Defense Statecraft

Monday, February 08, 2016

Decided on a Flip of a COIN in Yemen

Decided on a Flip of a COIN in Yemen

The United States has recently stayed away from conventional warfare by putting the most weight on counterinsurgency efforts, COIN. This civilian-centered idea of warfare is based on the idea that civilian populations are the center of fighting insurgencies, especially in the era of the war against terrorism. COIN has been praised by some because of its improvements to solider-civilian interactions in the field, improvements to local infrastructure and security, and the reliance on air dominance.1

This strategy has been refined throughout the years and was solidified in US military doctrine during the 2007 surge in Iraq. There is not many examples of the US implementing COIN strategy on completely failed states successfully2. (Bruno) A skeleton of state infrastructure and networks are needed for soldiers to create outposts and integrate themselves in local communities. Similarly, gathering intelligence and improving host nation-forces is difficult in a state that is failed.

The option of COIN is not the best military strategy at the moment in the war in Yemen because the country is failed to the point that population-centered tactics are not effective until initial insurgency attacks have ceased. Protecting populations should trump insurgents with the COIN strategy, but this is made difficult without a working government, president, and infrastructure2.


As Gian Gentive stated in his critique of the United State’s FM 3-24 COIN Doctrine, the reliance of COIN as the go-to strategy is limiting our ability to fight ever evolving wars, especially ones that might require conventional warfare initially1. The coalition’s use of heavy airpower and humanitarian aid have not met their goals and often kill many civilians in their goal to target insurgency bases3. Although state-building and COIN doctrine go hand in hand together, for the case of Yemen, it’s level of state failure does not allow it to be a productive area for COIN strategy4. Potentially, flexibility away from COIN is needed to rework conventional warfare to make a break in the war in Yemen. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

United States Seeks to Strengthen Europe & North Korea Has Big Plans

President Obama's plan on sending more weapons, armored vehicles, and equipment to NATO countries will send a signal to Russia that will likely anger Putin.  To refresh, NATO's military alliance of twenty eight countries does not include Russia but includes Turkey, whom Russia has had some recent quarrels with.  This conflict with NATO has been going on a long time, especially during the Cold War and most recently the Ukraine crisis.

During President Obama's last year in office he plans to make some major moves.  By sending more equipment his goal is to reassure United States' NATO allies while also suggesting to Russia that they are on thin ice.  However, in order to successfully complete this goal, sources say that the United States is expected to request $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe.  This is an extremely large amount, so large that it is four times the amount that is currently being spent there.  The aftermath of this decision will certainly result in a panic mode by Russia and a very furious Putin.

It is no secret that President Obama's plan is filled with hopes of increasing the United States' military effectiveness in the region.  Keeping this in mind, it could make Russia do something drastic or it could signal to them that it is time to stop with the negative rhetoric and the like.

Meanwhile, North Korea is making their own 'strides' in how they seek to improve military effectiveness.  And in Kim Jon-un's terms that means that they want to launch a satellite to expand their space program.  Thus, the United States and other members of the international community are once again questioning the nation's motives.  This isn't an unreasonable reaction considering that North Korea has a well-known past of not cooperating with others, which is why The United Nations forbids them from using ballistic missile technology.

To summarize, North Korea has been trying to expand and strengthen their nuclear program for a while, last month saying it tested an H-bomb (which was quickly disproved).  These claims made by North Korea, which are clear violations of sanctions, is the main reason why the United States and the rest of the international community think they are doing this as a cover up to expand their missile program.  If this is the case, and this is actually what is happening then the United Nations will have to impose stronger restrictions on North Korea, and how they react to these restrictions will most likely not be fun for anyone.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dam, Dam, Double Dam: An Avoidable Crisis in Mosul

