Saturday, February 25, 2012

Perception is Power

Under the belief that Iranian leadership is willing to pursue to a foreign policy that includes wiping its enemies off the face of the earth, a number of states in the West and Middle East have become restless at the thought of a nuclear Iran. From this perspective, the possession of nuclear arms would instantly transform Iran from a pariah state, into a regional hegemon that could use threats of nuclear warfare to bully its neighbors into reluctant compliance. Seemingly unfazed by international pressures, Iran appears determined to continue to develop its nuclear capabilities, whether for domestic or military use, no matter the cost. If possessing nuclear weaponry provides a gateway for additional power and international recognition, it would be irrational for Iran to cease its behavior even in the face of economic sanctions and widespread condemnation. But, is the benefit of nuclear capability really worth the ever-increasing price tag? 

Although nuclear arms have the potential to create extensive physical and psychological damage, the procurement and maintenance of weapons is both time-consuming and resource-intensive. Generating an extensive stockpile of nuclear warheads may increase a state’s military capabilities on paper, but at the expense of monitoring and storing technology that becomes increasingly obsolete each passing day. An alternative to a mass buildup of arms is to instead focus upon the creation of small, tactical weapons that can be used for small-scale operations, but maintain the frightful guise of “weapons of mass destruction”. Nevertheless, in the case of Iran, it is not the size or strength of its arsenal that worry the international community, but the mere possession of the technology and capabilities to create nuclear arms. 

Yet, without a nuclear attack since the back-end of WWII, the need to actually develop and construct nuclear arms is quickly becoming less of a necessity. In the case of Iran, it has oft been considered an international menace and military threat despite the lack of evidence that it possesses or has even pursued the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Instead, Iran has gained credibility through its ability to create doubts and confusion about its desires and pursuits, an achievement coined “strategic ambiguity”. By keeping its true intentions hidden, the Iranian state could potentially develop nuclear technology and gain recognition as a member of the “nuclear club”, without the costly measure of truly creating a single warhead. Although the risk of a nuclear facade may be worth the reward in the short-term, it is difficult to say how long the international community is willing to fear an Iranian state without proof that its bite matches its bark.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This Week in Misleading Headlines: China Steps up Anti-Piracy Campaign

In what has been a retreat from their fairly rigid policy emphasizing the importance of sovereignty and non-intervention, China has conducted limited anti-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden since 2008.  With the recent announcement in the Liberation Army Daily that 84 leading naval commanders will undergo further specialized training in anti-piracy operations, China has cemented its commitment to combating piracy, while also tacitly signaling its intentions to further increase its maritime power.  China is effectively killing two birds with one stone: satisfying its domestic/economic interests while also parading its new found military power to the international community.  Operating under the guise of anti-piracy, China will not only secure its vital shipping lanes and interests in the region, but will showcase its ability to conduct and sustain naval operations far from their coastal waters in a relatively benign theater. 

While Chinese efforts to combat piracy are generally seen as a favorable step towards Chinese integration into the world stage, not everyone is totally pleased with these developments. Since beginning their limited anti-piracy operations in 2008, the Chinese Navy has dramatically increased its competence in a variety of blue-water capacities, including sea logistics, replenishment, satellite communications, and command and control, according to US Naval analysts.  Combined with strong littoral defense capabilities honed in its more traditional role protecting domestic coastlines, and an extensive naval upgrade that includes new destroyers, submarines, and a refurbished aircraft carrier purchased from Ukraine, the Chinese appear to be continuing their evolution into a maritime presence capable of complicating US Naval dominance in the immediate future. 

The larger implications of this rise for US Naval planners remain to be seen though.  China’s increasing ability to conduct operations in multiple theaters certainly complicates matters for strategists, and its capacity to restrict access at greater distances could prevent coordination of response, should an international event take place in the region.  However, China has given no indication that it will challenge US Naval dominance in the regions the US deems strategically significant, and joint anti-piracy efforts remain one of the best opportunities to engage with Chinese military personnel in productive areas.  Thus, while strategists must plan for a capable Chinese Navy in the future, current operations around the Horn of Africa may be the best opportunity to enhance cooperative understanding and achieve mutual goals.     

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If Presidential Bid Fails, Santorum Could Have a Future Installing Glass Ceilings.

