: Whether that proposed anti-cybercrime organization is assisting a small town 5-person police department putting together its first anti-cybercrimes programme, or is assisting the Chief of the NYPD cybercrimes division to combat a cybercrime in progress, or briefing Homeland Security or the Pentagon (and other police and security organizations in other countries) it must meet those agencies and departments where they are and provide what they need in realtime.

If not, catastrophic failure will be the result.

The present situation just isn’t up to the forming threats. As well-intended as each department and agency’s efforts in this regard surely are, their capabilities are at least one order of magnitude less than what is required to defend us from cyberattacks against government and industry infrastructure and cybercrime that impacts private citizens.

By 2020, it might be two orders of magnitude short of reasonably preventing the most serious cyberattacks.

We spend money to insure our cars and trucks (in advance of mishap or misadventure) for good reason, because on an otherwise average morning, we might step outside to find that $50,000. of damage has occurred overnight to the $70,000. vehicle in our life.

A properly funded and properly overseen global anti-cybercrimes support centre would provide the ‘insurance’ we need to counter future cyberthreats.

TO SUMMARIZE: We live in a world of risks

However, that doesn’t mean that we have to play their game — after all, why play to our opponent’s strengths?

With the right vision (to preclude falling into ‘risk’ in the first place) and the right leadership (to put that vision into practice, or at the very least, turn-negatives-into-positives if things go awry) and by providing the proper support for those who negotiate or fight on our behalf — we can either change the game completely to better suit our strengths — or at the very least, lower our risk.

And that, my friends, is how to play the game of Risk and win, more often than not.


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