Tag Archives: war

How the U.S. Could Pressure North Korea Tomorrow: Quit the $100 Bill; North Korea is minting superdollars

How the U.S. Could Pressure North Korea Tomorrow: Quit the $100 Bill; North Korea is minting superdollars | Business | TIME.com.

 

 

 

Photo-Illustration by TIME

Photo-Illustration by TIME

U.S. negotiators are heading into a second day of what have been dubbed “serious and substantial” talks with North Korean officials. Yet amidst all the discussion of how the U.S. will attempt to work with Kim Jong Un, there has been little (open) speculation as to whether Dear Leader Junior might crank up production of $100 and $50 bills. No, not North Korean 100- or 50-won banknotes, worth about as much as old tissues. I’m talking about fake greenbacks — or, as the U.S. Secret Service has dubbed them, “superdollars.”

 

These ultra-counterfeits are light years beyond the weak facsimiles produced by most forgers, who use desktop printers. As an anti-counterfeiting investigator with Europol once put it: “Superdollars are just U.S. dollars not made by the U.S. government.” With few exceptions, only Federal Reserve banks equipped with the fanciest detection gear can identify these fakes.

Yet as unpatriotic as this may sound, perhaps America would be better off if Kim Jong Un were to try and enrich himself with D-I-Y Benjamins. Let me explain, by way of a little background about superdollars.

(MORE: Can a Second Bailout Save Greece?)

The “super” moniker does not stem from any particular talent on the part of the North Koreans. It’s a matter of equipment. The regime apparently possesses the same kind of intaglio printing press (or presses) used by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A leading theory is that in 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the machines made their way to North Korea from a clandestine facility in East Germany, where they were used to make fake passports and other secret documents. The high-tech paper is just about the same as what’s used to make authentic dollars, and the North Koreans buy their ink from the same Swiss firm that supplies the US government with ink for greenbacks.

Forging $100 bills obviously gels with the regime’s febrile anti-Americanism and its aim to undercut U.S. global power, in this case by sowing doubts about our currency. State level counterfeiting is a kind of slow-motion violence committed against an enemy, and it has been tried many times before. During the Revolutionary War, the British printed fake “Continentals” to undermine the fragile colonial currency. Napoleon counterfeited Russian notes during the Napoleonic Wars, and during World War II the Germans forced a handful of artists and printing experts in Block 19 of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to produce fake U.S. dollars and British pounds sterling. (Their story is the basis for the 2007 film “The Counterfeiters,” winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.)

Superdollars can be viewed as an act of economic warfare, but Pyongyang’s motive is probably more mundane: The regime is broke. The 2009 attempt to raise funds by devaluing its already pathetic currency revealed not only the country’s fiscal desperation, but also the abuse Dear Leader was willing to inflict on his people. The won was devalued 100-fold, which meant 1,000 won suddenly had the purchasing power of 10 won. (Imagine waking up to a learn that a slice of pizza costs $250.) Officials set a tight limit on how much old money could be exchanged for new, so whatever value existed within people’s paltry savings evaporated overnight. Compared to devaluation, generating quick cash by counterfeiting some other country’s more stable currency looks downright humanitarian.

(MORE: TIME’s Interview With Warren Buffett)

The superdollar affair has a certain comic-book quality: copying the currency of the evil capitalists so you can buy cognac and missiles. But Washington isn’t laughing. At the end of December, Ireland’s high court rejected a U.S. request to extradite former Workers Party president and IRA veteran, Sean Garland, for his alleged involvement with the superdollar plot. There is also the question of what exactly the North Koreans hope to procure with all of this “money.” According to the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, superdollars may be part of the regime’s effort to acquire materials for nuclear weapons.

Since the superdollars were first detected about a decade ago, the regime has been pocketing an estimated $15 to $25 million a year from them. (Other estimates are much higher—up to several hundred million dollars’ worth.) That sounds like a lot of money, but compared to the $1 trillion in cash circulating in the great ocean of commerce, a few hundred million is chump change. Although certainly costly for small business owners who unknowingly accept a bunch of forgeries, counterfeits probably won’t bring about a crisis of faith in our paper money anytime soon.

