Defense Statecraft

Thursday, February 25, 2021

India and Pakistan - Ceasefire and Counterinsurgency

On February 25th, 2021 India and Pakistan announced a joint statement agreeing to a ceasefire along the de facto border of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. This development comes on the tail of de-escalation measures agreed to by India and China along their respective disputed border in northeast Kashmir earlier in the month. 

        The last such agreement, made in 2003, began to visibly deteriorate around 2008 when Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, committed a series of deadly terrorist bombings in Mumbai. Escalation of tension between India and Pakistan as terrorist attacks occur has led to increases in skirmishes along the disputed Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control: a hotbed of low-grade conflict since the United Kingdom divested itself of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. In 2019, tensions culminated in the first aerial dogfight in 48 years between Indian and Pakistani forces after India bombed Pakistani territory in response to another terrorist attack. Pakistan’s capture of an Indian pilot following this incident brought the two countries to the brink of open warfare--an untenable option for two nuclear powers. Pakistan released the pilot in a bid to de-escalate tensions just days afterward, but diplomatic relations between the two nations remained antagonistic with 5,133 ceasefire violations in Kashmir in 2020 alone.

        The importance of this recent agreement as a signal of mutual willingness to avoid perpetuating the catastrophic tit-for-tat spiral of recent years is hard to understate, but likely does not indicate a shift in India’s defense posture toward Pakistan or vice-versa. Both countries will retain conventional forces in situ and Indian officials maintain the "right to respond” to terrorist attacks, alluding to past operations involving Pakistani territory. India remains suspicious of state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan, and cooperation on counterterrorism efforts between the two are precluded by the presence of pro-Pakistan insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir, which are often connected to terrorist attacks in India. 

         Past experience suggests that, while promising, any drastic changes in Indian-Pakistani relations remain unlikely. This newest ceasefire will, at best, modestly reduce the number of ceasefire violations from the previous year, but will also struggle to be effectively implemented. India's aggressive counterinsurgency strategy risks spillover into Pakistani territory on top of recent domestic policies that will further alienate Muslim and minority representation in Jammu and Kashmir according to UN human rights experts. Despite rebuffs from the Indian government questioning the criticism and citing India's sovereignty over the region, the ramifications of these actions may further intensify support for separatist groups and negatively impact prospects for de-escalation between India and Pakistan.

        It remains to be seen how successful enforcement of the new ceasefire with Pakistan will be despite the history of India and Pakistan’s dispute over Kashmir. The alternative of open conflict presents unacceptable costs to both parties. What is clear is that, although the appetite of both nations for conflict is on the wane, Pakistan and India's choice of action on Jammu and Kashmir has troubling implications for achieving lasting peace.

Stress at Play in Special Operations Units

It is clear that soldiers that operate under special operations units have to be the best of the best. For purposes of this blog post, there will be a focus on Navy SEALs. On a physical level, these soldiers must be able to withstand physical challenges that would be impossible for most common people, but on a psychological level, these troops must also be exceptional. 

Mental toughness is one of the phrases that is often thrown around when referring to Navy SEALs, and the truth is that they in fact react differently to circumstances. For instance, Veterans Affairs carried out a study that evaluated the reaction of Navy SEALs to stress. One of the effects of stress on people is anxiety prior to the actual event that is causing the stress, such as, an exam. The results of the study demonstrated how these elite soldiers managed stress differently than a regular person or soldier would. The brain areas that would raise levels of anxiety did not operate as they would for a regular soldier. This allows Navy SEALs to keep their emotions in check even under the worst scenarios of combat for sharper decision-making and therefore more effectiveness as a soldier.

Nevertheless, another way in which soldiers may acquire this trait is through experience. When a soldier has undergone these stressful situations of combat, the soldier becomes accustomed and the anxiety prior to the event is better controlled. Experience compounded on top of a Navy SEALs training would ultimately deliver the best results for stress management, therefore, resulting in a better soldier in the process.

For context, on the other side of the spectrum, soldiers that experience PTSD would react in the opposite way. High-stress levels would cloud the subject’s judgment and jeopardize his decision-making even before experiencing the potential situation as the anxiety experienced would be enough to decrease the effectiveness of said soldier under circumstances of combat. That being said, Navy SEALs are not immune to PTSD, depicting the urgency of diagnosing soldiers across all branches for the soldiers’ health and effectiveness of the armed forces.

Stress is only one of the several psychological factors at play when facing combat. However, stress management is one of the ways in which Navy SEALs surpass regular soldiers on the battlefield.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Are Supersonic missiles in Our Best Interest?


