Friday, September 19, 2014

Global Threats

For the first time ever, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met to deal with a public health crisis. They ultimately declared the Ebola outbreak to be a “threat to international peace and stability” and the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution urging all countries to do more to control and contain the spread of Ebola, which is overwhelming West Africa. The situation appears so dire, that the Liberian Defense Minister told the UN his country’s very existence is threatened by Ebola.

The first documented case was in December of last year and since then, the world has seen the largest Ebola outbreak in history. According to the World Health Organization, more than 5,000 cases have been reported and the fatality rate is at or above 50%. Although more than 40 previous outbreaks have been recorded, they were all small, isolated, quickly controlled and in remote areas, mostly in Central Africa.

Although there has been concern about the disease, the world seemed unprepared to address such an unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN said, “words are meaningless, unless the words today turn into concrete commitments” CDC, USAID, and up to 3,000 U.S. troops are all working to combat this disease, yet criticism and blame is still to be found. Doctors Without Borders has declared that the lack of response in general, and from the U.S., is “incomprehensible.” America has already committed $175 million, with another $88 million requested. Additionally, the Department of Defense intends to spend $500 million in an effort to assist with treatment facilities and supplies. However, the UN says $1 billion is needed simply to bring this outbreak under control. The UNSC heard reports indicating that the international response needed to increase by 20 fold in order to adequately address the disease.

Human trials for an Ebola vaccine are beginning, and 10,000 doses of the currently untested vaccine are already being manufactured but it will be another two to three months before any vaccine will be ready, and even if the vaccine works, there will not be enough vaccines to stop the spread of Ebola.

In the meantime, Sierra Leone ordered a three day quarantine nationwide, with the hope that volunteers will be able to go to each home and talk with residents about the disease, risks, preventive measures, and treatment. However, it is unlikely that this will be enough to contain the spread of Ebola in both the region and the world. If this disease continues to spiral out of control, it will only continue to cross borders and infiltrate other countries and even regions in the world. A disease knows no borders and President Obama and the UNSC have publicly recognized the impact that such an outbreak will have on the international community. The political, economic, and security implications will be widespread. The countries hardest hit are poor and lack proper infrastructure to deal with such a crisis and as people start to panic or act out of fear, social conditions may deteriorate even more. As the Director-General of WHO put it, a health crisis like this has a "magnitude of cascading consequences."

In a speech that he gave on Tuesday, President Obama summed up the threat saying, "This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security. Its a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic...That has profound affects on all of us even if we are not directly contracting the disease." As countries and economies become more and more intertwined, events in one place can have a profound impact on others, regardless of geographic distance. It is within America's interest to actively participate in efforts to combat this threat.

UNDOF Leaving Syria

The Nursa Front, a Syrian insurgent group affiliated with Al Qaeda, recently released 45 Fijian peacekeepers that had been held captive for two weeks.  Since their release, the UN has decided to relocate its Golan Heights peacekeepers to the Israeli side of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) buffer zone in hopes of preventing another attack or abduction.  Attacks by Syrian militants on members of UNDOF in the buffer zone between Syria and Israel have been increasing over the last couple weeks.  According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “the situation in UNDOF on the Syrian side and the area of separation has deteriorated severely over the last several days.”

UNDOF’s mandate is up for renewal in October, but it is questionable whether or not soldiers will continue to be sent into this increasingly dangerous area.  With the evacuation of UN peacekeepers from the UNDOF post at the Quneitra Crossing and increasing violence from the Nursa Front, it seems as though Israel is inching closer to becoming a player in the Syrian civil war.  The Syrian army has two divisions responsible for its side of the Golan Heights; however, with more important battles being fought in Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere, the soldiers in this area have not received supplies for months.  For them, defecting or just laying down their arms is a better option than fighting the insurgents.

If UNDOF’s mandate is not renewed and soldiers in the Syrian army continue to defect, who will be left to prevent these insurgents from crossing into Israel? The Israeli Defense Forces.  If Israeli forces are dragged into the civil war, will American forces also be necessary to back up our closest Middle Eastern ally?  With the approval of Congress to arm and train Syrian rebels, President Obama insists that U.S.ground troops will not be sent overseas.  Will Obama change his mind if terrorist forces seriously threaten Israel?   Should Israel ask for U.S. help, Israeli lobbyist groups will put pressure on Obama to send Israel the supplies it needs whether that be arms or troops.  However, with a large majority of Americans currently opposed to sending troops abroad to fight in Syria, Obama will feel the same pressure against sending U.S. troops to assist Israel.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Don't Forget Deterrence

The successful test of Russia’s new submarine-launched Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday is being treated as yet more fuel on the already burning Russia-West relationship. Headlines such as “Russia Proves Nuclear Muscle With Ballistic Missile Launch” or “Russia developing new nuclear weapons to counter US, NATO,” as well as statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the linchpin role of a “guaranteed nuclear deterrent” certainly convey the idea of an expanding confrontation. And yet, while events and statements seem to indicate ever-greater danger, it is important to keep in mind the mechanisms of deterrence and implicit bargaining between nations. While conventional escalation and expansion of the current conflict are not out of the question, we do not suddenly now stand on the brink of nuclear conflict.

