Defense Statecraft

Friday, April 18, 2014

Russia's Far-Right Friends

Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t have many friends in Europe (or elsewhere) at the moment. His annexation of Crimea and aggressive posturing towards Ukraine has been roundly denounced by NATO, the EU, and, as a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the annexation as illegal demonstrated, basically everyone. The U.S. and the EU responded to Russian actions in Crimea with (admittedly limited) sanctions against key Russian government officials and Putin allies. While this is perhaps not particularly newsworthy on the American end, for the EU it is an important step forward – the EU is more vulnerable to Russian retaliatory action given their significantly more prominent economic and political ties. More significantly, on Thursday, the European Parliament called on the EU to prepare economic sanctions in the event that the crisis deepens. This would represent a huge challenge for the now-28 member union to pull off, since the EU and Russia are closely intertwined economically (for example, 19 of 27 EU countries in 2012 had trade deficits with their partner to the east).

That’s not to say that the Russian leader is completely without allies to the west. As a recent Economist article pointed out, the populist far right in Europe has, over the course of the crisis, largely down on his side. These forces include France’s National Front, Italy’s Northern League, the UK’s Independence Party, and the Dutch Freedom Party – political parties with nationalist, anti-EU, and, according to critics, xenophobic platforms, members, and leaders. A few years ago, an alliance between Putin and these groups would have been troubling but not necessarily worthy of much concern. This may not be the case today.

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen’s National Front (Front National en français), for example, has just had a – if not wildly successful – definitely very strong electoral showing in mayoral elections, winning in 11 towns and cities at the end of March.  Running on a platform that leverages popular frustration with the European Union and takes advantage of President François Hollande’s unenviable approval ratings, her party’s success alarmed France’s more mainstream parties (the UMP and the Socialists) and European observers alike. The problem is not so much the rise of the National Front itself as it is the extent to which this success is illustrative of a swing to the political far right across Europe. With continent-wide European Parliament elections coming up in May, the far right is gunning for the EU – Le Pen at the head of the charge.

The European Parliament building
What are the implications of this development for the evolution of the Ukraine crisis? Admittedly, few truly consequential effects are foreseeable in the immediate-term. The European Parliament is not the strongest or most important institution in the EU, despite its gradual expansion of powers and responsibilities. Additionally, even if Le Pen’s far-right alliance manages to significantly expand its hold (30% is one figure being tossed around, although that’s likely at the high end of forecasts), mainstream, pro-European parties will retain the majority. But a strong showing by this group will do little to discourage Putin from further escalation, and may very well encourage it. Europe’s far right and the Russian premier share several political stances – skepticism about immigration, strong feelings of nationalism, concerns regarding Islamic extremism, and, perhaps most importantly, a distaste for the EU and its close ties with the U.S. The rise of groups espousing such views does not bode well for transatlantic efforts aimed at more or less containing Putin.

This is illustrated by a few choice examples from recent weeks. The Russian government invited far-right European parties (including the National Front and the Austrian Freedom party) to observe the Crimea referendum – a referendum that the EU had declared invalid. Individual far-right party officials from France and Hungary, doubling as observers, condoned the vote, noting that it appeared to conform to international norms. Marine Le Pen recognized the results.

Leaders of a number of right-wing parties in Europe have expressed explicit support for Putin and his position on Crimea and Ukraine while simultaneously blaming the EU for fomenting the crisis in the first place. Le Pen made waves when she traveled to Moscow earlier this month and used the opportunity to accuse the EU of launching a new Cold War with Russia. In addition, she expressed support for the “federalization” of Ukraine (a proposition rejected by most European governments). Incidentally, she has also expressed opposition to any economic sanctions against Russia. Such actions and rhetoric can only serve to exacerbate the situation and inspire Putin to go further – as would the increased legitimacy that success in the May elections could bring.

This situation must look rather encouraging to Putin as he contemplates his next move. While, as noted earlier, any success the far-right might achieve in May will have little (if any) immediate effect, a strong showing may very well send Putin a political message he’d be only too happy to receive: his friends are on the rise. Such an outcome will also complicate calculations and negotiations within the EU (as well as within individual member states) as leaders attempt to develop and sustain policies opposing the expansionism of the behemoth to the east. The EU may become slower and more hesitant in responding to Russian aggressions, emboldening Putin to take more risks.