Yet taking the long view, maybe a rash of new superdollars from the hermetic regime of Kim Jong Un would be beneficial. How so? Because counterfeits have a way of reminding people of what material money is and how it functions, and that could lead to a discussion of its pros and cons. Cash is, and always has been, such an uncontested part of everyday life that we rarely stop to consider its toll on society as the currency of crime, to say nothing of the heaping expense of printing, transporting, securing, inspecting, shredding, redesigning, reprinting, re-inspecting, and redistributing it ad nauseum, plus the broader costs of prosecuting and incarcerating the thousands, if not millions, of people who commit cash-related crimes. That’s not to suggest we could get rid of paper money tomorrow; we still don’t have a substitute that’s equally convenient, universally accepted, and adequately secure. But that day may be closer than you think. (Coins, however, we could—and should—do away with. As in, right now.)

(MORE: Google Takes Another Experimental Step Toward Delivering TV)

Superdollars, and the untold billions of (electronic) dollars spent combating them could be the wake-up call that finally forces us to think more clearly about the costs of physical money. If killing all cash strikes you as a little too radical, consider for a moment what it would mean to get rid of high-denomination banknotes. Who would be most inconvenienced if Washington were to outlaw $100 and $50 bills tomorrow? Cartel bosses in Juarez, Mexico jump to mind. So do human traffickers in China and Africa, aspiring terrorists in Afghanistan, wildlife poachers, arms dealers, tax evaders, and everyday crooks who hold up mom and pop groceries. And, or course, North Korean government officials.

So then. At the risk of infuriating cash-hoarding militia members, anonymity-obsessed ACLU’ers, the U.S. Treasury, Russian mob, Laundromat owners, and just about every person who has ever hid a purchase from a spouse or income from the government, I would say this to Kim Jong Un and his posse of counterfeiters: Bring it.

David Wolman is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers—and the Coming Cashless Society, out this month from Da Capo Press. Follow him on Twitter: @davidwolman

Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/02/24/how-the-u-s-could-pressure-north-korea-tomorrow-quit-the-100-bill/?iid=biz-article-mostpop1#ixzz1nVl122r1

Horn of Africa Famine: Millions at Risk

Horn of Africa Famine: Millions at Risk in “Deadly Cocktail” of War, Climate Change, Neoliberalism.

The United Nations has called an emergency meeting to discuss the Horn of Africa drought, which it says has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. Famine was declared in two regions of Somalia on Wednesday where 3.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Another eight million people need food assistance in neighboring countries including Kenya and Ethiopia. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the situation a “catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought” and has appealed for immediate aid. We go to Nairobi for an update from Kiki Gbeho of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. We also speak with Christian Parenti, author of “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.” “This was predicted long ago by people on the ground,” Parenti says. “It’s a combination of war, climate change and very bad policy, particularly an embrace of radical free market policies by regional governments that mean the withdrawal of support for pastoralists, the type of people you saw with their dead cattle.” [includes rush transcript]

U.S. Defense Lawyers Are Crippling Nation's ability to wage Cyberwar

Cyberwar, Lawyers, and the U.S.: Denial of Service – By Stewart Baker | Foreign Policy.

Lawyers don’t win wars. But can they lose one?

We’re likely to find out, and soon. Lawyers across the U.S. government have raised so many show-stopping legal questions about cyberwar that they’ve left the military unable to fight or even plan for a war in cyberspace. But the only thing they’re likely to accomplish is to make Americans less safe.

No one seriously denies that cyberwar is coming. Russia pioneered cyberattacks in its conflicts with Georgia and Estonia, and cyberweapons went mainstream when the developers of Stuxnet sabotaged Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment plant, setting back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program more effectively than a 500-pound bomb ever could. In war, weapons that work get used again.

Unfortunately, it turns out that cyberweapons may work best against civilians. The necessities of modern life — pipelines, power grids, refineries, sewer and water lines — all run on the same industrial control systems that Stuxnet subverted so successfully. These systems may be even easier to sabotage than the notoriously porous computer networks that support our financial and telecommunications infrastructure.

