Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Syria Stuck

Have you ever wondered why the Syrian conflict has dragged on for so long?

At the core of the struggle is that local Syrian actors have so far been unable and unwilling to agree on an acceptable and sustainable way to end their conflict.

And as attested to by the recent back-and-forth struggle over the fate of Aleppo -- Syria’s second largest city -- none of those actors seem powerful enough to best the others. None can restore the old order, and none can create a new order -- not even with the help of outside powers. 

So what about those outside powers?   

There’s a tendency to blame the United States in the main for failing to act more assertively. But there are any number of other participants -- Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia -- who instead of showing a willingness to work together, show little beyond narrow self-interest when it comes to addressing the two central questions that define the Syrian civil war: what to do about Bashar Assad, and how to deal with the Islamic State.

Civil wars usually end in one of a few well-defined ways: one party gains a decisive advantage; all sides exhaust themselves and are open to compromise; or outside powers intercede to tip the balance. 

None of these outcomes is possible in Syria right now, and the outside powers only seem to complicate matters. All have different agendas, and some of those agendas align better with the others than with Washington’s priorities. Indeed, the administration of President Barack Obama seems like the odd man out -- committed to the defeat of ISIS and to a vision of Syria that does not appeal to its counterparts. 

 Without an unlikely congruence among the outside actors, the conflict will go on, to America’s disadvantage.
Russia is perhaps the most dynamic of the outside players. President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention, launched in September 2015, clearly reflects his desire to enhance Russia’s influence and leverage on the international stage while blocking American wishes and securing the Assad regime’s place in whatever arrangements are to outline the new Syria.   

Russia’s role in the siege of Aleppo makes it pretty clear that Moscow is both supporting the Assad regime’s efforts to regain control over the city and at the same time trying to persuade the Americans that in exchange for restraining Assad, Washington should align with Moscow in striking radical Islamist groups such as Fatah al-Sham -- formerly Jabhat al-Nusra -- long a Russian core priority.   

Moscow is also backing Kurdish forces in the struggle for Aleppo -- an indication that Moscow understands that the Kurds may well expand their territorial ambitions in northern Syria. In short, Russia has a game plan for Syria, and it’s not one that envisions a unified country under the control of the Sunni majority without Assad or at least an Alawite successor.

Iran seems even more determined to oppose any solution that doesn’t involve a key role for Assad’s regime. Tehran laid the groundwork for Assad’s forces to move on Aleppo by deploying units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and mobilizing Shiite militias.

For now, Russian and Iranian goals have aligned to play a major role in keeping Assad in power. That Russia is now flying bombing runs against Assad's opponents from Iranian airbases drives home that point. We don’t know whether Tehran believes a military victory for Assad in Aleppo and beyond is possible. But what is evident is that Iran relies on the presence of a friendly Alawite regime in Syria, and views it as vital to strategic Iranian priorities: to the need to maintain its ties to Lebanon; not to see its window into the Arab-Israeli conflict closed; and to avoid encirclement by its Sunnis neighbors. Tehran is even more set on keeping Assad in power over part of Syria than is Moscow.

Turkey also has clear goals in Syria that depart from America’s. And the recent abortive coup will not make a U.S.-Turkish alignment any easier. The coup attempt will likely undermine the military’s readiness and preparedness and will discourage any major military involvement  against Assad or ISIS. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is focused on limiting Kurdish gains both at home and in Syria. And tensions with Washington over the presence in Pennsylvania of Mr. Erdogan’s archenemy, Fethullah Gulen, and the Obama administration’s support for the Syrian Kurds, will continue. Putin is already moving closer to Iran. Now, the United States should expect little help from Turkey in Syria -- and potentially a lot of trouble.

Saudi Arabia clearly is focused more on trying to weaken Assad rather than striking at ISIS. But Riyadh seems much more concerned with checking Iranian influence closer to home in Yemen than in making major contributions to the fight in Syria. The Saudis argue of course that getting rid of Assad would in fact be a blow to Tehran’s regional influence and reach. But bogged down in their campaign against the Houthis, there’s little the Saudis are prepared to do, outside of funneling money and weapons to Islamist groups battling Assad. Many of those groups are only one step removed from ISIS in their radical aims. Right now, given the numbers of civilians that Riyadh has killed in their airstrikes, Saudi Arabia is more concerned about its image in Yemen than in Syria.  

All of this leaves the United States isolated and alone. Washington’s efforts with Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have not paid off in Syria yet.

Washington’s policy is focused on defeating ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria and trying as best it can to work with Moscow to find ways to tamp down the violence and create a stable political transition. Focusing primarily on an anti-ISIS agenda seems to be paying off. But surely Washington would also like to see Assad go. Indeed, as a recent interview I did with the NSC’s top Middle East hand Robert Malley suggests, the administration knows that without a solution to the Assad problem, defeating ISIS and creating anything like a stable state in Syria won’t be possible. Neither Russia nor Iran is willing to do that

Nor is the administration -- worried about getting too heavily involved in Syria militarily, confronting Russia, and mucking up the Iranian nuclear accord -- willing to play tough with Tehran and Moscow in order to induce a change in their policy. In other words, Washington won’t place direct U.S. military pressure on Assad or create no-fly zones to limit Russian and Syrian airstrikes.

This leaves the administration betwixt and between a number of powers that are willing to risk much in defense of their interests. More than likely, come January 2017, neither the Assad nor the ISIS files will be closed. Syria will still be a mess, and the next administration will be wrestling with powers in the country that it can neither contain nor influence.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Masters of Revolutionary Warfare?


Is the multi nom d'guerre'd ISIS, ISIL, IS, Caliphate crafting a revolution in warfare?

Two years after the fall of Iraq’s second largest city to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh), there is still an alarming dissensus concerning their nature, strategy, and goals. Is it a nihilistic terrorist group, an apocalyptic death cult, an insurgency, a terrorist army, a proto-state, or some hybrid of these? Does the group really adopt Islamic principles, or is it a Sunni neo-Ba’athist restoration movement with genocidal proclivities? The confusion is not limited to academics, whose writings about the Islamic State are insightful yet rarely stray from singular research areas like ideology, economics, terrorism, religion, or regional studies. Even the US Special Forces commander tasked with countering the group in late 2014 admitted in a candid moment that he and his command did not understand “this movement.”

