Monday, November 30, 2009

Communication Connections in Afghanistan

It is certainly over ambitious to claim that the failures of U.S. forces in Afghanistan have all been due to a lack of use of effective strategic communication, however it can be argued that the delay of efficiency of our troops and operations has been directly due to such a deficiency. Members of the State Department who understand the region and state intimately on a cultural level have been pleading from the beginning that the government use more generous public relations tactics, rather than troop movements, to reach the people of Afghanistan.
As the President faces the looming decision regarding troop increases and possible goal reorientation, a well-constructed communication plan will be a must. General McChrystal has made clear the necessity of winning over the population and convincing them that the allied forces can offer better protection than the Taliban or Al Qaeda. If this is to be accomplished, we cannot solely rely on military officers to do all the talking; most officers have received little training in communication campaigns and those who have were limited to talking to the domestic media.
Talk has increased of the possibility of a civilian force to accompany the troops; all parties would be best served if these men and women were trained to accomplish, and focused on the success of, the strategic communication objectives so severely lacking in the current plan. To be effective, these communicators would need to be informed by integrative intelligence programs. We will need to rely on our special ops teams to gather information about what exactly the locals need most and what the Taliban can, or already do to garner their trust and collaboration. Allied forces need to prove to the population that they can be effective in providing sustainable protection and/or infrastructure. Once these needs are outlined, they need to be accomplished with close cooperation with local leaders and those with respect in the community. In fact, in situations where it is deemed safe enough, operations should be co-commanded by locals so they take a hand in the communication process to their people.
Though we certainly have barriers to overcome in communicating about this conflict to our own people and allies, it is important that at this time of momentous decision, the communication strategy to the Afghan public be considered foremost.


In response to HMSvictory on Nov. 23:

Your post highlights some interesting arguments about the growing separation of legislators from their constituents, and while I agree with your conclusion about the President needing to depend on informed and experienced advisors, I find grounds for the legislature to have involvement (however limited) in foreign policy decision-making as well.

First let us consider the general public in this conversation before moving on to their elected representatives. With regard to Afghanistan and foreign policy overall, constituents have little productive input to offer. The general population is predominantly ill-informed about the complexities of foreign policy issues. Furthermore, not only are the public ill-informed, but as long as daily life continues at the status quo, the masses care little. Akin to Roman “bread and circuses,” we have cheap gas and reality TV and BCS bowl games to pacify the 300+million. Roll tide.

I would argue that the flames of public interest in Afghanistan are fanned more by partisan 24-hour news media than sparked by genuine interest or concern. While the level of troop involvement is no light matter for consideration, and involves risking the lives of men and women from across the country, strategy decisions are best left to the President, military advisors and committees of congressional representatives with foreign policy interest and/or experience. They all have specialists, academics, and advisors on hand to provide insight and suggestions. In some situations, especially foreign policy, the role of elected officials is to do what they think is best.

Whether these recommendations are followed is another matter, but I would not trust the general public with the decision about how to proceed in Afghanistan. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-qqbaxcWDI&feature=fvw per Toby Keith.

Furthermore, from a realist perspective, the United States acts as a unitary actor, and while Congress and the federal government may have assumed power not intended for them by those who drafted the Constitution, matters of foreign policy are clearly a federal-level issue, not one for individual states to debate.

Finally, and most importantly, the primary responsibility of the legislature in matters of military involvement is not one of casting the strategy, but of holding the President in check. Balancing the power of the executive branch is a responsibility intended two centuries ago, and should be more utilized today. So while there may be a glut of “partisan bombast,” the legislative branch plays a valuable role in foreign policy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Iranian Defiance


I realize that this is a horse that has been beaten to a pulp, but I need to get some licks in. Iran has approved plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities. I equate this to a small child who has been told he can't have any ice cream, and then screams, "As soon as I turn 18, I'm soooo going to buy all the ice cream I want. If fact, I'm going to buy 10 big, uranium enriching ice creams!" Well, maybe the metaphor needs a little work, but you get the point.
Iran is being told it can't have something, and has decided to act in defiance rather than comply. Should we be worried? I don't think so. These enrichment facilities take years to build. By then, sanctions will have taken their toll, or Israel will have worked its magic (bombed Iran). I do believe, however, that we should try to restrict the latter as best we can, and give the former time to work. A previous post argued that an oil sanction might not be effective, as smugglers are willing to provide oil at a premium. I would argue that even if smugglers bypass NATO measures to prevent such activities, Iran would still be significantly perturbed at paying such prices.

Still, even while I'm unimpressed at Iran's lofty ambitions, I am concerned that it might not be as globally isolated as it seems. Iran's recent play-date with Brazil indicates that some countries, mainly Latin American ones, may be willing to trade ideology for certain economic advantages. For several years now, Brazil has been operating an automotive factory under a joint venture with Iran. Iran is also considering loans to assist Ecuador in constructing hydroelectric power plants. Cuba and Venezuela have shown support as well. "So what?" you ask... Well, I'm glad you did. These economic benefits could be provided by the U.S. rather than Iran. This would further isolate Ahmadinejad and limit whatever backing he currently enjoys. For example, we could lift our embargo with Cuba- that would really show Iran what's up. Point being, these Latin American countries are enablers (shout-out to Dr. Phil), and we should be doing what we can to prevent them from being so.

Iran is cornered, and is looking for countries who have it's back. Obama should be doing what he can to ensure that Iran has limited leverage in this little quagmire. This includes a hiking ban on anywhere in the middle east, just to be safe. Kidding, but seriously... The U.S. should also do what it can to court Russia and China. This strategy is already bearing fruit; both Russia and China voted in favor of a recent resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding Iran halt work on it's newly discovered enrichment facility near Qom.

In conclusion, Iran's decision to construct 10 more enrichment facilities should simply be an "I told you so" from the U.S. to China and Russia. Other than that, the U.S. should continue to do what it can to alienate Ahmadinejad and convince him that non-proliferation is better than harsh sanctions. Hopefully, this will be the case. Otherwise, we risk Iran withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty. North Korea did this in 2003 and soon after produced enough fuel for eight or more nuclear weapons. While I seriously doubt that this would ever occur, as Israel would mostly likely conduct preemptive military action, it's still being discussed by a number of Iranian political leaders, and deserves our attention.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Russian Agenda?

I find it interesting how much talk there is as of late about Russian arms control and investments. Things that seem rather contradictory in nature, yet existent none the less. What kind of message does this send about the willingness of the the Russian government to really come to an agreement on arms reduction treaties, and how long will those agreements be upheld? Does the dwindling population and heating political world climate give her need to bolster defenses?

The ongoing START (strategic offensive arms reduction) treaties have reached an argumentative halting point in the recent weeks. Particularly, the US desire to monitor Russian Topols and reduction requirements have anything but pleased the Russian counterparts in the negotiations. The Topols of course being the Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. These were developed in the 90's after the termination of the "Pioneer" missiles under the Treaty of Elimination of Intermediate and Short Range Missiles, and have further been developed into the improved Topol-M mobile missile. Russian negotiators argue that there is not as much of a need for such strict regulations of these missiles as there are for say nuclear submarine controls. Furthering their point by saying that since the US does not have as an extensive supply of similar arms that the restriction is unilateral, obvious in July when the negotiations concluded with the Russian anticipated reduction under half of that which the US had proposed. Negotiations are still under way and a new version of the START treaty is planned on being signed by Decemebr 5th.

