Tag Archives: Geopolitics
Cartoons, Meet Combat. Combat, Cartoons.

Cartoons, Meet Combat. Combat, Cartoons.


Cars 2 starts with not only cars but boats. Minutes in, we’re introduced to Tony Trihull, who’s guarding a platform swarming with Bad Guys (or Bad Cars). I didn’t find out his name until later, and at that moment thought, “what an odd boat, it looks almost like a submarine”. It turns out it was a boat (the name being a bit of a giveaway), and like any vehicle in the Cars franchise, it’s got a liberal grounding in The Real.

Tony Trihull and the USS Independence


It’s the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and, as its name implies, is a vessel intended for close to shore, or sea-to-shore operations. As is implied by Tony’s name, it’s a trihull and has no forward decks to speak of. As you’ll see in the diagrams (or even by just watching Cars 2 as Tony turns around), there is a substantial  rear deck for most configurations.

Segueing into configurations, it’s modular and can be fitted with a number of these modules depending on its intended application. So much hardware is in the modules and tied with vessel systems that it almost becomes a different ship depending on which module it’s fitted with, as the some of the names imply: Mine Hunter, Surface Warfare, Anti-submarine Warfare, etc. One carries a number of new-ish helicopter drones (the MQ-8B UAV), making for quite a sexy package.

MQ-8B heli-drone

Israel had initially expressed an interest in the LCS, but opted to build its own. Other potential customers include Saudi Arabia and China.

While we’re at it, a trivia question (prize TBD): how many countries have no Littoral (coast, i.e. “landlocked”), ocean or even large lake? BONUS: how many countries have no coast but still have a navy?

Incidentally, I’d come up with a moniker for a country completely enclosed by another (only one, with only one border): “statelocked”. Lesotho https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/lt.html is my personal favorite; the Holy See (Vatican City) is perhaps more obvious, but it’s not so much a “state” and certainly isn’t in the UN pantheon (though it is an observer, as is the Palestinian Authority). There are more of these than you might think…

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International Sport(s), Geopolitics, and Political Histrionics

International Sport(s), Geopolitics, and Political Histrionics

Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani attended a semi-final match in the cricket World Cup today, the latest in a a 25-year series of events giving rise to the charming phrase, “cricket diplomacy”.  The seminal event  took place in 1987 when a match served as the pretext for what ended up being a somewhat decisive meeting between Zia-ul Haq and Rajiv Gandhi at one of the heights of tension in Kashmir.


And as an aside, the captain of the Pakistani team, Imran Khan, has since turned politician and and is a Pakistani MP, albeit a bit of a milquetoast-y one (there’s no shortage of course, not anywhere).

Speaking of pretexts and geopolitical histrionics, watch the daily “retreat ceremony” at Wagah on the Kashmiri border:

Let’s not forget the substantial role sport(s) plays in geopolitics: FIFA is, after all, the 2nd largest international organization (by number of member states)–only UN has more. But this topic is covered at some length.

And speaking of pretexts, I’ll take the opportunity to also remember that Kashmir isn’t solely contested by India and Pakistan: China has a stake too. It also has a spot of Muslim separatism (though not entirely–Xinjiang is semi-autonomous).

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Blood for No Oil

Blood for No Oil

Actually, this post doesn’t have anything–directly–to do with the title, I just always wanted to use it. James Howard Kunstler used it as a joke referring to the oft-lofted anti-war poster, pointing at the time (probably 2003) to the immediate huge drop in Iraqi oil production at the beginning of the war, which I might add took years to come even close to where it had been. Those who know me know references to US policy in the Middle East being “all about oil” is nails->chalkboard for me (it’s not entirely unfounded, just a better beginning to a conversation than the ending it’s often treated as). So…

US Oil Production and Consumption
The US produces a lot of petroleum, actually (we’re the world’s 3rd-largest producer at 11%; we export about 2 million barrels/day), but we consume even more. About 51% (2009) of US consumption comes from foreign sources (18.8 million barrels/day in 2009). EIA projections have that coming down to 45% in 2035. By the way, some refining processes actually increase the volume of refined output (a not inconsiderable amount–1 Mbpd in 2007)–the increased volume is actually counted as domestic production regardless of where the crude came from!

