29 janeiro, 2016

Out of His Depth With Submarines


HMS Vanguard launches a Trident II SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile).

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a long-time proponent of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I strongly disagree with that stance, because I find it dangerous, naïve and useless.

However, it can get worse. In order to balance unilateral disarmament and the trade unions that support him, Mr. Corbyn is contemplating an obnoxious policy position regarding the replacement of the Trident submarines which currently guarantee the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrence.

The current four strategic nuclear submarines (SSBN) of the Vanguard class will be phased out in the fifteen years, starting in 2028, and the House of Commons is due to give the final approval of the acquisition of four new SSBN’s of the Successor class and the respective Trident missiles next Spring. This fleet will continue to guarantee the Continuous at-Sea Deterrent (CASD) attained by having at least one submarine deployed on nuclear patrol at any given time, a hallmark of the UK’s nuclear posture for half a century.

HMS Successor – an artist’s rendition.

Mr. Corbyn, of course, strongly objects to this, although he is in the minority in his own party at Westminster. However, the trade unions are adamant about building the subs, because of the job creation the programme entails: at present, it already involves 1400 jobs and 240 suppliers and could grow to something like 6000 people and 850 contractors.

So, what did Mr. Corbyn’s team devise?

They are considering building the four Successor submarines, BUT will oppose equipping them with the missiles.


That is the equivalent of building a hospital, but refusing to install beds and medical equipment!

For the sake of creating a few thousand jobs, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be willing to spend £31 billion! That’s right: 31 billion Pounds! That must be the most expensive job creation programme in History. And, instead of nuclear deterrence, he offers a fleet of state-of-the-art toothless sharks.

Given the absurdity of the plan, the Labour leadership decided to present it with a label that was supposed to confer credibility on it: the “Japanese option”, according to shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry, which she defined as “to maintain subs and nuclear capabilities without having operational nuclear weapons”.

Unfortunately, this is deeply misleading, not to call it a hoax. Japan has theoretical know-how for building nuclear weapons and the plutonium needed for them. However,

* Japan does not have any experience in actually manufacturing nuclear weapons, much less testing them.
* Japan has never had any nuclear weapons, operational or not.
* Japan has no work done in fitting nuclear warheads in a delivery system, such as a missile.
* Japan has never test-launched nuclear missiles from a submarine (or from anything else for that matter).
* Japan does not have nuclear submarines (only diesel-electric ones), and thus, no capability to conduct nuclear deterrence patrols.

So, the so-called “Japanese option” is not Japanese and it is absurd, as far as an option goes. They could as well have called it the “North Korean option”!

Mr. Corbyn is clearly out of his depth, balancing his distorted vision and the vested interests of his union constituency, while losing sight of the United Kingdom’s strategic interests.

18 janeiro, 2016

Threat or Bluff?


The year started with a Bang! Literally. A nuclear bang to be more precise. On 6th January, North Korea conducted her 4th nuclear test. The previous ones took place in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

This is NOT the North Korean nuclear test.
It is an American nuclear test at the Bikini Atoll.

Most of the “day after” talk was about the nature of the blast.

Was it a hydrogen bomb like Pyongyang claimed?

Was it just another atomic explosion like the seismic readings seemed to indicate?

Was it a middle-of-the-road boosted-fissile device like several experts suggested?

The nature of the device is very important. If it was a thermonuclear bomb, that would represent a major qualitative development of North Korean capabilities. That does not seem to be the case. Not yet.

Equally, or even more important, are the questions of why and what for. Or, as a young man asked me at a conference last week, “should we be afraid of North Korea’s nukes?”

North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile facilities and her nuclear test site.
in “THE ECONOMIST” at www.economist.com

Why does North Korea pursue a nuclear weapons programme?

In two words, Power and Security. North Korea is surrounded by great powers, some of which openly hostile to her, so she views nuclear weapons as an insurance policy against an attack, or an attempt at subversion and regime change.

What for?

In two words, Bargaining and Leverage. North Korea is a relatively small country: the 51st most populated in the world (25.000.000 people), the 99th largest (120.000 km2); the 112th economy (GDP of US$ 40 billion). However, over the last quarter century, North Korea has been sitting at the negotiating table with a sample of the world’s biggest non-European powers: United States, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea. This is an outstanding an unparalleled feat. No other country of a comparative dimension has achieved this kind of status. The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) did it! And this was mostly due to nuclear weapons. That is the DPRK’s leverage: it drags the great powers to negotiate and it is the bargaining chip. North Korea tries to get payoffs (money, oil, food, investment, aid, recognition) in exchange for concessions on her nuclear programme. However, Pyongyang eventually reneges the concessions and the game is back to square one.

Going back to the student’s question, the answer for him, who lives in Portugal, is “No”. Even for North Korea’s neighbours, the answer would be “a bit, not much”.

Why is that?

As I said, nuclear weapons are North Korea’s life insurance. This means that Pyongyang will only use them as a last resort desperate measure, if the regime is about to collapse due to foreign attack or interference. Kim Jong Un knows that the minute his country launches a nuclear attack his regime will be annihilated immediately afterward in a devastating counter-attack.

North Korea will not use nuclear weapons unless it is pushed to a life or death situation.

North Korea will not relinquish her nuclear weapons, because that would make the regime much more vulnerable and could bring its downfall.

