Monday, April 30, 2012

Chinese chickens coming home to roost

 Beijing’s longstanding relationship with Khartoum has been a sore spot with international watch groups who accuse China of propping up the regime of Omar al-Bashir in exchange for Sudanese oil.  China has vetoed several UNSC resolutions in the past dealing with Sudanese issues, issues that have caused the ICC to issue a warrant for al-Bashir.

Now that the South has seceded and has its own share of the Sudanese oil fields, China is stuck in a difficult position with the recent hostilities between Juba and Khartoum.  By not supporting the removal of the autocratic regime of Sudan, the very oil fields that China was hoping to protect for its own usage is now under attack from both sides.  Sudan and South Sudan see the oil fields as the economic lifeline of their respective countries, and factions have occupied those of the other country (Sudanese forces to the S. Sudanese state of Unity, S. Sudanese forces to the Heglig oil fields). 

Now this conflict threatens to interrupt the flow of oil to China, and South Sudan is looking for Chinese investment on a new oil pipeline so as to avoid having to use the Sudanese one.  Had China not been looking at their short term strategic interests, they could have avoided this conflict and interruptions in their Sudanese/South Sudanese oil service.

Spring 2012 Final Exam

Defense Statecraft Final Exam
April 30, 2012
Please answer one of three questions, and return to Dr. Farley by 12:15pm today.

  1. Critics argue that the F-35 JSF program continues to spiral out of control. Does the United States need the F-35, or should production be severely curtailed? What lessons should the United States draw from this project in order to avoid similar problems in the future? 
  2. An internationally brokered cease fire appears to be failing in Syria.  Sketch out the prospects for US military involvement in the conflict. What are the costs and benefits of intervention, and how might such intervention play out?
  3. The failure of the “supercommittee” to agree on a set of budget cuts triggers major cuts to the US defense budget.  Assuming that the mandated cuts ($500 billion over ten years) actually occur, discuss the likely impact within the US defense community, as well as in the international system.  

I See Your Pivot and Raise You One

China and Russia are currently holding joint naval exercises.  This comes at an interesting time, the article points out, when the US is slowly-ish turning its head toward the Pacific theater.  While the article goes on to say that this is not the first exercise of this nature, it is worth commenting on.

 China and Russia, political difficulties aside, have a substantial amount to gain from this type of exercise.  Though they are separated by a number of difficulties, especially in areas related to technology transfer and arms sales, this can be seen as a win-win for both countries and not necessarily as a threat to US interests in the Pacific.

From the Chinese prospective, this can be seen as a study in how modern navies work.  For the past decade, China has been heavily investing in the modernization of its naval forces.  Aside from the acquisition of a former Russia/Soviet aircraft carrier and a massive shipbuilding effort, China has also been developing the other aspects of a modern navy.  These include carrier aircraft, anti-ship missiles and the infrastructure to command and control a blue water navy.

What China lacks, however is experience.  A formation like an American carrier battle group is a complex organism.  Each ship has its part to play in making the unit become more than simply the sum of its parts.  The logistics alone are mind blowing, from the "small" issues like how to get multiple aircraft aloft in a short amount of time to the larger issues like feeding the crews that number in the thousands easily.  To add to this, one does not simply "send" a naval flotilla somewhere, the group must be sent for a specific purpose and every sailor and craft must know its place is in any potential situation that might arise.

Russia has that experience and is willing to share it.

From the Russian viewpoint, this is a good way to get its ships back out into the sea.  Added to this the potential strengthening of a frenemy that can be called on in a time of need.  It can also act as a floating arms dealership, showing the Chinese what can be bought from Russian stocks and expertise.

Lastly, from the American standpoint, a strong naval coalition is not necessarily a game changer.  The US has embraced the "worldwide navy" concept wholeheartedly and this could well be an extension of that idea.  Russia and China would be a natural coalition to police the South Pacific.  Additionally, their mutual distrust can only make America feel better about this alliance, as there are minimal chances of it growing into something that can be more rationally feared.

