Category Archives: Transnational Security

Geography 2050 – finally, a strategic dialog based on geography

2050 LogoIn the Fall, I was elected to the Council of the American Geographical Society, which is a cool organization with a very long history.  It was founded in 1851 as the first scholarly organization in America dedicated to the study of geography.  And, as you might expect from the era, they were heavily involved in mounting expeditions to the Poles, to the American West, and to exotic countries of which we (Americans) knew little.  Expedition was a primary mode of geographical research.

Well, the world has changed.  In the 20th century, we saw the rise of satellite remote sensing and the establishment of a global positioning system that enabled precision geopositioning by surveyors, and at the beginning of the 21st century, anyone with a cell phone.  Also, over this 160 years, the actual geography of the world has changed.  While the continents have only moved centimeters, humans, human activity and the technologies we have unleashed have remade the geography of the world.  And, this process of change will only accelerate in the future.

It is with this view on the world that the AGS has come to revive the role of expeditions.  Yes, the AGS will continue to mount socalled “Bowman Expeditions” named after their former Director Isaiah Bowman, to work with local and indigenous populations to make sense of their world through participatory mapping.  But in addition, AGS will now be exploring our future world as it convenes its Fall Symposium entitled Geography 2050:  Mounting an Expedition to the Future.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 1.51.49 AM

This effort is not just a single event.  The November 19th Symposium, hosted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute in the historic Low Library, will be the inaugural event of a multi-year strategic dialog about how our world will change between now and 2050, the major factors driving these trends, and the investments that we will need to make in order to better understand, anticipate, and weather this change.

The coolest thing is that this event is not just about sitting and listening  to smart people (though, feel free to come, sit and listen!).  Rather it is about engaging this process as a thinker yourself, and engaging Geography 2050 as a platform for participation.  Come and speak up with your ideas and analysis.  Perhaps you could take a lead in driving the debate and analysis about our changing world by participating in this inaugural event, and the many events that will flow from it.  Perhaps you can help society navigate this uncertain future more effectively.

See you in NYC on November 19th!  Register now!

A New Twist on Human Geography

USGIF Monograph

OK, so I know that I have gone radio silent for a long time, but I told myself that I would not spend energy blogging until I met my commitment to get this first monograph by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation ( published.  As a Board member of the Foundation, I was asked to help honcho this effort with my colleagues Dr. Robert Tomes and Dr. Darryl Murdock.  Lets just say that it took longer than anticipated, thus explaining the enormous gap in my blog posts.  We assembled a fantastic mix of folks for this edited volume including the Geographer of the United States, the US Army’s Geospatial Information Officer, super-badass geostrategist Parag Khanna, and a wide variety of fantastic scholars and practitioners of human geography.  A sincere thanks to all who contributed, and an apology for the ridiculously long time it took to get to press.

This was an interesting exercise, because it was looking at the way various socio-cultural dynamics impact global security, and the wide variety of disciplinary and professional lenses that are applied to these dynamics in the national security community.  Many competing terms had seen lots of investment and energy within the national security community during the 2000s including human terrain, cultural intelligence, social network analysis, and the like.  And, of course, good old human geography had its storied history in contributing to the national security enterprise.  In one volume, we could only cover so much, but this volume definitely provides a worthwhile view on the field and the complex issues it struggles with.

Anyways, no blog post can do it justice.  So, I encourage you simply to pick one up at Amazon here.


Teach Washington DC About Napoleonic Know-How


So, I recently met a gentleman by the name of Doug Batson who coined the term “Napoleonic Know-how” to describe the administrative functions associated with the Napoleonic Code – specifically, the management of land parcels – what the experts call the “cadastre”.  Doug is an expert in toponyms.  In particular, he is an expert in toponyms from Turkic tongues.  But, he is also an expert in cadastral data, land tenure issues, and the establishment of systems for the management of land parcel data.