Ultimately the point is that with such proposed purchases as the French warship, during this time of arms negotiations, is there a relative message that Russia is sending. Maybe not to the US directly but to its surrounding adversaries? The sale, for one, would mark the supposed first sale of arms to the Russians, by a NATO member (a founding one for that matter) since the fall of the Soviet Union. Furthermore there is great concern from countries such as Georgia and the Ukraine. They are concerned with the underlying reasons for such a purchase, curious about the ammunition capabilities and so forth. The US has voiced its lack of concern for the pending purchase, but do we have indeed have a need to be concerned? It would mark the largest Russian expenditure on an arms purchase. An expenditure that could be invested in the Russian economy directly, employing the local ship builders and modernizing the building market. Is this not a venue that would yield greater results for the country as a whole? Whats the rush for control of such ships?

The arms agreements with Russia and her consistent negotiations for more missiles and less oversight partnered with the search abroad for enabling the modernization of her Navy does not seem to give much concern to Washington. At least none that has yet to be expressed. But is it a sign for the future of Russia's intentions? The fact that she voiced earlier in the year that if provoked would be willing to use nuclear arms as an initial means of defense only adds to the concern. Many voice that there is no need to fret, this all may be an unrelated series of endeavors, I put the question out there: What if they are not?

Another Intelligence Failure

On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its first resolution on Iran in almost four years. The resolution condemned Iran for blocking inquiries into its nuclear program and demanded that they cease activity at their Qom site. The resolution is a signal that patience with Iran is running out, as a plan to enrich uranium overseas has all but fallen through. Evidence of an Iranian nuclear program includes drawings, computer simulations, and documents that show work on nuclear cores, explosions designed to start a nuclear chain reaction, and simulated detonations at 2,000 ft. Iran has numerous planned and existing facilities for its nuclear program.

Condemnation by the IAEA and talk of an ongoing nuclear program comes just two years after a National Intelligence Estimate (released in December 2007) said that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The 2007 NIE is yet another intelligence failure for the U.S. intelligence community. The credibility of the intelligence community seemed to be rebounding from the intelligence failures of 9/11 and WMD in Iraq. The intelligence community has underestimated nuclear weapons programs before including in Iraq (pre-Gulf War), North Korea, India, and Pakistan. However, what most people remember is the overestimation of Iraq’s capabilities in a 2002 NIE that led to invasion in 2003. That overestimation drew so much criticism and outrage directed at the intelligence community that perhaps they became gun shy when it came to the NIE on Iran.

Whatever the reason for the inaccurate 2007 NIE, it gave China and Russia an excuse to reject sanctions and made many countries grow complacent about Iran’s nuclear program. The NIE was a victory for Iran, which was able to insist that its purposes were peaceful; the NIE vindicated Iran’s defiance of sanctions and efforts to stop its nuclear program (after all it is technically allowed to have a civilian nuclear program). Now we are starting to pay for those years of complacency as the Obama administration is desperately trying to get China and Russia on board to hammer out a deal to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Russia's Making Friends

I'm not including a picture because I'm writing this post on the world's slowest computer.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Francios Fillon attended a Franco-Russian summit today to sign “at least 25” agreements between French companies, Russian companies, and the Russian government. The French electricity company EDF took a ten percent stake in Gazprom’s South Stream project, and France’s energy utility company GDF Suez moved closer to taking a nine percent stake in the Nord Stream project. Both of these gas pipelines circumvent the Nabucco pipeline which would take gas to Europe from the Caspian Sea region, and which was backed by the United States and the EU. Other outcomes of the meeting included an alliance between French carmaker Renault and Russian Avtovaz, agreements between French and Russian pharmaceutical companies, and (perhaps most importantly) the possible selling of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia.

So from the French side of the table, we can deduce that the French administration is interested in expanding its business interests in Russia and is unconcerned about the possible geopolitical consequences of tying its energy grid to its Eastern neighbor. In the past, Russia has had a tendency to shut off gas to Europe, but they did so as a measure to punish Ukraine and Belarus for stealing gas, not to punish Europe or flex its geopolitical muscles in front of NATO. A pipeline that circumvents Eastern Europe may provide unimpeded gas flows to Western Europe. On the other hand, if Russia was not bothered by punishing Belarus for a couple of days at the price of some lost gas revenue, why would it not do the same for the rest of Europe?

From the Russian side of the table, we can deduce that Putin and company have no problem looking to the west for business opportunities, and also that this administration has an interest in reforming its military (which was thoroughly embarrassed after the Georgia war last year). The Mistral class ship that Russia is looking to purchase is designed for the type of power projection that Russia is trying to exercise in its near abroad. There was a very good article in Newsweek published a few days ago that described President Medvedev’s and Prime Minister Putin’s reform of Russia’s bloated military. The reforms under consideration include ending conscription, reducing the number of military personnel, getting ride of the top-heavy command structure (currently, there are 2.5 officers for every enlisted soldier), procuring new equipment such as breathable clothing and night vision goggles for all soldiers, and organizing the army into agile 2,000 soldier brigades rather than divisions of 5,000 troops. Russia has even been showing off a streamlined 5,000 soldier strong regional rapid response force. It has also demonstrated to its highly subsidized military industrial complex that it willing to look overseas to procure modern equipment (aside from the French ship, Russia has also purchased firearms from Austria and Britain, and aerial drones from Israel).

What these events tell me is that (a) Russia has made becoming a regional power with influence in Western Europe a priority, (b) France is ok with that, and (c) France is not really bothered that its actions may irritate the United States and NATO’s Eastern European members (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland have all expressed grievances with Russia). The US has even agreed to provide some military assistance to Georgia. It seems to me that France’s penchant for independence is having some rather profound effects on its neighbors, and its not really paying attention to the security concerns of Eastern Europe.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Dead End" Iran


On Thursday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, said that efforts to investigate Iran's nuclear capabilities had "effectively reached a dead end." In the past, ElBaradei had privately spoken about Iran's refusal to answer the IAEA's questions about weapons but had stopped short of rebuking the country for fearing of halting any improvements in negotiations.


Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied a P5+1 proposal in which Iran would send its low-enriched (3%) uranium to other countries for further enrichment. Instead, Mottaki said he would consider an exxhange of uranium for nuclear fuel inside Iran. However, Mottaki did not agree to any exchange. Some contend that this is a hesitation tactic used to buy time and test the seriousness of the international community's threats of consequences. The consequences, which in this case are sanctions, may not be as effective as the P5+1 nations may hope. In order for sanctions to work, the target country must be economically dependent on the countries issuing the sanctions, the pain inflicted will be significant enough to cause change, and that the target country be willing to change rather than suffer or start war.


So would these sanctions even be effective? Sanctions on gasoline are thought to be the most effective; however, there are some who think that the flow of gasoline into the country will not be decisively shut off as smugglers are prepared to supply the good at higher prices.


The US or Israel may becoming more prepared to attack Iran's nuclear development facilities. On Sunday, Iran prepared for this exact scenario. Perhaps they are asking for it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Anticipating Obama's Strategy

With President Obama expected to announce a 30,000 – 40,000 troop increase for Afghanistan on Tuesday night, it seems likely that Obama has cast his lot with the COINsters. The amount of troops expected would seem to rule out the “Biden Plan.”

