07 August, 2006

The Kuril Islands and WWII

Since WWII, the Russian-occupied Kuril Islands have been a point of contention with the original owners, the Japanese. They are, in fact, the northernmost islands of the Japanese chain. Negotiaions over the status of the islands has been an on again/off again proposition for years, and tends to parallel the overall relationship. The Eurasia Monitor reports that the long negotiations have been going nowhere, and the Russians are talking about making serious investments in the local infrastructure. Since the status of the islands has been the big hurdle to jump prior to signing a peace treaty (Japan and the Soviet Union never signed a peace with one another) it looks like, technically, World War II is going to keep going for the indefinite future.

This is all the more interesting for "democratic peace" proponents, since we have two (nominal) democracies in a (technical) state of war. Define war operationally, as it should be, and it doesn't really mean a thing.

02 August, 2006

An "Axis of Evil" after all?

The Jamestown Foundation's Terrorist Focus for 1 August has a couple of other interesting points I haven't seen picked up elsewhere:
Recent reports about Hezbollah's tunnel construction capabilities have received a new twist. In addition to receiving support from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is also believed to be benefiting from assistance provided by North Korean advisers, according to a July 29 report in al-Sharq al-Awsat.al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 29). The report also provides specifics on Iran's assistance to Hezbollah, such as Tehran's training of Hezbollah naval units, the construction of underground command and control centers, the construction of underground weapons depots and the training of three Hezbollah missile units consisting of 20 men each.The report quotes a high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer, who stated that North Korean advisers had assisted Hezbollah in building tunnel infrastructure, including a 25 kilometer underground tunnel. The officer explained that the North Koreans were filtered into Lebanon "in the guise of [domestic] servants by Iranian diplomats."
And what, exactly, does this mean for the battle? Take the Korean construction, add Iranian weapons, supplied through Syria, and fuse them under insurgent tactics learned in Lebanon (and Iraq). From another article in the same issue:

Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have described finding a network of concrete bunkers with modern communications equipment as deep as 40 meters along the border (Ynet News, July 23). The terrain is already well-suited for ambushes and hidden troop movements, consisting of mountains and woods in the east and scrub-covered hills to the west, all intersected by deep wadis (dry river beds). Broken rocks and numerous caves provide ample cover. Motorized infantry and armor can only cross the region with difficulty. Use of the few winding and unpaved roads invites mines and ambushes by Hezbollah's adaptable force of several thousand guerrillas (The Times [London], July 21).
Hezbollah emerged in 1985 with more enthusiasm than tactical sense, relying on wasteful frontal assaults and more effective suicide attacks on Israeli troops. With training provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah's highly-motivated military wing developed into a highly effective guerrilla force. Iran continues to provide specialized training, funds and weapons to Hezbollah through the Revolutionary Guards organization. Various reports suggest Iranian volunteers are being recruited and sent to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah, but these reports remain unconfirmed (Alborz News Agency, July 18; Mehr News Agency, July 17).
Hezbollah's military leadership has rethought much of the strategic and tactical doctrine that led to the repeated defeat of Arab regular forces by the IDF. The top-down command structure that inhibited initiative in junior ranks has been reversed. Hezbollah operates with a decentralized command structure that allows for rapid response to any situation by encouraging initiative and avoiding the need to consult with leaders in Beirut. The military wing nevertheless answers directly to Hezbollah's central council of clerics for direction.
The fighters are armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, typically assembling in small teams to avoid concentrations that would draw Israeli attention. The preparation of well-disguised explosive devices has become a specialty of Hezbollah. The uncertainty created by such weapons takes a heavy psychological toll on patrolling soldiers.
The guerrillas rigorously examine the success or failure of each operation after completion. Tactics change constantly and new uses are sought for existing weapons. The use of mortars (81mm and 120mm) has been honed to near perfection. Hezbollah fighters have developed efficient assault tactics for use against armor, with their main anti-tank weapons being AT-3 Saggers and AT-4 Spigot missiles. Four tanks were destroyed in two weeks in 1997 using U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles (these missiles traveled from Israel to Iran as part of the Iran-Contra affair before being supplied to Hezbollah).
Hezbollah leaders believe that their fighters have a perspective on conflict losses that gives them an inherent advantage; according to Naim Kassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, "[The Israeli] perspective is preservation of life, while our point of departure is preservation of principle and sacrifice. What is the value of a life of humiliation?" (Haaretz, December 15, 1996). With no hope of overwhelming Israel's well-supplied military, Hezbollah fighters concentrate on inflicting Israeli casualties, believing that an inability or unwillingness to absorb steady losses is Israel's strategic weakness.
Hezbollah has also mastered the field of information warfare, videotaping attacks on Israeli troops that are then shown in Israel and around the world, damaging public morale and degrading the myth of IDF invincibility.
Hezbollah is unlikely to have used the most potent weapons in its arsenal. Hanging on to them provides both strategic and psychological advantage. It is typical Hezbollah strategy to view war as a progression, rather than to use everything it has in the early stages of a conflict. While Israel may have a timetable of several weeks for this campaign, Hezbollah is prepared for several years of fighting. Disengagement may prove more difficult for Israel than it assumes. At some point, however, Hezbollah may become short of weapons and supplies. Normal supply lines from Syria have already been cut and Hezbollah has no facilities capable of producing arms or ammunition.
Israel has never been able to get the upper hand in the intelligence war with Hezbollah. Hezbollah's military wing is not easily penetrated by outsiders, but has had great success in intelligence operations against Israel. Nearly the entire Shiite population of south Lebanon acts as eyes and ears for the fighters, so it is little surprise that Israel initially concentrated on eliminating regional communications systems and forcing the local population from their homes in the border region.
Israel's air strikes have revealed the limitations of conventional air power in coping with mobile forces with little in the way of fixed installations or strategic targets. The 18-year war against the Israeli occupation (1982-2000) has, on the other hand, given Hezbollah an intimate knowledge of Israeli tactics.