First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind the extensive lag time involved in the development of equipment such as the ballistic missile. The Bulava – capable of traveling 5,000+ miles and holding 6-10 nuclear warheads – has been in development since the 1990s, and has been undergoing (not terribly successful) testing since at least 2004. In other words, it’s not exactly new. The Russians did not develop an SLBM in response to the Ukraine crisis. Granted, the timing of the test is certainly interesting, coming on the heels of NATO’s announcement of a new “spearhead” rapid reaction force and intentions to pre-position equipment in Eastern Europe. The decision to conduct a test now is most likely (at least in part) a result of the current political climate, rather than despite it.

But it looks like Russia is attempting to reinforce and expand deterrence, rather than literally prepare for a nuclear exchange  – it is trying to dissuade the West from engaging in conventional action by demonstrating its nuclear capability. This is in keeping with statements made by Russian officials last year indicating that Russia could respond to conventional attacks with nuclear weapons.  The message is clear: do not interfere, or you risk nuclear repercussions (you are not promised them – an important distinction). On a fundamental level, the Russian government and military are attempting to influence Western decision-making: they hope to make even the consideration of conventional interference in its affairs too risky. This, as Thomas Schelling notes in his seminal “Arms and Influence,” is what deterrence – and thus nuclear weapons – is all about: influencing an enemy’s actions and intentions.

Furthermore, we have to wonder if Russia would truly be willing to end the “nuclear taboo” over Ukraine, especially given that the latter’s membership prospects in both the European Union and NATO now appear more or less nonexistent (and will remain so for the foreseeable future). 60+ years of non-use (in war) is an impressive record, but it is also part of the power of nuclear weapons. At the end of the day, some argue, the threat of an undetonated nuclear weapon is greater than that of a detonated one. Once you have destroyed a city, that target has no value for your enemy, and you have one less weapon with which to threaten him. And you may have invited nuclear reprisal.

We must also attempt to evaluate some of the more implicit messages Russia is sending, which can be directly linked to their weapons modernization program and even the development of the Bulava missile. First of all, while the 2016-2025 weapons modernization program does include the above-mentioned “guaranteed nuclear deterrent,” it also includes developing high-precision conventional weapons. As Schelling notes, investment in conventional weaponry is itself significant, because it suggests that Russia wants to be sure it can fight a non-nuclear war (by having a sufficient non-nuclear capability). The West (and the U.S. in particular) holds a significant conventional advantage over Russia in terms of both existing capabilities and in the competencies of their defense industries (consider, for instance, Russia’s purchase of French Mistral class vessels). The emphasis on nuclear weapons could almost be interpreted as a rhetorical stopgap measure – a stalling technique, if you will, that must serve until conventional capabilities are built up.

Moreover, the fact that the Bulava missile is submarine-launched is significant. SLBMs are more expensive to build than the land-based ICBMs. If Russia wanted an ability to simply launch a nuclear assault in response to a conventional attack, there are cheaper and more efficient ways to go about this. (Granted, it can get a bit messy here in terms of what is permissible under various arms agreements and related treaties, but the point stands). SLBMs are particularly suited to deterrence specifically because of their survivability. They are second-strike weapons (which is not to say they cannot be used in a first strike, but rather to argue that if Russia anticipated initiating a nuclear exchange they may have chosen to reveal that possibility differently).

Finally, we cannot ignore the possibility that ongoing Russian efforts to modernize their nuclear capacity are not the result of an unfortunate feedback loop (another issue that Schelling’s book addresses). Remember, for example, that NATO decided it would incorporate former Warsaw Pact states in the 1990s – a choice that likely encouraged the pursuit of improved nuclear capabilities as a formerly hostile alliance approached Russian territory. Additionally, the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 and began working towards establishing a missile defense system in Europe. While this system is not directed against Russia, Russia complained (and continues to do so) that such measures are destabilizing in terms of the nuclear strategic balance. Finally, the only way Congress allowed the New Start Treaty to be ratified in 2010 was to attach amendments to the treaty calling on the U.S. to pursue missile-defense and the modernization of the American nuclear complex. These latter two actions would seem to suggest that the U.S. continues to see nuclear weapons as a key element in our military strategy. It should not surprise us that Russia also continues to play up the importance of those weapons. Looking ahead, then, one course of action could very well be to take advantage of this feedback loop and formulate our own policies with an eye towards pushing Russia onto a more preferable path (just as Schelling suggested back in the 1960s).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Degrade and Destroy

