Posts Tagged ‘asymmetric conflict’

The Long Green … Revolution

March 16, 2011

At the beginning of the month, Lunghu and a colleague shook hands on a sporting proposition in the tradition of Randolph and Mortimer Duke.  As you may recall, the last week in February was not going well for Col. Muammar Gaddafi:  several cities were in the hands of Libyan rebels, and the banner of freedom rippled proudly in the desert wind.  Suddenly it no longer seemed absurd to ask how long Gaddafi could hold on to power.  Could he hang on at all?

More importantly, how could smug American desk jockeys structure a wager that most suitably reduced the complex dynamics of Libyan civil war to a simple binary choice?  A basic yea/nay wasn’t enough —too many variables, and far too open-ended a scenario.   Where would the finish line be?   When would the final buzzer sound?  Revolutions and civil wars aren’t (yet) governed by FIFA, so there are no offside calls, no penalty kicks, and no injury time.   For a wager to work, it had to have a definite expiration date, like a soybean futures contract.  And it had to have some basic parameters that spelled out the conditions of success or failure.

Here’s what we came up with: a 90-day over/under for Gaddafi’s retention of power.   If, after June 1st, Gaddafi wasn’t dead or in exile, and still controlled (most of) Libyan territory, the “over” bet would win.   Otherwise, the “under” wins.

When pirates divide the spoils, one man arranges the portions and the other gets first pick.   Lunghu chose the over.   At the time, it seemed the contrarian choice, and Lunghu added a caveat:  Gaddafi would fail only if the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries sought to curry favor with their restive domestic populations by invading Libya in support of the rebels.   Didn’t seem likely, since they’re plenty busy at home.

Here was the thumbnail analysis behind Lunghu’s pick:

1]   The United States won’t intervene.  At this point (and for the foreseeable future) it would be a huge strategic mistake to attack or invade yet another Islamic country.  Team Obama seems to understand this, and the Joint Chiefs definitely do.  Republicans are trying to goad Obama into making exactly that strategic mistake, but their gambit is unlikely to succeed.

2]   Despite France and Britain’s fervent wishes, the Europeans won’t intervene because they don’t have the financial capacity to sustain the required military operations.  Germany won’t participate and won’t foot the bill.

3]   Arab states won’t intervene because they need their troops to guard their own palaces.

4]   Sanctions won’t work.  Never have.

5]  Libyan rebels are on their own and overmatched.  The endgame won’t be pretty.

Still, it’s early days.   Things could change yet again in the next 2 ½ months.   With diplomatic cover from the UN Security Council, Arab petrodollars  could finance French and British  air operations and Arab troops could act as the mop-up boots on the ground.  We’ll see.

Oh —what were the stakes in this wager?   Just a couple of hundred thousand lives.  This is one bet where there won’t be any winner, because bragging rights won’t be worth bragging about.


Ali Ali Infree!

December 18, 2010

“Iran’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi officially took charge on Saturday as the Islamic republic’s new foreign minister.  …   Salehi, who continues to head Iran’s atomic energy body, took charge officially at a function which was also the farewell ceremony for his predecessor Manouchehr Mottaki.”

Since Lunghu hasn’t yet seen a tremendous amount of insightful analysis explaining what Salehi’s appointment  means for the future of international relations with the Persian Republic, allow him to offer a succinct encapsulation of the why and wherefore:

It’s the best way –and possibly the only way– of keeping the guy alive.   After all, if your adversaries won’t stop at the kidnap and murder of your country’s scientists, perhaps they will balk at assassinating your foreign minister:  that generally isn’t done in Western society, because it essentially puts every diplomat’s life –everywhere–  at risk.   In the Iranian calculus, A-A Salehi is undoubtedly Number One on the Israeli-US-Saudi hit parade, and this appointment is an attempt to place him above and beyond the dirty war we and our “allies” are conducting in the shadows.

But there’s more to Salehi’s appointment than just self-preservation.  As Sun Tzu will tell you, every seemingly defensive move can also contain offensive potential.  On the one hand, there’s the symbolic significance embodied by the man himself:  Salehi’s given name, Ali Akbar,  is a resounding affirmation of Shiite faith and of the nation’s righteous, divinely-guided cause.   That is a big reason why he has the support of Iran’s decision-making clerics.   As Iran’s foreign minister, Salehi won’t merely be speaking for Ahmadinejad, but on behalf of the nation and Shiites everywhere.

