Saturday, January 30, 2010

A sneak peak at the 2010 QDR

A draft of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review is out in the wild, and it hold some interesting changes from the 2006 QDR.

The new QDR modifies the "We can fight two wars at once" concept previously central to U.S. military spending, cuts some programs and moves away from a enemy-centric focus to the goal of countering threatening capabilities.

No, there's no catchy way to put that, even in the acronym happy Department of Defense.

Or, as a Pentagon official told the Washington Independent, as reported by Spencer Ackerman (Attackerman):

“We’ll take some hits for not having a bumper-sticker force planning construct, but screw it,” the Pentagon official said. “The world is complicated.”

Programs to be cut include the Navy's CG(X) cruiser and further purchases of the Air Force's C-17 transport aircraft. It also includes a delay of the Navy's LCC command ship roll-out. Ackerman quotes a DoD official who says the Pentagon cuts of last year allowed the QDR to shift spending priorities instead of adding many more program cuts.

The Navy was anticipating the loss of perhaps two carrier battle groups, but the draft doesn't contain such cuts. It does call for a move of forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific (pleasing those in Hawaii and Guam), an "alternative port" on the East Coast for a carrier (although it doesn't mention where) and more DDG-51 destroyers with the Aegis package as part of the call for ballistic missile defense around Europe.

The Air Force is eying continued endorsement of unmanned aircraft and long-range strike capability, as well as an emphasis on sensors "over older manned fighters and large-bus space assets," according to Aviation Week.

In another interesting move, the 2010 QDR will likely address the need to "green" the military. The 2006 QDR barely address the issue, says Wired Magazine's Danger Room blog.

Among other things, the draft QDR suggests the military will have to start planning for operations in which rising sea levels, an ice-free Arctic and higher overall global temperatures may be an important factor. What’s more, it suggests that military planners will have to prepared for the knock-on effects of climate change: forced migration, resource scarcity and the spread of disease.

Ackerman also sees the leaked QDR as a preview of the Obama's National Security Strategy.

Note that there is still a possibility of surprises in the final QDR release on Mon., Feb. 2. In some ways, this QDR is surprising in what it doesn't cut. Or as one think tanker says:

"You have to wonder whether the tough year is ever going to come," said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank.

Regardless, this QDR appears to be the Pentagon setting its house in order and changing how it thinks, particularly compared to the 2006 QDR.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Blair Defends Decision to Support the US

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared in front of the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday, his first appearance in front of the commission set up by Great Britain to investigate the 2003 Iraqi War. Blair, facing tough questions over the legality of the war and the lack of WMD’s found in Iraq, admitted and apologized that his decision had been so divisive. Yet, Blair defended his government’s final conclusion to support the US, stressing that Saddam posed a threat not only to the region but to the world. He said it was important to analyze where Saddam and his Ba’athist regime would be today vis-à-vis their neighbors, particularly Iran, given that country’s current pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups.

Particularly relevant comments to the idea of a just or unjust war were the British and American governments’ attitude to the post-9/11 threat environment. Blair said that, despite there not being a direct link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, the threat matrix changed demonstrably by the existence of an agent, Islamist terrorists, who sought to kill as many people as possible. He contrasted them with the IRA, a group seeking to achieve a short-term and narrowly defined political goal.

Blair’s comments make a distinction between threats constituted by intentions and those constituted by resources. Did Iraq have the capability to threaten the US or Europe with WMD’s? Did they have the intention? If an intention to act also requires the capabilities, we can have a subset category, desire or the desire to gain the capabilities. Blair seems to be throwing in this third category which he combines with the new terrorism Weltanschauung to ask: How does the new threat environment change the capabilities and the intentions of Iraq? Walzer also makes the distinction but says we not only have to come down on the side of intentions, but that “it isn’t really prudent to assume the malign intent of one’s neighbors; it is merely cynical…”. He goes on to clarify what constitutes an intention to attack and therefore can legally allow a pre-emptive strike: “a manifest intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk”.

According to Walzer’s definition, it’s probably difficult to come down on the side of legality based on the arguments made by Blair at the commission. Delving in to the murky water of pre-war intelligence may bring up some golden chest of exoneration, but those treasures will always be hotly disputed. Much focus was also placed on the British Attorney General and his decision to declare the war legal. I think Blair was operating on a different level of analysis than Walzer because he felt the threat contained an emergency clause he was forced to exercise. Such situational arguments always bring up difficult questions because they leave space for others to break well-defined principles in similar situations. For Mr. Blair, his justifications will likely be ill-received by the British public at large, some of whom protested at the commission, calling him a liar and war criminal. While Blair’s credentials as a prophet may be a matter for the commission to decide, he’s already being received without honor in his home country.

Friday, January 22, 2010

SecDef- Pentagon needs a fashion makeover

The New York Times reported on Monday that Secretary Gates reverted the Pentagon’s dress code to Service Dress, at least for his staff. After 9-11 Secretary Rumsfeld mandated that day-to-day uniform for all US service personnel should be fatigues and combat boots. This especially included those serving at the Pentagon. The idea was a reminder that the Pentagon itself was a terrorist target, that the nation was at war and that even the most senior servicemen should be battle ready (at least out of solidarity with their subordinates stationed in combat zones). Call it symbolic, psychological or political even—regardless there was little controversy when the change to fatigues was made. Then again, in the days following 9-11 little policy change was questioned and the dress code certainly would not have made the top-ten questionable administration decisions.

Monday’s announcement was very low key and only applied to the Secretary’s immediate professional staff. The intention is to reinforce the professional atmosphere of the Pentagon as it is the official headquarters of national defense. This should be intuitive as most of those employed in the Pentagon are career soldiers—professionals. And yet, the complaint is that Mr. Gates has overstepped his “civilian role” by impeding on officer prerogative. Never mind that this is unofficial policy that only the Secretary’s staff is obliged to follow, but the initial fatigue-only policy was also a civilian decision.

In what reality is the dress code of non-combat personnel stationed at home anything but a matter of Political/grand strategy? Aside from the amount of time needed to arrange every medal and shine one’s shoes to regulation, a pencil pusher’s attire has no strategic, operational or tactical implications to make meddling in it a politician’s overstep. Had the Pentagon been battle ready, decked out in fatigues and combat boots on September 11, 2001 AA flight 77 still would have impacted killing 125 inside this national fortress. Desert camouflage does not exactly make chameleons of the 26,000 employees against the 6.5 million sq ft of fluorescent lit concrete and limestone. Shinned brass makes no more a target of the Pentagon and its employees than its symbolic and practical value.

Whether a change in professional military dress code is big or little “p” politics, no one is more vested in the implications than the Secretary of Defense. The perceptions of our nation’s military personnel at home and abroad as well as morale are his imperatives as SecDef. If Mr. Gates decides that the presentation of the U.S. armed forces needs to be less cowboy and more business man, he would know.

Will this evolve into widespread policy change for the Uniformed Services? It might not be necessary. Apparently peer pressure around the Pentagon is enough to make officers concerned as to whether their staff should follow suit…