The List

Naughty or Nice

Which world leaders will be getting coal in their stocking this year?

With the year coming to an end, and Santa finalizing his list, we run down the leaders most deserving of praise and scorn in 2012.

The Nice List

Thein Sein
He's moving in the right direction on democracy.

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical in 2011 when this longtime member of Myanmar's ruling military junta took over the presidency, but so far he's followed through on his pledges to allow the country to slowly democratize, holding relatively free and a fair parliamentary elections in April that brought longtime regime foe Aung San Suu Kyi into the parliament. The two might make an unlikely pair, and Myanmar is still a long way from true democracy, but this year's success is worth noting.

Joyce Banda
She's undone the damage caused by her predecessor.

Banda took over the presidency in April after the unexpected death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, who had been best known for lavishing millions on presidential palaces, private jets, a fleet of Mercedes (while his people have one of the lowest living standards in the world), and brutally crushing the political opposition. Banda quickly came in to clean house and restore her struggling country's reputation: she leased the jet, fired officials known for cracking down on the opposition, and persuaded foreign governments -- including Britain and the United States, who had tired of Mutharika's antics -- to start sending aid again. 

Abdoulaye Wade
He left, peacefully.

Senegal's president for the past 12 years leaves a decidedly mixed legacy, praised by some as a bold reformer but chastised for wasting public money on garish monuments, pursuing a constitutionally questionable third term in office, and seeming to groom his son as a successor. But when push came to shove, and polls showed he had been commandingly defeated by onetime protégé Macy Sall in April's presidential election, Wade surprised many by quickly calling Sall to concede -- avoiding yet another political crisis. Considering Senegal's unruly neighbors -- every one of the four countries it borders has had a coup in the last five years -- that's sadly worth some praise.                                            

Francois Hollande
He went on a real apology tour.

Putting aside his controversial economic plans and views on the Eurocrisis for a moment, Hollande deserves credit for publicly confronting some of the uglier moments in French history. In July, at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round-up -- during which over 13,000 Jews were detained by French police and deported by concentration camps, an event that was denied by French governments for decades  -- Hollande gave a moving speech calling for citizens to come to terms with this "crime committed in France by France," and praised political rival Jacques Chirac for being the first president to acknowledge French complicity.

In October, Hollande became the first French president to acknowledge the government's responsibility for the 1961 massacre of hundreds of pro-Algerian protesters by Paris police. In a visit to Algeria this month, he followed up by referring to the "profoundly unjust and brutal" nature of French colonial rule. While the remarks stopped short of the direct apology many Algerians were hoping for, Hollande deserves credit for his willingness to discuss the times France has not lived up to its ideals.  

Jose Mujica
He walks the populist walk.

Lots of presidents talk about their humble origins and portray themselves as men (or women) of the people, but Mujica backs it up. The "world's poorest president" donates 90 percent of his salary to charity, has forgone the presidential palace to live in a ramshackle farmhouse outside Montevideo, and gets around in a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. Uruguay's business community may have worried when the former leftist guerilla fighter was elected in 2009, but so far he's been more Lula than Hugo on economics this year, while pursuing some dramatic social reforms -- including measures to loosen restrictions on abortion, allow gay marriage, and legalize small amounts of marijuana.

David Gray-Pool/Getty Images; AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images; GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images; Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images; MIGUEL ROJO/AFP/GettyImages

The Naughty list

Bashar al-Assad
He's in his own category of awfulness.

Once widely considered among the most promising of the Middle East's reformist autocrats, Assad has taken the wholesale destruction of his own country to unspeakable levels this year, with the death toll topping 37,000 according to some estimates, hundreds of thousands displaced, and entire towns leveled. Assad also apparently has few reservations about using weapons like Scud missiles and cluster munitions on his own people. Even his friends in Russia seem to be getting tired of defending him

Kim Jong Un
North Korea
He's a daddy's boy... and consider who his daddy was.

Hopes that North Korea's young leader might take some steps to help his isolated and impoverished country rejoin the world faded quickly this year, with Kim reaffirming his father's "military first" policy, launching ballistic missile in defiance of international condemnation, detaining U.S. citizens, and -- reportedly -- executing wayward military officials by mortar fire. Perhaps fatherhood will soften him a bit, but we wouldn't count on it.

Aleksandr Lukashenko
For not even being embarrassed about being a dictator.

Most dictators at least deny being dictators. But Lukashenko is done with that facade, telling a Reuters correspondent this year, "I am the last and only dictator in Europe. Indeed there are none anywhere else in the world... You came here and looked at a living dictator. Where else would you see one?" Lukashenko, who seems to be grooming his 7-year-old son as his successor, lived up to his reputation this year, with widespread arrests of journalists and political opponents. He ended the year on another low note, seeming to endorse a return to serfdom by seriously proposing that wood-processing workers be prevented by law from leaving their jobs. The only good news? With the way things are going in Ukraine, he may not be able to brag about being Europe's last dictator for much longer.

Paul Kagame
He's suppressing his own citizens and destabilizing his neighbors.

