Friday, October 24, 2014

Lessons From an Anti-Terrorism Spending Spree

With the attack this past week in Canada’s capital, Canadian lawmakers are on edge about what the next step should be in shoring up security deficiencies at the nation’s capital. If a lone gunner can run into a well-guarded facility like the National War Memorial and manage to kill a soldier, it is not hard to imagine a much grimmer scenario with multiple gunmen or even a type of bomb. As we have seen from recent United States history and its domestic reaction to acts of terror, whether people agree or not, it has been effective at preventing another attack on US soil.

At least that is what we as American taxpayers hope is the case. In the article written by Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen, they challenge the notion that the defensive build-up is the reason that we are safe and that we remain safe. They argue that we should have a “99%” policy as opposed to Dick Cheney’s “1%” policy, wherein every possible scenario must be prepared for as though it will happen. The 99% policy would be one where policies of the United States reflect its states has the most safe and secure nation in the world.

The issue here is that if you read further into the article, you find that the authors argue that our defense build-up and maintenance at current levels is unnecessary because the US is the safest and most secure nation in the world and the terrorists got “lucky” on 9/11. While it is certainly true that America is relatively safe, the specter of an attack lingers on in many people’s lives. The first question many people had about the attack in Ottawa was whether or not it was carried out because of radical Islam. The authors go on to say that every subsequent planned domestic attack has been “thwarted” by the US security apparatus, which seems to support the success of the post-9/11 security doctrine.

Nevertheless, article makes a good argument about how the capabilities of terrorist organizations have been severely diminished due to the effects of the Global War on Terror. However, since the article was written in 2012, the world has changed significantly. From Putin’s foray into Crimea, ISIS’s rise as a caliphate, and the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, the US has seen constant challenges to its foreign policy that have profound implications for national security. Clearly, with entities such as ISIS, who remain well-funded and organized, terrorist capabilities have received a considerable boost.

With the continually changing global landscape, can the US and allies like Canada afford to keep the status quo or even diminish national security capabilities? Or would a decrease in funding lead to a diminished capability at all or could that funding save more lives being spent somewhere else? (Yes) In any case, the US has learned that overreaction is the wrong policy approach and can lead to the waste of trillions of dollars (see graph above) better spent on other domestic issues. Canada will surely keep its neighbor’s failures and successes in mind as it determines how to prevent another domestic attack in its capital. 

Can We Practice a Strategy of Retrenchment in the Post-Cold War Era?

               It has been nearly 23 years since the collapse of the USSR and nearly 70 years since Kenan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” stirred the United States into its containment policy. Since that time, we have maintained a strong presence abroad, taking part in several wars and conflicts throughout the world. If we weren’t fighting in the wars, we were supplying some else to, whether it was the Contras in Nicaragua or the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. This was all done in the name of democracy in order to slow down the expansion of Soviet influence. And, as some would prefer to remember it through a simplified lens, Ivan Drago gets knocked out in the 15th round by Rocky Balboa.

