Target Centermass


Beijing Secretly Fires Lasers to Disable U.S. Satellites

Filed under: — Gunner @ 12:51 am

If this is accurate, then it is a surprisingly huge provocative move by the Chinese.

China has secretly fired powerful laser weapons designed to disable American spy satellites by “blinding” their sensitive surveillance devices, it was reported yesterday.

The hitherto unreported attacks have been kept secret by the Bush administration for fear that it would damage attempts to co-opt China in diplomatic offensives against North Korea and Iran.

Sources told the military affairs publication Defense News that there had been a fierce internal battle within Washington over whether to make the attacks public. In the end, the Pentagon’s annual assessment of the growing Chinese military build-up barely mentioned the threat.

“After a contentious debate, the White House directed the Pentagon to limit its concern to one line,” Defense News said.

The document said that China could blind American satellites with a ground-based laser firing a beam of light to prevent spy photography as they pass over China.

According to senior American officials: “China not only has the capability, but has exercised it.” American satellites like the giant Keyhole craft have come under attack “several times” in recent years.

Although the Chinese tests do not aim to destroy American satellites, the laser attacks could make them useless over Chinese territory.

The American military has been so alarmed by the Chinese activity that it has begun test attacks against its own satellites to determine the severity of the threat.

Satellites are especially vulnerable to attack because they have predetermined orbits, allowing an enemy to know where they will appear.

“The Chinese are very strategically minded and are extremely active in this arena. They really believe all the stuff written in the 1980s about the high frontier,” said one senior former Pentagon official.

There has been increasing alarm in parts of the American military establishment over China’s growing military ambitions.

Military experts have already noted that Chinese military expenditure is increasingly designed to challenge American military pre-eminence by investing in weaponry that can attack key systems such as aircraft carriers and satellites.

At the same time, China is engaged in a large-scale espionage effort against American high-tech firms working on projects such as the multibillion-pound DD(X) destroyer programme.

While at times the Chinese may find itself on the same side of an issue as the U.S., that in no ways paints them as friends or even tepid allies. One could argue that this is just a response eventually to be expected by a historically secretive China, but Taiwan and any other nations currently enjoying a relatively stable Asia Pacific should be sweating, especially coupled with the recent Chinese effort to modernize their military. Taiwan’s security is based solely upon the ability to fend off any invasion; should China be able to establish a toehold on the island and defend its logistical lines, if only briefly, then Taiwan is lost. The ability of the U.S. to support Taiwan in such an engagement lies only in prevention — our naval and air forces can only defend the island and our current military can not evict the Chinese from a conquered Taiwan.

Key to all of this is either complete surprise by the Chinese or an established ability to withstand an initial American naval response. China is now working to blind our eyes in space and they have already confronted our intel gathering by air on their borders, and their ability to successfully confront the U.S. Navy on and below the high seas is increasing.

Yes, their intentions are not good. No, we are not keeping pace with or even really seeming to realize their rapidly growing challenge.


Army Mounts Coup in Thailand

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:44 pm

Today’s top story is a military coup in Thailand while the prime minister is in New York. Hey, while the cat’s out of town, the mice get down.

Troops and tanks guarded the streets of Bangkok last night after the army chief launched a coup while the billionaire prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was out of the country.

Lt-Gen Sondhi Boonyaratkalin said he was acting on behalf of the nation’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

There were fears that clashes could break out between army factions, some loyal to Mr Thaksin and others to the king. People on the outskirts of Bangkok said they saw 35 lorries each with 10 armed members of the Queen’s Regiment, the equivalent of the Brigade of Guards, travelling towards the city centre.

Tanks guarded the entrance to Government House, a sprawling Italianate building, and two others were stationed nearby as soldiers lined up along the walls of the compound.

A general said that the deputy prime minister and the defence minister, two of Mr Thaksin’s closest allies, had been arrested.


A witness to what seemed like a classic coup described the atmosphere as “very calm”, as about 100 civilians milled around “smiling and taking photographs”. Mr Thaksin, 57, a telecoms tycoon who came close to acquiring Liverpool Football Club two years ago, has caused resentment in the army by making hand-picked appointments and is accused of policy failures which ignited a separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim south. A senior military officer said on television and radio that the constitution, cabinet and parliament had all been suspended and that martial law was in force in Bangkok.

