Monday, April 28, 2014

Dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Heats Up

The international debate over the Senkaku islands has become even more heated in the last week. On April 19th, Japan began military expansions for the first time in forty years on the western end of the chain of islands. A radar station is set to be built on an island off the coast of Taiwan, named Yonaguni. This station will help to improve Japanese defense and surveillance capabilities, as it gives the country a lookout 93 miles away from the Senkaku islands.

Senkaku islandsThe base could potentially give the Japanese the ability to monitor China’s mainland and track Chinese ships and planes as well.  Though Japan never named a specific enemy when building up these defensive capabilities, it is a well-known fact that the country and China view each other as threats.

1,500 people reside on Yonaguni, which is most known for its “strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving.” Many of the islanders are excited about the base, as it will bring an economic boost to the community. Others, however, fear that the base will only make the island a target if Japan and another country begin to fight.

Map of Senkaku/Diaoyu Island

China and Japan have disputed over who owns the islands for many years now. However, it is China’s actions last year, when it developed an “air-defense identification zone in the Each China Sea,” (ADIZ), and consequently over the Senkaku islands, that might have been a catalyst in President Shinzo Abe’s decision to put soldiers on Yonaguni.

Due to the United States’ pact with Japan to defend the country’s territory, the US has warned China against taking action in regards to the islets. On April 22, President Obama stated that if China were to become aggressive, then the US would have no choice but to become involved militarily. He stated clearly that Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security covered the Senkaku islands, and considered Japan the administrators of the territory.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2013. 
This public show of support is meant to deter China from taking actions to repatriate the islands. Washington’s support of Abe’s moves to build greater defenses have the potential to bring greater security to the region overall.

Chinese reactions to President Obama’s statement have been dismissive. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry stated that nothing has changed, and that the islands are still the sole territory of China. As far as China is concerned, it has the right to defend the maritime and national security interest of its territory—including the islands.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

US & Philippines Agree to New Security Pact

In response to ever-increasing Chinese aggressiveness over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, along with the US strategic pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region, the US and Philippine governments have agreed to terms on a new security pact.  The agreement on 'Enhanced Defense Cooperation', expected to be signed in Manila on Monday by President Obama and his Philippine counter-part Benigno Aquino III, constitutes a 10-year deal that will usher in enhanced an US military presence.  The Philippine constitution, which does not allow for permanent foreign bases, was addressed by a Philippine governmental official, who stated on Sunday in a press release to the AP, that US troops would be operating on a "temporary and rotational basis" and in conjunction with the Filipino counter-parts. The Philippine military, which stands at around 120,000 troops, is considered by many to be undermanned and under-funded, and has deemed US military assistance necessary to confront current regional issues. Although the US military has had a presence in the Philippines for much of the last century, the relationship has become much more strained over the past few decades.  In 1991, highly nationalistic fervor provided the impetus for the Philippine government to expel all US troops in the absence of a 'viable threat' from abroad.  Changes to this policy in 1999, and again in 2002, brought US forces back to the Philippines in response to previous Chinese aggression in territorial disputes, and in larger-part to combat the post-9/11 'War on Terror'.

In recent years, increased Chinese aggression towards disputed areas in the South China Sea have raised concerns in the Philippines, to a level significant enough, to once again seek significant levels of foreign military aid from the US.  In 2012, China took effective control over the Scarborough Shoal off the northwest coast of the Philippines causing a hotly contested standoff between the two nations.  Territorial disputes over the Scarborough Shoal span several decades, as Taiwan also claims control over the contested area.  Using the US as an intermediary, the Philippines and China came to agreement over the area, which the Chinese ignored, blocking off access to the area from Philippine fisherman.  More recently, a continuing dispute is playing out between the Philippines and China over the Second Thomas Shoal in a nearby area.  The shoal, which is also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia has been brought by the Philippines to the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the Hague.  Despite these legal steps taken by Manila, China has announced that it will ignore all rulings found by the arbitration and will only resolve associated disputes through bilateral negotiations.  In light of recent aggression taken by China regarding territorial disputes with other nations in the region, especially regarding Japan, the cavalier nature characterizing Chinese policy and political response is hardly surprising.  

