Saturday, March 31, 2012

U.S. Investigation Over Salala Raid

After two investigations concerning the Salala raid on November 26th last year, the conflict was determined to be attributed to the fog of war and confusion on the battlefield. That day's events resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The first investigation was concluded in December. It established that the Pakistani and American forces were both at fault for what occurred. There was a lack of coordination and communication between the militaries involved. The errors in communication and coordination were attributed to the lack of trust from the American side which led to the Pakistani forces not being informed of the location of American troops. Additionally, an operations official under the NATO mission in Afghanistan had been told by Pakistani military officials that the Pakistani border posts were being attacked and it took the NATO official roughly 45 minutes to alert a senior commander.

Meanwhile, there was a detrimental error in mapping which occurred by the American forces. The Americans involved contacted Pakistani forces about the shooting occurring at the border, but they miscalculated their location by approximately 8.5 miles. Therefore, there were informed that Pakistani troops were not stationed at the location. Pakistani border troops fired on the Americans and continued to do so even though they tried to inform them that they were firing on American troops. Overall, the Pakistani leadership rejected the American analysis of the events that transpired and determined that the American troops were culpable for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.

This was just the last of a series of events in 2011 which strained U.S.-Pakistani relations. The Salala raid was the final straw for the Pakistani leadership and led to the closing of the NATO supply line. The conclusion of the second investigation about the Salala raid is projected to intensify U.S.-Pakistani relations even more. The goal of the second investigation was to establish if the actions of the American troops warranted punishment. This investigation found that since the soldiers were defending themselves, they would not receive punishment or be charged with any wrong doing.

U.S. military leaders have used the case to focus on the need for better communication and coordination on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, the incident has made Pakistani officials question the relationship with the United States. The parliament is currently debating the opening of the supply line. While most of the legislators have spoken against allowing arms transportation, there is a division in the parliament in regard to opening the supply line for other goods, like food supplies.

Overall the parliamentary debates highlight the negative relationship that has developed between the U.S. and Pakistan. Legislators voiced their demands not only for an apology by the U.S. government for the events of November 26th, but also for an end to the drone strikes. The United States was criticized for having "double standards" in their policies and actions. Moreover, the parliamentarians were united in their opinion that the Pakistani government needs to refuse to go along with pressure from other nations on both domestic and foreign issues.

Friday, March 30, 2012

As the Free SyrianArmy moves towards guerrilla tactics, the Assad regime may not have what ittakes to ‘win hearts and minds’

Earlier this week, Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, made an unusual step of accepting Kofi Annan’s peace plan. This would provide two hours of ceasefire per day and humanitarian supply routes to the besieged cities of Homs and Hama. In case you might be confusing this with an actual step towards rapprochement between the Syrian leader and the opposition,violence has increased across the country as sniper attacks and assassinations become de rigueur. Syrian military forces for Assad are capitalizing on momentum won after fighting in Homs and pressing for advantage in this conflict, ceasefire be damned.
The Free Syrian Army seems to be setting in for the long haul, changing tactics to match those used in the Iraqi Insurgency. Car bombs,roadside IEDs, and assassinations are what characterizes the present Syrian resistance. Mr. Assad has managed to turn what had started as a peaceful revolution into a drawn out counterinsurgency campaign.
How can we expect this to play out? It’s doubtful Mr. Assad will try to copy Petraeus’  “WinningHearts and Minds” approach to COIN strategy. He lacks the popular support outside of the Christian and Allawite confessional groups. Years of systematic oppression of Sunni and Shi’a groups will have certainly alienated well over half of the population. Rather, by targeting civilians and combatants along sectarian lines and dealing with disillusioned soldiers, Assad may be attempting a more classic approach to COIN, something akin to the First Chechen war. As with the Chechen war, the opposition is gaining support in the form of soldiers and weapons. Foreign fighters, highly trained from hard fought experience in conducting an insurgency against the US, are streaming across Syria's border with Iraq. Al-Qaeda, hoping to get in on some of that hot, Arab Spring action, has provided both arms and troops for the opposition. All of this suggests that Assad is going to be forced to use an ever more brutal hand in dealing with the insurgency.
The success rate for these violent, repressive COIN strategies is even more dismal than for Petraeus’ warmer, fuzzier approach to counterinsurgency. Yet Assad’s toolbox for retaining power and halting insurgencies remains rather small, which is unfortunate for those who must suffer through the upcoming violence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A New Kind of Assistance

With news that Syria has accepted Kofi Annan's peace plan, it appears the conflict may have an end in sight. The peace plan details 6 main points to cease hostilities and increase humanitarian aid, and has been supported by both Russia and China, two holdouts in any international action on Syria.  However, due to an obvious lack of foresight, it neglects to address the impacts of international footballers, Lionel Messi in particular.

