In July, the U.S. Coast Guard launched “Arctic Shield,” an operation intended in part to assess the service’s Arctic capabilities, including those related to search and rescue and disaster response and environmental protection.
The U.S. Coast Guard expects that demand for search and rescue response will increase as the Arctic becomes increasingly crowded, from energy companies exploring for offshore petroleum, commercial shippers plying the opening sea lanes to eco-tourists exploring the Arctic landscape.
In this photo, a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, prepares to launch a search and rescue mission from Coast Guard Forward Operation Location Barrow, Alaska on July 25, 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth H. Bordelon and the U.S. Coast Guard.
From food production to electricity generation, the recent spate of extreme weather is taking a toll on U.S. infrastructure, affecting communities on the home front and countries abroad.
The United States is in the midst of the worst drought since 1956, according to the National Climatic Data Center. According to the center, 55 percent of the United States is experiencing some form of moderate to extreme drought, which is expected to continue for much of the year and is already affecting corn, soybean and other agricultural harvests. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. consumers could expect to pay 3 to 4 percent more for groceries next year as a result of agricultural decline.
The U.S. agricultural forecast could be particularly damming for global food prices and countries that rely heavily on agricultural imports. America is still considered the world’s breadbasket, and agricultural decline in the United States may lead to price spikes in countries abroad, particularly in developing countries that rely increasingly on agricultural imports, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. This could worsen food trends (e.g. famine and malnutrition) in these countries as families are forced to spend a higher percentage of their income on groceries, and may, in some places, exacerbate existing social grievances and provoke violence.
In 2008, for the first time, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population. According to theUnited Nations estimates, urbanization will grow from about 50 percent of the world’s population today to about 60 percent by 2030. More importantly, urbanization – and its accompanying pressures – will not be evenly distributed. As illustrated in Figure 1, the urban population as the percentage of the total population has grown around the world over the last three decades; however, the urban population as a percentage of total population has risen more quickly in Latin America & the Caribbean the Middle East & North Africa, and East Asia and the Pacific.
More than 90 percent of projected urban growth will continue to occur in developing nations, fueled by increasing population and rural to urban migration.
Researchers note that, traditionally, the largest drivers of urbanization are primarily natural disasters (and increasingly ecological degradation). War and conflict have also caused populations to flee into urban areas. Climate change and the increasing desertification of once-arable lands have also fueled rural to urban movements in recent years, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Certainly, urbanization may be the result of conflict. But it is also the case that urbanization may be associated with poor security conditions in countries. The (rapid) movement of people from rural areas to more urban (or even peri-urban) cities may exacerbate underlying ethnic and religious tensions, place pressures on weak infrastructure that is already being pushed beyond capacity, increase distributional pressures, and demand governance and better planning from governments too weak to sustain themselves.
Continue reading at GT2030.com.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a report that outlines some of the key issues that the U.S. Coast Guard must grapple with as it assumes greater responsibility in the Arctic, including how it will conduct search and rescue missions, as well as oil spill response.
According to The New York Times report, the Coast Guard began a pilot project in July known as Arctic Shield, “combining search and rescue responsibilities with disaster response and maritime safety enforcement,” a likely first step towards increasing its presence in the region.
Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges that the Coast Guard must face is the lack of physical infrastructure in the Arctic Circle, particularly its own shore-based infrastructure from which it can conduct a range of missions. Most of the Coast Guard’s personnel and equipment in the region is based in Kodiak, Alaska, almost 1,000 miles south of Barrow, Alaska – the northern most U.S. town – from which the Coast Guard will presumably be operating from.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy began a demonstration of the “Great Green Fleet,” with three warships and 71 aircraft running on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and conventional petroleum fuel. According to a Reuters report, 90 percent of the biofuel used in the demonstration was refined from cooking oil waste, while the remaining 10 percent was synthesized from algae.
The Navy purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuel last year – the largest purchase to date – to use for the demonstration, at a cost to the Navy of about $26 a gallon (down from $424 gallon for a 20,055 gallon purchase in 2009). When mixed with conventional petroleum for the 50-50 blend, the combined cost to the Navy is approximately $15 a gallon, according to U.S. Navy officials.
The 2012 demonstration is a milestone of the Navy’s broader goal to deploy a “Great Green Fleet” in 2016, a taskforce that will be made up of nuclear-powered vessels, hybrid electric ships and aircraft run on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and petroleum-based fuel.
