Thursday, March 26, 2015

A European Union Military?

There have recently been calls for a more robust EU joint defense, to go so far as to have an EU military. The EU does not have a joint military- a military that is staffed and run on a supranational level.

Currently the EU member states cooperate between themselves and with outside alliances. Cooperation within the EU takes places under the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) which entered into force with the Treaty of Lisbon.In addition, 22 of 28 EU member states are part of NATO.

This creates a difficult security environment, one that does not have many successes (ex: the Balkans, many African cases, almost anywhere the EU has wanted to interfere).   Many states are against the idea of an supranational EU military, but others are for it. With the problems of Germany's military to the lack of 2% of GDP to their military that many NATO states don't contribute, an EU military is an alternative.

On March 8, 2015 the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called for an EU military to help the world take the EU seriously. Further he advocated that “A common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.” His arguments also included that it would be more efficient to have a common military than each state paying to maintain it separately.

There was immediate backlash from the UK. Both the opposition and ruling party voiced their immediate displeasure with David Cameron (British Prime Minister) going so far as to say “it isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and all the rest of it”. The next day Finland said that an EU army is "unrealistic," however the Foreign Minister said that an army composed of joint military units would be more possible. In addition, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia insist upon utilizing NATO rather than an EU military.

This is compared to Germany, whose defense minister stated that  “our future as Europeans will one day be a European army." France has also expressed support for the idea.

Javier Solana (former NATO secretary general) and Steven Blockmans (professor at University of Amsterdam) have pointed out that the EU's treaties allow for a common military. They argue that there are political, military, and economic benefits to creating a single EU military: "Member states could achieve much more value for money than the €190 billion that they spend to keep up 28 national armies."

Where John Schindler (former National Security Agency official), argues against creating an EU army because Europe already mismanages it military forces, so pooling them is a really bad idea. Further, he argues, many defense projects are already coordinated and European-wide projects so duplicating these things is not needed.

The Bigger Picture

However, this debate is not just about having an EU military or not having one. Rather it is on the future of the EU as a Union of European States or a Union of European States. If the 28 member states of the European Union want to create a full supranational union that has political, economic, and military power they will need to move forward on creating a single European military rather than simply coordinating their military.  If they want to stay as they are, with some cooperation in all areas but no real full integration, then an EU military is not needed.

As Solana and Blockmans pointed out, the EU has always been forged in crisis and the EU is facing a crisis now (think of them essentially being surrounded by conflict).

Whatever decision the EU makes on creating a military, and it is looking increasingly less and less likely, it will be a step down a road that precludes the other option (at least until another crisis or a widespread change of national governments).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“May You Live in Interesting Times”: The Decline of the CCP, the Pakistan Plan and the Russian Model

China scholar David Shambaugh’s article in the Wall Street Journal has not only been on my mind, but also in the thoughts of news outlets and analysis firms ranging from The National Interest to STATFOR. The discussion of a possible decline in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) power is certainly interesting and concerning when considered through the lens of international economics, but the issue of a politically unstable, nuclear armed China has not entered the debate (as far as I know).

If the CCP’s long slide into the woodchip heap of irrelevance has begun, then the status of a China’s nuclear arsenal, post-CCP, must be considered. There are two broad possibilities. One is that the CCP, through a peaceful transition or a tense downfall, leaves the Chinese national political stage and is replaced by singular power (maybe democratic) which inherits the CCP’s monopoly on force. In this case, the status of China’s nuclear weapons may not be a cause of much anxiety for the nations of the world. That possibility would make this a short blog entry. Let’s consider the disintegration of the Chinese state into multiple factions (as has happened many times in China’s long history), which may be at war with each other.

In this scenario, the issue of “loose nukes” would be of great concern for Washington. In order to frame the magnitude of the issue, a short consideration of a situation considered more plausible by the US defense establishment and international relations scholars is necessary. North Korea and Pakistan are often considered to be the two states that are the most likely to collapse and present the international community with a high stakes game of hide and seek. The size of the Pakistani arsenal (100-120 nuclear warheads), and the close proximity of non-state groups that wish the US harm, makes its case particularly alarming and interesting to game a US response to.

In Andrew F. Krepinievich’s 2009 book 7 Deadly Scenarios, he considers the difficulties, for Washington and its allies, of rounding up or destroying nuclear weapons in the case of a collapse of Pakistan. Krepinievich believed, in 2009, that the US military lacks the capabilities to simultaneously snatch and grab all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse. At most, Special Operations forces may be able to carry out 3 simultaneous raids at a time, and this is if they are forward deployed in Afghanistan and India with the proper transport.