In case you missed it, Syrian national television took a break from the hostilities taking place to watch la Liga matches this weekend, and in a moment of pure paranoia enlightenment, realized that the rebel forces are being aided by the most duplicitous non-state actors: FC Barcelona.

As can be seen if you squint really hard quite obviously from the video above, the passes and routes followed by Messi, Iniesta and Pedro, when super-imposed on a map of Syria, show the easiest way to transport arms to the rebels.  According to the Independent, the commentary is as follows: 

“Here we see the first stage where arms are loaded from Lebanon. Then they pass through Homs and are delivered to another terrorist. We also see how they warn that they will face some obstacles until they reach Dayr Al Zawr." As Pedro completes the move for Barcelona, whose have a shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation, the voice-over says: “Then they are transported by bus to the final destination, located in Al Magadin.”
Of course, this could all be an elaborate hoax, designed to highlight the paranoia present in the current regime, which given the current acceptance of the peace plan is more likely than not.  Even so, its hard, nigh impossible, to watch any sports match now (especially one with the import of the UL-UK match) without watching for potential double meaning. So happy watching, folks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bad Brains

Since my last post on the Afghanistan shooting case, the Army released the name of Sgt. Robert Bales and many details have emerged. The New York Times reported that he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a 2010 explosion in Iraq. Earlier this week The Huffington Post reported that on March 20th, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Johnathan Woodson ordered an urgent review of troops who are currently taking mefloquine, a malaria medicine shown to cause troubling psychiatric side effects. In 2009 the Army decided to prohibit any soldier who had suffered a traumatic brain injury from taking the drug.

The Army did not say if Bales was taking mefloquine, but The HuffPo story invites speculation that a combination of past head trauma combined with a medicine known for it's psychosis-inducing side effects could have been the trigger for Bales' alleged rampage.

In the past few years a heightened awareness of traumatic brain injuries has arisen in both military and sports medicine due to ground breaking research on the effects of concussions. In Iraq and Afghanistan many soldiers have survived what would previously have been fatal wounds. Yet surviving these injuries means not only living with bodily disfigurement but also living with the lingering effects of concussive damage to the brain from explosions.

ProPublica has run an investigative series called Brain Wars in which has looked into the effects of traumatic brain injuries in soldiers. It reported last year that the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metric, or ANAN test, which the military had spent $42 million designing, was an ineffective diagnostic tool for brain injuries. Bales likely took the 20-minute long, computerized ANAM test, but obviously it failed to restrict him from a combat deployment.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that a combination of stress from multiple deployments, the effects traumatic brain injury, and the possible presence of alcohol and/or a notorious malaria medicine combined to form a toxic combination in Bales' head on the night of the incident. While the military should undoubtedly review its procedures for ensuring the mental fitness of its personnel, particularly in combat zones, we should not lose sight of the fact that Bales is still an outlier. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have served in these wars and most have performed as consumate professionals throughout.

Still, while most mental health problems in the military have not been borne out in such a disturbing manner as a 16-death massacre, the Bales case can serve to spotlight one of the military's major problems. A recent study by the Army Behavioral Health Integrated Data Environment found that suicides by service members increased by 80% between 2004 and 2008. Most of these were enlisted men who had seen combat duty. A joint study by the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs also found that a disproportionate number of the homeless population are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems logical that disabilities and PTSD play a significant role in these disturbing suicide and homelessness statistics. The White House, Defense Department, and Congress should push for reforms that ensure that the soldiers fighting the USA's wars are treated with the highest level of care, for both physical and mental injuries. Reworking of the ANAM test is a good place to start.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Obama Looks for Allies against North Korea

This week Obama met with Hu Jintao and talked with Demitri Mevedev, trying to convince them to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

Obama hopes an increase in pressure from China and Russia will deter the young Kim Jung-un (or whoever is now in charge in North Korea) from making good on his promise to launch a missile laden satellite next month. However, how likely is it that Obama's attempts to sway China and Russia (who have been less than helpful in Syrian and Iran) will have an impact on the situation? Well that depends on how one measures impact.