Last night President Obama outlined a four part strategy for action against ISIL. Of note, he started by indicating that he believes ISIL is neither Islamic, nor a state, but instead, it is a terrorist organization and that all those who threaten America will not be able to find a safe haven. With this in mind, he laid out his strategy:

First, the U.S. will “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists.” So while the U.S. has already been conducting airstrikes in Iraq, Obama has now inserted America into Syria as well, despite years of avoiding involvement in Syria. This reversal of policy is not entirely shocking or unexpected, although it is interesting to note that just last year Obama declared that he wanted to work with Congress to repeal the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), but he is now easing away from his promise to move off of a “perpetual wartime footing.”

Second, America will increase its “support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.” What is of importance here is that Obama is repeatedly making it clear that American troops will not be involved in combat on foreign soil. After more than a decade of war, Obama has ended one war in Iraq and brought almost 150,000 troops home – he seems to understand that the American people are tired of war and do not want to become too entangled in the current unrest in the Middle East. Therefore, it is important for Obama’s strategy that Middle Eastern nations fight for themselves and fight against ISIL and the threat that extremists pose.

Despite Obama’s pledge to avoid combat, an additional 475 service members are being sent to Iraq, bringing the known total to around 1,700. However, the declared purpose of the U.S. personnel in Iraq is to support the local Iraqi and Kurdish forces through training, supplying equipment, and gathering intelligence. Additionally, before the President’s speech on Wednesday, the U.S. gave the Iraqi and Kurdish forces $25 million in military aid to help them fight against extremists.

For the third part of his strategy, Obama announced that America will draw on its “counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.” This point was not fully fleshed out, although Obama indicated again that America would work with partners on this issue. Although not explicitly mentioned in his speech, curbing the financial flow of funds to ISIL is a critical part of stagnating the strength and abilities of ISIL.

Fourth, and finally, the U.S. “will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced” or otherwise affected by ISIL. Details regarding any particulars were not listed, but given that the first three parts of the strategy focused on the military aspect of the conflict, highlighting the humanitarian needs and what the U.S. is doing to fulfill them is likely aimed to help bolster the public perception and image of America abroad.

Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Middle East and he is seeking to build broader support for the U.S. strategy among the Gulf States and other nations in the region. Of particular importance, Saudi Arabia has already agreed to host a training base for moderate Syrian rebels. Strong international action is needed for Obama’s strategy to be effective. Attempting unilateral action or having a weak and varied international response will not be enough to stem ISIL’s agenda.

No timetable or specifics were given, but Obama appears to be taking a stronger stance on ISIL. Recently he was heavily criticized for appearing to not have a coherent or solid strategy and this speech certainly worked to remedy that. Despite some calls for a vote in Congress, Obama has stated that he has authority to carry out his new strategy and therefore does not need congressional approval,  but he believes it would be beneficial for Congress to stand by him and show that they are united in support. For more on the legal and constitutional implications of Obama’s recent authorization of force against ISIL, read this article.

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding if Obama's strategy will work, only time will tell if it is a success.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Don't die in the Beijing smog!"

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) has been nominated as America's next ambassador to China. This seems an odd choice by the President seeing how the 72-year-old Senator does not speak Chinese, nor does he have strong relations with the country. Yes he is familiar with trade issues, but why Baucus? It is appearing as though this move's priority was not on strengthening this international tie, but more of a domestic power-play by Democrats to hold on to seats for the midterms. After all, it's not the first time an ambassadorship to China would have protected Democrats political interests in Congress. President Obama nominated Jon Huntsman (who at least had experience in the region and proficiency in Mandarin Chinese) in 2009, essentially shelving the potential Republican presidential adversary in the 2012 election. Also, in the President's favor, this assignment would place a voiced-critic of Obama's Affordable Care Act on the other side of the world.

Baucus had already declared he was retiring from the Senate after serving for six terms, which would leave his seat wide-open. By appointing him as ambassador, this allows the Montana Governor (also a Democrat) to appoint a fellow party member, who as an incumbent would have a leg up in the midterms. In addition, Senator Baucus also is the chairman of the finance committee. His departure means that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) would assume his position, leaving his position on the energy committee open, likely to be filled by another Democrat in 2014.