Looking ahead, the most significant threat (which is not to say the most likely threat) would be for all of these groups to gain a significant foothold in or even control of their national governments. In 2011, for example, Le Pen stated that if her party won the 2012 presidential election, France would withdraw from NATO and form a special partnership with Russia (keep in mind that France only became a full member of NATO in 2009, when it rejoined the military command). While this is not a position shared by all or even most of Europe’s far-right parties, it would be a severe blow for the Alliance in its efforts to contain Russia. More generally, the rise of any group that seeks to weaken Brussels (which here can mean NATO or the EU), can only serve to strengthen Putin’s position and resolve. However unlikely such events are, they certainly serve as complicating factors in Europe’s efforts to respond to and curtail current and potential Russian aggression.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The DDG-1000: America's Newest Destroyer

This past Saturday the Navy christened its newest ship, the DDG-1000 otherwise known as the USS Zumwalt. The Zumwalt is the first completed of three destroyers in its class. The Navy had originally planned to build around 20 Zumwalt style destroyers, but owing the the $3 billion plus price tag, procurement was cut. According to the Navy: "The multi-mission DDG 1000 is tailored for sustained operations in the littorals and land attack, and will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces, and operate as an integral part of joint and combined expeditionary forces." Judging from this statement, it seems the Zumwalt and its sister ships are destined to play a pivotal role in the US 'rebalance' to Asia.

The USS Zumwalt at its christening (April 12, 2014)
The USS Zumwalt's design incorporates many new features into the ship's superstructure, adding greatly to its combat abilities. First and most noticeable, is the ships unique, angular look. The sloped architecture of the hull, known as a "tumblehome" hull, reduces the radar cross section of the ship. This, combined with the composite deckhouse which absorbs radar energy, makes the massive Zumwalt appear the size of a small fishing vessel on radar. A perfect design for operating in anti-access/area denial spaces in the South China Sea.

An artists rendering of the Zumwalt
In addition to its stealthy design, the Zumwalt employs a full arsenal of the most advanced weapons technology in the fleet today. The ship's two main guns, designed by BAE Systems and known as the Advanced Gun System, are capable of firing 10 rounds of 155mm GPS guided Long Range Land Attack Projectiles up to 70 miles. With a magazine of 750 rounds, the Zumwalt's ability to project power from the littoral is unmatched. Supporting the two main guns are 20 four-cell, Raytheon designed MK57 Vertical Launch System tubes. The cells, which will be spread across the hull of the ship and can carry anti-ship and anti-air missiles, give the ship both strong offensive and defensive capabilities. The Zumwalt also features a new advanced propulsion system, the Integrated Power System. The system produces excess power from what is needed to run the ship, and it is theorized that this additional power may someday be used to operate a railgun.

Some of the capabilities of the Zumwalt
The Navy appears to have hit a home run in the design of the Zumwalt; one that will prove its effectiveness time and time again as the naval contest in the Pacific continues to grow in intensity.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

USS America and the Role of Amphibious Assault Ships

Last Thursday, the Navy accepted delivery of the USS America, the first of the new America class of amphibious assault ships (AAS).  While America is based on the design of USS Makin Island, the last of the Wasp class of AAS's, it departs in crucial ways from the design of earlier ships, having been built to act more like an aircraft carrier than a traditional AAS.  These design choices are controversial, and future ships of the America class may deviate from the "Flight 0" design as new thinking evolves.

America, at 45,000 tons, will be the third largest aircraft carrier in the world, not counting the US Navy's nuclear supercarriers.  It is more fitting even than with most American AAS's to refer to America as an aircraft carrier--significant compromises were made in terms of the ship's role and flexibility in order to enhance her role as a platform for Marine aviation.

Compared to Makin Island, America has 2/3 less space dedicated to hospital and medical facilities, and no well deck.  In return, America has significantly larger hangar capacity and aviation fuel storage, as well as additional aircraft maintenance facilities.  Her standard compliment of aircraft is expected to be 6 F-35B's short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighters, 12 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, 7 AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters, and 6 transport helicopters, but she could also be outfitted to carry at least 20 F-35B's in a dedicated fighter carrier role.

