Category Archives: Forecasts

2007 Threat #01 Poverty Forecast

PDF: Poverty

THREAT:  Poverty

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – attributed to. Lao Tzu

Poverty in the developing world should not be confused with emergencies. Anyone can have a sudden need for food and shelter (New Orleans after Katrina). International programs against “poverty” go beyond this to building the capacity of a population to maintain and grow the means of self-sufficiency.

If “real” aid is drilling wells, not bottled water, it is also about training locals to drill wells and maintain machinery. Action against poverty is now seen as a mix of Aid, Trade, Investment, Migration, Environment, Security, Technology. As well as shipping in bags of grain, it is more important to stop the war that will destroy the next crop, to invent appropriate technologies (the cow-dung radio in India), and to build local economies through investment and trade. Migration is contentious – accepting the unskilled and displaced counts as aid, but enticing every trained nurse in Ghana to London not only does not count as aid but is a negative step for Ghana.

The US is 20th in the world for aid as a portion of GDP (0.14%). 72% of this is tied aid (“with strings”) and much goes to less poor and totalitarian regimes.* US aid is perceived to be largely directed by national interest, whereas some nations, such as Denmark (first in world ranking), seem motivated otherwise – if Danish secret agendas exist they are well hidden. But in the broadest view aid is about self-interest. In Somalia, failure to understand root problems and obsession with forming a nation in a preconceived image led to a decade of bronze-age governance. Islamists now seem the only hope for stable government, and a shining hope in Africa for Taliban-style regimes. What started as an aid problem ended as a political problem because the earlier efforts were unbearably tainted with politics.

*Many facts quoted are from Center for Global Development.[USA],


For aid to be effective in the longer term – to be “real” – donors need to understand bottom-line causes. Some are geographical (systematic lack of water), many are social/political (enduring clan and tribal rivalries), many are simple perfidy (corrupt regimes and callous middle class elites).  In each case the solution is dictated by the cause and is often obvious. Educating policy-makers in the underlying causes of each aid case goes a long way to making aid effective.


Even blind incompetence is better than aid for doctrinaire or the wrong reasons. The top-down approach of the 1960’s – fortify the rulers and elites and they will fix their countries – is discredited for good reason. It resulted in a sudden demand for Rolls Royce cars, weapons, and deterioration in subsistence societies.  Recipients should not have to convert to Jesus – or the Danish way of life – to eat. A recent notion – fix poverty one village at a time (bottom-up) – is the most rational approach with the best chance of success thus far.


Many Asian nations jumped from primitive telephone net-works to ubiquitous internet and cellular networks. This technological leap-frog awaits developing nations. The West will be burdened with 2nd or 3rd generation modalities when poorest nation will suddenly have 4th generation technol-ogies. In 10 years the West will be weighed down by old costly infrastructure (the London tube) and many “developing” nations will be growing from strength to strength driven by clean, green high-tech practices.

2007 Threat #02 Infectious Disease Forecast

PDF: Infectious Disease

THREAT:  Infectious Disease

Globalization and freedom of air travel allow a communicable human disease to travel from anywhere to anywhere else within 24 hours. Short of blood tests and lengthy quarantine of travelers there is little that can be done to prevent a carrier of a highly communicable, highly lethal disease walking the streets of a large population centre today. The use of disease as a new asymmetric tactic would make explosives seem primitive. Walking the path to martyrdom through densely populated cities infected with a well-chosen disease, a “dead man walking” could bring havoc – and fear. But if the “terrorists” don’t do it, diseases assisted only by ignorance and negligence may get there first. Broadly speaking, diseases have three sources:
Protozoa – the tiniest of animals typically inhabiting water and other animals as parasites; the commonest example is malaria, threatening one-twelfth of the human population, caused by protozoans in the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Such diseases can be prevented by physical interdiction (DDT, mosquito nets) and medication treating or repairing the effects.

Bacteria – microscopic single celled organisms; life would not exist without bacteria in animal digestion, the nitrogen cycle and other essential processes. But some bacteria turn to the dark side – tuberculosis readily treatable if diagnosed early is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Bacillus anthracis can form hardy air-borne spores and cause highly lethal anthrax. Common treatments are killing the bacteria before it infects or the use of the appropriate antibiotic after infection.

Viruses, the ultimate in simplicity and masters of self-preservation, are simply a nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) instruction-set covered by a protein sheath. They reproduce only by penetrating cells and using the cell’s reproductive mechanism to replicate themselves. Variations in copying the code produces mutations of the virus. Examples are highly contagious, high lethality Ebola caused by an airborne virus spores and H5N1 (avian influenza) that is highly communicable among some animals but non-communicable (or weakly communicable) to humans. Such infections are commonly prevented or attenuated by injecting a vaccine, small doses of crippled or dead versions of the target virus, that teaches the body’s immune system what to kill on sight.

