Category Archives: Foreign Policy

The Worst, Worst Year? 2017

One way or another, the biggest story of 2017 has been the Trump Presidency. Though we at the Affiliate Network have avoided commenting on American politics, it’s worth recalling that at this time last year, news outlets across the political spectrum were breathing a big sigh of relief as 2016, “the worst year ever” came to an ignominious end. At the time, the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) raged in the Middle East, Russian aggression dominated Eastern Europe, and China was staring down the world in the South China Sea. The United States and Britain seemed to shirk the traditional liberal world, gravitating towards isolationism and xenophobia and a number of other things were causing us stress. The New York Times was succinct: “Syria, Zika, Haiti, Orlando, Nice, Charlotte, Brussels, Bowie, Prince, Ali, Cohen…” Cohen? We’re not sure who that is but Carrie Fisher was a big loss right before Christmas.

Despite everyone else’s pessimism however, our Affiliates were looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of 2017. So, how did it end up? ISIL is on the run, global economies are steadily growing, and no matter how you feel about President Trump, 2017 did not end up as the “worst, worst year ever.” At the advent of 2018, we at the Affiliate Network would like to take the opportunity to look back and reflect on a year of detailed analysis of some of the world’s most important issues.

Mundo Latino (Latin World)

Latin America was one of our most-covered regions, and we are lucky to have a number of new Affiliates uniquely qualified to report on one of the world’s fastest growing regions. In Bolivarian Devolution: The Venezuela Crisis, Patrick Parrish and Kirby Sanford analyzed the precursors to the economic crisis and the social unrest that befell the oil-rich nation. While the crisis in Venezuela dominated headlines throughout the year, it was far from the only news coming out of the region. In Paraguay: Voting Away Freedom, Kirby Sanford explained how a strong leader and weak institutions led to a constitutional crisis that proved political instability is not an isolated event on the South American continent.

Naturally, authoritarian rulers are not the only sources of tensions in the Americas, some crises there are rooted in socioeconomic issues. In A Tale of Two Cities: Development in Latin America, Patrick Parrish examines growth and development in a region rife with inequality, a phenomenon that will likely be a future source of civil unrest there. As a result of this inequality, Latin America and the United States share the burden of a historically significant period of migration. In Feeding the Beast: Guatemalan Migration, Ligia Lee gives an insider’s assessment of the problem and suggests that addressing regional issues is the only way to stem the tide of migrants moving towards the United States.

Complex Emergency

While thankfully the issues in Latin America this year had mostly socioeconomic and political causes, in other regions, military conflicts were the primary drivers of change. Though the battle against ISIL is far from won, Iraq’s leadership declared a short-term victory in December by affirming ISIL no longer occupies significant territory in the worn-torn country. Meanwhile, Russia still occupies the eastern reaches of Ukraine where heavy fighting continues despite the fact that the conflict has largely fallen out of headlines. In Arming Ukraine: The Debate, Heather Regnault examines options available to world leaders to counter Russian aggression, and asserts that US strategic leadership is required to discourage additional Russian moves in the region. Similarly, Dr. Chris Golightly argues Russia’s boldness in the Middle East may be part of a larger plan to manipulate hydrocarbon markets in order to re-shape the geopolitical landscape in its favor. In Green is the New Black: Making a Gas Cartel, he examines Russia’s ambitions in the Middle East and adjacent Black Sea through the lens of geopolitical ambitions based on pipeline deals.

Worst in Asia

Asia was no stranger to political drama in 2017. In China, Xi Jinping consolidated power in the Communist Party and looks to continue guiding the nation’s rise to prominence. In Chengdu: Canary in the Coal Mine, Navisio Global’s own Lino Miani explains that Chinese economic growth is not sustainable in the face of an increasingly affluent and demanding middle class. Xi was not the only Asian leader making waves this year. In North Korea, Kim Jong Un also took steps to secure his position albeit through less conventional measures. In LOL: The Art of Assassination, Lino lends his unique insight to the details surrounding the brazen assassination of Kim’s older brother. The complex operation employed unwitting agents and the use of a deadly chemical weapon in the middle of a busy Malaysian airport. While the assassination answered the question of what lengths Kim will go to in order to secure his power as leader, it also raised fears of what he may be capable of doing with his growing nuclear arsenal.

Tech Monster

Technology and innovation emerged as an increasingly pertinent theme in global security in 2017. In Future Vision: Europe’s Image Problem, Johnathon Ricker explains how the end of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan left Europe without a crucial security tool: accurate and reliable satellite imagery. This reliance on technology for security isn’t just limited to imagery. In Industrialization’s Monster: Yes We Can, Dr. Jill Russel examines the global quest for innovation in technology through the reflective lens of the industrial revolution. She questions whether the technological and cyber revolution we have created will eventually develop the power to defeat us. Her analysis reminds us that when it comes to managing global security challenges we must also mind the tools and technology that power our economies.