Problematically, however, the deck of America does not seem capable of actually supporting heavy operation of next generation STOVL and VTOL aircraft, including the F-35B and V-22.  Heat from the engines of both planes have caused major problems with the ship's flight deck, preventing it from being able to carry out much of it's stated role to full effect.  While the Navy claims this will not be a problem as AAS's are designed for short, fast operations rather than sustained warfare, this excuse rings hollow:  it is pointless and wasteful to commission a ship costing over $3 billion dollars which is unable to fully support the aircraft it was primarily intended to service.

AV-8B Harriers, as well as all helicopters, do not pose this problem, but considering the advanced capabilities of both the Osprey and F-35, older aircraft will not be sufficient for many missions that America would expect to face.

The Marines, however, have another concern: the ship's lack of a well deck.  Most AAS's have a large deck at water level at the rear to allow hovercraft and boats to dock with the ship in order to transfer troops and vehicles to shore.  America's lack of a well deck means that all troops must be ferried to shore via aircraft or else be first shuttled to another ship to board landing boats or hovercraft.  This also greatly restricts America's ability to land vehicles in support of infantry or humanitarian operations.

While other ships may be capable of transporting vehicles in a humanitarian crisis, the lack of docking for infantry operations can be more problematic.  In the event of a target still protected by air defenses, landing Marines via aircraft could be much more risky than via boat.  In addition, Marines landed from America will be able to count on fewer fighting vehicles for close support than compared to other AAS's.

America is an impressive ship, with an important role.  Compromises were made in her design, and as her commissioning draws nearer, and after she begins operations, experiences with her initial operation will almost certainly lead to changes in future ships of her class.  What exactly these will be, remains to be seen.

What Upcoming Elections in India Could Mean for its Established Nuclear Doctrine

The current general election being conducted in India which began April 7th, will draw to a conclusion May 12th, with winners being announced on May 16th.  The elections which will determine all 543 parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), are likely to spell major changes to the power structure in India's national government, likely giving power to the more nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  The expected outcome precipitated by major gains for the BJP will be a new Prime Minister of India, likely to be the Gujarati hindu-nationalist Narendra Modi.  Modi, who infamously was the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat during the 2002 riots in Ahmedabad, faced allegations that he allowed, and even instigated the anti-Muslim riots which ended in the deaths of roughly 1,000 victims. Although the key issues of the current elections are the direction of the Indian economy and improving its governance, one of the more important items contended in the election are possible changes to its national nuclear posture and federal defense policies.

BJP-Leader and probable next Indian PM Narendra Modi      
Source: Pragativadi (India)

In the BJP "Manifesto" released this past week by the party, a proposed change in Indian national defense policy, especially in regards to its nuclear posture was vaguely mentioned and outlined.  On page 39 of the document, the BJP state the impetus behind proposed changes to India's nuclear posture and program structure, stating: 
  1. Our emphasis was, and remains on, beginning of a new thrust on framing policies that would serve India's national interest in the 21st century. We will follow a two-pronged independent nuclear programme, unencumbered by foreign pressure and influence, for civilian and military purposes, especially as nuclear power is a major contributor to India's energy sector. 
The emphasis on an Indian nuclear program driven by "national interest" and conducted "unencumbered by foreign pressure and influence" is predictable, especially from a political party committed to hindu-nationalism.  The manifestation that these vague commitments appear to be intended to bring India's nuclear posture and development into question. The most important policy regarding India's nuclear posture that appears set to come under revision is the long standing 'no-first-use' policy that has been maintained since nuclear testing began in 1998.  Although the BJP manifesto makes no explicit reference to India's established no-first-use policy, the drafters of the same document acknowledged to media outlets that this was one of the policies which would come under strong reconsideration if they are successful during the current election cycle.  Also stated in the manifesto, is the fact that India would begin dealing with cross-border terrorism and territorial disputes more aggressively than in past situations to protect its own national interests.  These claims can be construed as troubling, especially within a South Asian region that is already rife with contentious international relations, and relatively low on stability.  

