MS Risk Blog

Chinese Maritime Presence

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Beijing’s maritime presence means not only its Navy, which experienced an astonishing development in the last two decades. China has built a large coast guard, a merchant fleet and it has one of the biggest shipbuilding industry as well. Its finishing fleet and the building of ships capable of moving under arctic conditions also should not be forgotten. Consider the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC) tender published in June 2018 to build nuclear-powered icebreakers.

To meet the ever-increasing demand of the Chinese economy, the country created the Road and Belt initiative, to try securing its land-based supplies. These infrastructural projects may conflict with the interests of Russia or Central Asian countries, therefore China cannot rely solely on land-based trade routes, it has to have maritime routes as well, which needs to be protected.

The Navy has multiple roles, such as to assert and enforce China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, to gain maritime control over the South China Sea, to deny any military activity within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the Nine-Dash Line or the chain of islands also called the Chinese pearls, despite lacking any internationally recognised right to do so, and to protect Chinese commercial sea lines and communication. Especially in case of the Malacca Strait and the Persian Gulf. The Navy also helps to demonstrate China’s status as a leading regional power and an equal global power to the US.

In a little more than two decades, from a largely coastal force, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) became a modern force of multiple classes of ships, not based on obsolete Soviet technology. The Navy has destroyers, corvettes, frigates and all of these classes are in serial production. According to the US Office of Naval Intelligence, Beijing was focusing on the quality improvement of its Navy, not the quantity. With the established shipbuilding industry, the focus is now on to build those ships required to achieve aims of the PLAN.

These objectives are impressive, the Chinese Navy has some strategic weaknesses. It has only two aircraft carriers at the moment, with the third is under construction, therefore the Navy does not have comprehensive fleet air-defence system, It can operate effectively within the range of land-based air support. The other weakness is, that it is focusing on anti-surface warfare and its anti-submarine forces are poor. Its commercial fleet is vulnerable to submarine attacks. One should not forget about the human factor of the Navy. No one really knows the true capabilities of the Navy commanders or the quality of the training of the crew.

Although Chinese leaders expressed it several times that their military development is peaceful, it leads to an arms race in the region. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India are just a few of those countries concerned about the continuously growing Chinese naval presence.

Chinese geopolitical intentions and objectives are not always clear. It may want to rival the US in the region and be the dominant sea power; it may use its economic power to change the global political and economic order to its favour or it may try to create a regional trade block stretching from Japan to the Persian Gulf. Whichever is the true aim of China, it sees its maritime power as an essential tool to achieve regional or global power.

Corruption Still a Major Problem in Romania

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Corruption is still a serious problem within Romania and clashes between the ruling Romanian party and the government agency tasked with fighting corruption have only escalated in the last few months following the firing the of The National Anticorruption Directorate’s chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi on 9 July 2018.  Prosecutors, under Kovesi, secured a series of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.Justice Minister Tudorel Toader first called for Kovesi’s dismissal in February, saying she had exceeded her authority and damaged Romania’s image abroad. While a series of sustained protests followed her firing a significant protest occurred in the beginning of August that has only escalated tension within the country and wider region.

It was first reported that on 9 August that Romanians who lived and worked abroad begun arriving back in Bucharest to participate in an anti-government protest where they are demanding that the left-wing government resign, call an early election, and to protest the government’s move to implement new laws that critics say will weaken the nation’s fight against corruption. An estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages and lack of opportunities within the country. On 10 August there were small anti-government protests in several cities, and a handful of protesters had arrived in the large square outside the government offices in Bucharest where the demonstration will be staged. Amid fears of violence at the protest, riot police called for a peaceful demonstration. It was estimated that tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the ruling Social Democrat and in the capital Bucharest riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and hundreds of protesters needed medical attention. As the protests continued throughout the night, riot police used a water cannon and increasingly sprayed tear gas into the crowd. Video footage posted on social media show police beating non- violent protesters holding their hands up. Centrist Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the police’s disproportionate use of force.On 11 August it was reported that more than 450 people had been injured in the protests. Eyewitness reports suggest that what had been a peaceful protest against government corruption degenerated when a hard core of trouble-makers attacked the police. Riot police responded with baton charges. The authorities’ actions appeared to lack discrimination, with apparently peaceful demonstrators being sprayed with water cannon and teargas.