What Harm Could One Blind Man Do?

Tensions have been rising the past few days among two of the most powerful nations in the world. The United States and China are facing a diplomatic crisis over the actions and escape of a blind Chinese dissident who is seeking U.S. asylum. Chen, who has faced “unsanctioned”, by the national government at least, house arrest escaped last week and made his way to Beijing. During this time, many people helped him to reach the location and avoid capture. None of these people were breaking any laws, yet many of them have been arrested on trumped up charges.

People around the world are in an outcry about the civil rights violations that this case is bringing to light. Many people, including diplomats such as Mitt Romney, are arguing that the United States, as a world power, needs to take a stand against the oppressive nature of the Chinese government. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are currently in talks with the Chinese government to resolve this situation, but the “incident” has already caused backlash. People around the world are using this to show the lack of law and ethics in China, where the Chinese government is using this to question their sovereignty and the right of the United States to interfere in an internal matter.

Obama faces hard choices in promoting the American ideals on the world stage that his grand strategy has focused on, while still maintaining a cordial relationship with China. There has always been a fine line that has been diplomatically taken with China by American politicians; due to the economic ties the United States has with the country. Because of this, and the major power that China has amassed militarily, the United States has been hesitant to push for change or push for “ethical” violations; hoping that the capitalist market will lead to a gradual change.

Unfortunately, this incident puts this relationship into question. With the question of asylum for Chen, the Untied States must choose between ideals and reality. If Chen is given to the Chinese he will end up punished, dead or back under “unsanctioned” house arrest; despite any assurances that the government of China gives. That being said, many Americans will call for the protection of this one man because it is the “right” or “idealist” thing to do.

Two major security and defensive concerns occur because of this problem. Firstly, if the United States loses face with China, and loses the diplomatic connections, then the economy of America stands to take a major hit. China holds a majority of the Untied States debt and produces much of the U.S. goods. If there is any embargo or retaliation made by the Chinese government, then it will lead to major unrest in the nation. Also, there is the possibility that Chinese “gangs” will try and take Chen back from the embassy, causing an international incident and bloodshed that could lead to aggressive action. Right now, China and the US are uneasy friends who have been sizing each other up across the world. Connecting to each other, but preparing for an altercation between the democratic megalith and the great communist bastion present in the world. If this confrontation happens, the economic problems will not be the worst issue, rather it will most likely spill into another world war.
Also, less likely, is that this action causes the Chinese dissidents to rally and another Tienanmen Square incident to occur. With the apparent support of democracies around the world, the dissidents may think they have a chance at causing change in the government. At best this could lead to riots, and at worst civil strife. The disruption caused within China will cause a rippling effect in the world economy that will greatly affect the United States. This unrest will weaken the US' ability to defend against attacks or insurrection, creating an opportunity for enemies of America to take advantage of the chaos. These chaotic times could lead to other terrorist attacks.

Seattle Times
The Atlantic

Sunday, April 29, 2012

U.S. Resumes Pakistan Drone Strikes

On Sunday, the U.S. confirmed it had kill three militants in Pakistan's tribal region.  This is the first attack since the Pakistani parliament demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes and an official apology for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border outpost in November.  The militants killed were believed to be Punjabi Taliban who were working with the Haqqani network.  They are also believed to have been involved in the April 15 attacks on Kabul and two other cities.  They were killed by a drone strike on an abandoned school building being used as a base of operations by Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Pakistan Taliban.  The U.S. is refusing to backdown on it's drone strikes while Pakistan still dawdles in it's efforts to root our extremists within it's borders.

Early last week, President Obama sent a top regional official to Islamabad to discuss the re-opening of NATO supply routes, military aid, and the future of drone strikes.  The U.S. would like to see the supply routes re-opened, along with an acceptance of drone strikes.  It is costing the U.S. millions of dollars extra to use alternative supply routes.  Sunday's drone strike illustrates the attitude this administration has towards Pakistan, sovereignty, and rooting out extremists.  It sends a strong and clear message that the U.S. cannot respect Pakistani sovereignty while the Pakistani's are unwilling to protect their OWN sovereign territory.  Pakistan must realize that such demands are foolish.

