Daily Archive: January 18, 2018

Jan
18

German producer prices rise 2.6% in 2017

Inflation gauge in first annual increase since 2012

Jan
18

There’s No ‘Fake News’ In Holland?

Following President Trump’s ‘Fake News’ Olympics this week, we wondered just how widespread the belief in the inaccuracy of the news worldwide really is.

 

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/20180118_fake.png

As Statista’s Niall McCarthy notes, the growing phenomenon of fake news has exacerbated fractured attitudes on the accuracy of the news media, especially on matters such as politics, current events and when it comes to the involvement of innocent individuals.

With concerns about fake news reaching record highs, which countries actually have the most faith in the accuracy of their news media? According to a Pew Research Center poll across 38 countries, a median 62 percent of people say their news media does a good job reporting the news accurately.

The following infographic shows a selection of the countries from Pew’s survey with the Dutch particularly trustworthy of their news coverage.

Infographic: Where People Think The News Is Accurate  | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Along with 82 percent of people in the Netherlands, 80 percent of those polled in India also feel their news media does a good job reporting with accuracy.

The UK has experienced sharp divisions following the Brexit vote and 63 percent of people there think the news is accurate.

Fake news has become a contentious topic in the U.S. and 56 percent of Americans feel their news reports can be trusted.

Greece has the worst score in the polling with only 22 percent of respondents saying that their news coverage is accurate.

Jan
18

Russia Might “Pivot To Africa” With “Mercenaries”

Authored by Andrew Korybko via Oriental Review,

The upcoming draft proposal to legalize private military companies (PMCs, a.k.a. “mercenaries”) in Russia could give the country a competitive edge over its rivals by helping it carve out a valuable and much-demanded niche as a reliable security provider, thus enabling it to later leverage its strategic advantage to reap energy, mineral, economic, and other “rewards” in incentivizing the Kremlin to undertake a full-on “Pivot to Africa”.

 

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/20180118_sudan_0.png

RT reported that Russian parliamentarians are going to submit a draft proposal in the coming weeks to legalize the “mercenary” industry, which is officially referred to as “private military companies” (PMCs), with the outlet arguing that this step is long overdue and would simply amount to Russia keeping pace with other Great Powers. That said, it’s bound to generate considerable international attention if it passes owing to the Mainstream Media’s War on Russia, with conspiratorial accusations likely emerging in its wake in an attempt to pin the blame for all levels of global unrest from Afghanistan to Africa on the shoulders of Russian “mercenaries”. Accepting that there will likely be a flood of negative and mostly inaccurate reporting surrounding this topic, it’s much more worthwhile to concentrate on the “positive” aspects of what the legislative proposal could entail in the long term for Russia’s grand strategy.

Making Sense Of Mercenaries

The first thing that needs to be done is for the reader to abandon what might be their preexisting moral aversion to “mercenaries” and recognize that this element of “plausibly deniable” force projection by states is now part and parcel of today’s world, for better or for worse. The PMC industry has long been used by governments to indirectly exert influence in “sensitive” regions or contexts, relying on the fact that it’s ultimately a “private” company doing the work in order to eschew responsibility for the fighters’ actions if something “goes wrong”, like what infamously occurred with Blackwater in 2007 during the American occupation of Iraq. In addition, governments don’t have an obligation to publicly report on PMC casualties, so contracting their services means that they can keep the “official” casualty count low in order to avoid inciting public opposition to the given operation at home. That, however, is only relevant insofar as the respective campaign is common knowledge, which sometimes isn’t the case.

Other than amplifying the combat capabilities of openly deployed military forces in a conflict theater, PMCs also serve a very valuable role in having the said armed forces indirectly partake in missions abroad that haven’t been officially declared, whether through the media or even to the country’s own citizens per whatever its legal procedures may be. This “work flow” is possible because many “mercenaries” are former members of the state’s military, some of whom still retain contact with this body and could conceivably coordinate with it, as has often been suspected is the case. Not only that, but former intelligence agents and other “deep state” operatives are sometimes employed in this industry as well, thus making it an unofficial extension of a country’s power apparatus if “properly” applied. Taken together, the abovementioned two main qualities of PMCs make them desirable assets for all Great Powers, which explains why Russia is finally stepping up to the plate to wield this tool of national power.

