Defense Statecraft

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Continued Drones Over Yemen?

With the U.S., U.K. and France pulling out of Yemen, what is the U.S.'s continued authorization for drone strikes in Yemen? If Yemen has no government, how does the U.S. have authorization from the government for drone strikes? 

It is generally accepted that the drone strikes in Yemen are part of the CIA operated drone strikes rather than the military led ones (both are controversial). On March 25, 2010, Harold Koh, State Department Legal Advisor, stated that "it is the considered view of this Administration . . . that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." (1) This is based upon the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That AUMF is not the one that Obama has recently asked to be repealed

As of Friday Feb 6, 2015,  the site The Long War Journal showed the following graph charting drone strikes in Yemen, charting 110 strikes since 2002.

The U.S. claims that they have the support of the Yemni government to help achieve their goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. However, with the recent change in power/coup, who has given them that authorization?

On Jan 22, the Houthis seized control of the presidential palace and placed the President under house arrest. The President and his Cabinet soon tendered their resignations. While the negotiation is on going, both sides have walked out on different parts. The government that resigned is stating that the Houthis are threatening them with force if they do not agree to their specific plan to re-form the government. The U.S. is continuing to use drone strikes in this power vacuum.

How is this applicable to the U.S.? 

Well, as the U.S.'s current legal justification rests upon the consent of the now defunct government, is it business as usual until they are notified otherwise? How will they notify the U.S. if they no longer want the strikes to continue, if there are no U.S. personnel in the country? 

CNN is reporting that the Houthis took all U.S. Embassy vehicles parked at the airport and wouldn't let departing marines take their weapons. However, in the next non sensational paragraph, they state "a senior U.S. military official told CNN the Marines disabled their weapons and gave them to a Yemeni security detail, which had escorted them to the airport, because the Marines were flying commercial." 

Further in the CNN article, they state that U.S. officials had not yet engaged in talks with the Houthis as of last month. It is often difficult for the U.S. to "engage in talks" with opposition parties. The government often has problems with the U.S. talking with the "enemy" since the U.S. has a history of "regime change" in many of these countries.

As I wrote this article, The Washington Post published an article about the closure of the U.S. Embassy effecting the CIA operatives in the country (who often are stationed at U.S. Embassies and under diplomatic cover). Further, "a former senior U.S. official said that the embassy had served as the primary base in Yemen for U.S. intelligence operations." 

So not only is the lack of clear legal authority an issue, this closure will now effect the targeting of militants. 

Future of Cooperation?

While one member of the Houhis' political bureau has called U.S. drone strikes as a violation of Yemeni sovereignty, the Houthis do NOT like AQAP. In fact, they might hate AQAP than they dislike the U.S. This could work in the U.S.'s favor as eliminating a possible political threat to their new "all inclusive government" would coincide with the U.S.'s goal of eliminating AQAP. 

However, until a new government is formed, and an official statement released or communicated to the proper U.S. authorities, these questions will remained unanswered. 

For more interactive information, I suggest you head over to International Security to take a look at when and where strikes occurs as well as who was targeted or killed.

Sources not linked above are listed here: (1) Milena Sterio, "The United States' Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law," Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol 45, 2012, p 199

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Consider the PLAGF: "People's War", the RMA, and Military Power

Given the high stakes of war, the study of its mechanics and the inputs that garner battle victories are second to none in their importance to international relations. This is reflected in the narratives of political and economic histories, and the justifications for defense budgets. This understanding is also ever-present in the observance of the continuing development of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various branches of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The most recent reveal of further details surrounding China’s construction of a second aircraft carrier has illustrated, once again, the importance of China’s military composition in the assessment of global futures and the anxiety that accompanies that development. While the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAFF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) receive much of the attention, for obvious and salient strategic reasons pertaining to the nature of warfare in the Pacific, the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) is often overlooked. Far less consideration is given (in the popular realm) to the strategic doctrines that inform its systems of operation.

Reading Stephen Biddle’s Military Power raises interesting questions about how Mao’s "People’s War"(the spiritual impetus of the PLA) relates to the modern system of force employment. If technology and preponderance of force, the two aspects of military composition that are so often highlighted in summary analyses of China’s military power, are marginalized by the centrality of force employment, then this is one of the most important considerations of a U.S.-China security competition, and one that is unfortunately overlooked by the common comparative perspective.