Pakistan, who proliferated in response to India shortly after the first successful nuclear test was conducted in 1998, did not adopt a no-first-use policy of its own, and relies more strongly on its nuclear arsenal than India because of the considerable gap in relative conventional military capabilities.  The Indo-Pakistani relationship has been, and remains a possible powder-keg waiting to explode, resulting from the nuclear capabilities of both nations. A major change in Indian declaratory policy could potentially change the calculus determining nuclear-arms usage between both countries, further destabilizing the relationship.  Although a nuclear strike by India responding to a terrorist or conventional attack by Pakistan would remain highly unlikely, even if the BJP were to rescind India's no-first-use policy, a more aggressive Indian nuclear posture would lead to a more contentious relationship between the two nations by decreasing trust, especially on the Pakistani side, possibly increasing the chances of a nuclear conflict.  India's relatively benign previous reactions to Pakistani sourced instigations and terrorist attacks appear to be coming to an end if the BJP are victorious as expected in the current general elections.  Even though the previously stated likely-hood of an Indian nuclear strike in response to a conventional or terrorist attack remains all-but out of the realm of possibility, a change in India's nuclear posture and a more aggressive foreign policy, could increase the volatility of Pakistani behavior, precipitating an increasingly destabilized situation.  

Photo of the highly contentious Wagah Border between India and Pakistan in Punjab      

Despite numerous cases of violence and various other provocations committed by both countries, the nuclear posture by each has worked to prevent nuclear conflict, begging the question why a revision to policy by either is necessary, or even advisable.  Modi and the BJP may be able to offer hopes for greater commercial success and better domestic governance to India, but it must be careful to not become to brazen or aggressive in regards to nuclear posture or defense policies, threatening nuclear deterrence.  A nuclear conflict between Pakistan or India could create a potential situation where either or both national governments would fail as a result, making preposed economic and governmental reforms a mute point.  The hope for continued relative peace between India and Pakistan relies on smart nuclear posture and defense policies from both nations, especially India.  The onus lies especially heavily on Indian policy makers because of the aforementioned conventional superiority that it possesses.  If India creates a situation where Pakistani policy makers feel as if they have their perverbial backs-to-the-wall, they may decide that they have no other recourse than to strike with nuclear force.  By doing away with its no-first-use policy, India inches closer to creating such a situation, wherein Pakistani officials can no longer be sure that India will not use nuclear weapons against it without first being the recipient of such an attack.  

Going forward, cooler heads must prevail among newly elected Indian policy makers. The stakes for both nations are exceedingly high and even a slight change in the current situation could set forth a set of unforeseen events that could result in disastrous consequences for either or both sides.  Hopefully the BJP and potential future PM Modi will understand the severity of their decisions and meet them with the reason and pensiveness that they deserve.   

UPDATE:  The BJP came out with a clarification to previous statements made about revising India's no-first-use policy today in the Hindustan Times & Diplomat.  Here is the link: BJP statement on 'no-first-use' policy.

Is this Bug Bleeding Us of Our Security on the Internet?

            The Heartbleed Bug—or CVE-2014-0160, as it is officially known—has a lot of people worried about their privacy and security online. The bug, discovered on April 7, 2014, is a weakness in the “OpenSSL cryptographic software library” that enables hackers to steal private information from unwitting victims. Problematically, OpenSSL is the most of its kind, and it is likely that everyone using the internet was affected, either directly or indirectly. 

Any information that was stolen would normally have been protected by the SSL/TSL (transport layer security) encryption, which secures information in the internet. However, the Heartbleed flaw allowed hackers access to users’ email, instant messaging, and virtual private networks. All of this was done without leaving a trace.

            As explained on the Heartbleed Bug website:

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.”

            A new version of the software has been released—Fixed OpenSSL—which lacks the flaws of the older version. The vulnerable versions have been identified as OpenSSL 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f. These versions were released beginning in March of 2012, and have been spreading for the past two years. The fixed version was released on April 7, 2014.

            It is impossible to tell whom this bug has affected. Before it was discovered by security engineers and Google security expert in Finland, it went undetected. Today, there are websites that test whether a URL is vulnerable, and allows users to see for themselves what passwords they need to change to stay protected.

