Defense Statecraft

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Myth of Nuclear Determinism

Nuclear determinists like to argue that the spread of advance technology across the globe is increasing the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. They claim that all a non-nuclear state needs to acquire a nuclear weapons is the will to do so and the money to buy the technology required. The world then, as they argue, is on the precipice of a nuclear arms race, the consequences of which may be untold disaster. Nevertheless, the mass nuclear proliferation they claim is about to take place has not happened yet and does not appear to be on the horizon. To be sure, the weapons programs in Iran and North Korea pose a major threat to regional stability, however, they do not threaten on the same scale as a global nuclear arms race. Additionally, as Jacques Hymans notes in his 2012 book Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation, the length of time it has taken for recently proliferating states to complete their programs has increased in comparison to the time it took for the US and USSR to complete their programs in the 1940s. This fact takes the wind out of the sails of the argument of nuclear determinists, for if technology is advanced and as widespread as they claim, shouldn't nuclear weapons programs be decreasing in completion time?

Jacques Hyman's book does a good job in refuting the claims of nuclear determinists. Hyman argues that weak state institutions, more than anything else, prevent states from attaining nuclear weapons. He believes that questions over the ability of a state to successfully develop, maintain, and complete a nuclear program cannot be answered through purely technical reasoning, but must include political analysis of state institutions. 

Hyman makes his argument by analyzing the relationship between politicians and scientists at both the micro and macro level. At the micro level, he argues the professionalism of the scientific corps tasked with undertaking a nuclear program is paramount to the program’s efficient completion. Achieving a high level of professionalism rests on politicians granting scientists autonomy. Autonomy is attained by providing scientists with the resources they need, by allowing them to control their own work schedules, and by convincing – not coercing – them to buy into the nuclear project. Hyman notes that it is hard for a state to foster a feeling of professionalism among scientists, especially in states lacking strong institutions.

In linking the micro level to the macro, Hyman argues the reason why some states stifle scientific autonomy and professionalism and others do not is based on differing degrees of institutional constraint placed on the actions of the top leadership of the state. Hyman places all states into two organizational groups: Weberian legal-rational and neo-patrimonial.  Weberian legal-rational states have strong institutions that prevent the state’s leadership from interfering in the affairs of nuclear scientists, thus granting them the autonomy and professionalism needed to carry out a proliferation program. Neo-patrimonial states, however, lack strong institutions that can block elites from meddling in the affairs of their scientists. If these elites do meddle, then scientists will lose their autonomy and professionalism and the completion of a nuclear program will become a herculean task. As Hyman suggests, the reason why recent successful proliferation programs have taken longer to complete as compared to the programs carried out by the US and USSR in the early Cold War, is due to the fact that most states currently working on nuclear weapons projects fall into the neo-patrimonial category. So, Hyman gives us a good argument as to why nuclear determinism is wrong, now what does he say we should do about it?

The worst thing we can do, Hyman notes, is use military means to eliminate enemy proliferation programs. As he notes, military actions against enemy nuclear facilities and scientists often lead to the exact opposite of what they were intended to do. For instance, Hyman argues that the targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists by the US and Israel only convinces Iranian “scientific and technical workers to give their all to their country’s bomb project,” increasing the likelihood of the program’s success. Moreover, the almost blind faith accorded to this policy prescription demonstrates what has become an endemic failure of the US government to think at the strategic level. Complex questions, such as those surrounding how best to stop nuclear proliferation, require complex answers and strategic forethought. Framing these questions only in terms of technological capabilities limits the ability of the US to respond through means other than a military strike. In essence, we fail to see the forest from the trees. Instead, Hyman argues we should expand debate on these issues from the purely technical to the political to allow policymakers to view nuclear proliferation in a new light, creating opportunities for the development of new polices to combat a real problem in international relations. Herein lies the real benefit of Hymans book, for far more important than answering the question as to why some states are more successful than others at achieving their nuclear ambitions is Hyman’s call for us to break with our preconceived notions of nuclear weapons and view them from a higher, more objective plane. The challenge has been issued, can we meet it?       