And the consequences of successful sabotage would be devastating. The body charged with ensuring the resilience of power supplies in North America admitted last year that a coordinated cyberattack on the continent’s power system “could result in long-term (irreparable) damage to key system components” and could “cause large population centers to lose power for extended periods.” Translated from that gray prose, this means that foreign militaries could reduce many of U.S. cities to the state of post-Katrina New Orleans — and leave them that way for months.

Can the United States keep foreign militaries out of its networks? Not today. Even America’s premier national security agencies have struggled to respond to this new threat. Very sophisticated network defenders with vital secrets to protect have failed to keep attackers out. RSA is a security company that makes online credentials used widely by the Defense Department and defense contractors. Hackers from China so badly compromised RSA’s system that the company was forced to offer all its customers a new set of credentials. Imagine the impact on Ford’s reputation if it had to recall and replace every Ford that was still on the road; that’s what RSA is experiencing now.

HBGary, another well-respected security firm, suffered an attack on its system that put thousands of corporate emails in the public domain, some so embarrassing that the CEO lost his job. And Russian intelligence was able to extract large amounts of information from classified U.S. networks — which are not supposed to touch the Internet — simply by infecting the thumb drives that soldiers were using to move data from one system to the next. Joel Brenner, former head of counterintelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, estimates in his new book, America the Vulnerable, that billions of dollars in research and design work have been stolen electronically from the Defense Department and its contractors.

In short, even the best security experts in and out of government cannot protect their own most precious secrets from network attacks. But the attackers need not stop at stealing secrets. Once they’re in, they can just as easily sabotage the network to cause the “irreparable” damage that electric-grid guardians fear.

No agency has developed good defenses against such attacks. Unless the United States produces new technologies and new strategies to counter these threats, the hackers will get through. So far, though, what the United States has mostly produced is an outpouring of new law-review articles, new legal opinions, and, remarkably, new legal restrictions.

Across the federal government, lawyers are tying themselves in knots of legalese. Military lawyers are trying to articulate when a cyberattack can be classed as an armed attack that permits the use of force in response. State Department and National Security Council lawyers are implementing an international cyberwar strategy that relies on international law “norms” to restrict cyberwar. CIA lawyers are invoking the strict laws that govern covert action to prevent the Pentagon from launching cyberattacks.

Justice Department lawyers are apparently questioning whether the military violates the law of war if it does what every cybercriminal has learned to do — cover its tracks by routing attacks through computers located in other countries. And the Air Force recently surrendered to its own lawyers, allowing them to order that all cyberweapons be reviewed for “legality under [the law of armed conflict], domestic law and international law” before cyberwar capabilities are even acquired.

The result is predictable, and depressing. Top Defense Department officials recently adopted a cyberwar strategy that simply omitted any plan for conducting offensive operations, even as Marine Gen. James Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained publicly that a strategy dominated by defense would fail: “If it’s OK to attack me and I’m not going to do anything other than improve my defenses every time you attack me, it’s very difficult to come up with a deterrent strategy.”

Today, just a few months later, Cartwright is gone, but the lawyers endure. And apparently the other half of the U.S. cyberwar strategy will just have to wait until the lawyers can agree on what kind of offensive operations the military is allowed to mount.

***We’ve been in this spot before. In the first half of the 20th century, the new technology of air power transformed war at least as dramatically as information technology has in the last quarter-century. Then, as now, our leaders tried to use the laws of war to stave off the worst civilian harms that this new form of war made possible.

Tried and failed.

By the 1930s, everyone saw that aerial bombing would have the capacity to reduce cities to rubble in the next war. Just a few years earlier, the hellish slaughter in the trenches of World War I had destroyed the Victorian world; now air power promised to bring the same carnage to soldiers’ homes, wives, and children.

In Britain, some leaders expressed hardheaded realism about this grim possibility. Former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, summing up his country’s strategic position in 1932, showed a candor no recent American leader has dared to match. “There is no power on Earth that can protect [British citizens] from being bombed,” he said. “The bomber will always get through…. The only defense is in offense, which means that you have got to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.”

The Americans, however, still hoped to head off the nightmare. Their tool of choice was international law. (Some things never change.) When war broke out in Europe on Sept. 1, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a cable to all the combatants seeking express limits on the use of air power. Citing the potential horrors of aerial bombardment, he called on all combatants to publicly affirm that their armed forces “shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.”

