Defense Statecraft

Friday, May 06, 2016

Where is the next big thing? The US in Yemen, Libya, and Syria

With the ever widening scope of the war on terror, the recent announcement that the U.S. officially had boots on the ground in Yemen shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Though the soldiers there are only in "supporting roles" at a "fixed location"  providing"intelligence and surveillance" it is most important to note that this is as much of a commitment as anything. The rise of ISIS has seen the U.S. began to spread it's best resources in an effort to stem the spread of the cancerous caliphate, but ISIS isn't the only threat out there. The Yemen mission is primarily focused on combating Al-Qaeda elements entrenched in the country, this is likely more than what it appears to be at first glance.

The spread of the US special operations forces is perceivable as a foothold for the U.S. military to be involved in the various conflicts that it has stake in under the guise of the war on terror. This is becoming a trend in Syria, as the U.S. recently expanded its special operations troop numbers in an attempt to "support" the rebels fight against ISIS. However, this is just as much an attempt to keep close intelligence on the conflict itself and making sure that they have the ability to get up to speed very quickly should the need arise. Intelligence on the conflict will help to keep the U.S. at a ready state should the need to intervene arise.

The war on terror just happens to make a convenient front in a region where terror organizations have permeated the map, giving the U.S. ample excuse to get itself involved in as many locations that it sees fit.This trend will likely expand as ISIS grows, and give the US reasons to chase it into regions and conflicts it would otherwise have no business poking it's nose into.

Diplomacy Over Justice

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, more commonly known as the 9/11 bill is meant to allow United States (US) citizens to sue foreign governments responsible for funding citizens that conduct terrorism. For example, if it were proven that Saudi Arabia provided financing for the fifteen Saudi nationals involved in the 9/11 attacks. The bill passed the US Senate by unanimous voice, but the bill has not gone to a vote in the House.

Saudi Arabia responded to the bill by threatening to sell of all of their American assets. How much do the Saudi’s hold in US debt? According to the US Treasury, Oil exporters as a whole hold 281 billion US dollars in reserve. Those countries however include: Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria. This long list makes it difficult to know how much Saudi Arabia could actually sell off, however it is likely an empty threat. The first reason is that selling off US debt quickly would require the Saudis to sell at a discount, costing them significant losses. A second reason is that the Saudi riyal is pegged to the US dollar, so a massive sell off of US debt would not only hurt the US dollar, but also the riyal. Finally, Saudi Arabia has already sold off $139 billion of their total reserves since the end of 2014 to offset losses from lower oil prices.

Despite the threat likely being empty, US officials have listened to the Saudi’s disapproval of the bill. The White House signaled that President Obama would veto the legislation if it were to pass the House. The White House argues that the legislation could trigger other countries to pass reciprocal laws and jeopardize US citizens. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) seems to be on board, saying, “I think we need to review it…not making mistakes with out allies and that we’re not catching people in this that shouldn’t be caught up in this.” The reason for diplomacy may not just be to head off reciprocal laws, but to preserve relations if Saudi Arabia can position their country to actually sell off US reserves in the future. They have public announced their determination to become more diversified, which would allow them to be less economically dependent on the US. Currently, forty five percent of GDP, and eighty percent of government revenue is from oil in Saudi Arabia. To counter lower oil prices and potentially help jumpstart diversification, Saudi Arabia’s state owned oil producer, Saudi Aramco, might go partially pubic. Talks of an initial public offering have been discussed for five percent of the company. The company is estimated to be worth between 1.25 and 10 trillion US dollars.

The choice to go with diplomacy over justice is clear, Saudi Arabia is a crucial ally to the US. The alliance with the US goes back seventy years when US business first became involved in the Saudi oil business. While the US does not receive the most oil imports from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis do hold the largest reserves of crude oil in the world. After the fall of the Iranian Shah, Saudi Arabia was the US’s biggest ally in the region. The Saudis helped the US fund Afghani resistance to Soviet forces in the 1980s, and they helped the US expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the first Gulf War (primarily through access to the region and supplying troops). Between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia also bought almost ten percent of US military arms exports. As a key security and economic ally in a region where the US finds few, it is likely that policy will continue to overlook anything that could complicate the crucial relationship.

