Tag Archives: Asia

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.

Asian Aspirations: NATO Looks East

As NATO’s mission in Afghanistan completes its transition from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the non-combatant Resolute Support Mission (RSM), the question on the minds of senior Allied leaders is how to maintain Alliance cohesion without the massive political-military gravity of the war to keep the Nations engaged with one another. Cohesion may seem like an odd thing to worry about after 70 years of Allied success but what is not apparent to many is that for the last 14 years, the war in Afghanistan has given NATO tremendous energy and unity of purpose. Now, even with events in the Ukraine giving the Alliance renewed vigor, NATO finds itself adrift, searching for a purpose that all 28 member states can agree on even as Europe is beset on all sides by complex and serious challenges to its security.

The Ukraine crisis aside, NATO’s answer to this dangerous environment is to look outside its borders. With compound threats from transnational terrorism, illicit drugs, human trafficking, and seemingly endless instability on Europe’s southern flank, it is very easy to see why this strategy makes sense. While the Alliance has a growing number of legal vehicles at its disposal for reaching out, it was adoption of the Berlin Partnership Policy in 2011 –specifically the creation of the Individual Partnership Cooperation Plan (IPCP)– that truly opened doors to military cooperation beyond Europe and North America. Since that time, Japan, South Korea, Iraq, New Zealand, Sweden, Mongolia, and Australia have finalized IPCPs with NATO.

Measuring Asian Engagement

While all the military diplomacy sounds very promising, in real terms it has not yet amounted to much. The Nations all agree that military cooperation with non-NATO partners is important but other than to support RSM or Operation Ocean Shield, an ongoing operation in the Gulf of Aden, NATO forces have not ventured beyond Europe since the 2011 Foreign Ministers meeting that led to the Berlin Policy. While it would be a good first step to have Asian forces participating in NATO exercises, military cooperation will need to occur on partner nation territory to meet the goals of the Allied strategy. This is no small matter. Funding, organizing, supplying, and controlling multinational exercises is a complex and expensive endeavor; even with 70 years of procedure to guide the planning. IPCPs lack the administrative backbone necessary to run a large-scale NATO exercise outside its borders and a notable exercise failure could make such cooperation very unpopular very quickly. In this sensitive space at the intersection of politics, military action, diplomacy, and fiscal restraint, the utility of one tool rises above all the others: Special Operations Forces or SOF.

Reliable, rapidly deployable, relatively inexpensive, and capable of secrecy and discretion, SOF has long been a favorite tool of nations for building new relationships of this type. In Asia in particular, Special Operations Forces have broader utility than naval or air units for the simple reason that while not all potential Asian partners have viable navies or air forces, most have credible SOF. Paradoxically, when it comes to Special Operations, limitations on engagement lay with NATO partners which rarely share their SOF capabilities with the Alliance. Even those member states that maintain robust relationships with Asian SOF units (the United States and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser degree, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal), rarely commit their special forces to NATO missions. But as Asia grows in economic, social, and political importance, there are many reasons why Allied nations may be more likely to share their SOF in the future.

Asian SOF Sniper
Credible SOF partners: Cold weather training of ROK Army Special Forces snipers in 2014

Asia is a Big Deal

The rough numbers behind Asia’s rise are no mystery to readers of The Affiliate Network: 60% of the planet’s population is Asian, their defense budgets comprise 25% of the world’s total, and their economies represent 30% of global gross domestic product; but relationships between NATO SOF units and their Asian counterparts are underdeveloped. It is therefore important to remember some things about SOF in Asia: with the exception of Thailand, Asian security services from India to Indonesia to North Korea trace their roots directly to the Japanese Imperial Army or to Allied efforts to counter it. During the Second World War, Japanese graduates of the intelligence school at Nakano mobilized the political and military leadership of occupied areas to maximize contributions to the greater Japanese economy.[1] This fact ties modern Asian security services to politics in ways that have been remarkably consistent over the last 70 years. Secondly, though Asian governments generally maintain active relationships with their former colonial sponsors, these relationships are not proprietary, nor have they been constant. The result is that with few exceptions, European SOF have very little experience in what is rapidly becoming the world’s most important geopolitical arena. Today, as NATO and its member states wake up to the opportunities and risks inherent in South and East Asia, this lack of experience collides squarely with a desire to build relationships there and to operationalize the Berlin Partnership Policy in a way that can provide a springboard to larger and more regular interactions.

Addressing this capability gap begins at home. European SOF seeking to operate in Asia will find themselves in a bewildering cultural and linguistic landscape where modern politics intersects 5000 years of history and religion in confounding ways. While vital cultural awareness is next to impossible to build in a classroom, language capabilities can and should be developed this way despite the time and money required to maximize these skills. Secondly, many Asian (especially Southeast Asian) top-tier SOF capabilities reside in national police forces whereas European SOF units are overwhelmingly military. This presents an obstacle for many European nations that maintain strict legal prohibitions on military relations with police forces. NATO nations interested in undertaking Alliance SOF missions in the region must take steps to eliminate these regulatory barriers before they cause a problem. Thirdly, European SOF forces lack strategic mobility. While military transport aircraft are available, even large powers France and Germany struggle with lift capacity. European SOF will need to develop a familiarity with the nuances of projecting power via global shipping, something that is often particularly tricky in situations involving weapons, narcotic medicines, and sensitive technologies. Lastly, European SOF will need to sort through a host of details required for success in Asia; from having to contracting support and flexible funding for logistics, to having 220-volt power tools on hand, to coming to terms with murky associations between some Asian SOF units and national political parties, human rights issues, and wide variations in quality of their counterparts.

