Archive for March, 2013


March 31, 2013

Washington Times on March 29, 2013 commented on the transition of the new leader of China, Xi Jinping, with his assumption of the presidency in an article by James A. Lyons. His main power comes as the leader of the Communist Party and as chairman of its Central Military Commission. While trying to project his image as a “man of the people,” his various speeches on “the China Dream” have a definite military overtone, even though he professes to continue the peaceful development policies of his predecessor. He has launched a well-planned campaign to enhance the military force of the People’s Liberation Army in order to give China the capability to “fight and win wars.” Such statements undercut the theme that China’s military buildup is only for defensive purposes. Excerpts below:

China’s unrelenting drive to become the dominant military power in the western Pacific continues with its just announced 10.7 percent increase to its military budget. This double-digit increase takes on added significance when viewed in light of the Obama administration’s sequestration and previous, draconian budget cuts to U.S. military forces. With the continued turmoil in the Middle East, as well as Russia’s efforts to revive Soviet Cold War tactics to test our readiness both militarily and politically, it is questionable whether the “strategic pivot” to the Pacific can ever be fully implemented.One of the key weaknesses of the pivot strategy is that it does not address China’s development of a globally deployable military force and the establishment of nuclear and non-nuclear and proxy states, such as North Korea and Iran.

An element that cannot be discounted is the potential for a large Chinese nuclear breakout. China has more than 3,000 miles of underground reinforced tunnels for their fixed and mobile strategic weapons. In a Feb. 11 Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens, Gen. Victor Esin, former chief of staff of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, highlighted the “stealthy” rise of China to a position of nuclear parity with the United States and Russia. He stated that China may have 850 warheads ready to launch, and he estimated China’s inventory of nuclear weapons at between 1,600 and 1,800 warheads, as compared with the current U.S. estimate of China having 200 to 400. Many reports note the administration wants to reduce U.S. warheads to 1,000 or fewer. General Esin went on to state that he has solid evidence that China conducted a multiple-warhead test in July 2012, and a month later, launched a new, long-range multiple-warhead-capable missile from a submarine.

Any future START talks with Russia must recognize China’s nuclear inventory.Clearly, we need an immediate “shot across China’s bow” that would have an impact. Putting anti-ship ballistic missiles on U.S. ships, submarines and aircraft could be just such a shot, threatening China’s navy to show them they will gain nothing by using their fleet against the United States and its allies. Such a capability could be accomplished in the near term as a relatively inexpensive option, while posing a risk to China’s ever-expanding surface navy.

Another action that we can take is to create an Asian regional long-range sensor network that would provide our allies real-time warning of broad Chinese military activity. For such a network to become a reality, we should capitalize on the recent decision to install a second Forward Based X-Band Transportable (FBX-T) radar in southern Japan by placing a similar radar in the Philippines. We currently have an FBX-T radar in Shariki, Japan, with a 600-to-1,200-mile range. Installing an updated 3,700-mile-range SBX radar in the Philippines would permit continuous missile and aircraft coverage of all nations in the western Pacific littoral, including China.

Even in this tight budget climate, we should find the funding to pursue the development of energy weapons. For example, a railgun with “shotgun” pellets flying at Mach 5 has the potential to produce a “steel cloud,” which would shred most missiles, cruise missiles and aircraft flying through it. In tests, the railgun has fired artillery-size projectiles up to speeds of Mach 5 with a potential range of 62 miles. Such a system would be quite adaptable to a destroyer-sized ship.

Clearly, we have a number of options that can be brought to bear, including selling nuclear submarines to allies such as Australia and Japan. However, all our conventional options must be underpinned by a credible nuclear deterrent. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to modernize our nuclear-weapons inventory. To make our options a reality, the Obama administrationneeds to recognize China’s strategic objectives and the threat they pose to our national interests and those of our allies, and institute programs that pose an unacceptable risk to China.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.


March 30, 2013

Fox News on March 28, 2013, reported on a fast, maneuverable surface warrior, the Navy’s first littoral combat ship USS Freedom having joined the 7th Fleet in the Pacific. Excerpts below:

Its arrival coincides with further heavy rhetoric from North Korea. News agency KCNA carried the government’s message that it had ordered artillery and rocket units into “combat posture” to prepare to target U.S. bases in the United States mainland, Hawaii and Guam.

