Category Archives: Transnational Security

10th Latitude Corridor


This (geo)graphic comes from an article in today’s Guardian UK.

I had not heard of the 10th latitude corridor (e.g., Interstate 10), but I guess there had to be a name for it.  Interestingly, this map does not flush with this one from the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.


Tell Al Gore that Food Matters!

Food Matters

This (geo)graphic was pulled directly off the cover of Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It is of an unknown spatial reference system.

For those of you who found Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” very insightful, but less than actionable, you will like Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It does a good job of describing the impacts of our food consumption on our Planet (Earth), from global warming to transmogrified landscapes due to the ever growing demand for meat, and other animal-derived food products.  I think many (including myself) never think about how the supply chain behind animal-derived product consumption has completely reshaped the Earth over the past half century.  Not to mention how it has reshaped the labor markets associated with food production (see Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” for more on that topic).

As for “Food Matters”, there is a nice FORA.TV Video Podcast with Bittman talking about the origins of his book (did I mention that I have become addicted to FORA.TV?).  He references a UN report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” which addresses the impacts of our animal-derived food chain on the Earth, a report which is very interesting.  But, his summary zingers in the Podcast (and the book) really drive home the point.  He really makes you ask yourself why you are eating so many animal products (remember, milk and eggs are also products of animals – which are kept no more humanely than those primarily raised to be slaughtered for their meat, and which have a huge impact on the Earth).  And, whether we could reduce the amount of animal products by 10 or 20% percent – which would have a massive impact on greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, Bittman did not focus his point on overpopulation, which I still see as the major challenge.  The number of domesticated animals impacting the Earth is directly tied to the number of people consuming animal products in their daily meals.  While Bittman is correct that we (us First Worlders) all could consume less and live more healthy lives, as we succeed at bringing people worldwide out of poverty, their tastes will begin to mimic ours – only ballooning the existing population of domesticated animals (the US processes 10 billion animals a year).

So, I am happy to follow Bittman’s cookbook.  But, if everyone on Earth ate that well, our planet would collapse from ecological devastation and accellerated global warming.

Democracy from Space


I figured this (geo)graphic from Digital Globe’s WorldView satellite was worth putting in oversized.

Thanks to my friend Jeff Kerridge from Digital Globe for getting me this image, even though he was in London for the DGI 2009 conference.  This shot came from the WorldView satellite with its panchromatic sensor.  Quickbird was not over DC at the time.

This shot must have been taken pretty early after dawn (I don’t have the acquisition time), as the Mall was packed to capacity before 11am.  I was on the parade route in front of the White House (thank you to the Gibbses for the tickets), in order to get picture of my nephew marching as part of the T.C. Williams JROTC.

As for my favorite part of the inauguration speech:

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers … our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

As for remote sensing, it will be interesting to see what the Obama Administration does about the BASIC satellite program.  Perhaps if they follow previous White House policy on remote sensing (sorry, the old White House website is gone as of noon yesterday, so I can’t yet find a link to it), they will launch more commercial satellites to meet the BASIC Tier 2 requirements.  In my opinion, this is one Bush Administration policy that should definitely carry over.  Frankly, just make it part of the Stimulus Plan!

Then, for the next inauguration, we will have better commercial satellite coverage.

Planet of Slumdog Millionaires


(Geo)graphic extracted from an Atlantic article by Matthew Quirk, which strangely doesn’t mention Mike Davis.

Dave Kaplan put me onto the most astounding book, Planet of Slums by Mike Davis.  I think his quote was “You know, there is a slum that’s like 400 miles long on the coast of West Africa”.  More exactly, pages 5/6 will tell you

“Even more surprising is the vast West African conurbation rapidly coalescing along the Gulf of Guinea with Lagos (23 million people by 2015 according to one estimate) as its fulcrum.  By 2020, according to an OECD study, this network of 300 cities larger than 100,000 will “have a population comparable to the U.S. east coast, with five cities of over one million…[and] a total of more than 60 million inhabitants along a strip of land 600 kilometers long, running east to west between Bennin City and Accra”  Tragically, it will also be the biggest single footprint of urban poverty on earth.”

Conurbation.  I’m going to start using that one.