If impact means having the two line up behind the United States' tough rhetoric, the answer is "not at all." China and Russia have long denounced the United States' self proclaimed "international police officer" status. While neither country particularly likes the idea of North Korea flaunting its capabilities, any successful opposition to US attempts at coercion undermines the US claim to hegemony in the region.

If impact means it will increase the pressure on North Korea, at least behind the scenes, the answer is "somewhat." While Russia has proven intransigent in its support of rogue states, China has at least made overtures to playing along with the western world. Last month it voluntarily cut imports of Iranian oil, providing extra teeth to US led sanction effort (although Obama has recently removed most of the other teeth). When Chinese and US policy goals align, as they do in this case, China may be willing to change its tactics somewhat to show it is a good faith actor in the world order.

If impact means Obama's attempts will have an effect on North Korean decision-making, the answer is "likely." Knowing full well the unlikelihood of major policy changes from Russia, and China's hesitance to participate in the sanctioning process, Obama likely meant the meetings as signal to the young Korean leader. Engaging Russia and China, shows US resolve on the issue. Not only are they willing to talk tough but the United States is willing to incentivize two countries which North Korean security and economics count on to join in on the effort.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Droning On

This picture, taken last August, shows a side effect of the proliferation of UAVs on the modern battle field.  A C-130 collided with an RQ-7 reconnaissance drone.  Though the C-130 sustained only light damage, it was forced to make an emergency landing and lost enough fuel to make the aircraft off balance on the ground (thus the pallet tied to the wing on the right side of the picture).

Though the skies above military installations and operations have long been partitioned for use by artillery and aircraft into restricted operating zones (ROZs), drones pose a significant problem.  Artillery rounds, in general, follow a predictable path to their target and thus can be given "lanes" through which friendly aircraft know not to travel.  While not as predictable, manned aircraft are given zones in which to operate and also have the benefit of pilots and navigators that can ensure that collisions do not occur.  In the event of multiple aircraft operating within a ROZ, through design or accident, there are also established protocols ensuring that right of way is given and the appropriate actions are taken (in general, smaller aircraft must avoid the larger ones). 

While UAVs must technically avoid manned aircraft (Airspace Management, p. 11), it is understandable that in many situations the controllers simply do not have the situational awareness needed to accomplish this.  The logical solution to this would be to create an object avoidance system for UAVs but this has proved to be a problem even for ground vehicles operating in two dimensions.

As unmanned craft become more common- and potentially more autonomous- on, in, under, and above modern battlefields, sites like this will likely become more common.  While work is being done to prevent collisions, one must realize that this the incident above likely a best case scenario for a collision.  The implications, for example, of the horse-like Big Dog trampling a human that it was supposed to be following would probably even more ugly.  Similarly, a collision involving an armed Reaper drone would also be substantially less benign.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Everyone's Favorite Topic: Social Media and Joseph Kony

The African Union earlier today said it would send 5,000 soldiers to join the hunt for Joseph Kony, whom we discussed last semester as the leader of one of several rebel groups causing grief to Sub-Saharan Africa. Fast forward several months and now everyone with an internet connection knows who Kony is, and is demanding his immediate capture and trial. The mission is to be launched in South Sudan and will last until Kony is caught. This emboldened mission is launched in the same month that the now world famous "Kony 2012" viral video and campaign were launched by Invisible Children, highlighting the human rights abused meted out by Kony to child soldiers and civilians alike. The head of the U.N.'s office in Central Africa said "soaring international interest in Kony had spurred regional efforts to eliminate the LRA."

The growing trend of social media being used to start, fuel, and spread revolutions, human rights campaigns, and democratic movements is something unique to the 21st century. The Kony 2012 video and the immediate results because of the sharing capability of facebook and twitter mean that we are going to see not only an increase in the sharing of social issues, but an increase in the sharing of issues that maybe should not have been shared. However, this makes the market for social media more competitive and should, over time, ensure that only the quality causes make it through. Kony and the LRA were a threat before the video was released, and will remain a threat until captured. However, the video campaign has made his life increasingly difficult and no doubt expedited his capture.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To market, to market, to buy a fat... gun. 
Earlier this week, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its annual database and report on international arms transfers during the period 2007-2011.  Comparisons with the previous dataset of 2002-2006 reveal a few particularly interesting nuggets of information. 