That’s the good news. DDT remains the most effective interdiction against malaria but it is banned in most developed nations because of the devastating persistent effect on the environment. Use of the wrong antibiotic, or misuse, or over-use creates – by natural selection – strains of bacteria that are resistant to many or all antibiotics. Mutation of viruses means that the vaccine administered today after three months development may be useless against a mutant version of the virus that appeared in the infected subject yesterday. Simple changes in the protein sheath will render it invisible to an immune system trained by a vaccine to recognise other characteristics. The worst case is when a virus attacks the cells of the immune system itself – as with HIV/AIDS.

These “second generation” dangers of infectious diseases are not just theoretical. A new strain of tuberculosis identified recently in South Africa is quickly fatal in HIV/AIDS patients and a disease once thought beaten may spread around the world anew. A mutation in the H5N1 virus is theoretically possible any day and would make it highly communicable to humans. A range of vaccine-preventable diseases thought to be eliminated in developed countries such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, and poliomyelitis are making a reappearance – complacency has led to a drop-off in vaccination and many doctors have “forgotten” to look for these diseases in patients. Neglect of these vaccination programs poses the hazard of self-inflicted epidemics. The over-use and misuse of antibiotics over decades, particularly in the US, is acknowledged as a major contributor to new more dangerous strains of pathogens such as some Staphylococci that are found only in hospitals.

Apart from these dangers to ourselves, miscreants using asymmetric tactics can bring immense harm to populations by transporting uncommon but highly contagious pathogens to highly populated areas. Whether a pathogen is weaponisable is a buzz-word in this field; that is, can it be produced, packaged, transported and effectively deployed in potent, dispersed form. Anthrax in spore form is well-suited to this but a range of other pathogens can be presented in a matrix of lethality and deployability. There is little confidence that health infrastructures could cope beyond a few days or weeks against even a small but effective pathogen attack in a large population centre — the health services themselves will be the first victim, followed possibly by public order. Mortality will be a mere detail.


There is every indication that a public health investment would yield worthwhile benefits in doing the easily do-able — education of doctors and the population about vaccination, misuse of antibiotics, and early detection and treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis.  Meanwhile, the security community should continue to inventory the hazards from various pathogens – lethality vs. communicability vs. availability vs. deployability vs. treatments vs. likelihood. A careful study may show that anthrax (and VX) is the least of worries.


The abilities of the biological sciences around the world is as good as scientific discovery allows. The weakest link by far is government coordination in the mitigation of avoidable endemic diseases, fore-knowledge of the logically possible types of pathogen attacks by miscreants, and planning for response in the event of such attacks. Planning and exercises around the world prompted by the perceived H5N1 threat are encouraging but exercises and resource planning should accommodate a range of incubation periods and infection rates. Many variations will provide very bleak results.


Control of airspace, liquids on aircraft, quick temperature measurement of incoming travelers and other measures all mitigate against some forms of biological attack. One scenario worthy of exploring is a highly contagious, highly lethal (or debilitating) disease with a long incubation period and long period of contagion. Concealing a weapon of mass destruction in the cells of the body is simple, cheap, effective, and un-detectable until vast numbers of people have been infected. Generally, the actors in this scenario need to be prepared to die but that might not be an impediment.

2007 Threat #03 Environmental Degradation Forecast

PDF: Environmental Degradation

THREAT:  Environmental Degradation

The Environment became a mainstream political issue only ten years after “environmentalist” was a pejorative term for fringe trouble-makers. Political environmentalism can be traced more than ten years, to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) which after a long and bitter battle led to the restriction of DDT. Then the 1970s saw new terms such as “agent orange” in every newspaper and pictures on every television of wildlife habitats obliterated by oil spills. Public opinion shifted slightly. With the environment as a new factor – as lip-service or hard policy – environment debates were now not just academic. Profitability or oblivion suddenly depended on a percentage point in government emission/pollution standards. But even though the environment, like crime, is an issue there are no obvious a priori rules. At bottom there is always a Faustian test – a few billion in personal wealth today in exchange for the chance your grand-children will be homeless or be born limbless. Nothing is black or white. To further confuse things — DDT remains one of the best weapons against the world’s greater killer – malaria.


Clarify the Now:  Most developed nations now factor environmental impacts into decision-making. Big-stakes cases hinge on contradictory evidence of each party’s expert witnesses and judgements often depend on an intellectual coin-toss, manipulation of public opinion, or corrupted officials. Only the creation of disinterested expert jurisdictions removes important environmental issues from the dread grasp of short-term political vision. Also, only public education (or opinion-leaders at least) can give a better grasp of cost. Discussion of cost in environmental debates is often deceitful, often on both sides.


Clarify the Future:  Rachel Carson was called a liar and alarmist by opponents but history proved she was a prophet. The same problem remains today – early warnings are always so early that well-financed inertial mass of vested interests are able to discount and ridicule them. If early warnings on tobacco or asbestos had been investigated, no-one smoking today would have started smoking, no-one dying of asbestos would be dying. Because government does not see beyond five years or the next election, only statutory agencies that outlive governments can be trusted to observe the public environmental interest into the conceivable future..