To examine the Islamic State’s adaptation of its own revolutionary war doctrine, a review of its original prescriptions is in order. The reasonable definition of People’s War: a form of irregular war that utilizes “peasant armies that are drawn upon for an integrated and protracted politico-military phase strategy of eventual state takeover. A shadow or proto-state is created in parallel to the pre-existing one being targeted for elimination.”

Mao, the first proponent and theorist of this type of warfare, believed that victory was only possible once the population is mobilized to support the guerillas, whose goal is to attack the enemy when advantaged and to shy away from conflict when not. The part time fighters and their supporters are to be indoctrinated in the political philosophy of the movement to motivate them to fight and persevere through a protracted struggle. The campaign progresses through three phases of blended guerilla activities and increasing conventional strength: the building/preservation phase, the expansion phase, and the decisive phase. These periods are fluid and conditions vary from location to location, usually dependent on enemy strength and efforts. The keys to success are developing experienced and disciplined soldiers that bond well with a supportive population, the utilization of a strong influence campaign with propaganda units at the lowest levels, and an integrated set of political goals that are synchronized with military efforts at all levels.

Revolutionary war is more than military action, since those who choose to utilize it blend “military, political, economic, social, and psychological” efforts to achieve their goals. The military objectives are two fold; a slow defeat of the government’s army as well as the use of terror to cripple the existing social organization, which before the conflict served to “restrict or minimize violence among the people.”

Once the violence reaches a certain level, these barriers collapse. Crenshaw noted in her study of revolutionary warfare in Algeria that terrorism almost always acts as a “principal instrument” in this form of political violence. This instrument is “not aimed, as war is, at the annihilation of the enemy’s coercive forces, but seeks to wound him politically and psychologically.” Finally, the movement taxes the population under its influence in order to fund operations and derive legitimacy for the shadow state.

The initial political agenda of the Islamic State movement was ambitious, with a goal of growing from just a few foreign fighters and local hosts to domination of the Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Zarqawi’s group had valuable experience in clandestine operations but had to outpace the reorganizing Ba’athists, rival Islamists, and a fledgling Iraqi government while battling a very capable foreign military coalition. Furthermore, unlike other groups who had various degrees of interest in power sharing with the national government, Zarqawi’s group maintained the revolutionary goal of replacing it with a Salafi influenced state run according to the “prophetic method.”

To accomplish this, the Islamic State’s political efforts were five-fold: it had to frustrate and weaken the growing power of the government and its security forces, recruit from rival resistance groups, foster an exaggerated perception of Sunni alienation, provoke an overreaction from Shia militias, and convince the United States to withdraw from Iraq.

Zarqawi’s small group began its military campaign with a strong notion of neutralizing the tremendous technological capabilities of the United States as observed first hand in Afghanistan in late 2001.[30] Ceding the day to day struggle (sniping and road side bombs) to local insurgent groups, Zarqawi’s group focused on high visibility attacks against symbolic targets using ‘precision guided’ suicide bombers and special operations that produced media attention and popularity among resistance sympathizers.[31] The end result of these actions would discredit the state’s authority and legitimacy, and divide elements of the population against each other.

This type of military strategy is summarized in the book Management of Strategy, written by al Qaeda strategist Abu Bakr Naji, and propagates a controversial and violent method for destroying both the government and society before starting anew.[32] Interestingly, the Islamic State media disputes the notion that this book was influential, writing

It is important to note that contrary to Western media claims, this book never defined the methodology of the mujahidin. The top Islamic State leadership – including Shaykh Abu Musab al Zarqawi – did not recommend al Suri’s book. As for the concise but beneficial 100 page book titled Management of Savagery by an unknown author who only went by the penname Abu Bakr Naji, then when Shaykh al Zarqawi read this book he commented, “it is as if the author knows what I’m planning.” Note: Although Naji’s book describes very precisely the overall strategy of the mujahidin, Naji fell into some errors in his discussions on issues related to the takfir of parties who forcefully resist the Shariah and its laws.

The expertise of jihadists from previous conflicts mixed with one of professional soldiers and intelligence professionals created a potent special operations capability in one other area: assassinations.[35] According to Lia, one al Suri Afghan lecture was titled: “terrorism is a religious duty, and assassination is a Prophetic tradition.”[36] The Islamic State created assassination brigades as early as 2004, in order to target Shia militias whose anti-Sunni activities often drove members to the movement.[37] Special brigades began to proliferate, targeting Iraqi Islamic Party (Muslim Brotherhood) members, communists, Iraqi politicians, judges, municipal employees, senior defense and police officials, poll workers, female spies, and later Sunni Awakening council leaders.

Eliminating enemies creates opportunities for access to the population, and the Islamic State was a frequent experimenter and innovator in the creation and structure of its influence campaign. While Abdullah Azzam’s use of propaganda to mobilize the Sunni ummah to come and fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet era was an inspiration, the Islamic State built on this precedent to integrate all of the lines of effort together: political, social, military, and economic. Ingram divided the strategic logic of the Islamic State’s media strategy into two distinct categories: one pragmatic and the other perceptual. Islamic State’s pragmatic appeals focused on stability, security, and economic means; its perceptual appeals highlight sectarian and ethnic divides while championing the group as the only viable protector of Sunni Muslims from a variety of threats.

An objective review of the evolution of the Islamic State makes it clear that its leaders have honed and largely perfected the synchronization and execution of Mao’s critical elements of revolutionary warfare. 

Mao’s army, once the Japanese invaders were gone, waged a smart campaign against a weak and corrupt regime before achieving success. The Vietnamese communists, facing a much tougher foe, eventually won unification through the use of a largely conventional invasion. 

In this case study, the Islamic State established a new sovereignty in large parts of two adjoining states within a 12-month period against a state supported by a regional power and a global hegemon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Saudi Schizophrenia


The original Women Hating Whahabi Kingdom of Arabia is as much as a hot mess as Pakistan.

Actually, way more.

Check it...

The idea has become a commonplace: that Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism. As the Islamic State projects its menacing calls for violence into the West, directing or inspiring terrorist attacks in country after country, an old debate over Saudi influence on Islam has taken on new relevance.

In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are “both the arsonists and the firefighters,” said William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar. “They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,” he said, providing ideological fodder for violent jihadists.

Yet at the same time, “they’re our partners in counterterrorism,” said Mr. McCants, one of three dozen academics, government officials and experts on Islam from multiple countries interviewed for this article.

