Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Education may not at first appear to be a topic for national security, but affordable education is an underlying source of American power. The United States’ ability to prepare future generations for security issues in the 21st century is being challenged by poor educational performance and education costs that appear to have no limit; trends that have everyone on every level concerned about whether the U.S. can sustain a healthy economy based on America’s current workforce.
Though the U.S. has the best universities and spends more on education than other countries, Americans take on more debt in pursuit of their education than any of their international counterparts. America’s young and future workforce is questioning whether to sustain large amounts of education debt in return for uncertain earnings potential and uncertain employment opportunities, while experts in the public and private sectors continue to draft policy recommendations that appear to stay on the “whiteboard”.
Current popular policies address job creation and employment opportunities, but fail to fully address the earnings potential of the U.S. workforce. Add this failure to the questions America’s young and future workforce are asking and it is not unthinkable that the incentive to obtain a higher degree of education, such as undergraduate and post graduate degrees may decrease. Thus young American’s are in the initial stages of opting for short-term technical degrees valued to provide immediate employment opportunities without the hardship of taking on large amounts of long-term debt. The absence of affordable education in the baccalaureate studies causes great concern for sustainable long-term growth in U.S. workforce wages; concern for the technical expertise of our domestic workforce; and concern for the overall long-term health of the U.S. domestic economy.
One think tank -the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) -has launched a special project in connection with its 90th anniversary titled “Renewing America” that focuses on six major domestic challenges facing the U.S. global power: debt and deficits; infrastructure; education and human capital; corporate regulation and taxation; innovation; and international trade and investment. Under its selected resources on education and human capital the CFR provides links to experts who’s proposed policies spell out ways of making improvements to an education system beset by falling student performance and a flawed immigration system that threatens U.S. capacity to develop a competitive workforce. But with all its great anniversary efforts – it is doubtful that these policies will gain traction. Instead, it’s as if we are stuck in a U.S. education insane asylum - education experts continue to recommend various changes, but never address the real problem – ergo they are recommending / implementing more or less the same policies year after year – expecting change – isn’t that education insanity?
According to UNESCO the U.S. has the second largest number of higher education institutions in the world and the second highest number of higher education students in the world. Though these figures are impressive, it still doesn’t dispel the growing employment and financial concerns that many young Americans have.
As mentioned above, affordable education is contributing to a concerning trend in the U.S. workforce. Thus, to prevent a domestic economic decline would it not be better for policy makers to address the real hindrance in education –its affordability and availability- through a robust reformation of the current U.S. higher education system up through baccalaureate studies; where tax dollars allocated to the Department of Education would provide free education up through undergraduate studies. Other western countries do this for their youth –some even provide a stipend to everyone older than 18 that are matriculated. Why can’t THE superpower of the world do the same? Understanding that the allocation of state and federal funds for this is daunting, affordable education is a circuitous element of power for America’s hegemonic unipolar status. I wonder if this topic will be addressed satisfactorily during the presidential debates.
|If you haven't seen the video...|
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
“Tango is a dance for two and there is no intention from the Russian side to bring the 'reset' to a close”.
For the last several weeks, President Dmitry Medvedev and most of the senior Russian officials have tensely been promising to reveal which measures Moscow will take if Europe deploys a missile defense system. "The possibility of local armed conflicts virtually along the entire perimeter of the border has grown dramatically," General Nikolai Makarov said. “I cannot rule out that, in certain circumstances, local and regional armed conflicts could grow into a large-scale war, possibly even with nuclear weapons” were probably the most alarming statements by the Russian administration.
Finally, on November 29th, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered to operate the newest radar system that protects from missile attacks and covers all of Europe and the Atlantic. Medvedev personally arrived in the westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to see the opening of the operation. At the ceremony, the Russian President claimed that the radar launch was a sign to the Western partners that Russia was ready to promptly respond to threats that arise with the start of the European missile defense. "I expect that this step will be regarded by Western partners as the first signal of our country's readiness to appropriately respond to the threats posed by the missile defense system to our strategic nuclear forces," argued Medvedev.
Most of the western experts have been guessing whether Russia was trying to scare the West with some type of new weapon. However, after the press conference held last week, when President Dmitry Medvedev announced Russia’s response to missile defense talks with the US, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Western anxieties were calmed concerning the supposed “threat” from the Russian president for these following reasons:
First: One of Medvedev’s most used arguments was that Russia had developed the necessary means to disrupt the information and control systems of Western missile defense installations if necessary. This does not refer to nuclear missile attacks on those systems, but to the need for Russia’s military to develop the capacity for a cyber attack against U.S. missile defense systems. However, considering Russia’s extremely modest achievements in the field of information technology, it seems unlikely that they would be able to carry out such an attack. Also, a U.S./NATO counterattack along the same lines could be devastating and would probably deter such Russian intentions.
Second: The Russian administration has threatened and today indeed deployed the most modern attack systems, Iskander missile systems, in the Kaliningrad district. However, if Russia decides not to violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (as it announced earlier) the Iskander will not be able to fly further than 500 kilometers. In that case, the missiles could only reach part of Poland but none of Romania (where one of the NATO defenses missile systems is deployed). Moreover, the best single way to destroy missile defense systems is with a preemptive strike. That means Medvedev is threatening the possibility of starting a war against NATO, which is highly unbelievable.
Thus, all of Medvedev’s statements have no relationship to any real military threat or to Russia’s current capabilities. So far the question why NATO, which claims that the new missile defense is built against the threat from rogue states, can not provided such guarantees to Russia, has no an official answer….
