Turkish Central News Circa 2013
For several years this was the Turkish Central News website.
Content is from the site's 2013 archived pages providing a brief glimpse of the type of news this site offered its readership.
limits Israeli-Palestinian interaction and cooperation | Kerry’s Last Ditch Effort
Alon Ben Meir Jun 12, 2013
In his upcoming visit to Israel and Palestine, Secretary of State John Kerry will attempt a last-ditch effort to persuade Israel’s Prime Minster Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority’s President Abbas to resume peace negotiations. If there is, however, the slightest chance of getting the two sides to start talking it would require substantial American pressure and commitment to see the peace process through.
Given the regional turmoil, especially in Syria, the question is will the US be prepared to invest that much time and political capital on an uncertain venture when it must now focus on the far more urgent conflict that has the potential to spark regional conflagration.
Moreover, while a small chance may exist to resume the negotiations, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas have a political strategy in place, nor are they taking action on the ground to suggest that they are ready and willing to reach an agreement.
In fact, they have assumed certain positions and pursued policies that have impeded rather than advanced the peace process. Sadly, both Netanyahu and Abbas lack the vision and the courage to change course, depriving their own people of the opportunity to realize their aspirations for peace.
This theme on leadership was pointedly cited by President Nixon in his 1982 bookLeaders: “Prescience — knowing which way to lead — lies at the heart of great leadership. The very word leader implies the ability to act as the guide, to see beyond the present in charting a course into the future.”
Netanyahu is an ideologue who has no known political strategy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and no clue where his policies of expansionism and militarization will lead to in 10 or 15 years.
He is fixated on maintaining a strategy of deterrence, backed by a superior military prowess that can simultaneously tackle military confrontations on multiple fronts while making Israel a military garrison surrounded by fences and walls.
Publicly, he insists that Israel is not an occupying power and that Israel has an inalienable right to the whole “land of Israel” (Israel plus all Palestinian territories). Furthermore, he does not accept the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiating a two-state solution.
He argues that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that Israel’s national security depends on defensible borders which of “necessity” requires the annexation of a substantial part of the West Bank.
On the practical level, he has and continues to be an ardent advocate of building new and expanding existing settlements; he provides massive financial assistance to settlers and devotes substantial resources for their security.
Meanwhile, he continues to restrict Palestinian movement, limits Israeli-Palestinian interaction and cooperation, and inhibits joint economic projects and mutual visitations between Israelis and Palestinians which serve to build the very trust which he claims is lacking.
Conversely, President Abbas has for some time been a strong advocate of a two-state solution and sought to achieve it through peaceful means. Other than maintaining the calm, though, he did little to prepare the public for peaceful coexistence.
He insisted on a total freeze on building new and expanding existing settlements. When Netanyahu finally agreed, under American pressure, to freeze settlement activity for a year in 2009, he waited 10 months before agreeing to enter negotiations which lasted only two months, to no avail.
While he painted himself into a corner by insisting on a complete freeze on settlements as a precondition to resuming negotiations, he sought and succeeded to elevate the Palestinian status at the United Nations General Assembly to a non-voting observer state.
Although this might have been the right move to make, it made little headway as it has further hardened the Israelis’ position on the settlements problem and been found unhelpful by the Americans who insisted that only direct negotiations could advance the peace process.
Politically, Abbas is deeply troubled by Hamas’ rancorous rivalry with Fatah and its insistence on continuing militant resistance to Israel, which inhibited his ability to maneuver politically and increased his political vulnerability. To make up for his precarious political standing, he negotiated a unity agreement with Hamas which remains unfulfilled and has further soured relations with Israel.
He remains saddled by pervasive corruption, constrained by continuing financial hardships and infighting within his immediate circle. He failed to support his former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, to press for more reforms and stem corruption. Instead, Abbas made his displeasure with Fayyad public knowledge, which led the latter to resign in April 2013.
On the practical level, he continues to promote untenable goals such as the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, giving the Palestinians false hope. Although this was more rhetorical than real, he gave the Israelis another reason to doubt his sincerity.
He turned a blind eye to the systematic maligning of Israel in schools, denying Israel’s very existence in textbooks while winking to the Palestinian media that portrays Israel as the source of all evil.