Baucus himself stated, "China is one of the most, if not the most important relationship in the country, in the world..." yet the priority of Obama does not seem to be in nominating the best candidate as opposed to a Democratic power-play at securing congressional power. This may be a Machiavellian assumption, but it is proving to be a strong likelihood in analyzing the selection. It is certainly a time of sensitive relations with China, with the relations between the two countries not being the strongest in recent years. As the chief envoy, Baucus will be responsible for balancing rising tensions with Japan, China’s growing economic might, contentious diplomatic issues involving North Korea, as well as other regional dilemmas.

Despite the reasoning, Senator Baucus does, at the very least, seem to put forth a full fledged effort in his public service. He will undoubtedly work to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between the US and China. However, how does this appointment play into the Obama Administration's "Asian Pivot" strategy? For his economic and trade experience Baucus can certainly lend a hand to the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but how else can he contribute? Solidifying a democratic stronghold in Congress may not be the best course when an opportunity to improve ties with China is on the horizon.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Robot Olympics

Today in Homestead, Florida DARPA kicked off their “Robot Olympics,” formally known as the DARPA Robotics Challenge.  The contest, with a $2 million top prize, pits sixteen robotics teams against each other in a robot showdown.  Each team’s robot will attempt to complete a series of tasks from climbing a ladder to driving a vehicle.  The teams hail from all over the world, with front running delegations from South Korea, MIT, NASA, and China.  

The competition was born out of the need for semi-autonomous robots that could be operable in the aftermath of a disaster.  The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 provided impetus for robotic research, and this DARPA project in particular.  Nuclear technicians have said that had someone been able to enter the plant post-meltdown to open a number of vents in order to relieve pressure, some of the explosions that leaked nuclear material could have been avoided.  The area was, however, heavily radiated and unsafe for human responders.  A more versatile version of a bomb-diffusing robot would have been useful in order to complete the task without endangering lives.

It’s not much of a leap to see how semi-autonomous robots that can remove rubble, drive vehicles, and move in uneven terrain would be useful to the Pentagon in other ways.  These robots are, however, incredibly expensive and inefficient when it comes to completing tasks humans have no problem with, like climbing through a window or interpreting visual cues.  DARPA’s unsettling robot mule, which set the agency back $10 million, is about as far as the Defense Department has come in creating a robot with the mobility of a living organism.  Aside from being bulletproof, it’s hard to make the argument that the machine is superior to your standard garden-variety mule, given the cost. 

It's also interesting to consider the implications of crowdsourcing ideas for what is usually one of the most secretive and shadowy agencies in the security apparatus.  Securing defense secrets is difficult enough within a vast and expanding defense contracting community; creating a contest for some of the most advanced technologies means the Pentagon will have access to the best and the brightest in the field, but it's also a forum ripe for intellectual property theft.

Before the week is out we should know whether this contest is the beginning of a revolution in technological warfare or simply a nerd forum for showing off half-formed robot prototypes, years from making any real impact.  I'm guessing it's the latter.

The rest of the competition is being streamed live here:

Irrationality: A Family Tradition

And you thought your family was bad...

It's been about a week since the news broke that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un had executed his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek. In a series of expedited events, Kim had publicly arrested, tried, and publicly executed his uncle. As the second most powerful man in the country, Jang, the vice-chairman of North Korea's top military body, helped to secure Kim's ascendancy after his father's death. Thus despite the litany of charges against Jang, speculation has been circulating about Kim's hasty moves.

If there ever was an inkling of transparency into North Korea, the lights are definitely out now. This surprising event leads many to question their original analyses on the status quo of North Korea, especially since the government released 85-year-old this week, Merrill Newman, yet still are holding on to prisoner Kenneth Bae. Many believe this brutal execution is just the beginning of other brinkmanship moves on behalf of Kim and his government.

So why was Jang put to death? In the humiliating list of charges against him, the most potent to the regime was the accusation of trying to overthrow the state. Was this fear or strength on the part of the young leader? Regardless, many suggest this move is a symbol that he is weaker than his father. In a seeming attempt at total control, this violent demonstration of power may have been his attempt to show that he's not afraid to make tough choices.

In fact, this ruthless act may have him more tied to the likes of his grandfather, Kim Il-Song. Besides the physical likeness, the young Kim has revived the tradition of a public political surge. While his grandfather's brutal use of purging may have been incited by his paranoia from his guerrilla days in Manchuria, what is driving the young leader's Stalin-esque paranoia? Many believe it is weakness. After all last year Kim also made a surprising move and removed his top general Ri Yong Ho, and axed his relationship with the Worker's Party. By attacking the military and the party, especially those so close to him, the purging at the very least is signifying some instability in the regime. If the leader cannot trust his top officials, and is trying to consolidate his power, we are bound to see some more unpredictable moves from the DPPK's leader.