The African Angle

There had previously been reports of Russian “mercenaries” in Syria even before the country officially began its 2015 anti-terrorist intervention there, and similar claims have recently popped up in Bosnia and might even be outright invented for Afghanistan in the future in order to concoct a “politically convenient” fake news narrative there, but the most pertinent of which to focus on in the course of this article is what Stratfor recently said about the African angle of this topic. The private intelligence firm alleged that the Kremlin dispatched the “Wagner Group” to Sudan and the Central African Republic, and while this assertion can’t be independently verified, it would indeed have a certain logic to it, especially in light of Russia’s latest strategic interactions with these countries.

To brief readers who might not have been keeping an eye on Russian-African relations, Russia was invited by Sudan to establish a military base on the Red Sea, and the country also successfully lobbied the UNSC to partially lift its arms embargo on the Central African Republic so as to facilitate Moscow’s arms transfers to this war-torn country. The author wrote about both of these developments last month in two articles titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan” and “Why Does Russia Want To Sell Arms To The Central African Republic?”, which can concisely be summarized as Russia’s desire to establish a strategic presence in the indispensable country along China’s African Silk Road and to lay the security groundwork for later “balancing” continental affairs through future involvement in various peace processes, respectively.

Having these objectives in mind, it makes perfect sense why Russia might have actually dispatched “mercenaries” to those two African states in order to assist with those missions, but considering that PMCs might soon be legalized, regulated, and possibly even promoted within Russia, it’s very likely that this is just the first step in a larger “Pivot to Africa” that will be unfolding in the coming years, and one which desires much more tangible dividends than those already mentioned.

Reaping The “Rewards”

Russian servicemen did an astounding job defeating Daesh in Syria, and their newfound global renown could understandably make them highly sought-after “mercenary” assets all across the world, and especially in the conflict-strewn and volatile regions of resource-rich Africa. While establishing a strategic presence in part of the continent and playing a role in conflict resolution processes are both very important, they don’t in and of themselves bring any physical “rewards” for Russia, which is why this multipolar Great Power will probably also leverage its PMC appeal for more “earthly” gains, perhaps quite literally.

In particular, Russia might reach an agreement with its trusted Chinese global partner to protect the Silk Roads – especially those in Africa – in exchange for lucrative commercial contracts along it, which could in many cases result in energy or mining deals that eventually lead to a further and more robust Russian presence in the continent. Moscow, after all, would be fulfilling a vital function for Beijing by “informally” flexing its military muscles in the most Hybrid War-prone part of the world. It might sound condescending that Russia would work through China in clinching African deals instead of the host states themselves, but it’s already the case that Beijing controls a sizeable amount of the continent’s extractive industries and is therefore the most logical actor for Moscow to engage with on this front.

Even so, Russia doesn’t want to be China’s “junior partner” in Africa forever, especially since it’s prospectively slated to assume a disproportionately important role in protecting its global paradigm-changing New Silk Road assets, which is why Moscow will probably roll out a comprehensive “mercenary”-led policy there in the near future following the expected legalization of the PMC industry. To explain, Russia is regarded as the most “neutral” Great Power interested in Africa, and to that end its “mercenary” services would already be in high demand in principle, not even accounting for the battle-tested value that its former servicemen could provide to any client.

Coupled with Russia’s toolkit of “military” and “balancing” diplomacy, PMCs could transport, guard, and possibly even employ Russian weaponry provided to conflict-plagued states in order to help their governments shape the battlefield situation to the point where international-(and Russian-) mediated political solutions can be considered, possibly even including the implementation of “Identity Federalism”. So long as Moscow takes the lead with each of these moves or is involved to an important extent, then Russia could quickly play the part of “Africa’s Guardian” in helping to safeguard peace and security there more reliably than any other country.

The ultimate “reward” for this service would be for the host governments themselves to favor Russian companies over Chinese ones in the dispensation of future contracts regardless of the sphere that they’re in, with an eye on eventually making Moscow one of their strategic partners in order to counterbalance any real or imagined fears of being “dominated” by Beijing. This win-win outcome would see Russia and China entering into a “friendly” and complementary multipolar competition with one another in Africa that would work out to every party’s benefit by diversifying their relationships and solidifying stability in the continent.

Concluding Thoughts

Russia is in the midst of a global Great Power resurgence that’s seeing it exert its influential reach into all corners of the world, which naturally includes Africa as well. However, it’s this continent where Russia’s sway is weakest following the strategic retreat that Moscow undertook in the last days of the Soviet era, and from which it has yet to fully recover. In the two and a half decades since, Russia has lagged far behind all of its competitors in Africa, meaning that the only hope for it to catch up is to unveil a totally new and ambitious vision that satisfies a valuable demand and can subsequently be leveraged for tangible “rewards”, hence the policy of using “mercenaries” to stabilize the situation in many resource-rich states and create the conditions for Russia to reap favorable contracts afterwards.

