Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Complications for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Because of WikiLeaks’ distribution of diplomatic cables, new light is being shed on actual relationships between the U.S. and other countries. Because I am not allowed to read the cables due to clearance issues, I cannot state with authority on the contents, I can only repeat what the news organizations disclose. Reactions by other countries to the contents of the cables are interesting. Some are politely denying, a few are looking the other way, others are blustery about the contents, Iran is even claiming that the leaks are a U.S. propaganda move!

"The fact is governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they think we can keep secrets," Gates said Monday. I think this most accurately sums up the way nations deal with each other, traditionally and currently.

Keeping secrets is important, though. Alliances, outmaneuvering, indiscretions, even keeping sources are dependent on keeping confidences close. Mercy is doled out by individuals, even if governments are at odds, because people make the difference. Saving face/restoring dignity is at stake and so are relationships between states. Just because a diplomat said something derogatory about another shouldn’t be taken as an official stance. Diplomats around the world know that relationships are a delicate dance and I think that each individual country’s reaction is a reflection of the face saving measures needed for the local population. This may complicate foreign relations on the surface, the bargaining reported by the media and seen by the public. It remains to be seen, however, if the release of further cables will irreparably damage relationships with countries with which we have friendly dealings.

The whole situation reminds me of an elementary playground where several different age groups are playing. To the teachers, they are all kids, but to each other, there are castes - the cool kids, the not so well dressed, the bullies, the athletes, the stinky kids. It is on the playground where negotiating behavior and compromise is learned from non-family members – those who don’t love or necessarily like you. Feelings are hurt daily, teams are chosen and some are left standing in humiliation, friendships and alliances are made and broken, sometimes within the span of hours. At the end of the day, it really proves that tomorrow is another day, and there’s a chance to reinvent oneself, or to maneuver or gain an ability to prove that one is better in order to be chosen.

We’ve learned all Fall from Dr. Stempel about the ways diplomacy works and when it fails, why. This debacle just might be a catalyst for reinventing the way we, in the international community, go about this business of diplomacy post-Cold War.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Borders for real-or is the plan full of Holes?

Recent developments in finding the tunnels in San Diego, increased presence in the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona and heavy traffic between Brownsville and El Paso elevates the importance of the Border Patrol as an asset for National Security.

Shifting focus of sensor packages to the border of the United States to combat drug cartels trafficking their wares is a plan of action the government could take to effectively tackle a vital aspect of national security that is currently being neglected.

The Department of the Army, G-2 (Intelligence) is currently fielding the Integrated Sensor Coverage Area for Intelligence (ISCA), Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms for use in Afghanistan. Its mission is to integrate all ISR collection (space, aerial, and terrestrial) to conduct persistent area Assessment (PAA), situation development (SID), and/or Mission Overwatch (MO) in support of a maneuver unit’s mission. Sensor and platforms combinations are tailored by each echelon to perform these ISR missions synchronized with the unit’s operational cycle.

What this means is that for National Guard combat arms and combat support units operating along the border between the U.S. and Mexico assisting Border Patrol, the ISCA expands capability to route drug trafficking.

PAA establishes an area of interest – finding the enemy. This is radar-pixelated dots, similar to JSTARS, and provides the widest coverage area to track personnel and vehicles. PAA develops and defines patterns of life, enabling the Border Patrol to monitor and establish patterns of movement. Think of this as a binocular. SID establishes an area of influence – fixing on the enemy. More narrow in scope, similar to looking through a straw, it helps units look at specific areas and developing intelligence for future missions. High resolution, high confidence full motion video is used to locate and track the enemy. MO is the final part of the cycle – targeting the enemy once he has been identified. Using aircraft is essential in this phase, and MO provides interdiction support, direct action targeting, and pursuit/exploitation cuing.

The sensor platforms exist, but the ISCA is still in the design process. Once this is fielded, it will pull together the platforms and provide unlimited access to sensors to aid in drug interdiction. As we wind down in Afghanistan, we can utilize these capabilities and integrate National Guard and Active Army units to prosecute the war on the borders.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Argument against Ratifying New START

While some consider the argument against strategic arms reduction to be unthinkable, ignorant, or even inhumane, some consideration should be given to those in Congress who hesitate to obediently pass the New START just because Secretaries Clinton and Gates tell us to. Senator Kyl of Arizona has reasonable grounds in his proclamation that more time should be devoted to the treaty than can be given in the Lame Duck session before the New Year. This, of course, implies that blocking the ratification is something more than partisan politics as many of his critics attempt to boil it down to. Namely, that ambiguous language in the treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev threaten advancement in critical missile defense technology, and amounts to trying to make Russia happy.
The most troubling issue in the Treaty is language in the preamble “Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.” The ambiguity of this language brings out three questions: What does this mean for National Missile Defense? How will their interrelationship become more important in the future? And what is America getting out of it?
The language implies acquiescence to the Russian Federations complaints about Missile Defense Systems in Eastern Europe. Perhaps understandably, as the NMD systems, coupled with the precision with which America can employ its nuclear weapons in a first strike, seriously threatens Russia’s Second Strike capability. Marginalizing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Program takes the country from world power status, eliminates the prestige of the Russian strategic weapons program, and makes them feel bad. Though we are supposedly OK on NMD, based on the most recent NATO summit, it certainly seems that the administration is paving the way for further submission, hence, the interrelationship becoming “more important as strategic arms are reduced.”
Finally, the dirty-nasty question, “What do we get out of it?” Touchy-feely’s now get mad because I am “interested.” Well…..yeah. That’s what treaties are about. If it is just making Russia feel good, I have to ask “Why?” Russia, especially with a marginalized strategic nuclear program, should not be getting that much of our attention. Our lame duck Congress could easily spend this time on our economy, deficit, or the health care fiasco. Russia is not the issue anymore!
If it is to provide some beacon to other countries that will gaze upon us and therefore abandon all advances in their nuclear program, I’d say “Dream On!” I do not believe that Iran, North Korea, or other nefarious state and non-state actors, are seeking guidance on how to deal with the overwhelming moral dilemma of having weapons of mass destruction. Given the recent discoveries of the North Korean program and the continued trouble-making in Iran, now seems hardly the time to wave a dove flag.
Maintaining our ability to develop missile defense systems will prevent a lag in technology and capabilities in that skill in the future. This is in our National Security interests for when other, less-stable powers than Russia begin to acquire the ability to launch nuclear, or large conventional, warheads on missiles. This is not, however, a purely realist or zero-sum argument. While I believe in the reduction of our strategic stockpile, I do not believe that we should abandon the program altogether. Regarding New START, I believe that Senator Kyl is right to delay ratifying the treaty until Congress can appropriately consider the implications of its language. The fact that others disagree and a dialogue has begun, I believe, proves the Arizonan Senator’s point.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Russian Navy bases: threat or opportunity?

