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Category: Robert Farley

IP and Cyberespionage

[ 2 ] August 12, 2014 |

My latest at War is Boring investigates the connections between cyber-espionage and intellectual property law.  This is part of the Patents for Power book project, so I’m particularly interested in feedback.

Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system may not work, but China would like to know for itself.

Recent reports indicate that Chinese hackers have attempted to steal data on the Iron Dome from Israeli contractor Rafael. Iron Dome is depicted above in the photo by the AP’s Tsafrir Abayov.

This instance of cyber-espionage is only the latest in a series of attacks targeting different defense firms around the world.

Beyond the obvious fact of the development of the Internet, trends in intellectual property law are transforming the nature of military industrial espionage.


China’s New Nuclear Look

[ 9 ] August 10, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at some of China’s new nuclear delivery systems:

The presumably accidental revelation of the PLA’s DF-41 road-mobile ICBM is only the latest indication that China is modernizing and reorganizing its nuclear arsenal.  Over the past decade, China has worked to modernize its nuclear delivery systems, both on land and at sea.  This work has helped narrow the gap between China and the US-Russia superpower tandem, although Chinese capabilities remain far behind.

This article tracks the most important recent developments in China’s nuclear posture, then discusses some of the political implications of these developments for Asia, the United States, and the rest of the world.

Foreign Entanglements: Next Steps in Gaza

[ 0 ] August 8, 2014 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Amir Tibon about Gaza:

Airpower Over Iraq? We’ll Never Be Over Iraq

[ 14 ] August 8, 2014 |

Yesterday, the Air Force dropped 8000 MREs and 5300 gallons of water to Yazidi refugees on Mt. Sinjar.  That’s enough water for roughly 8000 refugees for one day; the MREs can be stretched farther.  USN F/A-18s escorted the mission.  If the US is serious about maintaining the Yazidi, it will need to either scale up the airlift by a factor of five, or use airstrikes to open a corridor for supply from Kurdish held territory.

On that point, F/A-18s struck ISIL artillery near Erbil this morning.  No indication yet of how widely the administration intends to bomb, or of the operational purposes it hopes to achieve.

The Yazidi

[ 112 ] August 7, 2014 |

I have a short piece up at the Washington Post discussing the difficulties of a relief operation for the Yazidi:

The plight of Yazidi refugees in the Sinjar mountains, hemmed in by Islamic State forces and relying on dwindling supplies of food and water, has brought renewed international attention to the war in Iraq. Some have suggested that the United States or United Nations facilitate airdrops to the starving, dehydrated refugees.

But this is more complicated than it seems.

In related news:

President Obama is considering airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to address a humanitarian crisis among as many as 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who have been dying of heat and thirst on a mountaintop after death threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, administration officials said on Thursday.

The president, in meetings with his national security team at the White House on Thursday morning, has been weighing a series of options ranging from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on the fighters from ISIS now at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official said.


[ 7 ] August 7, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat investigates the reputational issues associated with China’s oil rig in the South China Sea:

Who blinked? Who cares?

China’s decision to remove an oil rig from waters disputed by Vietnam has stirred a considerable degree of attention, almost as much as China’s decision to deploy the oil rig in the first place. Should the move be understood as indicative of a Chinese lack of nerve?  Did the policy to intimidate Vietnam fail?  Did Vietnamese legal and military efforts force China to “blink”  and thus rethink its maritime resource strategy in the region?

As I’ve argued many times in this space and others , policymakers and analysts waste an inordinate amount of time thinking about the reputational costs of their actions. A reputation for resolve supposedly contributes to credibility, which impresses friends and deters potential foes from doing things that we don’t like.