Engaging militarily in Asia will in some ways be a difficult undertaking for NATO, especially in light of growing threats close to the continent, but armed with the right knowledge and preparation, SOF will be a key tool in expanding partnerships in fulfillment of NATO’s Strategic Concept.  Whether this provides the cohesion Allied leaders seek remains to be seen.

[1] The founders of many post-war SE Asian governments and militaries were trained by the Japanese and later switched sides. Examples are Ne Win and Aung San (Burma), Subas Chandra Bose (India), Sukarno and Zulkifli Lubis (Indonesia), Bảo Đại (Vietnam), and others.

Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC. 

Power Project: China’s New Strategy

Taking a page from the Pentagon’s playbook, China last month publicly revealed a new military strategy; a first ever move that advertises how Beijing intends to implement its growing foreign policy in the coming years. Released on May 26th just days ahead of the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogues, the strategy supports China’s three national priorities (safeguarding national unification, maintaining territorial integrity, and developing its economy), and describes a shift away from land power in favor of the air and maritime domains. But the new strategy is about much more than a simple change in emphasis, it embraces joint operations and offensive warfare, particularly in the maritime domain, and introduces security cooperation as a key element of national policy. These are sophisticated concepts associated with power projection and though this may cause concern in some western military circles, they are a recognition of a strategic reality that has been evident for some time already: specifically that China simply must project power if it wants to sustain its increasing importance in the global economy.

Admiral Sun of the PLA Navy at the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogues
Admiral Sun of the PLA Navy at the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogues

The emergence of the air and maritime domains (and by extension the space domain) in Chinese strategic thinking is a natural outgrowth of the country’s new economy. In the 1950s when China set the foundations on its previous strategic concept, the country was an inward-facing rural agrarian society that largely provided all the resource needs of its own economy. Territorial integrity and population resource control within mainland China were the overarching preoccupations of Beijing. An independent, centralized economy and a closed society were basic tools to maintain this control and support the limited foreign policy of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese Dream

Needless to say, that has been changing at an ever-quickening pace since Deng Xiaoping suggested that to be rich is glorious. Since then, China has become an integral player in the modern globalized economy. It joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and now provides labor and infrastructure for an enormous percentage of the world’s simple manufacturing; in effect, China has subordinated its foreign policy to its economy much as western nations have been doing for hundreds of years. In this regard, the new Chinese strategy is a sensible adjustment to globalization.

Thus, power projection has become the unifying principle of Chinese military development affecting all branches of its armed forces. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), traditionally a defensive force, is transitioning “from theater defense to trans-theater mobility”.  It is adapting itself to tasks in different regions of the world and for different purposes. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) will take on offensive missions including air strike, airborne operations, and strategic projection. This last bit was clearly on the minds of generals and politicians in Beijing during the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 which featured PLAAF air and logistical units operating deep in the Indian Ocean from forward bases for extended periods. Though the operation revealed weaknesses in air-sea integration, intelligence fusion, and planning, it was a necessary first step and undoubtedly provided many important lessons. The PLA Navy (PLAN), which in the past more closely resembled a coast guard than a true navy, is making the most visible transition, developing carrier aviation, ballistic missile submarines, and possibly even anti-ship ballistic missiles. Like the PLA Air Force, the PLAN is already experimenting with power projection, operating a national counter-piracy operation in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden since 2008 and influencing construction of dual-use port facilities in the Maldives, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Notably, PLAN also pioneered integration with Chinese paramilitary units of the Coast Guard and Fisheries Service that are on the forefront of defending territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

A PLAN J-15 Fighter Takes Off from the Deck of China's First Carrier, the Liaoning
A PLAN J-15 fighter takes off from the deck of China’s first carrier, the Liaoning

Non-Traditional Security

While China’s military evolution is observable and measurable, other aspects of its drive to project power are less so. Chinese cyber units have been attacking American military and commercial activities for years with the latest incident, according to two US Senators, taking place last week when hackers stole security background information of up to 4 million US Government officials. In the realm of security cooperation, Chinese Special Operations Forces (SOF) are also becoming more active and more aggressive. There were credible reports in June 2014 that Chinese SOF helped evacuate their nationals from Iraq as that country came under threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Similar operations took place more recently in Yemen. Chinese naval commandos are known to operate with PLAN task groups in the Gulf of Aden, and other Chinese SOF are busy engaging counterparts around the world.  By early 2012, this activity had accelerated so much that US Intelligence grew concerned this was a systematic attempt to directly counter American influence in Southeast Asia. They had determined that Chinese SOF were engaging Southeast Asian units hot on the heels of similar visits by US SOF teams. While the timing and the targets of these exchanges is impossible to dispute, these patterns probably had more to do with host nation priorities for which units would benefit from the training. Whatever the real motivation, the point is that Chinese SOF are engaging regional neighbors in the exact same manner as US SOF and reportedly with much more flexible rules for investing in their hosts. And while SOF is the most versatile and reliable of China’s tools for security cooperation, it is hardly the biggest or most important. China maintains robust relations through training exchanges in Africa and Latin America and routinely conducts combined exercises with Russia under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The new strategy reinforces these interactions but also specifically recommends increasing military ties with Europe in unspecified ways.

For observers and practitioners familiar with the strategic culture of China in the last ten years, there is a noticeable if hesitant emergence of the Chinese military from the shadows of secrecy and a defensive mindset. While western nations may be very happy to accept China into the global economy, they are less comfortable with the corresponding increase in Chinese military engagement. Western discussions on the management of China’s rise are overwhelmingly presented in economic terms, leaving us to ponder whether the purpose of the newly released strategy is to remind us that we must also consider the rise of China’s military if we hope to keep peace in Asia.

Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.