Even a cursory review of the strategic, political and practical approaches that Netanyahu and Abbas pursue explains why they insist on a negotiating strategy that fits their political position and the respective negative public perception they have shaped.
For all intents and purposes, Netanyahu does not accept the two-state solution and is merely paying lip service to Kerry’s efforts in order to not further alienate the Obama administration.
He borrowed a page or two from the Iranians by playing for time, which is evident in his insistence on restarting the negotiations unconditionally, which in and of itself is a precondition.
Should the negotiations resume under his terms, Netanyahu will certainly seek to first negotiate peripheral issues such as water or discuss trust-building measures, and avoid any substantive matters, especially borders, to define the parameters of two states.
Although Abbas’ demand to freeze settlements activity in advance of the resumption of negotiations is justifiable, in hindsight, Abbas made a major tactical mistake by not dropping his precondition of the settlements freeze and calling Netanyahu’s bluff.
Unfortunately, instead of siding with Netanyahu to commence the negotiations unconditionally, Mr. Kerry should have insisted on negotiating mutually accepted rules of engagement that could offer, at least, a precedent for future negotiations and even a chance for making modest progress.
Ideally, Mr. Kerry should be able to persuade both Netanyahu and Abbas to abandon any preconditions, clearly identify the conflicting issues, the order in which they should be negotiated, and a timeframe to prevent protracted negotiations.
Starting with borders would clearly be the most practical way, as negotiating borders first would define the parameters of the Palestinian state, which is the single most important issue to be agreed upon.
Moreover, an agreement on borders would resolve at least 75% of the settlement problem; establishing the extent of the land swap would also demonstrate the seriousness of both sides to reach an agreement.
An American presence at the negotiating table at all times would demonstrably show which side, if any, is indeed committed to reaching an agreement. The failure to agree on such principled rules of engagement should leave no doubt as to where Netanyahu and Abbas stand.
The irony here is that repeated polls taken during the past decade consistently show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace based on a two-state solution. Yet both Netanyahu and Abbas are delaying the inevitable, perhaps at a terrible cost in blood and treasure to their people.
Although I believe that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains central to regional stability, the horrifying turmoil in Syria and its potential to engulf other states in the region will likely trump the relative calm on the Israeli-Palestinian front.
Thus, should Netanyahu and Abbas fail to seize Obama’s likely last effort to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace, Secretary Kerry may well abandon his mediating efforts.
The Israeli and Palestinian peoples will have to await the rise of wise and visionary leaders, unshackled by the illusions of their predecessors, leaders who can muster the courage to chart a new path to a peaceful coexistence.
US and the Strategic Rivalry between India and China in the Indo-Pacific Region
On the United States and the strategic rivalry between India and China in the Indo-Pacific region. By K.P. FABIAN
THIS is an important contribution to strategic literature by an author whose credentials are well known. He invokes ancient mythology to explain what is happening in the Indo-Pacific. “In the Hindu fable of Samudra Manthan, angels and demons churn the ocean in search of an elixir that will give them immortality. Lord Vishnu intervenes at every stage to tilt the long quest in favour of the angels and ensure they emerge victorious in the end. The legend of Samudra Manthan lives again as the United States shapes and is shaped by the rivalry between China and India in the waters of Asia.”
The reader might note that in Hindu mythology there are no angels and that the fight was between Devas and Asuras. Angels belong to the Semitic religions. Nevertheless, it is indeed a commendable intellectual tour de force to invoke mythology to explain the rivalry between India and China with the U.S. playing the role of Vishnu. The author does point out that the U.S. is no omnipotent Vishnu either as it has to keep an eye on a rising China eager to contest its strategic primacy in Asia. The U.S. might be tempted to share power and glory with China and thus restore a bipolar world, a G2 as the current fashionable terminology goes.
established relations in 1950, “the leaders of the two national movements reached out to each other and explored the bases of future cooperation” and they believed that “together they were destined to reshape Asia and the world”. But, eventually, the two did not work together, to put it mildly. The author’s explanation is that while India was fighting British imperialism, China was fighting the Japanese one and, therefore, the two countries came to hold “radically different world views” and could not cooperate as planned. He has a point. But, he could have pointed out the asymmetry in that relationship. India was more engaged with what was happening in China than the other way round.