Russia is eying the addition of a handful of new naval bases, or more accurately, provisioning depots, at a number of points around the globe. At the moment it appears Yemen and Libya are in the running for new bases, with more possible in other states -- locations mentioned by the state-run Itar-TASS news wire service.

Dmitri Medvedev, Russia' president, refused to go into specifics after he broached the matter, although it's already known that Russia plans to overhaul its existing base in Tartus, Syria, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and just cut a gas price deal with Ukraine in exchange for a 25-year lease for the Russian base at Sevastopol.

To be fair, the current Russian basing is the smallest global footprint Russia has had for some time, if you take Soviet history into account. At one point, the Soviet Union had bases scattered around the world: Cuba, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen, Angola, Guinea, Libya, Tunisia, Yugoslavia and Vietnam. All those bases closes in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union twenty years ago except for bases in Vietnam and Cuba, which the Russians shuttered eight years ago.

So how should the United States approach this basing expansion? Is this a threat or an opportunity?

It would be easy to see this as a threat. Russia restarted long-range air patrols in 2007 and its Navy conducted a 2008 visit to South America, including some exercises. Of course, it must be noted that these actions are much, much less intense than those conducted during the Soviet days. However, it does show a desire to project at least the appearance of force and capability on a global scale.

Yet the Russians do bring skills and useful forces to the table, and are re-emerging as a partner in Afghanistan and European missile defense in cooperation with NATO. And it seems clear Russia is interested in adding new bases beyond a need for simple logistics. Said Medvedev: The basing will assist "complex diplomatic and political work in those countries."

Russia's proposed basing in Yemen is particularly interesting since the Russians have a history in the south of that country that is still remembered there. In addition, Russia is a major arms seller to Yemen and holds much of its debt.

Yemeni forces in the south of Yemen are seeking to secede and are currently embroiled in a struggle with central government forces. Russia could play a unique peacekeeping role if it developed a greater presence in the state. In addition, Yemen's ongoing fight against al-Qaida in the country is an increasing focus of US counter-terrorism efforts and the country could provide a new place for Russia and the US to cooperate.

Allowing for this kind of cooperation will require the US to swallow some of its pride. Yet the US can still be comfortable that the Russian Navy is still very much in a rebuilding phase and their involvement in some new and troubled areas of the world might bring positive Russian political involvement in those areas and provide an arena for cooperation.

While US politicians bicker over the ratification of the new START arms control and verification treaty, a mature US response to Russia's new bases may open a new line of communication between the global superpower and an emerging military force intent on restoring its pride of place in the world.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The good, bad and ugly messages we send our allies

Messages are sent and received in every way a nation interacts or decides not to interact with the international community. Well sometimes anyway. The International Council on Security and Development released a survey during the Lisbon Summit last week showing that 92% of the 1,000 Afghan men polled in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces did not know why foreign forces were in their country. 40% believe we are there to destroy Islam and 43% were unable to name any positive aspects of democracy. The two provinces that have seen the most violence in a nearly ten year long war still do not know why foreign forces patrol their streets every day, yet we have downplayed the merits of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign for years because of the costs and commitments.

It is quite obvious in this corner of the world that modern technology is lacking and it has cost us dearly in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. But just when we think the US should do something to address this disconnect with the Afghans, our government is able to highlight the positive side of an isolated nation.

The Good (relatively speaking):

In the Lisbon Summit last week, NATO allies agreed to the full transfer of authority to Afghan Security Forces by 2014. NATO countries recognized the need for a continued presence beyond 2014 as well, showing a renewed commitment from NATO nations to the people of Afghanistan. In response, the Taliban immediately issued a statement following the Summit saying that NATO has been unable to form a stable government in nine years and has no chance at accomplishing this task in the next four. The Afghan people do not see Karzai as their legitimate leader (Taliban’s description) and the Taliban will continue to fight until the foreign occupiers leave. Final scoring in this media battle is NATO 0, Taliban 0. In what could have been a strong boost to the Afghan people and the mission as a whole, we must face the reality that the message of a future withdrawal timetable won’t spread very far. On the other hand, the Taliban’s message of continued violence is not new or newsworthy so it’s a tie.

