Thursday, March 30, 2017

Can We Talk about Yemen?

Can We Talk about Yemen?

One particular conflict that has not generated as many headlines as possible is undoubtedly the one going on in Yemen. It can be argued that the Yemen war is just as old as the Syrian problem because both conflict started in the same year (2011). Although the conflict in Yemen did not escalate as fast as the one in Syria, it deserves equal attention. The Yemen conflict has its roots in the failure of the political transition that was engineered in November 2011.

 Back then, a political uprising had forced longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand the presidency to Mr. Hadi who was his deputy. Mr. Hadi was unable to deal with various Al Qaeda led attacks, as well as a separatist movement in the South led by the Houthis. Corruption, food insecurity and high unemployment exacerbated the situation. In the end, many ordinary Yemeni began to support the rebel movement due to their disillusion with the political transition. 

It came as no surprise when in 2011, Houthis rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, and set up roadblocks and street camps. January 2015 was a turning point when Houthis reinforced their stronghold in the capital by surrounding the presidential palace and other key points. President Hadi was able to escape via the port city of Aden the following February. 

Things did not end there as neighboring Saudi Arabia feared that Houthis were backed by their arch rival for regional hegemony, Iran. Consequently, the Saudi military as well as other Sunni Arab States, launched an air campaign in order to restore power to Mr. Hadi. It must also be noted that this endeavor was backed logistical and intelligence support from the United States, UK and France.

After two years of fighting, the military conflict appears to be in a stalemate between pro-government forces and Houthis rebels. Terrorists groups such as AL-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and rival affiliates of the Islamic State are operating within this chaos and seizing territories.
The situation today is Yemen is of particular importance because it has the potential to turn into another Syria. According to the latest UN report, an estimated 16,200 people have been killed in Yemen, including 10,000 civilians. 

It is unclear what the Trump administration’s objectives are in Yemen but the latest reports indicate that the administration plans to ramp up support for Saudi’s air campaign.  This comes as no surprise given that some members of President’s Trump entourage are eager to inflict damage upon Iran in every way possible. Yemen represents the perfect opportunity to do just that when considering the Iran-Houthis connection.Meanwhile, innocents civilians will keep getting caught in the crossfire.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Budget Cuts Have Costs

Since President Trump’s inauguration in January, the public has been waiting anxiously to see what the President will do with this or that. We have speculated, and we have waited for action, or inaction. Well, the chips are starting to fall, and it doesn’t look all that great. In this course we have looked at nuclear weapons and defense policy. Certainly, there are a litany of challenges to nuclear policy in 2017. The public’s increased understanding of nuclear weapons and the continued disdain at the prospect of wiping out entire countries begs the question - why do we have them? Well, the deterrence argument championed during the Cold War still carries a great deal of weight, and until we can come up with a better one, it continues to hold. Other things we have to keep in mind include the fact that weapons technology is so sophisticated now that we can in theory limit the damage to civilian populations in the event that a nuclear weapon is fired. A bigger concern, however, is how do we keep the bad guys from getting weapons technology? Or, in the event that a potential enemy might be developing that technology, how do we monitor that?

The answer is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN affiliated agency, monitors nuclear materials and facilities all over the world. It currently has staff on the ground in Tehran making sure that Iran complies with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Trump administration’s proposed budget entails enormous cuts to the State Department, which funds US obligations to the IAEA. For a modest $200m per year, the IAEA is vigorously inspecting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, far beyond anything a US agency could achieve. It monitors hundreds of nuclear facilities all around the world, making sure that nuclear technology is being developed safely and peacefully. Oh, and it also prevents nukes from going to into the wrong hands. On top of that, it develops safety standards that reduce the potential for accidents, protecting American workers and families. On the side, the IAEA develops nuclear technology to improve crops, purify water, and treat illnesses, all of which have a positive effect on poverty reduction in volatile regions around the globe, which in turn helps prevent conflict. Support for such organizations is critical for US defense and prevents nuclear weapons from being used when they shouldn’t. Not showing support for such an organization is also symbolically important, as it suggests a move away from organizations that promote global security. Shying away from leadership in these institutions is a slippery slope. Perhaps the President didn't understand that cutting the State Department's budget would have such unintended consequences. But then again, he is the leader of the free world, so shouldn't he know these things?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Realities of Modern Day Warfare

Image result for image of talon robot
Image of Talon

According to P.W. Singer, a "robots revolution is upon us". A revolution in the fundamentals of the way wars are being fought is changing the entire experience of life on the front lines.

Robots are generally associated with the future and with technological advancements. However, many fail to realize that we are already in the era of robotics. According to Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in 2016 alone, the United States Government authorized approximately 1072 drone strikes.

Drone Operations have changed drastically over the last decade. The U.S. military has gone from having a few drones in the air and none on ground going into Iraq, to having thousands today. The benefits of robots and drones compared to human soldiers seem endless. The cost is lower than that of a deployed soldier, the emotional attachment isn't present, there is a Casualty Aversion, robots seem to be more politically acceptable than manned aircrafts, etc.