Although the specifics regarding the agreement have not been made public, the invitation appears to be whole-heartedly welcomed by the US, who is seeking to gain greater traction in its strategic pivot towards Asia.  Fittingly, President Obama is currently in the midst of a week-long visit to Asia to meet with leaders of regional allies in Seoul, Tokyo, Manila and Kuala Lumpur.  The President has been busy throughout the tour in trying assuage concerns surrounding a hypothetical US military response in the region to future Chinese or North Korean acts of aggression.  The concerns have arisen amongst the leadership of US-allied nations in response to Washington's tepid response to the much publicized Russian incursion into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and events in Syria.  As such, a bolstered US military presence in the Philippines is something which the White House fully supports. This agreement, along with training exercises by naval carrier groups and B-52 fly overs are seen as a strategic maneuver by the US and its Pacific Command Group in trying to reassure its allies in the region.  

Locations of bases where  US troops will be stationed has not made been made public, but it seems more than likely that bases in the north and northwest regions of the Philippines are likely because of their proximity to China as well as the aforementioned disputed territories.  The ability to respond to various aggressions by both China and North Korea are vital to US interests in the region and ensuring cooperation with allies in the region is an integral piece of accomplishing this goal. This enhanced security pact with the Philippines, while an important step in moving US policy in this desired direction, is only one of many which it must take.  Bolstering its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, while vital, is simply one piece of an effective overall US strategic plan.  It will be imperative that the US does not make China feel as if it has been backed into a corner and that it takes all steps necessary in avoiding an armed conflict.  To accomplish this task, the US must accompany its military build-up in the region with skillful diplomacy and tact to offer increased security to its interests and allies in the region.  

The Strategic Impact of Climate Change

In coming years, the US military expects that Climate Change will post a significant challenge not only in the US political system, but also for US strategic and security efforts.  While the US's wealth will help to mitigate the effects of Climate Change in this country, it will have significant impacts on the rest of the world which will destabilize nations and entire regions, cause population movement, and create resource competition which will all lead to new strategic risks and unpredictable threats.

According to the 2014 QDR, "Climate change poses [a] significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."  These are serious threats that will require effective policy responses from the US in order to maintain the current global system with minimal economic disruption or loss of life.

The QDR does highlight some of these efforts. "The Department will employ creative ways to address the impact of climate change, which will continue to affect the operating environment and the roles and missions that U.S. Armed Forces undertake. The Department will remain ready to operate in a changing environment amid the challenges of climate change and environmental damage. We have increased our preparedness for the consequences of environmental damage and continue to seek to mitigate these risks while taking advantage of opportunities. The Department’s operational readiness hinges on unimpeded access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, we will complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on our missions and operational resiliency, and develop and implement plans to adapt as required.

Climate change also creates both a need and an opportunity for nations to work together, which the Department will seize through a range of initiatives. We are developing new policies, strategies, and plans, including the Department’s Arctic Strategy and our work in building humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities, both within the Department and with our allies and partners."

Implementing policies to effectively deal with Climate Change may be more difficult than identifying the problems, however.  In an interview with Responding to Climate Change blog, Army Brigadier General Chris King (ret.) stressed the military's concerns about implementing effective responses to climate change.“This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems.  You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”

King cites as areas of particularly concern countries which area already facing severe environmental and economic challenges, including Afghanistan, Haiti, Chad, Somalia, and Sudan.  According to RCCb, “These countries, already suffering from localised conflicts, famine and drought, could be placed under intense stress by the impacts of climate change.”  These impacts will likely include higher temperatures, less access to ground water, and lower levels of precipitation.  Weak institutions and governance would prevent governments from responding effectively to new crises, leading to further violence and destabilization.