The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea.

Not to mention places like, oh you know, Boston, Chattanooga and Riverside Cali.

Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.

And for a small minority in many countries, the exclusionary Saudi version of Sunni Islam, with its denigration of Jews and Christians, as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, may have made some people vulnerable to the lure of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups.

Exhibit A may be Saudi Arabia itself, which produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2,500, than any country other than Tunisia.

Saudi authorities had executed 47 people in a single day on terrorism charges, 45 of them Saudi citizens. These people studied Islam for 10 or 15 years in Saudi Arabia. Is there a problem with the educational system?

When al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom awoke the monarchy to the danger it faced from militancy, Saudi Arabia has acted more aggressively to curtail preachers who call for violence, cut off terrorist financing and cooperate with Western intelligence to foil terrorist plots. 

From 2004 to 2012, 3,500 imams were fired for refusing to renounce extremist views, and another 20,000 went through retraining, according to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs — though the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed skepticism that the training was really “instilling tolerance.”

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Ello Ebberdobby!

Yours truly has been busier than a one legged fellow at an assets kicking contest - so all apologies for being Absent W/Out Leave!

Be back up with full time fully crunkness here directly

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

War Crimes Tribunal For Islamic State

 "The Defense Rests"

The military campaign against the Islamic State has jelled, and ISIS defeats continue to mount. As shown in the ouster of Islamic State forces last week from Manbij in Syria and Sirte in Libya, the group’s fighters are now fleeing abroad or into the desert rather than fight to the death to hold untenable positions in cities and towns. Raqqa and Mosul will be next and at that point the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq becomes a mopping-up operation, however bloody that may be.

Its morale broken and its administrative structures and military force collapsing, the ISIS operation is shifting from establishing a Muslim theocratic state and global authority to surviving as a collection of more or less coherent international terrorist networks. Across the world there may be even more terrorist attacks than before, but at a certain point jumping from one dismal assessment to another must give way to looking at the facts as they are. In the Middle East, numerous religious, ethnic, regional, and national conflicts remain to be addressed, but the Islamic State’s demise will be seen to be an event of historical consequence.

ISIS is the apotheosis of Islamist geopolitical jihad as launched by al-Qaeda in the late 1980s. It will have had a fearsome life, but its short-lived success is unlikely to be replicated, let alone surpassed. That Islamic State survives materially in some other, ultimately less unique and consequential form, is another matter. That other jihadist groups survive for the foreseeable future is also of lesser consequence. That the ideology of global jihad survives in a weakened form and still attracting certain numbers of recruits is also regrettable but not fundamental. Some fanaticisms need only time to burn themselves out.

The issue then is how to make the most of Islamic State’s destruction.

The greatest issue has to do with the present and future development of Islam in general, and Islam in the Arab world in particular. How the ISIS saga will be pondered and digested within Islam is an important element of world political and religious evolution.

A far from insignificant piece of that great debate involves what should be done with any ISIS leaders that are captured.

ISIS leaders must not escape accountability in some forum. Those responsible for Islamic State’s war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocidal depredations must not be allowed to simply disappear into prisons or be executed. ISIS should not be allowed to evaporate into historical oblivion.
The International Criminal Court, flawed as it may be, is the appropriate institution because its specific mission is to enforce U.N. covenants on these most heinous of crimes. And the very fact that the United States for its own specific reasons is not a party to the ICC treaty will lend legitimacy to the court’s jurisprudence. ICC cases are only brought to indictment and trial by its own Office of the Prosecutor, not by states.

Trying ISIS leaders at the ICC will furthermore demonstrate that religious war as well as war crimes committed for other reasons can be tried and judged as legal matters within the purview of agreed international law itself.

Dealing with ISIS legally as well as militarily will create a historical record of high importance. In the last analysis, the war against Islamic State is a matter of political will.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Did The Ayatollah Win?

Today, the 77-year-old ayatollah—who reportedly suffers from cancer—is seeking to cement his legacy and to shape the political transition that will occur once he is gone. The nuclear agreement provides him with the building blocks to do that, and for now, at least, Khamenei and his allies look to be the deal’s big winners. 

The next U.S. administration is likely to face an unhappy choice: to continue to work with Iran or to challenge an increasingly entrenched supreme leader and his Revolutionary Guard.

 To understand Khamenei’s perspective on the negotiations and the resulting deal, the best place to start is Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement requires Iran to accept key limitations: Previously, the country had nearly 20,000 centrifuge machines producing nuclear fuel and was on the cusp of possessing weapons-grade uranium. A plutonium-producing reactor was also nearly online. 

 Today, only 5,000 centrifuges are spinning, the plutonium-making reactor has been made inoperable, and most of Iran’s enriched uranium has been shipped out of the country. Iran also agreed to grant greater access to its nuclear sites to inspectors from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to prevent the country from diverting fissile materials to banned military purposes.

Khamenei, however, doesn’t appear to share this view of the deal’s constraints. Just as Iran’s negotiators were agreeing to these terms in July 2014, the supreme leader delivered a speech about the nuclear program—without consulting his chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, according to U.S. and European officials. In the address, Khamenei said that his oil-rich country needed at least 100,000 centrifuges to power its civilian nuclear program in the coming decades. This was more than 20 times what the administration envisaged. 

Western diplomats wondered whether Iran’s diplomats really spoke for the supreme leader. 

Indeed, in recent weeks, Iranian officials have talked of their preparations to build 10 new nuclear reactors with Russian help. This will require a steady supply of nuclear fuel from centrifuges that will be allowed to go online in a decade.

 The Revolutionary Guard controls the program, and there’s a risk that in 10 or 15 years, they might decide to restart their weaponization activities.

 As for conventional military capabilities, the deal didn’t do much to curtail Iran’s ambitions. The supreme leader demanded a provision weakening a U.N. Security Council resolution that prohibits Tehran’s ballistic-missile development—and got it. He wanted the U.N. embargo lifted on Iran’s ability to buy or export conventional arms—and got it, in five years. He wanted to retain Iran’s ability to export arms—and the deal does nothing to interfere with that. 