Kim will probably continue to try and push the fold and the fear of other possible irrational actions, like testing a nuclear weapon, now seems more plausible. For analysts, trying to discern the next moves of this regime is in fact, quite a guessing game. At the moment there are no reports about troop movements or other t may just have to be a waiting game to see what new revelation will come out of Pyongyang. Maybe it's time for Dennis Rodman to step in...

See you in Sochi!

In the months leading up to the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russian policies have been repeated in the news, usually receiving harsh critiques.  Concerns of poor infrastructure, missing critical building deadlines, human rights abuses, anti-gay rhetoric, and security breaches have littered the news for the last year, increasingly coloring international perception of both the Games and Russian policy.

While the majority of the recent reports have focused on Putin's anti-gay rhetoric, security concerns are increasingly abounding.  Many have interpreted Obama's recent announcement of the United States' Olympic delegation as a retaliation against Putin's blatant anti-gay sentiments and as an open snub of the Russian government.  However, the obvious lack of US governmental officials on this delegation could also be a result of the intense security concerns in Sochi.

In order to deal with the increasing security concerns, namely terrorism, in and around Sochi, the Russian government deployed at least 10,000 troops to the Black Sea region to establish security over the course of the next three months, beginning January 7 and ending March 21.  Some have even likened the security plans to "Soviet-Style" security, such as the use of drones for surveillance and communication monitoring.  Police and military forces have begun conducting exercises in the region to preparation.

The United States Olympic delegation is set to include former Olympians and other US persons of note.  The Sochi Olympics will be the first time since 2000 where the President, First Lady, or former President have not attended the Olympics as part of the official delegation.  Departmental secretaries are also conspicuously missing from the delegation list.  It should be noted that the White House has not officially commented on the rationale behind the conspicuously different delegation make-up.  The presidents of both France and Germany have declared that they also will not attend the Games.

As preparations for the Games continue, it will be interesting to witness the effect of the Games (and the controversies surrounding it) upon the United States' relationship with Russia.  Especially if the President's conspicuous absence (and the absence of other Western leaders) weakens his diplomatic relationship with Putin.

F-35 - A warning for future defense planning

In October, 2013, just two months ago, an F-35 Lightning II completed its first successful ground attack during training at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  The F-35B dropped a Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II bomb from an internal weapons bay from an altitude of 25,000 feet, destroying a parked tank.  Some, especially those officers in the Marine Corps involved in these trials, hailed this successful test as a step forward in a "vital program."  Undoubtedly, the F-35 is vital, if only because of the other airframes it is to replace are already being pulled from service.  In 2012, the U.S. Air Force alone stood down seven squadrons, five A-10's, one F-16 Aggressor squadron, and one aging F-15C squadron.  The F-35 is slated to fill those roles, as well as the role of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets (excluding the E/F model Super Hornets), and the AV-8B Harrier II's.   While there is no recourse now but to move forward with the program, and attempt to gain as much ground as has been lost, the F-35 program and its history should stand as a warning to future DoD leadership on the value of expectation management, and setting realistic goals.

From Lockheed:

Development began in 2001, and since then has been hit with setback after setback.  Original plans called for a $80 million sticker price per unit and full fielding by 2012.  Over a decade later and the costs have more than doubled, with total program coast at $392 billion, $161 million per plane.  Though the Marine Corps and Navy plan to start operating the F-35 by mid-2015, total deployment is projected to take until 2019.  Part of this problem is in the whole premise of the enterprise.  A single multirole aircraft that can replace several different single role, or single focus, planes is difficult enough to develop, but one that can also serve the needs of twelve U.S. allies, partnered in the Joint Strike Fighter program, is abnormally troublesome.  At one point in its development there were as many as nineteen countries signed on to the project, but many have had to bow out due to budgetary concerns.  Each time a contributing member leaves the project, cost per unit increases.

On December 13, 2003 Lockheed Martin Corp. celebrated the 100th F-35 to be produced.  So far 95 of those have gone to the United States, the other five operated by the British and Netherlands Royal Air Forces, but based out of Florida.  Senior DoD procurement officials have said that they believe the F-35 program has made sufficient progress to increase budgets to accomodate higher production in fiscal year 2015, but they remain concerned about progress on the jet's software, reliability and a computer-based logistics system.  In the September 16, 2013 edition of Vanity Fair, security analyst Adam Ciralsky wrote :

According to the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.), which is relatively independent, the price tag for each F-35 was supposed to be $81 million when the program began in October 2001. Since that time, the price per plane has basically doubled, to $161 million. Full-rate production of the F-35, which was supposed to start in 2012, will not start until 2019. The Joint Program Office, which oversees the project, disagrees with the G.A.O.’s assessment, arguing that it does not break out the F-35 by variant and does not take into account what they contend is a learning curve that will drive prices down over time. They say a more realistic figure is $120 million a copy, which will go down with each production batch. Critics, like Winslow Wheeler, from the Project on Government Oversight and a longtime G.A.O. official, argue the opposite: “The true cost of the airplane—when you cast aside all the bullshit—is $219 million or more a copy, and that number is likely to go up.”