This is not going to be easy for Israel, nor is it going to be clean, and given the goals of the war it can't be done with "proportionate" (i.e., legal) military action. In fact, this style of fighting (asymmetric, hiding behind civilians) challenges much of the philosophical and legal underpinnings for the law of war.

It looks like an air force (again!) has overestimated what can be done with precision bombing. This could go on for weeks--including the long-range missile attacks--unless the Hezbollah weapons are cut off at the source. This would also explain why the Israelis have been somewhat surprised by their slow going. No matter how good your troops are, that kind of preparation takes time and effort to overcome.

The student surpasses the teacher

Evidently there are some quiet but interesting events in China, prompted by, of all things, the (relative) reforms underway in Vietnam. Willy Lam at The Jamestown Foundation reports:

Discussion among liberal scholars and CCP members first emerged in closely monitored Chinese websites and blogs after the VCP held its 10th Congress in April to pick its new party chief. Keeping with Leninist tradition, all such “elections” had in the past, involved only one candidate, with the ballot casting a mere formality. Yet for the first time in the April conclave, then party boss of Ho Chi Minh City Nguyen Minh Triet, well known for his stern anti-corruption campaigns, ran against the incumbent, veteran Politburo member Nong Duc Manh. Manh, thought by some to be a son of Founding Father Ho Chi Minh, fended off the challenge. Yet, at a plenary session of the 11th National Assembly held in June, the reformist Triet was elected state president by a large margin. In the same meeting, most government leaders above the age of 60 voluntarily retired. This made possible the early accession of Vice-Premier Nguyen Tan Dung, 56, to the post of prime minister (BBC News, June 27).

Among the well-known Chinese intellectuals who have applauded the reform experiments in Vietnam was liberal theorist Zhou Ruijin, a former editor of the People’s Daily and Shanghai’s Liberation Daily. Zhou wrote a piece for an electronic magazine entitled, “We Should Pay Attention to Reforms in Vietnam.” Zhou, who became famous for expounding on Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the early 1990s, asked in his article whether the VCP had already overtaken the CCP in “intra-party reform.” Referring to the Chinese cadres’ usually patronizing attitude toward Vietnam, Zhou wrote, “The student has surpassed the teacher.” In addition to urging the CCP leadership to consider holding “multi-candidate elections” to select its general secretary at the upcoming 17th Congress, Zhou praised the high degree of transparency within VCP deliberations as well as the party’s willingness to entertain the views of non-party members (Yazhou Zhoukan, Hong Kong, July 30)

Of course, "reform" is a relative term. It sounds more like the multi-faction, one-party system set up years ago in Tanzania, rather than the two party Republicrat system of the US, and nothing at all like a wide-ranging parliamentary democracy. But it's worth keeping an eye on it. China must adapt if it is to maintain its growth rates and domestic support for the state/elite. Can the Chinese elite work out an accomodation that will allow real changes in power and personnel without purges or revolution? Can they keep themselves in power as a class while accepting the rise and fall of individuals and factions?

As if Katrina wasn't enough

From Jim Dunnigan at StrategyPage:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still investigating a recent incident in which a large pipe bomb was found floating in Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans. The device was examined, it was definitely a floating bomb, and was detonated while still on the water. While not a large explosive device, it reminded everyone at DHS that a major terrorist threat is the destruction of one of the railroad bridges over the Mississippi river. These bridges carry a major amount of freight traffic, and the loss of even one of them (if only for a few weeks, while being repaired) would have a noticeable effect on the economy. Al Qaeda knows about this, thus counter-terrorism officials are trying to found out who made the Lake Pontchartrain bomb. That's because this device had all the hallmarks of a test, for a larger bomb capable of dropping one of the nearby Mississippi river bridges.

Odd that he doesn't mention the other obvious job for a bomb like that: breaching the dikes. If the stories from New York have any validity, Al Qaeda (and/or sympathisers) were very impressed by the damage that followed Katrina. The story was they were looking for a method to flood New York, but that's very hard to do. To flood New Orleans again, however, would be (relatively) easy, provide great pictures for the world media, embarass the US government, and harm the economy of one of America's most impoprtant transit points. Is DHS really ignoring this, or do they not want to mention it?