 Finally, the nuclear deal also seems to have boosted Mr. Khamenei’s ability to influence the region. In the ornate former palaces and six-star hotels where the nuclear talks took place in Austria and Switzerland last year, U.S. and European officials talked optimistically about using the deal to stabilize a roiling Middle East. They hoped that Iran, the region’s great Shiite power, might play a constructive role in ending conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and, above all, Syria.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Even as the talks continued, Mr. Khamenei and his generals were plotting a much broader military campaign in Syria in partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to European, Arab and Iranian officials. Starting in January 2015, the supreme leader’s top aides began a series of visits to the Kremlin to chart out a plan to bolster the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The result was a highly coordinated operation in Syria that began just weeks after the nuclear deal was completed. Mr. Putin’s air force has pounded Syrian rebels, bombing not just Sunni jihadists associated with Islamic State or al Qaeda but also U.S.-backed fighters. At the same time, Mr. Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guard mobilized thousands of soldiers and Shiite militiamen to launch a ground offensive, with Iranian troops fighting alongside militants from Hezbollah and other Shiite militias. 

The joint Iranian-Russian operation drove back Syrian rebels who had been advancing on the Assad regime’s stronghold on the Mediterranean coast, according to Arab and U.S. officials, and allowed the minority regime to retake large swaths of territory. The Kremlin announced this week that it has started launching airstrikes in Syria from Iranian territory.

 Khamenei has sworn off any collaboration with the U.S. in the Middle East, even against shared regional enemies like Islamic State. Instead, he has continued Iran’s campaign to control the oil-rich Persian Gulf and weaken the influence of the U.S., Israel and its Sunni Arab allies across the region. U.S. military commanders say that they have seen no tapering off of Revolutionary Guard support for its allies in Yemen, Iraq or the Palestinian territories.

 Khamenei cannot know how the U.S. will respond to his uncompromising stance, especially with a new administration soon to take office. But he may figure that he wins either way. If the deal falls apart, he could call it proof that the Americans never could be trusted and figure that another round of biting U.N. sanctions will prove too difficult to assemble. If the deal survives, he will have his military continue to develop missiles and conventional arms to position Iran to become a latent nuclear weapons power in 10 years. 

Either way, it is the Ayatollah not his more moderate rivals, who are acting as if they have been strengthened by the nuclear deal.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Vanguard 2016

A maritime confrontation drill kicked off at waters of the Sea of Japan on Thursday between two Chinese naval taskforces. 
In the drill, the guided missile destroyer Xi’an, the guided missile frigate Hengshui and the supply ship Gaoyouhu formed the "red army", whose rivals were two guided missile frigates Jingzhou and Yangzhou, as well as the supply ship Qiandaohu from the East China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy.
After participating in the RIMPAC 2016 military exercise, the Xi’an, Hengshui and Gaoyouhu sailed northwest from Hawaii on Aug. 6 and entered the Sea of Japan via the Soya Strait.
The precession strike against "enemy" maritime strength jointly launched by warships and naval aviation force in pelagic environment was highlighted in the confrontation drill.
This drill is a scheduled one in the annual training plan of the PLA Navy, said a leading officer with the Staff Headquarters of the PLA Navy. It is a common practice for the world navies to carry out training at international waters, and the ongoing confrontation drill conducted by the Chinese naval taskforces complies with relevant international laws and international conventions

Sunday, August 21, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council has recently received an enhancement. It's WoW! Magazine

Great stuff posted daily so get your assets over and check out some of the most cutting edge diplopolititary thought on the web

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Drones Of Hiz"B"Allah


The intolerant rocket rich terrorist Posse of Allah posted a video online purportedly depicting a commercial, quad copter-style drone dropping small explosive devices at alleged rebel positions in Aleppo, a major opposition-held city in northern Syria.

 The 42-second video, apparently a compilation of footage shot by the attacking drones themselves, seems to show the robots hovering a few hundred feet over vehicles and structures as small blasts scatter fragments and send smoke and dust billowing into the sky. 

In the third and final attack, the grenade-size munitions themselves—possibly Chinese-made MZD-2 artillery submunitions—are visible falling away from the drone. A person on the ground spots the bombs falling toward them and flees the targeted structure moments before the explosives detonate.

Hezbollah has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria to help bolster troops loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah fighters lack heavy vehicles and weaponry but have moved quickly to adopt small, inexpensive drones for surveillance and attack missions. 

As early as November 2004, Hezbollah sent Iranian-supplied Mirsad drones into Israeli airspace on spy missions, catching Israeli air defenses off guard. Shortly thereafter, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed that the Mirsad could penetrate “anywhere, deep, deep” into Israel while carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives.
It was a bold claim for the time. The United States was the first country to deploy a modern, armed drone—the Predator—in 2001. For several years, America possessed a virtual monopoly on weaponized flying robots.
Nasrallah was perhaps exaggerating, but he wasn’t bluffing. In August 2006 during Israel’s brief, bloody war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the militant group launched three explosives-laden Ababil drones toward Israeli territory. Israeli jet fighters shot down all three robots.

Hezbollah’s current armed drones represent a departure from the group’s previous concept for drone operations. The Mirsads and Ababils were, in a sense, strategic terror weapons, meant to cross borders and strike fear in enemy populations. 

The submunition-armed drones that Hezbollah has deployed over Aleppo are, by contrast, strictly tactical. Hovering, commercial-style drones can fly only a short distance away from their operators and, under the best of circumstances, can haul only a few pounds of payload. But what the drone-copters lack in sheer power, they make up for in stability—hence their ability to accurately drop an unguided submunition.
They’re also cheap, easy to procure, and simple to operate. For all but the most impoverished military force, a $200 quadcopter is disposable. And that means the type could crop up again not only in Syria, but also on battlefields all over the world—as a bomber... or as a bomb itself, rigged to explode on command.

The Pentagon, for one, is assuming that small, cheap, weaponized drones will soon pose a significant danger to American troops. “I personally believe that the unmanned platform is going to be one of the most important weapons of our age,” U.S. Navy Capt. Vincent Martinez, who oversees technology development for the fleet’s bomb squads, told Defense News last year.

Martinez said he was doubly worried about drones crashing or landing while hauling improvised explosive devices or other munitions that the robot or its operator might trigger as bomb-disposal troops approach. “I’m going to have to start thinking not only about how I defuse the payload but how I defuse the platform,” Martinez said. “When I walk up on that platform, is it watching me, is it sensing me, is it waiting for me?”
The U.S. military is preparing its drone defenses. On Aug. 11, the fringe-science Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency asked for researchers and companies to propose technologies that might “detect, identify, track and neutralize these [drone] systems on the move, on a compressed timeline and while mitigating collateral damage.”

