Tag Archives: Cyber

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.

Industrialization’s Monster: Yes We Can

Considered the founding work of science fiction, Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein has served as explanation and warning across many subjects and issues since it first captured the imaginations of readers. The context within which she wrote, exactly two centuries ago as the Industrial Revolution was gaining speed, was the tumult of Humanity’s first failures against a rising tide. Today, as the casualties of the first years of this new Cyber Revolution fall and the sharp changes already emergent shake our reality, the moment is nigh to revisit Shelley’s warnings, to consider the ramifications of the past upon life and the planet, and to ponder the future.

Published in 1818, Frankenstein is the perfect foil to interrogate the cost of past choices as new ones arise. Shelley wrote the book when the perils of that great socio-economic change were already manifesting even as its promise beckoned. The Luddites of her day, the movement of the first workers displaced by industrial manufacture, were only the first of many casualties across the human and natural landscape. Today, however, as the complex costs and consequences of that advance in human experience are manifest, the work easily stands as a rebuke of Man’s unchecked rush to apply his knowledge and ability to change thereby creating a monster. Although Man rectified many of the Industrial Revolution’s early and simpler abuses of men and nature, its long term effect, and the looming complex climate and human crises it brought, threaten much of the existence we take for granted. Looking at the results of the Industrial Revolution writ large, we must examine the positive, beneficial effects for society against the negatives, most significantly in climate change, pollution, geographic-topographic degradation, and the unsettled terrain of human satisfaction with their daily lot.

Cyber-Industrialization

Looking back on the Frankenstein’s monster of unchecked industrialization, it is worth asking which of the advances might have been challenged in their own time had we known the true costs. Some? Many? None? Surely reason would have promoted a demand for moderation and acted as a brake upon the unchecked application of industrialization to the majority of humanity’s endeavors. At the very least, one might expect governing authorities to impose the costs of the advances upon those who would profit most from them. Such a hypothetical is no mere wistful navel gazing: to reflect on what to rework in the contested present is more than relevant as Mankind stands at the next great socio-economic revolution. As we face a similarly grand reconfiguration of humanity, changes being wrought under the Cyber Revolution offer a means to reconsider the choices for our future and reckon the errors of our past. We would do well to address these storms now rather than later. Looking only at a snapshot of issues arising from artificial intelligence, algorithms, the increasingly networked world, and their further implications on the quotidian purpose of life, the terms of our necessary humility emerge.

artificial intelligence
Science fiction cliches often portray AI as resembling human form, but the reality is that AI will not have the same human limitations. Photo credit: https://expo.co.jp/english/2017/06/06/766.html.

If sentience is mankind’s defining characteristic, then artificial intelligence and the role of algorithms are profound efforts to reproduce our very essence. Controlling significant swathes of life, these human creations hold to capacity usurp sovereignty over human existence. Already the machines taught to converse are learning to do so in self-created languagesit will not be long before they can do so to their human creators’ utter incomprehension. Perhaps worse than the science fiction horror of a world controlled by machines is the banal disaster of a world remade by distrust and unreality. The social media that more and more of the population rely upon are subjected to ever more sophisticated manipulation by algorithms. Created to shape content tailored to an individual’s tastes, the dark side of this phenomenon is algorithms designed to influence the fundamental core of representative governance. And while propaganda and false news are nothing new, the targeting and volume is creating an unprecedented environment of uncertainty about the very terms of reality.

Where humanity organized itself for good and ill in the creation of communities, this urge to connect as applied to the new cyber world cedes even more control to the unknown. The networked world increasingly places critical functions at finger-tap reach of individual and non-state actors whose motives and ends benefit few and harm many. Looking only at recent events, the systems and institutions under siege to the “Internet of Things” are those most critical to society; a window to the perils of this newest ungoverned space. The Equifax hack reported last month, affecting at least 143 million Americans, is only the latest largest data breach in history, and may threaten the financial security of too many. Ransomware attacks are increasingly used to take control of information systems, putting health at risk as hospitals have become targets to virtual hostage taking for money. But the worst may be the peril of the electronic means to our democratic system. The investigation into the possible hacking of the 2016 election illuminates a chillingly effective attempt to interfere with American sovereignty. While the extent of this campaign is as yet unknown, evidence of theft of voter information in Illinois by likely Russian actors has been verified and is under Congressional investigation.

Humanity’s Monster

At a deeper level, the Cyber Revolution attacks the fundamental meaning and experience of what it is to be human. Looking to the single issue of work, so many advances threaten to continue the degradation of this human value begun during the Industrial Revolution. It is an ominous trend. Not merely a Protestant ethic, there is something fundamentally important about work to human existence that links fulfilling a sense of productivity to meaning. Yet as the Cyber Revolution gathers momentum, robots and computers may perilously curtail productive human activity from agriculture to automotive, architecture to artisan cheese. The wisdom of prioritizing more goods at cheaper prices over simple human satisfaction demands a rethink as more radicalism arises from nihilism born of meaninglessness.

These are just the first rounds; this era’s first artisans displaced by factory machines, rivers despoiled, air befouled. Without succumbing to full-fledged Ludditism and the rejection of all advances, there is a need to rethink this headlong rush into the next era of change. The genius of our Frankenstein impulse, the creative imagination to dream and explore, should not be destroyed – but neither should the monsters of this impulse be allowed to rampage unfettered.


Jill RussellDr. Jill S. Russell is a Professor of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College. She has worked extensively in professional military education in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as in defense consulting. Her areas of expertise and research interest are logistics, urban conflict and public order, and strategy and policy. She writes and comments regularly on military affairs and national security for blogs, news outlets, and practitioner publications.