Roosevelt had a pretty good legal case. The 1899 Hague conventions on the laws of war, adopted as the Wright brothers were tinkering their way toward Kitty Hawk, declared that in bombardments, “all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.” The League of Nations had also declared that in air war, “the intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal.”

But FDR didn’t rely just on law. He asked for a public pledge that would bind all sides in the new war — and, remarkably, he got it. The horror at aerial bombardment of civilians ran so deep in that era that Britain, France, Germany, and Poland all agreed to FDR’s bargain, before nightfall on Sept. 1, 1939.

Nearly a year later, with the Battle of Britain raging in the air, the Luftwaffe was still threatening to discipline any pilot who bombed civilian targets. The deal had held. FDR’s accomplishment began to look like a great victory for the international law of war — exactly what the lawyers and diplomats now dealing with cyberwar hope to achieve.

But that’s not how this story ends.

On the night of Aug. 24, 1940, a Luftwaffe air group made a fateful navigational error. Aiming for oil terminals along the Thames River, they miscalculated, instead dropping their bombs in the civilian heart of London.

It was a mistake. But that’s not how British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw it. He insisted on immediate retaliation. The next night, British bombers hit (arguably military) targets in Berlin for the first time. The military effect was negligible, but the political impact was profound. German Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring had promised that the Luftwaffe would never allow a successful attack on Berlin. The Nazi regime was humiliated, the German people enraged. Ten days later, Adolf Hitler told a wildly cheering crowd that he had ordered the bombing of London: “Since they attack our cities, we will extirpate theirs.”

The Blitz was on.

In the end, London survived. But the extirpation of enemy cities became a permanent part of both sides’ strategy. No longer an illegal horror to be avoided at all costs, the destruction of enemy cities became deliberate policy. Later in the war, British strategists would launch aerial attacks with the avowed aim of causing “the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.” So much for the Hague conventions, the League of Nations resolution, and even the explicit pledges given to Roosevelt. All these “norms” for the use of air power were swept away by the logic of the technology and the predictable psychology of war.

***American lawyers’ attempts to limit the scope of cyberwar are just as certain to fail as FDR’s limits on air war — and perhaps more so.

It’s true that half a century of limited war has taught U.S. soldiers to operate under strict restraints, in part because winning hearts and minds has been a higher priority than destroying the enemy’s infrastructure. But it’s unwise to put too much faith in the notion that this change is permanent. Those wars were limited because the stakes were limited, at least for the United States. Observing limits had a cost, but one the country could afford. In a way, that was true for the Luftwaffe, too, at least at the start. They were on offense, and winning, after all. But when the British struck Berlin, the cost was suddenly too high. Germans didn’t want law and diplomatic restraint; they wanted retribution — an eye for an eye. When cyberwar comes to America and citizens start to die for lack of power, gas, and money, it’s likely that they’ll want the same.

More likely, really, because Roosevelt’s bargain was far stronger than any legal restraints we’re likely to see on cyberwar. Roosevelt could count on a shared European horror at the aerial destruction of cities. The modern world has no such understanding — indeed, no such shared horror — regarding cyberwar. Quite the contrary. For some of America’s potential adversaries, the idea that both sides in a conflict could lose their networked infrastructure holds no horror. For some, a conflict that reduces both countries to eating grass sounds like a contest they might be able to win.

What’s more, cheating is easy and strategically profitable. America’s compliance will be enforced by all those lawyers. Its adversaries’ compliance will be enforced by, well, by no one. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a return address on their cyberattacks. They can ignore the rules and say — hell, they are saying — “We’re not carrying out cyberattacks. We’re victims too. Maybe you’re the attacker. Or maybe it’s Anonymous. Where’s your proof?”

Even if all sides were genuinely committed to limiting cyberwar, as they were in 1939, history shows that it only takes a single error to break the legal limits forever. And error is inevitable. Bombs dropped by desperate pilots under fire go astray — and so do cyberweapons. Stuxnet infected thousands of networks as it searched blindly for Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges. The infections lasted far longer than intended. Should we expect fewer errors from code drafted in the heat of battle and flung at hazard toward the enemy?