The top two suppliers remained the same, with the same domination of the market.  The United States accounted for 30% of arms exports, with a volume increase of 24% from 2002-2006; the major recipients were South Korea, Australia and the UAE.  Russia accounted for 24% of all exports, with a volume increase of 12%; its major recipients were India, China and Algeria.  Following the US and Russia, Germany weighed in with 9% of the global share, selling to Greece, South Korea and South Africa; France had 8%, selling to Singapore, Greece and Morocco; and the UK had 4%, selling to Saudi Arabia, the US and India. 

Contributing to the US leadership of arms exports was the order placed by Saudi Arabia for 84 new F-15SGs  and the rebuilding of 70 older F-15Es to current standards.  This was the largest arms deal worldwide in two decades and significantly boosted the US ranking, while also solidifying the US-Saudi relationship.

On the import side, India displaced China as the world's leader in arms imports during the 2007-2011 period, accounting for 10% of global imports.  India purchased primarily from Russia, approximately 80%, but a small amount also from the UK and Israel. Second was South Korea, with 6% of global imports primarily from the US, but also from Germany and France.  Third was Pakistan, with a 5% share, pretty evenly balanced between China and the US.  Fourth was China, with 5% of the market, primarily from Russia, but also France and Switzerland.  Finally comes Singapore, with 4% of the market, from the US, France and Germany.    

Although China was the leader in arms imports during the 2002-2006 period, improvements in the Chinese arms industry led to a growth of 95% in arms exports between the two periods.  China is now the 6th largest supplier of arms to the world, but it remains in 5th place for imports.  According to the report, China gained its growth in exports largely by supplying arms to Pakistan.  However, if China is able to enter another significant market and increase internal development of arms components, it would not be surprising to see China continue to climb the rank of exporters while reducing its imports.  

Two other interesting tidbits are present in the report.   First, Syria's imports of major weapons increased by 580% between the 2002-2006 and 2007-2011 period.  Russia was the primary supplier, with 78% of Syria's imports.  Of course this economic relationship contributes to Russia's reluctance to back a UN arms embargo on Syria.  Second, Venezuela's imports increased by 555% between the two periods, becoming the 15th largest importer instead of the 46th.  Russia again is the primary supplier and has provided Venezuela with a $4 billion credit line for future arms purchases. 

All these data give rise to some serious considerations.  With India and Pakistan in the top 5 ranking of arms importers, how well might that bode for that region?  Is a mini-Cold War forming between these two, willingly backed by Russia and China, respectively?  If so, how might that play out at a global level, with such super-powers possibly in a face-off behind their recipients?  Also, what is brewing in Venezuela?  Why does Chavez see the need for such an enormous increase in weaponry?  What position is Russia planning on playing by supplying the arms?  Because as we all know, supply and demand are the laws driving economics, but markets also give concrete representation to large-scale geopolitical relationships.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Scenario

A scenario:

A man rules a country. He has spent the majority of his adult life exercising near complete authority over his little corner of the earth and has profited from this rule. Though some of his people have from time to time expressed their distaste with his rule, they were usually taken care of quickly and in a dramatic enough fashion to show others that this behavior was unacceptable.

Though the Western world considers him a pariah, that does not bother him overly much.  He has garnered friends amongst the other lesser liked countries of the world and has their support when he needs it.

He has had many issues with his neighbor to the South. Though these issues have become outright conflict on some occasions, it is generally preferable to keep the conflict rhetorical and instead take advantage of various international fora and the support of his "friends" to seize the political advantages when they present themselves.  The legacy, however, of these decades of conflict is a very professional and well trained military; one significantly more formidable than those of many of his compatriots.  Still, quietly utilizing informal channels of communication he has slowly been seeking measures that will reconcile his nation with his hated Southern neighbor and give his country a much needed boost internationally.

Then he dies.

He is succeeded by his son.  The heir, educated in Europe amongst the best schools is seen by the international community as something as an enigma.  Though he is largely untested and unproved, he benefits from the ring of supporters that surrounded his father.  They give him advice, but always there is a certain edge to their words for they know that he- the "heir"- is heir only because they condone it.  Thus, the status quo holds and there is no chance of peace.

The man in this scenario is Hafiz al-Assad.  His son, Bashar, was seen by some as a potential reformer after his father's death- a man with the chance to resurrect Syria.  However, surrounded by his father's "old guard," he only made matters worse by escalating his country's involvement with other pariahs like Iran and North Korea, ultimately creating for himself the situation that exists within his country.