However, along with these pros, there are also cons to this technology. This great tech, knowledge and revolution has peaked worry for many. What if this technology gets into the wrong hands? what if the robots go rogue? Will this escalate the war against terror? Many of these issues are tied to the problem of connecting autonomy with killing power.

Image result for image of ripsaw
Image of Ripsaw Robot
Many of these concerns are being addressed by scientists and engineers who are conducting research on these issues. It should be duly noted that the future of robotics is bright. Where we are right now cannot be compared to where we are going. The rate at which technology is advancing is  unprecedented. The United States Government is developing tanks that are unmanned. Just a few decades ago, this was sci-fi. According to Singer,  the vehicles of today are  "Model T Fords, the Wright Flyers, compared to whats coming soon."

The continued widespread use of these robots will only result in more and more robots in combat as time goes on. these number will increase from 5,000 to 10,000 and they will continue to rise. However, we aren't talking about 10,000 robots representing the robots we see on the battlefield today, we are talking about the robots still being developed. The future robots that will have a significantly higher capacity to perform their various tasks. In about 25 years, these robots will be a billion times more powerful than they are today.

However, 25 years is more than enough time for other countries to reach or surpass the U.S. in its robotics technology. Countries like Russia and China are working tirelessly to compete and superceed the United States in military technology. "The U.S. is currently ahead in military robotics right now, but we know that in technology, there's no such thing as a permanent first move or advantage."

Below is a link to a TED talk given by expert and military analyst Peter W Singer. In this TED talk, Singer explains how the extensive use of robots in warfare is changing the realities of war.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Grounded: The Air Force, Efficiency, and Military's "sacred cows"

The premise of Dr. Farley's book, Grounded, sounds rather provocative if you only read the glib descriptions given by websites who have reviewed the book.  The premise is that the Air Force should be abolished, and that the branch is an example of institutional redundancy.  It would be much more cost effective to delegate the responsibilities of air power between the Army and Navy.  If one takes the time to listen to the author in interviews and reads the actual contents, such a suggestion might not be as provocative as it sounds.  The interest in the topic stemmed from a repeated pattern of behavior observed between the different branches of the military after nearly all major conflicts, where they (Army, Navy, Air Force) would either insist that their particular branch take all the credit, or they would brush off the failure onto each other.  This rivalrous trichotomy has led to such ego fragility as the Air Force trying to control the use of drones.  The Air Force was never fond of the idea of drones, as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates writes in his memoir, but out of doctrinal devotion to their branch as the sole arbiter of air power, they fought to have charge over drone deployment.

Dr. Farley very effectively answers such questions such as why he is singling out the Air Force, and is he really suggesting a unibranch service?  The answer is that the Army and Navy complete their own distinct tasks, and some competition is healthy, as long as it is over substantive policy.  Often, is is during peacetime we see these multiple branches begin to stake their claims of unique capabilities  and indispensability to the Defense apparatus, and air power theory is particularly enthusiastic about the independence of the Air Force.

The genesis of the Air Force in 1947 was partially encouraged and lobbied by aviation enthusiasts and others who were besotted with the Amelia Earhart romanticism of air travel.  Dr. Farley suggests that the USAF isn't simply anachronistic, it was not necessary in the first place.  The superiority complex found consistently throughout intellectual discourse from the Air Force has long been the impetus behind the perceived sanctity and invincibility of Air Power, a notion that Farley says has been proven false myriad of times in the post-WWII era.  Air power is integral to the success of almost any modern military operation, but it has been almost 70 years since the USAF founders said we wouldn't need naval warfare because of the strength of the Air Force.  A 70 year transition suggests that the original assumption might have been flawed, and based on Dr. Farley's description of the reaction he has received, many military personnel consider an institutional consolidation such as this to be a worthy idea.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Most Dangerous Man in the World