It will be interesting to see what sort of a strategy Obama announces at West Point on Tuesday. Indications are that troops may pull back from remote areas to more concentrated, urban areas to focus on the ink spot strategy of creating secure areas that spread as their neighbors observe the benefits of cooperating with the coalition forces.

Karl Slaikeu devised a plan he calls the Oil Spot Plus that addresses the specific difficulties of conducting counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Slaikeu’s contribution to traditional COIN is including specific elements of Afghan culture in his calculus. He says we should start with an endpoint in mind at every level of the operation – the endpoint for American troops, the endpoint for the Afghan government, as well as the endpoint for tribal famers. Keeping these considerations in mind will help focus American forces on the incentives and means that are useful in reaching those endpoints.

Slaikeu also focuses on selecting “oil spot” villages with regard to security conditions and service needs. Forging early victories will shift the center of gravity away from the insurgents. Slaikeu hopes that the success of the oil spot villages will entice Taliban forces to stop fighting and negotiate with the Afghan government.

Slaikeu’s contributions to COIN strategy, especially in tailoring it to the specific conditions of Afghanistan, are worthwhile. However, the center of gravity argument has a troublesome parallel with Iraq. In Tom Ricks’ “The Gamble,” Ricks quoted General Ray Odierno in late 2008 as saying that the Americans had picked the low-hanging fruit in Iraq. The remaining areas were more heavily divided, and would be harder to secure. While shifting momentum in our favor would be an important step in the right direction, it leaves the potential for a situation in which American forces begin to pull out before the “oil spot” has spread to the most troublesome areas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What if...

This post is intended more for your input and opinion rather than me making a point... thoughts, comments, objections are welcome.

With the environment in Afghanistan deteriorating, I can't help but wonder what the situation would be like if the Soviets had won when they invaded the country. As I understand it, the mujahideen succeeded largely because of the support from the United States. Such support included financial and Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, which were useful against Soviet aircraft, as was depicted in Charlie Wilson's War.

So the question, I'll pose is what if the US hadn't provided the support and Soviet invasion has been successful. The USSR collapsed a few years later. Is it possible that Afghanistan would've ended up like the surrounding former Soviet states? Obviously, those countries aren't terribly successful, but they look alot better than Afghanistan does.

Maybe its a moot point because it's hard to imagine that the US would've allowed increased Soviet expansion there, but I think its an interesting scenario to consider.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Bomb Me Bro. Don't Bomb Me.

Starting Sunday, Nov. 22nd, Iran began a five day war game exercise that will test the readiness of their air defenses against potential Israeli strikes. The games will cover 230,000 sq miles, or a third of the country. Stating that they will “retaliate with missiles strikes in Tel Aviv” -- Iran is flexing its strength. Traditional deterrence theory would suggest this move should be viewed as a defensive measure, not aggressive. They are showing what they got.

This is the second time in the past two months that Iran has conducted these types of exercises. Back in September Iran tested their long-range Shahab-3 missiles. The question is, how will this move will be viewed by the Israelis and others as negotiations continue to falter on Iran’s nuclear program?

Israel and the US have just concluded their own war game exercises. The bi-annual games were conducted at the beginning of November and focused on Israeli response to missile threats -- coordinating long-range radars and Patriot anti-missile devices.

Israel has continually warned the international community if negotiations fail to prevent the development of Iranian nuclear weapons force must be exercised. Is that a bluff or a real threat?

Clearly Israel is willing to strike targets with air attacks, but can they really attack Iranian nuclear facilities without retaliation on their domestic population? If not, then would Israel really attack? Does the US have any veto power to stop them? All of this instability is creating serious questions for US foreign policy in the region. If Tel Aviv is hit with missiles what will the Israeli response be?

This is not to mention how Iran might respond against the US if their sites are attacked. With troops well in range of the Shahab missiles Iran could strike US forces as well.

Going forward this is a serious diplomatic problem for the US. It will require bolstering Israeli deterrence – as demonstrated in the recent war games – keeping Israel pacified, and moving forward with Iranian negotiations. Iran’s war games are aimed at showing their potential and should be viewed as defensive in essence, but provocative in context. Iran does not want a major conflict, but it does want international autonomy. Bottom line, do not let Israel bomb Iran.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Congress & Afghanistan

As the President wrestles with the delicate decision of how to handle the war in Afghanistan, individual Congress members have eagerly put forth their own opinions on the situation while simultaneously pledging support for Obama “no matter what he chooses.” The President has met with members of Congress on this issue and he has supposedly considered plans submitted by Congressmen as viable options.
For the sake of debate, if nothing else, I think it’s important (or at least intriguing) to evaluate the role of Congress in this decision. As representatives of the American people, their inclusion seems a no-brainer. If more men are to be sent into combat, their envoys should be acting on their behalf and therefore be present to help decide if they should go, and if so, how many.
I would argue, however, that today’s Congress is not in a position to successfully perform this task. Though the legislative branch of our government was designed to represent and argue for the populous in times such as these, the group has strayed far from its inception, most notably in issues of federal control over issues that are best decided at the state or local level. For the most part (as there are notable exceptions), these men and women have come to believe that the people of their state elected them do whatever they felt was best; but not necessarily best for their state or representative area. This shift of focus from the needs of the electors to the opinions of the elected has drastically reduced the efficiency and legitimacy of such a system. Therefore, when presented with situations such as those in Afghanistan, the modern Congress does not look home, to the men and women who would fight, but inward, to their own opinions, caucuses and committees.
In short, the Congress as it was designed two centuries ago would most definitely, unarguably be included by the executive in such a decision. Today’s Congress, however, has gotten so far from those original roots that input from that group is rarely any more than partisan bombast. In my opinion, President Obama is wise to keep his consultation of our legislature to a minimum and deal more frequently with those who are not solely determined to stick to party lines, but those who have a first-hand appreciation of the situation on the ground and have a more vested interest in the success or failure of Afghanistan as a state.

Less is More...Maybe

One of the major changes post-9/11 was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Part of the motivation for creating this organizational body and its constituent offices and leadership positions was to streamline the communication and response components of the myriad parties that play a role in protecting the territorial United States and its citizens. Many blamed inefficiencies and miscommunication as key components that hampered effective prevention of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Arguably, the US leadership continues to operate in a framework that is not effectively suited to the challenges and threats that face the United States in the 21st Century. Since 9/11, it appears that band-aids are all we have time for—a triage approach with each challenge that arises, rather than taking a careful and long-term approach to transforming some of the institutions that exist to protect the United States. At first glance the Department of Homeland Security seems only to duplicate more of the already existing redundancy in the national security apparatus. However, the motivation for the department’s creation is sound; collectively, our agencies and institutions under the national security umbrella can achieve more together than in isolated existence. But currently, DHS is a resource in the rough.

If institutions develop their own culture, President Obama, as well as any member of the Committee of Homeland Security would be wise to consider how they can shape the culture of this (relatively) new department. Carefully selected leadership is essential for success, and the leaders within DHS need to be fully invested with the power to assess and make suggestions regarding the streamlining of the US national security state. We have the means to prune some of our spending, inefficiencies, and duplicity among agencies, but it requires a willingness to overcome institutional resistance to change.