A question raised from the continued drone strikes on Pakistan and the tribal regions is that are we going to see a long-term engagement in the area consisting mainly of drone strikes?  Could the ungoverned regions turn into a 25 year conflict of drone strikes, militant movement, more drone strikes?  There seems to be no shortage of militants and no shortage of drones and missiles.  The Pakistani government must do more to secure the region so that it does not devolve into such a protracted conflict.

Iranian Sentinel

So, the US has more or less come out and stated that Iran did indeed capture an American RQ-170 drone last December.  Now Iran is claiming that they have managed to get into drone's the on board memory and have numerous details about where the drone has been and that it has been recently upgraded.  More than a few from both the national security and information technology communities have gone into great detail on why this is probably b-o-l-o-g-n-a.

Iran's history of exaggeration is neigh legendary.  To believe Tehran, they have developed a modern fighter that has a range 3,000 km (but looks suspiciously similar the the US F-5s that the rest of the IRIAF flies).  They also have developed an anti-aircraft weapons system that is "one of the world's best."  It also happens to look suspiciously like four soviet era guns attached to each other.

Still, Tehran does need to be given kudos for its innovation.  While the Saeqeh fighter may be nearly identical to the F-5 it is still an indigenously produced fighter, something that few countries in the world produce.  Similarly, Iranian engineers and scientists have come up with clever ways to reuse and repurpose their equipment in interesting and novel new wars, often significantly increasing capabilities.

Going back to the RQ-170, what remains to be seen in this story is what Iran will choose to do with the drone. Claims that the government will reverse engineer the hardware and software are probably unrealistic.  Iran's domestically made combat drone, the Karrar, is essentially a modified clone of a 1970s era targeting drone.  There is simply too much of a technology gap, particularly in the area of C2 infrastructure for Iran to make a Persian Sentinel.  It is likely that they will derive some best practices and make a few jumps in their abilities, but little more than that.

On a slightly different note, here is an interesting article on USAF planes near Iran, complete with gratuitous F-15 footage.

South Korean Technological Advances for Defense

South Korea adds its own addition to the series of weapons announcements which have been prevalent among states throughout Asia, but the newest news from South Korea is a bit different. A South Korean research institute has announced the development of new technological achievements for their defense industrial base. 

The technology that has been developed is “communications middleware” and falls under the purview of Data Distribution Service Software. This communications technology is very important because the software serves to unite different weapons systems. The software is vastly complex so that it can perform with multiple weapons systems. The complex communications software is required for being able to operate next-generation weapons systems. The ETRI has not only been able to develop the technology, but they have also advanced the communications technology. The greatest advancement has been in speed. The speed involved with response time and the volume of the messages has increased dramatically. Messages with the ETRI technology can be sent twice as fast as current technology allows while managing sending more than 3 million messages per second. This achievement is crucial for the future of weapons systems as they more ever closer to Network Centric Warfare. The technology allows for coordination and communication between different weapons systems. It allows for more efficient defense management, more reliable data being shared, and the ability to receive real time communications for defense and the ability to counterattack immediately.

                                                          ETRI testing the new software

Additionally, the ETRI’s achievements are significant because they were able to develop them domestically. This is a positive development for South Korea. The communications middleware industry in 2012 is projected to gross over USD 9.25 billion. The South Korean defense industrial base is planning to replace their imported software and produce the military software domestically. It is estimated that by replacing the foreign technology from 2014 to 2019, the state will save KRW 240 billion.

While investing into the domestic production of military technologies is expected to advance South Korea’s economy and national security, it is likely to have repercussions in the United States. Historically South Korea has imported communications middleware from the U.S. Prior to the announcements about ETRI’s achievements, there was no domestic capability within South Korea to develop or produce this technology making them dependent on the U.S. South Korea as a market for communications middleware software is substantial. Eighty percent of U.S. sales of communications middleware are directly to South Korea.