US leadership will be critical to a strong and effective global response to climate change--and US defense policy will be a key component of that leadership.  This is important not only as a global humanitarian concern, but also to ensure the longterm safety and access to resources of the American people.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Myth of Nuclear Determinism

Nuclear determinists like to argue that the spread of advance technology across the globe is increasing the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. They claim that all a non-nuclear state needs to acquire a nuclear weapons is the will to do so and the money to buy the technology required. The world then, as they argue, is on the precipice of a nuclear arms race, the consequences of which may be untold disaster. Nevertheless, the mass nuclear proliferation they claim is about to take place has not happened yet and does not appear to be on the horizon. To be sure, the weapons programs in Iran and North Korea pose a major threat to regional stability, however, they do not threaten on the same scale as a global nuclear arms race. Additionally, as Jacques Hymans notes in his 2012 book Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation, the length of time it has taken for recently proliferating states to complete their programs has increased in comparison to the time it took for the US and USSR to complete their programs in the 1940s. This fact takes the wind out of the sails of the argument of nuclear determinists, for if technology is advanced and as widespread as they claim, shouldn't nuclear weapons programs be decreasing in completion time?

Jacques Hyman's book does a good job in refuting the claims of nuclear determinists. Hyman argues that weak state institutions, more than anything else, prevent states from attaining nuclear weapons. He believes that questions over the ability of a state to successfully develop, maintain, and complete a nuclear program cannot be answered through purely technical reasoning, but must include political analysis of state institutions. 

Hyman makes his argument by analyzing the relationship between politicians and scientists at both the micro and macro level. At the micro level, he argues the professionalism of the scientific corps tasked with undertaking a nuclear program is paramount to the program’s efficient completion. Achieving a high level of professionalism rests on politicians granting scientists autonomy. Autonomy is attained by providing scientists with the resources they need, by allowing them to control their own work schedules, and by convincing – not coercing – them to buy into the nuclear project. Hyman notes that it is hard for a state to foster a feeling of professionalism among scientists, especially in states lacking strong institutions.

In linking the micro level to the macro, Hyman argues the reason why some states stifle scientific autonomy and professionalism and others do not is based on differing degrees of institutional constraint placed on the actions of the top leadership of the state. Hyman places all states into two organizational groups: Weberian legal-rational and neo-patrimonial.  Weberian legal-rational states have strong institutions that prevent the state’s leadership from interfering in the affairs of nuclear scientists, thus granting them the autonomy and professionalism needed to carry out a proliferation program. Neo-patrimonial states, however, lack strong institutions that can block elites from meddling in the affairs of their scientists. If these elites do meddle, then scientists will lose their autonomy and professionalism and the completion of a nuclear program will become a herculean task. As Hyman suggests, the reason why recent successful proliferation programs have taken longer to complete as compared to the programs carried out by the US and USSR in the early Cold War, is due to the fact that most states currently working on nuclear weapons projects fall into the neo-patrimonial category. So, Hyman gives us a good argument as to why nuclear determinism is wrong, now what does he say we should do about it?

The worst thing we can do, Hyman notes, is use military means to eliminate enemy proliferation programs. As he notes, military actions against enemy nuclear facilities and scientists often lead to the exact opposite of what they were intended to do. For instance, Hyman argues that the targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists by the US and Israel only convinces Iranian “scientific and technical workers to give their all to their country’s bomb project,” increasing the likelihood of the program’s success. Moreover, the almost blind faith accorded to this policy prescription demonstrates what has become an endemic failure of the US government to think at the strategic level. Complex questions, such as those surrounding how best to stop nuclear proliferation, require complex answers and strategic forethought. Framing these questions only in terms of technological capabilities limits the ability of the US to respond through means other than a military strike. In essence, we fail to see the forest from the trees. Instead, Hyman argues we should expand debate on these issues from the purely technical to the political to allow policymakers to view nuclear proliferation in a new light, creating opportunities for the development of new polices to combat a real problem in international relations. Herein lies the real benefit of Hymans book, for far more important than answering the question as to why some states are more successful than others at achieving their nuclear ambitions is Hyman’s call for us to break with our preconceived notions of nuclear weapons and view them from a higher, more objective plane. The challenge has been issued, can we meet it?       

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ukraine's Military Outlook: Bleak

As NATO and the Ukrainian government have frequently pointed out in recent days, the Russian army has massed significant forces on the Russian/Ukrainian border. As Ukraine attempts to crackdown on separatists in Eastern regions (whose origin is disputed), it seems at least plausible that an armed Russian response will be the final result. However, according to a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute, the heightened state of readiness of Russian troops can only be maintained through May, giving Russia limited time in which to act. However, Ukraine faces its own challenges in defending its territory, namely its depleted military capabilities and the geographic grouping of its bases.