The reason is that Indian leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, had more of an international vision as compared with Mao Zedong, in whose collected works there is hardly any reference to India. In his Glimpses of World History, Nehru has much to say about China. It is difficult to imagine Mao writing a similar book. In short, China did not take the proposition that it was going to shape Asia’s future along with India seriously. There was much wishful thinking on India’s part. Similarly, when China speaks of Asia’s rise it means its own rise. Does China entertain a pan-Asian sense of solidarity? Hardly.
The author has given a detailed explanation of the significance of the term “Indo-Pacific”. Instead of telling us when the expression was first used as most scholars do, Raja Mohan tells us about the origin of the concept. The strategic thinkers at the beginning of the 20th century unlike their post-Second World War successors saw Asia as an integrated region .
Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century U.S. exponent of the significance of sea power who inspired one of the earliest Indian navalists K.M. Panikker, argued that a vast stretch of Asia between the 30th and the 40th parallels stretching from Asia Minor in the west to the Korean peninsula in the east was the “debatable” and the “debated” ground. He adds Africa and derives the “Indo-Pacific” as a “recognisable geopolitical entity that connects the two great oceans and integrates the inner Asian regions to China and India”.
The most important chapters are the last two, the 11th and 12th. In the 11th chapter, “Ordering the Indo-Pacific”, the author argues that as India and China acquire for the first time in centuries the ability to exercise significant influence in their wider maritime neighbourhood, “the other great powers, their allies, and various independent actors will respond vigorously to the rise of China and India”.
Are we getting the cause-and-effect chain right? Is it the case that Japan and Vietnam are simply reacting to the Sino-Indian rivalry? Are they not primarily taking care of their own security interests as China gains in power and exhibits aggressiveness towards them? Their essential motivation is not to take sides in a Sino-Indian duel.
The author speaks of a triangle of India, China, and the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific. We should be looking at a polygon, of at least five sides, including Japan and Vietnam, to understand better the strategic dynamics.
The author examines three different scenarios of ordering the Indo-Pacific: cooperative security, a great power concert, and a balance of power system.
Dealing with the situation of cooperative security, he points out that multilateralism does not automatically guarantee a reduction of distrust among rival powers. The maritime problems can be divided into two sets, the “wicked” ones such as the interpretation of the Law of the Sea involving claims and counter-claims to territory, and the “tame” ones such as combating piracy. In short, multilateralism can help in solving the “tame” ones and might not help in tackling the “wicked” ones.
Examining the prospects for an Asian Concert, the author takes us back to the post-Napoleon “Concert of Europe”. A concert is an “arrangement of power relations within a strategic system, involving an unusually high degree of voluntary consultation and restraint among the strongest countries”. All the participating states would have to give up something. The U.S. might have to give up its primacy in Asia, China might have to temper its aspirations for regional dominance, and Japan might have to reduce its dependence on the U.S. These conditions are unlikely to be met.
Coming to the balance of power system, one has to say modern Asia has not had much experience with such a system. While the Cold War was essentially a two-power balancing system, Asian security was essentially “ordered by the United States”. China and India, which occasionally aligned with the Soviet Union or America, were too weak to make the power system in the Indo-Pacific a multipolar one. Classical balance of power theory does not refer to internal orientation of states. However, the idea of democracies of Asia and the Pacific getting together had brief diplomatic traction in 2004-07.
At the end of his examination of the three options, the author concludes that the real world does not adhere to neatly structured concepts from political theory. China and India are likely to pursue all the three options simultaneously. The “principal determinants of the future security order in the Indo-Pacific region” will be the U.S.’ relationship with China and India and the relationship between the latter two. While many middle powers will have a bearing on the political evolution of the littoral, it is the U.S. that has the biggest influence on the emerging Sino-Indian contestation in the Indo-Pacific.
The last chapter, “Samudra Manthan”, explores the future of the strategic U.S.-China-India triangle. There are three themes. The first is “American Dilemmas”. The economic expansion in Asia during the Cold War years was mainly among its friends and allies. That has changed. Given the growing economic weight of China, the U.S. cannot deal with it as it did with the Soviet Union. Nor can the U.S. treat India the way it treated its allies and friends in Asia.