"People’s War", Mao’s military philosophy that expanded out of the Chinese Communist Party’s experience fighting the Japanese Army and then the Kuomintang, is aimed at creating a workable and effective force out of massive disadvantages. It spans political, strategic, operational, and tactical considerations of warfighting and heavily relies on an abundance of manpower, space, time, and ideological zeal as substitutes for technology and training.

Conventional "People’s War" evolved in the 1980s, following skirmishes with the Soviet Red Army and China’s short war with Vietnam. Deng Xiaoping introduced the concept of “people’s war under modern conditions”, following the study and critique of China’s performance in the Sino-Vietnam “punitive war” at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). According to Chieh-Cheng Huang, “Deng replaced Mao’s tactics of ‘luring the enemy deep’ and ‘preparing for total war’ with ‘extended defense in depth’ and ‘local war in China’s periphery”. After the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) made its case for the effectiveness of modern military equipment and communications, in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991, the PLA once again updated People’s War in order to mirror the increasingly technologically complex nature of warfare. This process is often identified as Jiang Zemin’s shift to “high tech doctrine”.

So, today the shift to “high tech doctrine” dominates the comparative analysis of China’s military to its future adversaries. It’s interesting that this is the case. Focused through the lens of Biddle’s analysis, it was Deng’s doctrinal modernization of the military that will have the greatest impact on the PLA’s future war-fighting capabilities in relation to militaries that operate within the contexts of the modern system, with a particular emphasis on the PLAGF for our purpose.

That is what should be considered in analyzing how the PLA factors into any threat that the PRC would present, especially when the unlikely (but still possible) contingency of general war is introduced. With this in mind, the short-term versus long-term effectiveness of the PLA is measured against the scale and nature of the conflict itself, with operationally competent and well-equipped troops concentrated in "pockets of technological excellence" in order to affect the odds at the margins and in the places that the PLA deems to be the most important for strategic success. Outside of immediate political objectives, and if the war widens in scope, then the conventional aspects of "People’s War" will re-enter, and the question of outcome will once again be at the mercy of time, space, preponderance, and morale.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Are All of China's "Secret Weapons" Just as Fragile as they Seem?

This week, CNN reported that the People’s Liberation Army in China has been using trained macaques as part of its defensive strategy.

These clever primates guard the safety of Chinese Pilots by warding off swarms of birds that threaten planes in mid-flight. The birds could be sucked into plane engines, destroying life and (very expensive) property. The macaques climb up trees where the birds nest, scaring them off, and leave behind a scent that discourages them from returning. 

 "The monkeys are loyal bodyguards who defend the safety of our comrades."

"The monkeys are loyal bodyguards who defend the safety of our comrades," a Chinese news source reported a PLA officer as saying.

The clever primates are being trained and used at air force base in northern China whose location was not disclosed, but which happens to sit along a major migratory route for birds heading south from the Gobi Desert. PLA officers have been joking that they have a new “secret weapon,” controllable with a whistle. 

CNN reports that, in the past, the PLA have employed several different strategies to remove the nests including shooting them out of the treetops, using long bamboo poles to knock them out of trees, and having soldiers climb the trees to remove them. None of these options have been very humanitarian, or very effective due to the birds’ tendency to return and the time-consuming task of removing them. However, when the task is carried out by monkeys, the birds do not return.

 When the nests of birds are discovered on tree tops, the monkey army is deployed to remove them.

But the real story here has much larger implications. If unpredictable swarms birds are all it takes to endanger Chinese military technology, and trained macaques are all it takes to bring down those birds, is this not exposing certain technological weaknesses in Chinese military capability? Why not use swarms of birds to take out China’s air forces on the battlefield? Perhaps the suggestion is ridiculous, but the rabbit hole could go much deeper. Just how strong are those turbine engines? We shouldn’t rule anything out when dealing with China. They certainly haven’t, as evidenced by their using little furry friends to fix this problem.

From the Baltic to the Black - “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land”

Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “We will choke them all.  What are you afraid of?” during a RIA Novosti interview when questioned about the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.  