It is the goal of any society to continue to grow and adapt with the times. For the arms race this bring hypersonic missiles into the picture, which is being widely discussed among scientists and politicians around the world. The topic of discussion being the development of hypersonic missiles and if through the exploration start the next arms race. Tom Mahnken, president of the respected Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), has been urging on the side of caution when getting overly excited. As there is not enough information currently to properly give the pros and cons of these missiles being developed. Hypersonic missiles are created when we combine the speed of ballistic missiles coupled with the maneuvering capabilities of cruise missiles.

             The discussion has caused controversy within the DOD over the study released by Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which criticized the “effectiveness of hypersonic missiles”. The study contained a poll, which consisted of mainly DOD officials, that laid out four viewpoints ranging across the political sphere. The viewpoints were simple, first, there is the viewpoint of getting ahead. This of course would urge us to, by any means possible, advance our technology with regards to hypersonic technology. A second viewpoint says that the country should be on the defensive and advance the technology to protect against the usage of them from other countries. Third, is the idea of “draw the line” between what will be tolerated and will not be. Which means that we should be able to advance the technology but be mindful not to cross boundaries that prevent certain weapons to be created. Lastly. There is the view that weapons, such as the Avangard, should not be created. Rather, we should be able to stick with what we have and prevent possible catastrophe. Avangard being the Russian hypersonic glide vehicle that is said to be fully functional and have been tested several times.

            With the advancements in science continuing, it stands within reason that countries would address questions of if this type of technology should be invested in. It seen back when scientists were working on the Atomic Bomb when there debates on whether nuclear arms should continue in the trajectory they are. This brings into play questions of morality and the amount human life they are willing to give up.

Which side of the fence are you on?

Where do you see the exploration hypersonic technology leading us?

Friday, May 08, 2020

Spring 2020 Final Exam

Diplomacy 750: Defense Statecraft
Final Exam
May 8, 2020

Please answer one of the following three questions, and return your essay to Dr. Farley by 12:30pm:

1.     Discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on defense planning in the United States.  How will the economic and demographic effects of the pandemic change how the United States manages its defense budget and its military services?
2.     The COVID-19 pandemic has generated considerable ill-will between China and the United States.  How will the pandemic affect the balance of power between Washington and Beijing?  What military risks and opportunities now face each of the two competitors?
3.     The Spanish Flu of 1918 had an important, but not decisive, impact of fighting on the Western Front.  Have the character and nature of warfare changed such that the modern COVID-19 pandemic will have different effects on conflicts around the globe?

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Iran’s “Crushing Response” to Embargo Extension

        Since 2007 Iran has been under an arms embargo mandated by the U.N. Security Council. Iran is currently subject to many different types of sanctions, but this arms embargo invoked a recent controversy. For starters under the terms of the JCPOA, the embargo is set to expire in October, showing that Iran has been cooperating with the terms of the deal. The JCPOA itself is subject to scrutiny after the U.S. pulled out of the deal because Iran was not holding up its end of the bargain. Even though the U.S. is not a party to the JCPOA, the U.S. is still seeking to have the embargo extended, which caused an explosive response from the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran’s President said that if the U.S. continues to push for the extension of the embargo, then Iran will have a “crushing response” which has spurred the latest look into the debate of arms control and trade in Iran.
           Form Iran’s perspective, the U.S. has lost all rights to the extent to the sanctions. Some doubt that the U.S. will be able to get the votes necessary to extend the embargo. China and Russia, who hold veto power, have expressed disinterest in extending the embargo. Both countries would be able to sell arms to Iran once the embargo is lifted. Rouhani stated that if the U.S. wants to get involved, then it should re-enter the deal and lift all the sanctions as compensation for leaving the agreement. From the U.S. perspective, it is still a permanent member of the U.N. security council and JCPOA or not, Iran should have the embargo extended because they are not following the terms. Plus, the U.S. can snap back all sanctions. Actions and words do not match up on either side. Iran says it wants the deal to stay in place but at the same time has “rolled backs its commitments.” At the same time, the U.S. pulls out of the agreement but still wants oversight and control.
           One of the questions that this brings to light is the trade-off between nuclear and conventional weapons.  European nations want the embargo extended but fear that by doing that, it would null the rest of the JCPOA, which is a trade-off that those nations are not willing to do. The U.S. seems to have taken the stance that conventional weapons are more of a threat right now. At the same time, other nations, especially in Europe, believe that regulating nuclear weapons is more important. This trade-off is not one that can be made lightly. Another thing to question is with all the other sanctions in place, even if the U.N. Embargo ended, it would still be challenging for Iran to procure arms, which could point to political grandstanding by both nations.

