Thursday, September 18, 2008

A New Cold War and Chemical Facility Security

There was an interesting article posted yesterday on StratFor.Com discussing some of the potential implications Russia’s recent confrontational tactics. The authors, Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, believe that recent Russian actions under Putin’s leadership foretell a reemergence of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. They then look at some of the potential consequences of that change in geopolitics.


Return of Proxy Warfare


Burton and Stewart point out that one of the key components of the conflict between the old Soviet Union and the United States was the use of proxies around the world to substitute for direct conflict between the two superpowers. Instead of directly fighting one another, and risking certain global nuclear destruction, both sides used a variety of allied nations and political groups to undermine the other side’s control of portions of their respective ‘spheres of influence’.


The authors point out that Putin was active in the KGB and that agency was the conduit for control of the Soviet Union’s proxy forces. They note that it must be assumed that Putin understands that type of conflict management and knows how it can be used to undermine the United States without the threat of direct involvement of the Russian government. For that reason they expect a resurgence of Russian support for many of the radical movements around the world.


Change in Russian Ideology


The demise of the Communist Party in Russia means that the in a modern Cold War, Russia will no longer have to rely on leftist radicals for the foot soldiers in their proxy war. At the authors note:


  • “Another consideration is that ideological change in Russia could mean Moscow will reach out to radical groups that the KGB traditionally did not deal with. While many KGB officers didn’t completely buy in to communist ideology, the Communist credo did serve as both a point of attraction and a limiting factor in terms of whom the Soviets dealt with. Since the Russian state is no longer bound by Soviet ideology — it is really all about power and profit these days — that constraint is gone. The Russians are now free to deal with a lot of people and do a lot of things they could not do in Soviet times.”

They note, for example, that: “former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is very popular in Moscow and very well-connected there, as are a number of other American white nationalists”. Those connections combined with the increased activity of the Russian Mafia (with many old ties to the KGB) in the United States may mean an increase in violent actions against the American government and civilian targets.


Potential Chemical Facility Targets


While the authors do not extend their discussion to potential target selection in the United States, it does not take much of a crystal ball to see that many chemical facilities could be used as weapons in a white supremacist war against minorities in this country. Many people have pointed out that a significant number of high-risk chemical facilities are located in or near minority neighborhoods. A series large scale toxic-chemical releases or chemical conflagrations in or around such neighborhoods would directly harm the targets of the skin heads’ anger. Such attacks would also politically destabilize large portions of the urban population.


Petrochemical facilities would be another potential target for Russian-backed terrorists. In this case the Russian incentive would be more economic than political. As we have seen in the last couple of years a disruption of petrochemical production tends to increase the price of oil. Since the Russian Federation is now a major producer/exporter of oil and natural gas, artificially high energy prices would increase the hard currency reserves of that country. Remember (Putin certainly will), it was the shortage of such currency reserves that was ultimately the downfall of the old Soviet Union.


The Way Forward


Burton and Stewart note that:


  • “In this new-old front, the Russian SVR’s activities will need to be studied carefully. Militant arms caches and ordnance used in attacks will need to be carefully reviewed for potential links to Russia, and potential militant training camps will need to be watched. Doing so will require quite a bit of adjustment for the U.S. intelligence community, which has spent so much effort over the past seven years focusing on the jihadist threat.”

The chemical community will also have to adjust their security outlook to include potential attacks by others than just Al Qaeda and their ilk. The rise of a new Russian-American Cold War could also increase the threat against high-risk chemical facilities within the United States.

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