The Mosul Dam received massive media attention in 2014 when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the structure. Concerned about the possible destruction to the dam, Iraqi, Kurdish, and air-led American forces scrambled to retake it. The coalition succeeded after weeks of hard fighting. If destroyed, the dam is estimated to kill 500,000 citizens in Mosul, leave over one million homeless, and damage bridges and other infrastructure along the Tigris River. But now that the Mosul Dam is back in Iraqi hands, the worry is not that ISIS will be responsible for the dam’s collapse.
Built on a foundation of gypsum, limestone, and clay, the dam is at risk of deterioration due to these substances propensity to dissolve when touched by water. American officials recently came forward claiming the dam is structurally unsound and will require immediate repairs to avoid disaster. While this issue is not a new one, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been slow to respond since retaking the position. His government also seems lax in warning its citizens in Mosul about the potential flood or proper protocol to take should the dam break.  Given the multiple problems facing the Iraqi government right now – ISIS, shortage of funds, and proving that the government is capable- it is easy to see how this might have been deprioritized. But help is very much available.
Trevi Group, an Italian company, is in negotiations with the Iraqi government concerning emergency treatment on the dam. However, the corporation wants an Italian security force present to ensure the safety of the engineers. Considering ISIS still controls the city of Mosul, lying only 51.5 km away from the dam, protection for their own personnel seems legitimate. However, there is resistance within al-Abadi’s cabinet about letting foreign forces help guard the structure, delaying any sort of immediate action particularly from those who fear an increased Western presence in Iraq. Financially, America petitioned the World Bank to loan Iraq the money needed for dam repairs.
Image result for mosul damThe Iraqi government’s negligence on this issue ensures short and long-term consequences. In the short-term, a broken dam results in the loss of a critical energy source, citizen’s lives, and damaged infrastructure along the Tigris River.  In the long-term, the already struggling administration loses credibility, stemming from the perceived inability to protect its own citizens and to maintain critical infrastructure. Such convictions could lead Iraqis into the open arms of ISIS. Even though it might be unpopular within al-Abadi’s government, foreign aid is essential to resolving this issue and avoiding disaster. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

UK Conservatives Refuse to Commit to NATO Spending Target

The Conservatives shocked almost everyone who has been tracking the UK elections by winning an outright majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons. Their victory, however, has raised concerns that the UK will not maintain its defense spending. The Tories refused to commit to meeting NATO’s target of spending 2 percent on national income on defense during the general election, as David Cameron’s budget cutting plans are likely to include defense cuts. As one of only four of NATO’s 28 members that meet the 2 percent target, Britain missing the target would deal a symbolic blow to NATO. On current projections, British military spending will fall below that level within the next few years as London tries to rein in a bloated budget deficit.

Cameron has refused to commit to the spending target despite urging other NATO members to spend more on defense at last year’s NATO summit in Wales. Some critics claim that the UK is at risk of losing credibility in the eyes of their fellow NATO members if they miss the target after trumpeting the importance of the 2 percent target just a year ago. President Obama has urged Cameron to commit to the spending target, warning that failure to do so sets a damaging example for other European countries and weakens the status of the transatlantic alliance.


In light of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, several NATO allies have promised to increase military spending and the alliance has shown a new determination to stop defense cuts. If the Conservative government in the United Kingdom fails to maintain defense spending under these conditions, it may risk its standing as a leader in Europe, instead looking more distinct from the mainland. Count it as one more small crack in the concept of a united Europe.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Um... are you sure, Japan?

The State Department has approved the sale of 17 V-22 Ospreys to Japan.  Considering that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was just in the White House a few days ago, as soon as Japan expressed interest the approval of the transaction was pretty much assumed, but now it is official.  The first thought going through many military veterans, however, is “Why?”  The V-22 doesn’t really have a sterling reputation.  The recent decision by the Navy to purchase V-22 tiltrotors to replace its C2A Greyhounds as the carrier on board delivery missions (COD.. basically the mission to resupply carrier groups by air) is still being hotly debated, with very few outside of the Pentagon (particularly the Marine Corps) advocating the deal as being a good one.  In fact, while the decision is not as widespread as the A-10 debate, it is easily as polarizing.  The difference is that while the A-10 is one of the most beloved aircraft by the rank and file, the V-22 is easily the most widely hated.  I personally know a soldier who survived two crashes of the hybrid air platform. 

The platform’s performance has improved over the years, however.  It is not quite the flying coffin that many believe it to be.  In fact, while the aircraft is admittedly expensive, there have only been six deaths from crashes since the Osprey entered service in 2007.  This is considerably less than the amount of deaths from either rotor wing or fixed wing craft just in Afghanistan.  The Osprey is also coming into its own as a fast Medevac, with armed Ospreys providing the firepower that was previously lacking, as the Osprey was too fast for the AH-64s and too slow for the fighters.  The President even has his own personal Osprey.  Which he’s not allowed to fly in.  It has, however, been deemed safe enough to transport the President’s dog.  

Outside of the US, however, Japan is probably the country with the most exposure to the V-22 Ospreys.  The Marines have been flying them out of Okinawa for a couple of years now, and despite vehement complaints by the Japanese government at the original deployment, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has operated closely with these same craft and apparently have become enamored with them.  The Osprey is a faster VTOL option than traditional rotor wing craft, and the familiarity that the JMSDF already has will ease transition into the new airframe, but there are probably other reasons Japan is buying these craft. 