Russia has 40,000+ troops amassed in the various battle groups and reserves surrounding Eastern Ukraine. However, these troops have been in position since late February, and can only maintain a state of readiness for a limited time. Based upon both the positions of Russian forces and the locations of separatist violence, Russia appears poised to attempt to seize a major portion of Eastern Ukraine if an invasion goes ahead; at the very least establishing a land corridor to Crimea, but possibly involving the seizure of more Northern regions such as Kharkiv.

Disturbingly, it is likely that any Russian military move would be quite successful. According to the Military Expenditure Database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Ukraine has spent on average about $3 billion annually since its independence from the Soviet Union. While Ukraine was left with significant amounts of former Soviet equipment, they are largely outdated and in poor states of repair. The extent to which Russia has modernized and improved its armed forces since 2008 is a matter of debate, but there is no doubt that they are better trained and equipped than their Ukrainian counterparts. Ukraine also faces a logistical challenge: its bases are largely concentrated in the West, another relic of the Soviet era. A deployment to the East would involve long and vulnerable supply lines without troops even having left the country. This is not even to mention the question of whether Ukrainian forces would fight at all.
 Ultimately, Ukraine is in a tenuous position militarily. Any Russian attack would likely achieve its strategic objectives in a matter of days. While the Maidan was certainly a victory for Europe, to cement its gains the West will need to lend greater support to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, or face the prospect of welcoming only a rump state into the European community.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Who Wins?

Started in March 2011 as a Civil War between Alawite (mystical followers of Shia Islam) government and Sunni-dominated rebel groups, the Syrian conflict/uprising/war has already taken away the lives of over 140,000 Syrians. This number is tending to rise further. The UN has given up collecting the death toll since July 2013, while the Syrian Government did even earlier, in 2012. The statistics are continuously gathered by Human Rights Observers.

Medical professional by education, President Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000, and, has been exercising authoritarian regime as his predecessor, father. Religiously fragmented, almost 23-million population of Syria has been seeking freedom from Mr. Bashar's regime and furiously attacking its Government for over three devastating years now. Besides inability to prevent escalation of the military situation in own country, Mr. Bashar has been playing geopolitical cards to turn the uprising into the Civil War, and now - into a proxy one. In 2013, President's Administration was accused of using chemical weapons against own citizens in Ghouta (agricultural belt around Damascus) killing over 1,400 people. To reject the facts, the President accepted third party (led by the U.S.) demands of destroying chemical arsenals.

Today, the conflict has its spills all over the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. But, besides the neighbors, Syrian war constantly reminds of itself in southern countries of the former-Soviet Union space: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The latter club has been raising the concern through official and media channels, fearing radicalization of moderate Islam via foreign-recruited local young men. While the involved states experience domestic challenges within their political, economic, and social sectors anyway; they also have to "deal" with the new wave of problems, such as refugees and radicalization of Islam. If the numbers of refugees, or externally displaced people, are being accounted (reaching 2.5 million by 2014); the toll for recruited young men from Central Asian states has not been updated (varying between 200-1000). Having got no historical experience of dealing with religious extremism, the post-Soviet states have not been successful in protecting own citizens from falling into the religious threat. At the same time, economically vulnerable parts of the Central Asian population, especially youth under 35 years of age, are being misled by religious groups of fighters for "freedom from dictators" like Assad. In addition, besides just being trained to, eventually, fight in the Syrian war, these religiously brain-washed boys are to return their homes which might escale wider regional insecurity.

While President al-Assad is seeking for winning points in his domestic and foreign politics, millions of Syrians and non-Syrians are affected by the conflict (deprived of basic needs and rights). And, to the question, "Who wins?" one wants to hear an obvious response stating that everyone involved loses. However, the Syrian realpolitik still remains being unexplained by any party now engaged. Also, some parties (especially, the Western) have already given up in believing the chaos might be stopped by external forces, unless there is an internal political will. Finally, the world's focus has had to shift to a "higher" new priority - Ukraine in 2014; therefore, religious extremism concerns are to be faced and, hopefully, tackled by the affected countries themselves.