The direct effect of this development on American industry is still unknown. Although communications middleware is crucial for military purposes, the market for the technology for civilian purposes is enormous. The technology is vital for high-tech goods like computers, cell phones, tablets, and data systems. The work of ETRI is a positive achievement for South Korean R&D, but the communications middleware industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by American companies. IBM was recently recognized as the industry’s leader in the development of middleware technology. Currently, the ETRI technology is being analyzed by the Object Management Group to verify if the software meets international standards.

Ok, President Bush, NOW you can say it... Or maybe not.

This past week a senior official at the U.S. State Department stated that “the war on terror is over” and later continued in saying “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.”

It appears that the recent reforms in the Middle East have eliminated some of the major motivations individuals had for joining al Qaida and other terrorist groups.  It is interesting to consider how much the presence and actions of the U.S. in the Middle East affected the Arab Spring, or did the U.S. have little influence on it at all?  An even better question is, did the direction that the Middle Eastern nations change prove beneficial to the United States?  Or even, have we moved the terrorist organizations from their hideouts and into the capitols of various Middle Eastern nations?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the changes in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt; the Egyptians are forming a democratic government just like the U.S. has wanted to promote in the Middle East since the Bush administration however the WSJ also predicted that an Islamist will be elected president of Egypt and that in the near future, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty would likely be eliminated.  In his book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Fareed Zakaria discusses the idea that some nations are best with non-democratic forms of government as well as the fact that other nations such as the U.S. are also better off if those government remain in their non-democratic form.  It appears that in the case of Egypt that Mr. Zakaria was right, if tensions between Israel and Egypt increase because of Egypt’s newfound democracy, the U.S. will also be force to become involved and would be better off with a non-democratic Egypt, and while al Qaida will cease to be a threat soon the U.S. will just find itself at a different end of the sandbox that is the Middle East.

Sources and additional reading:

Is Bibi Fibbing?

Recent news reports from the Washington Post and the BBC have reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak could have overstated the current view that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons and possibly mislead the public if Iran is indeed developing a nuclear weapon.

Former chief of the Israeli domestic intelligence agency (Shin Bet) Yuval Diskin has accused Israeli leadership of misleading the public on the outcome of a possible strike of Iran’s nuclear program sites.  Yuval Diskin has stated that if Israel were to attack Iran, the attack might actually speed up any attempt by Iran to develop and produce a nuclear weapon.  Mr. Diskin is not the only one that believes an attack on Iran by Israel will only speed up Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon, if they are indeed attempting to do so, many experts agree with Mr. Diskin and believe an attack on Iran would be a mistake.

This comes right after Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. General Benny Gantz stated that he believed the sanctions placed on Iran by the international community are starting to have an effect on Iran and that he believes Iran will choose to not develop a nuclear weapon.

Back in March 2012, Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad, also publically voiced its opposition to military action against Iran.  Iran still denies that it has any intention to develop nuclear weapons.

Additional information can be found here:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not like dusting crops...

For several years now the U.S. military has been considering a new way to reduce costs while also providing a unique solution to the military’s need for close-air support, airborne surveillance, and counter-insurgency.  This solution is a modified single-prop private sector plane, one such as Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano.  Brazil, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic all currently operate modified Super Tucanos for drug enforcement, counter-insurgency, and surveillance.

Several years ago, Air Tractor Inc. showcased their own version of a modified crop duster airplane, one very well armed and for the U.S. military to use in close-air support, airborne surveillance, and counter-insurgency missions.  This plane, called the AT-802U, is not only extremely cheap compared to other military specific solutions; from a distance it is also difficult to notice that it is anything other than a simple crop duster.  Additionally the AT-802U can use dirt roads and fields to land and take off from, giving it greater options in field operations that might not be possible for military aircraft.  The AT-802U has a complete set of armament options as well, lists the full armaments to include "four 500 or 1,000 pounds laser guided bombs and two GAU-19 multi-barrel 12.7mm guns with over 2,900 rounds, six Mini-Talon GPS-INS guided precision standoff attack weapons, four rocket pods loaded with 28 rockets, eight Hellfire missiles or a mixed load of four Hellfire and 16 DAGR laser guided rockets."