On its maiden deployment, USS Freedom arrived in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR) on March 20 — a zone that covers more than 48 million square miles, stretching west from the International Date Line to the western coast of India. At any given moment, about 100 ships and submarines are deployed there and assigned to 7th Fleet.

On March 15, the fleet marked the 70th anniversary of its maintaining security and stability in the region.

The ship will participate in some large scale training exercises in Southeast Asia, involving maritime security operations with regional partners.

Designed and developed by Lockheed Martin, the littoral combat ship (coastal and shallow water areas are called “littoral”) is quick and agile, and loaded with mission packages that can be configured for surface warfare, countering sea mines and anti-submarine warfare.

Led by Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, Freedom will initially be manned by her crew of 91 sailors, who include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate its MH-60 helicopter.
Freedom can provide critical access and dominance in coastal water battlespaces.

As designed, Freedom can operate with substantially fewer crew, requiring only 40 core sailors plus support crew for the aviation and mission packages.

Should a battle erupt, Freedom can act as a hub to tie together sea, air and land assets.

The ship’s battle management system, also produced by Lockheed Martin, provides a flexible, next-generation defense system that can be reconfigured for a specific threat in days.

COMBATSS-21 is a self-defense suite and integrates the radar, electro-optical infrared cameras, gunfire control system, countermeasures and short-range anti-air missiles, as well as a variety of missile and torpedo systems, naval guns and more.

Let’s say the mission required weapons systems to defeat enemy subs. An anti-submarine package would include an MH-60 Romeo carrying an active dipping sonar, sonobuoys and heavy-weight torpedoes.

What if the enemy had littered the coastal waters with mines? Freedom’s countermeasures package can search twice as quickly as earlier systems. It requires only two operators and would include tech like the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle and Raytheon’s airborne SONAR mine countermeasure detection system, AQS-20A.

To protect the fleet from…asymmetric warfare, Freedom’s tech could include the Gun Mission Module MK 50 MOD, a Non-Line of Sight Launch System Mission Module, a MH-60R helicopter and vertical takeoff drones.

Led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, the team includes naval architect Gibbs & Cox and ship builder Marinette Marine Corporation.

USS Fort Worth, the team’s second littoral combat ship, was delivered two months early last year and included improved fuel efficiency and speed, reduced weight, improved satellite and launch, recovery and handling systems and landing aids with advanced night vision capability.

The next two ships, the Milwaukee and the Detroit, are currently under construction.


March 29, 2013

Fox News on March 28, 2013, reported that North Korea’s leader says he is preparing his rocket forces to “settle accounts with the U.S.” after the U.S. deployed B-2 stealth bombers to South Korea to participate in a training exercise.

State media says Kim signed a rocket preparation plan and ordered rockets on standby to strike the U.S. mainland, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii.

The U.S. military says the two B-2 stealth bombers sent to South Korea were meant to demonstrate the Pentagon’s commitment to defend its ally against threats from North Korea.

The two B-2 Spirit bombers flew more than 6,500 miles from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to South Korea, dropping inert munitions before returning to the U.S., according to a statement released by U.S. Forces Korea.

“The United States is steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region,” the statement said.

The B-2 Spirit is capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons. The Pentagon said the mission was part of its ongoing Foal Eagle training exercise series, which began March 1 and ends April 30.

The exercise, though, was announced a day after North Korea said it had shut down a key military hotline usually used to arrange passage for workers and goods through the Demilitarized Zone.

The hotline shutdown follows a torrent of bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks from North Korea, which is angry about annual South Korea-U.S. military drills and U.N. sanctions over its nuclear test last month. North Korea calls the drills rehearsal for an invasion; Seoul and Washington say the training is defensive in nature and that they have no intention of attacking.

North Korea previously cut Red Cross phone and fax hotlines with South Korea, and another communication channel with the U.S.-led U.N. command at the border between the Koreas.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that North Korea’s “latest threat to cut off communication links coupled with its provocative rhetoric is not constructive to ensuring peace and stability on the peninsula.”


March 28, 2013

Fox News on March 27, 2013, reported that the Internet is under the worst cyberattack ever according to experts.