The Bad (it gets worse):

Also last week VP Biden was on Larry King Live where he made the statement that “Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off in October -- I mean in next July, so you'd better practice riding.” In what is clearly a condescending, pompous remark we can at least be thankful that this message is unlikely to reach the Afghan populace as well. Unfortunately the Afghan officials who we regard as our close allies are sure to be deeply offended by this remark. NATO -5.

The Ugly:

Now we have been told that the secret negotiations taking place between Afghan officials and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement, never really had any promise whatsoever. This is due to the fact that Mansour himself was never actually present for the meetings. It is unknown right now who the actor is but three theories have been presented. He may have been a rogue actor who saw an opening to get rich, he may have been a Taliban agent sent to gauge the level of talks and focus of negotiations, or he may have been working for the Pakistani ISI. In all three scenarios we lose. We paid this man millions of dollars to keep him coming back and committed significant resources to ensure his safety while traveling to and from Pakistan. What we got in return was a deep cut to our competency in conducting the war and public acknowledgement of the fact that we are becoming more desperate to find alternative solutions to winning the war while the Taliban is not. At least as far as anyone outside of Taliban controlled territory knows. NATO -10, Taliban unknown.

It has been a rough few days for our efforts in Afghanistan but at least the people who don’t know we are there to help them are unlikely to find out. Here's to a better next week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Will there be a Vietnamization of Afghanistan?

America's longest war keeps getting longer, and despite the goal of a 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan, its end is not in sight. The signs of a possible Vietnamization of Afghanistan, or at least of a replication of the Soviet Afghan experience, seem to be increasing.

The US had already set the goal for ending "combat operations" in Afghanistan by 2014 (the same semantic bait-and-switch that allows for 50,000 US troops to remain in Iraq, often still very much involved in combat) ahead of last week's NATO summit in Lisbon. The NATO consensus was similar, calling for a transfer of security responsibilities to Afghanistan in 2014, while NATO forces will remain in an advising and monitoring capacity.

That is all well and good, but does not actually suggest when the American public can expect the return of US troops and an end to the violence of our nine year war in this barren corner of the world. And in order to make a 2014 drawdown realistic, things may get worse before they get better. Mark Sedwill, NATO's top civilian representative in Kabul reminds us that "2014 is a goal and not a guarantee) and that events could conspire to push that date back. Furthermore, the war in Afghanistan could involve "eye-watering levels of violence by Western standards."

What that might entail is not clear, but the intent of the statement is. With Americans far more indirectly related to the goings on of the military--even with the modern media--than they were in the era of Vietnam conscription, the violent measures dictated by the situation on the ground are unlikely to receive the analysis of public discourse they are due. This is especially true as Americans become ever more war weary and the conflict in Afghanistan becomes more unpopular with time. The present state of affairs, where Americans are complacent with the fact that their country is involved in two, long-term, ongoing wars in distant countries is unprecedented in American history. That the state of the economy has completely overshadowed foreign policy concerns in a wartime country such that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in no way meaningfully factored into the recent Midterm elections would likely shock and possibly repulse previous generations of Americans.

It seems that complacency is likely to continue even as the level of violence in Afghanistan trends upwards, validating Mr. Sedwill's warning. For one, the air war--all but suspended by McChrystal due to its capacity for alienating local populations--has come back with a vengeance in Petraeus's Afghanistan. October was the most active month in the skies of Afghanistan for missile and drone attacks since the beginning of the war, with over 1,000 strikes. This air war and its undeclared extension into Pakistan (analogous to the secrecy of Operation Menu, though the massive air war in Cambodia remained obscured in the days before the 24-hour news cycle) has already created adverse side effects. Sixty-nine of the 223 civilian deaths attributed to coalition forces this year have been from air attacks, and the first six months of 2010 were the deadliest yet for Afghan civilians, up 31% (though most civilian deaths have been due to suicide attacks and IEDs; though sectarian violence may be a response to more intense coalition measures).

This rise in violence occurs as the posturing of American forces comes to resemble some of the measures that were denounced during Vietnam and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Due to the sheer number of booby-trapped homes in Kandahar, NATO forces have taken to demolishing neighborhoods wholesale, compensating inhabitants whether or not they were interested in being relocated. The use of 16 M1 Abrams tanks in Helmand for "awe and shock" as much as for their military utility will be uncomfortably similar to lumbering Soviet armor to former mujahideen. As though these similarities weren't enough, the sheer amount of manpower--100,000 US personnel, roughly 130,000 in terms of all NATO forces--certainly echo the manpower used by the Soviets during their occupation. In fact, Defense Secretary Gates cautioned that we should avoid such similarities just a year ago:

"The Soviets were in there with 110,000, 120,000 troops. They didn’t care about civilian casualties. And they couldn’t win. If there’s ever an example that military power alone cannot be successful in Afghanistan, I think it was the Soviet experience. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from that."

So now the US-led war in Afghanistan has gone on longer than Vietnam with no end in sight; is starting to see the use of some of the same tactics in that war; and in size, scope, and the use of armor is beginning to resemble the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan--the results of which (and the unintended consequences of our support of the mujahideen) we are still cleaning up. One might have hoped that the NATO Lisbon summit on Afghanistan would provide answers about how the war will be drawn to a close, but it left only greater uncertainty and warnings that the violence could continue to escalate. The war in Afghanistan, once overshadowed by that in Iraq, is threatening to roar back with a vengeance (though it truly never left). Will a complacent American populace notice? And if they do, what political action will they take to affect the course of history? The answers to these questions hold significant implications for the futures of both the US and Afghanistan.