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ukraine's Military Outlook: Bleak

As NATO and the Ukrainian government have frequently pointed out in recent days, the Russian army has massed significant forces on the Russian/Ukrainian border. As Ukraine attempts to crackdown on separatists in Eastern regions (whose origin is disputed), it seems at least plausible that an armed Russian response will be the final result. However, according to a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute, the heightened state of readiness of Russian troops can only be maintained through May, giving Russia limited time in which to act. However, Ukraine faces its own challenges in defending its territory, namely its depleted military capabilities and the geographic grouping of its bases.

Russia has 40,000+ troops amassed in the various battle groups and reserves surrounding Eastern Ukraine. However, these troops have been in position since late February, and can only maintain a state of readiness for a limited time. Based upon both the positions of Russian forces and the locations of separatist violence, Russia appears poised to attempt to seize a major portion of Eastern Ukraine if an invasion goes ahead; at the very least establishing a land corridor to Crimea, but possibly involving the seizure of more Northern regions such as Kharkiv.

Disturbingly, it is likely that any Russian military move would be quite successful. According to the Military Expenditure Database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Ukraine has spent on average about $3 billion annually since its independence from the Soviet Union. While Ukraine was left with significant amounts of former Soviet equipment, they are largely outdated and in poor states of repair. The extent to which Russia has modernized and improved its armed forces since 2008 is a matter of debate, but there is no doubt that they are better trained and equipped than their Ukrainian counterparts. Ukraine also faces a logistical challenge: its bases are largely concentrated in the West, another relic of the Soviet era. A deployment to the East would involve long and vulnerable supply lines without troops even having left the country. This is not even to mention the question of whether Ukrainian forces would fight at all.
 Ultimately, Ukraine is in a tenuous position militarily. Any Russian attack would likely achieve its strategic objectives in a matter of days. While the Maidan was certainly a victory for Europe, to cement its gains the West will need to lend greater support to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, or face the prospect of welcoming only a rump state into the European community.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Who Wins?

Started in March 2011 as a Civil War between Alawite (mystical followers of Shia Islam) government and Sunni-dominated rebel groups, the Syrian conflict/uprising/war has already taken away the lives of over 140,000 Syrians. This number is tending to rise further. The UN has given up collecting the death toll since July 2013, while the Syrian Government did even earlier, in 2012. The statistics are continuously gathered by Human Rights Observers.

Medical professional by education, President Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000, and, has been exercising authoritarian regime as his predecessor, father. Religiously fragmented, almost 23-million population of Syria has been seeking freedom from Mr. Bashar's regime and furiously attacking its Government for over three devastating years now. Besides inability to prevent escalation of the military situation in own country, Mr. Bashar has been playing geopolitical cards to turn the uprising into the Civil War, and now - into a proxy one. In 2013, President's Administration was accused of using chemical weapons against own citizens in Ghouta (agricultural belt around Damascus) killing over 1,400 people. To reject the facts, the President accepted third party (led by the U.S.) demands of destroying chemical arsenals.

Today, the conflict has its spills all over the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. But, besides the neighbors, Syrian war constantly reminds of itself in southern countries of the former-Soviet Union space: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The latter club has been raising the concern through official and media channels, fearing radicalization of moderate Islam via foreign-recruited local young men. While the involved states experience domestic challenges within their political, economic, and social sectors anyway; they also have to "deal" with the new wave of problems, such as refugees and radicalization of Islam. If the numbers of refugees, or externally displaced people, are being accounted (reaching 2.5 million by 2014); the toll for recruited young men from Central Asian states has not been updated (varying between 200-1000). Having got no historical experience of dealing with religious extremism, the post-Soviet states have not been successful in protecting own citizens from falling into the religious threat. At the same time, economically vulnerable parts of the Central Asian population, especially youth under 35 years of age, are being misled by religious groups of fighters for "freedom from dictators" like Assad. In addition, besides just being trained to, eventually, fight in the Syrian war, these religiously brain-washed boys are to return their homes which might escale wider regional insecurity.