One private firm has already begun marketing one such tech. In March, OpenWorks Engineering began offering its SkyWall 100—in essence, a bazooka that fires a drone-entangling net—as a non-destructive robot-countermeasure. 

The U.S. Marine Corps, for one, is signaling that it won’t hesitate to simply blow up drones in midair. Skipping ahead of DARPA’s own solicitation, the Marines recently announced plans to fit a drone-blasting laser cannon to its new armored vehicle starting in 2022.

But with Hezbollah already lobbing grenades from quadcopters in Syria, the non-state perpetrators of small-scale drone warfare have the jump on the world’s established armies and their lumbering bureaucracies.
At present, weaponized drones are way ahead of defenses against weaponized drones. If you shoot one down, another might quickly take its place. 

And once it drops its bomb, you can only do what that unfortunate figure can be seen doing at the end of Hezbollah’s new video—run.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

After ISIL

There is no question that the Islamic State will be defeated in Mosul; the real question is what comes afterward.

P4, former CENTCOM Commander lays it out to play it out...

  Can the post-Islamic State effort resolve the squabbling likely to arise over numerous issues and bring lasting stability to one of Iraq’s most diverse and challenging provinces? Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0.

 U.S. forces today obviously lack the authority, remit and sheer numbers of the U.S. elements in Iraq in 2003. They also do not have the mandate that we had in the early days. But the enabling forces that the U.S.-led coalition has provided for Iraqi elements over the past year — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, advisers, logistical elements, and precision strike platforms, in particular — have been instrumental in the successes enjoyed by the Iraqis in Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit, Baiji, Qayyarah and a host of other battle sites. 

 Leaders of the various Iraqi elements will likely have their own militias, and there will be endless rounds of brinkmanship on the road to post-Islamic State boundaries, governing structures and distribution of power and resources. If those challenges are not enough, others will emanate from Iran and the Shiite militias it supports, from Turkey and Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors, from the Kurdish Regional Government that understandably wants to retain the disputed internal boundary areas that its peshmerga now largely control, and so on. 

In the case of Mosul, Nineveh’s Sunni Arabs, in particular, will need considerable reassurances that their interests will be adequately represented in the new Mosul and Nineveh. But so will the Kurdish citizens of Nineveh (of multiple political parties), as well as Shiite Arabs, Shiite and Sunni Turkmen, Yazidis, Christians, Shabak and numerous tribes.

The best vehicle for carrying this out would be a provincial council like the one set up in 2003, and through a similarly inclusive process. Importantly, Shiite militias should play no role in post-Islamic State security and governance. Because Nineveh and the other Sunni Arab provinces lack significant energy resources and the leverage they provide, Kurdish-style constitutional autonomy is not a viable option. Nonetheless, Baghdad and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will need to be prepared to make more explicit commitments about levels of resourcing, and also perhaps grant the region greater autonomy in determining spending priorities. The task facing Abadi is exceedingly complex, but the only way forward is to squarely face the challenges, work to build relationships and press the many disparate parties to find common ground on the issues — aided by the U.S.-led coalition. 

The process to resolve post-Islamic State issues will be difficult and intense. But having enabled the defeat of the Islamic State and having provided the largest amount of assets to ensure further successes and reconstruction initiatives, the United States, together with its numerous coalition partners, will have considerable influence over the resolution of the issues.

 It will have to exercise that influence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Red Group

Taliban Commandos? 
A new Taliban commando force is testing the battle weary Afghan army in Helmand province. With reports of Helmand valley, a strategic location for Taliban opium financing operations, near collapse, questions need to be asked regarding this new commando unit.

Over the last year the Taliban have deployed a new commando unit of roughly 300 fighters. The results displayed so far this fighting season have been deadly, further highlighting that Afghan forces have yet to find a solution to counter this rising threat.

Deploying new tactics, the unit named Sara Khitta, which means Red Group or Danger Group in Pashto, has deployed new tactics to include employing night vision technology, night raids, and a tactical focus on cutting roads and supply lanes to towns and villages, instead of direct attacks on checkpoints and police stations.

The new tactics have supposedly lowered Taliban casualties, while allowing the group to capture large swaths of territory in Helmand. The Taliban now find themselves at the gates of Helmand’s capital city, Lashkar Gah, a city of roughly 200,000 inhabitants, and a scene reminiscent of last October’s collapse of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

Afghan forces have dispatched reinforcements to the strategically vital capital of Lashkar Gah in a last ditch effort to avoid a total collapse of the province. U.S. forces have also increased airstrikes in support of their Afghan hosts to push back the Taliban and provide breathing spaces for embattled forces attempting to hold back the onslaught.

As of Thursday morning, Afghan forces had managed to wrestle back Nawa district. Once considered one of the safest districts in Helmand, Nawa fell for a few hours to an advancing Taliban. Nestled on the outskirts of the capital, the collapse of Nawa district would allow the Taliban to encircle the capital and cut off supply routes. Also contested is Nad Ali district just north of Lashkar Gah, which has seen fierce fighting between Afghan commando forces and the Taliban.

The current situation in Lashkar Gah is tense; however, U.S. and Afghan representatives have dismissed concerns that the city could fall. U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn told Voice of America, “We do not believe Lashkar Gah, or the province of Helmand, is about to fall. We remain confident that the Afghan forces are fighting effectively and that they will continue to secure Lashkar Gah.”

The appearance of such a highly trained and equipped Taliban force this fighting season leaves many questions and suspicions. Some have speculated that their equipment, including night vision goggles, was acquired during raids on Afghan forces or through corrupt commanders selling sensitive military equipment. As reported by ToloNews, an estimated 9 million rounds have been expended by Afghan forces in the last three months in comparison to British operations that expended 46 million rounds in eight years of combat in the restive province. Some speculate that this is evidence of endemic corruption, with local commanders and government officials selling sensitive equipment to insurgent elements for financial gain.

This also wouldn’t be the first time that corruption has threatened the collapse of Helmand Valley, with corrupt commanders stacking their force rolls with fake names or dead personnel to continue to collect government salaries.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Nigh Invulnerable

American aircraft carriers are a lucrative target

 Taking one out would be a big achievement for America's enemies, and a big setback for America's military.  However, the likelihood of any adversary actually achieving that without using nuclear weapons is pretty close to zero.  