Spam-fighting organization Spamhaus is being targeted with a massive cyberattack that experts say may be the biggest in the history of the web. The so-called distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS, uses networks of computers to point huge volumes of web traffic at a company’s server, a technique that invariably knocks their computers offline. Excerpts below:

The DDoS attack being waged against Spamhaus has reached a previously unheard of magnitude, according to Patrick Gilmore, chief architect at digital content provider Akamai. Recent cyberattacks — like the ones that caused persistent outages at U.S. banking sites late last year — tend to peak at 100 billion bits per second. The attack on Spamhaus clocked in at 300 billion.

“It’s the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet,” Gilmore said to the New York Times.

Even that tremendous number might not truly reflect the scope of the attack, however.

The massive cyberattack is apparently from groups angry at being blacklisted by the Geneva-based spam fighter — and the digital assault is so great that Gilmore said the electronic onslaught was affecting others across the Internet.

Users could experience slower Internet or be subjected to unwanted emails, he said.

A man who identified himself as Sven Olaf Kamphuis said he was in touch with the attackers and described them as mainly consisting of disgruntled Russian Internet service providers who had found themselves on Spamhaus’ blacklists. There was no immediate way to verify his claim.

Gilmore and Prince said the attack’s perpetrators had taken advantage of weaknesses in the Internet’s infrastructure to trick thousands of servers into routing a torrent of junk traffic to Spamhaus every second.

CloudFlare also reported that the attack was massive, possibly the biggest ever.

In an interview, Spamhaus’ Vincent Hanna said his site had been hit by such a crushing wave of denial-of-service attacks and that it was “a small miracle that we’re still online.”

Hanna said his group had been weathering such attacks since mid-March.


March 27, 2013

Fox News on March 26, 2013, published an AP report on China saying its navy fired flares at Vietnamese fishing boats…the vessel was damaged in an incident that is highlighting tensions over the disputed South China Sea Paracel Islands and surrounding waters believed to hold a wealth of oil and natural gas deposits.

Vietnam, which also claims the Paracels, said one of the boat’s cabin’s caught fire in the incident, which it called “very serious.” The government lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, seeking compensation for the alleged damage and punishment of the Chinese sailors responsible.

The fishing boat was near the Paracels when an unidentified Chinese vessel chased it and fired the flare, the Vietnamese government said in a statement issued late Monday.

There have been other clashes in the waters, often related to claims of illegal fishing or violations of fishing moratoriums unilaterally imposed by the Chinese.

Vietnam and China each claim large parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also maintain that parts of the sea are theirs.

The profile of the long-running disputes has been raised in recent years because of China’s economic and military growth and subsequent American interest. The Paracels, which were occupied by China shortly before the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, are a particular flashpoint.

China last year incorporated the Paracels and most of its other South China Sea claims within the newly declared Sansha city-level administrative unit as way of raising the region’s profile and increasing funds for infrastructure and economic development.

China is also boosting its civilian fisheries and maritime surveillance patrols in the area.

China’s navy also conducts missions in the South China Sea…


March 26, 2013

Fox News on March 25, 2013, reported that American Special Operations forces and Special Force troops tasked to work with U.S. intelligence agents are training small groups of Syrian opposition forces in Jordan, U.S. military sources told Fox News. Excerpts below:

The U.S. trainers are working alongside their Jordanian counterparts to facilitate the training, which has been going on for the past eight to 12 months, the sources say.

The training program, first reported by the Associated Press, involves classes of about 50 to 60 secular Syrian fighters led by about 100 American trainers, a number that was capped by the Jordanian government. The program is part of a bid to bolster forces battling President Bashar Assad’s regime and stem the influence of Islamist radicals among the country’s persistently splintered opposition.

The Associated Press added that the forces being trained aren’t members of the Free Syrian Army. Those in Washington also stressed that the U.S. is providing only nonlethal aid at this point.

Others such as Britain and France are involved, the AP’s sources said, though it’s unclear whether any Western governments are providing materiel or other direct military support after two years of civil war that according to the United Nations already has killed more than 70,000 people.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the program.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the U.S. has “provided some logistical nonlethal support that has also come in handy for the Syrian rebels who are, again, fighting a regime that is not hesitating to use the military might of that regime against its own people.

“That is something we’re going to continue to work to bring to an end,” he told reporters.

Some of the Syrians the U.S. is involved with are in turn training other Syrians inside the border, officials said.

They declined to provide more information because they said that would go too deep into intelligence matters. Defense Department officials insisted the Pentagon isn’t involved with any military training or arms provisions to the Syrian rebels, either directly or indirectly. The CIA declined to comment.