While President al-Assad is seeking for winning points in his domestic and foreign politics, millions of Syrians and non-Syrians are affected by the conflict (deprived of basic needs and rights). And, to the question, "Who wins?" one wants to hear an obvious response stating that everyone involved loses. However, the Syrian realpolitik still remains being unexplained by any party now engaged. Also, some parties (especially, the Western) have already given up in believing the chaos might be stopped by external forces, unless there is an internal political will. Finally, the world's focus has had to shift to a "higher" new priority - Ukraine in 2014; therefore, religious extremism concerns are to be faced and, hopefully, tackled by the affected countries themselves.

US-Polish Ties and the Ukrainian Situation

Since the end of the Cold War, one of the most remarkable yet unsurprising shifts in east-west affiliation has been that of Poland.  While Poland was staunchly behind the Iron Curtain following World War 2, in the decades since it has become a staunch member of NATO and it will be a key member of the alliance in any defense maneuvering conducted counter to future Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Polish flag flying above the ruins of Monte Cassino, 1943
The Polish Army, crushed between the German and Soviet war machines, fought far more effectively on the ground than Americans generally believe them to have done, but were nevertheless defeated rapidly.  Many of the best Polish officers were murdered in captivity by the Soviets in the Katyn Forest, and democratic sentiment in Poland was severely weakened when the Germans put down the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.  The city was almost completely destroyed, and Stalin prevented the Soviet 1st Army from coming the the aid of the Polish Resistance, wanting for them to be destroyed.  Despite these setbacks, however, the Polish Army (fighting from abroad after the fall of Poland) contributed the fifth most soldiers to the Allied war effort and the Polish Air Force scored an impressive 769 kills against the Germans.

Resistance fighters patrol the streets of Warsaw, 1944
The Polish people were always reluctant members of the Eastern Bloc, but Poland was solidly behind the Iron Curtain.  While there were minor armed and unarmed opposition groups against Soviet-enforced Communist political dominance, they accomplished little before the Solidarity movement in the 80's which eventually overthrew the Communist government in the 1990 election, the first after World War 2 to be even partially free and fair.  Following the 1990 elections, Poland transitioned rapidly and effectively to a democratic government and market economy.  In 1995, they became the first formed Warsaw Pact country to surpass their pre-1989 high GDP, and today Polish citizens enjoy first class political and personal rights.  

Polish Air Force F-16C, 2013
Given this history, it's not surprising that Poland has sought to align itself towards Europe and against Russia.  They joined NATO in 1998, and the EU in 2004, and have lobbied extensively for greater integration of the European community.  Their military has begun the process of transitioning to Western-sourced equipment:  they have purchased MRAPs and F-16C’s from the US, and their general-issue infantry rifle is a Kalashnikov variant chambered for the 5.56 NATO cartridge (although it does not use NATO standard magazines).

Beryl Assault Rifle

Poland sent land, air, and sea forces to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaling the fourth largest overall contribution.  Polish special forces were instrumental in securing Iraqi oil wells intact, as well as taking the port of Umm Qasr.  Polish GROM special forces troops train closely with US Navy SEALS and other SOCOM operators, and have conducted numerous counter-insurgency missions alongside American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Polish GROM and US Navy SEALS conduct a joint training exercise, 2008

Poland was also apparently involved in helping to coordinate and train some of the Euromaidan protestors who were largely responsible for the fall of President Yanukovych’s government.  I do not consider these reports to be 100% verifiable, but I do consider them to be credible.  While most of the reports have been negative, calling the protestors putschists or neo-Nazis, these efforts clearly align with both Polish and American interests:  Poland is deeply committed to Europeanization, and opposed to increased Russian influence in its border nations.  Training members of the pro-European opposition in Ukraine would clearly benefit their interests.

