The 11 Most Powerful Militaries In The World

BusinessInsider \Jeremy Bender

Asymmetrical wars in Afghanistan, Vietnam, and now in Syria demonstrate all too clearly that relatively small numbers of belligerents can carry out successful military operations against superior forces.

But still, firepower is extremely important. A country’s projection of power relies in large part upon its military capabilities. Successfully being able to project and wield that power is a key diplomatic asset.

The website Global Firepower ranks the most powerful militaries in the world based on multiple factors, including available manpower, total labor force, and access to strategic assets. Nuclear capabilities are not included in the calculation.

Below are the 11 most powerful militaries in the world according to the 2014 rankings (click country names to see military assets data).

1. The United States

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USS Eisenhower Stringer . / Reuters
The U.S. defense budget is $612 billion. Despite sequestration and other spending cuts, the United States spends more money on defense than the next ten highest spending countries combined.

America’s biggest conventional military advantage is its fleet of 19 aircraft carriers, compared to 12 carriers operated by the rest of the world combined. These massive carriers allow the U.S. to set up forward operating bases anywhere and project power throughout the world.

The super power also has by far the most aircraft of any country, cutting-edge technology like the Navy’s new rail gun, a large and well-trained human force — and that’s not even counting the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

2. Russia

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Russia Tank Parade
Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS
Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s military is growing again. The Kremlin’s military spending has increased by almost a third since 2008 and is expected to grow 44% more in the next three years. Today, the Russian defense budget stands at $76.6 billion.

Russia currently has 766,000 active frontline personnel with a reserve force of 2,485,000 personnel. These troops are backed up by 15,500 tanks, the largest tank force in the world. Russian soldiers generally receive relatively mediocre training, however, and their equipment, like that tank force, is aging.

3. China

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Associated Press
China has embarked upon a relentless policy of massive military spending, with a 12.2% increase in spending over the past year. China’s defense budget stands at $126 billion but could unofficially be higher, prompting concern across Asia as China attempts to project its power to settle border disputes with Japan and the Philippines.

The size of the Chinese army is staggering, with 2,285,000 active frontline personnel with an additional 2,300,000 in the reserves. China also has a history of successfully stealing sensitive military technology, such as recently acquiring sensitive information about the new F-35.

4. India

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Wikimedia Commons
India’s defense spending is expected to rise as it pursues a modernization drive. Currently, it is estimated that India only spends $46 billion on its budget, and it is slated to become the fourth highest spender by 2020. It is already the world’s largest importer of military goods.

India has ballistic missiles with a range capable of hitting all of Pakistan or most of China. Indian military strategy has been dominated by its long-simmering conflict with Pakistan, although there have also been minor wars between China and India in the past.

5. The United Kingdom

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British Soldier Afghanistan Shamil Zhumatov/REUTERS
British Army Corporal Birendra Limbu of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, shows his rifle to Afghan children as he secures an area near an Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoint outside the town of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, July 13, 2011.

The U.K. is planning on reducing the size of its armed forces by 20% between 2010 and 2018, with smaller cuts to the Royal Navy and RAF. The defense budget stands at $54 billion.

Despite scaling back, the U.K. counts on being able to project its power around the world. The Royal Navy is planning on putting the HMS Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier that has a flight deck measuring at 4.5 acres, into service in 2020. The Queen Elizabeth is planned to carry 40 F-35B joint strike fighters around the world. Thanks to superior training and equipment, Britain could still hold an advantage over emerging powers like China, according to a leading think tank.

6. France

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French Soldiers Mali Joe Penney / Reuters
French soldiers stand on a street during a patrol ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Timbuktu, July 25, 2013.

France effectively froze its military spending in 2013 while cutting 10% of its defense jobs in an effort to save money for purchasing high-tech equipment. The country spends $43 billion a year on defense, which is 1.9% of its GDP, below the spending target set by NATO for member countries.

Despite a leveling off of its military budget, France is still highly capable of projecting force around the globe, with significant deployments in the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Senegal and elsewhere around the world.

7. Germany

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German Special Forces Fabian Bimmer/REUTERS
German military strength falls short of its economic strength on the world stage. Recently, Germany has started considering offering military support to eastern European NATO members. It has also considered a more active international role militarily. Germany spends $45 billion on its military annually, making it the eighth largest spender in the world.

Following the aftermath of World War II, the German population generally became anti-war. The German military was originally limited to a defense force, but has become more accustomed to taking an active international role following the breakup of Yugoslavia. Germany only has 183,000 active frontline personnel with an additional 145,000 members in the reserves. Germany eliminated mandatory service in 2011 in an attempt to create a professional army.

8. Turkey

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Turkish Military Honor Guard Umit Bektas/REUTERS
Turkish military spending is expected to rise 9.4% in 2014 over the 2013 budget. The ongoing conflict in Syria and possible clashes with the Kurdish separatist organization, the PKK, were key reasons for the spending increase. Turkey’s defense budget stands at $18.2 billion.

