According to NASA, “The deserts of southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan produce frequent dust storms, particularly during the spring and summer dry season.” In this NASA released image taken on May 5, 2010, a thick band of dust extends along hundreds of kilometers of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The dust is thick enough to hide the ground from view,” NASA reports. It is unclear if these types of dust storms affect U.S. and NATO military operations in Afghanistan, but one can only image the unpleasantries that come with these types of conditions – for U.S. and NATO personnel, as well as local Afghans and Pakistanis.
For more on Afghanistan, be sure to check out CNAS Fellow Andrew Exum’s new report, Leverage: Designing a Political Campaign for Afghanistan. In this report, Exum notes that America's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has focused more on waging war at the operational and tactical levels at the expense of the strategic and political levels and offers recommendations for designing a political campaign that will minimize “the role luck plays in whether the United States or its allies are successful.”
Photo: Courtesy of NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
In celebration of the Natural Security Blog’s unofficial Asia Week, we thought it might be interesting to dig through some of the ongoing cooperative programs between the U.S. government and our allies in the East. So without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Water, water everywhere, and some's beneath our feet. For Bangladesh, knowing how to properly manage their aquifers has been a vital to the health of their people, as Arsenic has contaminated many of their wells. For example, "The World Health Organization estimates that 40-60 million people are at risk from drinking arsenic-contaminated water in Bangladesh, and that this health risk also extends into West Bengal, India and into southern Nepal."
In an effort to help Bangladesh help itself, and its neighbors, the U.S. Geological Survey has established Bangladeshi public and private partnerships, in addition to enlisting support from USAID and the State Department to offer technical assistance in mapping out the country's complicated aquifers. The heart of their strategy is to determine the full extent of the Arsenic contamination, and locating new sources of clean water for the country.
2: Resource Potential of Algae for Biodiesel Production in APEC Economies: 2009 - 2010
Biofuels have been making a boom in the market, at least sonic booms over at DOD, and their potential as a world energy source seems to only increase as new innovations in algae based biofuels make leaps and bounds. This U.S. partnership project with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) seems to have some ambitious goals for an algae fueled future. The project proposal states that it:
Seeks to use a common methodology to assess the potential amount and location of algal biomass in the APEC region that could be suitable for the production of biodiesel. Algal biomass offers the possibility of a sustainable, low GHG emissions feedstock that is widely available, grows rapidly, yields more biofuel per hectare than oil plants, contains no sulfur or other toxic substances, is highly biodegradable; does not involve destruction of natural habitats, and does not compete with food production on agricultural land. Algae could thus contribute significantly to the overall resource potential of biofuels to displace petroleum.
With the project set to wrap up later this year in Novemeber, and having not heard too much in the way of its successes, or failures for that matter, I'm interested to see what kind of headway they've made. If algae indeed proves to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels, offering both a smaller carbon and physical footprint, I might just consider letting my fish tanks go, and pull a Jed Clampett to get my hands on some algae crude, bio-gold, Texas green tea.
Yesterday’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar has brought the insurgency in western Pakistan back into the headlines. The consulate serves as the headquarters for ongoing American assistance programs in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and is a symbol of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.
The FATA, specifically North and South Waziristan provinces, remains “al-Qaeda’s principal sanctuary” and hosts a syndicate of regional insurgent networks. The United States and Pakistan have increased pressure on militants in the lawless region during the last two years but have yet to solidify a permanent presence to counter militant influence. American foreign assistance and Pakistani development efforts offer the potential to deny the Taliban and its al Qaeda affiliated allies control over critical infrastructure and the local economy.
In remarks last week, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, lobbied for increased development efforts in the tribal areas, saying that “the world mustn’t neglect the area as it did after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, or it could fall prey again to al Qaeda and its allies.”