For one reason, the JMSDF has extremely close ties with the US Navy, and the two services frequently hold joint operations.  Interchangeability between the airframes will be an added benefit to the V-22s capabilities.  The purchase will also, however, act as more cement for the Japanese and US relationship. In recent years Japan has inextricably tied its national security to that of the United States, and this purchase is a highly visible symbol of that relationship.  You bet China is watching.  

Spring 2015 Final Exam

Diplomacy 750: Defense Statecraft
Spring 2015 Final Exam
Please answer one of the following three questions:

  1. In the wake of the Wars on Terror, the US defense budget has begun to stagnate, or even recede. Consider the domestic and international consequences of this retreat; how will a reduced U.S. defense profile affect the behavior of foreign countries (whether friend or foe)? What impact will defense cuts have in the U.S.? 
  2. Pro-Russian militias continue to control several districts of Ukraine, and continue to threaten the stability of the truce agreement. What steps can and should the United States take to deter further Russia action in the region? 
  3. With the acquisition of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, the Indian Navy now possesses a more formidable naval aviation arm than China. What is the relevance of Indian naval expansion, and should the United States encourage India’s maritime capabilities?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Borders Old and New: The Legacy of the Arab Winter

The Bush Administration’s foreign policy performance, and arguably its performance as a whole, has been largely judged by one undertaking: nation-building in the Middle East. Vice President Dick Cheney, on Meet the Press in 2003, famously said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,” in reference to the invasion of Iraq. Fast-forward six years to 2009, and a new administration had just been ushered in under the slogan, “Hope and Change,” and with a promise to remove our soldiers from the failed operations in Iraq. The message was clear: democracy cannot be thrust upon a state; it emerges from within. Thus, it is not surprising that the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, was met with a great degree of optimism. President Obama even compared the uprisings to the actions of the Boston Tea Party and Rosa Parks. But this, too, failed to result in the desired outcome of stable democracies and, instead, resulted in a drastically more violent and destabilized Arab world. Military rule has shown resilience in Egypt and Algeria, but where the authoritarian rulers have been swept away – Iraq and Libya – the politics of identity are leading to fragmentation. Old borders are resurfacing and calling into question the legitimacy of the arbitrary borders we recognize today.

The most obvious example of this unfortunate situation is Iraq, which has been in disarray since the U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government. Following the invasion, resistance stemmed from Saddam/Ba’ath Party loyalists. By 2006, however, sectarian violence between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions became prevalent and continued to escalate to the level of a civil war. The U.S. troop “surge” is credited with the reduction of violence in 2007 and 2008, but Iraqi insurgency again swelled in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal. Sunni militant groups increased attacks targeting the country’s majority Shi’a population, eventually culminating in the conquest of Mosul and major swaths of northern Iraq by the Sunni rebel group ISIS. This merged the new conflict in Iraq with the Syrian Civil War, effectively erasing the border between the two states. Add Iraqi Kurdistan to the mix and Iraq is effectively three nations within one recognized state: The Republic of Iraq, The Islamic State, and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq is not unique though, as Libya experienced fragmentation during and following the Libyan Civil War. Libya has three major geographical regions with ancient significance: the fertile agricultural land of Cyrenaica in the east, the urban coastal strip of Tripolitania in the west, and the Saharan Fezzan in the south. Cyrenaica is under the control of the internationally recognized Tobruk government, while a rival Islamist government, the New General National Congress, controls the capital Tripoli and most of Tripolitania. Both are in conflict and operate mostly independent of one another.




A commonality between Iraq and Libya is that their borders were contrived by European colonial powers a century ago. Italy simultaneously established Italian Cyrenaica and Italian Tripolitania in 1912, eventually combining the two into Libya in 1934. The British established control over Iraq in 1920. In both cases, and in the larger Arab world, foreign occupation in the early 20th century led to Arab nationalism, with the main objective being to get rid of the colonialists, by the middle of the century. In the latter half of the century, many of the new authoritarian rulers in the Arab world – Hussein and Gaddafi – suppressed ethnic differences by using immense brutality. However, the underlying tensions never disappeared. When the cracks in these state governments began to show, first with the disappearance of several dictators and most recently with the Arab uprisings, the old dividing lines resurfaced. This dichotomy between old borders and new is a central challenge to stability in the Arab world.