Of course not. But the lesson of all this for the lawyers and the diplomats is stark: Their effort to impose limits on cyberwar is almost certainly doomed.

No one can welcome this conclusion, at least not in the United States. The country has advantages in traditional war that it lacks in cyberwar. Americans are not used to the idea that launching even small wars on distant continents may cause death and suffering at home. That is what drives the lawyers — they hope to maintain the old world. But they’re being driven down a dead end.

If America wants to defend against the horrors of cyberwar, it needs first to face them, with the candor of a Stanley Baldwin. Then the country needs to charge its military strategists, not its lawyers, with constructing a cyberwar strategy for the world we live in, not the world we’d like to live in.

That strategy needs both an offense and a defense. The offense must be powerful enough to deter every adversary with something to lose in cyberspace, so it must include a way to identify attackers with certainty. The defense, too, must be realistic, making successful cyberattacks more difficult and less effective because resilience and redundancy has been built into U.S. infrastructure.

Once the United States has a strategy for winning a cyberwar, it can ask the lawyers for their thoughts. But it can’t be done the other way around.

In 1941, the British sent their most modern battleship, the Prince of Wales, to Southeast Asia to deter a Japanese attack on Singapore. For 150 years, having the largest and most modern navy was all that was needed to project British power around the globe. Like the American lawyers who now oversee defense and intelligence, British admirals preferred to believe that the world had not changed. It took Japanese bombers 10 minutes to put an end to their fantasy, to the Prince of Wales, and to hundreds of brave sailors’ lives.

We should not wait for our own Prince of Wales moment in cyberspace.

the Democratization of Destruction

Get Ready for the Democratization of Destruction – By Andrew Krepinevich | Foreign Policy.

As Niels Bohr famously observed, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” But we need not be caught entirely unaware by future events. The rapid pace of technological progression, as well as its ongoing diffusion, offer clues as to some of the likely next big things in warfare. Indeed, important military shifts have already been set in motion that will be difficult if not impossible to reverse. Sadly, these developments, combined with others in the economic, geopolitical, and demographic realms, seem likely to make the world a less stable and more dangerous place.

Consider, to start, the U.S. military’s loss of its near monopoly in precision-guided munitions warfare, which it has enjoyed since the Gulf War two decades ago. Today China is fielding precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as other “smart” munitions, in ever greater numbers. They can be used to threaten the few major U.S. bases remaining in the Western Pacific and, increasingly, to target American warships. Like Beijing, Iran is buying into the precision-guided weapons revolution, but at the low end, producing a poor man’s version of China’s capabilities, to include anti-ship cruise missiles and smart anti-ship mines. As these trends play out we could find that by the beginning of the next decade, major parts of the Western Pacific, as well as the Persian Gulf, become no-go zones for the U.S. military: areas where the risks of operating are prohibitively high.

Even nonstate groups are getting into the game. During its war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 relatively inaccurate RAMM projectiles — rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles — into Israel, leading to the evacuation of at least 300,000 Israelis from their homes and causing significant disruption to that country’s economy. Out of these thousands of munitions, only a few drones and anti-ship cruise missiles were guided. But as the proliferation of guided munitions — G-RAMM weapons — continues, irregular warfare will be transformed to the point that the roadside bomb threats that the United States has spent tens of billions of dollars defending against in Iraq and Afghanistan may seem trivial by comparison.

The spread of nuclear weapons to the developing world is equally alarming. If Iran becomes a nuclear power, the pressure on the leading Arab states as well as Turkey to follow suit is likely to prove irresistible. With ballistic-missile flight times between states in the region measured in single-digit minutes, the stability of the global economy’s energy core would be exceedingly fragile.

But the greatest danger of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland will likely come not from nuclear-armed missiles, but from cyberattacks conducted at the speed of light. The United States, which has an advanced civilian cyberinfrastructure but prohibits its military from defending it, will prove a highly attractive target, particularly given that the processes for attributing attacks to their perpetrators are neither swift nor foolproof. Foreign powers may already have prepositioned “logic bombs” — computer code inserted surreptitiously to trigger a future malicious effect — in the U.S. power grid, potentially enabling them to trigger a prolonged and massive future blackout.