US-Polish Ties and the Ukrainian Situation

Since the end of the Cold War, one of the most remarkable yet unsurprising shifts in east-west affiliation has been that of Poland.  While Poland was staunchly behind the Iron Curtain following World War 2, in the decades since it has become a staunch member of NATO and it will be a key member of the alliance in any defense maneuvering conducted counter to future Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Polish flag flying above the ruins of Monte Cassino, 1943
The Polish Army, crushed between the German and Soviet war machines, fought far more effectively on the ground than Americans generally believe them to have done, but were nevertheless defeated rapidly.  Many of the best Polish officers were murdered in captivity by the Soviets in the Katyn Forest, and democratic sentiment in Poland was severely weakened when the Germans put down the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.  The city was almost completely destroyed, and Stalin prevented the Soviet 1st Army from coming the the aid of the Polish Resistance, wanting for them to be destroyed.  Despite these setbacks, however, the Polish Army (fighting from abroad after the fall of Poland) contributed the fifth most soldiers to the Allied war effort and the Polish Air Force scored an impressive 769 kills against the Germans.

Resistance fighters patrol the streets of Warsaw, 1944
The Polish people were always reluctant members of the Eastern Bloc, but Poland was solidly behind the Iron Curtain.  While there were minor armed and unarmed opposition groups against Soviet-enforced Communist political dominance, they accomplished little before the Solidarity movement in the 80's which eventually overthrew the Communist government in the 1990 election, the first after World War 2 to be even partially free and fair.  Following the 1990 elections, Poland transitioned rapidly and effectively to a democratic government and market economy.  In 1995, they became the first formed Warsaw Pact country to surpass their pre-1989 high GDP, and today Polish citizens enjoy first class political and personal rights.  

Polish Air Force F-16C, 2013
Given this history, it's not surprising that Poland has sought to align itself towards Europe and against Russia.  They joined NATO in 1998, and the EU in 2004, and have lobbied extensively for greater integration of the European community.  Their military has begun the process of transitioning to Western-sourced equipment:  they have purchased MRAPs and F-16C’s from the US, and their general-issue infantry rifle is a Kalashnikov variant chambered for the 5.56 NATO cartridge (although it does not use NATO standard magazines).

Beryl Assault Rifle

Poland sent land, air, and sea forces to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaling the fourth largest overall contribution.  Polish special forces were instrumental in securing Iraqi oil wells intact, as well as taking the port of Umm Qasr.  Polish GROM special forces troops train closely with US Navy SEALS and other SOCOM operators, and have conducted numerous counter-insurgency missions alongside American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Polish GROM and US Navy SEALS conduct a joint training exercise, 2008

Poland was also apparently involved in helping to coordinate and train some of the Euromaidan protestors who were largely responsible for the fall of President Yanukovych’s government.  I do not consider these reports to be 100% verifiable, but I do consider them to be credible.  While most of the reports have been negative, calling the protestors putschists or neo-Nazis, these efforts clearly align with both Polish and American interests:  Poland is deeply committed to Europeanization, and opposed to increased Russian influence in its border nations.  Training members of the pro-European opposition in Ukraine would clearly benefit their interests.

Secretary Hagel speaks about wargames in Poland, 2014
At present, the US is preparing to deploy air and ground forces to Poland in response to the Ukrainian crisis.  Secretary Hagel emphasized that his priority is to de-escalate the crisis, and that US troops in Poland were not meant to threaten Russia.  Nevertheless, this must be interpreted as a show of American support not just for de-escalation but also for pro-Western interests in both Poland and Ukraine, as well as a reaffirmation of the US's willingness to stand by its NATO allies in Eastern Europe.  An additional 12 F-16's and 10 F-15's will be deployed to Poland for Baltic operations in addition to group forces.

US Airmen participate in a ceremony to mark US-Polish military cooperation, 2014
Furthermore, the US is planning major war games in Poland involving the US military as well as armed forces from several central and eastern European nations.  Poland will of course be participating, as well as detachments from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  Speaking about the exercise, Vice President Biden said that they were intended to reassure Poland and the Baltic countries that the US remains a "steadfast ally".