Secretary Hagel speaks about wargames in Poland, 2014
At present, the US is preparing to deploy air and ground forces to Poland in response to the Ukrainian crisis.  Secretary Hagel emphasized that his priority is to de-escalate the crisis, and that US troops in Poland were not meant to threaten Russia.  Nevertheless, this must be interpreted as a show of American support not just for de-escalation but also for pro-Western interests in both Poland and Ukraine, as well as a reaffirmation of the US's willingness to stand by its NATO allies in Eastern Europe.  An additional 12 F-16's and 10 F-15's will be deployed to Poland for Baltic operations in addition to group forces.

US Airmen participate in a ceremony to mark US-Polish military cooperation, 2014
Furthermore, the US is planning major war games in Poland involving the US military as well as armed forces from several central and eastern European nations.  Poland will of course be participating, as well as detachments from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  Speaking about the exercise, Vice President Biden said that they were intended to reassure Poland and the Baltic countries that the US remains a "steadfast ally".

No matter its affiliation, Poland has played an important role in all the east/west conflicts of Europe in the recent past.  Given current events, it is certain to continue to do so.  Considering Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe, the US and Poland should continue to strengthen their partnership.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Examining the Fight to Keep the A-10 Warthog

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and first introduced into service in 1977, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the 'Warthog', is on the chopping-block according to the newly proposed DoD budget.  The budget proposal, which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel set forth for FY 2015 adjusts itself to the new realities of the Bipartisan Budget Act enacted by President Obama and Congress, which put a $496 billion spending cap on the DoD.  The A-10 Warthog, which has seen nearly four decades of service in a variety of US conflicts earned its tough reputation especially during the Persian Gulf War with Iraq in 1991, destroying much of Iraq's tanks, artillery and missile sites.  Armed heavily with armor and munitions, the A-10 is also slow, loud and flies at low altitudes.

The impetus behind doing away with the A-10 is understandable, doing away with older aircraft to make budget room for newer models like Lockheed-Martin's F-35.  The budget savings accrued by doing away with the current fleet of 283 A-10s is estimated at $3.7 billion over the next five years, and with rapidly expanding budgets for newly developed aircraft, is valuable savings for the DoD.  Perhaps surprisingly, the proposal to decommission  the A-10 has faced sizable opposition in Washington at a level rarely seen for previous aircraft.  In large part, the concerns for doing away with the A-10 is the aircraft's effectiveness in offering close air-support for ground troops, as pilots are well armed and protected, and are well equipped to tell the difference between friendly- and enemy-combatants as a result of the aircrafts ability to fly low and slowly over combat zones.  

Proponents of doing away with A-10, argue that with the current fiscal environment in Washington and related cuts to the DoD budget, cutting the aircraft offers the least amount of risk compared with other options that would be required to meet new budget constraints.  The argument that cutting the A-10 is the 'least risky' option stems from the fact that the Air Force offers other forms of close air-support that can adequately replace it.

Opponents of the the proposal to faze out the A-10 argue effectively that the aircraft is the best close air-support vehicle ever designed and commissioned, and that doing away with it would create a major liability for both pilots and ground forces deployed in combat zones.  Last Thursday Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and several A-10 pilots made this case in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee, explaining how the aircraft saved countless lives among ground forces during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the hearing Sen. McCain posited, "we are doing away with the finest close air-support weapon in history? And we are then going to have some kind of nebulous idea of a replacement with an airplane that costs 10 times as much - and the cost is still growing with the F-35? That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous." The argument against doing away with the A-10 grows even stronger when one compares the dates that the A-10 will be done away with, and the date that the F-35 will be ready for practical military use, where the A-10 will be gone in 2019 and the F-35's proposed date for commission is in 2021.  

The proposal to do away with the A-10 is understandable, especially when one takes into account the tough position that the DoD has been placed in by recent budgetary cuts.  The need to develop new weaponry and aircraft is clearly paramount to maintaining US conventional superiority over other militaries.  With that said, the DoD must also be sure that older, highly effective platforms are not replaced when they are more than capable of accomplishing the combat objectives tasked to them.  The DoD and USAF should seriously reassess their proposal to abolish the A-10 and look for alternative means of meeting tightening budget constraints.