The New York Times reported that the CIA helped Arab governments and Turkey sharply increase their military aid to Syria’s opposition in recent months, with secret airlifts or arms and equipment. It cited traffic data, officials in several countries and rebel commanders, and said the airlift began on a small scale a year ago but has expanded steadily to more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari planes landing in Turkish and Jordanian airports.

The training in Jordan, however, suggests the U.S. help is aimed somewhat at enhancing the rebels’ capacity in southern Syria, the birthplace of the revolution two years ago when teenagers in the sleepy agricultural outpost of Dara’a scribbled graffiti on a wall and were tossed into jail, spurring Syria’s own version of an Arab Spring uprising.

Despite months of U.S. and international support to build a cohesive political movement, however, Syria’s fractured opposition is still struggling to rally Syrians behind a common post-Assad vision.

The coalition’s president, Mouaz al-Khatib, resigned his position because of what he described as restrictions on his work and frustration with the level of international aid. He said Monday he would still represent the opposition this week in Doha, where the Gulf state of Qatar will host a two-day Arab League summit.

Al-Khatib’s resignation comes only days after the opposition chose Ghassan Hitto, a long-time Texas resident, to head its interim government after intense wrangling over posts and influence that U.S. officials say has strained the opposition’s unity and caused friction among its primary benefactors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Paris on March 27, 2013, to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for talks expected to focus on arming Syrian rebels. The discussions also are expected to touch on the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria, according to French officials.


March 25, 2013

Fox News on March 24, 2013, published an AP report on the future identification of the culprit behind a recent synchronized cyberattack in South Korea. But in Seoul, the focus remains fixed on North Korea, where South Korean security experts say Pyongyang has been training a team of computer-savvy “cyber warriors” as cyberspace becomes a fertile battleground in the standoff between the two Koreas.

Malware shut down 32,000 computers and servers at three major South Korean TV networks and three banks, disrupting communications and banking businesses, officials said. The investigation into who planted the malware could take weeks or even months. Excerpts below:

South Korean investigators have produced no proof yet that North Korea was behind the cyberattack, and said the malware was traced to a Seoul computer. But South Korea has pointed the finger at Pyongyang in six cyberattacks since 2009, even creating a cyber security command center in Seoul to protect the Internet-dependent country from hackers from the North.

…over the past several years, North Korea has poured money and resources into science and technology. In December 2012, scientists succeeded in launching a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket from its own soil. And in February 2013, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test, its third.

“IT” has become a buzzword in North Korea, which has developed its own operating system called Red Star.

But South Korea and the U.S. believe North Korea also has thousands of hackers trained by the state to carry its warfare into cyberspace, and that their cyber offensive skills are as good as or better than their counterparts in China and South Korea.

“The newest addition to the North Korean asymmetric arsenal is a growing cyber warfare capability,” James Thurman, commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea, told U.S. legislators in March 2012. “North Korea employs sophisticated computer hackers trained to launch cyber-infiltration and cyber-attacks” against South Korea and the U.S.

In 2010, Won Sei-hoon, then chief of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, put the number of professional hackers in North Korea’s cyber warfare unit at 1,000.

North Korean students are recruited to the nation’s top science schools to become “cyber warriors,” said Kim Heung-kwang, who said he trained future hackers at a university in the industrial North Korean city of Hamhung for two decades before defecting in 2003. He said future hackers also are sent to study abroad in China and Russia.

In 2009, then-leader Kim Jong Il ordered Pyongyang’s “cyber command” expanded to 3,000 hackers, he said, citing a North Korean government document that he said he obtained that year. The veracity of the document could not be independently confirmed.

Kim Heung-kwang, who has lived in Seoul since 2004, speculated that more have been recruited since then, and said some are based in China to infiltrate networks abroad.

What is clear is that “North Korea has a capacity to send malware to personal computers, servers or networks and to launch DDOS-type attacks,” he said. “Their targets are the United States and South Korea.”

Expanding its warfare into cyberspace by developing malicious computer codes is cheaper and faster for North Korean than building nuclear devices or other weapons of mass destructions. The online world allows for anonymity because it is easy to fabricate IP addresses and destroy the evidence leading back to the hackers, according to C. Matthew Curtin, founder of Interhack Corp.

Thurman said cyberattacks are “ideal” for North Korea because they can take place relatively anonymously. He said cyberattacks have been waged against military, governmental, educational and commercial institutions.