Unlike its American, French, or British counterparts, the Russian military and its PMC offshoots aren’t regarded as having any regional political interests that would “warrant” them partaking in destabilizing measures; to the contrary, Russia’s continental interests are entirely in securing Africa’s stabilization and therefore facilitating commercial, extractive, and public works contracts for its companies. This latter realpolitik motivation is much like China’s, though with the notable exception being that Beijing is unable to provide the level of indirect “mercenary” security assistance that Moscow can, thus increasing Russia’s appeal. On top of that, Russia already has extensive diplomatic experience in promoting a “fair” and “compromised” settlement to the War on Syria, something which sets it apart from all other Great Powers and adds value to its participation in resolving the continent’s crises.

African states are aware that their loyalty and resources are being contested by the West (mostly the US and France in this context) and China, and they’re eager to find a viable third partner in order to “balance” between the two and hopefully obtain the best benefits from each of them. India and Japan, which are teaming up to construct the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (also known as the “Freedom Corridor”), can’t offer the hard infrastructure projects that China can and are mostly marketing their soft infrastructural development strategies (healthcare, schools, job training, etc.), which doesn’t differentiate them much from the competition and therefore disqualifies them as substantial “third partners”. Turkey, while having its own unique attractiveness primarily in its “Islamic Democracy” governing model and sizeable economic investments, doesn’t have any relevant security experience in Africa apart from Somalia and lacks the leading conflict resolution capacities that Russia has.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Russia is far better suited to play the role of African countries’ third “balancing” partner than any other state, and that these governments’ embrace of Moscow could actually come to embody a 21st-century iteration of the “Non-Aligned Movement” in their continent’s New Cold War context. Instead of being firmly in the Western or Chinese ‘camps’, these states could straddle the two by reaching out to Russia and having the unparalleled security and diplomatic assistance that it can offer to them aid in striking a manageable “middle ground”.

This is even more poignant of a point when it comes to conflict-wreaked or Hybrid War-prone countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, and many others, as they more so than any of their African peers desperately need the security and diplomatic services that only Russia can provide, and Russia of course needs their partnership as the first step to comprehensively commencing its “Pivot to Africa”.

Jan
18

Army Major: “We’re Killing These Kids, We’re Breaking The Army!”

Authored by Major Danny Sjursen via TheAmericanConservative.com,

Our soldiers are still redeploying at a frenetic pace that cannot keep up with reality – and the cracks are showing…

 

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I’ll admit I was taken aback. This senior officer and mentor – with nearly 28 years of military service – wasn’t one for hyperbole. No, he believed what he was saying to me just then.

“We’re killing these kids, we’re breaking the army!” he exclaimed.

He went on to explain the competing requirements for standard, conventional army units – to say nothing of the overstretched Special Forces – in 2018: balancing Russia in Eastern Europe, deterrence rotations in South Korea, advise and assist missions in Africa. Add to that deployments to the usual hotspots in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

He was genuinely concerned about the physical and emotional toll on the active-duty force, pushed to its limits by 17 years of perpetual combat. After all, with high military suicide rates now labeled the “new normal,” and a recent succession of accidental training deaths, it seems reasonable to wonder whether we are, indeed, “killing [our] kids.”

The overall effects of this rapid operations tempo on morale and readiness are difficult to measure in a disciplined, professional, all-volunteer military such as the one the United States possesses. What we do know is that despite former president Obama’s ongoing promises that “the tide of war is receding” and that America could finally “start nation-building at home,” nothing of the sort occurred then, or is now, under President Trump. Though the U.S. military (thankfully) no longer maintains six-figure troop counts in either Iraq or Afghanistan, American soldiers are still there, as well as serving in 70 percent of the world’s countries in one capacity or another in what has become a “generational war.” America’s troops are still being killed, though in admittedly fewer numbers. Nevertheless, U.S. servicemen continued to die in combat in several countries in 2017, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Niger.

After major drawdowns in Iraq (2011) and Afghanistan (2014), many soldiers, myself included, looked forward to longer “dwell time” at home stations and, just maybe, something resembling peace and even normalcy.

