Thursday, October 29, 2009

VADER, to the Rescue in Afghanistan!

The latest from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is out! A new aerial sensor, called VADER (I know, right?), or Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar, serves to detect and track bombs and eventually individuals on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The system employs digital tracking and mapping to prevent losses from IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and hopefully track down particularly annoying Talibanis. If only DoD had access to an Afghani Marauder’s Map

The VADER system is a response to the difficulty of efficiently detecting IEDs. Apparently DoD has used everything to no avail: “radio frequency jammers to hulking trucks to blimps to lightning guns.” Lightning guns can’t get these things?! Obviously these devices are an extreme obstacle to obtaining an acceptable level of security in Afghanistan. Moreover, an April estimate attributed 75% of coalition deaths to IEDs. Something must be done to detect and deter use of these explosives if any sort of progress is to be had in Afghanistan.

VADER is also specifically designed with the Afghani populous in mind; according to Lt. General Thomas Metz, “Ground movement indicators were very valuable in Iraq … But the enemy kind of rode to work in Iraq. The enemy walks to work in Afghanistan. So we are developing a sensor that can see dismounts – and therefore can cue other sensors to those dismounts.” This observation signals that DoD is getting smarter about weaponry and technology use in Afghanistan: cultural traits and memes matter. The first test flight of a drone equipped with a VADER system was completed this week by Northrop Grumman. Hopefully these systems will be out in the field soon.

Mischief managed!

Friday, October 23, 2009

As Pakistan targets militants, militants respond with terror tactics

With our recent class discussion on terrorism and the Fall Conference’s lumping together of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a virtually unified concern, it’s coincidental that there has been a lot of terrorist activity in Pakistan lately. The recent surge in violence in Pakistan mirrors what is occurring and has occurred across its border in Afghanistan. Ever since Pakistan has begun actively targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan, terrorist attacks have been conducted against Pakistani military and civilian targets in urban and rural areas. The Pakistani people are worrying that the relative inattention the militants had shown them has ended, that “the Pakistani state is under siege.”

It seems Islamist militants are utilizing new tactics, or have been engaged in new types of targets as of late. In Islamabad on Thursday October 22nd, two assailants on a motorbike fired automatic weapons at a military jeep, killing a brigadier and his driver. On Friday October 23rd, Taliban rockets and suicide bombs targeted a strategic airbase, a restaurant, and a civilian bus carrying wedding guests, killing at least 27 and wounding many others. In the last three weeks, more than 200 people have been killed in response to the Army’s assault against the Taliban in South Waziristan. Other targets include markets, universities, and UN offices. Could this “new strategy of varied and unpredictable attacks” ultimately lead to a U.S. foray into this favored country of terror organizations?

Of course, entry into Pakistan would be challenging for several reasons and is unlikely to occur. Pakistan is a nuclear power with greater size and government strength than Afghanistan and could not be so easily told that they will accept an American military presence within its borders. Additionally, the U.S. under the Obama Administration seems hesitant to send anything but the consensus bare minimum troops to an international conflict. As Obama has yet to decide his position on Afghanistan, he certainly won't be making any critical decisions regarding Pakistan any time soon.

Despite the volume of recent attacks, this certainly is not the extent of Pakistan’s problems with terror organizations. Militant Taliban groups in the west have formed alliances with militant Punjabi groups fighting for Kashmir in the east, and Pakistan has known of this for some time. It seems to be a classic case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, as terror groups coalesce against governments set on bringing down their organizations. But eastern provinces have been reluctant to admit a jihadi presence in Punjabi areas for fear of greater Pakistani
or even U.S. military involvement in the region.. However, according to the recently passed Kerry-Lugar bill in which the U.S. provides Pakistan with $7.5 billion in civilian aid over the next 5 years, Pakistan is required to make progress in battling Punjab-based terror organizations. Accepting this aid may include the implicit understanding the U.S. reserves the right to intervene as it sees fit.

If more frequent and damaging attacks occur and militant alliances continue to be formed, it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that the Pakistani military could ask for U.S. and international assistance, if they were provided assurances that our entry would be for this limited purpose. Because the old principle applies again: from Pakistan’s view, the enemy (the U.S.) of its enemy (new extremists) would be its friend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tentative Agreement with Iran

The multilateral talks with Iran may have yielded some fruit. Tehran has tentatively agreed to transfer approximately 75% of its known enriched uranium stock to Russia where it will be enriched to 20% purity. From there, it will be transferred to France for further processing and then shipped back to Tehran for use in its medical research reactor. This deal would leave Tehran with about 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium in its own stockpile. Tehran has the option of further enriching this material itself, but it will yield only about 6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, which is only a fifth of what is needed to make a bomb. So in effect, Tehran has agreed to postpone its bomb-making threshold for about a year (danger room has estimated an even shorter timeline of about three to four months) in return for international participation (and therefore inspection) of its nuclear processes and international recognition of its right to refine uranium.