The NATO member has contributed soldiers to various initiatives around the world. The Turkish military took part in operations in Afghanistan, as well as in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Turkey also maintains a large military force in Northern Cyprus.

9. South Korea

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south korea, military exercise, jan 2011, snow  AP
South Korea has been increasing its defense spending due to both the increasing armament of Japan and China, and the constant threat from North Korea. South Korea spends $34 billion on defense.

South Korea has a relatively large military force for its small size. It has 640,000 active personnel with an additional 2,900,000 personnel in the reserves. South Korea also has 2,346 tanks and 1,393 aircraft. The South Korean military is generally well-trained and routinely takes part in military exercise with the United States. South Korea’s air force is also the sixth largest in the world.

10. Japan

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japan army self defines force US Army
Japan increased its defense spending for the first time in 11 years in response to growing disputes with China. It has also started its first military expansion in over 40 years by placing a new military base on its outer islands. Japan spends $49.1 billion on defense, the sixth most in the world.

Japan’s military is fairly well-equipped. It currently has 247,000 active personnel with an additional 57,900 in reserve. Japan also has 1,595 aircraft, the world’s fifth largest air force, and 131 ships. Japan’s military is limited by a peace clause in the constitution that makes it illegal for the country to have an offensive army.

11. Israel

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Iron Dome AP
Israel spends significantly more than its neighbors proportionally for defense. In 2009, Israel spent 18.7% of its national budget on defense. Israel’s defense budget stands at $15 billion.

A large percentage of the Israeli defense budget goes toward defense technology. One of the best examples of this is Israel’s Iron Dome, a missile defense shield that can intercept rockets shot into Israel from the Palestinian territories. Israel aims to replace Iron Dome with a laser defense shield called Iron Beam.

 

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OBL: THE UNTOLD STORY: Here’s The Real Reason Why Photos Of Bin Laden’s Body Haven’t Been Released

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World Observer

There are a lot of puzzled expressions on people’s faces when it comes to the subject of the late Osama Bin Laden and why the White House has not authorized the release of any pictures of the body.

Photographs and video were released of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, as well as post-mortem pictures of his criminal sons, Uday and Qusay, after Delta Force took them out. Why not release a few pictures of Public Enemy #1 to prove that he is dead and show the world what happens when you take on the US of A?

Matt Bissonnette, one of the SEAL Team Six operators on the raid, partially outs the reason in his book, No Easy Day. The book reads, “In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing. Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless” (No Easy Day, Chapter 15).

But this is perhaps the most measured and polite description that one could give of how operator after operator took turns dumping magazines-worth of ammunition into Bin Laden’s body, two confidential sources within the community have told us. When all was said and done, UBL had over a hundred bullets in him, by the most conservative estimate.

But was it illegal? Under the Laws of Land Warfare, a soldier is fully authorized to put a few insurance rounds into his target after he goes down. Provided the enemy is not surrendering, it is morally, legally, and ethically appropriate to shoot the body a few times to ensure that he is really dead and no longer a threat. However, what happened on the Bin Laden raid is beyond excessive. The level of excess shown was not about making sure that Bin Laden was no longer a threat. The excess was pure self-indulgence.

You may not care if Bin Laden got some extra holes punched in him, few of us do, but what should concern you is a trend within certain special operations units to engage in this type of self-indulgent, and ultimately criminal, behavior. Gone unchecked, these actions get worse over time.

The real issue is not that Bin Laden was turned into Swiss cheese, but rather that this type of behavior has become a Standard Operating Procedure in this unit. Of course, these attitudes and behaviors do not come out of nowhere. Endless back-to-back combat deployments, PTSD, broken families, and war itself all plays into it.

Now you know the real reason why the Obama administration has not released pictures of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse. To do so would show the world a body filled with a ridiculous number of gunshot wounds. The picture itself would likely cause an international scandal, and investigations would be conducted which could uncover other operations, activities which many will do anything to keep buried.