Photo: The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of fuel to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton during the "Great Green Fleet" demonstration portion of the international exercise, Rim of the Pacific 2012. Courtesy of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers and the U.S. Navy.
Beijing is flexing some more muscle to protect its energy interests in the South China Sea.
Last week, China began combat-ready patrols in the waters around the potentially resource rich Spratly Islands that both China and Vietnam have disputed claims to. And on Friday, China Daily reported that Beijing may develop a military presence in Sansha – a newly incorporated city located on one of the disputed Paracel Islands that was stood up to administer Chinese authority over the country’s South China Sea territories. (The city was established in response to a recent Vietnamese law that claimed sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.)
The deployment of combat-ready patrols and discussions of developing forces at Sansha comes on the heels of an announcement from the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) that it will accept bits from foreign energy companies to explore and develop nine new blocs of the South China Sea that fall within Vietnam’s 200-nautcial mile Exclusive Economic Zone. (See the map here.) It is unlikely, though, that foreign energy companies will cooperate with CNOOC in these disputed blocs given the amount of risk the companies would have to assume in operating there. Regardless, Beijing is putting itself in a better position to protect its energy interests: “the announcement of these blocks reflects another step in China’s effort to strengthen its jurisdiction over these waters,” according to MIT Professor M. Taylor Fravel.
Making a Play for Resources
This recent activity joins a string of other incidents by China to protect its claims to the region’s potential hydrocarbon resources. Estimates of oil and natural gas in the South China Sea vary widely, from U.S. estimates of 28 billion barrels of oil to Chinese estimates of 213 billion barrels of oil. Yet no country knows what really lies beneath the seabed. Officials in Beijing appear to be placing bets that the South China Sea could turn out to be a “second Persian Gulf,” driving up strategic competition over potentially energy rich territory. But for years, efforts to conduct surveys to produce better measurements of the region’s resources have been impeded by Chinese vessels obstructing survey ships and others conducting seismic measurements.
Continue reading at ConsumerEnergyReport.com.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently launched a new blog in advance of Global Trends 2030, which will be published after the presidential election this fall. The NIC releases a new edition of Global Trends after every presidential election in part to inform the incoming administration about important trends that will shape the global security environment in the decade ahead. The new blog features experts’ commentary on a range of global trends that are expected to shape the future security environment, such as the rise of major non-western economies and the competition over natural resources, trends that readers are likely to read about in the new edition this fall.
This week’s discussion is focused on the dynamics of urbanization. And today’s entries are focused in particular on urbanization’s national security implications, with commentary from David Kilcullen and Kori Schake. I also had an opportunity to weigh in with a post on urbanization and climate change. In it, I argue that national security practitioners must view urbanization and climate change as two interlinked phenomena. Below is an excerpt of that post.
Urbanization and climate change may be the two most important trends to shape global development in the decades ahead. On the one hand, urban cities have the potential to serve as engines of change, driving economic growth in some of the world’s least developed countries and pulling more people out of poverty than at any other time in history. On the other hand, climate change could undercut all of this by exacerbating resource scarcity and putting vulnerable communities at risk from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.
Today, roughly 80 percent of economic growth comes for urban centers. Much of this comes from what experts refer to as the “urban advantage:” cities typically concentrate the full spectrum of economic opportunities that are not readily available in rural areas. This includes everything from social services such as education and healthcare, more reliable access to water, sanitation services and electricity, to industries and transportation hubs that are lynchpins for commercial development.
Simply put, countries have more opportunities for economic growth as they urbanize. According to a 2010 study from United Nations Human Settlements Program, “The prosperity of nations is intimately linked to the prosperity of their cities. No country has ever achieved sustained economic growth or rapid social development without urbanizing (countries with the highest per capita income tend to be more urbanized, while low-income countries are the least urbanized).” Of course, how much a country benefits from urbanization depends on policies developed at the local level. Indeed, urban politics can make or break the benefits of urbanization if local policymakers fail to adopt policies that break down socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic and religious barriers.
Continue reading at GT2030.com.
While there has been a lot of attention given to China’s territorial contests with its Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, just as important is the dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea, where both countries lay claim to an uninhabited island group near Taiwan – known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China – that are rich with fish stocks, as well as potentially undersea energy and mineral resources.