Israel, of course, is quite concerned about all this. Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has expressed his disapproval of the draft agreement and the concomitant legitimization of an Iranian civilian nuclear program. He claims that Iran’s real motive is the production of nuclear weapons and this deal will only give Iran a veneer of compliance while Tehran secretly perfects its bomb-making capabilities. Some elements in Tehran are also upset with the agreement, claiming that it violates Iran’s sovereignty. The deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament has publicly criticized the agreement; however, Iran’s representative to the IAEA has stated that this plan was an Iranian proposal. The United States is hoping that this deal will buy some time to work out a more comprehensive deal that will permanently address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Russia is just happy that they don’t have to sanction anyone.

Is this a policy victory for the US? Probably not. At best, this deal is just a way of postponing the really difficult decisions. It does, however, prove that Iran and the United States are capable of talking to each other. These are the highest level talks that have occurred between the two countries in three decades. Considering this and the fact that the deal was reached after only three days of negotiations, it seems quite possible that there is a good chance for further negotiations on other issues. Functionalists rejoice!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Karzai Agrees to a Runoff

On August 20, 2009, Afghans went to the polls for their country's second election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Soon after the election was held, accusations of fraud emerged which contested the validity of the election's results which had shown commanding lead for incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Forms of fraud included illegitimate voter cards, bribes, armed coercion, and the closure of many polling stations due to violence threats. One UN official declared that as many as one in five votes for Karzai may have been illegal. In addition, fear held many voters away from the polls as only an estimated 30% per cent of the public participated in the elections.

These figures prompted Abdullah Abdullah to challenge the election results. Since that time the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has investigated the claims of fraud and miscalculation. The investigation led to the belief that support for Karzai had fallen below 50%, a mark which if not met requires a run-off election. After relentless pressure from Western politicians to accept the ECC's findings, Karzai has agreed to a run-off election set to take place on November 7, 2009.

Karzai has said before that this Western pressure actually has negative effects for his country. As early as September 7, Karzai argued in a French magazine, Le Figaro, that the US was attacking him to make him more tractable. He followed by saying, "It is in no one's interest to have an Afghan president who has become an American puppet."

Despite the possibility of giving the appearance of Karzai as a Western puppet, the US has continued to apply pressure to Karzai to agree to a run-off election. The reason US officials continued to pressure Karzai to accept a run-off is because they need his government to be perceived as legitimate and accepted by the Afghan people. If it is not perceived as legitimate, the US fears that there will not be public support for the government. Our efforts to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda rely on public support for our troops. The Afghan people and its government must be united, otherwise, the US will end up fighting for a government that it not wanted by its people, and the people may end up resisting the government and US troops.

Therefore, Karzai's acceptance for a run-off election is a major step in the right direction for the US war efforts in Afghanistan. On November 7th, the world will witness the emergence of a legitimate leader of Afghanistan. Let's hope that the run-off elections will have a less controversial outcome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ocean's Fourteen: A New Role for the New Iraqi Army

The New Iraqi Army, created in 2003 (and has since undergone many alterations, disbandings, reforms, etc), is charged with the mission of protecting Iraq from internal and external threats. However, the New Army is taking on another role, perhaps better suited to the chaps at Interpol: reclaiming stolen art and artifacts. According to Major General Abdul al-Zaidi, "the duty of Iraqi army is not only to chase the terrorists but also to protect state treasures." After the 2003 invasion, the National Museum of Baghdad was completely looted. The museum held thousands of valuable artifacts dating back to the Mesopotamian era (roughly 7 millennia ago). For any art and archaeology buff, this event was an absolute tragedy, though it was far down on the list of concerns of the Iraqi people.

This attitude has now turned. The Iraqi Army is on a hunt for these lost and stolen antiquities and those who seek to sell them on the black market. Antiquities dealing is a lucrative business since these artifacts are worth billions. Such pursuits may be on the decline, however, with the Army's apprehension of 3 men attempting to sell Sumerian antiquities to an undercover intelligence officer.