Development and maintenance of an extractive mineral industry could revolutionize the Waziristan economy and infrastructure in the long-term. Indeed, ongoing efforts in Afghanistan must be matched “across the border in FATA” according to Barnett Rubin and Abubakar Siddique in a 2006 USIP report. “FATA’s isolation can be broken only by improving its infrastructure…Proper utilization of several known mineral deposits in FATA will result in the growth of labor-intensive mining and manufacturing industries in marbles and precious stones.”
Our colleagues in the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently released a comprehensive report, Land Grab? The Race for the World’s Farmlands, that looks at the increasing frequency of food-importing developed nations and private companies investing in huge tracts of arable farmland in less developed countries.
This is an area that, while we haven’t explored deeply, we are beginning to study more and more here in the Natural Security program. We’re particularly interested in the ways that these emerging economic trends are engaging other socioeconomic and political trends in developing countries, which could lead to instability in countries of geostrategic importance to the United States (e.g. Pakistan).
According to the report’s authors:
Large-scale land acquisitions may have a negative effect on the wider sociopolitical and economic context of the host country. There are documented cases, such as the Daewoo Logistics Corporation’s (ultimately unsuccessful) plan to lease 1.3 million hectares of land in Madagascar, where negotiations over deals have contributed to political instability and internal social conflict. These deals touch on the already politically contentious issue of land allocation and land rights, so they carry a possibility of exacerbating existing tensions.
Granted, to this point Madagascar is the only case where a land deal has contributed to widespread political instability. However, the factors at play in most host countries—land, food insecurity, and poverty—make up a combustible mix that could easily explode. In countries—such as Pakistan—where violent, extremist anti-government movements have mastered the ability to exploit land- based class divisions, the political risks are particularly high.
The report is intended for a much broader (global) audience and, rightly so, is not explicit about how these trends might engage U.S. national security interests. But for researchers like us who study natural resources and economic trends and analyze their engagement with national security, the report is robust and offers useful case studies in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe that are a great jumping off point for our further research. You should read this now!
Foreign policy watchers know that India is a hot topic in world politics, and will only become more so as its population and economic prospects increase (though its economy, like most others in the world, will take some time to recover after the global downturn). India is of interest to us natural security-minded people as well: it relies on imports for most of its increasing energy needs; it is a somewhat serious contributor to climate change with its growing use of coal to generate electricity and often a climate negotiations trend setter for developing nations; and its perennial water issues point to some worrying trends for the future. As we are just beginning to think more about these issues for India (and what it means for U.S. security), we won’t be drawing any hard conclusions until we’ve done a bit more research and exploration. But with this in mind, I searched for some historic lit that might provide some interesting insights.
I found such an article way back in the October 1943 issue of Foreign Affairs: “India's Mineral Wealth and Political Future,” by Charles H. Behre, Jr., a lifelong geologist and partner in the mineral consulting firm Behre, Dolbear, and Company. The entire premise of the article is admittedly dated—it’s about how to partition India into a majority Hindu nation and a majority Muslim nation, which wouldn’t happen for another four years—but it gives insight into important minerals considerations, and provides a good comparison case for the current resource wealth of India and Pakistan. Here are a few highlights:
Two weeks ago I wrote about the debate around what role the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could play in analyzing climate change. As I noted in that post, the CIA has already been playing a role since the mid-1990s. That got me thinking about the debate back when the CIA first stood up its Environment Center and started using its satellites to collect climate data. For this week’s Reading Old Magazines I took a look at an October 17, 1995 op-ed in The Washington Times, “Is the CIA being led astray?” While this is a newspaper article and not our usual old magazine, author Bruce Fein, a lawyer and free-lance writer with The Washington Times, offers some interesting points that help one understand the debate back when the CIA firsts began integrating climate change into its work.
During that time opponents seemed to bemoan looking beyond traditional security threats to include environmental concerns and climate change into intelligence assessments. “The national security of the United States is ill-served…by an agency without personnel made of sterner and less starry-eyed stuff,” Fein wrote. His suggestion that incorporating these concerns might pacify national security experts and intelligence analysts is indicative of the attitude at this time that including threats other than war was a luxury that could undermine hard security priorities.