The Affiliate Network would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday. We assure you that the intelligence of our affiliates is anything but artificial, so be sure to check in with us throughout 2018 to maintain a high level of situational awareness on global security issues as they emerge. To our readers and followers on social media: a sincere “thank you” for all of your likes, shares and comments. The Affiliate Network team hopes that the coming year will be rich with constructive policy discussion at the family dinner table.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any  government or private institution.

Major Patrick “TISL” Parrish is the Blogmaster and editor for the Affiliate Network. He is a US Air Force Officer and A-10C Weapons Instructor Pilot with combat tours in Afghanistan and Libya. He is currently serving as an Olmsted Scholar in Santiago, Chile.

LOL: The Art of Assassination

On the morning of 14 February 2017, a grainy closed circuit television video shows a middle-aged Korean man striding casually into the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He is approached from behind by a young woman in a white t-shirt and blue skirt and in a flash she throws a cloth over his face to administer a lethal dose of a colorless, odorless liquid. The victim, Kim Jong Nam, is the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He did not yet realize he was already doomed; assassinated by unknown assailants wielding an unidentified chemical weapon. The ongoing international manhunt that followed revealed the greatest strengths of the storied Royal Malaysian Police Special Branch and the brutality and skill of the North Korean intelligence service. The incident also strained relations between Pyongyang and one of the few countries in the world with which it enjoys normal relations.

The brazen murder also captivated millions and brought a shadowy underworld briefly to the surface. What is not apparent to most is that last week’s dramatic events were not a lucky strike by clever opportunists, they were the end result of a sophisticated intelligence operation – actually several separate operations – spanning multiple countries and likely involving dozens of intelligence officers and their agents. (In the professional jargon of the intelligence community, an agent is someone recruited by an intelligence officer.) Coordinating their activities to achieve the final spectacular, and previously impossible result is the real art behind the assassination.

The Cat and the Mouse

Once considered a likely successor to his father, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Nam was passed-over following a careless indiscretion and went quickly into exile while his younger sibling thrashed about in the tense early days of his rule. Despite great doubt about his ability to muster the ruthlessness required to retain power over the isolated country, Kim Jong Un quickly consolidated his hold using imprisonment and death to control anyone presenting the slightest political threat. In an environment where even kinship was less important than loyalty, Kim Jong Nam was bound to be targeted even if he had not made statements questioning the stability of his brother’s regime.

Nam Assassination
Before his fortunes faded, Kim Jong Nam (left) was the presumptive heir to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Now his half-brother, Kim Jong Un (right), leads the country. Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/15/exclusive-two-female-secret-agents-behind-murder-kim-jong-unsbrother/

The elder Kim withdrew deeper into a dark exile after his father’s death in 2012. In China and Macau he was assumed to be under state protection and travelled under numerous aliases. He had already survived at least two attempts on his life and reportedly begged his half-brother to spare his life and that of his family. His final minutes in Kuala Lumpur were a bizarre drama. After being assaulted by the woman in white, he was initially treated at an airport clinic before being evacuated by ambulance to a local hospital. He died en route, just as police were beginning their hunt for his alleged attackers, an Indonesian girl – Siti Aisyah – and a Vietnamese national, Doan Thi Huong, the now infamous woman wearing the coldly ironic “LOL” t-shirt.

After her attack on Kim Jong Nam, CCTV footage shows Doan calmly leaving the scene and catching a taxi outside. Despite having just administered a lethal dose of an unknown chemical, she displayed no concern for her own safety and wore no obvious protective equipment. She had clearly practiced the sequence. Both Doan and Siti Aisyah later told police separately they believed they were taking part in a made for television prank. But Doan’s actions in the 48 hours prior to the attack suggest she had received some training in tradecraft. During that time she stayed in three hotels in the immediate vicinity of the airport and paid cash for her lodging. At one point she borrowed a pair of scissors and cut her hair, leaving the remnants in the trash can in her room. Her activities during the day are just coming to light but are now known to have included numerous rehearsals and examinations of the target area; possibly in conjunction with Siti Aisyah. These are classic, if clumsy techniques to avoid detection and rehearse the operation. They certainly signal a nefarious intent.