Also fitting this mold is the young Kim Jong-Un.  Though he had slightly more time to indoctrinate himself in the mythos of the ruling party than the younger Assad, his creditability is still derived from those around him.  As such, many of his actions seem to be taken largely from the playbook that his father wrote; simultaneously demanding assistance and threatening his neighbors.  The constant stream of rhetoric can be viewed simply as Kim asserting his authority and consolidating his power but it must also be viewed as actions coming from people that likely hold the keys to the Hermit Kingdom.

While there is a vigorous debate in the world over what to do with Syria, thought should also be given to how to prevent the sequence of events that led to this disaster.  Though North Korea is very different from Syria in many ways, today's Kim, much like the Assad of 2000, is bound to his handlers until such a time as they can not unmake his rule.  They will likely use this time- and him- to continue the status quo that keeps them in power and Kim under their thumb.  Over time, Kim will probably also develop a dependency on the current situation and himself be won over by the "wisdom," of those around him, slowly pushing boundaries and limits with the world and South Korea in particular.

To prevent this, all efforts should be made to differentiate the current Kim regime from the previous one in words and in actions.  He should be viewed as an entity separate from his father.  Moreover, focus should fall on him and him alone, as this will ultimately speed up his acceptance within North Korea, hopefully before he becomes indoctrinated by the Cult of Kim.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Afghanistan shooting fallout

I guess spring break means even the biggest stories get passed over on the DS blog, so nothing has been posted about last week's tragedy in Afghanistan, but it's too important for nothing to be said. The reactions have been predictable. Earnestness and sincerity from US officials and incredible anger from Afghan officials and citizens. An important question raised by the shooting spree has been where the unnamed US Army staff sergeant will be put on trial.

Locals as well as members of Afghanistan's parliament have demanded that the soldier stand trial in Afghanistan. Regardless of nationality, anyone who killed Americans on US soil would certainly be prosecuted domestically. Afghans rightfully feel like their judicial system should be allowed the same jurisdiction. Furthermore, building the local rule of law is constantly preached to countries like Afghanistan that the US is trying to integrate into the Western liberalized system.

As of Wednesday March 14th, US officials had made no official decision on where to hold the trial. However, I doubt that this soldier stands trial outside of the US. He has already been returned to the US military prison in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Even if trying the soldier in Afghanistan would be doing right by the Afghan people, the US military could simply not allow it to happen. Setting a precedent for trying US personnel locally would seriously breech the trust between military officials and soldiers who engage in combat. Even though the soldier committed an obviously heinous crime well removed from combat duty, US officials would not risk him getting sentenced to a bloody execution in Afghanistan. This would cause great dissension in the ranks of the US military.

This is a messy case, and many questions need to be asked of his commanding officers and the psychological evaluation process, especially for a soldier who was begrudgingly on his fourth tour of duty. There should also be an investigation into the culture of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, from where not only the staff sergeant in question but soldiers involved in the 2010 Afghanistan "thrill killings" hailed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who's the bad guy now?

In a recent statement by one of their top government officials, Iran revealed that it would be more transparent with its nuclear program if the West was more cooperative.[1] Mohammad Javad Larijani went so far as to say that Iran would permit permit full transparency and permanent human monitoring of its facilities if it were granted all rights under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which includes the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. But isn't refusing access to the IAEA being uncooperative?

Is this just a continuation of silly Iranian government rhetoric, or is the country actually making an effort to seriously work with Western countries and organizations? The latter is definitely possible considering the amount of public consideration that the U.S. and Israel have given to military action against Iran. And with continued sanctions against them, along with a civil war happening in Syria, Iran might finally be realizing that it has not other option but to cooperate with the West. On the other hand, this isn't the first time in recent weeks that Iran has offered an empty promise.

Transparency and cooperation, he cites, are equally parallel  to each other, but they're definitely not mutually exclusive. It will take a little of one to fuel the other, and vice versa. If Iran and the West are committed to cooperating, one side will have to be the first to show a measure of good faith. It's highly unlikely that Iran will be the first to make such a gesture, so how will the West respond to Iran's statements? Considering that "all options are on the table" with Iran, who knows what could happen next.

Friday, March 09, 2012

SOF under CIA authority?