            Websites are now attempting to determine whether the bug affected them, and what security measures and changes need to be put in place before they can be safe again. Meanwhile, consumers are worried about the possibility that their credit card numbers and other personal information are in the hands of hackers. Computer security experts have urged all internet users to change their passwords to be on the safe side. Passwords for email accounts, bank accounts, and even Facebook and Twitter can all be used to possibly exploit users.
            Further complicating the matter is the revelation that not only websites are vulnerable to the bug: many internet devices are as well. At least two-dozen devices have been identified as vulnerable, from servers and routers to video cameras and videoconference devices. Companies would have been especially susceptible to these types of attacks. Hackers would have had access to phone conversations and voicemails, and no one would have been the wiser.


 Not just businesses are vulnerable, though. Thousands of people are at risk of bring hacked if they use certain smartphones. Despite Google’s statement that all of its Android phones were immune to attack, the company added a “limited exception.” However, this exception is not so limited, as the vulnerable version, 4.1.1, is used by 34% of Android users. This version is used in “millions of smartphones and tablets,” making many consumers vulnerable to attack.

Recent revelations have made the Heartbleed Bug even more of a contentious issue. Three days after the Heartbleed Bug was revealed to the masses, reports surfaced that indicated the NSA knew about this bug for two years, and used the vulnerabilities to further spy on U.S. citizens. The NSA exploited the flaws in the OpenSSL software to gather intelligence on internet users and to “pursue national security interests.” However, by failing to tell everyday internet users of the bug, the government left millions of people unprotected from hackers, both international and domestic.

            The NSA denied these reports, claiming that they find out only when the bug was “discovered” by the Codenomicon engineers and Google on April 7th. An email from the ODNI stated, “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong.” Given the revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding the PRISM program, U.S. citizens are not necessarily inclined to trust the word of the government when it comes to spying.

So with the knowledge that hackers go completely unnoticed, and leave no trace of their presence, the question comes to mind: if using this bug to hack into vulnerable systems leaves no trace of attack, who is to say that the government itself wasn’t ever under attack? Intelligence services all over the world, or even stateless actors, could have gained access national secrets, or federal employees’ identities. If no one can trace them, how will we ever know if they were there?

In the end, if the NSA knew of the Heartbleed Bug and did nothing to warn American citizens, it made a grave mistake. This bug left the security of millions of people vulnerable to attack by hackers, foreign intelligence services, and criminals. If the U.S. government didn’t know about the bug, then what else don’t they know?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alternative to War

Earlier this year, Russia decided to occupy Crimea. Since then, the international community has responded to this flagrant violation of international norms by condemning the action and imposing various sanctions on Russia. However, some have called for military intervention, leading many to wonder if sanctions are a strong enough response to such aggression.

The idea of economic sanctions being a practical, liberal alternative to war has become increasingly common. Economists, such as Gary Hufbauer and Daniel Drezner support the idea that sanctions have potential to be highly effective, while others, such as Robert Pape, consider sanctions to be fairly useless overall. Regardless of one’s personal belief over the usefulness of sanctions, nations do tend to favor sanctions as a first step in coercing or dissuading another country from objectionable behavior.

One way to determine the potential effectiveness of sanctions is by using the Conflict Expectations Model, designed by Drezner. In his book, “The Sanctions Paradox: Economic Statecraft and International Relations” Drezner explains the model in details and uses various case studies to test his hypothesis.

Low Expectation of Conflict:
High Expectation of Conflict:
Large Gap in Costs:
Significant Concessions
Moderate Concessions
Small Gap in Costs:
No Attempt at Sanctions
Minor Concessions

From this model, Drezner makes the argument that by calculating the expectation of conflict and how much the sanctions will hurt, it is possible to determine the level of success that can be achieved through the implementation of sanctions. In the instance of North Korea, sanctions have not brought about the desired results (namely the elimination of its nuclear weapons program), but this can largely be attributed to the fact that America is the main proponent of sanctions, yet has very minimal economic ties to North Korea. Using Drezner’s model, it becomes apparently that because North Korea has a high expectation of future conflict and would only incur a small gap in costs from sanctions, the most that the U.S. could reasonably hope for would be minor concessions.