RETROFITTED: Armed Crop Dusters to Potentially Join Yemeni Air Force

While still in its infancy since North and South Yemen unified in 1990, Yemen does in fact have an air force.
The air fleet consists of a motley crew of both eastern and western aircraft, most of which have been donated.  As for comprehensive numbers for the Yemeni Air Force, that remains unconfirmed, however the serviceability of the aircraft is low.

Since the United States has been actively carrying out counterinsurgency operations via the use of its drones, it has sought ways to further incorporate its Yemeni counterpart.  With this new proposal, the US is looking to provide small missile bearing planes to the Yemeni Air Force.  In addition, the proposal suggests similarly arming them with Hellfire missiles like Reapers.  These retrofitted cropdusters would be four bomb and missile prop planes manned by two pilots.  They are marketed mainly as platforms for COIN operations, however they are well suited for a number of other military or civil security missions including border security, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and counter-piracy.

It would allow Yemen to increase its role in targeted strikes against insurgents, specifically Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Allowing Yemen to directly handle its domestic threats, falls right in line with the Obama Administration's emerging "small foot-print" approach.  Also, if the Yemeni AF succeeds in procuring these aircrafts for the Yemen Precision Strike Program, it can take over the US drone role, giving the US deniability in future operations.  In a similar variation, the Colombian Air Force have used AT-29B Super Tucano turboprop planes armed with laser-guided bombs to successfully quell FARC rebels.  Moreover, the US has plans in work to supply Afghan Security Forces with another variation more appropriate for their type of domestic missions.

Defense Budget Cuts

            Defense spending around the world is rising, with the exception of the United States and other western countries. Total military expenditure, excluding the U.S., increased by 1.8% worldwide. In the U.S., on the other hand, military spending in 2013 fell 7.8% to about $640 billion, while spending in nations such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia increased.

This decrease in military spending by the United States is a result of the end of the war in Iraq, the slow withdrawal from Afghanistan, and budget cuts passed down through Congress. However, while Congress has continued to cut spending, the U.S. Defense Department has stated that it will continue to send budget proposals that reflect the requirements necessary to defend the country, not ones that obey the federal spending caps.

The DoD points to the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which would result in exceeding the cap by $115 billion between 2016 and 2019, as evidence of the White House’s reluctance to stick to spending caps when it comes to national security.

However, there have been significant cuts made to military expenditures in the proposed Fiscal 2015 Budget Proposal. President Obama sent Congress this proposal, which suggest a defense budget of $495.6 billion in “discretionary budget authority to fund base defense programs in fiscal year 2015”. This budget is $0.4 billion less than 2014 expenses.

The DoD continues to request more money with the end goal of striking a balance between “readiness, capacity, and capability” with smaller, more highly qualified and trained forces. The plans also include selective base closures and realignments, and slower growth in military compensation. The objective is to ensure that no matter their size, America’s Armed Forces are properly trained, equipped, compensated, and prepared to accomplish their mission. “

In response to the DoD’s FY 2015 budget request, Defense Secretary Hagel cautioned against the risks inherent in smaller budgets. With a smaller force, defense of the nation might be more difficult, and responding to multiple conflicts could be virtually impossible.

Two-thirds of the requested FY 2015 budget, approximately $336.3 billion, will go towards the DoD’s everyday operations, payroll, and benefits, as well as the training, logistics, family housing, and other costs associated with maintaining personnel. The remainder of the budget, approximately $159.3 billion, will be used to invest in future defense technologies and needs, including “modernization and recapitalization of equipment and facilities”. This money is divided between the military departments and the Defense-wide account.

The FY 2015 would also affect each branch differently, in size and capabilities.