By 14 August more than a hundred Romanians and rights groups had filed criminal complaints against riot police over their violent response to the anti-corruption protest in the capital Bucharest.  Video recordings emerged show police beating journalists and non-violent protesters who were holding their hands up. Prosecutors said they were investigating the riot police, Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Speranta Cliseru, the Bucharest prefect who authorized the use of force, on suspicion of abusive behaviour, abuse of office and negligence. On 15 August the general prosecutor of Romania, Augustin Lazar, has said that all investigations into the violent clashes from the protest of the Diaspora will be impartial. Already, there were some 192 protesters that filed complaints against the Romanian Gendarmerie.

On 17 August, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila defended the use of force by police to break up anti-government protests in Bucharest.  The Romanian media reported that Dancila sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claiming that centre-right President Klaus Iohannis and other politicians had attempted to “violently remove a legitimate government.” She asserted that the authorities acted legally in their efforts to defend government offices from protesters who tried to break through police lines. Romania’s interior minister Carmen Dan, on 19 August, reported that the ministry had identified up to 1,000 people who committed acts of violence during the protest. Citing a 90-page ministry report, Dan said police were being investigated on suspicion of committing five cases of abuse against non- violent protesters. She claimed media had broadcast misleading images intended to harm the left-wing government. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of Romania’s ruling party, on 21 August, called the recent anti- corruption protest that left 450 people injured an attempted coup d’etat. “I saw an attempted coup to overthrow the government,” Dragnea said to media.  The Social Democratic Party leader also accused multinational companies of financing anti-graft protests that erupted in 2017 over fears the Social Democrats were backtracking on anti-graft efforts. Romanian prime minister Viorica Dancila, on 24 August, said that she has witnessed an assault on some state institutions after the protest. She accused those who failed to come to power after the elections of trying to take over power by “undemocratic means,” She also told her cabinet members that they don’t have the right to concede to this pressure and to further divide the society.

On 20 August Romanian authorities reported that they are probing the death of a man who sustained injuries during the anti-government protest. Police said the 62-year-old man died in a hospital in southern Romania where he was being treated for internal bleeding. Hospital director Valentina Roibu called for the probe to avoid suspicions surrounding the cause of death. The man was hospitalized after suffering bleeding and vomiting. The Department for Emergency Situations later said the man had pre-existing conditions, including high blood pressure. A statement said he sought medical help for a nosebleed during the riot, but had refused to be hospitalized.

On 6 September Romania’s justice minister nominated a little-known regional official, Adina Florea, to take over the post of national anti-corruption prosecutor. In a document outlining her views around how the anti-corruption office operates, Florea, a prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, wrote the institution has operated at times in a “dysfunctional” way and accused some prosecutors of illegal activities in pursuing cases. To become official, Florea’s appointment will have to be approved by Iohannis, a centrist politician often at odds with the ruling leftists over corruption policy.

It has been announced that on 10 September The Declic and Rezist Zurich civic groups had bought advertising space at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland to run video recordings of the violent protests in Bucharest. The video also contained a message for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asking her to take a position against abuses in Romania. Bachelet has an office in Geneva.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has long struggled with deep-rooted corruption,  however under Kovesi,the country had taken steps to rein in high-level graft, winning popular support and praise from Brussels. Under Kovesi the agency had successfully prosecuted thousands of government officials, lawmakers and business leaders.  On 17 August The co-leaders of the European parliament’s Green group  called on the European commission to launch its rule-of-law mechanism, which is being deployed against Poland and debated for Hungary. The Greens, who sit with separatist parties to boost their numbers, are only the fifth-largest group in the European parliament, limiting their influence. However the party’s call for a European parliament debate on Romania is likely to win support from some liberal and centre-right MEPs. Romania is likely to face growing scrutiny as it prepares to take up the EU’s rotating presidency for the first time.