Or…perhaps instead of working through DHS, each pre-existing institution should be encouraged to innovate to meet new challenges. Transformation can come from within or without, but either way, we must think long-term rather than quick-fix. During the financial crisis – many made arguments that certain financial institutions were “too big to fail.” The US Federal Government is both too important and too big to fail, but it is also at times too big to be effective. Therefore, our national leadership should be asking… “Can less be more?”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Negative reactions to Brazil hosting Iran

 New York Times Article
 
Political specialists are predicting a major fallout between Brazil and the (other) world powers due to the former’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit the country this week. They say that such a positive show of diplomacy will undermine the multilateral efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program. Such a fallout, according to the article, could result in a failure for Brazil to retain any respect as a world power.

I find that assertion asinine for many reasons. First, talks between Brazil and Iran isn’t a new thing. According to the article, last year the two countries did roughly $2 billion in trade and Petrobras is helping Iran develop its oil fields. This isn’t surprising as Brazil is a major player in the oil trade. After the discovery of off-shore oil Brazil was considered as a potential member of OPEC. Brazil is projected to be a net exporter of oil by the end of this year, largely due to the high production and use of sugar-based ethanol.

Second, who better to talk sense into Ahmadinejad than President da Silva? Brazil embodies the best-case scenario that Iran could strive for. It is constitutionally illegal in Brazil to engage in the making of nuclear weapons, but they still manage to maintain a peaceful and strong nuclear power program.  Though this program only accounts for 2% of the country’s power, they are in the process of building at least three more nuclear plants. Iran must also understand that da Silva influencial figure who can raise Iran’s profile given the right relationship.

Third, Brazil insists this visit is focused on increased trade and Middle East peace. As active peacekeepers in the region since 1956, it is no surprise that a rising world power is just as invested in the peace process as the current heavy-weights. It’s even possible that a fresh face towards a resolution of Israel/Palestine would help the conflict.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, engagement with Iran does nothing but support President Obama’s initiatives. There is no point to not listening to our rivals if we can gain an understanding of their position and values. Brazil is a strong ally of the United States and one visit with a rouge leader can’t change that. Brazil is allowing peaceful protests of Ahmadinejad in all the major cities, again an example of democracy and peace that we hope will spread to Iran and other authoritarian states. We shouldn’t see this meeting as a sign of betrayal, but as just another step by the world’s leaders to come to a peaceful agreement with Iran.

"This is what you do as a creditor."

In a recent segment of American Public Television’s WorldFocus, Marcus Mabry of the New York Times and Roben Farzad of BuisnessWeek discussed the Chinese-American relationship in light of Obama’s trip to Asia. No conversation about contemporary US-China relations would be complete without turning, however speculatively, to a nebulous discussion about US global decline in the face of a rapidly rising China. Yet, sharing the conviction that China is bound to surpass the United States as a world power, Farzad and Mabry's discussion actually explored a much ignored element of the dynamic between China's rise and the relative decline of the US power and global influence – possible metrics for this dynamic change.

With roughly $2 trillion in US assets, China is the largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor nation. Like any creditor, China is continually evaluating the risk of its investment, and may eventually impose conditions upon its debtor. At what point will this happen? For Farzad, such actions by the Chinese are “a natural extension of the current relationship and almost inevitable.” The recent rumblings about the price tag of US health care reform and inquires into the US appropriations policy towards Afghanistan are to be expected since “like any cold-eyed investor, [the Chinese] are worried about their investment.”

By virtue of the their status as the largest creditor, will China have a say in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan, or how much the US will be able to spend of its own treasure? For Mabry, once the opinions of Beijing begin to influence Washington’s strategic decisions, especially those directly affecting national security, the decline in US global power will become evident. This would be the real measure of the decline in US global vis-a-vis China.

In some sense, as Farzad claims, China is already an “imprimatur on US [foreign] policy.” In many cases, China is the “chief obstacle and chief facilitator.” Examples include US policies toward Iran and North Korea, which necessitate Beijing's approval in order to be effective. However, China's influence regarding US policies toward Iran and North Korea are better explained as the result of China's permanent seat on the UN Security Council and not it's status as a creditor to the United States. Nevertheless, Mabry and Farzad offer up for consideration an interesting benchmark for the decline in US global stature relative to China. China may not have a say in Washington’s Afghan policy or domestic health care reform this time. But can we be certain that such internal meddling is not around the corner?

A Lame Duck Wannabe


One week remains until scheduled elections in Honduras take place. With Honduran President Zelaya still taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy, the Supreme Court, Congress and the de facto government seem happy to act in accordance to the U.S. State Department's policy that the United States will recognize the November 29 elections if they are conducted appropriately. In other words, the U.S. doesn't mind if Zelaya is reinstated before then or not. Therefore, Congress and the Supreme Court can take their time (the newly elected leader will take office the 27th of January) in deciding the legitimacy of the coup, whether Zelaya should be reinstated, etc. Naturally, Zelaya is calling for either a boycott of the election or for its postponement (or he will legally contest it) until after a reinstatement decision by Congress scheduled for December 2nd, only days following the election.

This comes after the poorly-crafted U.S.-backed Tegucigalppa-San Jose Accord with the de facto government that was supposed to restore power to Zelaya broke down because it failed to include a deadline for restoration of power. Clearly, the State Department's position that elections will be recognized as long as Zelaya is restored in a "timely way" incentivizes the de facto leadership to not rush in Zelayas reinstatement and control the elections which many argue legitimizes the coup. Indeed, the de facto government has already begun stationing military units around the country and has already taken control at least one television station - Channel 36 is now broadcasting cowboy movies and pornography.

Meanwhile, a number of other countries including Spain, Brazil and Argentina have stated they will not acknowledge the upcoming elections if Zelaya is not restored to power (which doesn't help U.S.-Brazilian diplomatic efforts). These conditions are likely to result in electoral violence and a distorted result at the very least as some voters may scared to vote, many of Zelaya's supporters claim they will boycott the election, and several candidates have even withdrawn. Despite its past failures in Honduras, the State Department should move forward and take concrete steps to help carry out safe, free and fair elections in order to legitimize the future Honduran government. The U.S. needs to recognize that despite how many times it says the Honduras situations needs to be solved by the Hondurans, the U.S. has inserted itself if in it and Honduras needs support and assistance. Without international recognition, clear results and a safe voting environment, the election could continue the current political holding pattern, which unquestionably hurts the Honduran people both economically and socially.

2 Much G2?

President Obama recently finished up a three day visit to China in order to court China's cooperation on a number of foreign policy issues, but such a trip didn't do much to re-assure India of its relationship with the United States. Although President Obama and President Hu Jintao refrained (thankfully) from using the phrase G-2, such was the tone of the visit.

I understand the importance on getting China on board with the direction that the U.S. desires. Almost every issue that the United States is pursuing globally relies on support and cooperation from Beijing - economic crisis, climate crisis, North Korea and Iran crisis, etc.

Personally, I think the President did a much better job in China than you might read about and wasn't even offended at Obama's respectful bow to the Emperor of Japan. But let's not forget about how strategic India might become to the interests of the United States, especially, if the War in Afghanistan is actually a proxy for keeping Pakistan stable.

Health relationships with India are extremely important - increasingly so, as the U.S. becomes more involved in the region. Our growing connection with China should not, at the same time, marginalize India and put them on the back burner. If Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, the United States will have to rely on a positive relationship with New Delhi to prevent the domino effect of violence. It's not hard to imagine a city in India -Mumbai perhaps- being attacked by terrorists from a neighboring country -Pakistan perhaps. It's not hard to imagine because it already did happen this time last year. Thankfully, both India showed more restraint and patience in response to the terrorist attacks than did America's last administration.