Elbit Systems - Focusing in the Dark

Roughly five years ago Navy SEALs embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to Kill/Capture Osama Bin Laden. On a pitch black night with no moon and partial cloud cover, two teams in stealth Blackhawks entered Pakistani airspace and conducted the raid. The rest is history that we all know. While the Navy SEALs trained incredibly hard for this mission, one of the biggest components in this raid was the technology. The ability for the Blackhawks ability to penetrate through Pakistani radar paired with the ability to conduct the mission in the middle of the night both contributed to the successful nature of the mission.

5 years is an eternity in the world of technology. What new innovations have come about that will bolster the ability for pilots to fly at night and continue missions such as the bin Laden raid?

Elbit Systems recently concluded a successful test of a new BrightNite multi-spectral panoramic vision system. Using an Airbus Twin-Star helicopter several different Air Forces tested the system which was deemed quite successful. Night vision has provided one of the biggest advantages in the Global War on Terror.

Elbit makes imaging equipment for military aircraft and helicopter systems, helmet mounted systems, and drone operated imaging equipment. Elbit systems is an Israeli electronics company that has grown extensively through acquisitions over the years and is currently interested in acquiring, IMI - Israel Military Industries Ltd. IMI is currently paying its 3,000 employees around 60 million a month in salaries. While IMI may represent a strategic acquisition for Elbit, it should refocus itself on its product line and continue to innovate unique, needed products for the defense industry. Acquiring more companies and additional overhead does nothing but slow Elbit in the long run. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Wait, Who Does the Defense Industry Support?

If you were to guess whom the defense industry supported more, a Republican or Democratic candidate, who would you pick? Most, I assume, would believe that Republicans are supported more than Democrats by the defense industry. Republicans traditionally have stood for a higher military budget, while Democrats often campaign on the promise to produce cuts. However, according to Politico, you would be wrong in assuming they support 2016 Republican candidates more. According to their report, the 50 largest contractors with the Department of Defense support Hillary Clinton, providing at least $459,994 over a fourteen-month period.[1]

Ok, well maybe Hillary has some more government ties due to her stint as Secretary of State or because of her husbands Bill’s connections. Again, Democratic Bernie Sanders falls in second with at least $310,055 from defense-related workers.[2] The closest Republic is Ted Cruz, with $307,955.[3] Why is this? Politico suggests that maybe the defense industry just believes a democrat will win.[4] In addition, President Obama has already called for an increase of $2.4 billion on defense spending for the fiscal year 2017. [5]Both Clinton and Sanders support the F-35 program and defense spending. They do, however, question the large price tag on nuclear weapons. Cruz goes even further than Obama, calling to increase by an additional $135 billion.[6]

This large amount of money involved in politics should be no surprise. The defense industry is an extremely lucrative and necessary monster that is not going away. Any additional benefit they can receive by donating $50,000 could result in a multi-billion dollar contact. However, as Politico points out, the presidential campaign donations are significantly trumped by donations to members of congress in key defense-related committees. Between 2015 to February 2016, about $7.5 million was donated to those on the Armed Services committees and the Appropriations subcommittees for Defense and for Energy and Water.[7] We should not expect to see this drop anytime soon as the US continues to battle terrorism, situations in the Middle East, and compete against the ever -advancing China.

[1] Cohen, Alexander; “The Defense Industry’s Surprising 2016 Favorites: Bernie & Hillary”; Politico; April 1, 2016;
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.

"Dangerous Romance" – A look at US-China relations

On April 15, China celebrated its first 'National Security Education Day.' As part of their, um, celebrations, posters titled "Dangerous Romance" were put up throughout Beijing. These posters display a cartoon strip that shows a Chinese woman falling for an American man and, through subversive tactics on the part of the American, unintentionally giving sensitive Chinese government information to an American spy.

