Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 - anticipation, disappointment & confrontation

The number 13 is considered unlucky by many and 2013 could also be considered to be a rather disastrous year too. In many ways 2013 was marred by terrorism, war, confrontation and natural disasters.

African turmoil

January saw the French military begin a five-month intervention into the Northern Mali conflict, targeting the militant Islamist Ansar Dine group. Meanwhile in the north of the continent thirty-nine international workers and one security guard died in a hostage crisis at a natural gas facility near In Aménas, Algeria [Wikipedia].

The continuing conflict in the Central African Republic saw President François Bozizé flee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after rebel forces captured the. nation's capital, Bangui. By November 2013 reprisal attacks on civilians from Séléka's mainly Muslim fighters and Christian militias called "anti-balaka" increased and the UN warned the country was at risk of spiralling into genocide and said it was "descending into complete chaos", while France described the country as "...on the verge of genocide."

North Korean threat 

North Korea once again rattled its sabre conducting third underground nuclear test, prompting widespread condemnation and tightened economic sanctions from the international community. Even China, a staunch ally of the secretive rogue state, criticised the test though they held back from imposing punitive sanctions [Wikipedia].

Only two days later in Russia, some might have thought the end was indeed nigh and that the bomb had indeed been dropped when a meteor exploded the city of Chelyabinsk. It was most powerful meteor to strike Earth's atmosphere in over a century when a meteor hit Tunguska in 1908. The Chelyabinsk  meteor strike was captured by dozens of car mounted dash-cams as well as CCTV cameras. While the strike was significant in that some 1,491 people were injured and over 4,300 buildings were damaged it was a wake up call for the scientific community concerning the Earth's vulnerability to meteor strikes [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Russian meteor strike provides a wake up call].

Terror attacks

Terrorism also reared its ugly head once again striking blows in the US and Europe. In April two Chechen Islamist brothers exploded two bombs at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, killing 3 and injuring 264 others. Both suspects were tracked down with a few hours one being killed in an exchange of fire whilst the other was placed on trial and convicted [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Terror attack in US leaves 3 dead, 100 injured / tvnewswatch: Boston terror suspects identified / tvnewswatch: Boston terror suspect shot dead / tvnewswatch: Hunt over as second Boston bomber arrested].

One month later terrorism returned to the streets of London when two men ran over a British army soldier with a car, then used knives and a cleaver to stab and hack him to death. They told passers-by that they had killed a soldier to avenge the killing of Muslims by the British armed forces and awaited for police to arrive. Both were shot by armed police but survived to stand trial where they were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Renewed terror threat needs a pro-active response].

Surveillance revelations

June saw another attack on the west after US defence contractor Edward Snowden disclosed operations engaged by a US government mass surveillance program to news publications and flees the country. The fallout was highly significant in that it revealed how the United States conducts its operations potentially handing its enemies a gift in being able to thwart or defend themselves from surveillance in the future. Some of the revelations published suggested complicity from Silicon Valley's top tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Skye and Facebook, though all denied giving the US government a carte blanche. Nonetheless trust was certainly lost amongst many consumers who remain skeptical as to whether private information stored by the big hi-tech corporations is willingly being handed over to the NSA. As for Snowden he was granted temporary asylum in Russia where he still remains, and the leaks are still flowing [tvnewswatch: PRISM raises more questions than answers / tvnewswatch: Snowden gets asylum amid more leaks & terror threats].

Tech disappointments

2013 proved to be a somewhat disappointing year for technology geeks in other ways too. Despite much talk concerning Google Glass, Google's controversial wearable tech device, it has yet to be released to the general public on either side of the Atlantic. Wearable tech in the form of the smartwatch was also a big disappointment with poor battery life, a lack of features and designs that failed to impress.

The search giant did reveal a few surprises however. It brought out un updated Nexus 7 tablet with faster processing, resolution and a rear facing camera. A much anticipated Nexus 5 smartphone also rolled off the production line in November and while arguably better, or at least comparable with the new iPhone 5 [tvnewswatch: Apple having to Think Different again], it did not wow consumers as might be expected. This was partly due to the fact that the new Android 4.4 KitKat operating system did not bring many new surprises or features. In fact despite all the promotions and buzz around KitKat 4.4 the differences between KitKat and Jelly Bean 4.3 were marginal and for some a disappointment [tvnewswatch: Google unveils Nexus 5 with Android Kit Kat].

Less of a disappointment was Google's Chromecast, a small HDMI dongle that could potentially transform the way people use the web and their television. The device enables casting of Internet based services such as YouTube and Netfix to the television screen using a phone or tablet as a remote control whilst the Chromecast device simply streams directly from the WiFi itself. Most tech reviews praised the device the only pitfall being the take up by streaming sites in terms of adding the Chromecast facility to their apps. The biggest disappointment was from consumers around the world who at the end of the year are still waiting for a launch date outside the US [tvnewswatch: Google launches new Nexus 7 & TV streaming device].

Tensions in East China Sea

Perhaps the biggest concern of 2013 was not so much whether one would be able to get one's hands on a Chromecast device and stream Internet content on a TV, but whether we'd all be here to enjoy it when it did arrive. With tensions building in the East and South China Seas the potential of a major conflict was becoming more real by the month.

Tensions between China and its neighbours have been growing sometime concerning claims by China over disputed territory. However China upped the anti when it established a new "air defence identification zone" which covered much of the east and south China sea [BBC]. The US ignored it and flew unarmed B52s through the zone without declaring their presence. The US flights were followed soon after by brazen intrusions by South Korean and Japanese aircraft. Though China did not respond directly they subsequently put military reconnaissance flights into operation within the newly declared zone.

In a tit for tat move the South Korean then extended its air defence zone to partially overlap with the zone declared by China [Reuters]. But the most dangerous incident occurred only three days before when a United States guided missile cruiser, the USS Cowpens, was forced to take evasive action as a PLA [People's Liberation Army] Navy vessel neared each other on 5th December [BBC].

Described by some experts as the most serious Sino-US confrontation in the South China Sea since 2009 the US defence secretary Chuck Hagel warned the Chinese action was "irresponsible" and future incidents could "set off some eventual miscalculation" [BBC / NYT].

Certainly some observers, such as Gordon Chang, who penned The Coming Collapse of China, said the threat from China was far more serious than many were suggesting. In an address made in February at the Center for Security Policy's National Security Group Lunch on Capitol Hill, Chang suggested that a slowing and distressed economy, as well as a crisis of political legitimacy would only further nationalism within China which in turn would increase hostility with its neighbours [YouTube].

It could be argued that China is merely barking and asserting its feelings. However any missteps could well lead to a dangerous and widespread conflict. With other tensions existing between India and China over the Arunachal Pradesh region the risks are all too clear. China once again tested its nuclear neighbour when it sent troops into the disputed region on the 11th August before making a tactical withdrawal four days later [BBC].

China has continually tested the US's resolve over the last decade. It has harassed unarmed US Navy reconnaissance vessels most notably the blocking of the Impeccable in the South China Sea in 2009 [Wikipedia / BBC]. In 2001 China forced down a Navy EP-3 in the infamous Hainan incident and in 2006 China surfaced a Song-class attack submarine in the middle of the Kitty Hawk strike group near Okinawa [Washington Times].

So far the United States have resolved such issues diplomatically, but such impotent reactions could be read as signs of weakness by Chinese military strategists. While conflict is best averted, China's arrogance and assertiveness could well lead to a very dangerous year in 2014.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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