Globalise the Public Interest:  Initial excitement about globalization lost its innocence when nations realized that everyone really meant “my globalization: not yours”. But the underlying premise of globalization – interconnectedness of all nations is inescapably true. Nations will realize that environmental problems in one sovereign state are also eventually a problem for all. The rapid destruction of the Amazon is not Brazil’s problem but a factor of global climate. My Chernobyl is your Chernobyl. Governments and their electorates will soon realize all nations are in the same boat.

2007 Threat #04 Inter-State Conflict Forecast

PDF:  04 Inter-State Conflict

THREAT:  Inter-State Conflict

War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.  – Vom Kriege (1832), General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)

Although the US has not declared war since the World War II, it has been involved in several dozen war-like circumstances occasioning the death of soldiers and others. These range from the UN Police Action in Korea (1950+), to Military Assistance in Vietnam (1961–72), to All Necessary Means under UN Security Council Resolution 678 (UNSCR 678) in Iraq (1991), to the present Iraq liberation (2003+) based in UNSCR 687, the cease-fire conditions for the 1991 action.

Because very few profit from war, it is often bad press to start one. This may explain the few wars but very many police actions, military operations, pre-emptive strikes and responses to something the enemy did. Also – to use scurrilous logic — if war is not declared it can not be lost, there can be no war crimes, no blame for starting a war (which is against international law), no obligation to obey rules of war, or rules for treatment of combatants, or rules for the protection of Cultural Property under the Hague Convention (1899). Not calling a war “war” also circumvents constitutional and legal constraints on Declaration of War. In the US, only Congress has power to “declare War”. Whether this means Congress alone has power to approve war-like actions has not been tested in the Supreme Court.

Clausewitz says war is a complex interplay of a three elements – the goals of government, the sentiments of the population, and the intrinsic uncertainty of warfare itself. A war may start with popular support and then lose it; government imperatives may change during the war, an unbeatable army may be defeated by a trick, or the weather, or by the enemy general. This trinity of war – Government, Population, Military – seems to work well for any of the euphemisms for war and for other actions counter-posed to war such as civil war and insurgency where two or more political wills, populations, and armed groups are in conflict. But war is not going to get any easier. In future there may be fewer howitzers but a grinding globalised antipathy lasting decades, routine sabotage of home and foreign assets and infrastructure, and the occasional devastating 9/11 type of incident – the sort of continuing social unease that renders fielded forces, and some of Clausewitz, useless.

The euphemism of politics has largely done away with War – we may now be in for a century or two of something worse.


Iraq (and Somalia) remind us there is also politics and a population on the other side. A military may be defeated but is rarely possible to defeat a population. Recent events prove that war is foolish without clear, achievable goals, a supportive population, and a military up to that specific task.  One of the prime causes of War are previous wars. War whether won or lost is a bell that can’t be unrung, a 12 month war can bring 12 generations of enmity. As General Colin Powell said “If you break it: you own it.”


Wars go very wrong through failure to appreciate the full cultural, political and military picture. It is even more crucial to understand this if today’s wars are grinding cultural antipathy with little to shoot at – an eternal urban insurgency.  Effective and flexible military prowess will be as important as ever but more important will be broad-based global monitoring, political and cultural analysis, and scenario development – all of a quality not yet seen. But this quality Peace-keeping will still be cheaper than war.


As Clausewitz says, war is not an independent phenomenon. In war-time the generals take control of all the khaki bits, but a society that is not mobilized for peace will need to fight unnecessary wars.  All nations will need to marshal their best resources (largely knowledge-based) for success in both peace and war. In comprehending and managing the threats to peace – Poverty, Civil War, Water Wars, … — all military and civil intelligence must be harnessed toward the national and global good.

2007 Threat #05 Civil War Forecast

PDF:  05 Civil War

THREAT:  Civil War

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.  Genesis 17:8

Civil war is defined by what it is not – not war between fielded forces of nation states. Because there is often no “army” to be defeated, internecine inconclusive lethality can continue for decades, even centuries. Similarly, insurgency is defined as not civil war but it is just a matter of degree. Insurgencies can be victorious; the Long March of the Communist forces in China, or the uprising by American merchants against good King George.

The longest running civil war today is said to be the struggle since 1948 by the Karen in Myanmar (Burma) but the Philippines (1960s), Thailand (1960s), Somalia (1977), Sri Lanka (1983) are just some of the other conflicts that extend over decades. But this Guinness book of records approach misses a crucial point. The southern Thailand conflict actually arises in Siamese annexation of an Islamic Sultanate in the 16th century; the Moro (“Moor”) insurgency in the southern Philippines originates in the Spanish conquest of 1571. The Troubles in Northern Ireland date to victory by William over James II at the Boyne in 1690. Deep rifts in the Balkans date to when and where the Ottomans were halted in the 15th century.

