National security wrap

Image courtesy of Pixabay user Pexels.

The Beat

World Wildlife Day

Tomorrow is World Wildlife Day, and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime cut straight to the chase by highlighting the destructive effects of wildlife trafficking. After drugs, people and arms smuggling, wildlife comes in as the fourth most lucrative black market worldwide. Thankfully, recent data from the South African government gives us some hope: rhino-poaching rates increased more than ten-fold between 2008 and 2014, but 2016 marked the second consecutive year that the rate declined, this time by 10%. Wildlife agencies are rallying against complacency, noting that an average of three rhinos are killed each day in Africa.

In addition to concerted law enforcement efforts, wildlife poaching can be addressed at the community level. The World Bank recently studied the positive effects of income-generating activities on wildlife-related crime. A better ecological understanding is also helpful—that said, scientists are warning that biotelemetry and biologging technologies can themselves be poached by harmful actors.

Racing in Cocaine Valley…

Al Jazeera this week gives us a window into life in the VRAEM, a remote quarter that’s one of the most productive coca-growing areas in Peru. Titled ‘Racing in Cocaine Valley,’ the short documentary gives a human face to a region that is contributing to the shaping of Latin America’s ‘newest narco state.’

CT Scan

China’s changing terrorism threat perception

Helicopters, armoured vehicles and more than 10,000 armed police officers have staged yet another “anti-terror” rally in Urumqi, in Northwest China. Following the knife attacks in the Xinjiang region in mid-February, China has been on high-alert, organising numerous military rallies over the past few weeks. In recent years, clashes between ethnic-minority Muslim Uighur and Han Chinese have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. With data from the Global Terrorism Database indicating that casualties from terrorist attacks in China are in fact on the rise, many are questioning the effectiveness of Chinas domestic counterterrorism policies.

The paradox of Trump

Meanwhile, the new US president’s CT strategy has hit a road-block of sorts. Experts are questioning the ‘paradoxical situation’ Trump has set up for himself: promising to reduce US intervention into foreign conflicts while simultaneously vowing to destroy ‘radical Islamic terrorism’. While the Islamic State is said to be quickly losing its ‘unique selling point’ (its so-called Caliphate), their ideology continues to have a global reach. Watch this space.

Readers who are interested should check out this podcast from the Brookings Institute detailing the non-violent approaches the Trump administration could take in its ‘effort to constructively engage with Iraq and the war on IS’.


The Turkey–Syria border wall

More than half of Turkey’s border wall with Syria has been built, Turkish authorities announced on Monday. 290km out of the total 511km concrete wall has been constructed along the 900km border, and it’s expected to be completed in the first half of 2017. The wall’s aimed at countering the smuggling of weapons and other resources by jihadist groups like ISIS, but it also has the capacity to stem Syrian refugee flows. The Turkish military is looking after security on both sides of the wall under the Euphrates Shield coalition operation, which launched in August 2016.

The White Helmets

While host Jimmy Kimmel toiled to unite Americans at the Oscars this year, the ceremony couldn’t transcend regimes beyond its borders. The White Helmets, a documentary about the Syrian Civil Defence (SCD) rescue workers, took home the gong for ‘Best Documentary (Short Subject)’, but one of its cinematographers, Khaled Khatib, was barred from travelling to LA from Istanbul. An SCD volunteer, Khatib had his passport cancelled by the Syrian regime, despite being granted a US visa specifically for the Oscars.

UNWA withholding Myanmar’s peace?

Long thought by Western authorities to be a drug trafficking cartel, Myanmar’s United Wa State Army (UNWA) now thrives with China as its main commodities export customer. Read about how the UNWA has emerged as a chief player standing in the way of peace efforts that seek to end the protracted conflicts near Myanmar’s northern border.

First Responder

Volcano watch

According to a 2005 US Geological Survey Report, 55 out of 169 active volcanoes in the US pose a high or very high threat to people. Yet, nearly half of all active volcanoes lack adequate seismometers. One geophysics professor warns that they haven’t ‘even gotten up to bare bones, let alone more sophisticated monitoring’. Thankfully, a new US Senate bill will call for the creation of a Volcano Watch Office to improve observatory coordination and provide better situational awareness of active volcanoes. Still, if you’re living in the shadow of a volcano, keep your fingers crossed…

Tonga builds climate resilience

The Tongan government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last week jointly launched the ‘Tonga Climate Change Trust Fund’, an important part of Tonga’s ‘Climate Resilience Sector Project’ that’s funded by the ADB. The initiative demonstrates that ‘Tonga is taking a “whole of government” approach’ to confronting climate change effects. The trust fund will finance small, community-based climate mitigation and adaptation projects, enabling grassroots groups to contribute to building Tonga’s climate resilience.

First responder tunes

Following last week’s music mention, here’s another: Kevin Davison, a fire fighter and paramedic in Nova Scotia, Canada, has released a song which he hopes will raise awareness of first responders’ mental health challenges. Listen to the track, When Those Sirens Are Gone, here.