No matter its affiliation, Poland has played an important role in all the east/west conflicts of Europe in the recent past.  Given current events, it is certain to continue to do so.  Considering Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe, the US and Poland should continue to strengthen their partnership.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Examining the Fight to Keep the A-10 Warthog

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and first introduced into service in 1977, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the 'Warthog', is on the chopping-block according to the newly proposed DoD budget.  The budget proposal, which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel set forth for FY 2015 adjusts itself to the new realities of the Bipartisan Budget Act enacted by President Obama and Congress, which put a $496 billion spending cap on the DoD.  The A-10 Warthog, which has seen nearly four decades of service in a variety of US conflicts earned its tough reputation especially during the Persian Gulf War with Iraq in 1991, destroying much of Iraq's tanks, artillery and missile sites.  Armed heavily with armor and munitions, the A-10 is also slow, loud and flies at low altitudes.

The impetus behind doing away with the A-10 is understandable, doing away with older aircraft to make budget room for newer models like Lockheed-Martin's F-35.  The budget savings accrued by doing away with the current fleet of 283 A-10s is estimated at $3.7 billion over the next five years, and with rapidly expanding budgets for newly developed aircraft, is valuable savings for the DoD.  Perhaps surprisingly, the proposal to decommission  the A-10 has faced sizable opposition in Washington at a level rarely seen for previous aircraft.  In large part, the concerns for doing away with the A-10 is the aircraft's effectiveness in offering close air-support for ground troops, as pilots are well armed and protected, and are well equipped to tell the difference between friendly- and enemy-combatants as a result of the aircrafts ability to fly low and slowly over combat zones.  

Proponents of doing away with A-10, argue that with the current fiscal environment in Washington and related cuts to the DoD budget, cutting the aircraft offers the least amount of risk compared with other options that would be required to meet new budget constraints.  The argument that cutting the A-10 is the 'least risky' option stems from the fact that the Air Force offers other forms of close air-support that can adequately replace it.

Opponents of the the proposal to faze out the A-10 argue effectively that the aircraft is the best close air-support vehicle ever designed and commissioned, and that doing away with it would create a major liability for both pilots and ground forces deployed in combat zones.  Last Thursday Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and several A-10 pilots made this case in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee, explaining how the aircraft saved countless lives among ground forces during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the hearing Sen. McCain posited, "we are doing away with the finest close air-support weapon in history? And we are then going to have some kind of nebulous idea of a replacement with an airplane that costs 10 times as much - and the cost is still growing with the F-35? That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous." The argument against doing away with the A-10 grows even stronger when one compares the dates that the A-10 will be done away with, and the date that the F-35 will be ready for practical military use, where the A-10 will be gone in 2019 and the F-35's proposed date for commission is in 2021.  

The proposal to do away with the A-10 is understandable, especially when one takes into account the tough position that the DoD has been placed in by recent budgetary cuts.  The need to develop new weaponry and aircraft is clearly paramount to maintaining US conventional superiority over other militaries.  With that said, the DoD must also be sure that older, highly effective platforms are not replaced when they are more than capable of accomplishing the combat objectives tasked to them.  The DoD and USAF should seriously reassess their proposal to abolish the A-10 and look for alternative means of meeting tightening budget constraints.

RETROFITTED: Armed Crop Dusters to Potentially Join Yemeni Air Force

While still in its infancy since North and South Yemen unified in 1990, Yemen does in fact have an air force.
The air fleet consists of a motley crew of both eastern and western aircraft, most of which have been donated.  As for comprehensive numbers for the Yemeni Air Force, that remains unconfirmed, however the serviceability of the aircraft is low.

Since the United States has been actively carrying out counterinsurgency operations via the use of its drones, it has sought ways to further incorporate its Yemeni counterpart.  With this new proposal, the US is looking to provide small missile bearing planes to the Yemeni Air Force.  In addition, the proposal suggests similarly arming them with Hellfire missiles like Reapers.  These retrofitted cropdusters would be four bomb and missile prop planes manned by two pilots.  They are marketed mainly as platforms for COIN operations, however they are well suited for a number of other military or civil security missions including border security, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and counter-piracy.

