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5 NatSec Things: 31 Jan 2018

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Today's things: Bus vs. mine ends poorly; Afghan airline loses Ukrainians; UN getting shot at more; T
 
January 31 · Issue #24 · View online
5 NatSec Things
Today’s things: Bus vs. mine ends poorly; Afghan airline loses Ukrainians; UN getting shot at more; Tillerson on tools; $2b shipyard upgrade.

In Mali, the wheels on the bus go boom
What’s the matter in Mali? It’s just another in a growing string of brushfire wars sweeping various parts of the African continent. The list is getting longer and the violence getting worse: Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Nigeria. 
Which is something the increased presence of US Special Forces in these places was supposed to help prevent. Or train national forces well enough to be able to defend themselves. Except that the enemies they’re fighting have no interest in getting drawn into a force-on-force fight. 
There’s a reason guerrilla wars last longer than the regular ones: they’re a marathon, not a sprint. And if you have just enough resources to mount an attack every few months, you can keep fighting. And it’s almost impossible for the government to wipe you out. 
Until leaders internationally figure out that today’s insurgents are probably tomorrow’s lawmakers and it’s time to stop the shooting and negotiate, this continue. The mantra that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” works well if your first name is Kiefer and you’re playing pretend on the teevee for a living. It’s less workable in a world where landmines are killing people on a commuter bus. 
Afghan domestic airline grounded after losing its Ukrainians Afghan domestic airline grounded after losing its Ukrainians
Kam Air’s the Afghan airline you’ve never heard of, unless you’ve been to Afghanistan and been on one of their flights. Or you’re from the Ukraine and your airline industry took a dump and the Afghans could afford to pay you more. Which works until the hotel you’re staying in goes from temporary residence to where the Taliban choose to make a point.
Then no matter how much they’re paying you, it’s not worth it.
By attacking the Intercontinental Hotel, in one swoop the Taliban grabbed international headlines and crippled one of the few successful businesses in Afghanistan. A business that did something unheard of in the graveyard of government revenue: paid its taxes. 
Major taxpayers are what keep a country running, and Kam Air is one of the biggest. Now most of their planes are grounded, since the crews that flew them either died in the attack on the hotel, or figured they’d made enough and went back to the countries they came from. 
Once again Afghan forces beat back the invaders. It’s a Pyrrhic victory at best, one that emphasizes how the insurgents aren’t thinking about the country they claim they’re fighting for. And those aren’t the kind of people that are ready to hear anyone’s negotiating terms.
UN blue looking more like a bullseye these days
Those are the suggestions that the United Nations are making to their peacekeeping missions, in addition to advocating for greater use of force by the troops that support those missions. Because gone are the days when the blue helmet meant people wouldn’t shoot at you. Now it’s just as likely to make you a target.
The UN is a buffet of bureaucratic bloat, an organization that’s driven itself into near irrelevance as a peacekeeping force. Some of that’s just how the UN does business. Much of that is how today’s combatants don’t really care what that powder blue means.
Groups like the UN, when they work, only work when both sides of a conflict recognize that there could be consequences for taking a shot or two at a peacekeeping mission. Now that they’re responsible for policing a cornucopia of non-state actors, most of the parties to the conflicts the UN is helping to quell don’t recognize the UN’s authority in any way. 
But telling peacekeepers it’s time to lean into taking that initiative away from the enemy, whoever that is, sends a troubling message to UN forces. Forces already doing their level best to be just terrible people to the citizens they’re there to protect. 
Tool calls out other tool for using natural gas as political tool
And if there’s anyone who knows how to be a political tool, it’s Rex Tillerson. But he’s not just full of…gas…on this one. The Nord Stream 2 project has few fans outside of Moscow. 
If you’ve got time on your hands and you want to get a leg up on the next water cooler discussion on world energy policy, take a look at the Nord Stream 2 deal. Which would connect Russia and Germany directly via a 2nd pipeline, even though another already exists. And that pipeline isn’t running at full capacity anyway.
The direct route cuts out Eastern European countries that currently pick up transit fees for overland natural gas from the Russians. So that’s why the Poles are pissed. But the deal is going to mean a lot of money for German businesses. And as Europe’s largest economy, Germany wouldn’t mind staying that way. 
Plus there’s the concern that if things go really poorly with Moscow, then Putin just turns off the pump. And that’s a significant concern when 40% of all natural gas consumed in the EU comes from Russia.
While a lot of Germans aren’t happy with the deal, this isn’t Tillerson’s best move. There’s a long history of cooperation between Berlin and DC, and speeches like this put that at risk. That’s not a relationship Washington can afford to further damage.
Navy wants boats, so GD's dumping $2b into its shipyards
The US Navy’s buying, General Dynamics is building, and here are 2 billion reasons to call bullshit that defense spending is on the downslope. 
OK, it is, but in the era of smaller budgets, bigger defense contractors have the capital to survive the lean years, and then forge ahead to get to be…even bigger defense contractors when the fat comes rolling in.
Being able to project power across the oceans is something the US has been able to do successfully for decades. But it’s come at a cost: the recent tragedies of Navy ships colliding with other vessels and killing sailors is the direct result of a fleet that keeps being asked to do even more with even less.
Infusions like this by General Dynamics into its own yards won’t change that. But it does show an increased interest by the Pentagon in keeping naval power as strong as it can be. Now if can just keep ships from running into each other, maybe we won’t have to build so many new ones. 
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