Domestic Wrenches in the Foreign Policy Engine

An Obama administration source was quoted as saying that “the primary impact [of the midterm elections] will be on domestic policy, not foreign policy. But that doesn't mean we in the administration won't face significantly more frustration, delay, and outright pain.”
The administration has already been facing frustration and pain over the holds by various Senate Republicans on a number of key ambassadorial appointments including Syria, Turkey and Azerbaijan (yep). While the Democrats have retained control of the Senate, they did not and still do not have the numbers to push through appointments the Republicans are determined to delay.
The US revoked its Ambassador to Syria in 2005 after a Lebanese statesman was assassinated in Beirut which the Lebanese pegged on Syria. Syria has always denied involvement, but were probably responsible. In the 5 years since recalling the Ambassador Syria has moved closer to Iran and various Islamist groups. Shutting off that method of diplomatic communication has not served US interests in the region well. In February President Obama appointed Robert Ford to the position to make a tangible move to engaging Syria. But the process is stalled, with Ford’s confirmation on hold in the Senate.
It seems the problem is a fundamental disagreement about what an Ambassador symbolizes and can do.  The 12 Republican senators who have blocked Ford’s nomination view the appointment of an Ambassador to Syria as a reward. I find that argument to be lacking. Mr. Ford is not some fluff political appointment; he is a career diplomat and most recently served as deputy Ambassador to Iraq. Rather than a reward I see the appointment of a man such as Ford, who has served throughout the region in difficult posts and has been decorated for his hard work, as a smart move. His presence in the country can aid in nudging Syria in a direction more amenable to American interests. It also signals that we take the country seriously. The American Embassy in Syria has a difficult time “getting face time” with senior Syrian officials. An Ambassador would be less likely to be snubbed and left out in the same manner.
The question boils down to whether it is a reward to send an Ambassador to a country we are not too pleased with. But perhaps the real reward for Syria is for the Americans to waste our time floundering, which is precisely what we are doing. Without a high-level presence in their country Syria does not need to address American concerns in the same time and manner they would if we had an Ambassador knocking at their door. We're rewarding bad behavior by ignoring it, rather than sending a tough man to push our agenda.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

QDDR: Defense and State...Together

The New Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review proposes combining some Department of State budgets with Department of Defense budgets.

The review suggest a key way the two departments combine budgets:

Interestingly, the document proposes to establish a joint planning and budgeting process between the State Department and the Defense Department in areas where the two institutions work together, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The document notes that the government is also "examin[ing] the creation of a unified National Security Budget." The idea of combining Defense and State Department funding into one pool has been proposed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before, but could face resistance on Capitol Hill.

A unified National Security Budget. On paper, this is a good idea: By combining budgets, it clarifies the multiple perspectives inherent in between two departments in a number of countries.

And yes, there are still roadblocks in this procedure. This DoD and DoS process significantly sidelines USAID as an aid-demanding agency. While this proposal could sideline USAID, it's significant toward a cohesive and multilateral approach to support for a number of countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and probably Yemen. While this approach may cost USAID its leverage in the process, it's certainly an improvement over the current process.Hopefully the relevant representatives of State realize that cooperation with Defense is worth any costs to USAID.

If anything, this could lead to a reduction in orientation "stovepipes." That is an invaluable contribution to the debate and could result in a significant balancing reaction to the Defense department.

Hopefully Congress gets on board.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a bird; it's a plane; is that the Hindenburg?

It seems that looking back may be the way forward. At least in terms of unmanned surveillance aircraft. Drones are shiny, compact and just generally neat technology…kind of like the iphone. But boy is that service plan expensive. When it comes to long term practicality and durability, that bulky blackberry is still preferred by industry professionals.

Enough with the analogy (it sounded good in my head) and getting to the point, I am talking about a blimp…or the preferred euphemism, an “airship”. Early this year the Army issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a “lighter than air” surveillance aircraft—the Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). In June the bid was awarded to Northrop Grumman. Less than six months later, NGC PR made sure that everyone who matters knew that the blimp is already ready for inflation and testing, to be used in theatre this time next year. This is almost an unheard of turnaround for any aircraft procurement. But that is not the story here. After the initial airship was designed, the surveillance technology is pretty much off the shelf from past aerial severance vehicles with only a few mounting tweaks.

What is interesting though, is the project’s contributions to several of the Pentagon’s long term goals. First of all, relatively speaking, this LEMV is a cheap investment for the pentagon. A half billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at. But what the pentagon gets is a whole lotta bang for its buck. The technology developed is 1) cheap to operate, b) cheap to maintain, and c) built to serve a diverse set of potential surveillance needs in the future, and then some. Plus, it is a blimp. I mean, come on.

This is not your grandfather’s blimp though…not so flammable. The LEMV will not only drive itself, but will take off and land autonomously (it can also be piloted remotely or with a pilot aboard should the need arise). This airship will float at an altitude 20,000 feet for 3 weeks on one tank of gas. How is that for fuel economy? Especially considering it is the breadth and width of a football field and 7 stories high. Also, did I mention it is a hybrid? Most of the “floating” power will be from helium while the get up and go to take off and land will use $25,000 in diesel. That is less than the 5 hour flight it takes to get a 747 from DC to LAX at today’s gas prices. The consumable parts of the airship are primarily the cameras and sensors (including some cutting edge IED detection sensors). A single LEMV will do the job of 12 Reapers during that same duration (but without refueling or remote pilots), providing constant imagery and movement data over a broad and complex terrain.