Senate Armed Forces Committee Hearing Concerning F-35 Program for USN & USMC:

At this point the project has already had twelve years, and billions of dollars pumped into it, and there is no option to scrap it and start over with a less expensive model.  What can be done, however, is develop and implement better cost saving mechanisms and policies for future defense spending.  The cost of developing this aircraft are staggering, and most of it has been on the backs of American tax payers.  This is because the contract signed in 2001 placed most of the risk involved on the government.  Under current contractual obligations, should the developers make a mistake in design or production, because the government assumed the risk, we all as tax payers pay them to make up for the loss, the time involved, and then pay them to fix the problem they created.  There's little incentive to get it right the first time when you can make a mistake and actually get reimbursed more in the end for making the mistake.  For more information concerning the F-35 program costs in development, check out the links below:

First East, Now South?

With China's establishment of an ADIZ over parts of the East China Sea, many in the region are worried that China will soon seek to create a similar defense zone in the South China Sea in a move to assert its control over the currently disputed islands.  In a recent meeting with ASEAN in Tokyo, Japan asserted a position of leadership seeking to create an ASEAN-Japan coalition in order to contain China's expanding influence and regional authority.

In a speech in Manila earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the United States' policy of not recognizing China's East China Sea ADIZ (although, it should be noted that US commercial airlines do, in fact, abide by the ADIZ regulations).  In fact, Kerry's trip to Vietnam and the Philippines were in response to these new prospects of a Chinese ADIZ in the South China Sea, even though Beijing has not confirmed or openly pursued any such plans.  It appears that the United States is also looking for a strong regional coalition to contain China.  The US recently gave $4 million in security aid to the Philippines and $3.3 million to other Southeast Asian states.

Secretary Kerry speaking in Manila on Dec 17
This prospect of another Chinese ADIZ will force the United States to consider how it is going to deal with this rising power, an issue with which it has not yet fully dealt.  The rise of China is often considered purely economical, and little thought has been given to the possibility of the use of force in China's quest for regional expansion.  China's behavior in the conflicts in the South and East China Seas provides a perfect example of its mentality towards regional territorial conflict.  If China has taken measures such as the establishment of the ADIZ in the East China Sea, it is likely that it would pursue similar policy in the South China Sea.  As the South China Sea conflict involves many more actors, the push back against such an ADIZ would be much more severe.

Secretary Kerry's increased interest in these territorial disputes indicates the increased likelihood of US involvement in easing regional tensions.  Since some argue that the US has not be consistent in its approach to Chinese expansion (particularly in dealing with the East China Sea ADIZ), the possibility of similar Chinese policy in the South China Sea gives the United States an opportunity to clarify its position on Chinese expansion and to formulate a coherent policy to protect its allies in the region.

Merry Christmas from your friends at the NSA.

Merry Christmas from your friends at the NSA.  Seriously though, this is getting a little silly.  To show you just how ridiculous the commentary has become, check out this article from the and this video from the ACLU.

"They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"  Thanks Benjamin Franklin.  Said some two-hundred and fifty years ago and just as true today.  The ever increasing scope of surveillance - and abuses of that scope - is in some ways inevitable.  I don't mean to say it's right (whatever "right" means), morally acceptable, worth the cost to our individual liberties, or actually effective at finding terrorists (or probable terrorists).  Bureaucracies, especially in our system of government, are extremely resilient, sometimes self-serving, and often narrow-minded in scope.  It's not their fault, it's just the nature of the beast, a symptom of bad governance. Without proper oversight and transparency, abuses such as these occur in all agencies.  This is essentially Abu Gharaib level dereliction of duty and lack of leadership, combined with an intelligence community that allows for almost zero transparency between themselves and the public they serve.  Is it an invasion of privacy if you don't know your privacy is being violated?  Some in Congress apparently say no:

Some would answer the following question, "Should the NSA be tapping my phones?" with this answer, "Honestly I don't care, I'm not a terrorist or criminal so I'm good."  But that attitude is exactly the problem.  Soon the somewhat justified taps become completely illegitimate, with analysts tapping in to the communications of friends, family and significant others - even "possible" significant others.  If this happened via a pair of binoculars, a physical wire tap at someone's home, and breaking into their house to steal their photos off their iPad, it'd be considered predatory stalking.  Though many consider privacy a right, there is no express right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution.  However, in numerous articles and amendments it is considered assumed by many citizens and legal scholars alike.  For more in depth discussion, check out the link below:

These top-secret programs, brought to light by whistleblower/traitor/"hero of the proletariat" Edward Snowden, are anathema to individual liberty and privacy.  Whatever you think of the man who leaked the information, now that the cat is out of the bag we as a society have some hard questions to answer.  What level of transparency should we have in order to keep the public abreast of these issues?  What kind of oversight (or lack thereof) lead to these programs, the growth of scale involved and the abuses that occurred?  Is massive trolling of the entire internet an effective means of gathering intelligence and conducting counterintelligence?  I cannot answer any of those questions, and unfortunately, even if I could - they're classified and you don't need to know.

Putin's "Prize"

EuroMaidan protestors in Kiev
Nessa Gnatoush
On November 21, roughly 2,000 protesters convened in Kiev's Maidan Nexalezhnosti (Independence Square) to agitate for closer integration with the European Union after the Ukrainian government decided not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. A few days ago, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych accepted a financial deal from Russia which includes $15 billion dollars worth of Ukrainian bonds purchased and an agreement to sell natural gas to Ukraine at below market prices. While this may at first glance appear a political coup for Vladimir Putin, Russia has in fact only saddled itself with supporting a state even more dysfunctional than itself.
Putin in Moscow on Thursday
Getty Images

The modern Ukrainian state is saddled with corruption, aging infrastructure, and tumultuous domestic politics - EuroMaidan is the second large scale popular protest in the last decade, and the first (the Orange Revolution) led to the resignation of once again President Yanukovych. While the second largest country (by landmass) in Europe is certainly geopolitically desirable, it is hardly a top prize in its current state. The International Monetary Fund has refused to extend Ukraine further financial assistance without significant governmental reforms. While a large portion of the public seems willing to swallow the bitter pill of austerity (at least in the short term), the Ukrainian government does not.

Chemical factory in Armiansk, Ukraine
The EuroMaidan has not only thrown into stark relief the political divide within Ukraine, but casts serious doubt on Russia's grand ambitions for its Customs Union. Not only was it unable to force Ukraine to sign on to the Union (at least at this time), but the rest of the roster is less than inspiring. Neither Belarus nor Kazakhstan are exactly economic giants, and the list of prospective post-Soviet states is a parade of dysfunctional economies, endemic corruption, and various levels of political repression. The appeal of EU membership is in no small part aspirational - despite their many problems, the perception of EU member states as places where the rule of law prevails and the playing field is comparatively level is enticing to many, in Ukraine and elsewhere.

While Putin may be able to strong arm and bribe others into joining with Russia, its renewed position as a power player on the world stage rests on a precarious foundation of high energy prices. Unless Russia and its client states undertake serious economic and political reforms, the importance of their Union will be fleeting. The EuroMaidan may yet fail - but, be it in a year or a decade, the people of Ukraine and other kleptocracies will not be denied the dream of liberty.

Destruction of statue of Lenin in Kiev

Russia lends a "helping hand" to Ukraine

Yesterday, President Yanukovitch of Ukraine solidified his relationship with Russia through a 100 minute news conference. The conference occurred just two days after Yanukovitch accepted an economic relief deal from Putin, at an estimated $15 billion in aid. Protests are continuing in the capital, and Yanukovitch was careful to assure that there would not be a violent removal of protesters for at least three weeks. This statement was followed, however, by stern denunciations of any foreign involvement. Although it can be assumed that he is referring to Western involvement, those observing the events in Ukraine and Russia may note the irony in his statements.  It has been perfectly obvious to those watching from the outside that Russia is vying for control over Ukraine. The manipulation of Yanukovitch through reduced gas prices and economic aid packages seems obvious, but Yanukovitch appears more than willing to engage Putin and defy Europe and his people.

The implications for Ukraine are ominous. The country seems split down the middle regarding preferences between Russia and Europe. The oppression of protests, however, and the governments unwillingness to compromise or listen to the people, indicates that democracy is not being properly utilized. The next elections are scheduled for 2015. Yanukovitch argues that the people can voice their opinions then, but many say it will be too late for Ukraine to remove Russia's grip on the country.