Where US Oil Comes From (and Where it Doesn’t)
About 1/2 of our imported oil comes from the Western Hemisphere (i.e., not the Middle East–about 17% comes from the Persian Gulf). The top five sources for US oil (the middle three do switch positions from year to year):

  • Canada (21% gross)
  • Mexico (10% gross)
  • Venezuela (9% gross)
  • Saudi Arabia (9% gross)
  • Nigeria (7% gross)

What “Sweet, Light Crude” Means
“Lightness” refers to the American Petroleum Institute’s measure of the gravity of crude relative to that of water.  The scale goes from light to heavy; most grades fall between 10-70 “degrees”, though Canada’s oil sands output is very heavy, ~8 degrees.

“Sweetness” refers to the sulfur content of the crude; <5% sulfur is considered “sweet”, anything more is considered “sour”.

Where Oil Prices Come From
West Texas Intermediate is the main benchmark for oil coming into the US. It’s sourced in Texas and mainly consumed internally. Its price is usually about $1-2 lower than the price of Brent Crude.

When you hear reports about the price of a barrel of oil, it probably is referring to the price of Brent Crude. Brent is the main global benchmark; lower- and higher-quality crudes may be “pegged” to the price of Brent. It’s sourced mainly in the North Sea, and consumed largely by Europe. There a a few “flavors” of Brent:

  • Brent Sweet Light Crude
  • Oseburg
  • Ekofisk
  • Forties

Dubai Crude is another benchmark, particularly for the sale of oil going to Asia. This is sourced in Dubai (and Oman), and exported/refined externally.

There’s also the OPEC Reference Basket–this is a weighted average from ~11 sources. A more nuanced way of managing oil prices (beyond brute-force supply variation) is controlling the output from one source relative to the others.

Those are the main benchmark grades. You can get an idea of the variability of grades (which vary from field to field–sometimes widely) by looking at this chart of sources and grades.

Iran Heavy is pegged to Brent. Because of its lower quality, it usually sells about $6 less than Brent. I mention this because we talk a lot about Iran’s oil production (they are the world’s 5th-largest producer), and the geopolitical implications, especially in light of the UN sanctions.

Iran actually suffers a bit–even when oil prices rise–not just because of the sanctions, but because the crude is heavy and sour, and thus more expensive to refine (and can’t be processed in as many refineries). Refineries are expensive to build and maintain, and not as flexible in processing various grades as you might think. They export much of their crude, and even for internal consumption end up importing gasoline.

Iran had actually been “hoarding” crude in 10-28 Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) for several years. No one says exactly why, but it’s a lot of oil they’re storing–a big VLCC can hold about 2 Million barrels. They’re also very expensive to maintain, insure, and rent. I last speculated with a friend on why that was in 2008, wondering about efforts to constrain world supply and benefit financially, but they’re still there (though I don’t mean to overstate–there is some movement out of Iran, but they are always storing). And there are more of them.

Beijing Lu International Freight Forwarders Limited

Despite the sanctions, a lot goes to China, and one might assume that they benefit from tightening (but not ceased) supply from Libya. And Europe, too:

But since Iranian sanctions were tightened, the biggest trade for NITC’s tankers have involved shipments of Iranian crude for NIOC to Ain Sukhna. From there, crude is pumped to the Sidi Kerir terminal on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, where it is blended with other Middle East crudes. From Sidi Kerir, crude is sold to traders based in the Mediterranean, with the biggest volumes going to Italy, Spain and to Turkey.

And Iran recently reduced its domestic subsidies for gasoline, provoking some violence, a huge spike in gas prices (obviously), apparently showing signs of bite from the sanctions.

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But they’re *our* insurgents… now

But they’re *our* insurgents… now

Note: the title of the post is meant as a playful reference to the apocryphal, “He may be an X, but he’s our X.” Now, as for whether I think we’ve really taken ownership of the insurgency through this action–not really. Perhaps more so “adopted”, even if that’s not the (certainly not stated of course) goal.

So many of my thoughts on the Libya situation and especially the no-fly zone (NFZ)/UNSC resolution are hopelessly overdue and now mostly irrelevant. This post is mostly meant to clarify a hasty and vague set of points I began to lay out to my wife (now several days ago) after a couple of days where we hadn’t yet spoken about it; those points were mainly about explaining my dubiousness re: the NFZ.