               Yet, what is the cost of this strategy? According to Andrew Bacevich, the American Century, as we know it, came to a halt between 2006- 2008. He also goes on to claim that strategy is a fraud that is only utilized by those who want power according to his article. In some ways, he is right. America has spent almost countless billions on the War on Terror. And the invasion of Iraq was mired from the start. According to Thomas Ricks’s article, there was no actual phase IV post-invasion plan for the complete occupation of Iraq. In a simplified manner, Bacevich’s viewpoint does seem to be true.
               However, repeating our shelled isolationist policy from pre-Pearl Harbor would be ludicrous. By letting go of the wheel, we’d risk losing our economic and political influence abroad. Already, China is attempting to gain influential ties within Africa. They’ve already donated aid to countries struck by the Ebola epidemic and have made several economic investments within the continent. In fact, they surpassed the US as Africa’s #1 trade partner.
               By being not being proactive about the situation abroad, we risk having the situation worsen with our continued absence. For instance, the only way that Ebola can properly be contained at this point would be through an international party stepping up to deal with the situation. The WHO has already warned that, on its current projector, the virus will infect 10,000 people a week by the end of the year. Its continued spread has already caused immense economic damage within the countries that have been struck by it. The virus can also be weaponized for terror purposes. While its complex weaponization as a biological weapon is unlikely, it can still be utilized in its basic form by someone who is not afraid dying from it. All it takes is for someone to purposefully get infected and start shaking the hands of everyone in Times Square for the virus to spread. By combatting the virus and studying it, we can become better equipped to deal with this strain and future epidemics.
               Our involvement abroad can also be beneficial. Don’t Go Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment reveals that there are several positives for maintaining a presence abroad. For instance, by being a security patron for Japan, South Korea, etc., we are better able to influence the regional politics within the region. Our military and political patronage also usually coincides with our ability to lead economically. It also helps protect global common interests. By having ships patrol off the coast of Somalia, we are able to help our global trade transportation infrastructure save millions of dollars from piracy.
               Ultimately, we need to be careful about our strategy in regards to securing our interests abroad and protecting them. We need to be on the constant look out for things that may threaten our investments abroad. For instance, the popular overthrow of Mubarak during the Arab Spring meant that we lost a strong ally in the Middle East. At the same time, we should be cautious not to over engage ourselves in a situation where the costs far exceed the benefits. For instance, the containment of Saddam through actions such as Desert Fox appeared to have been working. Had we maintained that course, we would have avoided getting entangled in a counter-insurgency war. That being said, it is important to realize that, regardless of all the strategic plans and knowledge that we have on a situation, we are still pawns to unexpected events. Even Machiavelli argued that we may only be in control of half our events. In chapter 25 of, The Prince, Machiavelli said, “Nevertheless, since our free will must not be denied, I estimate that even if fortune is the arbiter of half our actions, she still allows us to control the other half, or thereabouts. I compare fortune to one of those torrential rivers which, when enraged, inundates the lowlands, tears down trees and buildings, and washes out the land on one bank to deposit it on the other. Everyone flees before it; everyone yields to its assaults without being able to offer any resistance.”


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola: A Case for US Retrenchment?

The case for the United States’ declining hegemony is hard to overlook. The costs for maintaining such international dominance and the emergence of balancing powers in China, Europe and China grow more and more apparent. The United States, not unlike other great nations, has a choice to make: to be or not to be. A global hegemon, that is. No American wants to see the U.S. decline in prominence and strength, but historically every great power does. To prevent such a catastrophic collapse in power and prestige as Germany and France experienced in previous centuries, the U.S. needs to start thinking strategically about how best to preserve its interests abroad while not overextending itself to the point of collapse. The case of Ebola interestingly exemplifies how limited retrenchment would be beneficial to preserving its sense of primacy and national interests.
The authors of “Don’t Come Home, America push for continued U.S. hegemony, claiming U.S. national interests dictate international policies and ultimately serves our best interest. While the U.S. may have its footprint on every continent, its focus and military might is not felt everywhere. The lackluster response to the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa that has infected more than 9,000 people and killed more than 4,000 is case in point. The U.S. only began ramping up the much needed medical support and aid when it became clear Ebola would be a plague leading to a “lost generation” as Liberian president Johnson Sirleaf pleaded for more international assistance. And is still well below what is requested or needed.

Based on the assessment by Stephen Brooks et al., the response to Ebola was in line with U.S. hegemony. Africa is generally further down on the U.S. radar except as it pertains to terrorism and regional proximity to the Middle East. Clearly the U.S. was more intent on coalition building against ISIL directing attention away from this pandemic. By not prioritizing Ebola the attention from European countries, whose historical relations with Africa are better attuned to evaluating and addressing these issues, was also diverted elsewhere. U.S. national interests won't always align with global interests; the U.S. will not always have proper intelligence to understand potential threats allowing issues like Ebola to slip through the cracks. If U.S. hegemony persists in the current form the ordering of U.S. interests would in turn determine the level of importance and response to global issues and epidemics like Ebola. The U.S. capability and propensity to direct and prioritize international support towards their national goals and initiatives largely prevents other nations from stepping up and leading the fight against periphery threats like Ebola. If the U.S. didn’t consider it an urgent threat to be addressed, who else would?

