21st Century Asian Arms Race

Highlights Of OEWatch For January 2018

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The first OEWatch for 2018 arrived later than usual. But it also marks a departure from the magazine’s usual format because of its latest focus. Since the cover text reads Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain nearly a third of its contents fall under a new section that examines how different countries are adopting–and struggling with–the new financial tool. OEWatch is available as a free download from the APAN Community Network.

Editorial duties are still shared between Tom Wilhelm, Karen Kaya, and Lucas Winter with contributing writers assigned to different subject areas. This month’s OEWatch runs 69 pages thick with seven sections and the longest one for the January issue is devoted to crypto topics.

The entries under Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain are highly recommended. Six pages of analysis are devoted to the “cryptoruble” or a digital variant of Russia’s currency. It’s speculated that Moscow will roll out a state-owned cryptocurrency as an alternative to cash payments and wire transfers for businesses hit by sanctions. The viability of a “cryptoruble” in separatist enclaves, e.g. Abkhazia and Donbas, and as a boon for Russia’s electricity providers are also discussed.

The late 2017 Bitcoin surge along with the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency now represents an opportunity and a challenge for the world’s most powerful countries. On page 9, for example, is a short take on China’s ambition to harness the blockchain for building new apps that benefit its economy. There are stunning revelations on page 10 and 11 about North Korea’s attempts to exploit cryptocurrency as an antidote to brutal sanctions. New policies to address growing cryptocurrency adoption in India (page 15) and Turkey (page 19) are assessed too. In India, for example, a crackdown on crypto may be looming after it has created a market for illicit real estate transactions.

The impact of cryptocurrencies in specific regions aren’t neglected either. In Malaysia (page 13) and Indonesia (page 14) there are now fears that Bitcoin and online payment sites are preferred channels for terrorist financing. Bitcoin’s potential in the MENA region is analyzed on page 17, where an Egyptian crypto boom is acknowledged. On page 22 is an amusing look at Venezuela’s experiment with its own national cryptocurrency and the bizarre plan to peg it with gold reserves…mined from deposits in the Venezuelan wilderness.

Once its breathless coverage of crypto-strategic matters ends, OEWatch assumes its conventional form. The Middle East, North Africa section is a sobering read. A handful of entries drive home a contrarian point: the US’ influence over the Arab world is crumbling. In its place are China, whose economic projects may have a role in rebuilding Syria (page 23), Russia, and Iran–two countries who are always hard at work cultivating new allies in the region.

The Africa section (page 33) starts with a melancholy forecast of the continent’s woes, with terrorism paramount. This is based on an essay by Jakkie Cilliers titled What drives instability in Africa and what can be done about it? from November last year. In fact, all of the section’s entries except for an update on Eritrea’s slow decline (page 37) are focused on terrorism in Nigeria, the Sahel, and Somalia.

The Latin America section is quite substantial and spans the recent loss of an Argentine submarine in the Atlantic Ocean (page 40), the success of Colombia’s peace deal with the demilitarized FARC (page 44), and Brazil’s efforts to establish military cooperation agreements among its neighbors. The Asia-Pacific section is dominated by Chinese news with the most alarming found on page 52, where the likelihood of a PLA invasion of the Korean Peninsula is excerpted.

The Russia, Ukraine, Europe section is stuffed with Moscow’s ongoing military revival. It begins with a long essay (page 57) about the mysterious “Wagner” private security firm that’s been fighting in Ukraine and Syria. Next is a serious look at a possible reorganization of the command structure for Russia’s nuclear forces. Furthermore, the Russian army’s prized self-propelled howitzers may receive shells with extended ranges in the near future (pages 59-60).

The government’s new rules for skirting sanctions are picked apart on page 61 while the existence of certain high tech weapons are questioned on page 65. The writers involved with OEWatch are often very critical of Russia but the information they highlight does reveal a national war machine that’s steadily increasing its strength. This trend won’t run out of steam any time soon. OEWatch features several dozen stories in a single issue. Readers should download copies to find what’s most relevant to their curiosity.

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