Perhaps the most disturbing was the discussion of the explosive growth of this area (twice that of the national population growth) during a consistent economic contraction.  This is definitely getting woven into my worldview on overpopulation, later.  But these slums are clearly also an incubator of political instability, terrorism, and networks of nefarious actors.  This book is something else.

Just in case you liked the (geo)graphic from my overpopulation blogpost, here’s one regarding slums using the same methodology, from the same source…enjoy.



Happy MLK Day!

UPDATE:   Slumdog Millionaire just got 10 Oscar nominations.

Who is Jarch Capital?

Great Land Grab_Africa_Agriculture



I had missed this one when it was published a few days ago in the Financial Times.

At first the idea of ex-Intelligence and State Department folks buying up a tract of Sudanese land the size of Dubai from warlords didn’t strike me as falling into the “what a great idea!” category.

But if you check out the Jarch Capital website and the (geo)graphic to the left, it seems like all these deals could actually bring some sort of economic development and stability to the region.  If only the graft and warlord culture don’t completely thwart them.

However, I am also reminded of Jared Diamond’s discussion of the ecological sources of the Rwanda genocide in his bookCollapse, and the link that Ban Ki-moon (United Nations Secretary General) has drawn between the environmental degradation, the symptoms of global warming, and the crisis in Darfur.  Even though a massive underground lake has been discovered underneath the Darfur region, it seems like the increasingly stressed Sudanese landscape will make it hard for this venture to succeed.

However, please note this prediction attributed to Jarch Capital’s Chairman, Phillippe Heilberg, in the FT article:

Mr Heilberg “believes that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.”

I wonder if that one is in a National Intelligence Estimate?  I’ll have to check!

Or, it could just mean more pirates

What Would Alexander Do?



This (geo)graphic is another WWW orphan, but is the best cartographic representation I could find of Alexander the Great’s exploits.

As I read about the growing quagmire in Afghanistan, I find that journalists and opinionmakers offer different historical premises for their narratives.  For instance, that foreign powers have tried to conquer what is now Afghanistan for centuries, and that everyone since Alexander the Great has failed. (That is, it can’t be won, so don’t try.)  Or that Afghanistan is part of a strategically indefensible Central Asian landmass, which has seen would-be conquerors come and go for millennia, with the people’s occupying the Afghan wilderness persisting. (That is, you may conquer the territory, but the people will just wait you out until you leave, so why try in the first place.)

Actually, this wilderness has been invaded and settled by many – from the Persians, ancient Macedonians (Alexander the Great), and Indians (far before Christ or Muhammad walked the Earth, mind you) to the Ghaznavid Empire and the Mongols (Genghis Khan) – each with different motivations, different strategic considerations.  Just peruse this 29 part chronology of the powers that have sought or achieved control the territories in which modern Afghanistan resides.  Many have controlled this area for as long as the US has been around.

As for the notion that the Af/Pak border peoples have persisted despite the comings and goings of conquering armies, I need to dig for some  mitochondrial population genetics results to better understand the impacts of these invasions on the gene pool of the current day Afghans with whom we are engaged in armed conflict.  Somehow, I bet genetic anthropologists have not been wondering about the Af/Pak border over much of the past decade.

What I find most interesting is that there seems to have been a higher level of religious tolerance in the region in the past than current is exercised by the folks in the region today.  Commentators often talk about how the Taliban seek to take the country back to some medieval past.  If only they wished to take the region back to its ancient past, we would all be better off.

Bring Peace to Palestine with Suisman’s Arc

Suisman ARC

This (geo)graphic was developed by Doug Suisman in a 2005 RAND Report.

As the crisis in Gaza transforms into a ground operation that is likely to be much more costly than the air strikes, someone needs to be thinking of the end game.  I am unconvinced that anyone is.  All we do know is that violence breeds more violence, and that this operation will make a new generation of Palestinians (and indeed Muslims worldwide) prone to anti-Israel and anti-Western violence – unless something very bold and different is done.  So, why don’t we try something new.  President-elect Obama should evaluate a 100% commitment to the immediate implementation of Doug Suisman’s Arc – the boldest land use planning exercise I have ever seen.