You Think It Can’t Get Worse…

[ 112 ] August 6, 2014 |

The Nation’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis has been legendarily bad, but this article may be the worst yet. In the process of wondering why traditional critics of American foreign policy have struggled to overcome the queasy feeling of associating with Vladimir Putin, Gilbert Doctorow chastises Noam Chomsky for being insufficiently quick on the trigger (“holding his silence until his distaste for American bullying of Russia and its aggressive hypocrisy outweighed his distaste for what he construed [my emphasis] as Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime”), suggests that Robert Levgold would be more critical, were it not for fear of his colleagues, and argues, in apparently unironic terms, that Stephen Cohen has taken on the mantle of “Great American Dissident.”

None of that beats this paragraph, though:

If Putin can rise to the challenge and, on the strength of his overwhelming popularity, rein in the oligarchs further, curb corruption more and successfully launch the reindustrialization that import substitution invites, he will finally diversify the economy away from mineral extraction and Russia may genuinely prosper. This in turn will take the country along its way on the path to full-fledged democracy.

Yep. Some might think that joining the WTO, encouraging heavy FDI, increasing gas production, and launching a wide-ranging assault on civil liberties are odd ways to achieve import substitution, move away from mineral extraction, pursue a path to full-fledged democracy. But then, I lack the insight of the editors of the Nation.

Let’s be as clear as possible; Katrina vanden Heuvel is making some egregiously bad decisions by allowing Stephen Cohen to manage the direction of Russia coverage in the Nation.  It’s going to cause longterm damage to the magazine, and those who are in anyway close to the decision-making of the editorial board should do their best to limit this damage.

Egregious Attacks on Academic Freedom

[ 119 ] August 6, 2014 |

Corey Robin:

Until two weeks ago, Steven Salaita was heading to a job at the University of Illinois as a professor of American Indian Studies. He had already resigned from his position at Virginia Tech; everything seemed sewn up. Now the chancellor of the University of Illinois has overturned Salaita’s appointment and rescinded the offer. Because of Israel.

Read the rest.

The Strategic Problems in Ukraine

[ 82 ] August 5, 2014 |

It looks as if Ukrainian forces are making slow, measured progress against pro-Russian separatists.  If that’s true, this is how I read the rest of the game playing out:


The Ukrainian government wants to re-occupy as much of Ukraine as possible, while at the same time forestalling Russian military action and preserving the hope of a positive economic relationship with Russia. Ukraine also wants a clear message of support from NATO, although it’s not obvious that anyone in Kiev expects that membership will be forthcoming.   I suspect that the Ukrainian government is willing to risk some degree of military conflict; a short, sharp defeat at the hands of Russian forces would be painful, but would also help placate Ukrainian nationalists, and would cement the NATO commitment to support (if not defend) Ukraine in the future.


NATO has many partners, and they have a variety of different interests.  None want to see war with Russia, however, and few if any would like to see a Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Beyond that, NATO’s interests are in preserving an economic and political relationship with Russia, while maximizing Kiev’s control over eastern Ukraine.  Tolerance for risk on the latter point varies considerably, but is only in a very few cases (perhaps Poland) as high as in Kiev.

I suspect that NATO will continue to play a supportive role, trying to modify Russia’s behavior with sanctions and the threat of sanctions. It will provide some material and intelligence support for Kiev, while struggling to prevent Ukraine from becoming over-optimistic about the extent of this support.


Putin does not want to invade Ukraine; if he actively sought this end, he would already have ordered military action, rather than allowing the new Ukrainian government to consolidate power and retake some lost territory.  He wants two things; to minimize US and European sanctions, and to maximize the size of the buffer zones in the disputed regions.  However, Putin has to contend with two other factions.  Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and Russian nationalists in Russia are both free to seek maximal gains, and can (in tandem) apply pressure to Putin.  Putin is hardly invulnerable domestically, and has to take the strength of the nationalists seriously, especially as he’s come to depend on them.