Furthermore, this is also a warning to Russian Israeli FM Avigdor Liberman, the man who famously said (in his inaugural speech as foreign minister, no less):  “… even if we had wanted to, we would have been unable to prevent peace.” Salehi’s appointment pretty clearly signals that if he is assassinated, Liberman himself is a dead man.   It remains to be seen whether the personal consequences will restrain in any way restrain Avi’s ardor for conflagration.   It will also be interesting to see how long it takes for Hillary Clinton to get the message.

In any event, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to help keep Ali Akbar Salehi alive:  you don’t want to assassinate an MIT grad and piss off the entire alumni network.   Who do you think builds all your weapons systems?

Why is this man smiling?

She’ll Be Alright, Mate

November 27, 2010

A massive software bug at National Bank of Australia has “wiped out a huge number of transactions, including salary payments and transfers, and crashed some ATMs.”   Ordinarily, Lunghu would immediately begin wondering how the lads Down Under had managed (on this particular occasion) to offend the People’s Republic of China.

Then Lunghu remembered that the Aussie government recently issued an offical report blaming PTTEP Australasia for a catastrophic 2009 oil rig blowout at its West Atlas platform in the Timor Sea.

Thailand increasingly seems a very interesting place, even without Viktor Bout.    In the meantime, James Trumbull might want to review (or revise) his comments from earlier this year.

Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!

November 20, 2010

The New York Times has been running a two-part mini-series about forensic research into the characteristics of the Stuxnet computer virus.   Predictably, NYT is focused on the fact that Iran’s nuclear research program appears to have been Stuxnet’s primary target, and on the “possibility” that Israel may have authored and delivered the Stuxnet virus.

“[Stuxnet] was discovered by a Russian antivirus company [Kapersky Labs] in June [2010], after the company received complaints from Iranian customers.”

” …. [Stuxnet contained] two different attack modules … designed to run on different industrial controllers made by Siemens.  Equipment made by Siemens and its competitors is used around the globe to manage virtually all of the world’s transportation, power distribution and communications systems.

” …. [Stuxnet] was intended to induce fluctuations in the rotational speed of motors, by taking over a power device known as a frequency converter, a type of power supply that changes its output frequency to control the speed of a motor.  The worm’s code was found to attack converters made by two companies, Fararo Paya in Iran and Vacon in Finland.  It … inserts fake data, fooling [Siemens industrial control computers] into thinking that the system is running normally while the sabotage of the frequency converters is taking place.”

Lunghu has a slightly different take on the topic, and it can be summed up in two words:  Sayano-Shushenskaya.

From January to March 2009, turbine 2 was undergoing scheduled repairs and modernization.  It was the first and only turbine in the station which was equipped with a new electro-hydraulic regulator of its rotational speed supplied by the Promavtomatika company. …  The turbines of this type have a very narrow working band at high efficiency.   If this band is exceeded the turbines begin to vibrate, caused by the pulsation of water flow and water strokes.  … On the day of accident turbine 2 worked as the plant’s power output regulator and [therefore] its output power changed constantly.  The turbine often operated in powerband II mode, which is accompanied [by] pulsation and strokes of water flow.

[On 17 August 2009] a fire at the hydroelectric power station of Bratsk broke both communications and the automatic driving systems of other power plants in the region, including Sayano-Shushenskaya.   At 8:12 AM local time, turbine 2’s output power was reduced by the turbine regulator and it entered into non-recommended powerband II.  Shortly after, bolts keeping the turbine cover in place broke, and water pressure of about 20 bars (2,000 kPa) [lifted] the spinning turbine with its cover, rotor, and upper parts, destroying machinery hall installations.  Pressurized water flooded the rooms [ultimately killing 75 persons].

Casual students of history may wish to refresh their recollection concerning what sorts of issues were of intense interest to Russia, the United States, Israel and Iran at just about the same time that this tragic accident occurred.   Here’s a hint: at least two Black Sea vacations were already ruined before Sayano-Shushenskaya blew out.