Not only does Russia's grip on Ukraine make joining the EU (or having strong ties with Europe at all) almost impossible, but it also creates friction in energy security and regional stability. Russia's other pets in the area will likely be increasingly nervous if Ukraine comes fully under Russian influence. Georgia is still reeling a bit from the 2008 war with Russia, wherein a domestic territorial issue became grounds for invasion by Putin and Medvedev. It is not in Georgia's interest for Russia's power and influence in the region to grow. For the United States, our interests lie in stability in the region as well as supporting our allies in Europe. We clearly do not enjoy the idea of a Russian Ukraine, especially if it comes about by the way of suppressing protests and rendering democracy moot. As we continue to monitor relations in the region, it will be interesting to note the tone of American diplomats as they coerce this complicated political landscape.

Assessing the overt costs of the NSA controversy

As has been the case the last few years with the subject of the use of drones, some topics in national security seem to dominate policy discussions with great tenacity.  Such has also been the case recently with the topic of the controversial data-mining practices of the NSA, especially since the leaks by Edward Snowden.  While there is much to debate with concern to the NSA practices in the domestic arena, a significant level of attention needs to be turned toward the overt costs the Snowden leaks and the American response are having on the United States in the international environment. 
Consider the explicit costs that are mounting between the United States and Brazil, likely as a result of the revelations of NSA activity.  In an announcement that shocked  nearly everyone, Brazilian President Rousseff just announced that a huge defense contract that most expected was going to be won by Boeing is now being awarded to Sweden’s SAAB instead.   Most observers feel it was a decision personally made by President Rousseff who is still angry at having been the target of direct surveillance by the United States.  This was not just any contract, however.  It is one that had been negotiated for decades over the course of three Presidencies.  The initial contract is expected to be in the amount of around 4.5 billion dollars, with billions of additional dollars to follow over the course of many years in terms of servicing, supply, and parts.  It was one of the most coveted and sought-after emerging market contracts in the world.  Boeing had been so confident in earning the win, that they even built a large corporate office in Brazil and hired the former Ambassador to Brazil to be its executive.   Now, instead of  American F/A- 18 Super Hornets, the Brazilians will be flying Sweedish Gripens instead.   The French Dassault Aviation SA who had also been in the running, flatly called the Gripen an inferior product. The next generation of the Gripen is not even out of prototype stage yet.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen

One Brazilian government source bluntly told Reuters that “The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans.”  And the decision apparently came straight from the top, with even the lead  Brazilian air force commander saying he only heard of the decision the day before, in a meeting with President Rousseff.   While the dollar losses are staggering, one has to wonder how much opportunity for increased military cooperation with this important country will be hampered in the future, especially as they steadily upgrade their military standing and capabilities. 

Brazil remains skeptical of foreign nations trying to take commercial advantage of them.  They even lashed out at a Canadian company earlier this year, which Brasilia felt was conducting industrial espionage of their mining sector.  Thus, if states wish to curry favor with this important and growing nation, already predominant in its continent and beyond, losing their trust must be considered extremely costly.

The direct costs are definitely not limited to lost contracts by Boeing, however.   Cisco Systems, Inc., for example, complained recently that revelations of U.S. spying were negatively affecting the demand for its products in China.  In fact, a rare uniting of nearly all major tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. occurred last week to lobby President Obama for reforms to the data collection, because they felt that public trust in the internet and such services like cloud computing, is being undermined by the NSA controversy, to the point that their business interests are being hurt, especially overseas.
The presidential advisory panel that was assembled by President Obama last August after the Snowden leaks, to look into the matter of potential overreaches by the NSA, has finally gotten back to President Obama with some 46 recommendations.  Without question, most of the recommendations are aimed at domestic concerns of the grand-scale data collection, but the panel could not ignore the international ramifications.  Amongst its recommendations is to make foreign spying on friendly states the call of policy-makers and not of intelligence officials.  They also included the suggestion that “back-doors” into software that the NSA has used to exploit data from large companies should cease.  It would be surprising, though, to see these measures by themselves placate angry world leaders such as Rousseff and Gremany’s Merkel without being accompanied by some sort of Presidential assurances that the espionage will not happen again.  The degree to which President Obama is unwilling to commit to that may help determine just how much further financial costs and lost trust will be incurred.  Moreover, international ears are especially keen to determine whether such promises are made equally, with some suggesting that concrete assurances against further espionage of personal communication is being made to German leaders but not necessarily to Brazilian and Mexican leaders, for instance. 

The path forward is a difficult one for President Obama and all of the defense policy makers in Washington.   This situation is an excellent reminder of how all elements of defense policy are intertwined, causing leaders to decide the best balance and trade-offs between robust intelligence gathering, allied levels of trust, defense systems trading, American jobs, and economic cooperation and growth.  In this specific case, the crux of that decision was captured in the question posed by someone involved in the Brazilian defense negotiations.  Enquiring about the benefit the US earned in its electronic surveillance of Brazil, he asked simply, “Was that worth 4 billion dollars?”