However, it is important to realize that if a targeted country can secure any of the sanctioned goods from another country aside from the sender country, the sanctions will not be as effective. Therefore, sanctions are generally more successful when applied multilaterally. In the case of Russia, Drezner believes that no economic sanction will compel Russia to leave Crimea because of a lack of unity regarding the sanctions, the demanded outcome (a withdrawal from Crimea) is too high a price for Russia, and because it will take time for Russia to feel a substantial impact from the sanctions (and during that time Russia will likely try to establish the current situation as the status quo). Despite this, Drezner believes sanctions should still be leveraged against Russia as an attempt to deter it from repeating this action and because sanctions can be a factor in the solution, even if they are not a complete solution alone.

However, sanctions do not always work, and according to Robert Pape, they rarely work. Pape approaches sanctions from a very narrow perspective and only examines the stated goal of sanctions when determining how successful they were. He further asserts that in reality, it is ultimately the threat of war that often causes a change in behavior.

Nevertheless, sometimes the real policy goals or objectives are not explicitly stated and even if the success rate is fairly minimal, the chance to avoid or lessen the severity of a war by first pursuing economic coercion is worth it. Furthermore, Drezner’s analysis of economic coercion from Russia towards thirteen post-Soviet states appears to disprove the theory that military threats have a higher success rate. Drezner notes that in regards to achieving its goals, “when military power was threatened or exercised, Russia succeeded only 35.7 percent of the time; when economic statecraft was the sole coercive mechanism, the success rate was 80.0 percent.” While this is only a study of Russia vs. former-Soviet states, it does provide solid examples of multiple instances where economic coercion was more successful than military threats.

Another argument against the use of sanctions is that they create a humanitarian crisis. Broad, severe sanctions could certainly do that, but smart sanctions are a way to avoid such an undesirable result. By freezing assets, imposing visa bans, implementing arms embargoes, etc, a sender country is able to target the demographic that it wishes to hurt the most. Specifically, if the leaders of a country are most affected by sanctions, they are more likely to reconsider their decisions.

Part of adequate defense statecraft comes from understanding when it is necessary to go to war, and when it is best to pursue other options, even if they initially appear unrelated to defense or if they seem to indirectly affect military options. Economic statecraft presents a different, but valid perspective when contemplating military action. Economically, politically, and diplomatically isolating a country can have powerful ramifications that will cause the targeted country to reexamine its behavior. If sanctions help avoid a war, then lives have been saved. If it still becomes necessary to turn to armed conflict, then so be it, but it is imperative to explore all other options as well.

Iran: What's New Old Again?

April, 2014 may be considered as a new wave in the U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations that have been warming up or, instead, cooling down during last few decades. Iran's newly appointed UN Ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, was denied a U.S. visa to join the Iranian Mission in the UN Headquarters (NYC). However, the final decision is to be made by the U.S. President, who has been attempting to rebuild trust in bilateral relations with the nuclear power with his final step in as a direct phone call in Fall 2013.

Hamid Aboutalebi is known in Iran as one of the most prominent diplomats for his previous professional service in Belgium, the EU, Australia, and Italy. He is currently accused for being a part of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, when 52 American diplomats were held in hostage for 444 days. The Iranian senior officials refuse his direct involvement in the Revolution which overthrew Iran's monarchy and introduced the Islamic Republic. Mr. Aboutalebi himself accepts the fact that he was involved but only indirectly, as a translator and assistant in negotiations of the Muslim student group.

The Obama Administration informed the Iranian government to replace its appointment on April 11. However, the official statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran expressed that the government does not have any choice to substitute Mr. Aboutalebi; whereas, the Iranian UN Mission spokesman, Mr. Hamid Babaei said that the U.S.' decision was regrettable and in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country to accept the decision of a sovereign member in designating its representatives in the UN. In response to the demand of the Iranian officials, the U.S. authorities outlined that denial occurs only in cases when the issue of visa might cause a threat to the national security of the host country.

Denying visas to the UN ambassadorial nominees  has been a rare case. One of the papers, published on the subject (Yale Law School), stipulates that the U.S. Government rejected several Iranians appointed to the UN in 1980s, declaring they played a role in the embassy hostage crisis or other acts against American citizens. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was also denied visa in 1988 for objective reasons. That precedent prevented him from speaking at the UN. However, to what extent the measure could become a normal procedure is a concern among other UN missions as well. At this point, the Iranian officials aim to pursue only legal mechanisms to persuade the American Government to deal with Foreign Policy matters separately from the international law on the UN missions.