Russia and the Scandinavian Countries

Much focus has been paid on the ongoing military conflict between the Ukraine and Russia over the past year and the increased tensions between the eastern European nations and Moscow. However, the Scandinavian nations are showing signs of fear that they could also become targets of Russian aggression, with several different examples not being reported on as much in the media.
                There have been multiple sightings of submarines along the coast lines of Scandinavian countries and the common belief is that said submarines owe allegiance to Moscow. Last fall, Sweden spent several weeks searching its territorial waters after a Russian submarine was spotted, to no avail. Just last week, Finland dropped depth charges very close to the coast of the capital, Helsinki, after another unidentified submarine was located.
(Spiegel, Swedish ships searching territorial waters)

                With regards to air incursions, the average number of interceptions ordered by the Nordic countries has increased dramatically. Spiegel states that the number of interceptions compared to 2013 has increased 30 percent and that the incursions have posed major safety hazards to commercial airliners. Several cases have been cited where Russian planes flew within several hundred feet of civilian airliners within the airspace of Scandinavian countries.
                The rhetoric between the countries has also been increasingly tense. After it was revealed that Denmark was considering taking part in the European anti-missile defense system, the Russian ambassador threatened the country that it could become the target of nuclear attacks. Norway complained about the unannounced visit by the Russian vice Premier Dmitri Rogosin to one of its island chains in the arctic.
                In terms of responses to the tense situation between the countries, the Nordic countries have decided to increase their military capabilities. Norway will now spend more than 7 Billion Euros in order to buy new fighter jets, with another 6 billion flowing into other military projects. Denmark plans spend 4 billion euros as well on fighter jets. Finland went as far as to send out letters to all of its reserves, 900,000 in total, warning of an impending conflict and to ensure that all contact details and ranks were updated should the need arise to deploy.

                With all of the focus on other hot spots around the world, one must remember that there are areas are currently peaceful, but do have a potential for conflict.  Considering the focus that the United States and NATO are now putting into the Baltic Sea, the value of the area in terms of hemming Russian ambitions is clear.


(Spiegel, Ongoing Nato Anti-Submarine exercises near Norwegian coast)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Is Saudi Arabia getting ready to purchase French Scorpene-class submarines?

Comparing the military forces of Saudi Arabia and Iran side by side shows one statistic that is glaringly one-sided.  Iran has a naval force of 397, and Saudi Arabia has 55.  Of course, this hasn’t been much of an issue in the past, as Saudi Arabia counted on the US to supply all of the naval power it needed.  With the US trying to pass the torch, however, the Kingdom may find itself a little uncomfortable with the gap between itself and Iran being as large as it currently is.  The most recent Maersk Tigris incident in the Strait of Hormuz is probably throwing fuel on the flames.  Iranian ships intercepted the MV Maersk Tigris, and was directed to proceed deep into Iranian waters.  When the captain refused, the Iranians fired shots across the bridge, leading the captain to change his mind and follow the Iranian demands.  The Maersk Tigris did, however send a distress signal, which was responded to by the guided missile destroyer USS Farragut.  As the Maersk Tigris was flying under the flag of the Marshall Islands, the USS Farragut did not intervene.  As the Marshall Islands are under the military protection of the United States, the USS Farragut could have probably intervened, but in any case did not, and the MV Maersk Tigris is still in Iranian custody.

 Saudi Arabia surely would have noticed, and this event probably led impetus to the announcement today of the Kingdom awarding billions of euros worth of contracts to France.  France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius did state that some of these contracts would be naval projects, but did not specify exactly what they would entail.  For the past couple of years, however, Saudi has expressed significant interest in purchasing submarines.  Iran has a submarine force of 32 ships, something that will worry Saudi Arabia greatly if the US is no longer protecting shipping as vigorously as it once did.  In 2013 talks were underway for the purchase of dozens of the German-made 209 submarines, but the sale never went through.  In early 2014 reports were that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were still intending to purchase submarines, but again the deal apparently never materialized. 

While it displaces more than the 1000 tons the Saudis had expressed interest in before, the 1500 ton French Scorpene-class submarine is one of the most modern submarines in the world, and nothing the Iranians have comes close to it.  Many of Iranian submarines are the smaller pocket sized submarines designed by North Korea.  These ships are still lethal, as the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan can attest to. 

While there has been no mention either way about what the naval projects entail, even a few of the Scorpene-class submarines would be a good fit for the Saudis, and would significantly improve its naval capabilities.  The French would love the deal as well, as in recent years France has made overt gestures trying to establish closer ties to the Arab nations.  The purchase of the Scorpene-class would necessarily entail closer defense ties between the two nations, something both countries would welcome.  