The Financial Times quoted a south Asia expert saying that, "The Indians don't trust this White House. They're already pining for the Bush years."

Hopefully relations on that bad yet. Let's hope Obama's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is able to convince the Indians of the U.S.'s commitment to them and their involvement within the region.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The War at Home

We hear so much talk about the growing bureaucracy and the development of new agencies, even when there is recognized overlap of function between so many. We hear about the budget strains and how much we spend to bailout corporate America, how much we spend in foreign aid and reconstruction. what it boils down to is, that the United States spends a lot of money, especially when it comes to defense, especially when it comes to war...

There is a large pool of very important people that are, in a big way, forgotten about. Those that are out in the world fighting with the USA brand on their arm and others that solemnly come home to us in flag draped caskets, these are the ones not forgotten, these are the soldiers we think of everyday, the ones that are plastered all over out television and computer screens. What about the soldiers that come home from these wars, the willing and able that have made it through the battles? The individuals with families and homes and worries just as ours that more often than not have a heavier burden to bare that goes unseen. This is the burden that causes them to jump at the sound of a pen dropping to the floor, to go into panic at the sound of fire works bursting in air, that cringe and succumb to the flow of nightmares during a gun salute. 1 in 5 soldiers returning from their first deployment will return home with some form of combat stress or PTSD that often goes unnoticed in their mental screening when preparing to come home.

The Veterans Mental Health Act was signed into law a year ago this past October. Still, it is outrageous the barriers that veterans still are facing to be able to have access to the treatment they need. They include the horrible time delays, months and years sometimes, to getting approved for the treatment, the travel problems in getting to an offering facility and the fact that many times some opportunities are not widely promoted. This is all for those that actually attempt to seek help as many are too concerned about the added stress of dealing with the VA or the stigma that plagues our soldiers, making them think it will damage their record making them appear weak or crazy. The combat stress including anything from violent outbursts to the increasing attempts and successful acts of suicide. This year has already topped the charts for the number of confirmed stress related suicides among US soldiers. Furthermore the increasing time delays of treatment have contributed to PTSD plaguing some 15-40% more individuals for the rest of their lives. Something more needs to be done.

As the current administration deliberates on new troop requests the very well being of our soldiers also needs to be taken into account. With every additional deployment the likelihood of extensive stress disorders increases, in some accounts by almost 60%. So as many debate the number of troops to send don't forget about the fact that our volunteer military is in short supply at the moment, and with every increase more and more soldiers are deployed on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th times and it goes on. In one account dealing with the highly reported resignation of Matthew Hoh he remarks that he was "strongly motivated by the mental anguish he had experience since returning home". In this new warfare there is no down time. Improvised bombs and massive amounts of suicide bombers allow no time to let down ones guard, always aware, always suspicious.

If the US finds that is is necessary, as it very well seems, to send in more troops to Afghanistan and sustained Iraq, there needs to be a grand amount of attention paid and money invested in the aid for these troops once they return. The efforts made thus far are no where near enough; Not so long as year after year the suicide rate continues to rise. Not so long as soldiers recollect the inhumanities of war in their own homes night after night, as a senior strategist for the pentagon, Maginnis states "we, as humans, have a tough time sometimes dealing with out inhumanity towards other men". Soldiers spend their 12 month deployments being shot at or thinking about being shot at, and coming home, more often than not, is not enough on its own to treat 12 months worth of training, especially not when they know they are to but return once again to that place.

So as veterans day came and went everyone hailed those that are fighting and have fought but many left it at that. The reality is that government, and even the private sector needs to build up its arsenal for keeping these volunteers, mind you, safe from themselves. The aid needs to be more timely and more adequate. Veterans do what they can for each other but they should'nt be the only ones. If we cant help to provide for the very men and woman we are sending overseas, what kind of outlook does that give for our ability to help and be responsible for those that we are "liberating"? What does that say when we can't provide for the mental stability for those that have sworn to protect us? Don't forget about our men and woman that are out there getting their hands dirty...

LTTE: Dead or Bound for a Comeback?


Headlines broke this May that the protracted civil war in Sri Lanka, between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was finally over. The SLA effectively crushed the final holdout of LTTE forces in the northeast of the island nation. However, according to some such as Robert Haddick from FP, believe that the war may not be completely over. This speculation is due to persistent trends that spurred the conflict in the first place: the marginalization of the Tamil minority.

Per The Utility of Force by General Rupert Smith, "today's conflict, especially the ethnic variety, are never actually resolved." Although this outlook is rather bleak, as ethnic rivalries are inevitable and rather evident across the continents, it may be the best explanation for the future situation of Sri Lanka. The conflict stems from the feud between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority. With the defeat of the Tigers, and the (hopeful) discontinuation of the bombing of villages and civilian/medical/Red Cross/NGO buildings, one would assume a morale shift for the Tamils, perhaps not entirely warm to the government but a bit better.

The Sri Lankan government could put their country on a path toward reconciliation with the Tamils (in all honesty, they have been rather brutish to these poor people). Unfortunately, this is not even remotely the case. Since the ceasefire, hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees have been placed in farm complexes (read: internment camps), behind barbed wire and with less-than-desirable conditions. The international community has been up in arms about this and until just a few seconds ago, the Sri Lankan government was not budging on the camp issue. Now, the government claimed they will release the Tamil "prisoners" beginning December 1st of this year. Finally.

Despite this development, the future does not look bright for the Sri Lankan domestic security situation. The Tamil people will remember these camps. They will certainly remember the targeted bombing by the SLA earlier this year. They will remember, and continue to experience, persecution and discrimination throughout the country. The disenfranchised are bound to resurrect old tendencies and tactics, though the movement may be dormant for a short period. It is likely that we have not seen the last of the Tigers nor civil war.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Ridiculous Answer to a Silly Question

In a recent moment of jocularity, a Patterson School professor sent out a waggish list of sample comprehensive exam questions, among them: “Which countries constitute the “Axis of Obsolescence?

Obsolescence is defined as the state of being no longer useful, current or desired. I’ll kick off the Axis, and hopefully we’ll have enough additional contributions to form a new international organization I call the Quad U-N (Union of Unwanted, Unnecessary and Untimely Nations). First among the obsolete? Moldova.

What happened, Moldova? We used to be cool…

Things were really heating up between us after you declared your independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. You had a big fight with your ex over the Transdnestrian region on your border with Ukraine, and it got ugly, but you made it through. You had elections, you introduced a market economy and liberalized prices…. I mean sure, times were tough, but you powered through, and from 2001 to 2008 you were doing so well! I mean, stable annual growth between 5% and 10% annually? So hot!

But then all of a sudden, it was like you’re the old you again. You go and elect a majority of Communist Party members to parliament last April. You said it was a mistake, you dissolved parliament and said you’d never do it again, but three months later, you vote to send a plurality of Communists right back to parliament.

I mean, it’s obvious to everyone that Russia is just using you as a buffer against the West. It’s weird enough that their troops are still right next door in Transdniestria “keeping the peace.” I bet that’s exactly what they said about Georgia, too. This is going to make it really awkward if you still want to come to NATO with us, let alone get with the EU.

Whatever. We never really wanted you anyway. It’s obvious you were never over the Soviet Union, or whatever it’s calling itself now. We gave you support, we hooked you up with our friends in Europe who totally gave you a loan and some odd jobs to do. When we said those three special words, Most Favored Nation, I thought it was going to last forever. But you just don’t have the internal political unity to keep this relationship on track. You’re stuck in the past and you’re just not useful anymore.