The Air Force would trade off the A-10 Warthog and the 50 year old U-2 in exchange for the funding to support 59 combat-coded air squadrons (Active, Reserve, and Guard). The budget emphasizes modernization, including the funding for 26 Joint Strike Fighters, seven KC-46 Tankers, and the investment of $1 billion over five years for the development of a “next-generation jet engine”.

To balance spending, the Air Force would see a decrease in force size. Next year’s number of airmen is expected to be around 310,900, which is 11,000 less than this year’s. The budget will see a 10% decrease in combat squadrons as well.

The Navy plans to support a fleet of 283 ships, 5 less than FY 2014, and to protect “investments in attack submarines, guided missile destroyers, and afloat staging bases to confront emerging threats”. The FY 2015 budget request includes funding for two Virginia-class attack submarines, two DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers before 2019, 3 Littoral Combat Ships, 14 LCS, and 8 Joint Strike Fighters (2 for the Navy and 6 for the Marine Corps). In exchange, the Navy would place 11 cruisers in a long-term modernization program, and reconsider its Littoral Combat Ship program. The Navy’s manpower will only decrease by a few hundred, to approximately 323,600 sailors. 

The Marine Corps is requesting the funding to support 182,700 Marines, including 900 stationed at overseas American embassies for increased protection of U.S. officials. This is a decrease of about 5,000 Marines from FY 2014. The total number of infantry battalions will also drop from 25 to 23. Funding will also be affected by the Asia pivot, and will be channeled towards increasing U.S. presence in that region.

The Army’s FY 2015 budget includes requests for the funding of 32 Active brigade combat teams as well as 28 Army National Guard brigade combat teams. This will eliminate six of today’s brigades, as well as two of the thirteen combat aviation brigades. In terms of equipment, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program has been eliminated, and changes are being put in place for the helicopter force. 

Meanwhile, Army will decrease its force size at an accelerated pace, with the end goal of having between 440,000 and 450,000 Active Duty soldiers. The National Guard and Reserves will reduce to 335,000 Guardsmen, and 195,000 Reservists. This will shrink the Army down to the smallest it has been since before World War II.

The changes that would be made by the proposed FY 2015 defense-spending budget would be substantial. With the decrease in size and manpower, the national security of the country could be called into question. The most important element in the discussion is to strike the balance between efficiency and safety.

Is Education "Haram"?

Located in West Africa, Nigeria represents 7th most highly populated countries of the world with its 175 million population (2013 census). At the same time, recent Economist's issues emphasise the role of the Nigerian economy in the region, as the biggest with its $478.5 billion in 2013. According to the UN, majority (over 60%) of the population is youth under 25 year of age. In the survey led by a senior researcher for the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa, Mr. Atta-Asamoah, the Nigerian youth considers that young population is more of a risk than opportunity. And, the answer has its deep roots in the vulnerable conditions the Nigerians have been facing for decades now not since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1914, but rather since establishment of the terroristic organization, Boko Haram (nickname for meaning "Western education is forbidden"), in 2002. Currently, some of the reports state about over 320 deaths since March 2014 and thousands have been leaving their homes for seeking security in remote villages around the fragmented federal state. 

Originally, the armed attacks organized by country-wide spread Boko Haram were concentrated in poorer north-east states, such as Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Today, massive killings, according to journalists and local victims, unexpectedly occur anywhere, as Boko Haram finds new "targets". So far, the targets have been young men and women, attending state schools which the followers of Boko Haram's ideology consider "western". Initially, the U.S. Government raised concerns about the links of the Islamist militant group with Al-Qaeda and announced about the possible threat the organization might bring to the U.S.' national security. 

Under the religious mask, members (increasing in number due to continuous recruitment of youth in Africa) of Boko Haram seek to proclaim an Islamic state in Nigeria with enforced sharia law. Abubakar Shekau, the successor of the killed Muhammed Yusuf - leader of the group, aims at preventing the rise of non-Islamic motives in the Nigerian government and invites everyone to join the social and political rebellion against "harams", meaning "sins". Nigerian students have already been living in fear is massive slotters that have been taking place in educational institutions across the country for almost two months. Some are forced not to attend school, and their parents are worrying about the future of these young people.