On the surface, these cartoons are almost hilarious. It is an over-the-top portrayal of an "American spy" tricking a woman into dating him in order to gain access to "internal reference data." He calls her pretty, gives her gifts, and declares that it was love at first sight.

Deeper down, there are clearly issues of distrust between the two nations, as well as a barely hidden level of sexism. Of course the Chinese woman falls for the ploys of the American man, because what single, working woman in China can resist the charm of a "handsome, romantic, and literary foreign boyfriend"? Who can expect her to stand up to her boyfriend when he uses emotional pull to convince her to violate her duty of confidentiality?

On top of the lovely portrayal of women, there is of course the larger issue of how this cartoon portrays the US. One issue of concern is that many Chinese citizens who read this cartoon may leave with a newfound distrust of Americans, or the belief that American spies are a much larger threat to the average Chinese citizen than they likely are, which could lead to a strain on US/China relations at the most basic level. The second issue is that the cartoon clearly demonstrates a pre-existing, deep-seated level of distrust towards Americans in the Chinese government, which again will likely have a strong effect on relationships formed and maintained between our two governments.

Although this is a fairly superficial analysis of the "Dangerous Romance" between the Chinese and the Americans, I hope that it will be a conversation starter on an issue that is of real importance to US global relations. And I hope that you will never forget the dangers of falling in love with "White Guys named David."

A “Real” Twitter War- Or At Least A Twitter Raid

To mark the fifth anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the CIA has decided to replay the operation in “real-time” on Twitter. On Sunday May 2, on approximately the same timeline, the agency gave its 1.3 million Twitter followers a behind the scene look at how the assault unfolded.

“To mark the 5th anniversary,” the CIA explained,”we will tweet the raid as if it were happening today.” You can go to the link here to follow the action.

I know that a lot of media attention has already been given to this raid, including news articles, books and movies, but I believe this is taking it too far.  To me, this gives away too many tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs)?  Additionally, its callousness trivializes war and death. This was a clandestine mission now being broadcasted on Twitter by “the most secretive spy agency” in the world. Does anyone else see a problem with this?

In this day and age of instant communication, the public’s insatiable hunger for secrets (both personal and governmental) and the government’s transparency, where will it stop? Will it get to a point of real live-streaming of operations from a “Go-Pro” camera on a special operator’s helmet? Will the decisions of what targets to hit come from a “vote by text” similar to what is on “American Idol?”

I understand the need to celebrate the greatest victory in the Global War on Terrorism, but I feel this is setting a precedent that we will regret. If this “Twitter raid”  by the CIA is successful then other branches of the military and intelligence agencies will follow each, having to push things further and further to get the same audience attention. Just look what happened to “reality tv”: We started with “Survivor” and now we are at “Naked and Afraid.” The same escalation will happen on CIA TV.

Let’s leave the Twitter Wars to the Kanye and Taylor.

Will It be Commander-in-Chief Clinton or Trump?

Now that the nominations for the upcoming Presidential elections are down to two real contenders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, let’s take a look to see how the military and defense industry will fare under each potential Commander-in-Chief.

Clinton has not laid out a clear position on defense spending during either debates or campaign speeches. On her website she has argued for permanently ending sequester. This means she supports how much government agencies, including DOD, can spend. The defense industry does seem to be buying into this. As of April 2016, Hillary Clinton has collected more money from employees of the largest contractors with the Department of Defense than any other candidate on either side. I guess they see her as the winner come November.

But let us take a look at the past performances of both her husband and her would-be predecessor, which one could logically argue that she will follow. Both President Clinton and President Obama cut defense budgets and shrank the military. Though both came to office either soon after a major military build up for the Gulf War I or, in President Obama’s case, during the slowdown of the War on Terror. Will the new President Clinton follow the old path or blaze a new one with new friends from the defense industry? Only time and the voters can tell.