What I love about the term Napoleonic Know-how is that it shines a light on the administrative capabilities that underpin democracy and capitalism, but which none of the Washington Commentariat or policymakers are even conscious of.  They scream for the US to establish democracy and capitalism around the world, but they wouldn’t be able to recognize the administrative functions required to underpin their success.   No, Napoleon was not a democrat or a capitalist. Napoleon used the cadastre to establish an iron grip on the European continent through his Napoleonic Code and the land management system it engendered.  And he built upon this system unique addresses (for the parcels) which helped locate each person to a specific plot of land on their identification card.  It was an mechanism of oppression and order.

But, systems built during one time for a specific purpose often take on different social purposes over time.  And, the way it was manifested in English Common Law, and under George Washington and the Founding Fathers had a different effect.  For some reason, policymakers in the US have completely forgotten that capitalism only exists because of legally codified property rights.  And, law enforcement and contracts are only workable when each individual is uniquely identified and tied to residences and places of employment via addresses.  And, representative democracy only works when it is periodically reapportioned based on the results of the census.

What I love about it in particular is that Napoleon, widely considered to be one of history’s greatest battle commanders saw his greatest accomplishment as his creation of the Napoleonic code.  But, yet, our national security community do not understand the role of such administrative mechanisms in establishing stability and underpinning open society.  Instead, are organized to kill our way to stability.  Maybe our battle commanders could learn from Napoleon, and work to establish a well managed cadastre, address systems, unique IDs, and a systematic census in the conflict zones to which we so readily send out troops.  Perhaps if we underwrote this investment in countries of national security concern to us, we could help enable the development of open administrative capacities that make stability more feasible.

Financing Counter-Insurgency and Social Evolution in Afghanistan, Alaska Style

Afghan Minerals_USGS

This (geo)graphic was extracted from a 2007 report by the USGS.

Back in 2003, Steve Clemons wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times suggesting the adoption of the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) model in Iraq.

In the 1970’s, during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the state realized that the new oil leases would produce an enormous windfall. Its citizens set up the Alaska Permanent Fund to manage this income, directing that the revenue be invested, the principal remain untouched and the gains be used for state infrastructure investments. A part of the proceeds was distributed as dividends to every Alaskan. By July 2002, the fund had grown to more than $23.5 billion. Dividend payments to Alaskan families averaged about $8,000 per year.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration did not head Steve’s advice, and Iraq’s oil revenues were not harnessed to achieve such an equitable distribution of Iraqi oil wealth.  Moreover, the way that the Iraqi oil infrastructure was ultimately institutionalized ensured that the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish populations were not happy (see here for a great discussion of the issues that delayed legislation:, and certainly not “bought-in” to the national strategy.  Frankly, the approach the Administration chose could not have gone much worse.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, has been thought to be entirely different because it was a country without any real natural resources…until now.  A New York Times article New York Times article recently shined a light on a 2007 report by the US Geological Survey entitled Preliminary Assessment of Non-Fuel Mineral Resources of Afghanistan, 2007.  The NYT author, James Risen, indicated that there could be as much as $1Trillion dollars in such mineral assets in Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy is premised upon protecting the population, and ensuring a viable economy in Afghanistan.  Moreover, there is a huge need for social evolution in Afghanistan, of a kind and scale that can only be brought by an economic and industrial revolution. Perhaps it is time to think about how an Alaska Permanent Fund type mechanism could be established that would allow the exploitation of these resources to actually help Afghans, BEFORE the industrial interests from the US, China, India and Iran tear the country apart, no doubt by strengthening the hands of insurgents and warlords.  Free money is actually not difficult to sell to people.  But, a real leader will be needed to institutionalize something this bold, in a way that would favor the population over global industrial interests.

Dymaxion – Say it Five Times Fast


(Geo)graphic brought to you by a French Marxist, Francois Chesnais via a great, off-beat, and very strange article by Brian Holmes.