Assault and batteries

Third platoon of Battle Company, 2/503 spent all of the year 2007 living in mud huts in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.  Second platoon got all the media, but 3rd platoon was there, too.  A few weeks into their deployment, in the middle of a firefight a local worker drove a back hoe into the tiny generator that was there to provide an hour or two worth of electricity each day, leaving the soldiers without any electricity except for batteries for months.  Eventually they received a new diesel generator, but this generator had to be refilled a couple of times a day, and fuel had to be transported in by truck in 5 gallon fuel cans down the narrow winding Korengal road that was subject to ambush and IEDs.  Electricity is necessary not only for the standard of living for soldiers, but more critically for computer systems, sentry systems, and various other high tech systems that increase survivability of small units in remote outposts. Keeping generators refueled and running in austere environments can be a challenge, though.  On April 30th, Elon Musk may have changed all that.


The Tesla Powerwall is a new battery designed to run homes by charging from renewable sources of energy, like solar power.  The Powerwall is capable of being linked to make mini-grids, meaning the amount of electricity stored is limited only by how many Powerwalls you have.  One Powerwall can hold either 10 kWh or 7 kWh, depending on the model.  An average American home uses about 30 kWh a day.  It would be easy to imagine a network of this battery that had been redesigned for the military being formed into mini-grids supplying power to small platoon sized outposts.  Gone is the risky slow moving disconnecting of a sling load carrying a fuel blivet in a combat zone.  No more driving trailers full of flammable fuel up narrow ambush lined and IED filled roads.  The improved environmental implications from spilled fuel alone are impressive. 

While the Powerwall will be a godsend for future deployed troops in austere environments, the overarching strategic implications actually occur from domestic usage.  One of the greatest threats the US homeland faces is cyber threats, as brought to light by the Aurora Project and mistakenly exposed by the Department of Homeland Security.  The Sony hack was just a minor inconvenience when viewed from a defensive strategy point of view, but the abilities to use cyberwarfare to damage infrastructure was proven by both Stuxnet and Flame.  The new Tesla battery can be used to create microgrids in important infrastructure, including hospitals, water plants, schools, police departments, and military bases, among others, thus building resiliency into a system that has shown weakness.  
With Russian expansion in Crimea and supposed military involvement in Eastern Ukraine in recent months being highlighted in the news, I thought it prudent to look out the capabilities of our allies in the region and examine, if and what they might be able to do in order to oppose any further Russian expansion into their sovereign territories. I believe that Poland is the major player in the area, with one of the largest populations and one of the highest rates of development in the European Union in recent years.
            In recent history, when one considers the two world wars, Poland never really stood a chance, immediately being divided and shared between the powers of the day. However, in a conflict against Russia, it stand to reason that this time, on account of a such close partnership between the European Powers such as Germany and France with Poland, that the nation would not be expected to fight a two front conflict. Any conflict that Poland would have would come from the east or from countries that Russia would have to conquer and consolidate first, or from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in the north.  On the eastern border, there are no geographical barriers that would hinder a Russian advance, making it extremely difficult for Poland to repel an invasion. Thus, it must rely on a modern and advanced military that is capable of going toe to toe with Russia until allies can come with reinforcements.
            Poland is currently in the process of expanding its military expenditures at a time where Europe in general has cut down on each member’s defense budgets. The nation is increasing the size of its tank forces, which currently stand at around 16,000 tanks and also buying new fighter jets.  Poland has also set apart 22 billion dollars for new systems, which does not factor into the defense budget.  “That’s twice Israel’s entire annual defense budget just being spent to modernize its equipment. “While the numbers of active duty military, reserves, tanks, and aircraft does seem dwarfish when compared to the Russian numbers, one must remember that Russia would not be able to deploy all of its forces in Poland, as in order to get to Poland it must first subjugate any of the neighboring countries. With the removal of Russian forces from other trouble spots in the Federation, it would also risk insurrection in these areas.     



            In terms of missile defense and surface to air programs, which would drastically increase the cost to the Russians of any incursion, Poland is now seeking to develop a system similar to that which the United States had promised, but canceled after Russian protest. Named the “Shield of Poland”, and will consists of multiple levels varying from networked shoulder fired systems, 11 batteries of conventional air defense missiles, and 8 batteries of long range air defense missiles.
With the development of this system, Poland will have the ability to limit much of Russia’s air support options and hopefully slow their advance across the eastern plains until the United States or other allied nations can arrive