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Here is the video in which Shekau claims responsibility for the attack on the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri. Unsure if it has been uploaded here already. Whats most interesting about this video is that Shekau not only threatens attacks in Abuja but also warns that a mass kidnapping of Nigerian girls, as recently witnessed in Chibok, was going to happen… See excerpts of communique below “Western education is totally forbidden. Girls, you should return to your homes. In Islam it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves and in due course we will start taking women away and selling in the market… “My brethren wherever you are, in Abuja, Lagos, or the south-south, wherever you are, commence attacks. Even as an individual, take up your swords and slaughter anyone you come across in his sleep. Here is full English transcript below “The word ‘Giwa’ in Hausa means elephant; but I assure you that today the barracks bears no status of ‘elephant’. It has now turned to pig barracks or dog barracks or rat barracks… Your name is not Civilian JTF but Civilian Trouble. My advice to you so-called Civilian-JTF is you either flee, take up arms, get conscripted into the army or police, because what I’m telling you is that I have started a war against you. It is now that I have started war against you. It has just begun… You don’t know my madness, right? It is now that you will see the true face of my madness. I swear by Allah’s holy name that I will slaughter you. I cannot be happy if I don’t personally put my knife on your necks and slit your throats. Yes! I’ll slaughter you! I’ll slaughter you! And I’ll slaughter you again and again… Now our religion and our way of worship is nothing but killings, killings and killings! Kill and slaughter but don’t eat them… “By Allah, I will kill you. killing is my job. Let’s kill them all, we’d rather leave this world. Let the whole world perish! May Allah curse you! “Oh! Allah, they are your servants but are they assisting (Goodluck) Jonathan, they are your servants who pray but are jesting with the Koran, they are your servants but are assisting Clinton and Obama… Work has started. And for your information, western education is forbidden. University is forbidden, you should vacate university! You should leave university, I hate university. You should quit university, I hate it, bastard. “Western education is totally forbidden. Girls, you should return to your homes. In Islam it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves and in due course we will start taking women away and selling in the market… “Nigerians, let me let you know that you are in serious disaster. Don’t think we are northerners, because you are misunderstanding the whole thing. Let me make it crystal clear to you to save you from unnecessary distorted newspaper and radio analyses on issues you don’t understand. We are not fighting the north, we are fighting the world. And you will see us fighting the world. This is our job. I promise that we will kill all your (Muslim) clerics. Just like I killed Albani and it was splashed all over the newspapers. I’ll kill them all. Who was Albani? He was nothing. I’ll kill all of them. I’ll spare none but who follow Allah and the Prophet. Whoever follows Jews and the west is my enemy. “My brethren wherever you are, in Abuja, Lagos, or the south-south, wherever you are, commence attacks. Even as an individual, take up your swords and slaughter anyone you come across in his sleep. “My brethren, take up knives and start slaughtering people. Just pick up your knife and break into homes and kill. I heard some people asking Jonathan to relocate to the northeast to take charge of the fight against us, but let me tell you, Jonathan is too small. Let even Obama, the president of America, relocate to Nigeria and take charge; we will not be deterred”

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GERMANY CYBER RACISM: Blog Outing Online Racists Causes A Stir (Germany)

A blog which posts pictures and names of internet users who make racist comments online has caused a stir in Germany and has had its Facebook page shut.

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The blog, called Lookismus gegen Rechts, launched on platform Tumblr in February and has posted dozens of photos of people who have made racist comments online, including posts in support of the far right scene and the neo-Nazi party, the NPD. It aims to expose those making the comments by publishing their Facebook photos or profiles next to their comments. It keeps the first name and photo of the commentator but deletes the person’s surname. Stern magazine described the blog as a “bizarre collection of relatively hateful statements”. Many of the photos are equally bizarre with the keyboard racists pictured on beaches, topless in snow and in swimming trunks. The founder of the blog, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Stern: “I have set the bar high in terms of the hatred of the person and the stupidity of the comments [for it to appear on the blog].”

The blog aims to “take the wind out of the sails of” the commentators, the founder added. He got the idea after reading a string of hateful comments on the Facebook page of a national newspaper which posted an article about the victims of right-wing violence. Lookismus gegen Rechts has stirred a debate in Germany about whether postings online should remain anonymous or whether those who post racist comments should be named and shamed. On Twitter and Facebook the blog has been met with a mainly positive reaction. But is it going too far by posting photos and names? Facebook locked the profile page of Lookismus gegen Rechts on Wednesday evening. By that point the page had 2,700 likes. And the founder said that the far right commentators were “denouncing themselves” by making their posts public.
© The Local – Germany

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ISRAEL-CHINA: Analyst warns Chinese incursion could ‘drain’ critical Israeli tech

Yoram Evron

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COURTESY OF GOOGLE IMAGES

Israel has undergone a debate over whether to allow major Chinese penetration in the business sector of the Jewish state.

Chinese companies, which began their effort in 2010, have sought controlling shares of major Israeli producers, most of them non-defense firms. One Chinese company, Bright Food, has been negotiating for control over a leading Israeli food distributor, Tnuva, with other investors seeking a majority share in Clal Insurance.

On April 9, President Shimon Peres began a visit to Beijing, the first in more than a decade by someone in his position. Peres was said to have been encouraging China, deemed the second largest economic power in the world, to expand cooperation with Israel, particularly in non-defense areas.