It is a concrete idea flowing from a study by the RAND Corporation’s Center for Middle East Public Policy, entitled “The Arc: A Formal Structure for a Palestinian State”.  The study was financed by 87 year old American property developer, Guilford Glazier, who remembered the transformational power of the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Great Depression.  Glazier wanted an answer to the challenge of how to accommodate the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees created by the 1948 war.

Suisman met that challenge, and more.  The study was not done with any timeline in mind (as the original research was done primarily during the second intifada).  Indeed, times have changed since then, and I believe that Suisman’s Arc proposal is ready made for the New Year.  A proposed Palestinian national infrastructure corridor linking Gaza and the West Bank, Suisman’s Arc offers a vision of a thriving Palestinian state inclusive of urban centers connected by a rapid rail line, a national water carrier, energy generation and transmission, telecommunications lines, and a national park system of parks, forests, reserves, and farmlands.  Palestinian’s have expressed great interest.  Who wouldn’t?

$40 billion price tag has been estimated, which I believe could quickly be raised from the US ($10B, Saudi Arabia $10B, India $5B, Israel $5B, EU $5B, China $5B – given the global recognition of the criticality of the Palestinian situation to a variety of global conflicts.  And, there’s even a video explaining the proposal on Suisman’s website (…which is much more than most policy proposals in Washington, DC can say for themselves.  The Milken Institute hosted a nice discussion on the topic.

I, like many, have been reading all of the reporting and commentary since the truce came to an end.  But, I find the entire dialogue completely unsatisfactory, as there is no affirmative vision for an end-game.  I don’t know that diplomats and security professionals can articulate a meaningful end-game without that which only a land use planner can bring.  “Design Meets Diplomacy” is the title of one Business Week article on the Arc proposal.  The title couldn’t be better.  Rather than having politicians and diplomats hammer out the sovereign state of Palestine, why don’t we focus on what it could look like after a peace accord is signed.

President-elect Obama could change the game forever by making Suisman’s Arc real.

What’s After GWOT?


This map demonstrates that the Library of Congress Federal Research Division needs a budget increase.

The other day, I lucked upon a discussion with David Kaplan on National Public Radio, who has written extensively on the topic of international and transnational organized crime.  In the wake of the recent Mumbai attack, the discussion addressed the link between terrorism and criminal syndicates.  But, toward the end of the 40 minute program, a somewhat different theme took hold.  Rather than talking about the relationship between terrorism and organized crime, Kaplan began to talk of terrorism as criminal groups, engaged in illegal activity/racketeering, but with ideological motivations.  After having the world’s troubles framed in terms of the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) for so long, it was interesting to hear a somewhat more nuanced take on complexity of the threats we face.  I have always been more of a “struggle against fast changing, transnational networks of nefarious actors”, but it doesn’t make much of an acronym.  It has always seemed that it is hard to meaningfully separate terrorism, proliferation, illicit finance, organized crime, human trafficking, and even genocide.  One often fuels another, though perhaps from another spot on the globe.

This report (from which the map above was clipped) on the Tri-border Area (TBA) between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina captures the co-dependence between nefarious actors of all types.  Contrast it with this DoD GWOT type analysis on the same region.  While the former may open up the aperture too much for some, I believe it at least gives one a better sense of the actual mechanisms/levers that must be worked in order to dampen bad actors.

Perhaps we could evolve beyond GWOT as an organizing concept.  It would require more intelligence and properly targeted development resources, but characterizing the problem too narrowly will ensure failure.

Pirates! Arghh! Transnational Implications of State Failure

2008 UNOSAT_Somalia Pirate Attack Map

This (geo)graphic accounting of Somali piracy, provided by UNOSAT.

Today’s Washington Post article (entitled “The Guns of Anarchy”) by Mark Bowden, the author of “Black Hawk Down,” had a great quote that I felt captured the essence of the sources piracy spanning the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, along the coasts of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Yemen.  His article focused on the persistent state failure that has characterized Somalia for the past 20 years.  Rather than actually addressing this state failure in a coordinated fashion with the panoply of soft power necessary to succeed, he noted that the “European Union and the United States have begun to chase pirates more aggressively, but that’s like swatting at bees while ignoring the hive”.