Perhaps this new role for the Iraqi Army is a good stepping stone, providing experience in intelligence and operations which could help them in future pursuits against terrorists. Art and antiquities dealers operate in a highly clandestine manner, much like terrorists; an acumen in seeking out off-the-radar operations may prove a vital skill in the future. Though amateur peddlers of ancient artifacts are usually less armed than terrorists or insurgents, you have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Russia May be Playing Hard Ball

I may have spoke too soon yesterday about Russian co-operation. Here's an article from Danger Room. Apparently the secretary of the Kremlin's security council is proposing a doctrine that advocates the use of nuclear weapons in preventative strikes against opponents (even opponents that are conventionally armed).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Detente Part Two

Kommersant has reported that Washington will drop its public criticism of Russian human rights problems. According to the article, the United States would only discuss human rights with Russia in intergovernmental forums. This revelation, of course, comes as talks with Iran are underway and after Washington agreed to scrap its missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. Secretary of State Clinton is in Moscow today and spoke about an agreement between Russia and the United States to co-operate on a range of issues including Afghanistan, Iran and arms reduction. She is also expected to announce a joint missile defense program between the US and Russia.

The Obama administration is backing up its rhetoric and actually engaging Russia on some of its own terms. Russia, for its part, has agreed to work with the United States on confronting Iran, but has remained skeptical of sanctions.

Co-operation between the United States and Russia is still in its infancy. The only real political exchange between Washington and Moscow was the trading of a non-existing missile defense program for non-existing sanctions. Regardless of the triviality of this agreement, it is still indicative of a much better relationship between the US and Russia than during the Bush years when relations steadily deteriorated.

Most importantly, the events of the past few weeks indicate that the Obama administration is willing to give Russia something that it has been seeking since the collapse of the Soviet Union: respect. By negotiating with Russia and yielding to a few of their requests, the US is telling the Kremlin that it is a significant geopolitical power. Secretary of State Clinton even said that the ties between Washington and Moscow were now based on "mutual respect".

The Obama administration is following through with its rhetoric on engaging the rest of the world and using diplomacy as a means of affecting its foreign policy objectives. Unfortunately, this may happen at the expense of Russia’s human rights record. Hopefully the Kremlin will warm up enough to the White House for some significant foreign policy actions to take place and make this trade worthwhile.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Forgotten Continent?

I get it. President Obama has more than a full plate of foreign affairs that he is dealing with and trying to manage. From Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Copenhagen, missile defense systems in Europe and working with Russia, and now a trip to Oslo, our President's attention is in high demand. So maybe it makes sense that South America isn't at the forefront of concerns as far as foreign policy goes.


there are legitimate concerns and issues that should be addressed and not overlooked.

While the US has is focusing on pressuring Russia to pressure Iran, Venezuela's president is strategically making moves and alliances with those two countries. Chavez is focusing on making arms deals with Russia to acquire guns, jets, tanks, and helicopters while at the same time making friends with almost anyone who America doesn't like or vice versa. Such a move got little notice in the news except for Secretary of State Clinton stating the obvious that it is a "seriously challenge to stability" (The Economist, "Venezuela's Foreign Policy", September 17, 2009). Of course, I realize that Venezuela isn't as worrisome as a nuclear Iran and that it makes sense to be focusing on the more pressing issues. But simply for energy security regions, perhaps its not in America's interest for Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and other oil producing nations to be closely tied while America ignores it.

Furthermore, the coup in Honduras was a 'serious challenge to democracy' and, I believe, should have received more attention and criticism from the United States. Also, I think that most of Latin America finds it insulting that the only interest we have in Cuba is torturing terrorists there. Despite President's Obama to shut down Guantanamo within a year of taking office, no serous efforts have been made.

It's a precarious time in the world and a lot of serious demands on foreign policy. However, the US would do well to take a more vested interest in it's neighbors political environments rather than strictly focusing on the Middle East and Europe.

At least, South America can hope for the US's attention in 2016.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sovereignty & the Nuclear Threat

“Iran might be creating nuclear weapons; what are we going to do about it?” If this question has been debated once in the past month it’s been done thousands of times. In a venture into the hypothetical that most readers will find frivolous and some will find irrelevant, it remains important to discuss and keep in focus why this is a question at all. It has become clear that the goal of current global leadership is to halt or undermine any attempt by the Iranian government to use nuclear power to create weapons, and with good reason. Ahmadinejad’s administration has proved oppressive domestically and reckless abroad. What is viewed as Western meddling in the affairs of her neighbors has made Iran wary of allowing the domineering, overreaching powers to have a hand in any of its affairs. Acts such as the September 27 missile launch are likely designed to act as proof that, if you’ll excuse the expression, Iran’s colors don’t run; she won’t be dissuaded by harsh words from Uncle Sam. It follows then, that such demonstrations of Irani determination will likely continue if the West doesn’t back off (which we all know is not going to happen any time soon).