A leading Israeli analyst, Yoram Evron, has warned that Chinese control could “drain” Israel of critical technology and assets. In a report for the Institute for National Security Studies, Evron, a lecturer at Haifa University, said Chinese interests are often not compatible with those of Israel.

“Israel cannot afford to open its doors to Chinese companies and institutions without a thorough review process,” Evron said.

The INSS report, titled “Chinese Investments in Israel: Opportunity or National Threat?” said the watershed in Chinese investments took place in 2011. At the time, China’s ChemChina spent $1.44 billion in acquiring 60 percent of Israel’s Makhteshim Agan, a world leader in agricultural chemicals.

“There have also been direct investments of more than half a billion dollars in Israel industries, mostly in the fields of IT, advanced medical equipment, and agricultural technology,” the report said. “Furthermore, agreements of cooperation involving hundreds of millions of dollars have been concluded between leading academic institutions in Israel and Chinese universities.”

Critics have warned that Chinese investments could harm Israel’s strategic interests. They cited Beijing’s support for Iran and Saudi Arabia, two leading energy suppliers to China.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 8.  Reuters/Jason Lee
“The ostensible conclusion is that even if it is both impossible and undesirable to block the access of Chinese companies to the Israeli market, they must be seen as an extension of a regime that poses a risk to the state of Israel, and should therefore be denied access to projects and assets of national importance,” the report said.

The United States was also said to have relayed uneasiness over China’s penetration of Israel. Over the last decade, Washington has accused Jerusalem of allowing the transfer of defense technology for China’s attack platforms, including the Harpy unmanned aerial vehicle.

“As long as Israel remains dependent on the United States, it must examine the ramifications of growing closer to China for its relations with Washington,” the report said.

The report urged the Israeli government, which canceled several defense contracts with Beijing, to review proposed Chinese investments. Evron said Chinese firms under Western sanctions should not be allowed to operate in Israel.

“Such a review process must start now as part of a framework that review all foreign investments in Israel, and be carried out by a permanent body formed precisely for this purpose,” the report said. “This body would take into account the gamut of political, strategic, economic, and technological aspects involved in Chinese activity in Israel and the region.”

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EXTREMISM IN THE LEVANT: Europe and Eurasia: Syria Spillover: The Growing Threat of Terrorism and Sectarianism in the Middle East and Ukraine-Update

INSIDE REPORTING

Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Corker, Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity. I’m pleased to be joined by Matt Olsen and Derek Chollet. I ask that my written testimony be entered into the record.
Before addressing the issue of extremism in the Levant, let me first offer a quick assessment of developments in Ukraine, as you requested.

Ukraine

A great deal is at stake in Ukraine today. Less than 48 hours ago in Kyiv, not far from the Shrine of the Fallen, Secretary Kerry made clear America’s deep and abiding commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in the face of Russian aggression, and our determination to ensure that the people of Ukraine get to make their own choices about their future. That’s a bedrock conviction for the United States. On my own visit last week, I was profoundly moved by the bravery and selflessness of Ukrainians, and profoundly impressed by the commitment of the new interim government to reach across ethnic and regional lines and build a stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine, with good relations with all of its neighbors, including Russia.

While we and our partners worked to support Ukraine’s transition, Russia worked actively to undermine it. Russia’s military intervention in Crimea is a brazen violation of its international obligations, and no amount of Russian posturing can obscure that fact.

Ukraine’s interim government, approved by 82 percent of the Rada, including most members of Yanukovich’s party, has shown admirable restraint in the face of massive provocation. They need and deserve our strong support. President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the entire Administration have been working hard, steadily and methodically, to build urgent international backing for Ukraine, counter-pressure against Russia, reassurance to other neighbors, and a path to de-escalation. Our strategy has four main elements, and we look forward to working with Congress on each of them.

First, immediate support for Ukraine as it deals with enormous economic challenges and prepares for critical national elections at the end of May. On Tuesday, Secretary Kerry announced our intent to seek a $1 billion loan guarantee. That will be part of a major international effort to build a strong economic support package for Ukraine as it undertakes reform. That effort includes the IMF and the EU, which laid out its own substantial assistance package yesterday. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and his colleagues are committed partners, and understand that the Ukrainian government has difficult reform choices to make, after inheriting an economic mess from Yanukovich. Ukraine’s considerable economic potential has never been matched by its business environment or economic leadership, and now is the time to begin to get its financial house in order and realize its promise.

Second, deterring further encroachment on Ukrainian territory and pressing for an end to Russia’s occupation of Crimea. President Obama has led broad international condemnation of Russia’s intervention, with strong, unified statements from the G-7 and NATO, as well as the EU, whose leaders are meeting today in an emergency summit. We are sending international observers from the OSCE to Crimea and eastern Ukraine to bear witness to what is happening and make clear that minorities are not at risk. This was never a credible claim by Russia, nor a credible pretext for military intervention.