Until recently, Japan has managed to avoid drawing Beijing into a more aggressive dispute over the island group. Although the islands are technically administered by Tokyo, the government has promoted a strategy that avoids the perception that Japan is attempting to nationalize the islands by renting them from a private landowner and avoiding commercial or private development on the islands.
But this “hands off” strategy has been criticized by nationalist leaders in Japan who are looking to change the current arrangement. According to an April report in the Japan Times, Tokyo’s Governor Shintaro Ishiara said that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was negotiating with the landowners to purchase the islands by the end of 2012. “Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands. No matter which country dislikes it, no one should have a problem,” Governor Ishiara said in April. Since then, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government “has set up a bank account to collect donations for the purchase,” according to The Washington Post, which by some reports collected nearly a billion yen ($13 million) in one month.
As we in the United States are struggling with massive heat waves, others are moving to cooler temperatures – including the Chinese. Last week, the Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, (“Snow Dragon”) departed on a three month Arctic expedition (its fifth Arctic expedition). Along the way, the Xue Long will conduct scientific experiments and study the effects of changes in the Arctic ecosystem on climate. The fifth voyage of the Snow Dragon will be its longest and farthest to date and its first attempt through the Northern Sea shipping route. According to the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition (CHINARE), scientists will be studying sea ice in and around the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, the Bering Strait, Canada Basin, and the Mendeleev Ridge. After traversing through the Arctic Ocean, Xue Long will sail to Iceland for a research visit which underscores the growing cooperation between Iceland and China. (During Premier Wen Jiabao’s April visit to Iceland, the two countries signed a geothermal energy accord.)
The U.S. government took several steps over the weekend to reassure Afghans that America will not abandon their country once the NATO combat mission ends in 2014. Although the assurances do not include a security commitment to Afghanistan per se, the Obama administration and other international partners have agreed to continue development assistance aimed at improving the tenuous security environment.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton elevated Afghanistan’s role as a strategic partner of the United States. “The United States declared Afghanistan a major, non-NATO ally on Saturday, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally delivering the news of Afghanistan’s entry into a club that includes Israel, Japan, Pakistan and other close Asian and Middle Eastern allies,” The New York Times reported.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Enjoy fireworks, family, friends and good food today as you celebrate America's Independence Day. We'll be taking the rest of the week of and will continue with our regularly scheduled broadcast next week.
There is a good debate underway at the National Journal’s Energy Experts blog this week on economic sanctions against Iranian oil. In particular, there’s an ongoing discussion about the Obama administration’s recent sanctions exemptions to China, Singapore and others and what message it sends to the regime in Tehran and the rest of the world. Tune into the full debate here.
Here’s my take on the issue: “The Art of Sanctions”
Applying economic sanctions to coerce Iran to suspend its nuclear program requires a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the United States needs to apply enough pressure to compel Iran to come back to the negotiating table (as it has done). On the other hand, the United States needs to avoid applying too much pressure, which might convince officials in Tehran to do something drastic out of the belief that it is the least bad option, like attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz to energy exports from other Persian Gulf petroleum producers.
Granting waivers to China, Singapore and others so that these countries can keep purchasing Iranian oil helps strike this balance. As the pressure on Iran ramps up with the European Union’s sanctions going into full force yesterday, Tehran’s ability to continue to export petroleum to some consumers helps keep Iranian officials from perceiving themselves to be locked in a losing status quo, which could be dangerously counterproductive. Generally speaking, states that frame the status quo as a losing one are more prone to belligerent actions in the hope that they can renegotiate the status quo in their favor.
Continue reading here.
A deadly stretch of thunderstorms known as a derecho pummeled the Washington area Friday night and other parts of the mid-West and East Coast, leaving more than a dozen dead and millions without power amid a record heat wave.
The storms struck the Washington metropolitan area shortly before midnight on Friday. Gusts of wind topping 70 miles per hour toppled trees and power lines. Some areas of northern Virginia measured wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour. Abnormal streaks of purple and green lightening lit up the sky. Tornado warnings were issued for parts of northern Virginia. Power flickered on and off before going down in northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and parts of Maryland.
“The damage was most severe in the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, where some residents huddled in their basements as the storm ripped through the area, blowing down trees, upending lawn furniture and tearing off roof shingles,” The New York Times reported on Sunday. “President Obama telephoned the governors of Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, all of whom declared states of emergency. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia said his state had suffered the largest ‘non-hurricane power outage’ in its history.”