What may be civil war in all but name may be called an insurgency or terrorism for rhetorical reasons as with present-day Iraq, invented in 1932 when Whitehall sought to unite three Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra) into a new impossible entity.
Foreign intervention in civil wars is a gamble and the US had a run of bad luck – backing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Shah in Iran, Iraq against Iran — a geopolitical three-in-a-row loss. This points to intrinsic dangers of taking sides in “local” conflicts, or systematic short-sightedness in US foreign policy. Intervention such as this often escalates into a proxy war.

As the roots of civil wars and insurgencies are often very deep — like a village feud in Calabria — the origins are so distant that which party is clearly “right” or “wrong” is meaningless. The cycle of violence can only be solved with adult supervision and the only legitimate “adult supervision” at present – apart from some land-giving God – is the United Nations and International Courts.


A jury of the world will find few civil wars or insurgencies to have a clear good guy or bad guy. Any genuine interest in solving a conflict requires a juristically neutral appreciation of the harms, the claims and the logically possible judgements.
As with civil society, conflict that disrupts the public order – “world peace” — can only be effectively resolved in the context of rule-of-law. Nation states unable to solve conflict must – in the broader interest — surrender to international juristic solutions.


There is an array of conflict-resolution methods starting from the proposition that most conflicts – with wisdom and effort – can be transformed from a zero-sum game into rational new arrangements that maximize each side’s needs. Failure to understand that arises from the primitive reptilian brain; curable in most cases.  The “jury of the world” will readily see what is just in the case of most disputes if the logical alternatives – often a complex of rights and duties – is derived from the true origins of the conflict.


The UN is the worst form of conflict resolution except all the others that have been tried*.  The veto-based Security Council ensures that any civil war soon becomes a proxy war, in principle if not in reality – a race for “our side” to win rather than the conflict be justly resolved. Any use of the UN’s palpable powers is thwarted or perverted.  Any effective system for global intervention and solution of civil wars necessarily depends on retirement of the veto power.
*pace Churchill on democracy

2007 Threat #06 Genocide Forecast

PDF:  06 Genocide

THREAT:  Genocide

The distinction between war and genocide is a modern one. Throughout history, a lost battle often meant genocide for an entire population. In more modern times, most conflicts — certainly not all — have been about political suzerainty and control of resources. That said, the finger has never been far from the trigger of leaving alive nothing that breatheth – the Japanese in Nanking, Germany in Russia, Russia in Germany, and some isolated cases in every war by all armies since. Since 1945, over seventy million people have been killed in at least 55 genocides and systematic political killings.* Most of these people have been killed by their own governments.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948 (entry into force 12 January 1951) following the systematic slaughter by the German Third Reich. The Convention defines genocide as any act – whether during war or not –committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Since some States refuse extradition for political crimes, the Convention specifically states that acts of genocide may not be classed as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. The full scope of acts constituting genocide is not widely known – (Article 2) killing, serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births; transferring children of the group to another group. In short, genocide is not just mass murder with racial motivation. It starts not with the act of killing but with the act of differentiation and then any acts that disadvantage that differentiated group.

This clearer understanding of genocide (as defined in the Convention) shows where the term is often misused. It explains why the UN has seemed to vacillate over Darfur. If the circumstances show that a group is being massacred not because of who they are but because of where they are living (consuming precious water resources perhaps) the label of genocide may not apply. Media may be vociferously critical of this but that is to miss the point and the true strength of the Convention. Mass murder is unlawful in all circumstance, in time of war or not and such acts are no less actionable for not falling within the Convention. The true power of the convention is to make unlawful acts which were policy of even Western governments in recent generations. The conditions of life provisions (as well as killing) would apply to in numerous cases to the treatment of Amerindians in North and South America; the transferring children provision would apply in many colonized places with indigenous populations (the “Lost Generation” cases in Australia). Similarly, the Convention probably applies to China’s “cultural genocide” in Tibet.

Differentiation (discrimination) is the key; not killing. Article 3 describes punishable acts, apart from acts of genocide, to include conspiracy, incitement, attempt, and complicity to commit genocide. Because the Convention requires signatories to promulgate local legislation against applicable acts, several developed nations have instituted racial vilification legislation. In some places this has led to absurd extremes of political correctness.

Genocide-Watch has done much work in this area and its lobbying contributed to creation of an office of Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide in the UN in July 2004. The first occupant, Juan E. Méndez of Argentina, has a staff of two. Though this initiative is laudable, lobbyist say little will be achieved without an arms-and-legs component, a Genocide Prevention Center, which would collect and analyze. Genocide-Watch has produced a predictive model based on The Eight Stages of Genocide characterized as classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, denial. A collection and analysis center would use models such as this to feed a threats and  warnings system. But member states – for reasons best known to them and suspected by others — continue to deny UN agencies the independent intelligence function such a Center would need.