He said that a council for political reform, with the king as head of state, had seized power in the capital and neighbouring provinces.

“There has been no struggle,” he said. “We ask for the co-operation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience.” The statement emphasised that the coup was temporary and that a commission would be set up to decide on political reforms and oversee an election. Officials said that Gen Sondhi and other military leaders had met the king at the royal palace, apparently to work out an interim government. Gen Sondhi said: “The council found it necessary to seize power as of now.”

Mr Thaksin, whose opponents accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, was in New York, where he was due to address the United Nations General Assembly. Television news showed him saying that he was sacking Gen Sondhi and declaring a state of emergency in Bangkok. He ordered troops to follow only “legal orders” but the screens went blank as he was speaking. Most inter-national television stations, including the BBC and CNN, went off the air and the country’s six public broadcasters flashed a continual message that forces loyal to the king had taken control “to maintain law and order”. Images of the king were shown repeatedly.

Thailand has been in crisis for months. At times, as many as 100,000 people have demonstrated to demand the removal of Mr Thaksin. In April he called and won a snap election but the result was annulled after allegations of cheating by his Thai Rak Thai Party. He has been serving as a caretaker prime minister since then.

Thailand has a long history of military coups since the Second World War, but the last was 14 years ago, when dozens died as security forces opened fire on protesters.

Let’s not forget that this is the same prime minister that came up with the grand scheme of dropping millions of paper birds for peace in Thailand’s violence-ridden and heavily-Islamic southern provinces.

As is commonly the case when international developments of this nature are breaking, I usually head over to Publius Pundit. Once again, I am not disappointed as A.M. Mora y Leon and Robert Mayer provide updates, links and analysis worth reading.



Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:40 pm

April 25, ANZAC Day.

Doesn’t ring a bell? John at Argghhh!!! does an amazing job of explaining a treasured day of some of our staunchest friends and allies, those blokes in Australia and New Zealand.

As for me, I’ll mark the with the haunting Gallipoli-based tune “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by the Pogues.

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

[full lyrics can be found here]


Philippine Army links 16 to Coup Plot

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:37 pm

Apparently there was more to the story than just rumors, as the Philippine military has identified several soldiers tied to a planned coup against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The Philippine army has questioned at least 14 lieutenants and sergeants linked to a plot to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a general said on Wednesday, adding he was confident no coup attempt would ever succeed.

Lieutenant-General Hermogenes Esperon, head of the army, said authorities had identified about 16 junior officers who were planning to carry out a coup. Two of them are absent without leave.

But he said the army has convinced most of the officers to abandon the plot and has disciplined a few uncooperative junior officers.

“I am confident that we have a solid armed forces,” Esperon told reporters. “Any coup attempt would not succeed because we have a solid army.”

The plot, named “Oplan Hackle”, was meant to create a military junta and involved the mass release of officers facing trial for leading a failed uprising in July 2003.

Citing intelligence reports, Esperon said the revolt was planned for either last weekend when graduates of the Philippine Military Academy gathered for a reunion or on March 25 when Arroyo will address the graduating class of 2006.

“We are not saying that we have totally pre-empted ‘Oplan Hackle’,” he told a news conference at the main military camp in Manila.

“We continue to investigate to find out more details. But, we are ready to take action against any group that will destabilise this country, this government.”

Esperon also said authorities had identified the military units of about 200 soldiers that had been recruited to take part in the plot.

Rumours of unrest are common in the Philippines after a dozen coup attempts since the 1980s but talk of a plot has been growing as the 20th anniversary of the army-backed “people power” uprising against former dictator Ferdinand Marcos kicks off this week.


A second army-backed popular uprising five years ago chased out Joseph Estrada from power, allowing Arroyo to rise from the vice-presidency.

Arroyo appealed to soldiers and police officers to thwart efforts by her political enemies to grab power.

“I call upon our soldiers not to cede a single town to those who dream of breaking up the country,” she said after laying a wreath at the military’s hero’s cemetery in Manila, part of her noticeably low-key commemoration of Marcos’ ouster.