We are making clear that there are costs for what Russia has already done, and working with our partners to make clear that the costs will increase significantly if intervention expands. Today, the President signed an executive order authorizing sanctions – including asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or that purport to exercise authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv. This E.O. will be used in a flexible way to designate those most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine.

The State Department today also put in place visa restrictions on a number of officials and individuals. We continue to look at every aspect of our relationship with Russia, from suspension of preparations for the Sochi G-8 Summit to pausing key elements in our bilateral dialogue.

Third, bolstering Ukraine’s neighbors. We are moving immediately to reinforce our Washington Treaty commitments to our allies. As Secretary Hagel stressed yesterday, we are taking concrete steps to support NATO partners, through intensified joint training with our aviation detachment in Poland and enhanced participation in NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltics.

And fourth, Secretary Kerry is working intensively to de-escalate the crisis, in order to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty while creating a diplomatic off-ramp. We support direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, facilitated by an international contact group. As the President and Secretary Kerry have emphasized, we do not seek confrontation with Russia. It is clearly in the interests of both Ukraine and Russia to have a healthy relationship, born of centuries of cultural, economic and social ties. The will for that exists among Ukraine’s new leaders. But it cannot happen if Russia continues down its current dangerous and irresponsible path. That will only bring greater isolation and mounting costs for Russia.

Our strategy, it seems to me, needs to be steady and determined, mindful of what’s at stake for Ukrainians as well as for international norms. We also need to be mindful of the enduring strengths of the United States and its partners, and the very real weaknesses sometimes obscured by Russian bluster. Most of all, President Putin underestimates the commitment of Ukrainians, across their country, to sovereignty and independence, and to writing their own future. No one should underestimate the power of patient and resolute counter-pressure, using all of the non-military means at our disposal, working with our allies, and leaving the door open to de-escalation and diplomacy if Russia is prepared to play by international rules.

Extremism in the Levant

Now let me turn very briefly to the Levant. The turbulence of the past three years has had many roots: rising aspirations for dignity, political participation and economic opportunity in a region in which too many people for too many years have been denied them; the ruthless reaction of some regimes; and the efforts of violent extremists to exploit the resulting chaos.

Nowhere have these trends converged more dangerously than in Syria. The conflict, and the Asad regime, have become a magnet for foreign fighters , many affiliated with terrorist groups from across the region and around the world. As Matt will describe, these fighters, mostly Sunni extremists, represent a long-term threat to U.S. national security interests. From the other side, Asad has recruited thousands of foreign fighters, mostly Shia, to defend the regime, with active Iranian support and facilitation. The hard reality is that the grinding Syrian civil war is now an incubator of extremism – on both sides of the sectarian divide.

We face a number of serious risks to our interests as a result: the risk to the homeland from global jihadist groups who seek to gain long-term safe havens; the risk to the stability of our regional partners, including Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq; the risk to Israel and other partners from the rise of Iranian-backed extremist groups, especially Lebanese Hizballah fighting in Syria; and the risk to the Syrian people, whose suffering constitutes the greatest humanitarian crisis of this new century.

These are enormous challenges. They require a steady, comprehensive American strategy, aimed at isolating extremists and bolstering moderates, both inside Syria and amongst our regional partners. I’d highlight four elements of our strategy:

First, we are working to isolate and degrade terrorist networks in Syria. That means stepping up efforts with other governments to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, and cutting off financing and weapons to terrorist groups. It also means stepping up efforts to strengthen the moderate opposition, without which progress toward a negotiated transition of leadership through the Geneva process or any other diplomatic effort is impossible. Strengthened moderate forces are critical both to accelerate the demise of the Asad regime, and to help Syrians build a counterweight to the extremists who threaten both the present and the post-Asad future of Syria and the region. None of this is easy, but the stakes are very high.

Second, we are pushing hard against Iranian financing and material support to its proxy groups in Syria and elsewhere. We are also working intensively with partners in the Gulf and elsewhere to curb financing flows to extremists.

Third, we are increasing cooperation with Turkey, and intensifying our efforts to strengthen the capacity of Syria’s other endangered neighbors:

– In Jordan, which I visited again last month, we are further enhancing the capacity of the Jordanian Armed Forces to police its borders and deepening intelligence cooperation on extremist threats. The staggering burden of supporting 600,000 Syrian refugees has put serious strain on Jordan’s resources. We deeply appreciate Congress’ continued support for significant U.S. assistance for Jordan, which has totalled about a billion dollars in each of the last couple years, complemented by substantial loan guarantees. I can think of no better investment in regional stability than our efforts in Jordan.

– In Lebanon, we are supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces to deter spillover, better monitor the border with Syria, and help bolster the government’s policy of “dissociation” from the Syrian conflict. The formation of a new Cabinet last month provides a renewed opportunity for the United States to engage, and Secretary Kerry reaffirmed our strong commitment to Lebanon’s security and economic stability directly to President Sleiman and at the International Support Group for Lebanon ministerial meeting in Paris yesterday.