Baby, you’re obsolete.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Defeating Divisiveness At Home & Securing the State

Sometime in the still vague future the men accused of orchestrating the devastating events of September 11, 2001 will be put on trial. In the past week, it was decided that those men would face a civilian court in lower Manhattan, where the attacks were focused. U.S. Attorneys from Manhattan and eastern Virginia, home to the Pentagon, will be responsible for prosecuting the case as a team. This series of decisions has brought many raised eyebrows and much worried wringing of hands. Though President Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay has been hanging around for some time now, for many it has remained a difficult-to-imagine proposition. With the announcement that some of the Bay’s most volatile and threatening inmates will be leaving its confines to face public trial, many, from civilians to government officials, have raised considerable concerns about the wisdom of allowing these men a day in a public courtroom and taking them out of their high-security vacuum. There is worry about the trial inspiring anti-American propaganda (or worse, action) from sympathetic extremists, or about the move to a little-used, less-secure Illinois prison enabling the possibility of escape.
Of course, those that put forth these concerns offer no other solutions, but are doing sufficiently well at getting their names and comments in newspapers and scaring others into sharing their fears. The problem with these trepidations is that reverting to the opposite position would certainly irritate just as many individuals (in truth, many of the same individuals). To leave the men in Guantanamo Bay and deal with them in military tribunals where they would most certainly be dealt a more severe hand, would get those ever-reliable activist groups in a tizzy over unfair living conditions and the lack of a democratic trial by peers.
As we are now discussing the structure of the national security state, this issue is of primary importance. Regardless of how individual citizens or policy makers may feel, the decision has already been made to give these men a public trial and move them (most likely) to Illinois. The path that has been chosen is a civilian one. Inciting fear and concern for the impact of such a decision must now be put aside. It is thus the responsibility of citizens and officials to ensure that the United States puts forth a strong unified face against those who have attacked us in the past. Offering up shirking fears about the wisdom of the decision made by the Attorney General only displays the divisiveness possible in the American public. Such actions do not deter those who seek to harm our nation, but instead encourage them. It is rare that the American people have something they can all have a hand in effecting; the public trial of the men who are accused of killing our neighbors, friends, and family members is certainly one. We must prove to these perpetrators, as well as those who aspire to their actions, that we will give them a fair trial with a just outcome and prove that on issues of our national security, this nation stands as one.
In short, if the American people will support those attorneys from Manhattan and eastern Virginia and remain staunch believers in the effectiveness and efficiency of our judicial system, any fears still maintained will be proved unnecessary and divisiveness overcome. In doing so, each citizen has a hand in making our state stronger and more secure.

Israel Wants a Pain Ray, too!


The "Pain Ray," was developed by the Pentagon to provide a new form of weaponry to debilitate an enemy without causing significant bodily injury. These Active Denial Systems emit microwaves to heat the skin and cause intense pain but are "generally harmless." However, ADS has run up against approval issues from the Pentagon - despite years of human testing (how terrible would it be to be that private/"volunteer"?). Though the US military may not see these weapons in action any time soon, Israel is attempting to make headway on the use of the technology.

As opposed to the US system, which is pretty huge and takes hours to heat up in preparation for firing, Israel is championing a hand-held version which can be used like a taser (immediate use). The significant drawback to the smaller version is the radius affected: the US system covers an entire area but the Israeli version only hits a 100 feet ahead and four inches across, which only works for individual targets. Dr. Moshe Einat, the head of the Israeli research team from the University of Judea and Samaria, claims they have achieved a "unique know-how" to turn the pain ray technology into a smaller, portable version. Beyond this, it carries a meager price tag of $250,000. In the defense world, that's pennies.

Danger Room cites these Israeli developments (not by the IDF but by a university group) as a signal that other countries - Russia, China, anywhere else - could also harness and employ this technology in combat, or otherwise. This can lead to further issues of restraining the use of ADS technologies.

I perceive another problem with the Israelis obtaining a pain ray - use on the populations of Gaza and the West Bank. Unless Israel engages in an armed conflict anytime soon (which everyone hopes won't happen), the only feasible use would be in the Palestinian conflict. This is complicated by Israel's human rights record toward their Arab neighbors, which is not exactly untarnished.

The most useful role I foresee for ADS lies in domestic security,specifically police and paramilitary, rather than exclusively military. LAPD has already expressed serious interest in the devices. They can serve as a viable alternative to current crowd-control weaponry, such as rubber bullets and batons, which cause serious physical injury and carry a greater stigma.

Mexico our most immediate national security threat?


While America focuses on foreign terrorism and the resurgence of China and Russia, Mexico is emerging as perhaps the more immediate security threat. Mexican drug cartels have dominated the illegal drug market in the United States over the past two decades. The U.S. continues to be the largest purchaser of illicit drugs worldwide and the violent drug cartels move increasingly further into U.S. soil. Consequently, the problem is both right at our 2,000-mile doorstep and into major cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix, and Birmingham.

As of February of this year, more than 200 Americans have been killed since 2004 in “an escalating wave of violence, amounting to the highest number of unnatural deaths in any foreign country outside military combat zones.” There’s reason to believe the true number of Americans killed in Mexico is much higher, as many missing person and kidnapping cases remain unsolved. But again, this cannot be thought of as only a Mexican problem. Attorney General Eric Holder called the drug cartels a "national security threat," to the United States and stressed that “we simply can't afford to let down our guard." The Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that, as of December 2008, the cartels have established operations in at least 230 U.S. cities.

Narcotics trafficking is a national security problem because the issues of narcotics, criminal organizations, and terrorism are interrelated. We must avoid the modern presumption that terrorists are all Muslim fundamentalists interested in directly inflicting damage on the American state. Mexican drug cartels terrorize American interests and require a massive amount of law enforcement officers and resources to be positioned along our southern border. The most violence has occurred in Ciudad Juarez, just below the El Paso border, where many feel even the Mexican military is unable to ameliorate the situation.

An effective strategy at combating this problem must directly involve policies directed toward the Mexican state. We need to continue push reforms in the Mexican justice system to make it more accountable. The U.S. should revisit its gun control laws to prevent arms from falling into cartel hands, as the U.S. is the source of the vast majority of cartel armaments. Obama should also consider changes to the federal and local law enforcement presence along the border, which doesn’t seem to be working as effectively as it should. If we are considering sending 40,000 troops to Afghanistan on the other side of the world to reduce Islamic militancy, we should at least be willing to focus additional efforts in keeping Mexican drug runners from illegally entering the U.S. with automatic weapons, stockpiles of cash, and hard drugs.

"This is a war – and we are going to win."

Mauricio Fernandez, The mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia, the wealthiest municipality in Mexico made this declaration at his swearing-in ceremony, after jubilantly announcing the death of Hector 'Black' Saldaña, a cartel leader who had previously threatened Fernandez's life.

One complication: Saldaña's body wasn't found by police for another three hours, and wasn't identified for two days. Fernandez responded to this development by saying: "Sometimes there are coincidences in life … it's better to look at it this way."

According to the story in the Guardian:

"But in a series of interviews this week, he was more vague, apparently willing to allow speculation that he had set up a paramilitary death squad to keep his town safe from kidnappers.

