For the last few months I dove deeper into topics I’d already covered. But this month I decided to do something else. At my job, I get the Homeland Security Newswire (I manage technology for a medium-sized local government). I keep seeing various articles that reference Mexico – the big country next door to the US that is in some danger of becoming a failed state; the one in the bloody middle of an honest-to-goodness drug war rather than an anemic War on Drugs. Continue reading Cities and security: a Mexican story
When you’ve got a nice new hammer, everything looks like a nail: Statesman.com reports that the US government is about to cave in to pressure from Texan politicos and agree to supply UAV drones for surveillance duties along the border with Mexico:
If approved, the unmanned aircraft in Texas would add to the federal government’s existing border effort, which includes a handful of other unmanned aircraft, 20,000 Border Patrol agents, about 650 miles of border fence and 41 mobile surveillance systems, according to Customs and Border Protection.
The plane, which is made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and officially called a Predator B, is able to spot illegal border activity and send images in real time to border officials.
At that point, Border Patrol agents could be dispatched, according to Customs and Border Protection.
This story via Chairman Bruce, who remarks:
The fun part will come when these unmanned aerial vehicles are copied by narcotrafficantes and loaded with cocaine.
I think there’ll be a few other “fun parts”, though not quite so headline-worthy. Lot of kids along that border are going to get real proficient with low-tech ballistics and backyard camouflage, for instance. I wonder how good at differentiating between “illegal border activity” and “activity near a border” the hardware and operators will be? And how long it’ll be before those drones have some sort of payload, pour discourager les autres?
George Friedman, writing in The New Statesman magazine, has an article up on the next 100 years, as seen through the theoretical prism of geopolitics. This is a doctrine that emphasises the importance of the permanently operating factors of geography in determining global dominance:
Thus, the question is how these geopolitical and strategic realities shape the rest of the century. Eurasia, broadly understood, is being hollowed out. China is far weaker than it appears and is threatened with internal instability. The Europeans are divided by old national patterns that prevent them from moving in a uniform direction. Russia is using the window of opportunity presented by the US absorption in disrupting the Islamic world to reclaim its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, but its underlying weakness will reassert itself over the next generation.
New powers will emerge. In the 19th century, Germany, Italy and Japan began to emerge as great powers, while in the 20th century global powers such as Britain and France declined to secondary status. Each century, a new constellation of powers forms that might strike observers at the beginning of the century as unthinkable. Let us therefore think about the unthinkable.
Friedman paints a rather pessimistic picture of a future of exactly the same kind of nationalistic war that took up most of the 20th century.
I’ve never been comfortable with tub-thumping nationalism/patriotism as something to dictate beliefs and action. To me the future of the people living on Earth is as much about cultures, attitudes, and society as it is about the fight for power between specific nation states .
But states will remain the single most powerful entity on Earth over the next few decades, and as such it is worth thinking about which of them might gain greater influence in the future.
The central conclusion of Friedman’s article is that “they that control the North American continent, control the world” as they will have access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans as well as the vast wealth of the North American continent. As such he posits Mexico as a potential rival to US power. He also suggests that Japan might engage on further military ventures. Turkey may become the core of an Islamic sphere of influence in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
: Inasmuch as particular states have particular cultures and attitudes (e.g. pluralism, rule of law, liberalism, democracy, individual freedom) I think that it is a mistake to support a nation state because of the attitudes it purports to value, rather than the reality of its actions. You support the people and the ideals first, the countries second.
The law sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities will no longer face criminal prosecution when the law goes into effect Friday.
Anyone caught with drug amounts under the personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory — although the law does not specify penalties for noncompliance.
Mexico has emphasized the need to differentiate drug addicts and casual users from the violent traffickers whose turf battles have contributed to the deaths of more than 11,000 people during Calderon’s term. In the face of growing domestic drug use, Mexico has increased its focus on prevention and drug treatment.
This is a controversial development for many reasons, especially following in the wake of the suggestion that a harsh economic landscape is linked to the loosening of prohibition laws. It will be interesting to see what effect it has on the crime rate in Mexico, not to mention how it’s larger richer neighbour to the North will react. [via SlashDot; image by Eric Caballero]
One thing is pretty certain, though: the border guards at Tijuana will need to draft in extra recruits for the next Spring Break season.
The Obama administration is pushing ahead with the expansion of a pilot project launched by the outgoing Bush gang – a ‘virtual border fence’ of cameras, sensors and communications hardware designed to enable a more rapid response to Mexican illegal immigrants from the Border Patrol.
What is different, DHS officials said, is that they have learned lessons from the technical problems that dogged the Bush administration’s first, 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson. What remains unclear is whether the ambitious technology will encounter fresh setbacks that would embarrass President Obama, who has urged Congress to streamline the immigration system and work out a way to deal fairly with the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, analysts said
On Monday, U.S. officials began erecting 17 camera and radio towers on a 23-mile stretch near Tucson, and they expect this summer to add 36 others over 30 miles near Ajo, Ariz. If testing goes well and DHS approves, plans call for covering the 320-mile Arizona border by 2012 and the full border with Mexico — except for a 200-mile stretch in southwestern Texas where it is difficult to cross and expensive to monitor — by 2014.
The government has made many changes since a $20 million pilot rushed off-the-shelf equipment into operation without testing, relied on inadequate police dispatching software and ignored the input of Border Patrol officers, who found that radar systems were triggered by rain, satellite communications were too slow to permit camera operators to track targets by remote control, and cameras had poor visibility.
It remains to be seen how much of an improvement the new systems will be, but the cynic (and science fiction reader) in me doesn’t find it hard to imagine new methodologies being developed by border-jumpers and those who make a living helping them cross, which will quickly render the new hardware inadequate, if not obsolete. That said, it’s a much less crass and weird idea than allowing unpaid volunteers from around the world make a sport out of border surveillance.
The only way to make any border truly impermeable is to remove all incentive for people to cross it; that suggests to me that all the high-tech gadgets and fences in the world won’t stop people trying to immigrate across the Mexican border with the US. All it will achieve is more deaths, more imprisonment of people whose ‘criminal’ motive is to make a better life for themselves and their families, and more hypocrisy from those who deplore the notion of immigrant labour while enjoying the low costs it provides. But hey – why treat the illness when you can rub snake-oil on the symptoms, right? [via SlashDot; image by superfem]