The airship will also have substantial long term use. When Afghanistan is said and done and Army has little use for the blimp, this airship and its updates will be able to serve at home in a border protection capacity as well as through humanitarian and disaster relief missions. The surveillance equipment is easily moved on and off of racks, and without all those cameras the LEMV can carry a payload of supplies or even people up to 3,500 lbs (the payload can be doubled with a few simple modifications). And although no one is talking about it now, I would imagine that the “modifications” to weaponize these is also relatively simple.

This next part may be a long shot, but one can hope. The speed and agility with which this airship came about gives me hope that the “cost-plus” culture of the old military-industrial complex may be changing. It is also a part of a new wave of multi-use technology coming out of defense contractors looking to broaden their customer base beyond the money tree that was the federal defense budget. In doing so, these companies are playing a greater role in the free market as opposed to bleeding dry overburdened defense procurement projects like the F-35.

So, the relatively old technology that is the blimp may prove to have a bright future. The LEMV is multi-utility, relays valuable intelligence to troops on the ground, is relatively environmentally friendly and does not cost the Army an arm and a leg to operate. With the first LEMV assembled, NGC and competitors have already come up with updates to increase the value of airships including higher altitude capabilities and solar panels. Take that DoD budget cuts.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Malta's Doing It, Why Can't We?

The Pentagon’s DADT repeal survey, enacted for the satisfaction of John McCain, does not satisfy John McCain. Leaked details of the report point toward a favorable reception of openly gay service men and women, but McCain wants a new study, one that looks at battle effectiveness and morale and demands more time. Time isn’t exactly on the White House’s side on DADT. McCain’s filibuster of the Defense Authorization Bill, to which DADT repeal is appended, was successful in pushing the bill toward the upcoming lame duck session of Congress. If no headway is made on repeal then it will be removed from the bill and voted on separately next session where it has less chance of passing.

McCain’s initial request for a military survey wasn’t exactly illogical or ill reasoned. A well-researched study showing support for DADT repeal might help turn the votes of previous objectors. It lends support to motion at hand and gives credence to the President’s decision. This makes McCain’s new request, particularly its timing, appear disingenuous. What about the first survey isn’t up to par? He doesn’t specify. It may have been enough for him several months ago but as time goes on his mind seems to have changed (from three years ago).

If McCain wants a study on battle effectiveness and morale he can look to any number of NATO and/or EU nations involved in Afghanistan or Iraq. Britain, France, Russia (admittedly not a member of either organization), Germany, the Netherlands and others all allow homosexuals to openly serve in their military organizations and have since or prior to 2000. Israel too has allowed homosexuals to openly serve since the early 90’s. None of these countries’ military have experienced an outpouring of homophobia during wartime, none have experienced loss of morale because of same sex soldiers spying on each other in the showers, and none have been hit with the gay bomb.

McCain’s bid for time could kill repeal for now. There’s no question that it will come up again but the question is when. In reality, DADT repeal might have a better chance in waiting out McCain.

The Patterson School Should Get More Religious

We here at the Patterson School are forced to take at least one class in statistics as a graduation requirement. Having successfully (and very intentionally) navigated my way through four years of undergrad without even walking past a stats classroom, I must say a little piece of my soul died the day I first sat down in Whitehall and opened my $158.95 stats book to the "Mean, Median, and Mode" section. I, along with the rest of my colleagues who were not fortunate enough to test out of this requirement, spent a good chunk of our first semester at Patterson talking about standard deviation, R-squared scores, and how we couldn't understand a word the TA was saying in lab. (Side Note: saying math is the universal language does not make your English-speaking students understand what you are saying any more than before you say it.) Nevertheless, we all made it through and (I admit this begrudgingly) will probably be at least slightly better for it.

That said, I recently came across an interesting interview in which Dr. James Ron, a professor at the Norman Paterson School for International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, says that his students are entering the world of international affairs at a distinct disadvantage because they are not "religiously fluent." Interesting. He says they don't seem to know much about the religions of the world or, for that matter, their own religions. He argues that if his students are going to be effective partitioners of international affairs, they should be able to navigate through the terminology, stories, and traditions of the major world religions.
They should recognize and embrace the understanding that religion is an important part of people's lives and thus, an important part of their jobs.

I happen to strongly agree with this. Diplomacy, Development, International Commerce, and National Security are all deeply affected by religion because ultimately the study of international affairs is the study of interactions of people in a particular context and people are, by and large, religious and getting more religious. I mean, how can you expect to effectively interact, do business, negotiate, or argue with someone when you don't possess even a basic understanding of what, for them, is foundational? I think Dr. Ron would argue that you can't.

This brings us to our next topic and my point for
this blog post. I would argue that this picture to the right represents a concept that, for students of international affairs, is misleading, naive, and will get them in trouble when dealing with "religious foreign people." Yes, I just opened this can of worms. The picture implies the American foundational belief in the separation of church and state. Further to this, it implies that religion and politics can actually be conceptually separated, that religion can be placed in a box next to the philosophy box and social interaction box. I would argue that this construct is not reality for those who truly believe their said religion. For these "true believers" (I know, I know, minefield, but just go with it for the sake of argument), their religion permeates everything, influences every decision, and guides every thought. Their religion isn't something that can be made separate from their politics; their religion is their politics, their philosophy, their social interaction. They would argue that your religion, the religion that is separate from the rest of your life, isn't really a religion at all. To not possess an understanding of this concept is to possibly risk ending the conversation with your counterpart from another country before it's even started.