As in the cyber realm, the very advances in biotechnology that appear to offer such promise for improving the human condition have the potential to inflict incalculable suffering. For example, “designer” pathogens targeting specific human subgroups or designed to overcome conventional antibiotics and antiviral countermeasures now appear increasingly plausible, giving scientists a power once thought to be the province of science fiction. As in the cyber realm, such advances will rapidly increase the potential destructive power of small groups, a phenomenon that might be characterized as the “democratization of destruction.”

International stability is also increasingly at risk owing to structural weaknesses in the global economic system. Commercial man-made satellites, for instance, offer little, if any, protection against the growing threat of anti-satellite systems, whether ground-based lasers or direct-ascent kinetic-kill vehicles. The Internet was similarly constructed with a benign environment in mind, and the progression toward potential sources of single-point system failure, in the forms of both common software and data repositories like the “cloud,” cannot be discounted.

Then there is the undersea economic infrastructure, primarily located on the world’s continental shelves. It provides a substantial portion of the world’s oil and natural gas, while also hosting a web of cables connecting the global fiber-optic grid. The value of the capital assets on the U.S. continental shelves alone runs into the trillions of dollars. These assets — wellheads, pumping stations, cables, floating platforms — are effectively undefended.

As challenges to the global order increase in scale and shift in form, the means for addressing them are actually declining. The age of austerity is upon us, and it seems likely if not certain that the U.S. military will confront these growing challenges with relatively diminished resources. The Pentagon’s budget is scheduled for $400 billion or more in cuts over the next decade. Europe certainly cannot be counted on to pick up the slack. Nor is it clear whether rising great powers such as Brazil and India will try to fill the void.

With technology advancing so rapidly, might the United States attempt to preserve its military dominance, and international stability, by developing new sources of military advantage? Recently, there have been dramatic innovations in directed energy — lasers and particle beams — that could enable major advances in key mission areas. But there are indications that competitors, China in particular, are keeping pace and may even enjoy an advantage.

The United States has the lead in robotics — for now. While many are aware of the Predator drones used in the war against radical Islamist groups, robots are also appearing in the form of undersea craft and terrestrial mechanical “mules” used to move equipment. But the Pentagon will need to prove better than its rivals at exploiting advances in artificial intelligence to enhance the performance of its unmanned systems. The U.S. military will also need to make its robot crafts stealthier, reduce their vulnerability to more sophisticated rivals than the Taliban, and make their data links more robust in order to fend off efforts to disable them.

The bottom line is that the United States and its allies risk losing their military edge, and new threats to global security are arising faster than they can counter them. Think the current world order is fragile? In the words of the great Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

US science cuts pay for war – and we all suffer

US science cuts pay for war – and we all suffer – opinion – 26 July 2011 – New Scientist.

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the horrendous cost of pursuing the “war on terror” may give his followers cause for celebration

WHEN Osama bin Laden was killed earlier this year, many commentators saw it as a turning point in the war on terror. However, a host of measures suggest that bin Laden’s goal – to strike a long-lasting blow to the system of government of the US and to the health and well-being of its citizens – may have been achieved.

Last month, the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, released a report entitled “Costs of War“, which estimates the cumulative cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be up to $4 trillion.

What has this vast amount of money achieved? Both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to rank low in political freedom, warlords continue to control much of Afghanistan, and gender and ethnic segregation in Iraq are now worse than they were before 2001.

At the same time, the US economy is in trouble. Unless the country’s debt ceiling is raised by 2 August, the US will default on several of its major financial commitments. Many of the key programmes that contribute to the quality of life of most Americans are under threat.

From a scientific perspective, the appropriations bills now before Congress suggest that the US’s dire fiscal straits will inflict long-term damage to its technical leadership.

The House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space and Technology has recommended cancelling the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the fabulously successful Hubble Space Telescope, because of a cost overrun of $1.6 billion. If this project is cancelled, once Hubble reaches the end of its working life in 2014 we will lose our chance to witness the first moment in cosmic history when the sky lit up with stars, less than a billion years after the big bang.