 In order to carry out the raids, the military must first know where the nuclear weapons are. This will be the biggest obstacle to recovery and destruction operations in a fractured Pakistan. Even if the US intelligence community is able to utilize existing relationships within the ISI and Pakistani army, and form new one’s on an ad hoc basis, the ability of US aircraft to carry out strikes on hardened weapons locations will be hampered by a lack of ordinance (outside of nuclear tipped varieties) able to eliminate all positions. In addition to the scramble to destroy what weapons could be located and eliminated, Krepinievich estimates that stability operations in Pakistan would require “three to four times the size” of the peak US forces deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan and “some $200 to $400 billion” dollars a year, based on calculations related to the costs of propping up Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, take these issues and apply them to similar operations in a destabilized China. The US would be contending with a modernized military as a significant barrier to its access to secure nuclear weapons. Although, this problem could vary in its intensity based on the coherence of a post-CCP People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Add in the complex (and not fully cooperative) relationship between the PLA and US military. Then, consider the size of China itself, which has 9,326,410 sq km of land to Pakistan’s 770,875 sq km. Even removing the swathes of land that would be unable to host nuclear forces (mobile or otherwise), the level of accurate intelligence required to comb 9.3 million sq km of land for around 250 nuclear warheads is intimidating. Even in the event of perfect intelligence, the ability to deploy Special Operation Forces and Aircraft would be heavily affected by the ability of the US military to move those forces into positions were they could do their jobs. This would be undoubtedly complicated by the nature of US deployments in the region at the time of a collapse. If the event was sudden and unexpected, this would significantly magnify the issue.

In any case, the situation in China is very different from a terrorism perspective. The closest thing to an Islamist threat within China would be in Xian Jing. Even in this particular instance, the ethnic Uighurs are probably more concerned with political autonomy than global jihad, and those that are interested in extremist ideologies would probably be far removed from obtaining Chinese nukes, unless an enterprising PLA General sold it to them. This is what makes the China scenario more similar to the nuclear peculiarities of the USSR’s collapse than Pakistan’s.

This is where the dark sci-fi ends and hope glimmers through the curtains of this thought exercise. The collapse of the USSR was relatively sudden, and left about 3,200 strategic nuclear weapons, and 14,000 tactical nuclear weapons (the ones more easily movable and useful to small states and terrorists) outside of Russia. Many of the weapons were quickly returned to Russia, and the Russian stockpile, over the course of 13 years and $ 20 billion dollars, has decreased significantly. If politically stable, independent states emerge out of a break-up of the People's Republic of China, then the US might be able to reemploy the Russian model.

In the case of a civil war (which may be the more likely outcome, by any measure of Chinese history), the US would be forced to consider other options. Outside of overt military intervention, the US could consider political balancing, and diplomatic initiatives that would be aimed at removing nuclear weapons from contested territories (a la the somewhat successful Syrian chemical weapons model). Alternatively, per Michael O’Hanlon’s suggestions for Pakistan, the US and its allies could attempt to develop a “mobile’ border screening capability”. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deploys around 20,000 personnel to secure the American border and check incoming material. O’Hanlon suggests that tens of thousands of similarly trained people would be required to secure Pakistan’s border during a crisis. A very crude calculation (based on the total length of China’s border, compared to Pakistan’s) would place the number of trained and equipped border guards to check for nuclear materials leaving China at around 7.5 times the number required for Pakistan. Ultimately, a crisis of that magnitude would require global cooperation and test the limits of international and regional organizations, as well as the power projection of the United States. Hopefully, it remains in the realm of science fiction and hyperbolic speculation.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Natural Resources amid Territorial Disputes

With the American shift towards the Pacific region, much focus has been placed on the perceived containment strategy against China, implemented by Washington, through mutual defense agreements and economic partnerships such as Trans-Pacific Partnership. At the same time, Beijing has been forcefully pushing territorial claims in the South China Sea, creating an atmosphere of worry and fear among its weaker neighbors. With outrageous claims such as the 9 dash line, which completely ignore previously agreed upon norms such as the UNCLOS, tension between China and neighboring countries has simmered, at some points boiling over in near armed conflict.
            Vietnam, long thought of as a beneficiary country of the Chinese or one that is more ideologically similar, has been one of the nations to bear the brunt of these overreaching claims in the South China Sea.  When looking at the relations between the two historically, both parties have been known to clash. In 1979, the Chinese military entered northern Vietnam as a response to the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. In 1988, there was a brief naval conflict between the two nations over the long held issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Johnson South Reef Skirmish, where both nations sent naval vessels to consolidate their claims over the Spratly Islands, where more than 60 Vietnamese soldiers were killed by Chinese forces.
            Why is it then that the nations in the region are so insistent on their claims in areas where there are few landmasses, but rather open seas? In the near future, when resources become scarcer, nations will be forced to compete more with one another. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the South China Sea is thought to have more than 11 billion barrels of oil. The Administration continues to state, “The South China Sea is a critical world trade route and a potential source of hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas, with competing claims of ownership over the sea and its resources.”(USEIA) In the attached graphic, one can see the amount of explorative measures that oil companies have already taken part in off the coast of Vietnam and why both nations are key to gain sovereignty over the area.