I was fishing around for the name of the map projection used in one of my new favorite books – “Strategic Atlas: A Comparative Geopolitics of the World’s Powers” by Gerard Chaliand and Jean-Pierre Rageau – and came up with this Wikipedia page.  Unsatisfied by the explanation provided by wikipedia (though their graphics rock), I continued with the GoogleMachine on the InterWeb (which is a series of tubes…) and found Holmes’ treatment, which I quote below.

“Published in France in 1994, this book was among the early attempts by the Marxist Left to grasp the industrial and financial transformations unfolding on a global scale. And it opens with a map, showing the hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion at work in an integrating world.

The projection we see here is, ironically, a variation on the Dymaxion map created in the 1950s by the radical utopian designer Buckminster Fuller. In his eyes, ordinary maps caused humanity to “appear inherently disassociated, remote, self-interestedly preoccupied with the political concept of it’s got to be you or me; there is not enough for both.” (8) The Dymaxion map was conceived to eliminate the north-south distortion of the common Mercator projection, as well as artificial divides between the continents. Conflating the ideas of “dynamic + maximum + tension,” the word “dymaxion” was understood as equivalent to Fuller’s ecological motto, “doing more with less.” In the 1960s he would develop the idea of a “World Peace Game” to be played by teams of citizens or diplomats shifting global resources across an immense version of this map, with the aim of developing humanity’s cooperative capacities through simulations on a world scale. (9) But in the map that Chesnais presents, the Fuller projection is used to show how the major nodes of the Triad – or the “world oligopoly” – are integrated into a single, densely connected space of competition and cooperation, where major industrial and financial groups of each region constantly seek to “do more with more,” that is, to infinitely accumulate more capital. At the same time, the earth appears divided into three regional systems, each differentiated hierarchically according to degrees of access to the major flows of money, trade and information that constitute the world oligopoly.”

China Turns 60

China's 60th Anniversary Parade, Beijing, China

This (geo)graphic provided by Jeff Kerridge at Digital Globe.

“China celebrated its 60th anniversary of the creation of the communist party today in Beijing with a massive parade and flyover.Tons of people, military equipment, floats, and aircraft participated in the parade. Attached is a shot taken by our QuickBird satellite of Tiannamen Square with lots of bright colors and another image that captures an AWACS aircraft inflight…Some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen us collect.  Hope you enjoy it!”

I’m pretty sure this is not quite as good in pan!

What in the World is Going On?


This (geo)graphic comes from the World Elections blog.


So, the press coverage of the Iranian election has been somewhat bewildering.  It has been bereft of any real discussion of the political and clerical institutions that drive Iranian politics, as well as of any real discussion of the various groups, their worldviews, and their interests.  But, that is hardly new.  Then into my inbox comes STRATFOR’s coverage on the election.  Below is the piece that came today.  Not surprisingly, it in no way comports with the information (if it can be called that) being conveyed by the press (e.g., WashPost, network news, cable news, and I will even blame Jon Stewart).


Is it that institutional journalism is reporting the facts, and George Friedman is force feeding us with the world filtered through a geopolitics filter?  Or, is it that institutional journalism has absolutely no useful frame of reference in to arrange the “facts” that they observe.  I believe we are all suffering from the later.


I dare any one of them to have George onto their show’s, or to reprint this piece in their pages.  There really should be a some sort of service that you can send pieces like this to in order to figure out why no one else is describing the situation this way.  I think I will ask Fred Hiatt and see what he thinks.




By George Friedman

Speaking of the situation in Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said June 26, “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.” On the surface that is a strange statement, since we know that with minor exceptions,the demonstrations in Tehran lost steam after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for them to end and security forces asserted themselves. By the conventional wisdom, events in Iran represent an oppressive regime crushing a popular rising. If so, it is odd that the U.S. president would raise the question of what has happened in Iran.

In reality, Obama’s point is well taken. This is because the real struggle in Iran has not yet been settled, nor was it ever about the liberalization of the regime. Rather, it has been about the role of the clergy– particularly the old-guard clergy — in Iranian life, and the future of particular personalities among this clergy.