International media started posting articles on how the U.S. risks its improving relations with the Iranian authorities with such a denial. Apparently, the Congress does not follow the logic here. It is a double pressure on President Obama though, who is to make the final decision on 'how to deal' with a possible threat to the U.S.' national security in the face of Mr. Aboutalebi, who has been previously accepted and respected in the American allies across the globe. While the UN has been waiting on announcing its official stand,  the U.S.-Iranian talks on nuclear proliferation programs continue reaching their apogei  with disruptions, such as the denial in visa to Iranian diplomats. Thus far, decades long imposed sanctions on Iran have not shown a great effect; instead, they have been fueling anger of the Iranian officials towards the U.S. inhumane actions (against Iranians and not just the Government). The Obama Administration is now to balance the concerns out in a way, that it will gain wide Congressional support and pursue an ultimate goal of reducing the threat from the nuclear authoritarian power in the Middle East.

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

The US Air Force has had a rough go at it the past year. Recent rumors of drug use and cheating among Air Force personnel tasked with maintaining the readiness of our land based nuclear deterrent led to the resignation of Colonel Robert Stanley, commander of the 341st Missile Wing, and the removal of nine other officers. This of course follows upon the December sacking of Major General Michael J. Carey, commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for 450 nuclear missiles, for his drunken and boorish behavior while on an official trip to Moscow last July. Indeed Air Force malfeasance stretches back to at least 2007, when a B-52 bomber was mistakenly loaded with armed nuclear bombs and flown over the nation's heartland from Minot Air Force Base in Montana to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. That incident led to the firing of both the civilian Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff. With the litany of recent mistakes made by the Air Force and dangerously low morale among its missile forces is it any wonder that some are now arguing for the abolition of the service?

"Push the button, I dare you"
As provocative a solution as abolishing the Air Force seems, doing so will not improve the lagging morale of the nation's missile based nuclear forces. But what, if anything, can be done to ensure these recent mistakes will not be repeated in the future and to improve the forces' morale? The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) seems to offer a starting point for rejuvenating a depressed force.

Of the three pillars for the future defense strategy noted in the QDR; in defending the homeland, pride of place is given to the deterrent effect of US nuclear forces. As stated by the QDR:
Our nuclear forces contribute to deterring aggression against U.S. and allied interests in multiple regions, assuring U.S. allies that our extended deterrence guarantees are credible, and demonstrating that we can defeat or counter aggression if deterrence fails. U.S. nuclear forces also help convince potential adversaries that they cannot successfully escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression against the United States or our allies and partners.
Clearly and repeatedly denoting the mission and responsibilities of the nation's missile based nuclear forces will not only hone the focus of the nation's missileers but also give them a renewed sense of pride in the work they do, something severely lacking since the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed, as unfortunate as renewed antagonism with Russia over Ukraine has become; the Air Force should take full advantage of the crisis to increase training and improve doctrinal understanding of the mission of its nuclear forces. A well trained force, instilled with a belief in its mission is a happy force.

There are additional measures the Air Force can undertake to improve the morale of its units. As part of its commitment to the Obama administration's New START treaty with Russia, the Air Force will soon remove 50 nuclear missiles from their silos and put them in storage. However, the silos will not be decommissioned, but will be kept 'warm' i.e. fully manned. The Air Force originally planned to decommission and destroy the silos and reduce the missile force, however, fearing the loss of jobs this would entail, certain Congressmen forced the Air Force to keep personnel stationed in the silos. Its hard to see how the morale of highly specialized troops will improve when their mission will entail little more than custodial work. Instead of forcing the Air Force to maintain a bloated force, Congress should allow the silos to be fully decommissioned. The resulting job losses will be insignificant, especially in states where the shale gas boom is creating thousands of jobs.

While there is no silver bullet for curing low morale, the potential danger posed by a depressed nuclear force should spur the Air Force to seek out every cure imaginable. By starting with some of the above recommendations the Air Force will go a long way towards securing the future of America's missile based nuclear deterrent.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mali Revisited

The resignation of the entire Malian government last Saturday came as a surprise to observers who anticipated a reshuffle – not a full-blown purge. Although the newly appointed Prime Minister, ex-presidential hopeful and minister of town planning Moussa Mara, is likely already on his way to pulling together a new government, this does not look like an encouraging development in a country who’s territorial integrity was menaced by a separatist-jihadist alliance just a few months ago. Oumar Tatam Ly, the now ex-PM, attributed his decision to the new Malian government’s “dysfunction” and incompetence, stating that it was impossible for the civilian government to achieve its election promises.