It would allow Yemen to increase its role in targeted strikes against insurgents, specifically Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Allowing Yemen to directly handle its domestic threats, falls right in line with the Obama Administration's emerging "small foot-print" approach.  Also, if the Yemeni AF succeeds in procuring these aircrafts for the Yemen Precision Strike Program, it can take over the US drone role, giving the US deniability in future operations.  In a similar variation, the Colombian Air Force have used AT-29B Super Tucano turboprop planes armed with laser-guided bombs to successfully quell FARC rebels.  Moreover, the US has plans in work to supply Afghan Security Forces with another variation more appropriate for their type of domestic missions.

Defense Budget Cuts

            Defense spending around the world is rising, with the exception of the United States and other western countries. Total military expenditure, excluding the U.S., increased by 1.8% worldwide. In the U.S., on the other hand, military spending in 2013 fell 7.8% to about $640 billion, while spending in nations such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia increased.

This decrease in military spending by the United States is a result of the end of the war in Iraq, the slow withdrawal from Afghanistan, and budget cuts passed down through Congress. However, while Congress has continued to cut spending, the U.S. Defense Department has stated that it will continue to send budget proposals that reflect the requirements necessary to defend the country, not ones that obey the federal spending caps.

The DoD points to the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which would result in exceeding the cap by $115 billion between 2016 and 2019, as evidence of the White House’s reluctance to stick to spending caps when it comes to national security.

However, there have been significant cuts made to military expenditures in the proposed Fiscal 2015 Budget Proposal. President Obama sent Congress this proposal, which suggest a defense budget of $495.6 billion in “discretionary budget authority to fund base defense programs in fiscal year 2015”. This budget is $0.4 billion less than 2014 expenses.

The DoD continues to request more money with the end goal of striking a balance between “readiness, capacity, and capability” with smaller, more highly qualified and trained forces. The plans also include selective base closures and realignments, and slower growth in military compensation. The objective is to ensure that no matter their size, America’s Armed Forces are properly trained, equipped, compensated, and prepared to accomplish their mission. “

In response to the DoD’s FY 2015 budget request, Defense Secretary Hagel cautioned against the risks inherent in smaller budgets. With a smaller force, defense of the nation might be more difficult, and responding to multiple conflicts could be virtually impossible.

Two-thirds of the requested FY 2015 budget, approximately $336.3 billion, will go towards the DoD’s everyday operations, payroll, and benefits, as well as the training, logistics, family housing, and other costs associated with maintaining personnel. The remainder of the budget, approximately $159.3 billion, will be used to invest in future defense technologies and needs, including “modernization and recapitalization of equipment and facilities”. This money is divided between the military departments and the Defense-wide account.

The FY 2015 would also affect each branch differently, in size and capabilities.

The Air Force would trade off the A-10 Warthog and the 50 year old U-2 in exchange for the funding to support 59 combat-coded air squadrons (Active, Reserve, and Guard). The budget emphasizes modernization, including the funding for 26 Joint Strike Fighters, seven KC-46 Tankers, and the investment of $1 billion over five years for the development of a “next-generation jet engine”.

To balance spending, the Air Force would see a decrease in force size. Next year’s number of airmen is expected to be around 310,900, which is 11,000 less than this year’s. The budget will see a 10% decrease in combat squadrons as well.

The Navy plans to support a fleet of 283 ships, 5 less than FY 2014, and to protect “investments in attack submarines, guided missile destroyers, and afloat staging bases to confront emerging threats”. The FY 2015 budget request includes funding for two Virginia-class attack submarines, two DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers before 2019, 3 Littoral Combat Ships, 14 LCS, and 8 Joint Strike Fighters (2 for the Navy and 6 for the Marine Corps). In exchange, the Navy would place 11 cruisers in a long-term modernization program, and reconsider its Littoral Combat Ship program. The Navy’s manpower will only decrease by a few hundred, to approximately 323,600 sailors. 

The Marine Corps is requesting the funding to support 182,700 Marines, including 900 stationed at overseas American embassies for increased protection of U.S. officials. This is a decrease of about 5,000 Marines from FY 2014. The total number of infantry battalions will also drop from 25 to 23. Funding will also be affected by the Asia pivot, and will be channeled towards increasing U.S. presence in that region.