Ahmadinejad Against the Clerical Elite

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ran his re-election campaign against the old clerical elite, charging them with corruption,luxurious living and running the state for their own benefit rather than that of the people. He particularly targeted Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an extremely senior leader, and his family. Indeed, during the demonstrations,Rafsanjani’s daughter and four other relatives were arrested, held and then released a day later.

Rafsanjani represents the class of clergy that came to power in 1979. He served as president from 1989-1997, but Ahmadinejad defeated him in 2005. Rafsanjani carries enormous clout within the system as head of the regime’s two most powerful institutions — the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guardian Council and parliament, and the Assembly ofExperts, whose powers include oversight of the supreme leader. Forbes has called him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Rafsanjani, in other words,remains at the heart of the post-1979 Iranian establishment.

Ahmadinejad expressly ran his recent presidential campaign against Rafsanjani, using the latter’s family’s vast wealth to discredit Rafsanjani along with many of the senior clerics who dominate theIranian political scene. It was not the regime as such that he opposed, but the individuals who currently dominate it. Ahmadinejad wants to retain the regime,but he wants to repopulate the leadership councils with clerics who share his populist values and want to revive the ascetic foundations of the regime. TheIranian president constantly contrasts his own modest lifestyle with the opulence of the current religious leadership.

Recognizing the threat Ahmadinejad represented to him personally and to the clerical class he belongs to, Rafsanjani fired back at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of having wrecked the economy. At his side were other powerful members of the regime, including Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, who has made no secret of his antipathy toward Ahmadinejad and whose family links to the Shiite holy city of Qom give him substantial leverage. The underlying issue was about the kind of people who ought to be leading the clerical establishment. The battlefield was economic: Ahmadinejad’s charges of financial corruption versus charges of economic mismanagement leveled by Rafsanjani and others.

When Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi on the night of the election, the clerical elite saw themselves in serious danger. The margin of victory Ahmadinejad claimed might have given him the political clout to challenge their position. Mousavi immediately claimed fraud, and Rafsanjani backed him up. Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. By the end of the week, Khamenei decided to end the situation. In essence, he tried to hold things together by ordering the demonstrations to halt while throwing a bone to Rafsanjani and Mousavi by extending a probe into the election irregularities and postponing a partial recount by five days.

The Struggle Within the Regime

The key to understanding the situation in Iran is realizing that the past weeks have seen not an uprising against the regime, buta struggle within the regime. Ahmadinejad is not part of the establishment, but rather has been struggling against it, accusing it of having betrayed the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The post-election unrest in Iran therefore was not a matter of a repressive regime suppressing liberals (as inPrague in 1989), but a struggle between two Islamist factions that are each committed to the regime, but opposed to each other.

The demonstrators certainly included Western-style liberalizing elements, but they also included adherents of senior clerics who wanted to block Ahmadinejad’s re-election. And while Ahmadinejad undoubtedly committed electoral fraud to bulk up his numbers, his ability to commit unlimited fraud was blocked, because very powerful people looking for a chance to bring him down were arrayed against him.

The situation is even more complex because it is not simply a fight between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, but also a fight among the clerical elite regarding perks and privileges — and Ahmadinejad is himself being used within this infighting. The Iranian president’s populism suits the interests of clerics who oppose Rafsanjani; Ahmadinejad is their battering ram.But as Ahmadinejad increases his power, he could turn on his patrons very quickly. In short, the political situation in Iran is extremely volatile, just not for the reason that the media portrayed.

Rafsanjani is an extraordinarily powerful figure in the establishment who clearly sees Ahmadinejad and his faction as a mortal threat.Ahmadinejad’s ability to survive the unified opposition of the clergy, election or not, is not at all certain. But the problem is that there is no unified clergy. The supreme leader is clearly trying to find a new political balance while making it clear that public unrest will not be tolerated. Removing”public unrest” (i.e., demonstrations) from the tool kits of both sides may take away one of Rafsanjani’s more effective tools. But ultimately,it actually could benefit him. Should the internal politics move against theIranian president, it would be Ahmadinejad — who has a substantial public following — who would not be able to have his supporters take to the streets.