Oumar Tatam Ly submitted his government's resignation on Saturday

While trying to get a handle on incompetence and dysfunction is, in and of itself, a good thing, establishing an entirely new government will be a challenge that requires a bit of time. No timeline has been laid out regarding when Mara will announce his new government – and this could be crucial. While President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita (IBK) has a solid mandate (he won well over 70% of the vote in the August 2013 election), the government collapse (or rather, was overthrown) in a 2012 coup resulted in Tuareg separatists and their Islamist allies, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), overrunning much of the northern half of the country.  These forces represented such a threat that Mali called on its former colonial master, France, to intervene. While the resignation of the government over the weekend is not equivalent to a military coup, there is enough uncertainty and instability in Mali to merit concern.

The problem here is that in late March, the leader of a new, armed group in Mali’s north – the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA) – suggested that the central government could face an uprising if it continues to delay talks on the future of the region. The UN Security Council has also warned of the need to conclude negotiations in order to avoid radicalizing rebels and losing what small security gains had been made with the assistance of the French. Time is thus not something Bamako really has in abundance.

The central government needn’t panic, however: several components of this situation differ enormously from the post-coup environment. For one thing, the alliance between northern Tuareg rebels – primarily the MNLA (Mouvement national pour la liberation de l’Azawad) – and various Islamists groups such as AQIM, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) appears unlikely to be reignited in the near term. This relationship, which in no small part facilitated the central government’s abrupt loss of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu – as well as the proclamation of an independent State of Azawad in the north in April 2012 – collapsed when the Islamist groups turned on the Tuareg rebels, driving them from the conquered cities. That betrayal led the MNLA to support France’s Operation Serval, aimed at rooting out the Islamists. It also suggests that any future cooperation will be undertaken reluctantly, or only after a fair amount of time has passed and sufficient trust has been established.

This map illustrates the situation in Mali in January 2013

In addition, France currently has some 1,600 troops deployed in Mali who continue to carry out Operation Serval’s mission of neutralizing the jihadist threat in the north.  In fact, France announced in late March that they had killed some 40 AQIM members, including Oumar Ould Hamaha or “Red Beard” – a jihadist with a $3 million bounty on his head. France and Germany have also announced that part of the Franco-German brigade will deploy to Mali to engage in military training with a European mission already in place. That mission has already trained some 3,000 Malian forces. The combination of foreign troops, improved indigenous military capacity, as well as the presence of an (admittedly under-staffed and relatively ill-equipped) UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA), all indicate that another territorial crisis or a run on the capital is unlikely. Bamako is in a much better position than it was two years ago.

That being said, there is some cause for concern. According to news reports, more than a year after Operation Serval was launched jihadists are regaining a foothold in some areas in the North. AQIM in particular has chased families from their homes, in addition to conducting an assassination campaign against those who supported the French-Malian operation (MNLA members and leaders have been a favorite target). And while there is a significant international training presence, France is reducing the number of soldiers engaged in actual combat roles from a peak of 5,000 down to about 1,000 through the spring. Whether the newly trained Malian forces and under-manned MINUSMA peacekeepers are capable of maintaining stability in the absence of thousands of French troops remains to be seen.

IBK faces several challenges in the coming months as he pursues reconiliation

Moving forward will depend on Bamako’s ability to pursue national reconciliation with the Tuareg separatists. The good news is that the CPA (unlike its MNLA parent) does not seek full-out independence for the north: that makes it a more acceptable negotiating partner for the government. The problem is that it’s unclear to what extent this particular group has the support of Tuareg elites – the group may be more palatable, but it may also have next to no influence over events in the north. Whatever the path forward, however, resolving the tension between the north and Bamako will be vital to obviating the incentive for a separatist-jihadist alliance and thereby to preventing another crisis in the long term. And to do this, Mali will need a government pretty soon.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Mali 2012-2013 crisis, check out some of the BBC’s coverage here.