It isn't going to happen, and here are five big reasons why. 

Large-deck carriers are fast and resilient. 

 Nimitz-class carriers of the type that dominate the current fleet, like the Ford-class carriers that will replace them, are the biggest warships ever built.  They have 25 decks standing 250 feet in height, and displace 100,000 tons of water.  With hundreds of watertight compartments and thousands of tons of armor, no conventional torpedo or mine is likely to cause serious damage.  And because carriers are constantly moving when deployed at up to 35 miles per hour -- fast enough to outrun submarines -- finding and tracking them is difficult.  Within 30 minutes after a sighting by enemies, the area within which a carrier might be operating has grown to 700 square miles; after 90 minutes, it has expanded to 6,000 square miles.

Carrier defenses are formidable.  

 U.S. aircraft carriers are equipped with extensive active and passive defenses for defeating threats such as low-flying cruise missiles and hostile submarines.  These include an array of high-performance sensors, radar-guided missiles and 20 mm Gatling guns that shoot 50 rounds per second.  The carrier air wing of 60+ aircraft includes a squadron of early-warning radar planes that can detect approaching threats (including radar periscopes) over vast distances and helicopters equipped for anti-submarine, anti-surface and counter-mine warfare.  All of the carrier's defensive sensors and weapons are netted together through an on-board command center for coordinated action against adversaries.

Carriers do not operate alone. 

 Carriers typically deploy as part of a "carrier strike group" that includes multiple guided-missile warships equipped with the Aegis combat system.  Aegis is the most advanced air and missile defense system in the world, capable of defeating every potential overhead threat including ballistic missiles.  It is linked to other offensive and defensive systems on board U.S. surface combatants that can defeat submarines, surface ships and floating mines, or attack enemy sensors needed to guide attacking missiles.  In combination with the carrier air wing, these warships can quickly degrade enemy systems used to track the strike group.  Carrier strike groups often include one or more stealthy attack subs capable of defeating undersea and surface threats.

Navy tactics maximize survivability. 

 Although U.S. aircraft carriers are protected by the most potent, multi-layered defensive shield ever conceived, they do not take chances when deployed near potential adversaries.  Their operational tactics have evolved to minimize risk while still delivering the offensive punch that is their main reason for existing.  For instance, a carrier will generally not operate in areas where mines might have been laid until the area has been thoroughly cleared.  It will tend to stay in the open ocean rather than entering confined areas where approaching threats are hard to sort out from other local traffic.  It will keep moving to complicate the targeting challenge for enemies.  It will also use links to other joint assets from the seabed to low-earth orbit to achieve detailed situational awareness.

New technology is bolstering carrier defense. 

 Although there has been much speculation about emerging threats to aircraft carriers, the Navy invests heavily in new offensive and defensive technologies aimed at countering such dangers.  The most important advance of recent years has been the netting together of all naval assets in an area so that sensors and weapons can be used to maximum effect.  Initiatives like the Naval Integrated Fire Control - Counter Air program link together every available combat system in a seamless, fast-reacting defensive screen that few adversaries can penetrate.  Numerous other advances are being introduced, from the penetrating recon capabilities of stealthy fighters to shipboard jamming systems to advanced obscurants that confuse the guidance systems of homing missiles.

The bottom line on aircraft carrier survivability is that only a handful of countries can credibly pose a threat to America's most valuable warships, and short of using nuclear weapons none of those is likely to sink one.  Although the Navy has changed it tactics to deal with the proliferation of fast anti-ship missiles and the growing military power of China in the Western Pacific, large-deck aircraft carriers remain among the most secure and useful combat systems in America's arsenal.  With the unlimited range and flexibility afforded by nuclear propulsion, there are few places they can't go to enforce U.S. interests.  

And at the rate the Navy is investing in new warfighting technologies, that is likely to remain true for many decades to come.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.
Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t) 

Council Winners  

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Better Way"

A certain Congress cat has formulated a better way for American hyperpuissance maintenance 

As part of our “A Better Way” project, we have presented dozens of specific proposals with a focus of keeping America strong and engaged.  That does not mean that it is up to the United States to rush in and solve every problem in the world.  But we have seen clear evidence of the consequences of U.S. weakness with the aggressive behavior of Russia and China, as well as the results of disengagement in Iraq and Syria where 44's decision to completely withdraw American troops gave rise to a more virulent terrorist threat by ISIS.

“A Better Way” on national security includes proposals on border security and immigration, as well as intelligence and information sharing.  But the heart of American national security is the U.S. military, and our plan would focus on the men and women who serve to ensure that whatever mission they are called upon to carry out, they will be fully trained, fully ready, and fully supported.

As is becoming more evident, the combination of budget cuts and continuous deployments have led to a deep readiness hole with too little training, too much old equipment, and too few troops.  Digging out of this hole will take time and money, but the threats are not giving us much breathing room. 

In addition to restoring the readiness of our troops, it is essential to make reforms in the Pentagon to ensure that taxpayers get more value for their money and that we are prepared for the wide array of threats that today’s world poses.  We need to thin down and simplify the bureaucracy to ensure that more resources get where it counts – to those on the front lines.  Members of both parties have begun to reform our outdated acquisition system, for example, and making additional improvements are essential to keep pace with evolving threats. 

Going forward, we must have a global strategy to defeat terrorist groups, as our “Better Way” proposals call for.  44's approach has been to do the minimum necessary rather than to win.  Meanwhile, the number of terrorists has grown, as has the number of countries which they infect.  Part of the global strategy must be an effective communications strategy to include social media.  

We also call for a strengthening of our alliances.  The U.S. cannot afford to go it alone; we need friends.  A central tenet of our approach is to be a better friend to our allies and a more formidable adversary to aggressors.  We propose to bolster NATO by pushing all its members to meet their funding responsibilities and also by better preparing to deal with kinds of threats NATO faces today, such as hybrid warfare and terrorism. 

We also support reforms in foreign assistance and foreign military sales.  Too often the aid we give is not effective and the equipment we make available for purchase comes too late.  Frustrated, allied militaries that would like to use U.S. equipment are increasingly looking elsewhere.

From cyber to the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the civilized world faces formidable security challenges.  U.S. leadership is required to meet them, and “A Better Way” offers a blueprint that would serve both parties and the nation well to follow.