Should the U.S. hegemonic role continue to decline and turn towards aspects of retrenchment then it needs to start empowering the international organizations it helped create like the UN, WHO, and NATO to better address international dilemmas. As the current hegemon, the U.S. can use its strength to promote the use of these organizations in response to global dilemmas. Doing so bolsters the prominence and respect of these organizations to oversee issues that aren’t seen as priorities for the U.S. before they rise to a threatening level. Doing so allows the U.S. to continue its defense spending and maintain it military commitments to its allies. The rich and powerful neglectfully overlook regions and third world problems, but that won’t prevent the Red Death from knocking on their door to join their ranks. 

The problem with U.S. hegemony in an ever-growing and interconnected global society is everything tends to matter. The U.S. cannot afford to monitor, manage and oversee operations all over the globe to make sure that they are handled with U.S. interests in mind. This will inevitably lead to failure. Instead, the U.S should recognize its limitations where they exist and call upon the international institutions to step up and manage crises like Ebola as they come up with sincere and resolute actions. Whether or not the U.S. chooses forms of retrenchment or further hegemony, it has the power and responsibility to direct international policy. U.S. retrenchment by relying on international organizations would free up resources and energy to maintain its hegemonic role while making sure another Ebola is not overlooked until it crosses the pond.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Combating Climate Change

Recently the Department of Defense (DoD) released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. Although the DoD first recognized climate change as a threat to U.S. national security in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, few people have taken notice of this new, evolving aspect of national security. Sure, climate change is important and needs to be addressed, but is it actually an issue of national security?

The White House notes that a climate change is a “threat multiplier.” Furthermore, it says that “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Climate change will aggravate already existing problems and will also make it increasingly difficult to respond to more traditional crises or new issues that arise.

Therefore, the DoD is seeking to better identify and understand the effects of climate change and then integrate that knowledge into policy, training, plans, and future endeavors. As obvious as it is, it is important to acknowledge that climate change is a global problem and requires global action. It does not start or stop at nations’ borders and ultimately it will affect everyone. Although India and China failed to attend the UN summit on climate change back in September, it would behoove them to join the international community in more fully addressing this topic. Reports indicate India is extremely vulnerable to climate change and that its economy will experience negative impacts, and that threats to its food security could also occur. Earlier this year China promised to work with the U.S. on addressing global climate change but what the details of this cooperation will include is not yet particularly clear. As countries realize the extent to which climate change will have an impact on them, they are more likely to agree to contribute towards polluting less, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and so forth.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order highlighting the importance of climate resilient international development. This executive order lays out policy and discusses how to incorporate climate resilience into international development, how to enhance data and tools, how to report progress, and it also establishes a working group. Encouraging other large and powerful nations to join the U.S. is vital, but so is providing assistance to developing countries.With a multi-agency and international approach, the U.S. is looking to protect its interests in relation to this immense challenge. 

Abroad, climate change perhaps most notably affects America’s strategy in the Arctic and its pivot towards Asia. Domestically some areas of concern for the U.S. is the impact of rising sea levels, wildfires, and the role that the National Guard will need to play. Part of risk management is foreseeing potential future problems and trying to avoid them in the first place while simultaneously creating a plan for how to address them should it become necessary.

Complaints raised in the past have lamented a lack of action, despite an abundance of talking. However, many are hopeful that this time serious efforts and changes will be made. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review succinctly notes that "the impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA), while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities." With this in mind, the importance of climate change to the U.S. is highlighted. Furthermore, it is not an issue that can be crammed into a single category, for it has far reaching implications and affects a wide range of policies, including our defense strategy and national security policy.