March 29, 2016 This week’s graphic shows the lights on the Korean Peninsula that are visible from space at night, which illustrates the cost of North Korea’s strategic irrationality. Rationally speaking, North Korea couldn’t possibly launch a nuclear strike. Therefore, it is critical for North Korea to appear irrational. South Korea, China and the U.S. understand North Korea well enough to endure its assertions of power and aggression without panicking. The regime appears resilient and in control. The result is a formula for stalemate… a stalemate of the indifferent. But the cost of this stalemate is the blackness of the North Korean night. The cost of maintaining the regime is a dramatic lack of economic development. Whatever wealth exists is diverted to maintaining the bluff, which in turn requires a delicate internal balance that demands not only massive repression but also, above all, isolation.
June 16, 2017 The United States has benefited from the shale revolution more than any other country. Not only does it have extensive shale formations, but most of its wells are located entirely within its territory, so producers don’t have to compete for jurisdiction or share their profits.
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, is a process by which oil deposits found in shale rock formations are extracted. Shale oil, also called tight oil, is enmeshed in shale rock, which is located thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface and is generally less permeable than other rock types, making deposits more difficult to access – difficult, but not impossible.
In the 1990s, producers began to combine fracking with a separate process known as horizontal drilling, which allows a well to be drilled vertically, then, when the drill hits the desired sedimentary layer, it is turned to drill parallel to the layer. In 1991, a well was successfully horizontally drilled and fractured for the first time, and in 1998 the first profitable horizontally fractured well was completed. The supply of U.S. shale gas, and later shale oil, has increased ever since.
Aug. 20, 2016 Aleppo is the center of gravity in the conflict between the Assad loyalists and Syrian rebels. Aleppo is Syria’s largest city and pre-war commercial capital. It is located in the wider province of the same name, which has a long border with Turkey – the rebels’ main staging ground. Many different battles are raging in the province of Aleppo. They involve regime forces, different rebel factions, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Islamic State and separatist Kurds.
Feb. 16, 2016 This week’s map highlights Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The current monarch, the ailing 80-year-old King Salman, is the last of the sons of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern kingdom. After him, third generation princes will most likely take the throne. But the Saudi royal family has exponentially increased in size since King Abdulaziz’s generation. There are many grandsons and thus claimants to the throne and the other top jobs in the kingdom, but no real succession system in place.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who died in January 2015, decreed a succession law and created an Allegiance Council consisting of nine living sons of the founder and 16 grandsons who would chose the new crown prince when the incumbent would assume the throne upon the death of a monarch. This system has been over-ridden by the need to follow the informal line of succession and the practice of appointing a deputy crown prince and a second deputy prime minister. Consequently, the current king elevated his 30-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to the position of deputy crown prince and gave him sweeping powers – ranging from defense minister to leader of a newly formed strategic council overseeing energy and economic affairs – a move that has created apprehension within the royal family.
Nov. 24, 2017 The Battle of Stalingrad had its origins in a pivotal German miscalculation at the start of the war. Operation Barbarossa, the code name for Germany’s invasion of the east, was designed to destroy the Soviet Union, securing Germany’s eastern flank and thereby guaranteeing German control of continental Europe. The invasion began on June 22, 1941.
April 26, 2016 There is widespread interest in the rising tensions over the waters east of China. China has become increasingly assertive in the region, and regional powers from Japan to Singapore have become alarmed at China’s behavior. The Chinese recently built an island in the South China Sea, apparently as a potential airbase. The United States sent a carrier battle group there as well. For all the activity and discussion, it is not clear that people really understand what all this is about. This week’s map will help clarify the situation.
There are two seas to the east of China – the East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea to the south, with Taiwan positioned in between. Air and naval forces based in Taiwan are, at least in theory, able to prevent movement between the two seas. The Taiwan Strait is fairly narrow and movement by the Chinese to Taiwan’s east forces China to pass near the Philippines to the south, or through the Ryukyu Islands to the north. Passage through the Ryukyu Islands could be blocked by hostile naval forces or by land-based aircraft and missiles.