Beyond the direct loss to science, we need to ask what the next generation of bright minds will lose. The remarkable images captured by Hubble have inspired a generation of people to dream about the universe and its myriad possibilities, and have doubtless inspired youngsters to consider a career in science.

For those of a more practical bent, funding for energy efficiency and renewables could be cut by a whopping 27.3 per cent. It is hard to imagine an applied research programme that is more relevant and important to the health and security of our society.

Cutting that funding is likely to have economic consequences too. In this highly competitive world, the country that leads the research and development in these areas will gain a huge advantage. One only has to consider the fraction of the US’s gross domestic product that resulted from R&D a generation or two ago into technologies ranging from the transistor to the microchip.

If, as a consequence of a decade of unprecedented military spending, we are prepared to give up our grandest intellectual dreams while at the same time cutting efforts to solve the chief technological challenges we face, have we not lost far more than we may have we won?

Lawrence Krauss is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University in Tempe. His most recent book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s life in science was published in March (W. W. Norton & Co)

5 signs that Mexico is losing its drug war

5 signs that Mexico is losing its drug war – The Week.

In Mexico, drug violence has become a routine part of the news. But some moments stand out as particularly frightening

Marisol Valles Garcia is Mexico's youngest police chief and works in a town just 60 miles from Ciudad Juarez, the country's most violent city.

Marisol Valles Garcia is Mexico’s youngest police chief and works in a town just 60 miles from Ciudad Juarez, the country’s most violent city. Photo: Corbis SEE ALL 14 PHOTOS

In the four years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on drug cartels, clashes between powerful drugrunners and Mexico’s police have skyrocketed in frequency and intensity. Since 2006, over 28,000 people have been killed, including 2,000 police officers — and the carnage shows no sign of slowing down. Calderon remains optimistic, at least publicly, but faces mounting criticism over the violence. Here are five especially troubling signs for what many consider a failed war:

1. A town’s entire police force quits
No officers were injured when gunmen fired more than 1,000 shots at police headquarters in Ramons, a small town in an area “torn by fighting between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs.”  But the attackers (who tossed six grenades for good measure) made their point — all 14 of the town’s police officers promptly quit. Their new headquarters had opened just three days before the attack. (Watch an AP report about the police force)

2. The college student who became chief of police
In the small, crime-ridden town of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, nobody was eager to serve as police chief for understandable reasons — the last person who took the job was killed in June. So when 20-year-old criminology student Marisol Valles Garcia volunteered, she made international news. “I took the risk because I want my son to live in a different community to the one we have today,” Guerrero said at a press conference.

3. Cops accused of killing their mayor
It has become an all-too-common story in Mexico: A public official is murdered, and a security guard or police officer turns out to be involved. When Santiago mayor Edelmiro Cavazos was killed in August, six city police officers, including one posted at Cavazos’ home to protect him, were quickly arrested and accused of helping a drug cartel pull off the crime. It was hardly an isolated incident, since most of Mexico’s 430,000 officers “find themselves outgunned, overwhelmed and often purchased outright by gangsters.”

4. A police chief is decapitated
In early October, Rolando Flores, the lead investigator on a high-profile case involving two Americans, was murdered, and his severed head was left in a suitcase in front of a military compound. In a sign of how routine such incidents have become, officials weren’t sure if the decapitation was related to the Falcon Lake case or to other cases Flores was investigating.

5. Killers target rehab centers
Not content to kill judges and mayors, gunmen appear to be going after former colleagues who may be trying to reform themselves. Last Sunday, gunmen lined up 13 recuperating addicts and executed them; two days earlier, another 14 people undergoing rehab had been gunned down. Such attacks have occurred before, but their rising intensity “could signal the lengths to which Mexico’s drug lords will go to prevent reformed addicts from giving information to authorities.”

After Iraq And Afghanistan: More Of The Same — Or No Thanks?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/20/after-iraq-and-afghanista_n_652954.html

At a rare congressional hearing Tuesday morning about how to spend less — not more — on defense, panelists raised a question that has barely ever been asked on Capitol Hill.

Namely: What lesson have we learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it that we should prepare for similar conflicts in the future, or that we should avoid them like the plague? Continue reading After Iraq And Afghanistan: More Of The Same — Or No Thanks?