Rick Santorum recently spoke out against women participating in military combat. In a reverse of protocol, the Pentagon announced plans to permit women to work in combat battallions in roles as interrogators, medics, radio operators and so forth. The professional progression of women within the military, while still behind modern societal expecations, is advancing. Santorum disagrees with this direction of military affairs.

Santorum stated that he believes that "emotions" may take over in the heat of battle and jeopardize a mission. "When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way, I think it's natural. It's very much in our culture to be protective.", states Santorum. Thus, a military's operations will be threatened due to these pesky women who seem to find themselves in danger and need being saved.

Santorum's remarks are missing in critical areas. He ignores the idea of the military being professionally trained. There has been, is and will always be an emphasis to think rationally and not emotionally. Second, humans have a "natural" inclination to save each other in combat. The creed "no man left behind" resonates throughout military history, yet, "no woman left behind" seems to sow chaos within a military operation. Third, if a woman sees a man being threatened, would she not be capable of helping him in the military? Do we not want our soldiers acting in defense of their brothers and sisters? To add salt to the wound, Santorum talks of "all sorts of physical issues" that cause him worry when considering women in active-combat role, while over 75% of Americans support women in combat roles. These are vital issues that reverberate thoughout our politics, culture, military, society and world. We can only trust this decision to a capable party: Do no worry women, these decisions are not yours to make, Santorum will do it for you.




Tuesday, February 07, 2012

There's no place like Homs, there's no place like Homs...

Can there be a happy ending in Syria somewhere over the rainbow?

On Anderson Cooper 360 last night, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested there were only three routes for the international community to take regarding the Syria crisis.

1) continue doing nothing, which she thinks is certainly plausible
2) arm Syrian rebel groups so that they can fight back, which she believes is the most likely option
3) Turkey+other neighboring countries in the area get involved militarily, which she thinks is possible but not likely

Of course, this is assuming the actions of Russia, which lacks the heart to intervene, and the US, which lacks the courage to intervene on its own, don't change sometime in the near future.

With the flood of horrific images being uploaded onto Youtube each day, it's getting more and more difficult for outside countries to stand around and continue doing nothing. The number of victims in Syria has reportedly reached over 6,000 and the government has no intention of ending the violent crackdown on protesters any time soon.[1]

The US is very unlikely to do anything bold on its own. The current administration is focused on trying to get re-elected this fall and probably feels that US military intervention in the region (after Iraq and Libya) would not be looked favorably upon by the American public. If America decides to act at all, it will be through a multilateral effort, but this is impossible since Russia and China vetoed the latest UN Security Council resolution for the international community to respond.[2] The American embassy in Damascus also closed yesterday due to the situation, which makes US diplomatic intervention even more unlikely.[3]

But perhaps things in Syria could change for the better....A Russian envoy recently arrived in the country to meet with Al-Assad.[4] Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made several remarks that Russia was very concerned with the situation and disturbed by the amount of bodies that cannot even be identified. If any country has the diplomatic clout and influence to force a change in Syria, it is Russia. Besides, Russia could really benefit from being a force of positive change in the Middle East, a region in which it has fading influence.

Hopefully Turkey, the scarecrow of the bunch, will realize how dangerous a politically unstable Syria is to its national security.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Coalitions: An Overlooked Element of RMA

When discussing the Revolution of Military Affairs (RMA), the focus tends to be upon advanced technology and the ability for a given society to incorporate these tools into a coherent military doctrine. Although there is no doubt that technological factors have dramatically increased the breadth and lethal nature of the battlefield, one must also consider how the cooperation and collaboration of international actors have augmented the modern understanding of warfare. The influence of international organizations, whether military or conciliatory in nature, has changed the environment of war from a head-to-head standoff, to a dynamic event in which external actors become stakeholders on material and/or moral grounds.

In the American context, many will point to the First Gulf War as the prime example of modern warfare: a quick military campaign will few casualties dominated by precision-guided weaponry. Once again, technology played a distinct role in this case, but this cannot discount the presence of an international military coalition and the approval of the United Nations to act. The use of military coalitions is a way to bring a large portion of the international community to overcome a common threat, without the long-term financial and political commitments that come with formal alliances. In this sense, coalitions enable states of varying cultures, economic strengths, and technological sophistication to cooperate, if only to achieve a limited objective.