One of the most flip thoughts I had: as soon as the resolution was affirmed, hearing reports of Benghazi celebrants firing into the air was, “they really ought to conserve that ammo.”



One of the others, which still appears to have some relevance (indeed, provoking surprise) to some of the people I’ve talked to is that just being the beneficiary of the NFZ/humanitarian aid doesn’t make you a “non-combatant” (which is what some appear to envision when they think “humanitarian”). They are insurgents.

That’s OK of course; years of opposition to the CPA, Maliki’s government, and the US presence in Iraq have conditioned some to equate “insurgents” with “bad guys”! This an insurgency; as long as we’re forced to entertain reductiones ad absurdum, we might as well admit that we’re at war (albeit an aloof one–hopefully it will only de-escalate, though that does seem unlikely).

There’s a civil war in Libya, and just by taking steps that are ostensibly humanitarian, we’ve chosen sides; we are supporting the (“good”) insurgents. But the big point here is that it will be difficult to separate our aims (or the rather broad remit of UNSC 1973) from the strategic goals of the rebels. Those strategic goals may be diffuse (they’re not likely to coalesce, either; rather, we/the coalition is likely to align more closely to the goals of “elite” players as they emerge) and are likely to take a long time to achieve. Put another way, UNSC 1973 and our goals are unlikely to have the same endpoint.

What responsibility do we have to a stateless Libya (surely the “humanitarian” risks are much greater when we have a failed state in a civil war)? To the formation of a new, stable government? Even if–in one most preferable scenario–Qaddafi “steps down”/relinquishes power in some relatively peaceful fashion, are we or any part of this coalition able to step away before there’s some semblance of stability or even a “decent interval”? This has to be their revolution after all, or we risk inheriting not only the legacy of Libya from the Italians, reinforcement of the narratives of US meddling in the region, but also the amplified resentment of those who might doubt their own self-determination…

On the point of government formation, I wrote the following in an email (from my phone, with quite divided attention, so it’s even less well-formulated than its adopted parent post–cut me slack!) to a question of facilitating elections (it was an innocent question I assure you):

And absolutely–BUT we aren’t anywhere close to that yet (there could still be a Qaddafi govt a month from now unfortunately!)… Opposition is coalescing into a sort of “shadow government” and might be fairly fully formed when/if they are ready (I HAVE to assume we have or have had–or someone say the French has–a covert relationship with the opposition)

Fact is, in a post-civil war/revolution world, we shouldn’t rush into wholesale elections–preferable if there is some sort of transitional govt ready in the wings (you really can’t go straight into nat’l elections–you start running the provisional govt, can start electing local govt, then–assuming a parliamentary system–start electing PMs).

Now, bear in mind that forming a govt after parliamentary elections *could* be messy (forming coalitions, naming a prime minister and starting a cabinet)–this took what, 6-9 months after the last elections in Iraq. That’s why you want a transitional govt and can’t rush right into representational democracy. You need the country to not absolutely fall to pieces “just because” you got rid of the dictator!

Libya doesn’t have terribly solid independent institutions–and you have to have something (police, water and power, hospitals) or people may really suffer (they unfortunately probably will in some way in either case. This was a huge advantage in Egypt… So much infrastructure was independent and you had a very strong army able to take up transitional tasks (assuming they remain “transitional”) AND public acceptance of the institution.

The sources of legitimacy, even compliance, are elusive–so, apparently, are our interests.


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Afghanistan Study Group, Expert Takedowns, and Chuck Hagel

I’d written a rather different post before, simply updating to link to Josh Foust’s >critique on Registan. The original post was a paean to Chuck Hagel and link to the Afghanistan Study Group report; at this point, I’ll invert it and say the Registan post should be your main entrée into the ASG report.

At any rate, courtesy Steve Clemons @ The Washington Note (an inveterate Hagel booster, with good reason), see Washington Diplomat’s profile/interview of Hagel.

I’d hoped Hagel would be Obama’s initial pick for SecDef or State (but was not entirely disappointed with the way things shook out after all), perhaps as the token Cabinet Republican. We know Gates is leaving, and the departure of Jim Jones sounds likely. Hagel would be a good pick for either role; or, take Hillary’s chair were she to move laterally.

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