Indeed!  Mainstream broadcast and print journalists have almost completely ignored the “hive”, but have been very taken with “PIRATES!”.  (Personally, I suspect it has something to do with Keira Knightley).  It is clearly no fun covering the mess that is Mogadishu (or the rest of the country for that matter), but I fear that there is actually no institutional capacity anywhere committed to thinking through the steps that must be taken in order to overhaul failed states such as Somalia.  As Bowden points out, this piracy is “nothing more than the general criminal chaos spilled from land to sea — ply the waters off Somalia’s thousand-mile coastline, so threatening international shipping that they have driven up the price of food and other products throughout the region”.

It would be interesting to see a calculation of the costs that this failed state to the world.  Typically, failed states only result in things like human suffering, death and dismemberment, contagious disease, and environmental degradation – things we are generally uncomfortable placing a dollar cost on.  I know that we don’t like asking ourselves whether saving 100,000 lives is worth $1B in engagement – what should saving lives cost?  But, in this case, we can actually run a financial tally of what ignoring people’s well being will cost – the ship manifests lost to the Somali pirates – and we generate a concrete cost for our unwillingness to overhaul and right this failed state.

Update:  I was emailing yesterday with one of my buddies finishing up a tour in Djibouti, in the newly established AFRICOM.  In his email, he made a comment that I sought clarification on.  His response:

“I meant to pay an off-handed compliment to the pirates for having the kahuna’s to take down large tankers three to four hundred or so miles off their coast.  Believe they raked in about $50 million in ransom money last year, life is good in Eyl…

…Dr. Ken Menkhaus from Davidson college came through here and has a pretty good perspective on where things in Somalia stand,  which is the worst he’s ever seen it since he started coming to Somalia back in the 80’s,  We get calls from ships and yachts that are transiting through the Gulf of Aden asking us for help, unfortunately there’s not much we can do since we (AFRICOM) don’t have any assets. It sounds like between the EU, UN, and even the CHICOMS, that the piracy business is getting a lot more attention.  The French mirages taking off from the runway we live next to has been a lot noisier lately.”


More Update from Friend in Djibouti:

“Both Kenya and Yemen have a vital interest in Somalia, they’re scared to death of a mass migration, which would overwhelm their fragile governments. We run what’s known as a COL camp on a Kenyan naval base in Lamu, Manda Bay.  An article by Tom Barnett that came out in Esquire magazine a year or so ago is pretty much spot on

Somalian refugees are routinely thrown overboard a mile or so off the Yemen coastline once the smugglers have been discovered.  The USG strikes that occur against al shabaab in Somalia seem to stir the hornet’s nest.  Recent suicide attacks in Somaliland and Puntland were troubling since those are considered fairly stable and autonomous regions by Somalia standards.  Mogadishu use to have the best italian restaurants in africa, and surprisingly, you would find better cell phone coverage there then you would in some US cities.  Bottom line, nothing starts improving in Somalia until the proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is settled and they agree to some sort of compromise on their border dispute.  Ethiopian troops pull out of Mogadishu, happening now, and a real UN force (highly unlikely) supplants the token African Union (AU) force that’s there now, basically 2,000 Ugandans and Burandi’s hunkered down at the Mogadishu airport. The estimated number of troops the AU pledged to send was around 9,000, isn’t going to happen, they couldn’t pull it off.

M. Rice, the incoming ambassador to the UN, used to the undersecretary of State for African affairs.  Hopefully, her efforts will lead to a more stable horn, i.e, an air blockade of Darfur (which the chinese will block at the UN), and a stepped up diplomatic effort with the Eritrean and the Ethiopian border dispute which won’t be easy since Issais kicked out and got rid of everything western including UNMEE, Luftansa, and the Movenpick hotel in Asmarra.  I have a friend that’s in Djibouti because she can’t live in Eritrea after she worked for UNMEE and was detained because she was at a bar-b-q with her UNMEE co-workers.

As recent as this summer, Djibouti hosted peace talks between the Somalia TFG and a few of the more moderate factions of islamic warlords that control Mogadishu.  They have good intentions, but without any real power, no one’s confident they mean much other then token good will.”