            With North Korea’s ballistic missile tests and nuclear weapons program in the news, let’s take a look at America’s nuclear capabilities, for comparison. Some have labeled Kim Jong Un the “most dangerous man in the world” for the North’s jingoistic rhetoric and provocative actions. But is he really so dangerous? Most Americans are probably unaware of US nuclear capabilities, including, apparently, the leader of the free world. President Donald Trump proclaimed that America’s nuclear arsenal must be at the “top of the pack.” Yet, most nuclear weapons experts would say that America’s arsenal is already the best in the world, despite the age of many of the missiles currently deployed and stockpiled.
            The DPRK has an active nuclear weapons program and tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016. The DPRK is also capable of enriching uranium and producing weapons-grade plutonium. North Korea deploys short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and successfully launched long-range rockets in 2012 and 2016. North Korea has conducted several tests with nuclear bombs. However, in order to launch a successful nuclear attack on its neighbors, it needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile, or else risk carrying the nukes on bombers, which could easily be shot down. North Korea claims it has successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads, but this has never been independently verified, and some experts have cast doubt on the claims. There is no consensus on exactly where North Korea is in terms of miniaturizing a nuclear device so that it can be delivered via a missile. Professor Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, a highly authoritative voice on North Korea’s weapons development, said Pyongyang’s ability to field an intercontinental ballistic missile fitted with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the US was still a long way off, perhaps 5 to 10 years to completion. Chances are the North’s weapons are simple and heavy.
            In contrast, the US has the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal. America has all three legs of the triad and will spend up to a trillion dollars for the next 30 years to maintaining this arsenal. With 7,000 warheads in the Russian Federation and around 6,800 in America, the two countries have more nukes than the rest of the world combined. But the two arsenals are not equal. A “super-fuze” device incorporated into submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads are so deadly and accurate that they could possibly wipe out an entire fleet of Russian ICBMs in their silos, creating a preemptive strike-first capability that would give Russia little time to respond. Since 2009, the super-fuze device has been built into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of its modernization program. Super-fuzes are designed to make the warhead more accurate by exploding precisely above the intended target. The super fuze is a revolutionary development because it drastically enhances the targeting capabilities of warheads. Before the new super-fuze, even the most accurate ballistic missile warhead could miss its intended target and detonate too far away for maximum impact. Now, with the new fuze system, it simply detonates above the target in a much more effective way, thus maximizing its targeting capabilities. Therefore, if need be, the US could completely destroy the DPRK in an instant.
   Even if North Korea was able to launch a nuclear missile, America has the best missile defense systems in the world, and is positioning this system right next door. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a United States Army anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach. THAAD was developed after the experience of Iraq’s Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War in 1991. The missile carries no warhead, but relies on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy the incoming missile. A kinetic energy hit minimizes the risk of exploding conventional warhead ballistic missiles, and nuclear tipped ballistic missiles will not detonate upon a kinetic energy hit. With the size of America’s nuclear arsenal, its accuracy, and the US’ ability to defend itself and its allies, just who exactly is the bigger threat?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wesley Clark: Why NATO Commander was not the 2nd Coming of Ike

One of our colleagues in class covered the NATO Operation Allied Force in Kosovo for their presentation, and did a fine job incorporating the dynamic that Supreme Allied Commander-Europe of NATO Wesley Clark played in the conflict.  While his qualifications were outstanding, having graduated Valedictorian from West Point and a Rhodes Scholarship from Oxford, Clark's legacy has not played out like that of former President Eisenhower.

Clark's star has largely fallen since the turn of the century, from his bright days during the Democratic primary with mega-stars like Madonna holding fundraisers for his campaign. There was a brief time during the 2004 Democratic primaries that traditional/conservative democrats were fawning over the prospects of Clark for President, seeing him as a plausible choice to the fiercely anti-war Howard Dean.  The Atlantic's Jack Beatty wrote “I can’t think of a man and moment better matched than retired General Wesley Clark and the 2004 presidential election.  Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 is the only possible comparison. Clark, like Ike, was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO."  The love affair was rather fleeting, for as we discussed in class, Clark made some questionable decisions while he was in command.  The historical judgment has been that involvement in Kosovo was justified, but at the time Prime Minister Tony Blair was the only NATO politician who seemed fully invested in such a collaborative Atlantic effort.  The ambivalence over involvement in the Balkans from Bill Clinton and others is not Clark's fault, but maybe he shouldn't be exalted for Eisenhower level brilliance either.  

It has come to light that Clark seemed to consider his post as NATO Commander as a separate entity from the American defense apparatus.  Former Chairman of the JCS Henry Hugh Shelton and Defense Sec. William Cohen have both hinted that Clark had problems with the Pentagon’s chain of command. Clark took their orders more as suggestions to be duly noted.  National Review's Jim Geraghty writes, "He (Clark) argues that his job as NATO commander was a “two-hatted” position, partly a U.S. military role and partly a diplomatic post, leading the 19-nation coalition."  Clark's judgement was also seen as dubious when he advocated for a ground invasion of Serbia, a strategy that was soundly rejected by President Clinton and the War Council. 

Another distinction between Ike and General Clark is the reverence their subordinates have for them.  Clark might have fancied himself a political talent, but his eventual banishment from the Joint Chiefs after they tired of his constant campaigning for a Serbian ground war suggests otherwise.  His tattling to Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger when he was told no on issues regarding Kosovo was resented by his military superiors, peers, and subordinates.  The RAND research institute report, “NATO’s Air War for Kosovo: A Strategic and Operational Assessment" presents a very effective critique of Clark's managerial flaws, such as a combative nature with nearly all his colleagues.  Additionally, the fact that he was an army general who also fancied himself an expert on air campaigns showed his penchant for micromanagement.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the Pristina Airport scenario, when the Russians pulled their proxy soldiers back from Kosovo.  The airport was right in the center of the province.  Wired's Spencer Ackerman says, "It was a provocative move — the Russian military line might demarcate a partition of Kosovo — one that risked the conflict between NATO and Russia that the Cold War successfully escaped."  Clark ordered British Lt. Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, to block Russian access to the airport runways.  Jackson reciprocated with, “I’m not starting World War III for you.” Exemplifying the little regard the chain of command had for Clark, they sided with the British Lt. General, and Clark was gently fired several weeks later. 

Its ironic that a victorious general can have such a dizzying fall from grace, absent some scandalous personal revelation.  That fact proves what a shallow impact the Kosovo conflict had on the American public, as it supports the assertion that Clark's actions alienated military personnel.