North Korean officials have not acknowledged allegations that computer experts are trained as hackers, and have refuted many of the cyberattack accusations. Pyongyang has not commented on the most recent widespread attack in South Korea.

In June 2012, a seven-month investigation into a hacking incident that disabled news production system at the South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo led to North Korea’s government telecommunications center, South Korean officials said.

In South Korea, the economy, commerce and every aspect of daily life is deeply dependent on the Internet, making it ripe grounds for a disruptive cyberattack.

“North Korea has nothing to lose in a cyber battle,” said Kim Seeongjoo, a professor at Seoul-based Korea University’s Department of Cyber Defense. “Even if North Korea turns out to be the attacker behind the broadcasters’ hacking, there is no target for South Korean retaliation.


March 24, 2013

The renowned author Anne Applebaum has published Gulag: A History. She is also the author of an introduction to the history of the vast network of labor camps in the Soviet Union published on the webpage of the Global Museum on Communism.

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post. She is also the Director of Political Studies at the Legatum Institute in London, where she runs projects on political and economic transition.

From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine.

Her first book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, described a journey through Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, then on the verge of independence.

Applebaum’s book, Gulag: A History, was published in 2003 and won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004. The book narrates the history of the Soviet concentration camps system and describes daily life in the camps, making extensive use of recently opened Russian archives, as well as memoirs and interviews. Gulag: A History has appeared in more than two dozen translations, including all major European languages. Excerpts from the introduction below:

The word “GULAG” is an acronym for Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration, the institution which ran the Soviet camps. But over time, the word has also come to signify the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labour camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, “Gulag” has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that Alexander Solzhenitsyn once called “our meat grinder”: the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.

It took on its modern and more familiar form almost immediately after the Russian Revolution. By the end of the summer of 1918, Lenin, the revolution’s leader, had already called for “mass terror” to put down his opponents, demanding that “unreliable elements” be locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. A string of aristocrats, merchants, and other people defined as potential “enemies” were duly imprisoned. By 1921, there were already 84 camps in 43 provinces, mostly designed to “rehabilitate” these first enemies of the people.

From 1929, the camps took on a new significance. In that year, Stalin decided to use forced labor both to speed up the Soviet Union’s industrialization, and to excavate the natural resources in the Soviet Union’s barely habitable far north.

Contrary to popular assumption, the Gulag did not cease growing in the 1930s, but rather continued to expand throughout the war and into the 1940s, reaching its apex in the early 1950s. By that time the camps had come to play a central role in the Soviet economy. Prisoners worked in almost every industry imaginable – logging, mining, construction, factory work, farming, the designing of airplanes and artillery – and lived, in effect, in a country within a country, almost a separate civilization. The Gulag, which eventually came to include at least 476 camp systems – each of which in turn could contain hundreds of small camps – had its own laws, its own customs, its own morality, even its own slang.

From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, the best estimates indicate that some eighteen million people passed through this massive system. About another six million were sent into exile, deported to the Kazakh deserts or the Siberian forests. Legally obliged to remain in their exile villages, they too were forced laborers, even though they did not live behind barbed wire.

As a system of mass forced labour, the camps disappeared when Stalin died.

Nevertheless, the camps did not disappear altogether. Instead, they evolved. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a few of them were redesigned, and put to use as prisons for a new generation of democratic activists, anti-Soviet nationalists – and criminals. Thanks to the Soviet dissident network and the international human rights movement, news of these post-Stalinist camps appeared regularly in the West. Gradually, they came to play a role in Cold War diplomacy. Even in the 1980s, the American president, Ronald Reagan, and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, were still discussing the Soviet camps. Only in 1987 did Gorbachev – himself the grandson of Gulag prisoners – finally begin to dissolve them altogether.

Yet although they lasted as long as the Soviet Union itself, and although many millions of people passed through them, the true history of the Soviet Union’s concentration camps was, until recently, not at all well known…Before the fall of the Soviet Union, archives were closed. Access to camp sites was forbidden. No television cameras ever filmed the Soviet camps or their victims, as they had done in Germany at the end of the Second World War. No images, in turn, meant that the subject, in our image-driven culture, didn’t really exist either.