The Art of Assassination

To the casual observer, Kim Jong Nam’s death may seem like the handiwork of a couple clever and highly trained operatives. The reality is that intelligence operations of this kind are highly choreographed, involve dozens of actors, and are compartmented for security. Assassinating Kim Jong Nam required at least five, and as many as seven separate operations managed by seven or more intelligence officers with perhaps dozens of agents in Macau, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The overall operation likely consisted of the following supporting operations:

  • Recruit the assassins. Siti Aisyah was recruited in Indonesia. Doan may have been recruited in Vietnam.
  • Determine Kim Jong Nam’s travel plans. Doan was aware of Kim Jong Nam’s travel plans at least 48 hours prior to the attack. She used this time to rehearse and to complete her reconnaissance. Information gleaned from his social media feed is not reliable enough for this purpose and had to be corroborated with direct knowledge from intercepted communications or recruited agents in a position to provide assured access to his itinerary.
  • Report Kim Jong Nam’s movements. The attack required very precise information about his flight, his mode of transportation, his likely arrival time at the terminal, the gate/check-in counter for his flight, what he was wearing, etc.; all of which had to be communicated to the assassins in a timely manner. A botched operation would have been far too damaging to leave this to chance. This could have been as simple as a phone warning from his hotel but doing this reliably requires layers of mobile and static surveillance at the hotel, the airport, and his many residences.
  • Deliver the chemical. The chemical used to kill Kim Jong Nam was smuggled into Malaysia or manufactured locally. It likely required special skill to make and specific equipment to store and administer. For Security, Doan would have received the chemical secretly and been trained in its use at the last possible moment raising the risk it could have killed bystanders or the assassins themselves.
  • Kill Kim Jong Nam. There is a possibility Doan and Siti Aisyah may have been employed separately to ensure redundancy. They may even have been unaware of each other’s activities. The leaked CCTV footage of the attack supports this conclusion, though there is new information that they rehearsed the attack together.
  • Observe and report the outcome. Though this could have been conducted overtly through North Korean diplomats and/or monitoring of the press, it is a critical piece. At a minimum, Doan needed to report her task complete or a separate observer had to be in place at the scene to do so. Emerging information suggests this was the task of the four North Korean nationals still sought by Malaysian police.
  • Exfiltrate the assets. The four remaining fugitives all left Malaysia within a few hours of the operation. They took circuitous routes back to North Korea via Indonesia, Dubai, Russia, and elsewhere. Their roles are not certain but probably also included passing intelligence and issuing final orders. One, Ri Jong Chol, remained in Kuala Lumpur and was apprehended Monday. Doan and Siti Aisyah seemed to lack viable escape plans. It is possible they were left as a diversion to throw investigators off the trail of fleeing North Korean intelligence officers.
assassination malaysia
Deputy National Police Chief of Malaysia Noor Rashid Ibrahim, left, speaks as Selangor Police Chief Abdul Samah Mat listens during a press conference at the Bukit Aman national police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Photo credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian, http://time.com/4676018/kim-jong-nam-death-north-korea-suspects/

Though it was possible to conduct some of the supporting operations above clandestinely, meaning the operations themselves remain hidden, the politically explosive death of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother could never be kept secret and therefore had to be done covertly, meaning the sponsor’s hand remains hidden. A covert operation is much more difficult to execute than a clandestine one and requires layers of separation between intelligence officers and their agents that are typically not highly trained operatives. Agents are deniable and sometimes coerced. Occasionally they do not know whom they are working for or even that they are working for someone at all.

As an additional security measure, the supporting operations would be kept completely separate. The risk of detection is highest when these operations come together through communications or physical contact, meaning the moment of greatest vulnerability was during the attack itself when all the pieces were brought together in time and space. At that point, all the complicated designs of the North Korean regime rested on the element of surprise and the skill and demeanor of half-trained agents.

Ultimately, the assassination of Kim Jong Nam was a well-planned and skillfully executed intelligence operation, but the Royal Malaysian Police Special Branch is untangling the knot with great efficiency. With its roots in the long, difficult fight against Communist insurgency, Special Branch is a tough adversary in the ongoing spy game. Known locally as SB, Special Branch serves as both the internal and external intelligence service of the Malaysian state. They enjoy good relationships with counterparts in the region and are receiving excellent mutual support from Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry which is aggressively setting the conditions for international cooperation in the investigation. Though culpability for Kim Jong Nam’s death may never be fully proven, SB has managed to minimize political damage to Malaysia and imposed a high cost on North Korea. With the dust still settling, only Kim Jong Un himself can say if his brother’s murder was worth the resultant damage to relations with Malaysia and the increased suspicion that the operation has inspired around the world.


Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC. He provided expertise in special and intelligence operations to NATO from 2013-2016. Read about one of his encounters with the North Koreans in Kuala Lumpur.

Onward and Upward: Looking Back on 2016

Here at The Affiliate Network, wrapping up 2016 means looking back on the year to examine the issues that mattered most to the world, keeping in mind our goal to inform our readers, foster debate about the substance of global issues, and promote the expertise of our Affiliates.

