Monday, May 04, 2009

Defense Statecraft Spring 2009 Final Exam

Please answer one of the following three questions.

  1. Secretary of Defense Gates recently announced severe cuts to several major defense programs. How do these cuts affect the defense posture of the United States? What do they mean in the context of the larger US defense budget?
  2. The term "hybrid wars" has recently become popular with military analysts. Discuss the utility (or lack thereof) of this term, and its relationship to the phrase "revolution in military affairs." Do these terms illuminate the discussion, or muddy it?
  3. President Obama recently restated the hope that nuclear weapons could be eliminated from world arsenals. With the chemical weapon comparison in mind, discuss the practicality of nuclear abolition. Who would most benefit from such a project?

Answers are due by 11:15am.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Pakistan: Where Education Could Pay...

Recent Taliban offensives in Pakistan have lead to increased concern from the U.S.. Fears that the government of Pakistan will be overthrown or that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal or fuel will fall into the hand of the extremist group have been seen in the media and in releases from both the Pakistani government as well as Washington. Now it seems that some concessions on behalf of the Pakistani government will lead to an end in hostilities for the time being.

The big problems are still present. The government has little to no control or influence in a good portion of the country. A recent NY Times article points out that basic needs are not being met in many areas and that this has created a vacuum that is being more and more occupied by the Taliban. It is tough to say that Pakistan should spend less on fighting and more on providing basic services when it is already struggling to keep the Taliban out of Islamabad. But the Taliban is able to create schools that are not going to provide an education that is conducive to creating productive members of society at least in terms of supporting the Pakistani government. The sympathy for militants and extremists is only going to grow in communities and regions where these schools are present. Obviously a certain amount of control in a military sense needs to be present before Pakistan can hope to provide a more well-rounded education, but Pakistan does need to pay attention to these needs in order to form a more stable solution to the current conflict within its borders.

It is admittedly naive to say that building schools will be the water to the Taliban's Wicked Witch of the West but I still think attention needs to be paid by both the U.S. and Pakistan to the medium and long term campaigns to bring an end to the violence in the region. Basic services have an important role to play and investment now will pay dividends down the road.

America's Army's Giant Waste of Money

The recent cuts to various military programs got me playing Monday morning quarterback. After all, what fun is living in a democracy if you don't explain how you would do everything better? So with the loss of the F-22 for the time being and other cutbacks, I started to think about other ways that the military could trim some fat. And then I remembered one of the more interesting uses of American taxpayer's money: America's Army.

Originally just a computer game, America's Army was created as a "global initiative to help with recruitment". It has always been a free download for any aspiring virtual soldier but has expanded in recent years to become available on other video game platforms.

The problem is two-fold: First, it cannot be an effective recruitment tool. Just as 99.99999999999% of the target audience is able to distinguish reality from games enough to know that shooting someone in real life is a bad idea, that same percentage of people are aware that a game about the army is different than actually joining up (for one thing, the respawn time in real life is much longer). In addition, the public perception of such a program is problematic. Not only is there the argument that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on game development, but there is also a backlash against the blurring of the line between violence in entertainment and actual violence.

The development of virtual training tools is a great idea, it is cost effective and inherently less risky than live training. So on that particular front, I cannot help but endorse spending money. In terms of using similar programs as recruitment tools, I think money could be put to better use in other areas though and the costs of maintaining the program has hurt the military's PR more than it has helped.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Aaaaand.....BOOM goes conventional wisdom!

Conventional US foreign policy says we don't negotiate with terrorists. But, as this TIME article points out, conventional wisdom may need to be shown the door. The Obama administration has learned, from its experience from AfPak that the only thing worse than talking to terrorists is not talking to them.

The line that the Bush administration drew in the sand in 2001 is no longer and we currently talk to North Korea, Lebanon (whose government is heavily-laden with Hizbollah) and are studying our options concerning the Taliban. Why has our policy changed? The author states two reasons: 1) Our policy just wasn't working to eradicate or even moderating terrorism and 2) we view groups like Hizbollah and the Taliban as fundamentally different from Al-Qaeda because their goals and ambitions are regionally-based and not globally based. Basically, though we may not agree with their goals, we can deal with it better than we can deal with AQ wanting to send us back to the 7th Century.