– In Iraq, we are surging security assistance and information sharing to combat the rising threat from ISIL, while pressing Iraqi leaders to execute a comprehensive strategy – security, political and economic – to isolate extremists, especially in Anbar. That was one of the main purposes of my last visit to Baghdad at the end of January. I appreciate the close consultation we’ve had with you, Mr. Chairman, and with other members of the Committee on these crucial issues, and we look forward to continuing to address your concerns, which we share.

And finally, we are supporting global efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria, through the $1.7 billion we have already contributed. We are working hard to facilitate the delivery of cross-border aid, using the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution to expand humanitarian access. We are also providing substantial aid to refugee populations in neighboring countries.

Beyond the Levant, we continue to work with our Gulf partners to enhance security cooperation, blunt the extremist threat, and support sound economic development in transitioning countries. This will be an important focus of the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this month.

Mr. Chairman, the rise of extremism in the Levant poses an acute risk for the United States, and for our regional partners. It is essential that we intensify our efforts to isolate extremists in Syria, limit the flow of foreign fighters, bolster moderate opposition forces, ease the humanitarian crisis, and help key partners like Jordan defend against spillover. Thank you again for your focus on these vitally important challenges, and I look forward to continuing to work with you.

 

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TO SPY OR NOT SPY: ‘Concerns’ Raised About Commercial Spy Satellite Merger, But No Showstoppers: NGA Director Long DEC 2012

BreakingDefense

By COLIN CLARK

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A study by the intelligence community raised industrial base “concerns” about the merger between commercial spy satellite companies GeoEye and DigitalGlobe but found no showstoppers.

That’s the word from Letitia Long, director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). I asked Long today if industrial base issues had been considered by the government as it mulls the merger of America’s only two companies that make and operate spy eyes in the sky. She said Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for intelligence, and Jim Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, had ordered a study. It raised “concerns” – but no showstoppers – about some of the subcontractors who serve the two companies. Several of them are single-source companies, meaning they are the only ones who provide certain services, software or parts.

Long said that she didn’t know how those subcontractors would be affected by a merger. Since NGA is the principal customer for GeoEye and for DigitalGlobe, Long’s views carry a great deal of weight. But it was DNI Clapper who ordered the cuts — said to be as much as 50 percent in 2013 — to the 10-year, $7.3 billion program known as EnhancedView. And it is those cuts that drove the two companies to exchange rival bids, with DigitalGlobe putting together the current deal to buy GeoEye.

But some of the rationale for the cuts seems hard to fathom. Long said this afternoon that “There has not been a change in demand for commercial imagery.” So, one is tempted to ask, if the demand remains robust why would deep cuts be in order. Long appeared to answer that when she repeated Clapper’s claim that they aren’t actually cutting the budget for commercial imagery; they are just “reducing the slope of the growth.” In fact, she said, “we are still growing what we are buying from the commercial providers.”

But the Pentagon and intelligence community clearly see benefits accruing from a merger, beyond simple cost cutting. Long said she could “imagine an integrated constellation” of satellites, one which NGA could order to produce an image once instead of twice. For those who think tasking a satellite is simple, bear in mind there is a highly classified committee that does nothing but decide who gets to use which government satellites when. Launches, she said, could be better phased to “benefit the government.” And Long said she looked forward to “access to their merged libraries” of digital imagery.

Beyond those merger comments Long would not go, saying simply that NGA is “supporting requests that we get from” the Department of Justice and DoD.

But the merger is the single greatest topic of debate, rumor and analysis here at the annual Geoint conference among the roughly 4,400 attendees.

Here are some of the data points we’ve gleaned today:

GeoEye is getting less business each week from the government than is DigitalGlobe, a process which one close observer said was being done “with aforethought.”

GeoEye received a three-month contract from NGA, versus a one-year deal for DigitalGlobe in early summer. This, say some observers, was what finally drove the two companies into each others arms. The merger was announced one month later.

Many observers of the merger are deeply troubled by the Justice Department’s Sept. 24 decision to engage in a second, deeper round of information gathering of the two companies. Some of our readers will remember this happened during the XM-Siriu merger talks. The case of the two satellite radio companies is not dissimilar . Both involve companies that are the only ones who do what they do in America. Both are, sort of, all about space companies. Of course, the commercial spy satellite companies provide a crucial national security function, one which Clapper and Long were both careful to support in their comments today. “There is no bigger fan of commercial imagery than I,” Clapper offered. “I was a fan of it before it became fashionable.” Along with sequestration, look for news about this around Christmas.