With such a tumultuous year, our Affiliates had plenty to discuss about the year’s events. We published 13 pieces by contributors from around the world, each Affiliate lending their own unique perspective on issues in international policy, security, and diplomacy.

Human Security vs. National Security

The conflicts of 2016 continue to highlight the human cost of war and underscore the increasingly uncomfortable reality that some governments prioritize national security over the safety and wellbeing of their constituents. The fight against Daesh is a good example, leaving a trail of civilian victims in its wake and begging the question how the rest of the world can help the helpless in this terrible conflict. The atrocities in Syria and Iraq – as well as the resultant flight of tens of thousands of refugees to Western Europe – will be increasingly difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately, discussions of immigration in Europe often segue into concerns over terrorism. The year was marked by a rise in terror attacks across the globe, particularly in Europe. The Brussels Airport bombing in particular represented a decision point for the western world in the fight against terror. Stemming from this event and growing questions of interregional border security, Europe grapples with the realities of an increasingly complex security situation. Rein Westra underscores the importance of adapting to this circumstance in Securing Trade and Transportation.

As Navisio Global’s CEO, Lino Miani, highlights in a series of articles on the fight against Daesh, humanitarian concerns and terrorism in Europe are only one aspect of the challenges in the Middle East. In Making Mosul Great Again and The Gate, Lino describes the unfathomable strategic importance of two individual cities in Syria and Iraq as Russia, Turkey, the United States, Iran, and NATO wage what some believe is a proxy struggle for influence in the Middle East.

Nationalism & Populism in 2016

The presidential election in the United States captured attention the world over, but it was not the only political transition in the news. In Let’s Change, Jon Nielsen wrote about the end of the Kirchners and Peronism in Argentina. Though Argentina may be ending its tradition of power transfer from husband to widow, Mugabe’s Heart explores how long-time president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, may be following the same playbook as the Kirchners.

http://uk.businessinsider.com/eu-referendum-poll-brexit-beckons-as-97-of-britons-think-david-cameron-cant-get-a-deal-2015-5
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down as a result of a failed campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the EU

Elections were not the only political events captivating audiences in 2016. In the United Kingdom, the referendum to leave the European Union, also known as “Brexit”, dominated headlines and may have inspired similar movements throughout Europe. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned after Italians rejected a constitutional change to the legislative balance of power, resulting in increased instability within the broader Eurozone. Elsewhere, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey narrowly avoided falling victim to his country’s latest military coup and has since consolidated power through purges and repression. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil was impeached on corruption charges and President Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela is leading the resource-rich Bolivarian state into poverty and despair as he clings to power.

A Fractured Future?

The coming year will put to work the lofty campaign promises of those who won elections in the past year and focus our attention on additional ones the world over. France, Germany, Chile, South Korea and India will all hold presidential elections in 2017. Many of our readers are alarmed that trends of nationalism and populism will shape the character of the EU and the western world for the next several years but some of our Affiliates offer voices of calm in the storm. Portuguese diplomat and former United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative, Victor Angelo, offers a contrarian perspective into the implications of the historic Brexit referendum in The Sky is not Falling on the European Union. Victor Perez-Sañudo makes a similar case from a law enforcement perspective in With or Without the EU. Nick Avila then follows up with an intelligent debrief into what Brexit truly means for the European Union and the European identity in The Spark to Redefine “Europe”.

Brexit aside, multilateral institutions continue to play an important role in international relations and security. Jon Nielsen identified important implications to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in A New Weapon in the South Atlantic. On the Pacific side of the world, overlapping claims to the South China Sea caused intermittent escalation of tensions. Lino Miani examines the complex dynamic between ASEAN and China using lessons from the conflict in Ukraine in Beyond Crimea.

The concept of international cooperation is reliant on a level of shared values and understanding within the international system but fear and distrust seem to be on the rise and misunderstandings abound. The east-west cultural divide rests at the foundation of many security issues that predominate. In Tangled Conflict, Caleb Ling points out there are still many misconceptions about unrest and conflict in the Kingdom and Mike Kendall highlights the often dangerous rhetoric used to describe China’s rise to power in Social Media’s Chinese Boogeyman.

The Affiliate Network would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday, and we look forward to providing you the same quality of analysis in 2017 that we did in 2016. To our readers: a sincere “thank you” for all of your likes, shares and comments. The Affiliate Network team hope that like us, your holiday will be rich with constructive policy discussion at the family dinner table.


Patrick Parrish

Patrick Parrish is the Blogmaster of The Affiliate Network.  He is a U.S. Air Force Officer and Olmsted Scholar currently serving in Santiago, Chile.