Ethnic cleansing, forced relocation, systematic privation all have roots in identification (classification) of a group as somehow inferior or hostile. Examples abound — the Turkish massacre and deportation of Armenians, the German deportation and massacre of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and others, Japan in China, Italy in Ethiopia, Hutu / Tutsi in Burundi and Rwanda, various massacres in former Yugoslavia. Possibly the list also includes Indonesia in East Timor and Sudan in Darfur but it would probably not include the killing fields of Cambodia which claimed two million lives, 30% of the population, because victims were of no particular group but each and every person an apocalyptic regime saw as a threat. This is one of the capricious consequences of the concept of genocide – the trivializing of non-genocidal mass slaughter, politicide as it is sometimes called. The disappeared of Latin America should bring as much outrage and retribution as any genocide.

The only authority the UN has is ceded to it by member states. Many see little reason to be optimistic that member states, and the even more problematic Security Council, will overcome their “idolatry of national sovereignty” sufficiently to authorize and implement the necessary mechanisms for fast, authoritative, and forceful intervention in genocide events. The UN is routinely blamed for being slow, indecisive, or incompetent but that, failing proof to the contrary, is a function of member states. Chapter VII of the UN Charter sets out the UN Security Council’s powers to maintain international peace and security. The Council can declare Chapter VII to be applicable to an issue such as a process of genocide and (under Article 42) may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. The Security Council has not yet used these peace-making powers to prevent or stop genocide.
*some factual material is from


Populations need to be taught that there are more sins in the world than genocide. In the modern connected world, genocide in fact is the most easy of high crimes to identify and, more importantly, to foresee and prevent. By contrast arbitrary serial killing by the State – politicide, democide, extra-judicial killing – is far more difficult to foresee and track and thus a more deadly threat. Charges and rumors of these acts should be taken just as seriously as genocide. Similarly race crimes appearing in Germany, UK and other parts of Europe are obvious warnings of a deep, perhaps intractable political problem.


The underpinning immorality behind genocide is collective punishment – persecution of a group for perceived shortcomings of a few. Some would claim that Israel’s recent action in Lebanon and wide allied netting in Afghanistan are examples of collective punishment and that perception does nothing to uphold global moral standards. By contrast, the US has resisted profiling in its Homeland Security efforts but this almost certainly will be to its cost which may bring a popular racial backlash that will undo any laudable motives. Classification – associated with respectful treatment –for clear and present national security reasons would be specifically permitted under the Covenant on Human Rights.


Globalization is bringing a time of the greatest immigration and ethnic mixing ever experienced. Although Man is a great trader he also seems to wired for distrusting strangers. Even if States are convinced that genocide (any arbitrary murder) is a perfidy, their populations may take longer to convince. It will be increasingly necessary to educate populations — from Sesame Street to the Senate – that global admixture is here to stay and that discrimination, collective punishment, race-based vilification or violence will come to no good. Genocide is just the tip of that iceberg.

2007 Threat #07 Other Atrocities Forecast

PDF:  07 Other Atrocities

THREAT:  Other Atrocities

Atrocity is an informal term for a range of acts proscribed in the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights of 1976 (torture, slavery, child labor, child soldiers,…), for acts against the laws of war (war crimes), for acts that are culturally determined to be particularly heinous such as desecration of a corpse, child sexual exploitation, and willful acts against cultural property (iconoclasm). Any aggravated violent act against person or property might be seen as an atrocity in a loose sense but it is the act itself and the circumstances that will determine if an offence under any applicable law has been committed. For instance to burn Muslim battle-dead is a practical health measure, or an atrocity, depending on cultural perspective. Thus, atrocity in the broadest sense is a value (subjective) term.

The purpose of the Covenant (and various conventions relating to War) is to codify acts that the signatories agree are reprehensible and agree to proscribe in local laws. Many states may already have ways of outlawing and punishing the acts but often only in an indirect or rarely used way – deprivation of liberty (for slavery), aggravated assault (for torture), low level immigration offences (for human trafficking). For these nations, it is a consciousness-raising, coordination and standardization exercise. For those nations who routinely practice torture (usually in police custody) or condone slavery as a traditional institution, it is a way for the world community to encourage adherence to a standard of behavior perceived to be morally superior.
Atrocities are a special case of human rights abuses but not all human rights abuses are atrocities. Imprisonment without trial is not an atrocity as such, unless the prisoner is subjected also to inhumane and degrading treatment. The Covenant allows the government of a State to temporarily suspend some of the rights in cases of civil emergency (if it notifies other signatories), but none of the provisions forbidding atrocity. In other words, under this international instrument there is never a lawful excuse for commission of an atrocity.

Just as the real value of the Convention on Genocide is proscription of those acts that invariably precede genocide, hence providing a form of early warning, the value of the Human Rights Covenant is that it sets a high standard which can not prevent isolated atrocities but can offer pressure against institutionalized and/or State sanctioned atrocities.

