Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Cyber Espionage, Somali Piracy, and a Letter from the Cold War

by Micah Zenko
November 4, 2011

President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, McGeorge Bundy, and other advisors gather around a television.

President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and senior advisors gather around a television set.

- Daily Press Briefing, “Kenya: Request for Blockade on Kismayo,” Department of State, November 1, 2011.

Question: Would the U.S. support a request for international assistance (NATO or some other international org) to blockade Kismayo?

Answer: We are aware of the request from Kenya and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to impose a blockade on Kismayo. Blockades are generally difficult to enforce and may have unintended consequences in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. This proposal must be discussed with international partners, particularly the African Union and UN Security Council and carefully considered in the context of the overall strategy for restoring peace and stability in Somalia.

(3PA: The African Union has appealed to the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone and a blockade in Somalia in both 2010 and 2011.)

- United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1950 (2010),” October 25, 2011 (2).

“Somali piracy has evolved into a sophisticated organized crime. Pirate gangs’ increasing income from higher ransoms has strengthened their strike capability. In 2011, using better and heavier weapons, pirates have targeted more oil tankers and sailing vessels. Violence against seafarers has also increased. In Somalia, pirate operations are now reported along the entire east coast of the country, including from areas controlled by Al-Shabaab.”

- Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace,” October 2011.

“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage. US private sector firms and cybersecurity specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China, but the IC cannot confirm who was responsible.”

(3PA: Note this is one of the first times that a U.S. government document has so explicitly blamed a country for such activities. The problem of attributing who among China’s 1.3 billion people remains.)

- United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Secretary General on Women and Peace and Security,” September 29, 2011 (7).

“As indicated in the 2011 OHCHR compilation of good practices for preventing violence against women, the role of unequal economic and social power structures that make women more vulnerable to violence is often overlooked in prevention efforts. Women and peace and security issues tend to be addressed at a relatively late stage of the conflict prevention/resolution cycle, when it is often too late for women to ensure their rights and needs are addressed in peace accords and institutional arrangements. Analysis of the security situation of women and girls should be included in a broader range of reports and oral briefings to the Security Council, including those relating to preventive diplomacy.”

- Defense Science Board Task Force Report, “Science and Technology Issues of Early Intercept Ballistic Missile Defense Feasibility,” Department of Defense, September 2011 (9).

“The Task Force identified three potential areas in which EI, if achievable, might have considerable value:

  •  The ability to deny an adversary the use of penetration aids or early release of submunitions:  While boost-phase intercept (currently not feasible) is a fundamental counter to either of these offense tactics, there could be some value in a post-boost intercept, provided it was early enough.
  • The ability to achieve a S-A-S firing doctrine:  If the first shot by the defense could be made early enough in the ballistic missile trajectory, sufficient time might remain to assess the lethality of the first shot before firing an additional interceptor missile(s).As will be shown, a S-A-S firing doctrine offers the potential for cost savings by reducing required interceptors per enemy ballistic missile.
  • The ability to achieve a large defensive footprint or area of protection:   By a suitable combination of interceptor location and interceptor velocity, an intercept early in the offensive trajectory can cast a large defensive “shadow”  –  i.e., the azimuth and elevation spread of outgoing ballistic missiles heading to different targets will not have propagated very broadly, and thus a single defensive firing battery can protect a large ensemble of potential target areas.”

- U.S. Government Accountability Office, “UN Internal Oversight: Progress Made on Independence and Staffing Issues, but Further Actions Are Needed,” September 2011.

“In 2005, GAO raised long-standing concerns that the ability of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to carry out its mandate was constrained in scope and authority… The U.S. Mission to the UN also expressed concern that OIOS’s independence is limited in that it cannot make final hiring decisions for senior staff.”

“The UN has taken worthwhile steps to enhance OIOS’s independence, but certain UN funding and oversight arrangements continue to impede OIOS’s ability to provide independent oversight.”

- McGeorge Bundy, “Nuclear Weapons and Berlin,” The Berlin Wall Collection, July 20, 1961.
Bundy served as National Security Advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1966. 

“If worst comes to worst, and we find ourselves at the brink on Berlin, certain high-risk options which now seem almost incredible might begin to look worthwhile. Let’s say we are already in a substantial conventional fracas on the approaches to Berlin. At the eleventh hour we face defeat, negotiated compromise, or general war. But there is a further alternative which might be sandwiched into an ascending level of violence. I would call this a “controlled nuclear demonstration” of a very limited sort.

If things got to the point where the Soviets were licking us on the ground in Germany, they clearly would be gambling that we would not actually use nuclear weapons. The problem at this point would be to convince them, but by means short of all-out or even tactical nuclear war. This might involve the highly selective use of nuclear weapons as a demonstration of will.

One possibility might be to use a very few battlefield nuclear weapons in the conventional fracas, perhaps telegraphing our punch to minimize civilian casualties and avoid Soviet miscalculation. Another possibility might be to actually fire an ICBM as a demonstration that we could face up to a nuclear exchange. Once again we would tell the Soviets just beforehand what we intended to do.

I’m under no illusion as to the critical risks involved. Their escalation potential is great. They might petrify some allies. And two can play at this game. But remember that these steps would take place only when we were at the very brink of all-out war. They are suggested as last ditch alternatives which postpone an all-out response in the hope that they would forestall the necessity for it.”

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