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GODFATHER, THE SYRIAN VERSION: Mafia Port In Italy Will Host Transfer of Syria’s Chemical Weapons

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BY MATTHEW SCHOFIELD\McClatchy 

A couple of months back, the drugs and weapons found beneath a thicket of red and white cranes in the mountains of shipping containers at Italy’s port in Gioia Tauro led U.S. and Italian law enforcement to arrest 26 members of the Gambino and ’Ndrangheta crime families.

It’s the sort of thing expected of a port nicknamed “The Cathedral of the Mafia,” the place through which an estimated 80 percent of Europe’s cocaine flows.

Later this spring, though, Danish and Norwegian sailors will transfer the worst bits of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal onto the American MV Cape Ray, and U.S. sailors will take it out to sea for destruction. Experts excitedly note that this will make the world a safer place.

Making the world safer isn’t the sort of thing commonly associated with this port, found about where the laces would begin near the toe of the boot of Italy.

“At first there was worry that we wouldn’t be safe with the chemicals here, but this is our chance to play a role in world peace,” resident Antonio Forelli said as he stood near the port in February. “We like that. It’s different for us.”

The nearby coastline is dramatic, with orange and olive groves rolling down steep hills toward sharp cliffs or sandy beaches. Medieval towns dot the landscape. The always active Stromboli island volcano is occasionally visible on the western horizon.

The port is considered one of the foundations of the wealth of the ’Ndrangheta crime family, a Mafia clan that accounts for an estimated 3.5 percent of Italy’s annual gross domestic product and is said to make more money in a year than McDonald’s.

If destroying a massive and lethal chemical-weapons arsenal is a dangerous road-trip movie, this is the sort of block they’d pick in Hollywood as a location for the story.

And make no mistake: What will happen here once the ships arrive is of an epic scale.

“I think the importance of eliminating Syrian chemical weapons has been underestimated by politicians and journalists alike,” Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow and chemical weapons expert with the Arms Control Association, wrote in an email answer to questions. “The elimination of Syrian chemical weapons is an historic and critical milestone in the international community’s 90-year effort to end the scourge of chemical weapons _ a pariah even among the awful tools of war.”

Right now Danish and Norwegian ships are loaded with all of Syria’s mustard gas, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and something short of half of the most dangerous precursor chemicals for mixing into the deadly sarin and VX gases. Once they have all of those dangerous precursors, a load expected to total about 617 tons, they’ll steam away from Syria. To meet them, the MV Cape Ray will leave its spot along the Spanish Atlantic coast. Gioia Tauro is about halfway across the Mediterranean Sea.

When they meet here, the port _ one of Europe’s busiest _ will shut down for 48 hours. The crane thicket will pull the containers of dangerous chemicals from the Danish and Norwegian ships, and load them straight onto the Cape Ray. A U.S. defense official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to talk to journalists, said the transfer would be ship to ship, that the chemicals wouldn’t set down even temporarily on Italian docks.

With that cargo, the massive Cape Ray will push off into the Mediterranean, where its two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems will be used to neutralize the chemicals. It will be the coda to the Syrian chemical weapons story that’s gripped much of the world since last August, when missiles carrying deadly sarin rained down on two Damascus suburbs, killing hundreds.

But for those who work in the field, there have been few arsenals more troubling than Syria’s for more than a decade. Until recently, the size and lethality of the stockpile could only be guessed. The stockpile was secret, kind of. Unofficially it was a Syrian answer to Israel’s equally almost-secret nuclear and chemical weapons programs. Neither nation’s stockpile could be completely secret, in order to work as a threat, but mystery shrouded both.

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, concern about the country’s weapons had been growing fast, as experts wondered whether it was truly secret, truly safe. Among the resistance to the government of Bashar Assad, there’s a sizable contingent of fighters who are tied to groups that either are associated with or in competition with al Qaida.

Many think that a fear of terrorists obtaining such a sizable chemical weapons stockpile has shaped international, and certainly Western, reaction to the war. An estimated 150,000 people are estimated to have died in that conflict.

Jean Pascal Zanders, one of the world’s leading experts on chemical weapons policy, said the savagery of that war should never be overlooked. At the same time, eliminating the Syrian arsenal is a sign of global hope.

Syria’s arsenal is something of a white whale in the anti-chemical-weapons world, in recent years perhaps trailing only the stockpiles in Russia and the United States, both of which are in the process of a decade-long destruction program.

Syria was one of seven nations that hadn’t signed the Chemical Weapons Convention but were thought to possess such weapons. The others are Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan. Experts question the size and age, and even existence, of several of those arsenals. And while North Korea is always a wild card, Syria was thought to be the greatest threat to use or lose its weapons. The desire to convince Assad to destroy the stockpile was high.

“The hope is that the progress in Syria will lead to progress elsewhere, at least in the region,” Zanders said. “What’s happened to date is very good news for the rest of the world. What is expected to come soon is even better.”

