Holidays with the CRINKs, Not a Lot of Fun

By Stew Magnuson

iStock illustration

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — When first hearing the word CRINKs, I thought they were talking about some wacky family in a movie. Wasn’t that a hit comedy? “Meet the CRINKs,” or “Holiday with the CRINKs?”

In fact, CRINKs isn’t a family name. It’s an acronym for China, Russia, Iran, North Korea.

And there’s nothing funny nowadays about them.

The term “CRINKs” was first heard at the 15th annual 2023 Halifax International Security Forum, and the term is the brainchild of its founder and president Peter Van Praagh. The forum invites about 300 attendees from 75 democratic countries each year — diplomats, academics, military officers, politicians, activists and journalists — to engage in discussions about the state of democracy around the world and to get what he calls “an annual dose of moral clarity.”

The violent new era of global conflict is the direct result of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he asserted.

“Our goal this weekend is to show China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — what we call the CRINKs — that our resolve cannot be shaken. When the democracies of the world work together, there is no challenge that cannot be met,” he said at a press conference.

After Putin fails in Ukraine, then the world will return to some sort of normalcy, he asserted.

Outside the hotel where the forum took place on day one was a crowd of two dozen pro-Palestinian protestors — one with a bullhorn, who ironically called all the attendees “war criminals.”

They served as an immediate reminder that since the 2022 Halifax conference, the situation in the world seems to have only grown worse after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel in October — as well as an example that not everyone in the world enjoys what they had: the right to free speech.

A key assertion over the weekend was that the CRINKs are increasingly coming together in an unholy technological alliance.

While there were some participants who referenced the days of yore when China and Russia were at odds, the evidence that this alliance is real is becoming more obvious, even for those of us who have no access to intelligence reports.

Iranian-made drones are used to attack Ukraine. North Korea and Iran share rocket technology. Putin met with Kim Jong Un in Russia’s Far East to discuss military matters, and so on.

Back at the IDEX defense trade show in Abu Dhabi in 2009, National Defense reported on a Chinese company’s catalog distributed to potential customers that had pages of “Big Brother” technology for sale.

Now, 15 years later in Tehran, “Chinese cameras are everywhere to identify unveiled women,” Iranian activist and president of the World Liberty Congress Masih Alinejad said during a panel discussion.

Look for China to sell its AI-enabled surveillance systems to any dictator who has the cash in the coming years.

And it’s not just “hard power” technologies, the other countries are picking up on Russia’s disinformation tactics, techniques and procedures to divide and conquer the populations in unfriendly nations.

China ahead of the Taiwan elections was actively spreading disinformation to influence voters, said Vincent Chao, spokesperson and director of the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan.

In one recent case, the People’s Republic of China successfully managed to place a front-page story in a Taiwanese newspaper that claimed the United States was pressuring Taiwan to build bioweapons.

“The tell-tale signs that this was misinformation were still there, but they weren’t as obvious as in the past,” Chao said.

Once, North Korea had little capability to conduct cyberattacks, theft and espionage. Having almost no one in the population with access to the internet — that seemed logical.

But it learned. It first paid for “hackers for hire” to do its dirty work, but those contracts must have included some training because today North Korean operators are reportedly adept at raiding cryptocurrency accounts and are using the funds to build rockets.

Look for this “hackers for hire” model to be repeated. Any country with the inclination and enough cash will be able to use social media to meddle in their neighbors’ elections.

Dictators are creating a network for how to censor, do surveillance, spread fake news and use social media, Alinejad said. They are helping each other suppress their own people and those outside their border, she added.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, wrote in a paper distributed at the forum that Putin’s ultimate defeat in Ukraine would put China at the center of the CRINKs’ orbit.

“CRINKs is a partnership of convenience rather than an alliance sharing a common goal. Its members know that the existing world order is not conducive to their ultimate ambitions,” he said.

The good news during a time of decidedly bad news around the world is that the CRINKs might be a partnership of convenience, but the rest of the free world has tech alliances that are more than just expediency.

The Quad — the United States, Australia, Japan and India — have a nascent tech alliance to counter China, and the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom is looking stronger every day.

There are the Five Eyes, NATO and too many bilateral technology sharing agreements between freedom-loving nations to list here.

And as Van Praagh said, as long as their resolve can’t be shaken, the CRINKs don’t stand a chance. ND

Topics: Global Defense Market

Comments (1)

Re: EDITOR'S NOTES: Holidays with the CRINKs, Not a Lot of Fun

Well, we shouldn't forget that China has, in the past couple of years, been recorded selling lots of "sporting rifles" to Russia; along with body armor, etc.

Everett Puterbaugh at 12:02 PM
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