National security wrap

The beat

Police drone partnership

Drones continue to proliferate among US police forces. Drone manufacturer DJI has partnered with Axon, maker of police body cameras, to sell drones directly to police departments. Under the partnership, Phantom 4 Pro or Matrice 210 drones will be linked to Axon’s proprietary cloud-based data management system called The result: drone footage will be stored on the same system as video captured by body cameras.

Partners in anti-crime

INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have reaffirmed their Anti-Crime Partnership. The partnership focuses on working together ‘to prevent and address threats posed by organized crime, drugs and terrorism, and contribute to international security and sustainable development’. The two agencies originally signed a joint action plan in 2015. In 2017, a joint operation seized 52 tonnes of cocaine, cannabis and heroin. The cocaine alone was worth more than US$950 million.

Where to get away with murder

The Washington Post has mapped where the number of unsolved homicides in the US is greatest. The study analysed more than 52,000 homicides in the past decade in 50 major American cities, identifying block by block where murder is common but arrests are rare. The overall homicide arrest rate in those cities was 49%; however, in some areas police indict suspects less than 33% of the time. In Baltimore and Chicago for example, police solve so few homicides that hundreds of unsolved cases remain on the books.

CT scan

Evolving tools for countering an evolving threat

The Philippines Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, announced that the Philippines military is set to acquire facial recognition software and drones to improve its counterterrorism operations. The new tech will come from the US and will be used primarily to gather intelligence. The announcement comes after the Shangri-La security dialogue in which Lorenzana discussed several responses to the evolving nature of terrorism, including the need to monitor the entry of radical clerics into the Philippines.

US soldier killed in Somalia as Pentagon considers cutting funding

One US Special Operations member was killed and four wounded in an attack in Somalia. The attack occurred 350 kilometres from Mogadishu, and targeted a combined Somali, Kenya and US force. The attackers haven’t been officially confirmed but al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. The Daily Beast describes how al-Shabaab militants flooded an area where an AFRICOM combat outpost was to be built, and then ambushed the force when it tried to build on higher ground. The attack occurred as the Pentagon considers cutting US forces in Africa by 50%, reflecting its shifting focus from counter-terror operations towards the strategic challenges posed by China and Russia. The US re-orientation underscores the pointed question asked at the Shangri-La dialogue: ‘Will we have the strategic patience to deal with jihadi terrorism?’


Rising threat to Rohingya peace process

Alongside the Rohingya exodus, Myanmar is facing another severe border issue. UNODC’s regional representative for Southeast Asia, Jeremy Douglas, warns of the unprecedented production and trafficking of synthetic drugs in Shan State. Growth in synthetic drug production has coincided with intense conflict, and for Rohingyas drug trafficking is a tempting alternative when denied other means of earning a living. If the peace process doesn’t address the drug trade in Myanmar, it will certainly fall short.

Belarus border spat

President Alyaksandr Kukashenka implied that Belarus would reinstate border controls with Russia after almost 20 years of free movement. The claim follows Moscow’s introduction of spot checks along the border, imposed after Belarus launched a five-day visa-free regime that could theoretically allow Westerners to enter Russia without a customs check. Tighter border controls would arguably aid Belarus’ economic aims. It has resisted long-standing Russian pressure to switch the transit of its oil away from Latvian and Lithuanian ports on the Baltic Sea to Moscow’s own Baltic ports.

Trump and territorial sovereignty

The National Interest provides a unique analysis of Donald Trump’s approach to the Crimean territorial dispute. In the recent G‑7 summit, Trump urged the group to readmit Russia, which was suspended after it annexed Crimea in 2014. It’s an example of ‘America First’ taking precedence over the ‘rules-based international order’. If Trump succeeds, it will create a precedent as Benjamin Netanyahu presses the US administration to recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

First responder

Do disasters help reduce conflict?

A recent article analyses the extent to which natural disasters help rebel groups in the Philippines to recruit new members. The author argues that natural disasters affect rebels differently than other groups within a society because they often live in makeshift shelters that can’t withstand extreme weather events. For example, the typhoons of 2012 and 2013 disrupted the communication channels and food supply chains of the New People’s Army rebel group, reducing its ability to fight. At the same time, the Philippine military used disaster relief ‘to buy civilian loyalty’ in formerly rebel-held areas.

High tide for maritime defence resilience

The defence realm remains a key espionage target, particularly when it comes to maritime operations. Recently, sensitive data from a US Navy contractor was stolen by Chinese hackers. The data lost included hundreds of gigabytes relating to signals and sensor data, cryptographic systems and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library. Given the increase in hybrid warfare strategies, including the use of cybertools, how should nation-states respond to such attacks? In the case of the Navy breach, the FBI is conducting investigations and requiring data breach notifications from companies. But preventative measures are also needed.