  More fundamentally, each of those serving and their families must know they and their loved ones are honored and supported above and beyond the politics of the moment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Policy For Drones Gone Wild!

The administration released a redacted version of its 2013 policy guidance that spells out the interagency review process for determining whether a suspected terrorist should be targeted in an overseas drone strike.

The guidance described a process for directing a strike against a “high value target” only if there was “near-certainty” of the target’s identity and no civilians would be killed. It said capturing the individual was the preferred policy. The document was turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union after the group sued under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Lethal action should not be proposed or pursued as a punitive step or as a substitute for prosecuting a terrorist suspect in a civilian court or a military commission,” according to the policy.

The ACLU said in a statement that questions remain about where the guidance applies, “whether the president has waived its requirements in particular instances,” and how its “relatively stringent standards can be reconciled with the accounts of eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights researches who have documented large numbers of bystander casualties.”

The document was turned over Friday to the ACLU, which released it publicly on Saturday.
Human-rights groups have questioned whether the U.S. tries hard enough to capture terrorists, rather than killing them, in part because of the dilemma of what to do with prisoners. The policy says that those captured should be placed in the custody of other nations when possible or face U.S. prosecution “in a civilian court or, where available, a military commission.”

Guantanamo Bay

“In no event will additional detainees be brought to the detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base,” it says. 44 has tried to close the prison in Cuba throughout his two terms in office, only to be stymied by Congress.

Between 64 and 116 civilians were killed in 473 U.S. strikes outside Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria between the beginning of Obama’s presidency in 2009 and the end of 2015, the government said last month in its first accounting of non-combat deaths. The strikes killed as many as 2,581 combatants, the White House said. The figures include casualties from strikes by drones and by manned aircraft, but not those inflicted by U.S. personnel on the ground.

 Critics called the civilian casualty figures unrealistically low. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 380 and 801 civilians were killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya during the period covered by the report. The Long War Journal, a project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, estimates 207 civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen alone during the period covered by the White House’s report.

For a report on non-combatant deaths, click here.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Saturday in a statement that the memo’s standards “offer protections for civilians that exceed the requirements of the law of armed conflict.”

The guidance “provides that, in general, the United States will use lethal force outside areas of active hostilities against a lawful target that poses a ‘continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,’” Price said.

The May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance, once known as the “playbook,” spells out an interagency review process that would be triggered after the Defense Department or intelligence agencies nominated targets in instances where capture wasn’t feasible or where the target was determined to be an imminent threat.

A Pentagon request would be reviewed by the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then a counterterrorism advisory group that included the department’s general counsel.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Coming War With China


Last week, U.S.-based think tank RAND Corporation – which also studied the prospects of war in the NATO member Baltic states – unveiled its latest thinking on what a potential clash between the United States and China would look like. The report is not direct U.S. government policy – although RAND has long been regarded as a major generator of thought for the U.S. military – but it does push the envelope further than much that has gone before. 

The report stresses that while premeditated war between Washington and Beijing ”is very unlikely,” the mishandling of disputes like the multiple territorial confrontations between China and U.S. allies such as Japan and the Philippines are a “danger” that “cannot be ignored.”

RAND examined two different scenarios, one for an inadvertent conflict taking place in the present day and one in 10 years from now, assuming Beijing’s military and economic buildup continues at roughly its current rate. China will substantially close its military gap with the United States over the next decade, it predicts – but the fundamental dynamics of how things will play out might not be hugely different.

Even now, the People’s Liberation Army is seen as having the ability to give a bloodied nose to U.S. forces in the region. Washington could expect to lose an aircraft carrier and multiple other surface warships in the opening stages, RAND warns, citing Chinese advances in ballistic and guided missiles as well as submarines.

The report does not estimate the number of human casualties, but they could be substantial. The loss of an aircraft carrier or several major surface warships could easily cost thousands of lives in an instant.

At the same time, it’s also generally assumed that both Beijing and Washington would have considerable success with cyber attacks.

As another recent report points out, China’s effectiveness would difficult to gauge – not least because it has not participated in a major conflict since invading Vietnam in 1979.

The real decision for Washington would be how much military force to commit to the Asia Pacific theater. Other threats and responsibilities would not have gone away – the Middle East would almost certainly still be a mess and the risk of Russian action in Europe might actually be heightened. Still, the United States would have considerable reserves of aircraft and ships in reserve.

Whether a conflict only endured days or weeks or dragged on for a year or more, Washington would almost certainly retain the ability to strike widely at Chinese targets across the battle space – including, in at least a limited way, into mainland China. Over time, Beijing could face the destruction of most, if not all, of its major surface naval forces. Its relatively primitive submarines would also likely be fairly easy picking, RAND predicts, although that will probably be less true by 2025.

The real battle of attrition, however, would be economic – as it almost always is when great powers confront each other. On that front, the consequences for China could be devastating.

Washington and Beijing are each other’s most significant trading partners. The report estimates that 90 percent of that bilateral trade would cease if the two were in direct military confrontation for a year. That would hurt both sides, but the United States could likely continue trade with much of the rest of the world while almost all imports and exports to China would have to pass by sea through a war zone.
Perhaps most importantly, China might find itself cut off from vital external energy sources while Washington’s energy supply chain would be far less affected.

While RAND estimates a year-long Asian war would take 5-10 percent off U.S. gross domestic product, it believes China’s economy could shrink by up to 25 percent.

These are good reasons why war should never happen. Even if miscalculations pushed both countries to the brink, it’s all but impossible to make a logical argument for either side to push things over the edge. The danger, therefore, would seem to be primarily ill-conceived actions that might cause a World War One-style escalation.

In the case of the United States and China, RAND’s analysts say they believe nuclear escalation would likely be avoided even if both sides fought prolonged naval and air battles. That’s a major departure in Western military thinking from the days of the Cold War, when nuclear escalation was seen an almost inevitable consequence of any direct conventional clash.

Whether that’s certain is a different question. Wars tend to develop their own horrific internal logic and momentum, and the temptation to move to more powerful weapons is ever present.
For now, there’s no evidence that Beijing has adopted Moscow’s thinking on “de-escalatory nuclear strikes,” using a single nuclear warhead in an attempt to shock a Western adversary into standing down and ending the conflict. But it’s possible to imagine that happening.