Son-of-Tangun meets Baby Bear

November 6, 2010

Really, can it get any better than this?   Last week Lunghu was jokin’ around about Vladimir Putin’s black eye (not ordinarily a joking matter).   This week, self-connecting dots pop up in Korean media in the form of news that the son of a South Korean naval attache (Admiral Yoon Jong-gu) has been seriously dating Yekaterina Vladimirova for several years.  Until recently …

Boy meets girl

Yoon met Katya at a dance at a Moscow international school in July of 1997.  “It was just coincidence.   I went there with my brother to have some fun, and Katya and her sister [ Mariya Vladimirova (28 April 1985) ] spoke to us first.”

The facial resemblance is striking ...

Boy gets girl

“At first I didn’t know she was Putin’s daughter,” Yoon recalled.   He would eventually spend holidays with the Putins at their dacha.  When Yoon went to the US to attend college, the couple kept in touch by e-mail and phone.

However, their classic k-drama romance now appears to be in trouble:

Boy loses girl

Nov. 1:  “I’ve known Katya for more than 10 years, but I have no marriage plans,” said the son of retired Korean Admiral Yoon Jong-gu.  “I’m only 26 so it’s too early for me to be thinking about marriage.”

Nov. 4Yoon has quit the Moscow office of Samsung Electronics after only a month in the job.   A Samsung spokesman said Wednesday, “He quit voluntarily due to concerns about his personal safety after word spread that he was dating Prime Minister Putin’s daughter Yekaterina Vladimirova.” … “Concerns were raised about possible attacks from terrorist groups,” the spokesman said.

Ah, those pesky Chechens!   Well, maybe not.   Allow Lunghu to suggest another possibility.  Presidential elections are scheduled for 2012 in the Russian Federation:  guess who’ll be running, since the Constitution allows a third, non-consecutive term?   Vladimir Vladimirovich has a core constituency among Russian nationalists, many of whom are also virulent racists.   No chance he’ll risk alienating his base by letting a flower of Russian womanhood be seen in the company of the insidious Yellow Peril.   And marriage?   Out of the question.   It’s all fun and games as long as what happens in the dacha stays in the dacha, but once it’s in the media it’s a whole new hockey game.

So who was on the business end of Vladimir Putin’s black eye?   Lunghu will let the reader be the judge.   For now, it’s not encouraging to hear that …

Yoon told [Chosun Ilbo] by telephone that he is no longer able to talk to Katya Putin, as she appears to have been spirited away to [seclusion].

Girl gets boy

Fortunately, k-dramas always have a happy ending.   After the almost insurmountable obstacles of parental objection are overcome, Sailor Yoon and Katya will eventually have a storybook wedding and live happily ever after.   Just not until the 2012 elections are over.   KBS scriptwriters can’t wait.

Red-faced is the East, the East is red-faced

May 8, 2010

Lotsa e-ink being spilled online over NYSE’s volatile rocket-ride and re-entry trajectory on May 6 & 7.   Setting aside (for now) the possible influence of Cinco de Mayo tequila-shooter hangovers on stock trader behavior, Lunghu would like to offer some none-too-cryptic quotations from Sun-tzu as guidance.   Because perhaps these events should be viewed through the lens of asymmetric conflict theory/practice rather than as mere market behavior gone awry.

As usual, the sage Sun-tzu may be a helpful guide in this terrain:

  • Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible.   Thus he is the master of his enemy’s fate. [Art of War, VI.9]
  • He who knows the art of the direct and the indirect approach will be victorious.  Such is the art of maneuver. [Art of War, VII.16]
  • There are five types of secret agents to be employed.   These are native, inside, doubled, false and living.   When these five types of agents are all working simultaneously, and none knows their method of operation, they are called “The Divine Skein” and are the treasure of a sovereign. [Art of War, XIII.5-6]


Let’s review what Miyamoto Mushashi has to say on the subject:

  • What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing.  It is not included in man’s knowledge.  Of course the void is nothingness.  By knowing things exist, you can know that which does not exist.  That is the void.
  • People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void.   That is not the true void.   It is bewilderment.
  • Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight.   When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.
  • … It is very difficult to attain this merely by reading,  but you will soon understand with a little instruction. [A Book of the Five Rings]

Well said.