Cyber-attack against SingHealth’s IT System

Posted on in Cyber, Singapore title_rule

In July 2018, Singaporean healthcare system SingHealth was the victim of a cyber-attack. Approximately 1.5 million patients’ medical data was stolen, among them the medical record of the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) experts recognised unusual activity on one of SingHealth’s IT databases on 4 July, but by that time, the attackers had stolen online credentials and covered their tracks. A police investigation confirmed that data was stolen between June 27 and July 4.

Authorities suspect the attack was state-sponsored, particularly considering the high profile of the key target. The investigation showed that there were several attempts to obtain the Prime Minister’s data. Such data can be used by belligerent countries or local terrorist organisations to plan covert operations against politicians and decision makers. The CSA chief executive said at a news conference it is better not to speculate what the attacker had in mind. Further, the Communication and Information Minister did not name any state in the interest of national security.

Sophisticated attack

The attack on SingHealth shows a great deal of sophistication; according to the CSA, the attackers planned ahead and set up several entry points to the system to avoid detection. They were not preparing for a hit-and-run attack; rather, they built their persistence on the target network. It is also one of those rare cases when the final target of the attack is known, as evidenced by the attempts to breach the system and access the Prime Minister’s data. The other 1.5 million accounts gathered by the attackers are likely a “bonus”, however, this kind of data is highly sought by criminal organisations. Medical data contains not only information related to an individual’s health, but also contains easily identifiable personal and financial details. Until now, the medical data has not surfaced in the public domain and there is no information proving the authorities have tried to contact the attackers.

In most cases of cyber-attack, the final target is unknown. Even if it is unearthed, targets are unlikely to admit that their applied defences were not strong enough to protect their data, or that of their clients. According to SingHealth, they had taken steps to thwart the hackers, including closing entry points to their network and asking their employees to change their passwords. The latter is critical, as these passwords were used to penetrate the system and obtain the medical data.

Cyber attacks and mitigation

The attack on SingHealth is just one example of the dozens of different cyber-attacks, which can target not only people using the internet, but redirecting the online communication of any service, or the changing of commands of any program. All of these activities can have as devastating effects, such as stealing online credentials and using them to penetrate a system for financial gains. Cyber-attacks are among the most significant modern threats. According to Sonicwall’s 2018 Cyber Threat Report, there were 9.3 billion malware attacks registered in 2017, which is a nearly 20% increase compared to the number of attacks in 2016. These attacks are targeting not only individuals, but critical infrastructures, state organisations and businesses as well. Most people are familiar with malicious e-mails that include odd-looking attachments or have heard stories of stolen online credentials.

Unfortunately, there is no 100% perfect protection against cyber-attacks, but there are some best practices everyone advised to follow to minimise the chances of becoming a victim of a cyber-attack. One of the most important defences is our choice of passwords. Sometimes, choosing a simple password that is easy to remember can also be easy to break. Further, using only one password for all the online accounts would make one’s online presence extremely vulnerable to an attack. Once the password is obtained, access is granted to one’s social media accounts, online shopping accounts and so on. As most of the attacks targeting individuals arrive via e-mail, it is important to avoid opening e-mails with unknown origin. Security experts highly recommend building this awareness into our daily online routine. The human component in cyber security is perhaps the most critical, as ill-informed users are often the gateway for cyber-attackers to obtain personal data.

Ebola outbreak highlights security challenges for MONUSCO in DRC

Posted on in Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations title_rule

The challenges and limitations faced by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) have been highlighted during recent efforts to respond to the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Aid workers are unable to enter some areas outside of Mangina, a community located approximately 30km of the town of Beni, one of the epicentres of the outbreak. These areas are considered “red-zones”, corresponding to level four on the scale employed by the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). This means that health-care personnel cannot enter in order to monitor the spread, or offer treatment to anyone who has contracted the deadly disease.