North Korea’s nukes are both a threat and a bluff. The bombs are real, so the threat is real. But the bluff is real too, because the use of the nukes would lead to the end of the DPRK.

So, the DPRK will continue her exercise of balancing threat and bluff for as long as possible. The best course for the 5 powers is to let the balancing act to go on, because the moment the threat materialises itself and the bluff is over, there will be war.

12 janeiro, 2016

Mais Um Dia de Trabalho no Médio Oriente


Ataque à embaixada da Arábia Saudita em Teerão. O 10º em 36 anos.
in “THE WASHINGTON POST” at www.washingtonpost.com   

O Médio Oriente está em redobrado tumulto. A Arábia Saudita executou 47 pessoas no passado dia 2. Destes, 45 eram Sauditas. Um era Egípcio. O outro era Chadiano. Dos 47 executados, 46 eram Sunitas. Um era Xiita. Contudo, a execução de UM Saudita Xiita foi razão suficiente para o Irão fazer o maior escândalo, ameaçar a Arábia Saudita de represálias, invocar a ira divina e atacar e incendiar a embaixada saudita em Teerão.

Curiosamente, vários analistas apressaram-se a criticar o corte de relações diplomáticas por parte de Riade como sendo uma reacção exagerada e apontaram a execução de Nimr Al-Nimr (o tal Xiita) como um sinal de fraqueza. Não subscrevo estas interpretações.

É óbvio que a execução de Nimr Al-Nimr, um conhecido religioso, contestatário do regime e defensor do direito dos Xiitas Sauditas recorrerem ao auxílio externo, iria gerar uma reacção forte e negativa. Talvez por isso, a sua execução foi incluída num package numeroso que incluía operacionais do Estado Islâmico e da Al-Qaeda.

Contudo, a reacção foi violenta, nas palavras e nos actos. Porquê? Basicamente por três motivos:

1- Nimr Al-Nimr, pela sua popularidade na Província Oriental da Arábia Saudita e pela sua proximidade a Teerão, era uma potencial ameaça para os Al-Saud e um trunfo para os Ayatollahs.

2- O facto de Nimr Al-Nimr defender o recurso dos Xiitas a apoio externo, mantinha em aberto a possibilidade de o Irão, num cenário de crise, de intervir na Província Oriental a pretexto de um pedido de ajuda dos Xiitas locais.

3- Para o Irão, foi mais uma oportunidade de pressionar a Arábia Saudita fomentando a instabilidade interna no Reino.

O mosaico sectário no Médio Oriente.
in “STRATFOR” em www.stratfor.com

Já para a Arábia Saudita, a execução de Nimr Al-Nimr era uma necessidade para se livrar de uma ameaça interna e de um potencial cavalo de Tróia do Irão. Por outro lado, a rivalidade e o confronto com o Irão, bem presentes nas Guerras e nos conflitos na Síria, no Iraque, no Iémen, no Líbano, constituíram também um incentivo para atiçar a fogueira sectária, área em que a Arábia Saudita beneficia de enorme vantagem numérica: 85% v 15% de Xiitas no Médio Oriente.

Finalmente, o Acordo Nuclear entre os P5+1 e o Irão e as constantes tentativas (até agora rejeitadas) de aproximação dos EUA a Teerão, aumentaram significativamente os sentimentos de insegurança e incerteza dos países do GCC (Arábia Saudita, Emiratos Árabes Unidos, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrein e Qatar). Consequentemente, a Arábia Saudita, os EAU, entre outros, têm mostrado uma inusitada prontidão para intervir militarmente em conflitos onde se perceba uma intromissão iraniana, sendo o Iémen o caso mais flagrante.

Convém, ainda, contextualizar os comportamentos do Irão e da Arábia Saudita.

* O Irão é reincidente em ataques a embaixadas com a participação e/ou cumplicidade do Estado: 1979 - 2 ataques e sequestros à embaixada dos EUA (9 mortos); 1987 – ataques às embaixadas da Arábia Saudita e Kuwait; 1988 – ataque à embaixada da URSS; 2006 - ataque à embaixada da Dinamarca; 2009 e 2010 - ataques à embaixada e embaixador do Paquistão; 2011 - ataque à embaixada do Reino Unido; 2016 - ataque à embaixada da Arábia Saudita. 10 ataques a embaixadas de 7 países em 36 anos!

* Romper relações diplomáticas em resposta ao assalto e incêndio da embaixada, com consentimento claro do regime, é uma resposta normal e adequada.

* Se a Arábia Saudita tem reputação de recurso fácil à pena de morte, convém notar que o Irão está em 2º lugar no ranking de execuções, apenas atrás da China, tendo mesmo o ratio mais elevado em relação à população.

Dito isto e sendo certo que o clima no Médio Oriente é pior, a tensão é maior e as perspectivas diplomáticas para a Síria se tornaram (ainda) mais cinzentas, não é de esperar que estes novos episódios causem alterações profundas na correlação de forças e nas políticas externas e de segurança dos actores envolvidos.

A execução de Nimr Al-Nimr acicatou os ânimos e solidificou animosidades e rivalidades, mas foi apenas mais um dia de trabalho no Médio Oriente.

Nota: Estimativa da Amnistia Internacional do número mínimo confirmado de execuções realizadas em 2014:

1- China                     1000
2- Irão                          289
3- Arábia Saudita         90
4- Iraque                       61
5- Estados Unidos        35