U.S. Campaigning to Extend Iran Arms Embargo

The latest fallout from the U.S.'s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran could be coming to pass soon. Iran has been banned from exporting or importing conventional weapons for over a decade now, but this arms embargo is set to expire this October. This expiration was predicated upon Iran's honoring of the JCPOA. However, tensions between Iran and the West in recent times has led the country to progressively roll back its commitment to the treaty.

In response, the U.S. is now threatening to extend the arms embargo on Iran set to expire this fall. In response to the U.S.'s campaigning to extend the arms embargo, Iranian officials have stated that such actions will result in a permanent end to the nuclear treaty. It is not difficult to understand Iran's perspective that a nation who has unilaterally withdrawn from a treaty should not have the audacity to further meddle with the matter. 

Iran's sentiment appears to not be unique if several sources within the U.N. are to be believed. There are reports that European diplomats agree with the fact that the United States has forfeited its right to renew such embargoes when it ended its participation in the JCPOA in 2018. Even if the U.S. could convince its European allies on the U.N. Security Council, it is unlikely that China or Russia would side with this action. 

The U.S. is trying to drink its soup and keep its mustache dry at the same time, withdrawing from a nuclear treaty it disagrees with except for when it decides to pressure those still attempting to uphold it in order to exact its own will. The economic burden that Iran is already under due to the US's sanctions would not be much altered by a renewal of the arms embargo, but the US's antics could permanently jeopardize international negotiations with Iran. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Fly Overs

The military recently joined public efforts to show respect for frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past week, Air Force and Navy jets performed fly overs to “salute” frontline workers, with more planned in the near future. Initial fly overs took place in large cities, such as Atlanta, New York, and Washington D.C, but more cities are scheduled to participate soon.  Some of the jets focused on city centers while others made special trips to hospitals. The act of solidarity was met with mixed reviews. Some felt the costly act was ill timed and represented a premature declaration of victory over the virus. Others felt grateful for the unifying experience and sign of respect.

These fly overs do not run cheap. Reported costs range from $36,000 to $50,000 per hour of flight depending on who is reporting. Critics of the fly overs argue that the money could be better spent, perhaps on personal protective equipment for military personnel or research for vaccinations. Others explain they would prefer the government to display their gratitude in direct monetary forms, such as pay increases for frontline workers or continued stimulus checks.

However, for those who enjoy and appreciate the show, it is a special honor for them to be the honorees of a long standing military tradition. It is a reminder to them that their efforts are not in vain and that America supports and needs them.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The UN Arms Trade Treaty

It's been just over a year since President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the annual NRA meeting in Indianapolis. The withdrawal was heralded on stage by Trump and Second Amendment activists as a major win for protecting American sovereignty and the right to gun ownership. The statement released by the Whitehouse labeled the treaty as a "misguided agreement" that "infringed upon the sovereignty of the US". In the same statement, it championed US export controls as the "gold standard for engaging in responsible arms trading" adding that the treaty was simply "not needed."

What is confusing about these statements is that the treaty itself holds no authority over domestic gun control laws.  The already existing "gold standard" in the US meant that the signing of the treaty would not require any change to US laws to remain in compliance. The US was also the second largest financial contributor to the negotiations behind Japan. The original intent of the treaty was not to bring the US into compliance.

The ATT treaty in reality was meant to limit the capabilities of regimes such as North Korea, Syria and Iran to procure weapon systems and other military technologies. It could also have served as a means of pressuring other regimes accused of human rights abuses such as Saudi Arabia and Israel to be more compliant with international norms. The implications are effectively none for the Second Amendment. To put it bluntly, this treaty was meant to regulate weapons that are worth more than your house, not your Winchester rifle. If any, regulation could fall on the actions of major weapon manufacturers abroad (i.e. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon), but they are already heavily regulated by the government for national security purposes. The Trump Administrations actions instead of being viewed as a defense of national sovereignty should be viewed as an attack on multilateralism. The treaty was simply taken as an opportunity to publicly reject global institutions and consensus from the realm of US foreign policy.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Selling out on Freedom

Britain has drastically increased arms sales. In 2018, Britain reported £310 million in arms sales. In 2019, that figure increased to £1.3 billion. This is great news for the British economy, which is still finding it's sea legs after the recent separation from the EU. However, it has not come without controversy.

A new report indicates that British arms sales have increased to nations rife with claims of human rights violations and oppression. The report shows that 26 of the 48 countries who received British arms are classified as "not free" on the Freedom House's freedom scale. Human rights groups are working to bring this revelation to light, but the issue has gone largely unreported in the media due to the worldwide focus on COVID-19.

This controversy follows on the heels of a 2019 court of appeals ruling that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful. Red flags were raised with this ruling, sparking criticism that the British government valued profits and economic success over human rights and freedom.