Despite the presence of MONUSCO forces, North Kivu remains host to what from the outside may appear to be a bewildering array of rebel groups and militias. These groups, according to their own statements and declarations, have varied ideologies and causes that they allegedly seek to represent. These ideologies fall across a wide range. On one end are the ethno-nationalists claiming to represent ethnic/tribal interests. On the other end are Islamists such as the Allied Democratic Forces trying to create an Islamic state. The latter have been accused of ties to al-Qaeda and its affiliate al-Shabaab, but these allegations remain unverified.

Still other groups appear to serve as little more than vehicles for the ambitions of their leaders, or an excuse to engage in banditry under the cover of representing tribal or local interests. The names used (or given by outside observers) for these groups also vary from the grandiose which results in impressive acronyms such as ADF, APCLS, FDC, FLDR-FOCA, FLDR-CNRD, NDC-R to the more informal for local militias (mai mai) such as ‘Simba, ‘Charles’ and ‘Mazembe’. These groups are frequently accused of murder, rape, abduction and other abuses against civilian populations. They have been known to fund their activities by occupying mining sites and operating roadblocks across the province.

Side note: in October 2017, a two-minute-long video was shared by several pro-Islamic State channels showing a small group of fighters who claimed to be in the DRC. They called themselves “The City of Monotheism and Monotheists.” No further information regarding this group or its activities has emerged since the release of this video despite initial interest from both the media and online community of Islamic State supporters.

These groups are unlike the rebels of the March 23 Movement (aka M23) who were defeated in 2014 by the Congolese Army (FARDC), with the independent support of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). Rather, these rebel forces offer a much smaller and elusive target. This is despite often operating from known bases and fielding forces that number from hundreds up to several thousand fighters.

These smaller groups do not engage in the type of large-scale military offensives or attempts to seize major cities like Goma attempted by M23. Instead, these groups launch hit-and-run attacks and then retreat into the bush or disperse and blend into civilian populations. They do not engage in prolonged head-on battles over towns and territory. The effectiveness of these tactics was demonstrated in the evening of 07 December 2017, when 14 MONUSCO peacekeepers were killed and 53 were wounded in an attack  on their base at Semuliki located in Beni Territory, North Kivu. The attackers were fighters belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group. A further five FARDC soldiers were also killed in the attack.

Restructuring the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade

Despite having some 15,533 troops, United Nations peace-keepers have struggled to defeat these rebel forces and militias as its forces are dispersed across North Kivu and across other regions in the eastern DRC. The FIB, was critical to the defeat of the M23 rebellion and the later targeting that same year of bases belonging to rebels of the ADF. However, they have proven less successful than hoped in more recent efforts to target other rebel groups and militias. This recent lack of progress prompted a July 2018 report by the United Nations which recommended a reconfiguration of the force to make it “more flexible, agile and able to conduct both offensive and protection of civilians operations across North Kivu”. This reconfiguration, expected to be completed by 30 September, includes replacing an infantry battalion with a Special Forces company, strengthening the intelligence unit and introducing a new utility/attack helicopter unit.

This plan is currently opposed by the Government of South Africa, which fears a reduction in the size of the FIB may result in its forces (as well as those of other troop contributing countries, like Malawi and Tanzania) suffering greater casualties. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how a more ‘flexible and agile’ FIB will help MONSUCO achieve greater success. Even at its current size, this force has proven inadequate to provide security across this vast territory, while the FARDC and other government forces deployed in the region remain unreliable partners. A worsening of the latest round of Hema-Lendu fighting in Ituri Province, which has already seen mass killings and the displacement of more than 350,000 persons, or eruption of other conflicts, would only place a further strain on UN peacekeeping resources.

Due to the current scale of the challenge faced by MONSUCO, it is unlikely that this reconfiguration of the FIB will be enough to meet the threat posed by the rebel and militia forces currently terrorising the eastern regions of the DRC. Even with greater mobility and a larger contingent of Special Forces, the FIB will still be left in a position akin to ‘swatting at flies’. The sheer number and highly mobile nature of potential targets threatens to overstretch these resources.

There is no question that the FIB under its current force structure, even with the infantry battalion which is to be replaced, has already suffered from this problem. That healthcare workers have not been able to access areas near Beni, where the UN also has a Nepalese infantry battalion and am Formed Police Unit (Indian), has only served to draw attention to this fact. The notion that a force restructure is seen as necessary is understandable.