Fernandez said the information about Saldaña's death came from an intelligence group he had set up to orientate the activities of a "cleansing group" intended to take on kidnappers and other criminals "by fair means or foul".

Asked by one interviewer whether such a group would be acting outside the law, he said: "I don't understand why I should respect all the laws when they [the criminals] respect none."

He told another: "If these people want to kidnap and extort people [in San Pedro], then they will get what is coming to them.'"

Are local government death squads the future of the drug fight in Mexico?

Another possibility is that the mayor has sided with his local cartel, the Beltrán Levya Cartel, against kidnappers and other criminals (transcripts and audio in Spanish here (There is evidence that Saldaña was killed by the Levya Cartel, for which he had been working). Can stability and security be gained by siding with a local criminal organization? This meshing of governments and criminal organizations cannot be good for the future of Mexico, and allows the narco-traffickers to further capture the Mexican State.

These extreme options show the desperate security situation in Mexican politics. Drug cartels have the ability to threaten government officials and police. As the central government fails to protect many areas of Mexico, local leaders there will seek protection elsewhere, either through local security or vigilante forces or alliances with cartels themselves. Small "victories" over individual criminals at the cost of disregarding law, or institutionalizing the larger crime organizations: is this "winning the war" or is it giving up?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teach a Man a Fish?

Education…Alternative Option for Stabilizing Afghanistan

In a recent article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/opinion/29kristof.html?scp=2&sq=schools%20in%20afghanistan&st=cse) NYTimes columnist Nikolas Kristof identified an alternative to the current options up for debate regarding sending American soldiers to Afghanistan: he proposes allocating money for starting and supporting schools as opposed to military operations. In the midst of such contentious debate about American military involvement, this fresh idea provokes some alternative questions and ideas about how best to maximize resources in the fight against terror.

So much of the argument surrounding the next phase of US involvement in Afghanistan has focused on General Stanley McChrystal’s report, an assessment that calls for more troops and a greater focus on counterinsurgency efforts in order to “win over” the Afghan population. While the goal has merit, are there alternative approaches to achieving said goal via military efforts? From this arm-chair perspective, guns provide superficial protection and while simultaneously creating enemies. Schools educate and empower – a far more effective form of self-sustaining protection.

This old proverb seems to relate:
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Similarly, if you send a soldier (or 40,000) to Afghanistan, you make a population and weak government dependent on your presence, and you provide your enemies and critics with continued motivation to antagonize you. However, if you focus your energy on educating the population, providing them with skills and knowledge that will enhance their collective capacity to cultivate food and ideas, you can empower them to transform their own country.

Furthermore, providing education is providing protection. US forces can and should train additional Afghan National Security Forces, but our investment should also be in the non-military population of Afghanistan. By raising the level of education among the population – albeit a long-term project – we set the stage for the people to enhance their productivity and transform their governance. Is that an echo of Paul Collier I hear? By investing in education, we provide greater potential for domestic stability, which in turn serves our security interests by suppressing and eradicating radicalism.

However, efforts to increase education must be accompanied by incentives to keep educated people in Afghanistan; we don’t want to cause a brain drain that further bankrupts the country.

Ultimately, funding educational ventures would garner far greater support domestically and among the international community. After so much debate and hesitation, why not try a fresh approach to counterinsurgency? Let us sow seeds of education and self-sustaining development, rather than enabling dependency and risking additional lives.

I’ll bring the worms…

Our clichéd decision

"Mr Eikenberry’s 11th-hour intervention could tip the scales in the White House." This is a line from the Economist article General disarray: America’s senior men in Kabul disagree over sending more troops to Afghanistan
How many clichés can we apply to our current situation? We all know that Obama is as busy as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest, but putting off the decision about Afghanistan any longer is an invitation for dissention.  Too many cooks spoil the pot and the longer Mr. President waits the more opinions will be presented. In the meantime we are running around like a dog lost in the high weeds, leaderless and losing what little popular support we had.
This is a situation of damned if you do and damned if you don’t: no plan has a quick fix and none of them will give the situation any more support at home, but any plan is going to be better than banging your head against a wall while your generals argue. I might be barking up the wrong tree, but I say listen to Ambassador Eikenberry. As experienced as Gen. McChrystal is, Eikenberry provides a political insight on the ground could be the most accurate view of Karzai since the highly contested election. His opposition to substantially more troops would also allow Obama to buy an option for the price of a skinny chicken by focusing on a narrow counter-terror operation.
            While I’m glad our nation’s leader isn’t just flying by the seat of his pants, I’m worried it’s a sign of weakness that we haven’t gotten the ball rolling. Mr. President, most people who voted for you thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. Now I have to ask you: Are you a man or a mouse?
 



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reversing Japan's Demographic Trends

Despite recent gains, Japan's total fertility rate (TFR) stands at 1.37, well below the two children per woman average needed to stabilize the country's population. Unless Japan's current demographic trajectory is reversed, it's population will decrease by 20 percent by 2050. Consequently, an aging Japan, unable to replenish its workforce, will see its substantial manufacturing base diminish. Additionally, as China continues to rise, Japan is likely retain less and less regional and global influence. For decades, Japan has spent a relatively small fraction of its GDP on military expenditures when compared to the expenditures of other industrial nations. Yet just when many would like to see Japan reassert itself militarily in the region, its looming economic and demographic constraints threaten to check its ability to do so.

Child-rearing support became notable campaign issue leading up to the 2009 Japanese general elections, with the then ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) attempting to lure young voters with generous child-rearing support packages and commitments to free education. Since coming to power, the DPJ has proposed a generous assistance package to encourage child-rearing. The plan includes increases to the child-birth allowance, monthly allowances to parents of middle school children, and financial assistance for students attending private schools. Such efforts will undoubtedly entail significant costs. For instance, the child-allowance program currently cost ¥5.3 trillion ($59.2 million). The DPJ plans to pay for this package by restructure existing taxes and allowances, increasing the burden on individuals that do not benefit from the plan.

While well-intended incentives may increase childbirths marginally, the DPJ will need to look beyond allowances and tax breaks to other, less material factors. One such factor may be the uncertainty generated by Japan's volatile employment environment. Other factors to consider include traditional values and social norms regarding the workplace and the roles of men and women in family life. Japanese women are delaying marriage - or even choosing not to marry at all - because marriage is often viewed as "a loss of liberty" in Japanese society. The pervasive attitude that mothers, for the sake of their children's psychological and emotional health, must be physically present for at least the first three years of their children's lives may explain why one in four mothers leave their job when they have their first child.

Regardless of the measures the new Japanese government decides to employ, results may not come quickly enough. Incentives may have a small short-term effect but would take a generation to impact the country's supply of workers. If the DPJ wants to have an immediate effect on the nation's demographic crisis, it may have to tackle one of the country's perennially sensitive issues, immigration.

Obama and Asi(e)an Economics


President Obama is in the midst of a trip (picture courtesy of the Economist) to Asian states as a part of the administration's attempt to better engage with many states that have been all but ignored by previous administrations. One is the state of Myanmar, whose junta has held the leader of a democratic movement. Though mispronouncing her name, Obama urged the nation to let her go but did not address greater concerns that Myanmar may threaten within ASEAN, probably in part as an effort to minimize backlash at least until he returns stateside.