A friend of mine in the U.S. Air Force has informed me that the U.S. military is still seriously considering implementing planes such as the AT-802U in military applications.  Only time will reveal if the U.S. decides to start using planes such as the AT-802U or the modified Super Tucano in a wide range of applications as the designers of the planes would like.

For additional reading visit:

Panetta Goes to Bat for Boeing in Brazil

In a recent trip touring South America, Panetta stopped in Brazil specifically to discuss Brazil's latest defense contract competition. Brazil is offering a 4-7 billion dollar contract for 36 new fighter jets. Currently the main competitors for the contract are Boeing's F/A-18 Super-Hornet, the French company Dassault's Rafale fighter, and the Swedish Saab's Gripen.

In a purely economic world, we would simply expect Brazil to pick the best plane. There are two problems, however, that make it difficult to foresee what Brazil's final decision will be. First, it isn't necessarily clear that there is a best out of the three competitors. Each is considered a very good plane (though not quite as good as the EuroFighter), but all in different ways. The Super-Hornet gets high marks for its low cost and multipurpose capabilities, but lower scores on typical fighter criterion of armament and maneuverability (

Second, when it comes to national defense contracts, politics may be even more important than plane quality. There are two main political concerns Panetta needed to address in his trip to Brazil. First, the Pentagon recently cancelled a 380 million dollar contract to buy Brazilian Super Tacono warplanes to give to Afghan forces. Originally awarded the contract last year, it was revoked because of a lawsuit filed by the rival firm Hawker Beechcraft Corporation. The bidding for the contract has been reopened, but a decision is not expected until 2014. The U.S. fears that Brazil may respond by blackballing Boeing's plane from the current competition.

In addition to the US contract dispute, Brazil has made technology transfer an important aspect of the current competition. Traditionally the United States has protected much of its defense technology for obvious national security reasons, but in order to help Boeing win this contract Panetta has made overtures to the contrary. In a speech at the Superior War College in Brazil he assured that the Boeing offer “contains an unprecedented advanced technology sharing that is reserved for only our closest allies and partners.”

The Rising Sun Falls on the US Marines

 The United States and Japanese governments have agreed to remove 9,000 U.S. Marines from the garrison in Okinawa. Many of the units, around 5,000 soldiers, will be reassigned to Guam with others being transferred to other bases around the Pacific Theater. Japan has promised to provide $3.1billion in funds to aid in the transfer and relocation of the Marines. Along with this, there is talk of creating a joint training center in Guam for the continued connection of Japanese and American forces.

Officials from both countries fully support this plan and talk about how it will strengthen relations and military capabilities in the region. The politicians allude to the fact that this move will not only strengthen the Marines' ability to react to threats in the area, but it will also cause an increase in the capabilities and military power of the Japanese military. Leaders argue that these movements will aid in the strategic rebalancing of the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, there is the belief that this action will cause a greater ability for flexibility in the region; something that is greatly pushed by the American military community. 

Of course, not everyone is pleased with this relocation of troops. A number of American politicians have questioned this strategy on the part of Panetta, and debate whether or not this move will truly create a more strategic environment. There is also controversy in Okinawa, where the agreement calls for the relocation of troops only after a Marine Air Base is moved, a heated issue in the area. Also, many Japanese are unhappy with this move due to the threat of China. They like American military support on the island, since it shows support and military protection against aggressors.

While Panetta states that this movement is truly strategically optimal, there are still questions and problems that arise when considering the defensive aspects. Firstly, this act causes to greatly split the forces located in the Pacific. The base in Okinawa would be reduced from nearly 20,000 combat Marines to barely 10,000. This fact, combined with the relocation of Marines to various posts, leaves the American Marine Corps with less cohesive capabilities in the region. Yes, if something happens the Marines are able to mobilize multiple bases, including the forces moved to Guam, but it reduces the cohesiveness and the training the units have in working together.