 Choke is an interesting verb in this case because it highlights the need for a reassessment of basing and troop levels in EUCOM and the role of strategic ground power in the European theater.  To choke requires the use of hands, or possibly feet and legs if you have a black belt in Judo – like President Putin.  Ground power does what air and sea power have been unable to do, and that is the ability to contain by providing a physical barrier through existence instead of a threat of violence.  Air and sea power require a decision on the part of the coercer to follow through with their threat of violent reprisal.  Ground power, on the other hand, leaves no question of violent action because to violate the boundaries established by ground power requires physically moving the deterring force off the piece of land it occupies.  The United States should vigorously pursue new basing opportunities in Eastern Europe to strengthen NATO resolve against Russian territorial expansionism in the former Soviet sphere.

Since the beginning of February, 2014, NATO has maintained a naval force in the Black, Aegean, and Baltic Seas.  Initially the Black Sea forces were stationed to provide additional security for the Winter Olympics at Sochi, and since then have conducted a series of naval war game exercises.  The presence of missile destroyers and frigates did not halt Russian aggression.  Similarly, several wings of NATO aircraft have been forward deployed to former Warsaw Pact countries.  These aircraft have conducted combat air patrols over the Baltic States, along with AWACS missions over Polish and Romanian airspace to monitor the situation as it develops in the east.  In response the Russian air forces have brazenly defied allied posturing by buzzing US warships, and even going so far as to fly two TU-95 Bears over Dutch airspace.  Though it is not uncommon for Russian aircraft to occasionally enter NATO member countries’ airspace, during such heightened tensions it seems rather suspect.

With the crisis in Ukraine continuing to unravel, many in the West are worried of further Russian backed aggression against the governments of other former Soviet states in Eastern Europe, especially in the weaker Baltic States.  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all have sizable ethnic Russian populations.  The Russian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission expressed concern in March that ethnic Russians were being persecuted.  This type of rhetoric when viewed in light of Russian actions in Crimea and Ukraine should be taken with serious concern.  Fortunately for the Baltic States and Poland, their membership in NATO provides them with a security umbrella Ukraine was never afforded.  NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen pledged to step air patrols and boost its military presence along the alliance’s eastern border in Europe, citing Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
The United States has taken the lead in deploying ground forces in the Eastern European theater by sending several airborne infantry units and some special operations forces there as well to conduct joint training exercises with the Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian armed forces.  Some 600 soldiers from the 173rd are deployed to the region train NATO forces, along with approximately 140 special operations forces from the 10th Special Forces Group according to the Pentagon.  While these troops are expected to be rotated out and replaced throughout the year, a more permanent solution to the problem of Russian aggression would be to base American troops in the Baltic, Polish, and possibly Romanian territories.  These decisions would of course be incumbent upon a desire on the part of host nations, and for now it the best course of action is to continue and increase the number and level of military training exercises in the NATO member states of Eastern Europe.  When asked if sending the airborne troops were simply symbolic, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said “Any time you put troops on the ground and doing exercises, in this case for a month at a time, it’s more than symbology,” he said. “The kind of work that we’re going to be doing is real infantry training. And that’s not insignificant.”


Navy's New LaWS System to Launch this Summer

As an aspiring diplomat, I usually try to keep weapons out of my usual discourse in favor of peace talks. However, I would like to register my extreme interest (I hesitate to say excitement) in the summer 2014 launch of the US Navy’s LaWS (Laser Weapon System).

My own experience with lasers is limited to Q-Branch’s 1995 Moonraker, and I haven’t been this excited about a laser since then.
I am the reigning champion in pressing Z to fry post-Soviet baddies.

Navy engineers at are putting finishing touches on the prototype, which will launch aboard the USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf this summer. The launch was announced last year at the 2013 Sea-Air-Space Expo. The project is the fruit of the collaboration between the Office of Naval Research, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Lab, Naval Surface Warfare Center,  and others. 

Given that the US will likely increase naval capabilities in coming years, this new weapon system is the cutting edge. Such a weapon will be useful in combating asymmetrical air and sea attacks, including drones and small attack boats.  Furthermore, preliminary reviews report that the laser is affordable, precise and efficient at eliminating enemy threats.  The highly accurate targeting system and bottomless magazine are a plus, too.

Does China know about this?? I won’t tell them. I promise.

Interestingly, the laser will be controlled using an almost video-game-like hand-held device. Sailors will be able to adjust the laser's power from “Disable” to “Destroy”.
It’s like a stun-gun and bazooka all rolled into one. 