Also, in the two stops thus far (Tokyo and Singapore), Obama stressed that relations with the region, particularly China, don't have to be a zero-sum game, and that in fact America does not fear China's rise. As he has done countless times in the past, the President has focused on common interests - particularly the global economy and climate change with respect to China. This approach to foreign policy has brought criticism as Obama often ignores what many believe to be core American interests. He is expected to play down China's poor human rights record in order to focus exclusively on common economic interests. At his last stop in South Korea, Mr. Obama will dedicate more talk time to free trade (as well as North Korea), according to this story.

If the President really believes in achieving positive sum gains on both sides as a consequence of pursuing common interests, the administration should take the following steps. Engaging in a trade war with China (over tires, poultry, and other goods in the last two months) while advocating freer trade policies probably won't go over well. In fact, Mexico's Felipe Calderon criticized that recent U.S. trade policies are "going in the opposite sense of free trade." Many Asians agree, as The Economist states "a new engagement, however welcome, is not thought to be enough." Lowering unnecessary tariffs with our Asian allies and seeking free trade agreements with ASEAN nations would be the right step. Further, as a condition of such action, the U.S. could require the Chinese and Burmese to take action on certain issues such as human rights violations that the U.S. condemns. Such an end result would be more positive-sum than many policies followed thus far.

Friday, November 13, 2009

U.S. Cyber Command-Too Little, but Not Too Late

Recent years have seen a huge increase in crime, infiltrations, and espionage conducted in cyberspace. Several large U.S. companies have been infiltrated and it is thought that cyber spies “steal $40 billion to $50 billion in intellectual property from U.S. organizations each year, according to U.S. intelligence agency estimates.” Just this week, the FBI busted a cyber ring that stole $9 million from over 2,000 ATMs around the world. The U.S. government has also had problems with cyber espionage. In 2007 alone, the Departments of Defense, Commerce, State, Energy, and NASA were all compromised and terabytes of information were stolen. Earlier this year the F-35 program was compromised. There is also an elevated threat of cyber attacks is because the only difference between cyber espionage and cyber attack is the intent of the hacker. Mike McConnell, a former Director of National Intelligence, stated recently that he thinks cyber attacks already have the capability of taking down the U.S. power grid.
Last month, the new U.S. Cyber Command was created underneath Strategic Command. The head of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, has been put in charge of the new Cybercomm which is responsible for offensive and defensive cyber security. However, the new system protects only parts of the federal government, let alone civilian and private-sector infrastructure. President Obama, when announcing the new Cyber Command, remarked that the military cannot monitor the civilian Internet, but can only defend itself. One commentator remarked that is “like telling the military if there’s another 9/11 to protect the Pentagon but not the World Trade Center.” The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to defend the private-sector, but DHS does not have anywhere near the capability that the military has. Many civilian agencies, state and local governments, the White House, Congress, contractors, and businesses also need help securing sensitive information. Private businesses, including contractors, have been a huge target for cyber espionage and if the U.S. does not want to lose its technological advantage then private companies need to be protected as well.
The military, which includes the NSA, clearly has better capabilities than DHS. They would likely do the best job of defending the country in cyber space. However, many Americans are wary of the NSA and its history of domestic espionage, but where is the line between foreign and domestic in cyberspace? The U.S. would just create duplication and wasteful spending by creating separate cyber defenses. Americans need to adjust their expectation of “reasonable privacy” to permit the military operate in “domestic” and “civilian” cyberspace in order to prevent catastrophic harm. The divide between foreign and domestic intelligence contributed to the intelligence failure of 9/11. Such a divide would be huge in cyberspace where everything happens much faster. The U.S. needs to come up with a coherent cyber defense plan or it will remain extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks and espionage.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When will (or should) Obama make up his mind on sending troops?



Recent news reports seem to suggest that Obama will soon make a decision on the number of troops he will deploy to Afghanistan. Currently there are 68,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. At the end of August, General McChrystal issued an assessment of Afhganistan in which he suggested the President increase that number by an additional 40,000. This number, McChrystal argues, is needed to secure population centers and train additional Afghan forces. (McChrystal stated he wanted Afghan troop levels to increase from 220,000 to 400,000.)

Despite his general's suggestions, Obama seems to be focused on a number less than the General's suggestions. The proposals talked about in the press include increasing troop sizes by some number in the range of 10,000 to 40,000 troops.

Last week, Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general, expressed reservations about sending additional troops until the Karzai government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise.

Another reason for Obama's delay in making a decision could be a desire to wait and assess the public sentiment over the Karzai's victory in the election. Obama is likely to want to be less engaged in war which supports an unpopular government. Defense Secretary Gates said a central focus in Mr. Obama's deliberation was figuring out an attempt to signal resolve while at the same time signaling to the Afghans that US commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended.

While it is almost universally agreed that more troops are needed, the effects of recently deployed troops have probably not yet been felt. Currently there are approximately 68,000 US troops on the ground, while back in April 2009, there were less than 40,000. A full 40,000 troops may not be necessary after the evaluation of the abilities of forces there now since the latest surge.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Challenging the principle that democracy increases security

In light of Thursday shooting at Fort Hood that killed 13 people at the base and wounded 38, I thought it worthwhile to reevaluate the assumption that democracies add to peace and stability. Of course, this recent attack occurred on U.S. soil in Texas on a military base where there was a high presumption of safety. The motives of shooter Nidal Malik Hasan are being meticulously evaluated. It is suggested he acted due to some combination of personal mental illness/isolation, dissatisfaction of pending military deployment to Afghanistan, and sympathy to radical Islam.

Hasan was an American citizen, the son of Palestinian immigrants, a devout Muslim and a career Army serviceman. To the extent that present-day military service involves combating Islamic extremism in Muslim countries, there is a degree of tension present in the service of potentially sympathetic American Muslims that should be recognized. But this tension, however great, is not enough to stop our democratic principles from working to allow Americans of all religions from enlistment. On the other hand, the case could be made that our military units would be safer if conflicted Muslims were denied the ability to enlist or at least terminated upon showing clear warning signs of dissatisfaction and instability.

The greater issue regarding democracy and security is whether democracy promotion as a foreign policy goal, especially amongst Middle Eastern nations, truly cuts down on Islamic extremism. Of course, Iraq was the key test case of this principle as the Bush Administration ousted Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime. The question, then, is whether Iraq and America are safer for our foray and attempts to ensure democratic representation, or was violence actually minimized under Saddam’s autocratic rule.

Violence had been dropping since the 2007 U.S. military surge, allowing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to gradually take down blast walls and utilize Iraqis more prominently to ensure their own security. However, a major blast in late October claimed over 160 lives, destabilizing the government to some degree and potentially undermining the impending January 2010 elections. Security has become, in essence, a political platform, with incumbents staking their claim for reelection based on the lack of sectarian violence and suicide bombings. Thus, what has happened is the strange scenario where democratic elections seem poised to occur, but the mere push towards democracy has caused more violence intent on breeding chaos and instability than likely would have otherwise occurred.

Maybe these two cases demonstrate it is simply the case that we can never rid the world of crazed individuals. No matter how much we espouse a political ideology where everyone theoretically has a voice, violence may persist as a means to show extreme dissatisfaction. National security is never absolute, but it can be improved. The way to increase security is through policies undertaken, and sometimes dramatic attacks have to give us pause to think whether our pursued policies are the best course. Should we curtail military enlistment along religious lines, or is this too much of an infringement on civil liberties for an unclear benefit? Should we continue democracy promotion, or can propping up autocratic rulers actually give us greater security? There are no easy answers.