The future of U.S. primacy in Asia and the regional alliances it has worked with are in question. India’s potential to become a significant partner of the U.S. has increased. China’s rise could adversely affect India before it affects the U.S. Yet, the U.S. has not found it possible to assign a higher priority to India over China.
This is because a breakdown in Sino-U.S. relations can have disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy and the world economy. The U.S.-India relationship does not have the same high stakes. Under President George Bush, the U.S. did tilt towards India without endangering its relations with China. President Barack Obama, at the beginning of his first term, did tilt towards China, but soon corrected the course by affirming the U.S. determination to maintain its primacy in Asia.
The next theme is India’s ambivalence. As the weakest power in the triangle, India’s ambivalence is acute. Between 1998 and 2008, India reached out to the U.S. in a bold way. But, the momentum has slackened since then. When Obama hinted at a G2 with China, India responded that it was prepared to work for a multipolar world and a multipolar Asia. Obama changed direction as tensions mounted between the U.S. and China in 2011-12 and showed interest in a strategic relationship with India.
But India was not willing to be drawn into the U.S.’ alliance system and expressed its discomfort with the growing confrontation between the U.S. and China. However, India saying no to the U.S. invitation did not impress China much as it maintains there are inherent limits to a strategic partnership between the U.S. and India.
Coming to “China’s hand”, the author notices a “new sense of self-assurance” on its part. Beijing rejected Washington’s offer of a G2 and felt free to confront the rest of Asia on a range of issues. China has the option to alter its policies towards India or the U.S. The rapid rise of China has thrown up a challenge to the U.S. and India. They need to get closer but without provoking China. China’s assertiveness beyond a point might prompt the U.S. and India to abandon their current inhibitions. Large democracies such as India and the U.S. often falter in effectively coping with major security challenges, but they can also “surprise themselves and the world with resilience and resolve”. This is the final conclusion of the author.
The reader will find the author’s arguments by and large persuasive. An Indo-U.S. partnership to deal with China’s assertiveness is not unlikely. However, as pointed out earlier, one wonders whether the author has not missed the polygon that is being drawn while focussing on the triangle that is not there yet. The balance of power idea that Raja Mohan rejected might turn out to be the central idea in the Indo-Pacific. Such balance of power prevents war until a power wants to discard it and start a war. From India’s point of view, it is more prudent to be part of such a balance rather than align with the U.S. against China.
While discussing the balance of power option, the author says (page 230) that the U.S. “has been the principal security provider in the Western Pacific since the end of the Second World War and in the Indian Ocean from the mid-1970s”. Let us try to figure out, keeping in mind younger readers, how the U.S. has provided security:
1) The U.S. refused to seek an end to the Korean War (1950-53) by talking to China as Nehru advised Harry Truman.
2) The U.S. unnecessarily replaced France in Vietnam and fought a long war against Vietnamese nationalism and lost.
3) In 1956, Japan and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were about to resolve their dispute over Kuril Islands as part of their treaty to end the state of war between the two countries, when the U.S. intervened and prevented that settlement over the islands.
4) Nearer home, India and Pakistan agreed to appoint a plebiscite administrator for Jammu and Kashmir before the end of April 1954. President Dwight Eisenhower announced the U.S. planned to arm Pakistan knowing well that such a step would put an end to any effort to arrange for a plebiscite.
The idea that the U.S. is the “principal security provider” is a standard assertion in U.S. strategic literature, and a number of Indian analysts have obediently repeated it.
Raja Mohan says that China rejected a G2 offer from Obama. One doubts whether any such offer was made. Can the U.S. tell Japan and Taiwan that it was abandoning them to appease China? Other than G2, what else can the “Middle Kingdom” aim at right now?
It is reasonable to conclude that China will be satisfied with a G2 for a while. In the final analysis, Raja Mohan’s conclusion, quoted earlier, that the “real world does not adhere to neatly structured concepts from political theory” makes much sense. Mythology can be of help, but it can also act as a hindrance to understanding the ground realities of geopolitics.
K.P. Fabian, a former Ambassador, is the author of Diplomacy: Indian Style.