With the separatists apparently no longer holding the upper hand, Russia has two tools; energy, and its military.  Energy sanctions are a two way street, as both Europe and Russia lose through a prolonged disruption. The military balance, however, strongly favors Russia; the Russian military is stronger than it was in 2008, and enjoys a more favorable operational position. If Ukrainian government forces push to far, I suspect that the balance will shift and Putin will order much more aggressive military action against Ukraine.  This will preserve the buffer zones, placate nationalists, and serve as a warning to the other post-Soviet republics. It will also incur greater sanctions, but if Russia avoids a drive on Kiev these will be manageable.


My guess is that we’ll see a short, conventional war of maneuver between Russia and Ukraine, that the Russian will win, but will restrain its activities to Donetsk, Luhansk, and environs. It’s going to be very difficult for the Ukrainian military to restrain itself short of complete victory over the separatists, and the drive for victory will probably spur Russian intervention.  With luck, however, the war will be quick, only moderately destructive, and the political aftermath will be manageable.


The Ottoman Empire, Rent Control, and Development

[ 53 ] August 5, 2014 |

The last redoubt of the Ottoman Empire is under siege:

In 1945, Ertogroul Osman moved into a two-bedroom walk-up apartment on the top floor of a three-story commercial building on Lexington Avenue south of 74th Street. Though it had a handsome mansard roof at the time and a prime uptown location, the stout 34-foot-wide property was practically a hovel compared with the 124-acre Yildiz Palace in old Constantinople where Mr. Osman was born and where his grandfather Abdul Hamid II ruled from 1876 to 1909. Had the empire not been dissolved, Mr. Osman would have taken the throne in 1994. Instead he spent 64 years in the same apartment until he died in 2009 on a trip to Istanbul with his second wife, Her Imperial Highness Zeynep Osman, who had joined him on Lexington Avenue after their marriage in 1991. Like her husband, Princess Zeynep’s royal family had had to flee its home in Afghanistan in the 1920s.

Now Zeynep, an Istanbul native, fears she may be forced out of her New York home. After her building was sold in 2011 for $10.1 million, her new landlord, Avi Dishi, paid a visit to the 1,600-square-foot apartment that October.

“The first words out of his mouth were: ‘I want you out. I paid too much for this building to have you here,’ ” Princess Zeynep, 69, recalled, sitting inside her large living room sharing platters of cookies and crackers — a courtly gesture she said she also extended to her landlord, along with any other guests.

What’s remarkable about this story is that it involves a conflict between the exceedingly wealthy heir of two imperial heritages and a land developer, and the former is by far the more sympathetic figure. Or perhaps that’s not surprising at all…

Via M Lister.


[ 94 ] August 4, 2014 |
"Japanese battleship Nagato" by IJN - The Maru Special No. 29 "Japanese Submarine Tenders and Auxiliary Submarine Tenders". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Japanese battleship Nagato” by IJN – The Maru Special No. 29 “Japanese Submarine Tenders and Auxiliary Submarine Tenders”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

As occasionally hinted over the past year, I’ve been considering a book project built around a collection of Sunday Battleship Blogging posts of yore. This project may finally be coming to fruition, but I’m struggling with the title. As Thucydides once said, “when you’re too lazy to think for yourself, crowdsource it.”

Thus, my query to all of you: What would be a good title for collection of sixty-some-odd vignettes on battleships? The winning entry (if any) receives an autographed copy of the book, assuming it all comes together.

“Not One Will Be Alive When a Hundred Years Are Gone By”

[ 18 ] August 3, 2014 |

Reading about the guns of August puts me in the mood for Herodotus:

And now, as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered with the vessels of his fleet, and all the shore and every plain about Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself on his good fortune; but after a little while he wept.

Then Artabanus, the king’s uncle (the same who at the first so freely spake his mind to the king, and advised him not to lead his army against Greece), when he heard that Xerxes was in tears, went to him, and said:-

“How different, sire, is what thou art now doing, from what thou didst a little while ago! Then thou didst congratulate thyself; and now, behold! thou weepest.”

“There came upon me,” replied he, “a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man’s life, and considered that of all this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.”

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