As Duckworth explained down below and we discussed in class on Wednesday, SOF has become a major part of US military operations. The AP reported this past week that according to sources, top Department of Defense officials were considering a plan in which special operators would be placed under CIA command in Afghanistan following the US's 2014 exit. In the original story a Pentagon spokesman denied that this was under consideration. In a follow-up story, the head of SOCOM Admiral William McRaven also stated that no such plans were in the works.

Of course, manipulating the status of special operators is not unheard of. The bin Laden kill team was placed under the control of Leon Panetta and the CIA on the night of the raid due to the restriction on US military in Pakistan and CIA operators themselves were on the ground acting as spotters for the SEALs and Night Stalker pilots. The intelligence community and SOF have increasingly worked together to hunt down al-Qaeda members.

If these are the plans, and it seems plausible considering the widening use of SOF in the War on Terror, McRaven and the Pentagon certainly would not be frank about it. The US would essentially be turning its uniformed military into spies. This could have complicated legal ramifications since uniformed soldiers are protected under the Geneva Convention while the CIA is not. Also, the military and the CIA operate under different titles of the US code, so there would be legal gray area about what SOF under CIA authority would be required to report to Congress.

As the US continues forward in its global hunt for terrorists, expect the wall separating the activities of SF commandos, CIA operatives, and paramilitary contractors to become thinner and thinner.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Is Israel All Talk or Can They Back Up the Rhetoric?

      Israel is in the news again with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussing the possibility for an independent Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear problems; even in spite of protests from other world leaders, including those of the United States. Netanyahu stated other instances where Israel made policy decisions without the support or acquiescence of the United States, while in a meeting with congressional leaders. One of the major reasons for this comes from Israel feeling closer, and more vulnerable, to the actions and threat of the Iranian nuclear program. 

      Both parties in the United States government eschewed promises to support Israel and the staunch support that policy would continue to be enforced to hinder Iran from gaining nuclear weapons or nuclear capabilities. Speaker John Boehner commented that the United States will never let Israel stand alone. That being said, United States officials call for care in handling the situation in Iran. There is a valid fear that any misstep can lead to unforeseen and disastrous problems in the region. To that end, the government calls for Israel and the United States to be clear with Iran, and not seem divided on a plan of action.
Ya’acov Amidror, head of Israeli National Security, stated that the leaders needed to return to Israel and consider what the other world leaders have said. He stated that during the meetings with American officials both sides were able to come together and understand each others positions. Also, Amidror reinforced Netanyahu's statement that Israel will do whatever necessary for the continued defense and growth of Israel. To this end, these men spoke during the American Israel Public Affairs committee Policy Conference and used historical rhetoric, mainly the holocaust, to defend the ideas of attacking Iran to secure a future (for Israel) free of nuclear threat from Iran. 

      While all of this is occurring, there is political pressure from Israel for Prime Minister Netanyahu to reduce the aggressive rhetoric and the call to violence, and comply with the United States' policies when dealing with Iran. Of course, the Israeli people are worried about retaliation; and are ill prepared to deal with the level of retaliatory attacks by Iranians and Muslim extremist groups. While this is a fear, it is not the major reason that Israelis push for less aggressive actions. Many fear that an attack would lead to another world recession; and that Israel would get blamed for this recession on a global level. They fear that this action will reduce already shaky support for the Israeli nation and plight. On top of this, many Israelis fear that such an action will lead to a strenuous relationship with the United States, Israel's largest ally, during the upcoming presidential elections. A number of former military leaders have come out to state how Netanyahu's stance on the issue is actually hurting Israeli morale and standing in the world stage.

     Considering these factors presents a number of considerations when considering the national security and defense of the United States. As stated above, there is a major connection between the United States and Israel, and any attack on Israel's part is likely to draw the U.S. into military actions against Iran. As it stands right now, the United States is ill equipped to enter into another war; especially on such a grand scale as would be required in the invasion of Iran. While the American military could dominate the Iranians, the costs would be more than the United States can afford; both in terms of manpower and monetary considerations. 
      That being said, another concern surrounds the point made by Israeli citizens about the upcoming political situation in the United States. With the Presidential elections on the horizon, there needs to be a hesitancy for any long term military action. Firstly, and most importantly, any such action creates a debate among the two candidates that translates into the appearance of fracturing and weakness on the world stage. If this happens during the debates, the American resolve could be seen as weak and another action such as 9/11 could happen in the hopes of breaking the American peoples' willpower and support of the war. Along with this, comes the question of adapting the grand strategy of two quite different candidates to encompass any military action against Iran. There is the chance that the winner of the next presidential election takes a completely different position and shifts policy on the Iranian situation. If this occurs while military actions are being carried out, then once again there is a major risk for the United States to be perceived as weak and unwilling to follow through. This could lead to a loss of respect, or fear, on a global scale that would have detrimental effects to the defensive power and threats of the American government and military.