The Army’s FY 2015 budget includes requests for the funding of 32 Active brigade combat teams as well as 28 Army National Guard brigade combat teams. This will eliminate six of today’s brigades, as well as two of the thirteen combat aviation brigades. In terms of equipment, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program has been eliminated, and changes are being put in place for the helicopter force. 

Meanwhile, Army will decrease its force size at an accelerated pace, with the end goal of having between 440,000 and 450,000 Active Duty soldiers. The National Guard and Reserves will reduce to 335,000 Guardsmen, and 195,000 Reservists. This will shrink the Army down to the smallest it has been since before World War II.

The changes that would be made by the proposed FY 2015 defense-spending budget would be substantial. With the decrease in size and manpower, the national security of the country could be called into question. The most important element in the discussion is to strike the balance between efficiency and safety.

Is Education "Haram"?

Located in West Africa, Nigeria represents 7th most highly populated countries of the world with its 175 million population (2013 census). At the same time, recent Economist's issues emphasise the role of the Nigerian economy in the region, as the biggest with its $478.5 billion in 2013. According to the UN, majority (over 60%) of the population is youth under 25 year of age. In the survey led by a senior researcher for the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa, Mr. Atta-Asamoah, the Nigerian youth considers that young population is more of a risk than opportunity. And, the answer has its deep roots in the vulnerable conditions the Nigerians have been facing for decades now not since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1914, but rather since establishment of the terroristic organization, Boko Haram (nickname for meaning "Western education is forbidden"), in 2002. Currently, some of the reports state about over 320 deaths since March 2014 and thousands have been leaving their homes for seeking security in remote villages around the fragmented federal state. 

Originally, the armed attacks organized by country-wide spread Boko Haram were concentrated in poorer north-east states, such as Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Today, massive killings, according to journalists and local victims, unexpectedly occur anywhere, as Boko Haram finds new "targets". So far, the targets have been young men and women, attending state schools which the followers of Boko Haram's ideology consider "western". Initially, the U.S. Government raised concerns about the links of the Islamist militant group with Al-Qaeda and announced about the possible threat the organization might bring to the U.S.' national security. 

Under the religious mask, members (increasing in number due to continuous recruitment of youth in Africa) of Boko Haram seek to proclaim an Islamic state in Nigeria with enforced sharia law. Abubakar Shekau, the successor of the killed Muhammed Yusuf - leader of the group, aims at preventing the rise of non-Islamic motives in the Nigerian government and invites everyone to join the social and political rebellion against "harams", meaning "sins". Nigerian students have already been living in fear is massive slotters that have been taking place in educational institutions across the country for almost two months. Some are forced not to attend school, and their parents are worrying about the future of these young people.

Attempts to understand Boko Haram's Mission, leads to clashes between the essence of Muslim's Holy Book, the Qoran, and terroristic ideas and activities the militant group has been undertaking in Nigeria and its neighboring countries. "Haram", the sin, never was to refer to "education". Instead, just like any other religion, Islam promotes well-being and constant growth in people which is stipulated in Qoranic scripts (Meccan sura, 114. People). Besides that, it is against of killing and other wrongdoings which might cause harm to oneself and/or others. And, the holiest jihad (as the militants call it, referring to establishment of Islamic state/s in Africa) of the 10th century (when the religion was originated and started spreading from the Middle East) must, obviously, differ from the one in the 21st century. Highly educated Muslims that have studied across the world and accomplished own heights in science and art, highlight the importance of seeing the "will or strive within a human being (to be a better person)" under the notion of "jihad" (from an interview of a respected imam ['leader of community'] in Switzerland, March 2014), which prescribes constant education and cross-cultural tolerance. 

While youth in Africa is praying to live tomorrow, the militant organizations are using all possible means, with religious clash being the most clear-separating, to gain political power in the region and control oil or other natural resources. One could 'hear' that these militant/terrorist organizations want to redistribute the nation's wealth; however, it is obvious that only improving education and other socio-economic conditions will lead the African countries from the poverty trap. So, education cannot be "haram". And, the organizations (including Boko Haram), covered under religious vails and distorting the holy essence, must be declared as the causes of national threat to any country across the globe and sought to be eliminated.