           (Wall Street Journal)

There exists several options for Vietnam, a much smaller country in terms of population and economic power, to be able to counter such an overwhelming power such as China. The first option would be an approach in relations with China in the hopes that siding with the major power in the region would bring a possible compromise in terms territory gained or lost. However, after looking at the large amount of territory China has claimed and the aggressive measures taken to consolidate these claims, (see Senkaku Islands), this choice would be limited in benefits.
            The other major option for Vietnam is to seek a power balancing mechanism, As seen in ASEAN. While alone, the countries in this group may be limited in their success when dealing with the Chinese, if they are able to show a unified position and increase their bargaining power through a larger overall military and economic power. Vietnam also has begun to increase defense cooperation with the United States, leaving open the possibility of increased cooperation as a deterrent towards China.
            The second option seems to be the most plausible for the Vietnamese government. There is no guarantee that cooperation with Beijing would lead to concessions on the Chinese side. The Chinese behavior towards other countries in the region regarding the same territorial claims highlights the fact that a mutual agreement is highly unlikely. The best way to deter Chinese aggression towards Vietnam is to increase the cost of such aggression through power balancing, thus furthering the damage that China may face economically and militarily if it were to attempt to force its will upon its neighbors.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Judging From Afar: Airpower and American Foreign Policy


It would be difficult to dispute that the application of American airpower has had profound effects on the formulation and realization of US military and political goals. The debut of high tech targeting systems and guided munitions during Operation Desert Storm, the protective use of NATO airpower during operations in the former Yugoslavia, the collaborative system of the Afghan Model and the “Shock and Awe” of the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom continued the ascent of the modern American way of war into the wild blue yonder, giving a bird’s eye view of strategic and political objectives.

This perspective, the privilege of a country wealthy, developed, and technologically invested enough to maintain a competent and advanced air force, may also distort the realities of warfighting. This same debate surrounds the utility of Special Forces. Do US capabilities make it easier for political leaders to consider coercive force as a part of the foreign policy spectrum?

This question is far more salient when one considers the use of force against or in weak or failed states, than against mid-to-high level powers. Although, it is important because it requires a thought process that runs across the objectives of American military might, especially when related to changing unamenable political situations in countries we are reluctant to invade with conventional ground forces.

While military-strategic objectives are often effectively and expediently carried out by forces that correctly interpret the theoretical implications of airpower’s operational utility, the political objectives are often half-baked when they are lost in the awe of winning the air war or annihilating the enemy on the ground. The fantastic effects of airpower make this fallacy far more likely to envelope post-operation analysis of victory conditions.

Consider the example invoked into banality, the premature George W. Bush exaltation on the USS Abraham Lincoln, complete with F/A-18s in the background . As the celebration of the shattering of the Iraqi government and army kicked off, the fragments were gearing up to tie down American ground troops for the next 8 years. The war had been won, in large part, by the advantages bestowed upon American combat forces by the use of airpower. Unfortunately, it would be the tough job of ground troops to try to turn the quick defeat and dissolution of the Iraqi conventional military into some kind of political dividend. The same narrative could be used to describe the initial successes in Afghanistan, and then the long slog to create a functioning government to administer the peace, in the face of determined resistance by the Taliban.

An alternative case might be the NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Airpower was used in concert with diplomatic openings and the consolidation of political gains, through peacekeeping troops, to bring about an end to the violence that was the impetus of the intervention.

In each of these cases though, airpower achieved its immediate military objectives against its targets with overwhelming success. While airpower might be a highly successful tool in its sphere of effectiveness, it cannot substitute for diplomacy and direct application of ground forces in highly complex politically situations where control is required to carry out American foreign policy. As seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a commitment of ground forces the outcome is variable.

Why then do we see the application of American airpower without the follow-through of diplomacy and consolidation of gains with the deployment of ground forces? Unfortunately, it often appears to be that case that airpower is more politically valuable for what it does not do, rather than what it is truly capable of achieving. This is why Colin S. Gray warns of measuring the effectiveness of airpower against the development of unrealistic expectations of mission success.

The situation on the ground in Libya is a case in point about how limiting American strategic involvement to air strikes is a gamble on the political outcome. The increasingly sectarian nature of the fight against ISIS might also reveal the uglier side of over-reliance on airpower to achieve political objectives. If the overwhelmingly Shiite Iraqi Army (along with Shiite militias and Iranian military advisors), sweep through Sunni enclaves, like Tikrit, carrying out retributive mass murder, the success of American airpower, in weakening ISIS’s position, will form the basis of the regional narrative about the massacre. It’s likely that this will be the case on the ground even if the US is not directly involved in the operations against Tikrit. In that case, the military defeat of ISIS will not net out a positive, regional political solution. The violence will feed on itself, reverberating off the walls of history.

Of course, this is not to say that the solution is to escalate to the use of ground forces in all circumstances where the United States feels its interests threatened. To do so would create an infinite and expensive war. But, the underdeveloped deployment of US airpower without a full appreciation for its costs and effects, outside of the dearth of US casualties and the ability to reach out and touch an adversary, creates a more chaotic threat environment in which the US is at a major disadvantage in shaping events on the ground, and the overall narrative.