Killing is objective; mistreatment is not — cultural variations and sensitivities abound. There is anecdotal evidence that Filipino and Indonesian maids are, by Western standards, routinely treated “atrociously” in Saudi Arabia, as low paid slaves subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. Whether the treatment of “guest workers” of this type is contrary to the Covenant would be open to investigation. Several Islamic nations, including “moderate” ones such as Malaysia, order public whipping as a punishment for some offences. To Western sensitivities, whipping is often thought to be “barbaric” and an “atrocity”. In contrast, other cultures see imprisonment in a small room for many years as cruel, unnatural, and an atrocity.

*some factual material is from

International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights was adopted in December 1966 and entered into force 23 March 1976.


The UN Human Rights mechanism has sometimes received bad press in the West because it has brought shortcomings in developed nations such as treatment of illegal immigrants, or of indigenous populations to public attention. From its position on the non-barbaric moral high ground, it is difficult for a developed nation to see that an outsider could have any useful criticism or be motivated by any decent purpose. That common reaction is counter-productive to the global purpose of Human Rights protection and undermines the patently good purpose of UNHCHR.


There are reports of severe Human Rights violations every day – from systematic torture of prisoners in Algeria to organ harvesting in China. Often UNHCHR does not have the resources nor the diplomatic backing to investigate or act on accusations such as this. The work against atrocities needs daily support; not lip service every decade or so.


If political dissidents are summarily executed and their organs harvested for profit, or if prisoners are routinely tortured and mutilated, it ultimately makes little difference in a distant country. Politics is the art of the possible – and the necessary – and States will avoid diplomatic incidents if they can and if their own self-interest is not affected. This is why the activities of UNHCHR as an honest broker established under international Covenant should be supported in every particular. Only when UNHCHR reports are taken as seriously as a crime wave next door will one of the main goals of the UN be accomplished.

2007 Threat #08 Proliferation Forecast

PDF:  08 Proliferation

THREAT:  Proliferation

Proliferation once referred to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1970, an agreement of the nuclear haves and most have-nots that things should stay just like that. However, there were two other important aspects to NPT – the Treaty overtly agreed that this was an interim arrangement directed towards eventual total nuclear disarmament, and that technologies for peaceful use of nuclear energy were not only permitted but were to be cooperatively shared. The haves were the five nuclear-weapon states defined in the NPT, China, France, Russia, UK, USA, who happened to be also the Big-Five of the Security Council. But disarmament 30 years later is just as distant; the nuclear-weapon states continue to refurbish and maintain nuclear arsenals and the principle of proliferating nuclear technology without the chapters on weaponizing that technology has proven a noble and naïve ideal. During NPT and contrary to it, South Africa built, tested and later disassembled nuclear weapons and several countries, including Brazil and Libya, toyed with the capability and abandoned it. Today, it is an open secret that Israel has nuclear weapons from an unknown source and in an unknown state of readiness, and India and Pakistan have proven their nuclear capability – all contrary to NPT. Several other countries are regarded as nuclear-capable states – Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Japan — they have everything needed to produce nuclear weapons except the political will. Of headline current interest is the controversy over whether Iran and DPR Korea have weapons capability.

This situation coincides with the view that “clean, green” nuclear energy is an obvious fix for the environmental disaster-in-waiting caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Wider use of nuclear technologies for energy raises the spectre of proliferation in a broader sense – proliferation of spent and part-spent radioactive byproducts from the nuclear fuel cycle. Although the 30-year old Australian synroc technology now seems to be a secure and irreversible means for the safe sequestration of spent fuels, a thousand more nuclear flowers blooming throughout the world offers an obvious challenge for non-proliferation efforts. Highly accurate auditing of materials in and materials out is one measure but in recent years some audits have found a useful quantity of weapons-grade material missing … or a rounding error in the audit; no-one knows for sure. A thousand rounding errors world-wide magnify the chance of usable quantities of weaponisable materials changing hands without trace.

For these several reasons, the NPT principles have obvious practical shortcomings and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 was promulgated in 2004 to address these. The core articles …

Affirming that prevention of proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons should not hamper international cooperation in materials, equipment and technology for peaceful purposes while goals of peaceful utilization should not be used as a cover for proliferation;

Decides that all States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery;
… are in very plain language and clearly more street-wise than NPT. Importantly, this is an instrument under Chapter VII of the UN Charter hence enforceable under the UN’s ultimate powers of coercion and enforcement. Also, the subject suddenly includes chemical and biological materials, and it importantly forbids proliferation into the hands of non-State actors. Although the only peaceful uses for these substances is research into antidotes to their non-peaceful uses, the letter of the resolution would allow any state to share or develop manufacturing technologies for these “peaceful purposes”. Also, any country could build manufacturing capability (for “peaceful purposes”) because the varying shelf-life of CB substances and pathogens requires periodic replenishment. So Resolution 1540 is unfortunately, like the NPT, little more than a pious wish and, in the absence of an outright universal ban on possession of these substances, it does little to curtail de facto proliferation.