I find it interesting that all parties identified are lieutenants and sergeants. I’d be interested in looking into the history of successful military coups to see if there were any that didn’t directly involve higher brass. Perhaps some of those linked will roll over on a bigger fish.

Back when the story was merely rumors being investigated, I blogged the following:

Should a successful coup occur, there is no way to predict the nature of the government that would emerge to fill the void. Nevertheless, I would not shed a tear at the departure of Arroyo. We are talking about a woman who politically survived a morass of corruption, in part because of a willingness to exile her own husband. More disgusting than the corruption, however, is Arroyo’s pathetic willingness to undermine our efforts in Iraq by paying terrorists $6 million and withdrawing Philippine troops from the Iraqi theater, all for the ransom of one truck driver.

I stand by that.


Lost World Found: New Species Found in New Guinea

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:35 pm

Boldly going where no scientist had gone before, an expedition has found a biological treasure trove in a land essentially untouched by the presence of man.

A lost world teeming with previously unknown or presumed extinct wildlife that has remained untouched by humans and is as close to the Garden of Eden as is possible exists in the jungle-covered mountains of Indonesia’s Papua province, scientists say.

An international team of 13 experts, which spent a month surveying more than a million hectares in the Foja mountains in the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, said they had identified 40 new species and expected to record many more once they had completed their research.

Scientists regularly find new species but the team claims it is the unexplored aspect of the area, which rises to 2,200 metres (7,200 feet) above sea level, which makes it unique. “It’s an example of what the whole of New Guinea was like 50,000 years ago when there was no hunting, no impact of logging and no environmental desecration,” Stephen Richards, of the South Australian Museum and one of the team, said at the release of the findings in Jakarta. “There’re very few places left on earth where there has been so little human impact.”

“It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” said Bruce Beehler, one of the team’s leaders.

Highlights include the first bird species discovered on New Guinea since 1939, a honeyeater with an orange face-patch and a golden-mantled tree kangaroo, thought to have been hunted to near extinction. The scientists took the first known photographs of Berlepsch’s six-wired bird of paradise, described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century, and the golden-fronted bowerbird conducting its mating ritual of building a metre-high bower.

Evidence of the lack of human presence was how many animals showed no fear of the researchers. Two long-beaked echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, allowed scientists to pick them up and take them back to their camp to be studied.

National Geographic has some interesting photographs of the discoveries. Sadly, no word of any dinosaurs yet, but they’re probably saving that find for a new theme park.


Philippine Army Probes Troops Amid Coup Rumours

Filed under: — Gunner @ 9:45 pm

There are whispers, allegations and denials of a possible coup among the Philippine military against troubled president and slimy invertebrate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The Philippine military said on Monday it had begun an investigation to unmask soldiers who may be involved in a plot to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but senior commanders sought to play down the threat.

The armed forces, undermined by corruption and lack of funds, have spawned at least a dozen coup attempts since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by a “people power” uprising in 1986.

Arroyo, who survived the desertion of allies and an attempt by her political foes to impeach her last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, had put down a brief mutiny by 300 young officers in July 2003.

“I think we can say there’s a threat,” General Generoso Senga, the armed forces chief, told a news conference, flanked by the commanders of the army, navy and air force.

“There were indications of some intentions but these were different from their capabilities,” he added, dismissing the threats as “not serious enough”.

Senga declined to elaborate on any specific plots the military had uncovered, appealing to politicians not to drag the troops into their power struggles.

“We have a mission to do, secure our country and police against different armed and terrorist threats,” he said at the main military camp in Manila, admitting that they were distracted by the political crisis.

Last Friday, Raul Gonzales, the justice secretary, said the government had learned of a plot by Arroyo’s opponents to seize power that day, the fifth anniversary of her rise to power after a “people power” uprising ousted predecessor Joseph Estrada.

There may indeed be little or nothing to the current rumors. Still, unless there is a major change in the Philippine political landscape, one could reasonably think that a coup would be an eventuality, especially given the recent history of the nation and Arroyo’s troubled presidency.