During the Cold War, it is true, our awareness of Soviet atrocities went up – but in the 1960s, they receded again. Even in the 1980s, there were still American academics who went on describing the advantages of East German health care or Polish peace initiatives. In the academic world, some Western historians downplayed the history of the camps, if not because they were actually pro-Soviet, then because they were opposed to America’s role in the Cold War. Right up to the very end, American views of the Soviet Union, and its repressive system, always had more to do with American politics and American ideological struggles than they did with the Soviet Union itself.

Now, at the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, that has finally begun to change. The Soviet Union is well and truly gone. The opening of the Soviet archives has enabled historians to write dozens of new books and monographs on the Soviet camps. The end of the Cold War also means that some of the political taboos which once surrounded Soviet history are gone. Finally, Soviet history has become a neutral subject, not a highly politicized one – at least in the Anglophone world, and at least among historians. Now that the history of the Gulag can be told, I hope that this virtual museum will help to tell it.


March 23, 2013

Reuters on March 5, 2013, reported that researcher Laurence Smith says in the future, using the Northwest Passage in Canada as shipping route may be a more economical option. Excerpts below:

The quickest way to get goods from Asia to the U.S. East Coast in 2050 might well be straight across the Arctic, where a warming climate is expected to open new sea routes through what is now impenetrable ice.

Most shipping traffic between these two centers currently goes through the Suez or Panama canals, and that is likely to continue even as melting Arctic sea ice makes the far north more accessible.

But increasingly warm temperatures also could make the Northwest Passage north of Canada an economically viable shipping route. Now, it is passable only at the end of most summers. It could also open up a route directly over the North Pole by mid-century, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus.

The Northern Sea Route, which mostly hugs Russia’s northern coastline and is now a primary Arctic shipping route, would continue to be viable, according to research by Laurence Smith, a geography professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Last September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice melted to its lowest recorded level. The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth because of the so-called albeido effect, where sun-reflecting light-colored ice is frequently replaced by sun-absorbing dark-colored water.

Both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage would be accessible to ordinary ships in addition to light ice-breakers by 2050, Smith said.

“Last year, nearly 50 ships went through the Northern Sea Route, but this work shows that there will be other technically feasible options which will be available,” he said.

The across-the-pole route, which had never before been considered, would be available only to light ice-breakers capable of plowing through ice 3.9 feet thick.

Melting ice could make these Arctic routes more viable, Smith said.

However, by 2050, using projections of global warming and Arctic ice loss, Smith said the Northwest Passage will be sufficiently navigable to make the trip from the North American east coast to the Bering Strait in 15 days, compared to 23 days for the Northern Sea Route, about a 30 percent time savings.

As Arctic shipping lanes open up, land transportation in the far north is expected to suffer, as winter ice roads deteriorate. These ice roads are the only economically viable way to do heavy construction and remove ore in the far north, he said.

“The distances are vast, the landscape is boggy and wet and covered with lakes,” Smith said. “We’ve done modeling of this as well and what you see is a shutdown of human access on land and an increase of human access in the ocean.”


March 22, 2013

The Daily Telegraph, London, on March 22, 2013, reported that the latest propaganda video to emerge from North Korea depicts paratroopers descending on Seoul in an invasion scenario that it said would see thousands of US citizens living in South Korea taken hostage. Excerpts below:

The four-minute video, titled “A Short, Three-Day War,” begins with images of a massive artillery and rocket barrage, followed by a large-scale land and air assault with North Korean troops streaming over the border.

The video was posted on the North’s official website, Uriminzokkiri, which distributes news and propaganda from the state media.

“The crack stormtroops will occupy Seoul and other cities and take 150,000 US citizens as hostages,” he says.

The video shows footage of paratroopers jumping from the sky superimposed over an aerial shot of the South Korean capital, with North Korean military helicopters hovering overhead.

South Korea has a large US expatriate population, as well as 28,000 US troops based in the country.

The video was the latest in a line of similarly-themed productions posted to the Uriminzokkiri channel.

A video released early last month showed New York in flames after an apparent missile attack, and another two weeks later depicted US soldiers and President Barack Obama burning in the flames of a nuclear blast.

And earlier this week, another video showed the dome of the US Capitol building in Washington exploding in a fireball.

The latest offering from the Pyongyang propaganda department comes during escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, with multiple threats from Pyongyang of an armed response to joint South Korea-US military drills and to UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last month.

On March 21, 2013, the North Korean military threatened strikes on US military bases in Japan and Guam.