As the world approaches a cycle where non-State actors are an equal or greater threat to industrialized nations than conventional enemies, proliferation assumes new nuances. The fear of CBR(N) WMD is a force multiplier in asymmetric tactics and immense costs are brought upon any nation protecting itself against the threat of a CBR incident. For the present, a multi-megaton air-burst bomb is unlikely, but a taxi loaded with 10 kilos of highly radioactive waste blown up in Time Square (or Trafalgar Square) would have a cumulative cost almost as great.


Pious hopes are little protection against bad actors State or non-State of any ethnicity, politics or religion. The technologies and materials that were the subject of proliferation measures are already proliferated widely enough to now get anywhere else with the right theft, bribe, or accident. Although a CB attack by non-State bad actors is possible rather than probable, the consequences are such that it is an acute hazard and should be treated as such. It is unlikely that civil and military authorities in the US have sufficient planning in place to meet this hazard.


Pandora’s box is open. Getting the woes and pestilence back in the box will be very difficult – but that simply translates as very expensive. It is do-able and expensive. Security intelligence agencies throughout the world will believe they have some grasp on where hazardous technology, know-how and materials are and where they are moving, but the slight embarrassment on the Iraq assessment blunts confidence in this somewhat. Nothing short of a world effort, underpinned by instruments in the tradition of NPT and Resolution 1540, is urgently needed to start an exhaustive Inventory of CBRN materials throughout the world to last microgram. Obviously an agency similar to IAEA with expertise and powers across the range of CBRN would be key to that project.


Nuclear-generated power does seem to have long-term possibilities. If current experimental work in fusion by the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project is successful this may prove to be spectacularly so – also, there will be none of the waste products produced in fission technologies and the technology will not lend itself to use by non-State actors. That may bring a time when chemical and biological agents are the only possible agents of WMD threat. But the nature of the world will be much determined by political wisdom displayed in the next five years and how successful any inventory and roundup of CBR material has been. A new concern may come from substantial work in recent years on non-lethal weapons. This may produce a new era of proliferation of simple, easily deployed debilitating economically crippling weaponry — Weapons of Mass Discomfort.

2007 Threat #09 Terrorism Forecast

PDF:  09 Terrorism

THREAT:  Terrorism

The “war on terror” must fail because it is a self-defeating slogan. To make war on a tactic — a raid, a breakout, an asymmetric attack on civilians, the use of chemical weapons — makes no sense. These tactics have worked well throughout history and will continue to. ‘Terrorist” tactics were used by Americans against the British in the 1770’s, by the Israelis against the British, by Algerians against the French. Progress is only possible if the problem is clearly defined … as global militant Islam. It may be political correctness that prevents that definition, or it may be that there is a genuine misunderstanding of the problem. Once confronted, the origins of global militant Islam are largely well-defined and, with sufficient cooperation by a range of nations, is a relatively simple problem to treat.


In the near-term, the US may find it necessary to consolidate a broader support base in its global campaign against “terrorism” and will find it necessary to reach détente en-bloc with entities such as the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But much depends on how the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan develop. How each is perceived within one or two years — as a job well done, a quagmire, or a strategic withdrawal – will affect US credibility for several administrations.


Nations such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Turkey are best placed to depict violent Islamic militantism in clear contrast with global Islam but they can not join the “war on terror” to the extent the US expects while it remains a US war rather than a universal hazard because that would sacrifice their credibility at home. It seems unavoidable that the only way to build a general resilient consensus against global militant Islam is at the United Nations level and with the consent of concerned nations.


In the mid to longer term, the United Nations will either grow in stature and its ability to respond to crises or, for practical purposes, cease to exist. In this time scale there will be increasing pressure on the voting rules of the Security Council so that global interests are expressed as a consensus or some majority rather than the often sordid interests of one of the veto Powers. Through such reforms the UN would have a new legitimacy to tackle global challenges such as the “terrorism” of that day, or worse challenges such as epidemics and climate change.

2007 Threat #10 Transnational Crime Forecast

PDF:  10 TransnationalCrime

THREAT:  Transnational Crime

The only real sign of a recession is when the Mafia starts laying off judges in New Jersey.  – Anon. / Traditional

Estimates vary widely on the value of transnational organized crime (TOC) — the FBI uses an estimate of $1 trillion per year. A key instrument in addressing TOC world-wide is the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of September 2003 which commits signatories to introduce a range of measures such as the creation of domestic criminal offences, frameworks for multilateral juristic and police cooperation, and extradition.* The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) finds that TOC groups commonly comprise 20-50 persons involved in 5 or more countries. UNODC has defined five TOC typologies – standard hierarchy, regional hierarchy, clustered hierarchy, core group, criminal network – that move beyond the mob boss model to the reality of actual groups. This is useful for tactical purposes and helps agencies achieve a common vocabulary.