Should a successful coup occur, there is no way to predict the nature of the government that would emerge to fill the void. Nevertheless, I would not shed a tear at the departure of Arroyo. We are talking about a woman who politically survived a morass of corruption, in part because of a willingness to exile her own husband. More disgusting than the corruption, however, is Arroyo’s pathetic willingness to undermine our efforts in Iraq by paying terrorists $6 million and withdrawing Philippine troops from the Iraqi theater, all for the ransom of one truck driver.

Corrupt and willing to finance and cower to terrorists — no, I won’t shed a tear when Arroyo is gone. Rather, that’ll be a fine day to burst forth in an enthusiastic, if awkward, Happy Dance.


Iran Moving Financial Assets

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:57 pm

Having learned a harsh lesson a quarter of a century ago, Iran is preparing itself financially for possible United Nations sanctions.

Iran is moving its foreign assets to an undisclosed destination, apparently to shield them from any U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, the central bank governor was quoted as saying on Friday.

Iran, threatened with referral to the Security Council for possible punitive measures, has bitter memories of its U.S. assets being frozen shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“We transfer foreign reserves to wherever we see as expedient. On this issue, we have started transferring. We are doing that,” Ebrahim Sheibani told the ISNA students’ news agency when asked about the need to shift Iran’s holdings.

There was no immediate confirmation of the Iranian action, but Sheibani’s remarks indicated how seriously the Islamic republic is taking the threat of U.N. sanctions.

The West suspects Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic program. Tehran denies this.

The United States and the European Union want the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the Security Council when the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s governing board holds an emergency meeting on February 2.

Russia and China, which both have major commercial interests at stake in Iran, have urged caution.

China’s state-run press on Friday urged Iran to halt nuclear work and return to talks with Britain, France and Germany, but argued against taking Tehran to the Security Council.

“Negotiations remain the best option, as sanctions will muddy the waters,” the China Daily said in an editorial. “The crux of the matter is encouraging Iran to come back to negotiations with the European Union.”

The EU trio scrapped the talks last week after Iran removed IAEA seals on uranium enrichment equipment and resumed a suspended nuclear research program. U.S. and EU officials say there can be no more talks unless Tehran reverses these steps.

“The international consensus is unmistakable and important,” said the China Daily, which generally echoes official thinking. “Iran should respond to the diplomatic efforts of the international community.”

Europe cuts off donations and pushes for referral to the UNSC. China urges more, certainly pointless negotiations. Iran begins a financial three-card monte.

Follow the money.

ISNA asked Sheibani whether the money was being moved to Asian accounts, as reported in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, which said on Thursday that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council had ordered foreign holdings to be sent to Asia.

Sheibani did not say where the funds were going. He told reporters earlier this week that Iran stood ready to repatriate the money it held abroad should this prove necessary.

It is far from clear how placing assets in Asia or anywhere abroad would protect them from being frozen as few governments or major banks would be willing to flout U.N. sanctions openly. [emphasis added]

Sure, go ahead and get this matter to the UNSC. That is a mere formality already doomed to worthlessness in the matter. As I’ve stated in the past, this matter will almost certainly only end in flames.


Japan Alters Course in Quest for UNSC Seat

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:47 pm

Japan has split from its long-time allies in the campaign for expansion of the United Nations Security Council, deciding to direct efforts more toward its own case for a permanent seat.

Japan has tactically split from its joint effort with India, Germany and Brazil to win a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, diplomats confirmed yesterday.

Although Japan says it will continue to work closely with the three countries, in an alliance known as the G4, it decided not to join them in a new UN General Assembly resolution filed on Thursday.

The three allies have reiterated their call for the 15-member Security Council to be expanded to 25, with six new permanent seats but no new vetoes yet. But Japan says it wants to pursue negotiations with the US first and has also initiated talks with its regional rival China.

The US supports only two “or so” new permanent members, including Japan, the UN’s second largest financial contributor. Japanese diplomats also fear tabling another General Assembly resolution would further alienate African Union countries, who have tabled a separate proposal.

The 53-member AU proposal is unlikely to succeed, but any final deal will need African support to win the necessary two-thirds ap-proval in the 191-member General Assembly.

While this may scuttle current expansion plans and certainly will undermine them, I believe this increases the likelihood of some sort of expansion actually being enacted. Such expansion, however, will probably not be to the extent that had previously been proposed.