The Navy plans to continue developing these low-cost, high energy weapons into the next decade. I will be monitoring these developments closely, waiting for the handheld model so that I can reenact my Moonraker days (though hopefully not against Russian henchmen).

The Future of AFRICOM

The following is from

Personnel assigned to AFRICOM pose for a picture in front of a deep Afro-German jungle.

STUTTGART, GERMANY — A soldier assigned to Africa Command appeared extremely confused and angry after landing in Germany, which is apparently not Africa, or even in Africa, sources confirmed.  After his transport plane landed, Private First Class Eric Lynch could hardly contain his excitement after “receiving the posting of his dreams” at AFRICOM.

The newest combatant command, AFRICOM is responsible for the entire continent of Africa except Egypt.
Envisioning visits to exotic locales, Lynch dreamed of travelling from South Africa to the Sahara on myriad adventures, befriending local tribesmen, and collecting souvenirs that would be the envy of his peers the world over. “I thought maybe I might even write a book about my journeys when it was all over,” Lynch told reporters.
Unfortunately for Lynch, none of that would come to pass. The young soldier — who did absolutely no research into the command — was dismayed when the bus from the airport dropped him off at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and the sergeant greeted him with, “welcome to AFRICOM!”

“It was such bullshit,” sobbed the grief stricken private. “If I wanted to go to Germany I would have asked for European Command. Who the hell put the AFRICOM headquarters in Germany? Probably the same dumbass that decided to put the 10th Mountain Division in a place with no fucking mountains.”

All jokes aside, AFRICOM and US Army Africa will be called upon in the coming years to deter threats across the continent as African nations continue to struggle against internal and transnational threats that thrive in a weak security environment.  Unlike other combatant commands, AFRICOM - which has only one base on the continent at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti - has relatively few land, air, or naval assets to deploy across the continent.  Instead, its primary strategy is to build partner nation capacity.  To accomplish this mission, AFRICOM has partnered with the Department of State through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program.  The initiative is designed to improve African militaries’ capabilities by providing selected training and equipment necessary for multinational peace support operations. U.S. Africa Command supports the ACOTA program by providing military mentors, trainers, and advisors at the request of State Department.

ACOTA provides a full range of peacekeeping training and instruction tailored to match a country’s needs and capabilities.  African soldiers are trained on a laundry list of soldiering skills including convoy escort procedures, refugee management, and small-unit command skills; overseeing exercises for battalion, brigade, and multinational force headquarters personnel; providing equipment to partner nations, including mine detectors, field medical equipment, uniforms, and water purification devices; conducting refresher training periodically to ensure that trained units maintain their capabilities; and training African trainers, who in turn train their own nation’s soldiers in peacekeeping skills.

Since 1997, the U.S. has provided training and non-lethal equipment to more than 215,000 peacekeepers from African partner militaries in 238 contingent units. ACOTA’s 25 partners include Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

Boko Haram, the Lord's Resistance Army, Al-Shabab, Ansar al-Sharia - these are just four of the dozens of tribal and sectarian militias that plague the continent.  Boko Haram has received much media coverage of late after kidnapping over 300 school girls to sell into slavery just in the last month.  The American response has been criticized by some media spokesmen for not being robust enough - sending coordination and intelligence analysis personnel rather than a whole brigade of Soldiers and Marines to beat through the bush looking for these kidnappers.  Political posturing aside, the talking heads may have struck upon greater insight than they realize.

As part of Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa, the United States established Combined Joint Task Force - Horn Of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in October, 2002.  The CJTF-HOA mission continues is to conduct operations in the Combined Joint Operations Area to enhance partner nation capacity, promote regional security and stability, dissuade conflict, and protect U.S. and coalition interests.  They hunt pirates and train Africans how to fight their own fights - and occasionally conduct a JSOC raid here or there to kill or capture members of Al-Qaeda and their affiliates.

In terms of success, CJTF-HOA has few rivals.  Data released by the Navy in 2012 showed 46 pirate attacks in the area that year, compared with 222 in all of 2011 and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts in 2012 were successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.

United States Africa Command should be allowed to expand their foot print in terms of assistance and training programs such as ACOTA, while also being authorized to do direct action themselves in the form of a CJTF-HOA type task force based in friendly areas troubled by transnational crime and piracy - such as Nigeria and their experience with oil piracy and Boko Haram.