As for Donald Trump, his plan is pretty cut and dry. “We will spend what we need to rebuild our military,” he said. “It is the cheapest, single investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.”;_ylt=AwrB_s2uaitXaeUAJQBXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBsaGVqY3E0BGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHNlYwNzcg--Trump was is vague about the details of this plan of his, but I would not underestimate him.  The rest of the GOP did and just that and look where they are now.

Will it be President Clinton or President Trump?  Either way things are going to get very interesting in the world of defense.

An Interservice Rivalry Taken Too Far

Recently, I came across an Associated Press article titled, ”Trial begins in killing over whether Army or Marines the better branch.” WHAT? The first paragraph read:

BILLINGS, Mont. — Trial is scheduled to begin Monday in the case of a 63-year-old man charged with slashing the throat of another man during a drunken argument over whether the Army or the Marines are the better military branch.

After reading the article, I kept wondering to myself, “What is it about, on a personal level, that would make two grown men try to kill each other over which branch of service is better.” Of course alcohol was involved, the 63 year old had a 0.217 BAC, but there must be other reasons for this behavior.

There are three main reasons for this feeling of animosity that may occur between members of different branches.
  1. The military attracts alpha-type personalities. It is this “gung-ho” type of personality that has made the U.S. military the greatest fighting force in history. It takes this type of mentality that you are stronger, tougher and more fearless than the next guy to storm a beach or go street to to clearing houses. But it also takes indoctrination.
  2. Additionally, from the time you enter basic training you are made to feel like you can accomplish anything and one of the ways they make you feel this is through the singing of cadences. Almost everywhere you go you are moving in a formation and in a formation you are always singing cadences. Many of these cadences are sung at the detriment of other services. As weeks, months and years pass the animosity becomes ingrained.
  3. Each branch has a different level of comfort. Even in many of the same bases the comfort level is different for the different branches. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines all see how the other side lives. Many times the “grass is greener” on the other side and the greener side usually likes to rub it in.

So from the beginning of a military career, animosity is conditioned. Yet, it is completely unacceptable to have this hostility rise to the level of murder.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The World is a Battlefield

The Republic of Yemen is becoming fertile ground for radical jihadists and the now-year long civil war has cost over 6,000 lives and caused destruction on a massive scale — yes, Yemen remains without a functioning government.  Despite what you may think about this relatively unknown Arab country, Yemen has some strategic value to the United States and the region as a whole.  3 million barrels of oil pass through Yemen’s shipping lanes everyday, feeding the energy hungry East.  Further instability in Yemen may disrupt the global oil market.  More importantly, Yemen is becoming the next Afghanistan.  Terrorist groups are always looking for a failed state to exploit.  AQAP operates out of Yemen and ISIL is making moves.  The United States should be concerned with the direction is Yemen is heading.  If Yemen continues to deteriorate, jihadists will have a safe haven from which to conduct terror on the United States and its’ gulf allies.

In order for the United States to effectively degrade and defeat AQAP, it needs to seek to collaborate with the Saudis, while also relying on U.S.’ intelligence and airpower capabilities.  Sound familiar? Yes, we should once again implement the Afghan model!  By doing this strategy, the United States will avoid its perceived stigma of being an international hegemon that acts unilaterally with impunity.  Counter AQAP will indeed require a holistic approach.  The United States should also partner with NGOs to give Yemen the basic necessities for life that it lacks.  Sound familiar? Yes, we did this in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While the U.S. should rely on the Saudis as the cannon fodder, Washington should look to escalate its role in airpower.  Maybe also send a few special operators to Yemen to train its local security forces? Sound familiar? Yes, this is what we are doing against ISIL. 

In conclusion, the world is a battlefield.  The Middle East is a mess.  The United States has strategic value seemingly in every country of the world — as one should expect in a globalized planet.  Let our millennial generation get use to this new warring world.  The security field looks appealing indeed.