The View From the West

The question for the rest of the world is simple: Does it matter who wins this fight? We would argue that the policy differences between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani are minimal and probably would not affect Iran’s foreign relations. This fight simply isn’t about foreign policy.

Rafsanjani has frequently been held up in the West as a pragmatist who opposes Ahmadinejad’s radicalism. Rafsanjani certainly opposes Ahmadinejad and is happy to portray the Iranian president as harmful to Iran,but it is hard to imagine significant shifts in foreign policy if Rafsanjani’s faction came out on top. Khamenei has approved Iran’s foreign policy under Ahmadinejad, and Khamenei works to maintain broad consensus on policies.Ahmadinejad’s policies were vetted by Khamenei and the system that Rafsanjani is part of. It is possible that Rafsanjani secretly harbors different views,but if he does, anyone predicting what these might be is guessing.

Rafsanjani is a pragmatist in the sense that he systematically has accumulated power and wealth. He seems concerned about theIranian economy, which is reasonable because he owns a lot of it. Ahmadinejad’s entire charge against him is that Rafsanjani is only interested in his own economic well-being. These political charges notwithstanding, Rafsanjani was part of the 1979 revolution, as were Ahmadinejad and the rest of the political and clerical elite. It would be a massive mistake to think that any leadership elements have abandoned those principles.

When the West looks at Iran, two concerns are expressed.The first relates to the Iranian nuclear program, and the second relates toIran’s support for terrorists, particularly Hezbollah. Neither Iranian faction is liable to abandon either, because both make geopolitical sense for Iran and give it regional leverage.

Tehran’s primary concern is regime survival, and this has two elements. The first is deterring an attack on Iran, while the second is extending Iran’s reach so that such an attack could be countered. There areU.S. troops on both sides of the Islamic Republic, and the United States has expressed hostility to the regime. The Iranians are envisioning a worst-case scenario, assuming the worst possible U.S. intentions, and this will remain true no matter who runs the government.

We do not believe that Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, a point we have made frequently. Iran understands that the actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon would lead to immediate U.S. or Israeli attacks. Accordingly, Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed.

In addition, Iran has maintained capabilities in Iraq andLebanon. Should the United States or Israel attack, Iran would thus be able to counter by doing everything possible destabilize Iraq — bogging down U.S.forces there — while simultaneously using Hezbollah’s global reach to carryout terror attacks. After all, Hezbollah is today’s al Qaeda on steroids. The radical Shiite group’s ability, coupled with that of Iranian intelligence, is substantial.

We see no likelihood that any Iranian government would abandon this two-pronged strategy without substantial guarantees and concessions from the West. Those would have to include guarantees of noninterference in Iranian affairs. Obama, of course, has been aware of this bedrock condition, which is why he went out of his way before the election to assure Khamenei in a letter that the United States had no intention of interfering.

Though Iran did not hesitate to lash out at CNN’s coverage of the protests, the Iranians know that the U.S. government doesn’t control CNN’s coverage. But Tehran takes a slightly different view of the BBC.The Iranians saw the depiction of the demonstrations as a democratic uprising against a repressive regime as a deliberate attempt by British state-run media to inflame the situation. This allowed the Iranians to vigorously blame some foreigner for the unrest without making the United States the primary villain.

But these minor atmospherics aside, we would make three points. First, there was no democratic uprising of any significance in Iran.Second, there is a major political crisis within the Iranian political elite,the outcome of which probably tilts toward Ahmadinejad but remains uncertain.Third, there will be no change in the substance of Iran’s foreign policy,regardless of the outcome of this fight. The fantasy of a democratic revolution overthrowing the Islamic Republic — and thus solving everyone’s foreign policy problems a la the 1991 Soviet collapse — has passed.