The Use of Code Mutation to Produce Multi-use Cyber Weapons
Cohen, Daniel and Rotbart, Aviv
The increasing use of cyber weapons is creating the inevitable situation in which sophisticated versions of cyber weapons capable of generating strategic damage will fall into the hands of states that support terrorism, terrorist organizations, and criminal organizations. Cyber weapons will no longer be the exclusive province of the few. The Stuxnet virus attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities is one such example. For years it operated undetected, but the moment it was discovered the virus code was subjected to in-depth analysis. The results of this research can immediately be put to use to develop new viruses operating similarly to the Stuxnet virus. In other words, once a secret is out, weapons spread.
In biology, the term genetic mutation is used to describe an error in DNA reproduction. Mutations cause differences between organisms; thanks to mutations, organisms can adapt to the environment. When a virus mutates, the virus has had its genes altered in some way, and this change affects some of its features, perhaps making it more resistant to the human immune system, or deadlier, or able to spread more easily. Every flu season there are new mutations in familiar viruses.
A common misconception about cyberspace is that once a computer virus or other malware used in an attack is discovered by the security companies, it is rendered useless for future use, because the anti-virus software has identified it and developed immunity against it, depriving it of its ability to cause damage. In other words, computer viruses are disposables, meant for one-time use. But this is not the case. Similar to biological viruses, malicious code can also evolve, making it more resistant to anti-virus software. This kind of code is known as code mutation. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that although it has similar functional features to the parent code from which it was created (to the point of being identical), the difference is syntactic (structural) rather than semantic, in order to elude the radar of software detecting malware.
How is code mutation created? Similar to a genetic mutation, the mutant code does not have to differ greatly from the original code. Computer code, including virus code, usually consists of several software components that communicate in order to carry out tasks. Sometimes, a small change in the way the components communicate with one another or in one of the components itself is enough to create a code mutation undetectable by the computer’s immune system – the security and anti-virus software. At times more significant changes are necessary, processes that will cause the malicious code to look very different than the original code that was the basis for its creation. But these changes are for the sake of appearance only. After the virus passes the computer’s firewalls and other defensive measures, it reverts to its original form and starts to function like the original virus. Two known methods to alter computer code are called, in the world of computer software, obfuscation and packing. These will change the code (make it look like a picture, text, or a string of meaningless keystrokes) but will not impact its functionality.
The strategic environment of the cyber battlefield includes the use of cyber weapons to penetrate the enemy’s systems for espionage, psychological warfare, deterrence, or damage to telecommunications or physical systems. Cyberspace offers wide-ranging warfare opportunities for many players who can operate in it according to their specific interests using their particular capabilities. The weapons arsenal includes advanced capabilities, usually found in just a few countries, and includes the ability to penetrate enemy systems without detection, gather intelligence, disrupt activity without arousing suspicion, and even cause physical damage to systems connected to cyberspace. The arsenal also includes simpler, less expensive weapons – used by other players such as criminal organizations, terrorist organizations, and commercial institutions – that are generally used to achieve temporary network damage (denial of service attacks), penetrate computer networks lacking a high level of security, steal information, and cause disruption. Capabilities such as these are for sale on the internet, increasing the proliferation of cyber weapons and making them accessible also for those lacking technological capabilities but equipped with the money to buy them.
The ability to create code mutation has reduced the technological gap between cyberspace actors. While state capabilities are required to create a sophisticated cyber weapon, all that is needed to duplicate it or create mutations is a group of talented civilian hackers that can use it to their own ends or sell it and operate it for others in exchange for payment.
At present, the internet and other communications networks based on similar protocols are insufficiently secured against a motivated attacker. The state’s dependence on the internet and the reliance of a variety of sectors on cyberspace make the cyber realm highly attractive, both to terrorist organizations seeking to penetrate the public’s consciousness and change an existing political reality, and to criminal organizations interested in financial profit. Both can achieve their goals through an attack in cyberspace, which is often cheaper and simpler than kinetic terrorism and crime but capable of attaining a similar effect.