TOC has diversified from traditional domains of local mob crime — “numbers racket”, protection, prostitution, and illicit drugs – to take full commercial advantage of globalized markets and the internet. The same network that moves drugs across the world can be adapted to transfer arms, explosives, cash, or untaxed tobacco. Organised Immigration Crimes – people smuggling, human trafficking – can move illegal immigrants, sex slaves, criminals or terrorists across the world. TOC moves into areas of petty crime when the rewards are sufficient, displacing local petty criminals or recruiting them (stolen motor vehicle). In this way TOC underpins much local crime. Similarly, TOC moves into new profitable areas such as identity theft, phishing, intellectual property crime (fake/unlicensed brands), cultural property crime (smuggling of artifacts), and environmental crime (illegal dumping, wildlife smuggling, illegal logging and, soon, water theft). TOC also enables other illegal activities by supply of false documents, protection, assassinations, and (in the UK) hire of weapons for criminal activity by other parties. TOC activities lend themselves to high degrees of product integration and vertical and/or horizontal integration – enslaved sex-workers or foot-soldiers are often addicted to the drugs traded by the same criminal enterprise.

But any mutation of TOC uses the traditional tools – suborning of officials, violence and coercion, secrecy, and willingness to break laws. Common to all activities is cash which is paramount in unlawful transactions. This creates a continual need for money-laundering for conversion into real assets such as property, legitimate businesses or laundered (seemingly lawful) cash.

TOC activity comprises a multitude of criminal acts, but agencies must focus on the enabling organization. To make a conviction for a single crime will often be counter-productive. TOC groups have such organizational and financial depth that they generally survive the neutralization of individual members. Also any minor agency success may merely teach the TOC how to improve its operations. Hence intelligence and counter-intelligence are crucially important, as is proactive policing rather than reactive policing instinctive to compliance officers. Compliance agencies must adapt to the changing methods and interests of TOC sometimes by reinventing themselves. In the UK the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) was launched in April 2006, bringing together the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and elements of Customs and Immigration that dealt with TOC. In the US, the FBI Organized Crime Program addresses TOC in geographic units such as La Cosa Nostra and Italian Organized Crime, Asian Criminal Enterprises. Some in the UK envy the US RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, purpose-built anti-racketeering legislation introduced in 1964, but others fear the slippery slope of legislation based on a guilty until proven innocent principle. One successful example of new structures for new challenges is Europol, established in 1999  with intelligence and proactive policing functions (not to be confused with Interpol, which has served as a documentation exchange since establishment in 1923).

Philosophically it is legality itself that is one enabler of TOC which can only operate in illegal (“black market”) environment. Alcohol prohibition created the speak-easy which became a revenue stream for organized crime. States such as Netherlands that license rather than outlaw prostitution and some drugs have eradicated criminal revenue, and the cost of law enforcement, in those commodities.

UNODC and others have emphasized the global nexus between corruption, terrorism and crime; for instance, “terrorists” may buy illicit weapons or materials from transnational syndicates with global reach and know-how. This nexus is crucial but must include aspects of aid and foreign affairs. Officials who are found corrupt in diversion of foreign aid are more easily suborned by TOC. North Korea’s strategic counterfeiting of $100 super-notes finds obvious synergies with money laundering and other TOC activity. In the Philippines it is now difficult to distinguish between separatist raising funds and simple crime in actions such as kidnapping for ransom. Also in the Philippines a numbers racket (jueteng) is so wide spread as to have implicated the husband of President Arroyo.
The reality is that Transnational Organized Crime is a fifth estate (and fifth column) just as dangerous as any perceived terror from Islamic fundamentalism.


Governments that are them-selves not directly involved in TOC are easily impressed of the need for enforcement by the loss of revenue. In fighting for elusive budgets this is effective enough but it misses that point that TOC suborns and perverts the Rule of Law itself. Just as some argue that “terrorism” is a political and policing issue rather than military, key politicians and officials need to recognise that TOC is not just a police or revenue matter but subversion just as dangerous as any bombing to the health of a society.


Much good work has been done by UNODC and others on the metrics and topology of TOC but largely within the silo of compliance agencies. A better, more revealing picture may come from coordination between these agencies and diplomatic and security intelli-gence agencies. Demarcation between many insurgencies and mere criminal activity may become clearer. Also, the direct role of states such as North Korea in TOC may be better understood through an exchange of information from political as well as policing silos.


As robber barons (core nominals) amass greater wealth across generations and become firmly entrenched behind legitimate businesses or in distant countries, TOC will be seen as truly a world-wide fifth estate. The laws and practices of first the tiniest and then larger nations will be suborned as mere tools and fronts for a sinister force ultimately more deadly than the minority views of Osama bin Laden. In one dimension, a policy of zero- tolerance is needed; in another legalization of those things that make TOC possible.