Attempts to understand Boko Haram's Mission, leads to clashes between the essence of Muslim's Holy Book, the Qoran, and terroristic ideas and activities the militant group has been undertaking in Nigeria and its neighboring countries. "Haram", the sin, never was to refer to "education". Instead, just like any other religion, Islam promotes well-being and constant growth in people which is stipulated in Qoranic scripts (Meccan sura, 114. People). Besides that, it is against of killing and other wrongdoings which might cause harm to oneself and/or others. And, the holiest jihad (as the militants call it, referring to establishment of Islamic state/s in Africa) of the 10th century (when the religion was originated and started spreading from the Middle East) must, obviously, differ from the one in the 21st century. Highly educated Muslims that have studied across the world and accomplished own heights in science and art, highlight the importance of seeing the "will or strive within a human being (to be a better person)" under the notion of "jihad" (from an interview of a respected imam ['leader of community'] in Switzerland, March 2014), which prescribes constant education and cross-cultural tolerance. 

While youth in Africa is praying to live tomorrow, the militant organizations are using all possible means, with religious clash being the most clear-separating, to gain political power in the region and control oil or other natural resources. One could 'hear' that these militant/terrorist organizations want to redistribute the nation's wealth; however, it is obvious that only improving education and other socio-economic conditions will lead the African countries from the poverty trap. So, education cannot be "haram". And, the organizations (including Boko Haram), covered under religious vails and distorting the holy essence, must be declared as the causes of national threat to any country across the globe and sought to be eliminated. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

War Games

U.S. and ROK conduct joint military exercises

The U.S. armed forces regularly conduct joint military exercises with nations around the world. Recently, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK) held two annual military drills, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. Key Resolve, which ran from February 24th to March 6th of this year, focused on command post exercises, while Foal Eagle, which also began on February 24th and concluded yesterday, April 18th, concentrated on field training drills. These latest drills continue to highlight the close alliance that the U.S. and ROK have and the importance that the U.S. assigns to maintaining stability and inter-operability readiness in Asia.

However, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the People's Republic of China (PRC) are often less than enthusiastic about these joint drills and every time they are conducted, tensions rise. Are the exercises crucial and do they serve as a deterrent to others and a way to maintain military readiness and effectiveness?  Or do they unnecessarily provoke the DPRK and aggravate the PRC, resulting in an increase of anxiety and frustration during an already tense time? While the PRC potentially seems more concerned about joint training between the U.S. military and Japan’s Self-Defense Force, especially last year’s exercise held in California (and Japan’s recent announcement of intentions to fortify an island near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands will surely provoke the already agitated PRC), the DPRK fixates on Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

For the past 53 years the U.S. and ROK have held these exercises and undoubtedly, each year it angers, and worries, the DPRK. Although the DPRK condemns the exercises every time they occur, this year, in the middle of the drills, the DPRK and the ROK exchanged fire over their east coast maritime border and the DPRK threatened “a new form of nuclear test.” With the amplified rhetoric and increased boldness of the DPRK, the ROK has good reason to be especially wary of its neighbor to the north. The DPRK conducted its third nuclear test last year and its leadership continues to be unpredictable. 

While few believe that the DPRK could actually launch a nuclear strike that would reach America, the threat of any sort of aggression to U.S. allies in Asia is more legitimate. Given America’s close alliances in the region, finding ways to alleviate the tension and avoid an armed conflict is certainly within America’s best interest. Holding joint military exercises is an excellent way to ensure the preparedness of our allies, but caution should be taken to avoid further escalating the situation. While some no longer pay attention to the embellished statements coming from the Kim regime (who threatened an “unimaginable holocaust” should the U.S. and the ROK conducted the drills), the fact that the DPRK and its decision making process remain so opaque should concern others enough to continue to closely monitor the situation there. 

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.