The features of the cyber battlefield place the attacker before dilemmas stemming from the fact that cyber weapons are multi-use weapons. Their use informs the victim of their characteristics, allowing the victim to use them as well, even as a retaliatory measure against the attacker (the boomerang effect). Weapons with strategic destruction capabilities (such as Stuxnet) are liable to fall (or have already fallen) into the hands of states supporting terrorist and criminal organizations and provide them with a basis for cyber attacks.
The decreasing costs and increasing availability of cyber weapons to terrorist and criminal organizations are a threat to state security in general, and the State of Israel in particular. As states make increasing use of cyber weaponry, their proliferation at the hands of other nations and non-state entities is to be expected. Therefore, when analyzing cyber threats, cyber weapons must be regarded as multi-use weapons that can be exploited for future attacks.
Fund a failing government in Cyprus, | Bitcoin Cryptocurrency, | Speaking of Civil Wars...
.D. Tuccille | May 7, 201
Atlantic Releasing Society has taken a weird fork in the road—weird, because it’s taken both of the paths. On one hand, policy in many areas of life, including money, communications privacy, and personal weaponry, has become more controlling and more intrusive as politicians seek to know who is talking to whom, what we’re earning (and buying), and whether we have the means to push back against the authorities doing all that snooping. But on the other hand, technology increasingly empowers individuals to evade surveillance and restrictions, hide and transfer funds, and acquire or even manufacture forbidden goods, including firearms, without regard to laws dictated from above. Some of these technologies, such as encryption, have already had an enormous impact, while 3D printers and cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are only starting to make waves. But this growing divergence between what we can do and what our rulers want us to do may be a portent of an accelerating technology-fueled cold civil war.
To an extent, that cold civil war has always been with us. The printing press empowered people to spread ideas far beyond the reach of the busiest censors. Firearms gave individuals a fighting chance against trained muscle in the pay of the local powers that be. But technology throughout the 20th century was more often seen as giving an advantage to the state: spy cameras, tanks, and computer databases seemed to point to a future of “a boot stamping on a human face, forever,” as George Orwell so gloomily put it in 1984. But in recent years the tide has turned. The massive computers that were supposed to regiment society turned into PCs and then laptops and then mobile devices that could run encryption software, “mine” Bitcoins, and design forbidden objects for individuals.
Everaldo CoelhoThe personal computer itself aside, the first modern breakthrough may have come with encryption. At a time when tough cryptography of any type was considered a “munition” and subject to strict export controls, Phil Zimmerman created Pretty Good Privacy and uploaded it to the Internet for anybody who cared to make their email and other messages unreadable by anyone but the intended recipient. (Zimmerman allegedly intended his invention only for U.S. distribution, but even then the online world ranged far and wde.) Furious American officials opened a criminal investigation against Zimmerman, but the cat was out of the bag long before that investigation concluded without charges, though it was undoubtedly gratifying when the courts ruled that cryptographic source code is protected by the First Amendment.
Today Zimmerman is a co-founder of Silent Circle, a commercial outfit that encrypts voice, video and mobile communications—for a price. The company bases itself in Canada to minimize its exposure to the world’s snoopier regimes (including the U.S.). It also designed its network so that it can’t decrypt the traffic passing through it, to minimize what it can deliver in response to court orders. And Zimmerman’s commercial product isn’t the only game in town. Among the more promising offerings are a free suite of products from Open WhisperSystemsthat do much the same as Silent Circle’s software.
Why all this effort—and legal risk—to keep communications private? Because much of the world’s population lives under the thumbs of nosy rulers, whether overtly malevolent or just overly officious. Even here in the United States, the federal government has induced communications companies to spy on customers by promising not to enforce privacy protections and by threatening to fine online companies that don’t allow easy data access to the feds. Federal officials have dropped hints that they’re already recording all the phone calls they can intercept (though good luck processing all that data, if it’s true).
Public DomainBut biting off more than you can chew is a special skill for government officials, including those who managed to strip people’s trust from the Argentine peso and the euro. Currency controls, devaluations in Argentina, and outright confiscations to fund a failing government in Cyprus have driven people to seek a safe haven for what wealth survives the predations of their political leaders. Gold has traditionally provided such a refuge, but the high-tech Bitcoin cryptocurrency recently stepped in to fill that role in a more portable way. A geek’s plaything just a short time ago, Bitcoin has turned into a desperate hope for regular people. With its relative ease and anonymity, people who might once have stuffed their pockets with coins and mom’s wedding ring when times turn tough instead look to a smart phone app and electronic money to put their savings beyond the reach of crashing currencies and sticky-fingered politicians.