Michael Luhan, the spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, noted that the international deadline agreed to with Syria for the destruction to be complete is June 30, and that “We’re not at all on track, according to the original plan.”

Even an amended deadline for removing all the most dangerous chemicals, those that the Cape Ray will destroy, by the end of this month looks a bit dicey, as the Syrian pace for delivering chemicals to the boats waiting at Latakia appears to have slowed. The last delivery was on April 4, and the one before that was March 20. At this point, less than half of the most dangerous (Schedule 1) chemicals have been loaded.

However, while past chemical weapons-destruction programs have taken many years, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has accomplished quite a bit in Syria in seven months. All of Syria’s manufacturing, mixing and chemical loading equipment has been destroyed, the organization says. With the removal of all the mustard gas, no chemical weapons remain in Syria today, according to the organization, though there are chemicals that can be mixed to form them (the group says 86 percent of the Schedule 2 chemicals needed for that process are on shipboard at this point, however).

Richard Guthrie, a former project leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the progress would have been a dream scenario a year ago.

“In five years, we won’t look back and be disappointed that deadlines weren’t met,” he said. “If we’d followed normal process, we’d still be in the middle of the planning stage. But this wasn’t a normal situation, and I believe that when we look back, we’ll be thrilled that a serious threat was eliminated so quickly. That’s how we should define success.”

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British ‘jihadists’ give tour of living quarters in Syria

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British Muslim fighters, who claim to be in Syria, have posted a video online giving a tour of their living quarters. One of the men explains why they have made the video and goes on to describe their living conditions. “There has been a lot of talk about this so called ‘five-star Jihad’ and the way that the muhajadeen have been living, in these villas, in these mansions and cupboards full of sweets. Wallahei (I swear to god), it’s far from that,” he said. Report by Sarah Kerr.

Reproduced courtesy of ITN via Youtube

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IRAN: IRGC Intelligence Opposes Needed Medical Furlough For Hossein Ronaghi

 

Tehran’s district attorney’s office has informed the family of incarcerated human rights activist, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki that the IRGC Intelligence is preventing the granting of a medical furlough for Hossein.

According to Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor, IRGC (the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) has stated that, because, Hossein Ronaghi continued his activism while on the previous medical furlough, they will not permit another medical furlough, even if his incarceration jeopardizes his health.

The family of this political prisoner, who have asked the officials of the Islamic Republic to help secure his release and save his life, say, “We have repeatedly written to various officials in the Islamic Republic and have asked them to help save the life of our son. But so far, all of this letter writing and following up on his case, have not had any result. Hossein, like all the other political prisoners, is not guilty of any crime and must be released.”

According to a previously published report on Kaleme website, a Judiciary official, replying to Hossein’s voicing concern about unhealthy prison conditions and the lack of proper medical treatment for himself and other ill political prisoners, said, “You will eventually die in prison, and after a few weeks of the media noise, everything will become quite.”

According to Hossein’s family, he told them during a prison visit that he will launch a hunger strike in early Mordad (July 23rd is the beginning of month of Mordad) if the authorities continue their negligence and their disregard for human life,

The family of this human rights activist, expressing their concern about the state of his health, said, “Tehran’s District Attorney’s office has told us that the IRGC Intelligence opposes granting Hossein a medical furlough and that we must speak with IRGC’s interrogator about Hossein’s medical furlough.

Hossein has decided to launch a hunger strike due to the the authorities’ disregard for a human life and health. In the light of Hossein’s decision, and due to his existing illnesses, we are extremely concerned about his health and his life.

Anymore, we just don’t know which Judicial official we must turn to next for help and to get them to listen to our heartaches and to help solve our problem.

Due to the lack of specialized facilities, the lack of access to his treating physicians, and lack of proper nutrition, Ronaghi has recently encountered gastrointestinal bleeding and has not been able to take his needed medication for his prostate and kidney diseases.

According to previously published reports, despite Hossein suffering from kidney malfunction and prostate and bladder inflammation, was ordered back to prison by the district attorney prior to the presidential election.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was among those arrested after the 2009 disputed presidential election. He was arrested by IRGC Intelligence and tried at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Pirabbasi, and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Last August, while Ronaghi was on his first medical furlough, he, his brother and father, Ahmad and Hassan Ronaghi, along with 33 other earthquake aide workers, were arrested at the Sarand earthquake relief workers’ camp in the earthquake-stricken area of Azarbaijan.

In that case, Ronaghi was sentenced to 2 years and six months imprisonment on the charges of “Assembly and collusion with intent to act against the national security in the earthquake-stricken areas”, “Threat to public health through distribution of moldy bread”, and “Disobeying police orders”, thus, making his sentence increase to a total of 17 years and six months imprisonment.

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