Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Continued Drones Over Yemen?

With the U.S., U.K. and France pulling out of Yemen, what is the U.S.'s continued authorization for drone strikes in Yemen? If Yemen has no government, how does the U.S. have authorization from the government for drone strikes? 

It is generally accepted that the drone strikes in Yemen are part of the CIA operated drone strikes rather than the military led ones (both are controversial). On March 25, 2010, Harold Koh, State Department Legal Advisor, stated that "it is the considered view of this Administration . . . that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." (1) This is based upon the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That AUMF is not the one that Obama has recently asked to be repealed

As of Friday Feb 6, 2015,  the site The Long War Journal showed the following graph charting drone strikes in Yemen, charting 110 strikes since 2002.

The U.S. claims that they have the support of the Yemni government to help achieve their goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. However, with the recent change in power/coup, who has given them that authorization?

On Jan 22, the Houthis seized control of the presidential palace and placed the President under house arrest. The President and his Cabinet soon tendered their resignations. While the negotiation is on going, both sides have walked out on different parts. The government that resigned is stating that the Houthis are threatening them with force if they do not agree to their specific plan to re-form the government. The U.S. is continuing to use drone strikes in this power vacuum.

How is this applicable to the U.S.? 

Well, as the U.S.'s current legal justification rests upon the consent of the now defunct government, is it business as usual until they are notified otherwise? How will they notify the U.S. if they no longer want the strikes to continue, if there are no U.S. personnel in the country? 

CNN is reporting that the Houthis took all U.S. Embassy vehicles parked at the airport and wouldn't let departing marines take their weapons. However, in the next non sensational paragraph, they state "a senior U.S. military official told CNN the Marines disabled their weapons and gave them to a Yemeni security detail, which had escorted them to the airport, because the Marines were flying commercial." 

Further in the CNN article, they state that U.S. officials had not yet engaged in talks with the Houthis as of last month. It is often difficult for the U.S. to "engage in talks" with opposition parties. The government often has problems with the U.S. talking with the "enemy" since the U.S. has a history of "regime change" in many of these countries.

As I wrote this article, The Washington Post published an article about the closure of the U.S. Embassy effecting the CIA operatives in the country (who often are stationed at U.S. Embassies and under diplomatic cover). Further, "a former senior U.S. official said that the embassy had served as the primary base in Yemen for U.S. intelligence operations." 

So not only is the lack of clear legal authority an issue, this closure will now effect the targeting of militants. 

Future of Cooperation?

While one member of the Houhis' political bureau has called U.S. drone strikes as a violation of Yemeni sovereignty, the Houthis do NOT like AQAP. In fact, they might hate AQAP than they dislike the U.S. This could work in the U.S.'s favor as eliminating a possible political threat to their new "all inclusive government" would coincide with the U.S.'s goal of eliminating AQAP. 

However, until a new government is formed, and an official statement released or communicated to the proper U.S. authorities, these questions will remained unanswered. 

For more interactive information, I suggest you head over to International Security to take a look at when and where strikes occurs as well as who was targeted or killed.

Sources not linked above are listed here: (1) Milena Sterio, "The United States' Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law," Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol 45, 2012, p 199

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Consider the PLAGF: "People's War", the RMA, and Military Power

Given the high stakes of war, the study of its mechanics and the inputs that garner battle victories are second to none in their importance to international relations. This is reflected in the narratives of political and economic histories, and the justifications for defense budgets. This understanding is also ever-present in the observance of the continuing development of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various branches of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The most recent reveal of further details surrounding China’s construction of a second aircraft carrier has illustrated, once again, the importance of China’s military composition in the assessment of global futures and the anxiety that accompanies that development. While the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAFF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) receive much of the attention, for obvious and salient strategic reasons pertaining to the nature of warfare in the Pacific, the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) is often overlooked. Far less consideration is given (in the popular realm) to the strategic doctrines that inform its systems of operation.

Reading Stephen Biddle’s Military Power raises interesting questions about how Mao’s "People’s War"(the spiritual impetus of the PLA) relates to the modern system of force employment. If technology and preponderance of force, the two aspects of military composition that are so often highlighted in summary analyses of China’s military power, are marginalized by the centrality of force employment, then this is one of the most important considerations of a U.S.-China security competition, and one that is unfortunately overlooked by the common comparative perspective.

"People’s War", Mao’s military philosophy that expanded out of the Chinese Communist Party’s experience fighting the Japanese Army and then the Kuomintang, is aimed at creating a workable and effective force out of massive disadvantages. It spans political, strategic, operational, and tactical considerations of warfighting and heavily relies on an abundance of manpower, space, time, and ideological zeal as substitutes for technology and training.

Conventional "People’s War" evolved in the 1980s, following skirmishes with the Soviet Red Army and China’s short war with Vietnam. Deng Xiaoping introduced the concept of “people’s war under modern conditions”, following the study and critique of China’s performance in the Sino-Vietnam “punitive war” at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). According to Chieh-Cheng Huang, “Deng replaced Mao’s tactics of ‘luring the enemy deep’ and ‘preparing for total war’ with ‘extended defense in depth’ and ‘local war in China’s periphery”. After the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) made its case for the effectiveness of modern military equipment and communications, in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991, the PLA once again updated People’s War in order to mirror the increasingly technologically complex nature of warfare. This process is often identified as Jiang Zemin’s shift to “high tech doctrine”.

So, today the shift to “high tech doctrine” dominates the comparative analysis of China’s military to its future adversaries. It’s interesting that this is the case. Focused through the lens of Biddle’s analysis, it was Deng’s doctrinal modernization of the military that will have the greatest impact on the PLA’s future war-fighting capabilities in relation to militaries that operate within the contexts of the modern system, with a particular emphasis on the PLAGF for our purpose.

That is what should be considered in analyzing how the PLA factors into any threat that the PRC would present, especially when the unlikely (but still possible) contingency of general war is introduced. With this in mind, the short-term versus long-term effectiveness of the PLA is measured against the scale and nature of the conflict itself, with operationally competent and well-equipped troops concentrated in "pockets of technological excellence" in order to affect the odds at the margins and in the places that the PLA deems to be the most important for strategic success. Outside of immediate political objectives, and if the war widens in scope, then the conventional aspects of "People’s War" will re-enter, and the question of outcome will once again be at the mercy of time, space, preponderance, and morale.