It was not to be. Aside from deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, conventional U.S. Army brigades currently support regular overseas rotations to Kuwait, South Korea, and Eastern Europe. To use just one example, the 1st Armored Division webpage currently boasts that the division has soldiers supporting 20 missions on five continents. Of my three former classmates and colleagues in the West Point History Department (2014-2016), two are currently deployed: one in Romania, another to the ubiquitous Mid-East region. That’s just about as busy as we all were back in the bad old days of 2006-2007.

The military – and the Army in particular – brought some of this upon itself. As conventional ground combat elements (of which the Army owns the preponderance) withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan, and President Obama signaled a strategic pivot to Asia, U.S. Army leaders became understandably concerned. The Asia pivot would, logically, lean more heavily on the Air Force and Navy—especially when new military doctrine took the (exclusive) name “Air-Sea Battle.” As the economy struggled and budgets tightened, the various service chiefs fought to convince Congress and administration kingmakers of their continued “relevance.” If the Army didn’t appear busy—engaged in a countless number of vital missions—well, it’d be hard to justify its current budget.

It should come as no surprise that around this time the Army touted the versatility of its Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) brigades—units trained and tailored to support an array of missions for specific geographic combatant commanders. Army leaders also emphasized threats from Russia and North Korea and the need for deterrent brigades on the ground in those theaters. And, with Special Operations Command under strain, the Army also provided six new Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) to carry some of the advise-and-assist workload around the globe. This is not to say that Army leaders fabricated threats or invented missions. It’s all far more complex. Rather, brutal budget squabbles on Capitol Hill combined with increasingly politicized foreign policy threat assessments created an atmosphere where demonstrating “relevance” and “busyness” presented the only sure path to funding at the rates to which the various services had become accustomed.

Relevance is a double-edged sword—well-justified budgets require a frenzied operational pace and an overwrought Army.

Some troopers, at least, appear fed up with the scope and pace of deployments in year 18 of the conflict formerly known as the “war on terror.” No one is publicly sounding the alarm, but there are signals—if you know where to look. When Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise holiday season visit to Kabul and publicly praised U.S. forces in Afghanistan, one observer described the crowd as “subdued,” and noted “several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.” Polls also demonstrate that although the current president is slightly more popular among the military than the general public, among officers Trump counts only a 30 percent approval rate. More concerning are the February 2017 polls indicating that military service member satisfaction has dropped 50 percent since 2009, due in part, one assumes, to never-ending deployments and time spent away from families. And, among the ever-strained Special Operations forces, reports indicate that mental distress and suicide are again on the rise.

As it stands, the system just about holds together – no doubt due to the determination of leaders and dutiful sacrifice of soldiers – but one wonders whether the active component force could truly weather even one major regional crisis. Something, it seems, would have to give – a drawdown in other missions, compressed training schedules, or—heaven forbid!—calling up the reserves, something American politicians certainly wish to avoid.

The all-volunteer force was always a devil’s bargain: by cutting out the citizenry in the form of a draft out of the equation, presidents, pols, and military leadership could move soldiers around the chessboard with fewer checks on their authority and the decision-making process.

That’s all well and good, until the system cracks. The president’s modest troop escalations in Afghanistan and Iraq, if combined with a (ever more likely) shooting war in Korea, could be just the thing to “break” the professional, volunteer military.

At that point Americans would have some tough decisions to make: ante up some cash and bodies to keep the U.S. military on top, or, just maybe, do less. Let’s hope it never comes to that. In the meantime, count on Congress and the American people to cover their eyes and let the “war on terror’s” third straight president run its cherished heroes into the ground.

What a way to say “thanks for your service!”

*  *  *

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. 

Jan
18

The State Of ‘Freedom’ Worldwide (According To Democratic Think-Tanks)

Democratic watchdog organization Freedom House has released its annual ranking of the world’s most free and the world’s most suppressed nations. For the twelfth year in a row, global freedom has been found to have declined.

As Staista’s Martin Armstrong notes, 71 countries experienced a decline in freedom with only 35 making a move in the right direction. Of the 195 countries assessed in 2017, 45 percent were rated as ‘free’, 30 percent as ‘partly free’, and 25 percent as ‘not free’.

Infographic: The State of Freedom Worldwide | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

The United States, while still classed as ‘free’, saw a year-on.year decrease in its score, from 89/100 in 2016 to 86/100.

According to Freedom House, this is mainly due to a fall in its political rights, citing “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election”, “violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration” and “a reduction in government transparency” as key factors.

One wonders what a Republican Think Tank would ‘think’?

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