It’s not clear that Bitcoin can live up to its promise. It’s the first serious crypto currency, unanchored to a government or to a physical presence, and it’s just now being tested. What’s obvious, though, is that people want what Bitcoin is supposed to be, and that desire will certainly be fulfilled either by it or by a successor technology that can live up to the billing.
Bitcoin has another useful feature. As governments seek to control and track money flows to such an extent that Americans living outside the United States find banks turning away their business because of the red tape involved, Bitcoin is (mostly) anonymous and (largely) untraceable. What the Washington Post sees as a negative—”Bitcoin as an underground banking system or the currency of those who seek to engage in more controversial activities”—many people see as an unadulterated positive. Bitcoin puts financial activity beyond government scrutiny, even to the point of being used on black-market websites, such as Silk Road, to purchase forbidden goods, including illegal drugs.
Whether or not you think that’s a good thing depends on the side you’ve chosen in the cold civil war.
Speaking of civil wars: The hot ones are usually fought with firearms, which governments are often loath to see in wide circulation among their beleaguered subjects. In recent months, after the horrible crimes in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, many control-oriented politicians saw an opportunity to blow the dust off long-moldering proposals to restrict access to firearms and limit the kinds of guns that Americans can own. Those proposals faltered at the federal level, but laws were tightened in Colorado, Connecticut, and New York.
Defense DistributedIt’s pretty clear, though, that those laws mean even less than they did in the days when many people just ignored restrictive regulations. Modern technology has delivered the ability for people without specialized skills to manufacture firearms in the privacy of their homes with the push of a button. 3D printers, which build objects from plastic (or metal, in higher-end devices) based on computer designs that can be downloaded from the Internet, have been used to manufacture receivers for restricted semi-automatic rifles, and high-capacity ammunition magazines of the sort that are now banned in several states. This week, the first fully 3D-printed handgun was successfully test-fired. (By the way, don’t tell the control freaks, but CNC machinery—computer-controlled machine tools—also brings gun manufacturing to the DIY builder with a lower public profile and a less-science fiction-y touch.) Crude though it is, that first pistol is a peek at a future in which virtually any object can be made at home. To the extent that it ever existed, the age of enforceable restrictions on personal weapons, or objects of any sort, is coming to an end.
3D printing is a wildly promising technology that in years to come may be used to print life-like tissue for medical purposes and chemical compounds that could potentially solve the orphan drug problem. They could also be used to manufacture any mind-altering drug under the sun, putting an end to enforceable chemical prohibitions. The RepRap project, which is developing 3D printers that can replicate themselves, promises to make even a ban on 3D printers unenforceable.
Of course, some technologies still remain state-friendly. Heavy machinery, such as tanks and aircraft, continue to enhance government control. But those spy cameras that George Orwell saw as such an important part of Big Brother’s regime now serve individuals as much as they serve the state; smart phone cameras are used, both on the spur of the moment and by deliberate design, to monitor cops, TSA agents, and other functionaries.
Governments have always attempted to monitor and direct the people under their control. Now new technologies are giving individuals ever-more power to ignore and defy their rulers. If current trends continue, the future may be populated by frustrated governors and ungovernable individuals.
The beginning of the end for Hezbollah? Nasrallah’s strategic mistake
STEVEN A. ZYCK 4 June 2013 Subjects:International politics Democracy and government Conflict Civil society Syria Lebanon Violent transitions Arab Awakening
When the Assad regime is ultimately defeated, Hezbollah will have lost the majority of its military hardware, a significant portion of its forces, and its political clout in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party-cum-militia, has doubled down on its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Based on reports of fighting in Qusair in western Syria, Hezbollah has launched a fierce campaign alongside Syrian government forces. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, formally confirmed his group’s involvement in the Syrian civil war in late May, pledging continued support for the Assad regime against rebel fighters. Curiously linking Assad’s survival with the future of Palestine, Nasrallah reiterated dubious accusations that the Syrian resistance, despite including al Qaeda-affiliated groups, was somehow an American and Israeli creation.