Previous blogging on the expansion efforts:


Aussie Troops Likely to Stay in Iraq Past May

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:24 pm

With the contributions of supposed allies remaining at nonexistant or token, true friends like Australia continue to step up to the plate.

Australian troops guarding Japanese engineers in Iraq are likely to remain beyond their May deadline, Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday after Japan extended the mandate for its non-combat troops for up to a year.

Australia, a strong ally of the United States, has about 1,300 military personnel in and around Iraq, including forces training the Iraqi military and 450 troops providing security for the Japanese military engineers in southern Al Muthanna province.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Thursday the country’s non-combat troops in Iraq would remain there for up to a year after their current mandate expires on December 14.

“That doesn’t mean automatically that the Japanese unit will stay there the entire 12 months. They will certainly stay until May and could well stay beyond May,” Howard told local radio.

“I think it’s unlikely that we will be out by May, it’s far more likely that — and this will depend a great deal on how things unfold — that we will be there for a longer period.”

While seemingly a small commitment, it is actually a sizable gesture as Australia, along with Britain and other members of the Commonwealth, are prepping to expand their role in Afghanistan (see here).

The move will probably not play well on the Australian homefront, especially politically.

Australia’s main opposition Labor has repeatedly called for the government to adopt an exit strategy for Iraq and Labor’s defense spokesman Robert McClelland said on Friday that Australia should be focusing on fighting terrorism in its own region.

“Coalition forces must not be perceived in Iraq as an open-ended security safety net,” McClelland said in a statement.

When Howard decided in March to send the extra 450 troops to Iraq to protect the Japanese engineers, an opinion poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper found 55 percent of Australians were opposed, while only 37 percent were in favor.

A poll in August showed that almost 80 percent of Australians believed the country’s troops should be withdrawn from Iraq by next year.

Australia was among the first to join the Iraq war and has promised to keep forces there until Iraq can manage its own security.

“I see no point in flagging withdrawal at the very time when the government and the people of Iraq need reassurances of support,” said Howard, but adding that he does not want Australia’s troops to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary.

Despite any lingering or enhanced unpopularity, I do not see this as having a lasting effect against Prime Minister Howard. I have always felt the Aussies to be kindred spirits to Texans, and I think this spirit is ideally exemplified by an Australian rescued from captivity by thugs in Iraq, Douglas Wood.

Is this a bad time to remind readers that the Democratic presidential campaign of John Kerry, through the candidate’s sister, tried to undermine our relations with our Australian allies?


Japan Set to Loosen Army Curbs

Filed under: — Gunner @ 9:38 pm

After years of consideration and debate, Japan has finally proposed changes to its constitution that would free some of the post-WWII constraints on its martial forces. What next? Well, looks like more years of consideration and debate.

Japan’s dominant political party has backed constitutional reforms that would permit the pacifist nation to take a more assertive military stand.

As the centrepiece of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Liberal Democratic Party endorsed a draft version of the national constitution that recognises Japan’s right to maintain a military force and play a stronger role in international security.

The proposed charter retains the first part of the 1947 constitution’s Clause 9, which renounces war as a means of settling international disputes, and still limits the scope for military action.

But a significant change in the wording makes it clear Japan can maintain military forces, rather than merely self-defence forces.

This change in Japan’s position has long been urged by the US which, as the occupying power in 1947, imposed the pacifist charter on the defeated nation.

Although the LDP has stretched constitutional restrictions to the limit – non-combatant units have been sent abroad many times in the past decade, including to Cambodia, East Timor and Iraq – the changes would allow Japan to take part in armed peacekeeping.


The proposed amendments would not come into effect for several years. To change the constitution, the LDP needs to win a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The amendments would then be put to a national referendum, needing the approval of a simple majority of voters.

I support this move whole-heartedly, as last month I blogged the following:

It is late 2005. Japan’s constitutional constraints are the results of the nation’s aggressiveness over sixty years past. It is time for a revision — it is time for a great nation and regional and global power to unshackle itself, say it can act responsibly on the global stage, and become the contributor that it should be.

Unsurprisingly, China has firmly stated its opposition to the proposed constitutional changes, much preferring to have a pacifist Japan off its shore. Hmmm …. there might be some history between those two.

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