The central theme of the article is that we need to talk to Hamas. As the most popular Palestinian party, Hamas may soon be joining forces with Fatah to form a coalition government in the West Bank. This will make it impossible for the US to ignore Hamas. Despite the pummeling that Israel gave Hamas in December and January of this year, the party remains firmly entrenched making it difficult to disband the party. Bottom line: they aren't going anywhere.

So this leaves the US in a predicament. Follow the path of the past and never, ever talk to "terrorists"? Or suck it up and try to work things out. I, for one, hope the latter is the case.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Backing off DADT

Is President Obama backing off of his campaign promise to repeal don't ask don't tell?

New language posted on the White House website this week indicates that the President might be taking a weaker stance on allowing gays to serve in the military.

The changes were reported by AMERICAblog yesterday.

Previously, the White House website included an entire section dedicated Obama's plan to increase civil rights for gays, one point of which included the line, "Repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell." The line has since been removed. Another section had noted "[President Obama] supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell..." and now says "[President Obama] supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security."

Throughout his campaign, Obama stated unequivocally that if elected, he would work to repeal Dont Ask Don't Tell. So, has Obama changed his mind about repealing the rule?

The timing seems to be a little strange. A poll was just released this week that showed the majority of Americans now support repeal of DADT.

The military is still sharply divided on the issue. An article from the New York Times says that in military circles, which have previously been more opposed to repealing DADT than the civilian population, the debate is gaining steam. Still, many top officials in the DoD, including Secretary Gates, would rather just put any decision making. Critics suggest that repealing the rule would undermine military recruitment, solidarity and morale. This argument has been losing ground, however, as the U.S. military been stretched thin by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Repealing DADT, which has led to the dismissal of more than 10,000 people from the military, would inevitably increase enlistment.

Why, then, would President Obama choose to back down now?

Maybe his plate is pretty full, what with the mess in Pakistan, the increasing violence in Iraq and the overhaul of defense spending that was announced in April. Still, there are going to be some pretty angry Obama voters if he drops the ball on this one.

Mr. Medvedev Has A Full Plate…

Russia’s been busy the past couple of days. Here’s a quick recap:

-At a meeting of the Arctic Council (what an awesome name!) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that his country had no plans to boost its military presence in the Arctic. He said that existing conventions in the Law of the Sea Treaty could resolve disputes in the region, and that Russia would commit no more troops that it has already allocated to the region (back in March Russia said that it would commit army units and establish a Federal Security Service coastal guard presence in the region).

-Russia has taken formal control over the de-facto borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. President Medvedev signed formal agreements with both countries to administer the border regions for five years. Neither South Ossetia or Abkhazia have any authority over the troops that Russia sends.

-Political desk chief Viktor Kochukov and mission attache and executive secretary Vasily Chizhov were stripped of their credentials and expelled from Russia's mission to NATO on accusations of espionage. Talks between NATO and Russia resumed this past Wednesday for the first time since the August War last year. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the expulsions "provocative" especially given the increased tensions caused by NATO plans to hold military exercises in Georgia next week.

-On Wednesday Russia launched what is believed to be a spy satellite with a high-resolution optical camera. Analysts believe that it is a Kobalt-class satellite with several retrievable film canisters.

- The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that it plans to reduce its armed forces by 130,000 soldiers, which would put its total number of military personnel at 1,000,000 troops. And its not just the lower ranks who are getting axed; the Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that one fifth of Russia’s senior officers will be dismissed because they failed a military aptitude test.

So what does all this mean? Russia is staking territory out in the Arctic circle presumably because its estimated that up to 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas lay under the icecap. Its contesting part of the Arctic Circle with Denmark (which was part of the reason why it planted a flag 4,000 feet under the pole back in 2007). Its streamlining its military by cutting out all of the deadwood either because it wants a leaner, more efficient fighting force for the 21st century or it wants to save money (its suffering quite a bit from falling oil prices). The spying case and the satellite launch seem suspiciously timed to me. The NATO military exercises were planned more than a year ago, so Russia may have chosen this time to launch this satellite (on the same day that talks with NATO began) just to show that it was still keeping its military hardware in good shape. The spying charge seems odd too; this is the first time that Russia and NATO have talked in almost a year. Why would Russia risk worsening relations by spying? But then again, maybe they just think having a good relationship with NATO was all that important in the first place.

