This is sure to end well: Afghanistan’s vast untapped mineral resources

Paul Raven @ 14-06-2010

Looks like my cynicism gland gets an early boost this week, as the New York Times reports that the US government has discovered Afghanistan holds an estimated US$1 trillion in previously untapped mineral deposits [via MetaFilter].

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

Looks like I’m reading from the same page as Charlie Stross:

Note the presence of lithium in that list. It’s a vital raw material for high-capacity rechargable batteries, used in everything from mobile phones to hybrid or electrically-powered automobiles — and there’s a growing worldwide shortage of the stuff. There’s no intrinsic shortage of lithium, but high grade mineral sources are hard to find — it’s mostly bound up in other mineral deposits, in very low concentrations. Half the known exploitable reserves are in Bolivia (at least, before this new discovery).

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the inductive jump from oil:old burning-stuff-to-keep-warm economy to lithium:new post-carbon alternative energy economy. And by applying the PNAC’s equation of control over energy reserves with maintenance of competitive advantage (by applying the choke collar to rivals), it’s fairly likely that, coming at this time, the discovery of Lots of Lithium in Afghanistan will be used to reinforce western support for an increasingly unpopular war of occupation.

Charlie expresses his hope that he’s being overly cynical; it’s a hope I share, but not one I’d like to put money on. But here’s Thomas Barnett with a slightly different take on the situation:

Before anybody gets the idea that somehow the West is the winner here, understand that we’re not the big draw on most of these minerals–that would be Asia and China in particular. What no one should expect is that the discovery suddenly makes it imperative that NATO do whatever it takes to stay and win and somehow control the mineral outcomes, because–again–that’s now how it works in most Gap situations like Africa.  We can talk all we want about China not “dominating” the situation, but their demand will drive the process either directly or indirectly.  There is no one in the world of mining that’s looking to make an enemy out of China over this, and one way or another, most of this stuff ends up going East–not West.

[…]

Here’s the simplest reality test I can offer you:  if we’re just at the initial discovery phase now, we’re talking upwards of a decade before there will be mature mines.  Fast-forward a decade in your mind and try to imagine the US having a bigger presence in Afghanistan than China.  I myself cannot.

Start with that realization and move backward, because exploring any other pathway will likely expose you to a whole lotta hype.

A rather more optimistic viewpoint than my own (and, to judge by the content of my Twitter feed, a lot of other people’s). We’ll just have to wait and see… which will certainly be an easier experience for us Westerners than for the poor Afghanis. Better make some more adjustments to that perpetually mutating narrative, eh?


Live action replays and analysis moves from the sports field to the battlefield

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2010

The Harris Corporation supplies instant replay systems to big-brand sports teams, but they may just have cracked a whole new market… one with a budget that (inexplicably) never seems to shrink. The Pentagon has decided that the ability to collect, replay and analyse battlefield video feeds will make it easier to score touchdowns instil shock and awe liberate oil people from oppressive regimes, and they’re working with Harris Corp toward that end:

The system, called Full-Motion Video Asset Management Engine (FAME) uses metadata tags to encode important details — time, date, camera location — into each video frame. In a football game, those tags would help broadcasters pick the best clip to re-air and explain a play. In a war-zone, they’d help analysts watch video in a richer, easier-to-grasp context. And additional tags could link a video clip to photographs, cellphone calls, databases or documents.

Makes a certain amount of sense, but I suspect there’ll be a point where a greater volume of incoming data will become counterproductive, and your multiscreen generals will be so caught up looking at the trees that they forget there’s a forest… which would be business as usual, I suppose, just with more cool toys for the folk behind the front line.

And hey, here’s a potential monetization stream: edit together and sanitise the daily rushes, offer ’em as live streams to warporn fans… or sell the material and outsource the marketing to someone with more experience, like ESPN. Man, this thing’s really got legs – anyone wanna form a collective to buy up Harris Corp shares?


Military drone pilots could be prosecuted as war criminals

Paul Raven @ 29-04-2010

A while ago, we were wondering whether killing a drone or UAV pilot counted as a legitimate act of war. Still no word on that one, but there’s more bad news for the CIA drone pilots in the form of a professor of national security law who suggests that the drone pilots – and their superiors – could be prosecuted for war crimes in the countries where their attacks take place:

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

Somehow I can’t see that stopping the AfPak drone war any time soon, especially given how popular UAVs are with the US military nowadays – it’s gotta be easier to sign people up for battlefield wetwork when they can do it with no risk of being shot in return, I’m guessing. And hey, laws can always be superceded (or just plain ignored), especially if you end up winning.

Then again, they thought Nam would be a cakewalk, didn’t they?


The next 100 years

Tom James @ 31-08-2009

Pivot_areaGeorge 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 [1].

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.

[1]: 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.

[from the New Statesman][image from here on Wikimedia]


Cold war getting hotter scenario from 1987

Tom James @ 19-06-2009

DD-ST-87-08751Alternate-history fans will appreciate these US Department of Defense maps of a projected Soviet invasion of Western Europe, heralding as they would have done the beginning of WWIII:

This map is a really a picture in macro-scale of the epic tank battle for the plains of Germany, that entire generations of Western and Soviet officers built careers around planning and preparing for. In the history of human civilization, the Soviet Western TVD invasion was probably the most researched, contemplated, and gamed out battle that was never actually to take place. Fifty years of voluminous strategic studies were compiled by both sides on this very subject, as both sides searched for advantages in a truly enormous field chess game.

I don’t know enough about the history to say if this is paranoiac or just horrific.

[via the Exile][image and article from TechConex]


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