How does all this relate directly to National Security? I'll answer your question with another question. Would US national security strategy in dealing with Islamic extremism have been different if, in say 2001, if we better understood the role that Islam plays in the lives and decisions of Islamic extremists? I think so. Another question. If you are working for DoD based out of the US consolate in Belfast and your devote Catholic counterpart wants to have you over to his house to celebrate Easter weekend with his family, do you think it would help to know a little about Easter? I think so as well. Actually, I would argue that you could only reach a certain level with your Irish counterpart if you only understood the basics of Easter and that level might not be enough to get the job done.

Admiral Mike Mullen recently stated that America's national debt is its #1 national security threat. I would propose a close second on that list to be the widespread absence of religious
fluency and understanding among American international affairs policymakers and practitioners.

Thus, in conclusion, if the bottomless abyss of a subject that is statistics is required before Patterson sends us out into the world of international affairs, I think the Patterson School should require a Introduction to World Religions class as well. Funny thing is, there is no such class taught at the University of Kentucky at any level. I guess a lot of really smart people disagree with me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Panel adds India to Af-Pak equation

If things don't start getting better soon in Afghanistan, the United States should consider pulling out more troops, says a "blue-ribbon" bipartisan panel in a Council on Foreign Relations report out Friday. Other suggested actions include drone strikes on Pakistan-supported anti-India militants.

US officials were quick to insist the better funded strategies currently in effect are working and will work, yet the panel members appeared pessimistic about those chances and called for the Obama Administration to make a decisive move in December:

the Obama administration’s upcoming December 2010 review should be “a clear-eyed assessment of whether there is sufficient overall progress to conclude that the strategy is working.” If not, the report argues that “a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted.”

The panel presented a raft of recommendations for the Obama Administration.

On Afghanistan:
  • Continue burden-shifts to Afghanistan's government
  • Take charge of political reform and reconciliation, including a regional diplomatic accord and a deal with the Taliban
  • Continue build-up, training, and equipping of Afghan security forces
  • Encourage private sector investment in Afghan natural resources field
On Pakistan:
  • Continue economic support and training for Pakistan forces and police
  • Consider a trade agreement to open the US market for Pakistani textiles
  • Encourage a shift in Pakistani strategic calculus away from support for militants and groups that use terror as a weapon

The report broke what I think is new ground by decisively including India in the strategic calculus of their recommendations. India, of course, would be included in a regional diplomatic scheme, but the report also recommends the Obama Administration include Lashkar-e-Taiba to the list of targets for drones strikes.

This would be a clear expansion of the drone program in Pakistan and could lead to fallout with the Pakistan public and government, which still supports the group.

The inclusion of India to the Af-Pak calculus is, to my mind, a critical and oft-ignored inclusion. Granted, India was a member of the regional "contact group" suggested by Obama in March 2009. Yet Pakistan's support for anti-India militants has continued, provoking a recent sober assessment by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This of course doesn't mean that Pakistan will crack down on the groups it supports. Yet ongoing pressure by the Administration, tied to benefits and security guarantees, could prove useful in weakening the power of Pakistan-supported militants.

Either that, or the US will call in the drones, directly targeting the militants but perhaps provoking the Pakistani public.

Clearly, option one is better. Option two is simply easier.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coming Out of the Closet, Professionally?

Repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law is not a good idea from several standpoints. I’m probably going to give away who I am by my statements, but it is a personal opinion.

From a professional standpoint, I don’t care who you are or what you do. All I care about is if you can get the required job completed…period. If not, I can relieve you for incompetence, which I have no problem doing. Of course, I need a thick file of counselings to support my claims and to show that you were confronted with the issues and counseled, rehabilitation or retraining was tried…all to no avail. I don’t care what your sexual preference is. It is not part of your job and it has no place in the workplace. That is meant to be private and like religion and politics, is not to be mentioned in public. Sexual preferences have no “rights”. Men and women have rights, but, if your private actions, your sexual preference or sexual proclivities affect your job, that’s when I have a problem and I will deal with it as a behavioral issue, much like I would alcoholism, tardiness, or DUIs.

Today, however, I would be slammed with a discrimination lawsuit. I had a gentlemen ask me about what people thought when blacks or women joined the military. I maintain that those are entirely different and separate issues. Race and gender are not in the same category as sexual preference. Whereas I do not flaunt my sexual activities in front of everyone, I cannot hide the fact that I am black, Hispanic, Chinese, etc, or that I am a woman or a man. I do not believe that discrimination should be used as an argument. People have rights, not activities.

People can cease to have rights, however, when they cross a well-defined legal line. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, sodomy and adultery have no place in the military according the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. In one of the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs, revision of the UCMJ is proposed where it discusses sodomy. An argument is that the code needs to reflect the laws of the land and not be outdated. Adultery is also illegal according to UCMJ, but I don’t hear about the law needing to be changed to reflect today’s society of infidelity. The military is supposed to adhere to a higher moral code, to be an institution of integrity. We all know that there are adulterers and swingers in the military, but they don’t broadcast it. If they did, they’d be given Field Grade Article 15s and possibly chaptered out of the military for conduct unbecoming an officer, warrant officer, enlisted Soldier. The reason the UCMJ exists is to ensure that good order and discipline prevail. If the military were a reflection of the public as a whole, I wouldn’t necessarily want to serve. I like that we are set apart and held to higher standards. It is part of the profession of being a Soldier, not a contentious point for discrimination.