While he still has some friends in Washington, this seems to have been the year the gloss finally came of the Rwandan president's international reputation as a democratic reformer. Kagame's supporters in the West have largely looked the other way in recent years as evidence of his government imprisoning opponents and muzzling the press has mounted. But the tipping point may have come this year with a long-delayed U.N. report accusing Rwanda of actively supporting the M23 rebel movement, which has taken over wide swathes of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Several countries, including Britain and Germany, have now suspended aid to the onetime darling of the development community.

Mohamed Morsy
He's quickly proving his critics right.

It's still early to say, but Morsy hasn't exactly reassured his opponents and critics, who feared that once in power the Muslim Brotherhood leader would seek to limit open democracy in Egypt. Indeed, he's pushed through a new Islamist-backed constitution that contains few protections for the press, minorities, and women's rights -- and which many fear could put political power in the hands of clerics. There are also disturbing reports that Morsy's supporters have abused and abducted opponents during demonstrations against his constitutional power grab and that he has blocked investigations of their actions. Let's hope the last month was not a sign of what's to come.

RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images; Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images; VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/GettyImages; MICHELLE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images; AFP/GettyImages

National Security

Tomorrow's Weapons Today

Five weapons to watch in 2013.

Here at Killer Apps we are always on the lookout for new, um, killer apps, and this year we saw a lot. Here's a list of five of the most interesting weapons that came to our attention in 2012. These systems either were invented in the last year or achieved a significant milestone on the road to becoming operational weapons. Look out, 2013.

Printed Guns

First up: the printed gun. While today's 3D printers can only print guns capable of firing six shots before they fall apart, who knows there this technology will be in five or 10 years and what it will mean for worldwide conflict if anyone can print an assault rifle. As we reported recently, the U.S. military is already looking at 3D printing as a way of reducing the amount of gear carried by troops. While some 3D printer manufacturers are cracking down on customers who try to build weapons with its devices, the cat is already out of the bag. Gun enthusiasts have already set up an alternate website hosting instructions -- blueprints? -- for making guns via 3D printers.

Wikimedia Commons

Killer Drone Boats

Next is the U.S. Navy's remote-controlled, missile-firing boat, formally known as the unmanned surface vehicle precision engagement module (USV-PEM). Right now, the system is made up of a 36-foot speedboat with night vision and infrared cameras and armed with a .50 caliber machine gun or six Israeli-made Spike missiles. In late October, the USV-PEM -- a collaborative venture between the U.S. and Israel -- successfully fired six Spikes. The unmanned boat is piloted by a crew sitting in a control station that's either ashore or on a mothership. The craft is pretty much designed to defeat swarms of small, explosives-laden speedboats attempting to overwhelm the limited defenses that large ships have against such vessels. Keep in mind that U.S. Navy planners are worried that Iran would use such "swarming" tactics against the sea service in any conflict in the Gulf.

U.S. Navy

The nEUROn stealth UAV

We've been hearing plenty about stealth UAVs over the last two years. As military planners around the world realize that today's crop of small, slow, propeller-powered drones will last about as long as a Cessna in a high-end war, they are scrambling to develop a generation of fighter-sized, unmanned stealth jets. France recently joined the U.S. as the second nation to fly a full-size stealth UAV when its nEUROn took to the skies on Dec. 1. The Dassault-made drone is designed to carry sensors and weapons and, interestingly, it has twin-wheeled nose landing gear, a feature usually found on carrier-based aircraft (ground-based jets usually have only one wheel on the nose gear). The nEUROn will soon be joined by the BAE Systems-made Taranis and possibly the Russia's MiG SKAT (seriously).

Dassault Aviation

Killer Robot Cars

Not content to just develop sea-borne armed drones, Israel has been quietly fielding a fleet of ground-based killer robots. The Guardium is an armored desert buggy (we say it looks like a juiced out Smart Car) equipped with a number of sensors and weapons. The little cars can patrol autonomously, use their sensors to automatically identify threats, and, as the Israel Defense Force says, "use various forceful methods to eliminate" those threats. That's right, the Guardiums (Guardia?), which are prowling Israel's border with Gaza, can operate on their own, albeit with human oversight. The robots can "react to unscheduled events, in line with a set of guidelines specifically programmed for the site characteristics and security routines," according to their manufacturer, G-NUIS Unmanned Ground Systems. (This is exactly the kind of unmanned weapon that Human Rights Watch is getting extremely concerned with.) While the U.S. military is conducting very limited tests of unmanned jeeps to haul supplies for troops on patrol in Afghanistan, the Guardium may well be the world's first operational armed ground drone.

Israel Defense Forces

CHAMP, the flying blackout

Finally, let's look at the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), or what we like to call Boeing's flying blackout. The missile is designed to fly over a target -- be it a building or a neighborhood -- and rather than blow it to smithereens it temporarily knocks out all electronics nearby.  Boeing and the U.S. Air Force test flew CHAMP in October over the Utah desert. The missile flew an hour-long circuit over a building filled with computers. Their screens all went black as CHAMP flew over while emitting a blast of high-power microwaves. You can imagine how useful such a weapon would be in taking out an enemy's air defense radars, communications systems, or anything else requiring power. It will be interesting to see whether the Air Force continues to invest in CHAMP given that its capabilities seem to mimic what we're constantly being told can be accomplished with a keystrokes by a skilled cyberwarrior operating from the comfort of the NSA's Maryland headquarters.