Oak Tree on White House Lawn Reports: BHO + SOF 4-ever

Special Forces are awesome.  That’s pretty hard to deny.  Movies showcase how absolutely inferior the average American is to Special Forces commandos in every single quantifiable measurement related to awesomeness.  Some of the most popular videogames, from SOCOM to Call of Duty, allow us to pretend to be awesome by way of playable avatars.  Literary characters like Jason Bourne show us that books are not only brutal weapons for fighting would be assassins, but also mediums for living vicariously through awesome fictional special operatives.  There is not a whole lot of reason to really question President Obama’s fascination with the Special Forces. 

Recent articles by The Diplomat, Newsweek, and other sources have highlighted growing reliance on the US Special Operations Forces, including Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and Rangers, and the Marines.  Everyone knows about Seal Team Six’s successful Bin Laden raid and their amazing sea sniping skills.  Less known is that in October of 2011, President Obama announced that up to 100 Green Berets would be sent to Uganda to help train regional forces to combat murderous rebel groups like the Lords Resistance Army.  Or that in January of this year, Special Operations Forces rescued two hostages and kill nine Somali pirates in a nighttime helicopter raid.  According to ridiculously named pirate witness Bile Hussein, “The raiders came in very quickly, catching the guards as they were sleeping after having chewed the narcotic leaf qat for much of the evening.”  Awesome.

As their use and success rate continues to climb, the Obama Administration and the Pentagon have indicated that the draw down in conventional forces brought on by political and budgetary considerations will likely be offset by an uptick in SOF related missions. In fact, the USS Ponce, a decommissioned 40-year-old battleship, is currently being retrofitted to act as a floating “mother ship” to deploy SEALS, Rangers, and other special forces in the Middle East, as necessary.  This awesome mother ship of awesome commandos jumping on fast boats and doing things that are awesome really only exposes the tip of a very awesome iceberg though.  The Pentagon is reporting that it plans to build dedicated floating bases in a number of strategic regions to help facilitate and coordinate Special Forces operations by 2013.

From a purely logical standpoint, the transition towards Special Forces makes practical sense.  The American populace is generally uneasy when it comes to full scale, brute force destruction, and the loss of human life that generally accompanies it.  Thus, the surgical precision of Special Forces showcases the US as not only the most powerful military force on the planet, but the best trained, capable, and humane. 

Some have urged President Obama to exercise caution in his use of Special Forces though.  Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, of the Center for New American Security, says that the emphasis for the SOF should be “quality, not quantity,” and that SOF resources can easily become overstretched. “Its manpower has nearly doubled, its budget has nearly tripled, and its overseas deployments have quadrupled,” reports Barno.  Furthermore, an article last week in the Washington Times interviewed an unnamed spouse of a special operations member, who lamented that “the pace of deployments for the past decade has been relentless… and it has taken a toll on both of us and certainly on our marriage and on his relationship with our children.”

While the use of SOF rightly represents an extremely important facet of future American military planning, President Obama stands in a precarious position.  Plans to add 8,800 SOF troops over the next four years (2,500 this year, 2,300 in 2013, and 2,000 in 2014 and 2015) will actively strengthen our stock of mission capable specialists, but there exists a real risk of diluting its strength in exchange for numbers.  President Obama and all future leaders will need to guarantee that US SOCOM continues to create the most feared deployable commandos in the world, if they hope to use them to their full advantage.  In the meantime, many, including this author, often confuse fact and fiction when it comes to the awesomeness of our special operatives.  While I’m sure plenty of SEALS, Rangers, and Marines share many qualities of Dutch from Predator, the rest likely are affected by battlefield fatigue and stresses from home.  I love reading about helicopter raids on shanty pirate forts as much as the next person,  but like tennis elbow, over use and under preparation can have detrimental effects on your game.

To kill, or not to kill...

In the most elaborate public explanation yet concerning American drone operations, US Attorney General Eric Holder condoned the killing of American citizens abroad in a speech given at Northwestern University on Monday. Holder stated that the American government had the right to order the killing of any American citizen living abroad if they “posed an imminent terrorist threat and cannot reasonably be captured.”