That means that Obama, as the primary player in Iranian foreign affairs, must now define an Iran policy — particularly given IsraeliDefense Minister Ehud Barak’s meeting in Washington with U.S. Middle East envoyGeorge Mitchell this Monday. Obama has said that nothing that has happened inIran makes dialogue impossible, but opening dialogue is easier said than done.The Republicans consistently have opposed an opening to Iran; now they are joined by Democrats, who oppose dialogue with nations they regard as human rights violators. Obama still has room for maneuver, but it is not clear where he thinks he is maneuvering. The Iranians have consistently rejected dialogue if it involves any preconditions. But given the events of the past weeks, and the perceptions about them that have now been locked into the public mind,Obama isn’t going to be able to make many concessions.

It would appear to us that in this, as in many other things, Obama will be following the Bush strategy — namely, criticizing Iran without actually doing anything about it. And so he goes to Moscow more aware than ever that Russia could cause the United States a great deal of pain if it proceeded with weapons transfers to Iran, a country locked in a political crisis and unlikely to emerge from it in a pleasant state of mind.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to

Intergalactic Planetary Planetary Intergalactic Another Dimension


This (geo) graphic was pulled from one of Vint Cerf’s presentations at the NRO.

I can’t believe I had not heard of this before last week, but Vint Cerf’s presentation on his work on the Interplanetary Internet was one of the cooler presentations that I have seen in a while.  Actually it was just a small part of his overall presentation, but it was for me the most notable part.  Cerf was the co-creator of TCP/IP during the original ARPANet project, and he had great network diagrams of when they connected their hub at UCLA to only a handful of other nodes.  This was how small the original experiment was (and Cerf mea culpa’d several times about his mistaken choice of a 32 bit name space over a 128 bit name space a la IPV6).  That made this whole Interplanetary Internet thing seem a little bit less crazy to me, as the experiment simply involved uploading the new DTN (Disruption-Tolerant Networking) protocol software onto a few spaceborne platforms and conducting some dial tone experiments.

What I thought was very cool was that he was asked by DARPA to test DTN in a tactical battlefield environment in order to see whether “Disruption Tolerant Networking” might apply to an Earth-based context in which disruption was expected.  Indeed, according to Cerf, it performed very well, with many advantages over TCP/IP.  Apparently tests demonstrate that 10-15 times more data gets pushed through the network under DTN than with TCP/IP.  Cerf said something about getting DTN on the Android platform, so there might be an opportunity for a large-scale Earth-based test sometime soon.

I hope Cisco, F5, Juniper and the others are listening!

In Plain Sight…

all facilities

These (geo)graphics were provided by my friend Jeff Kerridge at Digital Globe.

So, according to Jeff’s reconnaissance package, “The Musudan-ri missile assembly building is (according to capable of handling two Taepodong-2 class three stage launch vehicles, in addition to several vertical test cells in the high bay portion.”  Then, Wikipedia says:

Striking Anchorage in Alaska (one of the closest potential mainland US targets) could be difficult given that the distance from the launch site co-ordinates (see below) and Anchorage is 5,634 km[3]. However the range specified below details 4,500 km, meaning the missile would fall short by around 1,000km. It is only future variants (i.e. planned missile designs that are still on the drawing board), that could reach up to 9,000km therefore it is misleading to suggest that the Taepodong 2 that is due to be test-fired between April 4th and 8th 2009 has the ability to reach mainland US targets. Based on the size of the missile, the fuel composition, and the likely fuel capacity, it is estimated that a two stage variant would have a range of around 4,000 km (2,500 statute miles) and a three stage variant would be capable of reaching as far as 4,500 km (2,800 statute miles), giving it potentially the longest range in the North Korean missile arsenal.[1] The burn time of each stage is a little over 100 seconds, thus allowing the missile to burn for 5 or 6 minutes. Future highly speculative variants of the missile could be capable of a range of approximately 9,000 km (5,600 statute miles).[4] At maximum range, the Taepodong-2 is estimated to have a payload capacity of less than 500 kg.[2] Whether this would be large enough to carry a North Korean designednuclear warhead is currently unknown, as the full development status of the North Korean nuclear program is largely unknown. Early versions did not have the payload or range to launch a satellite into space.