It’s becoming increasingly important to consider scenarios like these. It we don’t, the unthinkable might quietly – or worse still-- suddenly and brutally become reality.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The New Russian Artillery

King of Battle!

The performance of Russian artillery in Ukraine strongly demonstrates that, over the past two decades, the Russians have gotten a technological jump on us. The United States’ strategic drones, the ones that plink terrorists from bases in Nevada, are more advanced than Russia’s. But Russian tactical drones, which spot for artillery, are far superior (and far more numerous) than ours. In 2014, when the Battle of Debaltseve began, the Ukrainians reported that as many as eight Russian tactical drones orbited over their heads at any one time. 

Additionally, the electronic warfare technology demonstrated by the Russians in Ukraine is the best in the world, far better than ours. During the 240-day siege of the Donetsk airport, the Russians were able to jam GPS, radios and radar signals. Their electronic intercept capabilities were so good that the Ukrainians’ communications were crippled. Ukrainian commanders complained that a punishing barrage would follow any radio transmission within seconds.

Does this mean that the Russian army is superior to ours? No, not at all. If we fought the Russians today, we would win. Ours is a highly trained force of half a million soldiers. Two-thirds of Vladi­mir Putin’s 800,000 soldiers are one-year conscripts whose fighting skills are questionable. The Russian air force is also no match for ours. 

But the Ukrainian experience tells us that the cost in blood of any such contest would be high.

A tragic decline of a war-fighting arm that once was our Army’s most lethal should serve as a cautionary tale. This diminution of war-fighting capability in our European army comes at an inauspicious time: when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump publicly questions the value of defending Europe and the 44th administration is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on big, high-tech systems optimized to fight at sea in Asia. 

Yet in today’s wars, more prosaic weapons such as small arms, mines and artillery are killing our soldiers. Add in the fact that we have forfeited what formerly was an overwhelming U.S. battlefield capability, and we can only imagine what deadly consequences may result from our good intentions.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.
Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t) 

Council Winners  

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, August 5, 2016

North Korean Threat

Kim Jong Un's "Hermit Kingdom" is amassing a nuclear arsenal that could reach South Korea, Japan — and even the U.S. Here's everything you need to know.

How large is Kim's nuclear arsenal?
His tyrannical regime now has an estimated 20 nuclear warheads — and is adding a new weapon to that stockpile every six weeks or so, experts believe. North Korea has also been steadily upgrading its ballistic missiles. It has already successfully mounted a small nuclear warhead on a 1,500 km–range Rodong missile that can reach South Korea and Japan — and is on course to develop 13,000 km–range intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the continental U.S. by early next decade, according to observers at Johns Hopkins University. 44 and his predecessor, 43, allowed North Korea's nuclear escalation to take a backseat to other threats, like Iran, largely dismissing Kim's threats to burn Seoul and Manhattan "down to ashes" as bluffs and posturing. But the U.S. ignores North Korea's growing nuclear arsenal — and the instability of its erratic leader — at its peril, says Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "Just because Pyongyang wants us to pay attention," Fitzpatrick told The Economist, "that doesn't mean we shouldn't."

 How worried should we be?
It's difficult to say, given the secrecy surrounding the Hermit Kingdom. Many of its missile and nuclear tests have failed or been hyped. In January, for example, Pyongyang claimed to have detonated its first hydrogen bomb, but experts said the tremors were smaller than expected for an H-bomb. Nevertheless, the Kim regime appears to be compiling all the pieces for a deliverable atomic device. Kim recently posed with a miniaturized atomic warhead supposedly light enough to ride atop a rocket that could span the Pacific. "Their systems never work first time," says aerospace engineer John Schilling, "but they persevere."

Would sanctions stop them?
They haven't so far. The U.N. Security Council has just passed the toughest sanctions in two decades, however — banning the export of coal, iron, and other minerals that provide vital funds for the government's nuclear program. The success of the sanctions will depend almost entirely on China — Pyongyang's most influential ally, and the nation with which it does 90 percent of its trade. Beijing officially opposes Kim's bid to become a serious nuclear power, and is becoming more frustrated by the belligerent ruler every day. But China's leaders will never risk punishing North Korea so severely that its regime would collapse, sparking regional chaos and sending millions of North Koreans fleeing across the border into China.

What else can the U.S. do?
Not a lot, except strengthen its missile defense systems at home and abroad. Last week, the Obama administration announced it would deploy the new Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, to reduce the chance of an attack from Kim's regime. "But that doesn't mean you just build more missile defenses and walk away," says former White House nuclear adviser Gary Samore. The THAAD system can destroy about 90 percent of what is fired toward South Korea, but if just one nuclear warhead slips through that net, it could kill and injure an estimated 420,000 people in Seoul. "We need some kind of process to begin to freeze what [the North Koreans] are doing," says Samore. But nothing, including positive inducements to negotiate, has served to restrain Kim's reckless behavior.

What are Kim's intentions?
His primary goal is to stay in power, but otherwise, he's a mystery. Kim's former classmates at his Swiss boarding school have described him as "unpredictable" and "prone to violence." South Korea's intelligence agency recently reported that he's obsessed with the fear that he will be overthrown, and that the 5-foot-9-inch dictator has swollen to 285 pounds because he copes with his anxiety by bingeing on food and alcohol. In his paranoia, Kim has presided over several brutal purges in his military; in 2013 he executed his uncle, Jang Song Taek, calling him a traitor and "despicable human scum." International security analyst Alexandre Y. Mansourov of the Nautilus Institute warns that if the volatile tyrant believes he's about to be attacked, he could do the unthinkable. "Pyongyang will likely assume the worst," Mansourov says, "and rush to use the nuclear weapons out of fear of losing them to allied preemption."

Regime collapse: The aftermath
One of the biggest dilemmas China faces is trying to rein in its North Korean ally with economic sanctions — but without tipping Kim Jong Un's regime over the edge. If the regime collapses, experts agree, there will be absolute chaos. There would be widespread looting by the country's starving citizens, and violence in the gulags holding the country's 120,000 political prisoners. Millions of people would rush the border into China, and South Korean and U.S. troops would be forced to occupy a devastated and dysfunctional country. In his final days, Kim might choose to pass the nuclear weapons under his control to terrorists — or even launch them himself, as a final act of suicidal revenge. The regime's collapse would probably spark a brutal civil war with very high stakes, says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov — like "Syria with nukes."