It will now be the responsibility of all governments that provide troops and support to the MONSUCO mission to ensure that the future performance of the FIB be closely monitored and that any shortfalls or lessons learned receive a quick and full response. A failure to do so may lead to a further deterioration in the security situation in the eastern regions of the DRC and further inhibit the ability of the UN and other actors to respond to the current Ebola outbreak.

Turkey’s Economic Crisis and its Dispute with the US

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It all begun last month when tensions between the US and Turkey due to a disagreement over the fate of North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson. Turkey imprisoned Brunson in October 2016, claiming he had ties to a group that Erdogan blames for the failed coup earlier that year. When Turkey failed to release Brunson in July, the Trump administration sanctioned two top officials in the Turkish government. The dispute between the two NATO allies continued with both sides threatening each other with imposing sanctions on one another. Turkey vowed it would not succumb to threats. This indeed led to further escalations earlier last week as the US doubled its tariffs on metal imports from Turkey. This worsened the economic crisis for Turkey’s currency, the lira, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since January. Nonetheless, the court refused to release Mr Brunson, and the government in Ankara increased tariffs on imports from the US of cars, alcoholic drinks and leaf tobacco. While this managed to recover the value of the lira slightly, a fresh tweet from President Trump fuelled the dispute as he accused Turkey of had “taking advantage of the United States for many years” and that he was “cutting back on Turkey”. Last Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him [Mr Brunson] quickly.”

Mr Brunson has denied charges of espionage, but faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. The US insists the pastor, a long-time Turkish resident, is “a victim of unfair and unjust detention”. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of showing an “evangelist, Zionist mentality”. The standoff appears to be one of the most serious crises between Turkey and the United States in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. While the diplomatic crisis deepens, the lira is still going into meltdown and continues to fall again this week. This turmoil has prompted widespread selling in other emerging markets, sparking fears of a global crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed his country will not be brought to heel amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis with the United States. Without naming the US directly, the Turkish leader on Monday said that there was no difference between attacks on the country’s economy and attacks on “our call to prayer and our flag”. In his speech, Erdogan denounced Washington for declaring “economic war on the entire world” and holding countries “for ransom through sanction threats”. However, he urged Turks to shore up the currency by not trading in dollars and euros. The central bank also said it would provide all the liquidity Turkish banks needed, as it seeks to keep money flowing in the financial system.

Yesterday morning, the US Washington rejected an attempt by President Erdogan to solve the worsening crisis in Turkey’s relations with the United States by linking the fate of an American pastor to a Turkish bank accused of sanctions-busting. More specifically, Ankara offered to release Andrew Brunson, an evangelical preacher who was detained by the Turkish authorities and accused of links to the 2016 coup attempt, in return for relief for Halkbank, a majority state-owned bank, according to reports from Washington. The bank is facing billions of dollars in US fines over accusations that it masterminded the purchase of gold to pay for oil imports from Iran into Turkey. However, the US officials have rejected a deal, saying that Mr Brunson must be released before other issues can be discussed.

As the diplomatic deterioration continues, and the economic crisis deepens, speculation is rife that Germany could be ready to offer Turkey financial aid when President Recep Erdogan visits the country next month, but analysts say it’s unlikely that Ankara would ask for help. Moscow is also expected to stand by Turkey if the crisis continues. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Ankara on Tuesday, branding the US sanctions an illegitimate policy. Reports amid all speculations, state as the financial situation due to the sanctions has left citizens with little or no option than to advance towards the cryptocurrency to survive.

Whilst the entire world watches the two NATO allies continuously failing to end this dispute, an announcement by Russia could spark greater renewed tensions and even sanctions as analysts fear. Yesterday, Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, says it will begin delivering its advanced S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Turkey in 2019. Washington has voiced concern over NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missiles, arguing that its deployment could risk the security of several U.S-made weapons that Ankara uses. U.S. lawmakers have been working to block the delivery in response to the American pastor’s arrest and Turkey’s pledge to buy Russian S-400 missile systems.