Media reports presented Hezbollah’s support for Assad as a logical outcome of Syrian (and Iranian) support for the Lebanese Shia movement. However, further analysis demonstrates that backing Assad may in fact be the quickest route to the destruction and marginalization of Hezbollah. Such an outcome would not only be lamentable for Nasrallah and his compatriots but also for Lebanon and the broader region. Hezbollah’s decline, a likely outcome of the group’s support for the Assad regime, will disrupt Lebanon’s delicate sectarian calculus and risk a renewed descent into a calamitous civil (or regional) war in one of the region’s most entrepreneurial, democratic, and religiously diverse societies.
Let’s review a small number of plausible scenarios. Consider if Assad falls or departs. At best he will negotiate a belated departure – which he would have been wise to accept 80,000 fatalities ago – and seek guarantees that he will not face prosecution while living out his remaining days in, most likely, Iran. In such a scenario, a relatively conservative and Sunni-led regime in Damascus, bolstered militarily and financially by Saudi Arabia and others, will be perpetually fearful of Hezbollah across the border in Lebanon. It will seek to thwart the predominantly Shia movement, thus increasing the likelihood that Hezbollah and a Sunni-led Syrian regime will come to blows.
At worst, tens of thousands more people will die in Syria and the region as Assad continues his violent attempts to maintain power. Tired of the carnage, the west will intervene militarily, probably relying on airpower to level the playing field. Hezbollah’s support to the Assad regime in such a scenario, will become increasingly important, and Nasrallah will pour increasingly scarce resources – materiel and fighters – into the Syrian quagmire. When the Assad regime is ultimately defeated, Hezbollah will have lost the majority of its military hardware, a significant portion of its forces, and its political clout in Lebanon. Its ability to deliver services across southern Lebanon, Beirut’s southern suburbs, and elsewhere will atrophy, cutting into the group’s popular support and ability to claim to be more than a militant group. Conversely, if Assad wins, he will be too weak to provide much in the way of gratitude to Hezbollah for decades to come. He will need to focus all resources on fighting the domestic insurgency which will surely ensue. Indeed, a long war will further stretch Iran’s resources, already declining thanks to economic mismanagement and sanctions, further reducing Hezbollah’s financial wellbeing.
Internationally, Hezbollah’s involvement in Lebanon will further isolate the group. Those countries and analysts who admire Hezbollah’s organizational and military capabilities, its humanitarian activities, and its political acumen will no longer be able to provide the group with even moral support once it is implicated in large-scale killings of Syrian civilians. If Israel decides to attack Hezbollah while it is overstretched and bogged down in Syria, few in the international community would balk to the extent they would have had Nasrallah not allowed his group to get sucked so fully into Syria.
Within Lebanon, Hezbollah’s active military engagement in Syria has weakened the most recent and current prime ministers – formally backed by Hezbollah – who have proven largely unable to moderate or influence the group’s behavior. This situation draws greater attention to Hezbollah’s double-hatted role as both a powerful political faction and as a well-armed militia that has never fully bought into the state it helps to govern. It also raises the prospect of conflict spilling over from Syria into Lebanon, a possibility which was well demonstrated in the recent rocket attack – yet unclaimed by any group – against Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Should Hezbollah ultimately deteriorate in stature as a result of its ill-advised Syrian foray, the Lebanese political landscape would be affected in ways which we cannot yet predict. Would Shia factions compete for power in the absence of the sect’s hegemon? Would other, particularly Sunni, parties seek to capture a greater share of political power – emboldened by the network of regional Islamist movements loosely shepherded by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood? Would politico-sectarian reconfiguration feed into broader ethnic or sectarian violence? There are numerous possibilities – all of which would need to be carefully monitored.
While questions remain, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Hezbollah’s support for the Assad regime helps the group, the Syrian people, Lebanon, or regional peace and stability. Nasrallah would be well advised to provide little more than rhetorical support to the Assad regime and to focus upon solidifying its domestic position and sending a clear and unambiguous message to Israel and the United States that it has no interest in obtaining Syrian weapons, chemical or otherwise, now or in the future.