Also, this reduction in troops can be seen as a show of weakness on the world stage. With America reducing forces in the region, specifically the base so close to China and Taiwan, it could be construed by many as America losing its' resolve to defend the region. This could make other nations, such as China who is currently taking more interest in patrolling the seas, to push into American controlled areas and threaten American hegemony. While it is true that Guam is still close to the area, and can launch military strikes nearly as quickly, the loss of appearance and face creates major threats in the political realm. There is a possibility of another nation being more willing to test American resolve, or other countries pushing for the reduction of American troops on their soil, in response to the actions of Japan.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reassessing Our Views of Mexico

A study was released this week that claimed Mexican immigration to the United States is actually decreasing for the first time since the Great Depression.  This not only has great potential political consequences, but also has the potential to illicit a reshaping of how American, and international, society views Mexico.  Many view Mexico as a weak state, and shape policies accordingly.  However, due to Mexico’s strength in several other aspects, Mexico is indeed a strong state with a severe security problem.  It’s health care systems, social welfare programs, rising middle class, and rising strength of the economy give credence to Mexico’s capacity and legitimacy, thus to call Mexico a weak state would be inappropriate.  Furthermore, although violence in Mexico in rampant, it typically only affects only those involved in drug trafficking, and not innocent civilians.  Thus, the security of the Mexican population as a whole is not being greatly threatened, only a certain group.  Therefore, the state of Mexico is actually a strong one, it just has a significant security problem that if not properly addressed, could propel Mexico into state weakness.

There is an obvious danger in attaching the weak state label to Mexico, since doing so prompts not only more rash decisions, but also a heavily military approach.  Due to the decentralization of power among Mexican cartels and the structure of the international cartel market, a war of attrition approach to containing crime within Mexico is ineffective.  Thus, as both the American and Mexican governments focus on ramping up military and police efforts (despite corruption in both forces) they are actually doing very little to address the foundational problems that are prolonging the existence of violence in Mexico.  If we deviate away from viewing Mexico as a weak state that needs fixing (by military means), more appropriate and specific policies can be created, such encouraging a cultural shift and building institutions.  

US Commits to the long haul in Afghanistan as the Taliban demonstrates enhanced capabilities

On Friday the US and Afghanistan signed a 10 year agreement, pledging what some experts have estimated to be around $2.4 billion a year over the next decade. While this agreement was meant to show the world that the US was not going to abandon Afghanistan as it had back in 1990 which precipitated the chaos that led to the rise of the Taliban. Yet the agreement notably left the issue of night raids unaddressed (instead the two states offered separate memoranda on security concerns).

Yet as the US works hard to prove their commitment to the Afghan project, the Taliban has shown extraordinary capability and resolve, launching the spring offensive with a coordinated attack across four different provinces. Among those, one of the seven strikes included on in the heart of Kabul among the diplomatic and parliamentary hub of Afghanistan. The complete surprise with which they caught the US and Afghan intelligence services, and their ability to coordinate the logistics of moving men and arms outside of Pakistan demonstrates a level of proficiency and experience previously unseen from the Taliban’s network. The fact that it was the Haqqani network that was behind the attack, demonstrates that military expertise no longer remains in the exclusive hands of the Taliban.

The attacks were an excellent test of the Afghan security services against an enemy that has quickly adapted to the advanced geospatial and communications intelligence of the US. The results offered some insights into the relative strength of Afghan military forces. The limited death toll on the part of Afghan security forces and their ability to take the lead in fending off the Taliban assault demonstrate a level of professionalism previously unseen in the Afghan security forces. Yet in the end, they still required US air support finally dislodge the assault on Kabul. From this, we may be able to see the limitations of the US COIN initiative as this resilient and adapting counterinsurgency made it painfully clear that a purely military victory will remain outside of Kabul’s grasp. US long-term support should go a long way in assuaging Afghan fears of a complete withdrawal, and with luck it will also help spur negotiations with the Taliban, the sine qua non of a lasting conclusion to the Afghan War.