I’m also going to have to undergo more sensitivity training. Where was that when women or blacks were admitted to the military? I don’t want to add more training to my already long list. If I am professional, I don’t need to undergo the training. I think maybe the training should. I have my own views on whether or not it is right morally, but I don’t want someone “training” or forcing me to accept a “morality” to which I don’t subscribe. If there is any training, it should be to continue to act professionally. I think that would cover most of the problems.

There is the additional fear of harassment of gays by non-gays in the military. Again, if people are staying professional, then there shouldn’t be issues. Flaunting a gay or lesbian status is inviting trouble. If I flirt at work or school with my peers, I am inviting trouble. Sex always gets people in trouble, period! Sexual assault is a crime in the military and whether it is girl on girl, guy on girl, guy on guy or girl on guy, it doesn’t matter. It will be dealt with by the Criminal Investigative Division (CID). Sexual harassment may rise, but it rose when opposite genders were allowed into traditionally male worlds. There is a reason that women are not in combat arms professions and I am fine with that reasoning. Plain and simple, women are distractions to men by nature. Men are also more protective of women, by nature. Women also have functions that require additional levels of hygiene, which are usually not available in the field for long durations of time, neither do men need to be subject to that. No amount of military training can root out basic human needs or hormonal attractions. What the military can do is to limit the occurrences in which those manifest themselves. Just for the record, I’m fine with women being in combat arms, but in a separate unit, like Delta Force has. Again, the military can limit, and has done so with the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, the occurrences in which being homosexual has an impact on others. Unprofessional behavior is punished, whether it is homosexual or adulterous.

There are fears that once someone’s gay status is known that open bay sleeping arrangements, shared showers or close quarters can be a hotbed for flirting or open sexual advances. Assigned cohabitation with other gays has been discussed for barracks assignments and rejected. Open showers should not be seen as peep shows. Why should it matter what my sexual preference is? I don’t get restive because people don’t know me openly as a flirt (I’m not, but, just saying…) Gays in the military should be no different. Again, it comes back behavioral issues. If I make unwelcome advances, I get in trouble. Professional behavior is just that, professional – not leering, not jeering, not flaunting assets meant for privacy, and certainly not bargaining to be allowed to make those around me uncomfortable. Laws shouldn’t be changed just to pacify behavioral issues.

A roommate of mine in Colorado decided to join the military. In her Advanced Individual Training, she was propositioned to by a female classmate and she experimented with bisexualism. She decided that she was done with guys and after her commissioning two years ago, openly announced to her family and a few friends that she was a lesbian and done with guys who had hurt her. She is an officer in the military, but leaves her private life at home. She has no problems at work and doesn’t ask for special treatment. While I do not agree with her lifestyle, I have no complaints with her actions on the job. She is a professional and caring nurse, to both males and females. She has no desire to have the law repealed.

Don’t repeal the DADT law. It’s opening cans of worms that will inundate the military with more paperwork, additional behavior problems, additional moral and ethical, monetary and tax questions, and headaches galore for unit commanders.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Upheaval in the Defense Department

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is transforming the Defense Department yet again. Congress has asked him to trim the budget and here in Washington, faces are drawn at the Pentagon Metro Stop. Long hours spent crunching numbers, hurriedly drawing up statistical surveys to support keeping certain programs and endless pots of coffee are the norm in the long bland corridors of the DC fortress.

There are broad programs given to the State Department - strategic planning is one of them. Why is it not a function of the State Department? If countries are supposed to exhaust all forms of diplomacy, including sanctions, before resorting to force, then why doesn’t the State Department take the lead? I talked with a gentleman in government about this and he shook his head. Having the proponent for force take the lead in strategic planning can be seen as duplicitous by other countries. Now, if the U.S. policy makers didn’t care about other countries, only about how they can best advance U.S. interests, then we would be more dictatorial as a world hegemon and it wouldn’t matter which department had the lead role.

The Defense Department is fulfilling both the role of the diplomat and professional Soldier, seen in our efforts at nation building and peacekeeping activities, heavily populated by Civil Affairs and DoD contractors helping with reconstruction. I taught my cadets that our role is to be an ambassador of the President, since we interact with foreigners wherever we go on military duty. Our thoughtless actions can cause international incidents. At the same time, we are training to kill. My purpose is to implement instruments of death so that we can protect those back home. I don’t know much about other militaries, but it would be interesting to study the roles of Soldiers around the world. Are we the only ones with that role? Being a diplomat requires a sensitivity to culture, yet, we don’t focus on what that means in the military. Oh, we have cultural awareness classes, but they are country specific, people group specific, and behavior specific. There is nothing that teaches us what culture is really all about – the values that are important to countries and how to recognize those. This is a function of the foreign service officers in the state department and foreign area officers in the military – the diplomatic branches.