At this point, I think it’s important to play a little devil’s advocate and look at the situation with stark objectivity. What most policy makers, journalists, and observers have chosen to overlook is the issue of Iran’s national sovereignty. To many, such a concept seems archaic; the notion that a state can be openly hostile to most of the rest of the planet but remain untouched by other players because of its sovereignty seems like an argument from two centuries past. It is relevant today, however, because that sovereignty is exactly what Iran is struggling to maintain in a world of states with their noses in everybody else’s business. Iran has watched outside powers come into her neighborhood, do all kinds of damage, and radically alter the status quo. Realizing that those same powers are now increasingly wary of her own potential threat, Iran’s leaders are desperate to prove that they will not lay down and accept the same treatment that has been allowed to occur in the past.

Thus, we arrive at the discussion of Irani nuclear weaponry. At present, the United States and friends are devising the best way to “deal” with the Irani threat; in essence, how can they force Ahmadinejad to stop creating nuclear weapons (assuming he is) and prevent him from doing it in the future? This premise, however, ignores Iran’s basic necessity for sovereignty. According to the accepted notion of what constitutes a state and her areas of sovereignty, Iran’s government should have the freedom to use their nuclear capabilities in any way they see fit to benefit the nation. In such a case, what right do other states have to prevent her from defending her borders and her people? No nation desires to be bullied, and certainly not one like Iran with such a strong sense of historical pride.

In short, while the rest of the world certainly has justified cause for concern regarding a nuclear Iran, when dealing with her, leaders must be cautious. Treating Iran like a deeply mischievous child and slapping punishments on with barely concealed contempt and condescension will hardly solve the problem; in fact, it is more likely to make the situation worse. Iran must be treated like the sovereign nation she is, and discussions must appear to be balanced if progress is to be made. Only when she receives respect will she respect in return and be more likely to openly discuss efforts put forth by international parties.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Sending Messages

Last week’s class emphasized the idea that sending messages and understanding an adversary's "language" is essential for national security strategies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn't need a lesson in sending messages, but perhaps an approach for the Obama administration (and no less, policymakers in Israel) is to ensure itself that it understands Ahmadinejad's messages to the extent that it won't err in any reply. Namely, can we view the Iranian regime as a rational actor - in which case Drezner optimistically summarizes the first round of P5 + 1 negotiations under the realism view - perhaps with a grand strategy that exploits previous American mistakes, or do Ahmadinejad and friends exemplify crazy behavior (as user 0--0 implied in commenting to the previous post)? I would argue that whether or not Iran is rational is certainly not the only factor in determining the West's approach toward and forthcoming relationships with Iran, but it is nevertheless significant, especially as messages emanating from Tehran are often complex and conflicting.

The question posed is one that perhaps Mr. Ahmadinejad himself is unable to answer; in a recent interview with Newsweek, he asked many more questions than did the interviewer (when the interviewer posits that Stalin's crimes were equally atrocious as the Holocaust in order to elicit a response, Ahmadinejad replies with 10 consecutive questions and finally a statement about embargoes in Gaza). However, if Iran is indeed a rational actor, it may have incentives to hide or misrepresent its capabilities in the name of deterrence and to send certain mixed messages. For instance, does the highly-publicized enrichment facility in Qom further Iran's scientific goals in medicine, as its leader and equally ambiguously-spoken former Iranian IAEA representative proclaim, or is it and many other clandestine facilities part of a nuclear weapon-making scheme of which at least one report claims Iran is capable? And do Ahmadinejad's vitriolic statements against Jews represent a true hatred, or is this behavior meant to distance himself from his ostensibly Jewish past in an Islamic state? I'm not convinced that Ahmadinejad reads more American press than Iranian press, which he claims: "I don't read the [Iranian] press, so I would not know," among many other there's-no-way-that's-true statements.

These unanswerable questions, alongside many others analyzed by leaders in the West won't help to understand Ahmadinejad's true motives or rationality as an actor on the international stage. Instead, by considering the mixed messages and their implications of a rational or irrational Iran, the West (and particularly P5 +1 + Israel) can more carefully approach the negotiations table and the nuclear issue. While the U.S. may not bring much credibility in the eyes of Iran as a result of certain unsuccessful campaigns in the middle east, it is certainly obvious to the West how much Iran values its nuclear-related facilities. As Iran continually demonstrates its missile and nuclear capabilities, the West and its allies have to focus on what these messages (and the unsent ones) mean for diplomacy and security interests in the region.