Noteworthy highlights include Holder speaking upon due process and Fifth Amendment rights, saying that a thorough executive branch review of the facts of a case was a person’s due process, and that a citizen’s Fifth Amendment rights does not necessarily mandate an actual judicial process. He stated that when “national security operations are at stake, due process takes into account the realities of combat.” He also claimed that United States has, and will continue, to operate within the laws of war by “ensuring the target is genuinely participating in hostilities and that collateral damage is not excessive.”

As per usual, this government declaration contained vague language in which many loopholes could be created and justified. Like Bush’s term “enemy combatants,” the phrase “imminent terrorist threat” could entail a wide array of things, and thus grants government officials a substantial amount of freedom in deciding whom they want to accuse. Holder stated that there was a set of critical factors that are considered before action is decided upon, including “the relevant window of opportunity to act, the possible harm that missing the window would cause to civilians and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks against the United States.”

Holder’s public statement is extremely significant, since the government’s classified drone program is not exactly widely discussed and acknowledged by the government. The interagency effort was meant to provide a public explanation of the legal framework in hopes that slightly more government transparency concerning the program would be beneficial. Although the efforts at transparency should be acknowledged, it is hard to imagine Holder’s speech swaying the critics of the drone program. The speech did relatively little to assuage the worries of critics that the American government is granting itself broad authority in killing those whose security they are supposed to protect. However, the Obama administration has been extremely successful in past drone strikes in eliminating terrorist threats, and although the constitutionality of killing American citizens can be debated, the effectiveness of the campaign or the merit of the targets previously chosen can hardly be argued from a national security/defense standpoint.

Sources: Peter Finn, Sari Horwitz. "Holder Says U.S. Has Rigth to Kill Terrorist Citizens Abroad." The Washington Pose 6 March 2012: 3.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Nukes We Need... To Stay Away From.

In Keir A Liebers' and Daryl G. Press' The Nukes We Need, they make an argument for the application and development of tactical nuclear weapons. Liber's & Press' argument rests on the position that using tactical nuclear weapons adds to the credibility of our nuclear arsenal, and thus increases the U.S.' power to deter aggressors. This argument is flawed in many ways.

First, they make the argument that in conventional wars against powerful U.S. adversaries, we will use nuclear weapons because of the existential threat. However, these authors ignore the fact that the deterrence we have already established has halted these great power wars. The U.S. and China have not fought, the U.S. and Russia have not fought, Russia and China have not fought and so on. Why do we need to develop tactical weapons, as a means to hit counterforce targets, if these wars do not begin in the first place?

Secondly, the use of tactical nukes will have the opposite effect of deterring aggressors and nuclear war. They will in fact increase nuclear wars because other states will believe we are more likely to use them. The very argument that Lieber and Press lay out in arguing for tactical nukes "that we would actually be more likely to use them" is the at the heart of the counter argument. The nuclear threshold will likely be lowered and we will see tactical nuclear weapons employed more often.

Third, and most troubling is their position that a tactical nuclear attack is vastly different from any past nuclear attack. Once the nuclear threshold is past, the nuclear threshold is past. Are powers likely to respond more benignly if we insist that we only dropped a tactical nuclear weapon on them? The enemy may not respond in kind and still deploy a devastating second strike. Finally, tactical nukes, while having left radioactive fallout, still have radioactive fallout. Thus, these weapons are more moral than larger nuclear weapons, but cannot claim complete moral superiority.

Finally, tactical nuclear weapons do not have capabilities that differ from conventional weapons the U.S. now possesses as much as they would lead you to believe. U.S. weaponry has become increasingly sophisticated, lethal and accurate. We can handle many of the potential dangers that Lieber and Press speak about without crossing the nuclear threshold. Some argue that hardened missile silos or complex arsenals located in mountains and caves may call for a tactical nuclear weapon. Again though, this is a nuclear strike and perhaps a pre-emptive one at that. Bunker buster missiles are more apt to handle the problem without the international condemnation of nuclear use. Can the United States lead the world in non-proliferation when developing nuclear weapons that are more acceptable to use? I think not.

Overall, tactical nukes pose no benefit when compared against strategic nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. The development of these tactical nukes will lead to more nuclear use, not a greater deterrence. Lieber and Press must understand that crossing the nuclear threshold is not relative. Once you detonate a nuclear weapon, it does not matter if you crossed that nuclear line by 50 ft (tactical) or 100 ft (strategic).