How can you be a killing machine if you understand those whom you are trying to kill? It becomes more personal. British psychologists do not want their boys in the military to understand culture, as it provides a sensitivity to people, even if their governments are enemies of Great Britain. They said that if they developed that sensitivity, they wouldn’t have an army in ten years. With this in mind, shouldn’t the U.S. military also focus on the force arm and the job of teaching Soldiers how to kill, surgically and decisively, reducing civilian casualties and implementing policy decisions, leaving the diplomatic function to the diplomats?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is poised to return diplomatic functions to the State Department. She has the bulldog tenacity, personal and political connections and stamina to weather any sort of criticism. She instituted the Civilian Response Corps and the QDDR and is looking towards the future, implementing the means to be ABLE to work with the Department of Defense in strategic planning and taking over diplomatic functions post-combat, and maneuver the State Department, with funding, to take the rightful lead in strategic planning for the U.S. In Force and Statecraft, the author mentions that force is secondary and used basically as a last resort. A regional or world hegemon has the luxury of using force as it wishes, but it is prone to resorting to force as an expedited means of securing interests. That does nothing for trust between countries, planting seeds of doubt and questions of true intentions. Madame Secretary should stay in the role of Secretary of State, where she has a greater ability to implement change than be stymied by politicians in the role of President. She can elevate the status of the diplomat and peaceful resolution, forge relationships with other countries in spite of the actions of our leaders, and be a force for positive change in other countries’ attitudes towards the U.S.

If Secretary Gates is the visionary he seems to be, he will eventually relinquish the Defense forces’ hold on the diplomatic functions and restore them to their rightful place in the State Department. That will slim the Department of Defense to a satisfying level for Congress, yet not give up a most necessary and developed capability.

The Midterm Results Must Not be the Death Knell for New START

With the GOP gaining control of the House and gaining the ability to more or less effortlessly block legislation in the Senate, at least two major Obama Administration policy pushes are likely to be tabled until at least 2010. While trying to avoid a bitter partisan debate, I'd like to discuss one of these issues (I had initially wanted to tackle DADT as well; perhaps a colleague would like to give it a shot), how it has changed since last week, and what the implications might be.

Most pressingly, the fate of New START hangs in the balance. In September, after debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (remember, the Senate deals with ratifying treaties), the treaty got at least a modicum of bipartisan support. All of the Democrats voted in favor, and Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) joined them. Perhaps as an early indicator of Tea Party foreign policy, South Carolina's Jim DeMint (who had tried to work in some language about missile defense) did not show up to vote. Anyway, because of the GOP support, the treaty made it out committee for open debate on the Senate floor.

The issue now is, when will that happen? Clearly the Democrats would like the vote during the lame duck session, while Corker wants the vote pushed until early next year so that the new Senate can have a say. The Dems are already plying moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe for support, though without Corker it is likely that the vote will be pushed until new session, where its fate is uncertain. Certainly, the Russian Duma has backed down on its support, assuming that the GOP will not allow New START to pass. The efforts of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation certainly aren't helping that impression; the organization is already sending out mailers to moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats to pressure them into voting against the treaty. The mailings denounce Corker for collaboration, juxtapose Obama's face with those of Ahmadinejad and Putin, and warn that passing the treaty will weaken our national defense.

Now this is a rather facile analysis. Heritage's linking of Obama to Putin and Ahmadinejad is that same simplistic bait-and-switch tactic used by both sides to link the other to "sending jobs to China" ahead of the midterms. One would hope that what ever a politician's leanings on the issue, such a facile approach would hold little weight. But, given the money and clout of lobbying firms, of which Heritage is one of the largest, that isn't a given.

Further, though Corker's argument that it is more democratic to wait for the newly elected Senate to deal with the issue sounds appealing, it falls flat--especially on this issue. First, the current lame duck session of Congress was not elected in some sort of vacuum--they remain our nation's elected representatives, for better or for worse. It seems that Corker is already feeling heat from more conservative comrades and is seeking to punt the issue to the next session so that the bill's defeat will "absolve" him of voting for it in committee. Furthermore, this new Congress was more or less voted in as a mandate on the economy (as we discussed in class last week, foreign policy often takes a backseat). Second, there is a precedent of lame duck Congresses passing major legislation, such as the Clean Air Act and accession to the GATT.

Finally, the issue of nuclear weapons is somewhat unique, especially when a major decision on the issue requires cooperation with another country. The ratification of a treaty requires quick, decisive action. This does not mean that proper consideration and debate can be eschewed, but lagging on the issue equates to a de facto veto. Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April, so the clock has already been ticking for about seven months. As the Russian Duma's repeal of its recommendation for ratification after the midterms shows, long delays will effectively kill a treaty. The Senate must realize that time is of the essence. Charges by the Heritage Foundation and others that this threatens our national security do not understand the issues at stake in the treaty, America's military dominance--both conventional and nuclear, and the nature of nuclear deterrence itself. They merely obscure the issues, and allowing more time to pass threatens the likelihood of the Russians playing ball while simultaneously allowing such threat-inflating flame-baiting to take hold. A treaty is not a normal peace of legislation, and should be held above political horse-trading, especially when it only requires a reduction of America's bloated, over-priced nuclear forces in exchange for a reduction in kind.

This issue is relevant not only for its national security considerations, but because of how it fits with this week's course readings. In particular, the White House's National Security Strategy puts a great emphasis on the President's desire to reduce the nuclear weapons in the world, while maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent for as long as they exist. The Senate has a capability to blow a hole in these goals and mortally wound one of Obama's major political goals.

I do not mean to suggest that they should not kill these goals because it is politically cruel, or because Obama is who he is. It would simply be wrong to not curtail the threat of accidental nuclear warfare or that poorly maintained Russian nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists, simply to score political points against the President's agenda. How the Senate deals with New START will thus not only reflect the body's foreign policy leanings, but will be an early indicator of whether it will be a force in creating gridlock for the next two years at the expense of behaving responsibly. No matter what issues or positions you hold most important: from nuclear weapons to debt reduction to immigration, that is not something the US can afford.