No problem for Governor Palin, but I guess Japan has got to be unhappy.  I would love to be a fly on the wall at the next round of the Six-Party Talks.  Perhaps they are just pissed that we took Christopher Hill away from them!

launch pad

More from the reconnaissance package,

“An imagery review of the launch complex from previous DigitalGlobe imagery during late June, 2006 revealed similar activity at the launch pad and missile assembly building prior to the July 5, 2006 Paektusan/TaepoDong-2 missile launch.

According to Janes Defence Weekly, in 2006 the Paektusan-2 sat on the launch pad (within the launch tower) for approximately 20 days before being launched.”

I bet you can set your watch to this brief.

Stratfor on Afghanistan



This (geo)graphic was pulled from a Stratfor article entitled Part 6: The Obama Administration and South Asia (hint, link won’t work without subscription).

Hopefully Stratfor will consider this advertising, or at least falling under Fair Use!  Since I consider this blog my personal file system for things I don’t won’t to lose track of, I am including a healthy extract from this Stratfor article as its the best explanation of the challenge from a geostrategic perspective.  It would have been nice to have dealt with Afghanistan consistently since 2001.


Landlocked by Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan, Afghanistan is destined to be poor and insulated. As a largely arid, resource-deficient no-man’s-land, the country lacks strategic value in and of itself and historically has served as a thoroughfare for invaders descending from the Central Asian steppes in search of the Indian subcontinent. Afghanistan stands out among the world’s countries in that it has no core region that defines itself as the Indus River Valley does for Pakistan or as the Zagros Mountains do for Iran. The region’s central mountain knot keeps most of its various ethnicities perched on the edges of the knot where water is available, but there are no meaningful barriers that separate them from each other. The result is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and tribes constantly competing for dominance, endlessly able to dislodge their neighbors and yet lacking the natural barriers that could give them real security in the long run. Any outsider, therefore, will find Afghanistan easy to conquer — as did the Russians in 1979 and the Americans in 2001 — but impossible to hold. Representing a battered mix of ethnicities, the Afghan people have been hardened by wars of their own making and those brought to them by outsiders. Territory changes hands often, and the people pledge their loyalties accordingly.


Afghanistan’s geographic features essentially deny the United States a successful military strategy. When the United States fights wars in Eurasia, it already expects to deal with critical disadvantages, such as having its forces far outnumbered and having to maintain long and vulnerable supply lines. From almost its very beginning, the United States has conducted expeditionary military operations overseas; since World War II, it has come to rely on its global maritime dominance and technological edge to impose its influence far beyond U.S. coastlines. In the present case of Afghanistan, however, all the strengths that the United States typically brings to a military operation are more or less nullified. With no real power base, the United States is fighting a stateless entity in a landlocked country with a scattered population. Such a dynamic prevents the United States from utilizing its naval prowess and complicates the use of advanced weapons systems, particularly when use  d against a guerrilla enemy dispersed throughout the countryside. The only way to fight in Afghanistan is to use brute force and significant numbers of boots on the ground in a war of occupation — precisely the sort of war that lies outside the U.S. comfort zone.


In other words, Afghanistan’s geography in many ways denies the United States any good policy options. Afghanistan historically has been a country exceedingly difficult for an outside power to pacify. At the very best, the United States can hope for a loose and shifting confederation of Afghan tribes and ethnic groups to try and govern the country and prevent transnational jihadist forces from taking root again. But for that strategy to work, the United States would first need to devote an immense amount of time and resources to long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building in a region extremely resistant to the sort of stability required for nation-building. Without the 9/11 connection, Afghanistan would continue to sit very low on the totem pole of U.S. strategic interests.