The US has largely been discounting Russia as a marginal global power since the USSR’s collapse two decades ago. Russia is obviously doing some serious strength-training, and wants to carve out its own niche in the international system. I seriously doubt that there is anything that the US or Europe can do about that.

Racism Reborn

While many counterterrorism operations focus on threats from abroad, there is a growing danger presented by right-wing white supremacist groups. In early April, a Homeland Security intelligence report meant for local law enforcement was leaked to the press. The report described Operation Vigilant Eagle, a plan to target white supremacists and “militia/sovereign-citizen extremist groups.” The DHS plan also focuses on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Homeland Security Officials are right to focus on the more militant white supremacists, a recent Newsweek article indicates the threat may be a bit more insidious.

These are not your grandparent’s white supremacists…
The Newsweek article quotes Thomas Robb, leader of a KKK offshoot called the Knights Party: “Do you know why people are so afraid of us? Because we’re so normal.” White supremacist groups have long found the Internet to be a powerful recruiting tool to spread their ideology, connect disparate groups and plan events. Now, it seems, they have gotten smarter about it.

In a strategic move (one that the Republican party should mimic to increase membership – ed), white supremacist leaders have encouraged members to tone down the rhetoric and extremist speech online so as not to frighten off potential new members. From the Newsweek article: “During the Knight’s event in Arkansas, Roy, a guest speaker, advised white recruiters to ‘keep it subtle. Don’t hit ‘em with anything too hard right off the bat or you will shock them. Find a chink in their armor and make friends. If you are too radical, they won’t listen.’”

Why now?
The reasons for the increased focus on white supremacist groups are neatly summed up in the DHS report. “...the economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.” Additionally, blogs and message boards are buzzing with the possibility of backlash against Mexican immigrants over the Swine Flu H1N1 virus epidemic. The debate over the replacement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter will also be a likely source of rage for hate groups.

So now what?
The scariest part of this problem is that President Obama’s election may have shifted focus away from education about racism. We can’t allow the problem to fall off America’s radar. We can’t let our wake-up call be a white supremacist terrorist attack on American soil.

. . .But Can it Cure Swine Flu?

One of the more interesting aircraft of the past 20 years may be headed to Afghanistan. While not the most attractive of aircraft, the V-22 Osprey is definitely one of the more ambitious vehicles currently in use. Combining the manuverability and hovering capacity of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft, the Osprey has been seen by many in the military as a jack of all trades and seems to be an ideal fit for the Marines specifically.

But the V-22 Osprey has had a checkered past and has been used as a poster child for over-budget military projects. In 1986 the projected budget for the development of a tiltrotor aircraft was about $2.5 billion, a large amount of money by most standards but in the context of military toys it was relatively small. Soon after the budget was increased to about $30 billion and as of 2008 the amount spent on the Osprey was close to $28 billion. Estimates on how much will be needed before the project can be considered complete put the final total somewhere in the ballpark of $60 million. On many occasions (usually following a high profile accident) the program was put on the chopping block. However the Osprey has managed to keep its head above water and has become the subject of praise by military officials especially in the discussion of deploying the Osprey in Afghanistan.

The case of the Osprey may make the decision to cut over-budget programs more difficult. Between the mishandling of the program and the high profile accidents, the Osprey seemed to be going the way of the Dodo (sorry, couldn't help myself) just a few years ago. The Marines have continued to voice their support for the project and recent success in Iraq as a troop transport seems to have resuscitated the program. Even President Obama's ride in an Osprey during a trip to Iraq during the presidential campaign helped to put the Osprey in a better light. So should the program have been axed years ago? Based on what we saw at the time, I would have said yes without much hesitation. As it becomes more integrated into the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan I think it becomes clear that it has a role to play in U.S. military operations. Bottom line: I just don't know what to think about DoD continuing to fund programs that are troubled. It is difficult to know whether the program will turn out as a marginal success like the V-22, or a Davincian failure.

Jane Harmon explained

The Daily show does a job on Harmon - funny stuff, especially since I am pretty sure they don't have much time to make jokes; just the facts of the situation are so absurd that just presenting it is funny.

Well, except strangling a manatee will probably not get you in the EPA.