Monday, November 28, 2011
After reviewing the recent GOP National Security Debate it was alarming how easily the majority of the candidates would continue to give up liberty to attempt to increase their security. One of the most interesting topics was the Patriot Act and the views each candidate held on it.
Just how much liberty are people willing to trade in to be secure, or maybe more accurately, to allow themselves the illusion they are more secure? Maybe we need to ask ourselves how secure do we want to be in our privacy? Regardless of a person’s view it must be remembered by all that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the law, any law (or act) that violates it is null and void, including the Patriot Act.
Several of the candidates supported the idea that criminal acts and domestic warfare acts are separate. They need to be reminded that the Constitution does not say the rights it protects are only for U.S. citizens; rather it was intended to protect the rights of everyone on U.S. soil. Rights are not given to us by the government, they are given to us by our Creator and it is the duty of the government to secure those rights, not trade them in for “protection”. To say we are at war and that is grounds to violate the Constitution is ludicrous! The War on Terror is a war that is vague enough to encompass whatever the government wishes it to, it could be said to be similar to the War on Drugs. Does that mean to combat drug use we should ignore the Constitution for drug related crimes? (After all it would help law enforcement eliminate drug crimes.) Of course not!
With the exception of the honorable Ron Paul, each of the candidates have made it clear that it is acceptable to trade in liberty for security; and our current President is no different. Any politician who suggests you do not need *THAT* much liberty and attempts to convince you to give it up because after all you want to be safe is not to be trusted. The Declaration of Independence states:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Notice how the founding fathers took care enough to specifically name liberty as an unalienable right and how liberty is actually related to true safety instead of one being traded for the other. Only when a society has liberty is it truly safe.
Power, once given to the government, is never reclaimed. The government will continue to provide a reason (or supposed threat) which supports its retaining of that power, and it will likely claim anyone who would suggest the government lay down those powers is a threat to the nation itself. The risk associated in having a truly free society is outweighed by the benefits of liberty, if we are “fighting for our freedom” and in order to fight we must give up our freedom, then the very act of fighting results in our defeat. Again if we temporarily give up our liberty now, we will never reclaim it. Supposedly the terrorist hate our freedom, well because we fear them so much we ourselves are eliminating our freedom, all they have to do is watch.
The Arab League agreed today to impose economic sanctions against the Syrian government. According to this article, the sanctions ban travel by governmental officials, freeze Syrian assets, ban financial transactions with the Syrian central bank, and end commercial exchanges with the government. These efforts join those by the U.S. and the E.U., who have already imposed sanctions on Syria.
The debate is still out on the effectiveness of economic sanctions. One idea regarding effective sanctions is that the threat of greater action must be present. According to Daniel Drezner’s Conflict Expectations Model, sanctions backed by the real threat of force (and with a wide gap in costs; I know, this isn’t Econ Statecraft, but it is important) can produce at least moderate concessions. Of course, this must be tempered. If the adversary believes force is inevitable, he or she may not see the need in conceding anything. It could even lead to a preemptive strike in some situations.
The actual goal of a sanction is important. Sanctions can compel, deter, or signal a regime. For example, in regards to Syria, they are not ‘intended’ to compel al-Assad to step down. Instead, their purpose is to coerce the Syrian government into abiding by the peace agreement it signed on November 2.
These ideas are similar to Schelling’s “compellence” argument. With Schelling, the goal of the threat of force is to reveal to the enemy what that force can do to him if he does not comply. The idea is to leave the enemy with something more to lose. If you don’t, the enemy has no reason to accept your demands, and war could be inevitable. It seems that economic sanctions perform a similar function: the costs they incur are intended to be so great as to force concessions from a government. In both cases, simply acquiescing would remove the pressure placed on the regime. I guess the similarities between the use of force and the use of sanctions are why it’s considered economic warfare.
To some, it seems that economic sanctions are a way to avoid costly and difficult military solutions to problems. To others, economic sanctions are a useful tool to ratchet up pressure on a regime before more forceful actions are taken. I tend to fall into the latter category. But knowing when to make the transition to force is difficult; there will always be those who claim that other measures should be taken before resorting to war.
In Syria’s case, perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps the regime believes that, at this point, it will collapse if it abides by the peace agreement mentioned above. But that is the reality that Assad brought on himself when he chose to quell the rebellion instead of initiating reforms. By doing that, he turned what started out as a request for reforms into an outright call for his removal from power.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
In the past week this schism has expressed itself in the form of a SWAT-style armed raid on a newspaper office to arrest a media adviser to Ahmadinejad, Ali Akbar Javanfekr who was sentenced today. While to my knowledge using tear gas during an official press conference is something of an unprecedented action, this all begs a bigger question: why?
While I have often found humor in the press releases of the Iranian media, this step hints that the division is somewhat deeper than the previous "conflict" let on. Rather than a conflict over who holds power and is in favor at the moment, this arrest either means that the Government is questioning its own narrative of events or that it is trying to send a message to someone. The most likely reason is the later, as the Uskowi article mentions, and that the intended recipient is President Ahmadinejad himself. As Javanfekr was one of the few advisers that has remained close to Ahmadinejad in recent months this arrest can be seen not so much as a message to "shape-up," but more as a message that the end is near for the country's current political leader.
Earlier this past week the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, signed an agreement in Saudi Arabia officially transferring power to his vice-president. This came after 30 years of autocratic rule and months of protests by civilians, a renegade general, and tribal dissidence. President Saleh was a staunch ally of the U.S., allowing U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, such as the one that took out Anwar Al-Awlaki. Initially the U.S. did not push for the removal of Saleh, however, after months of protests and the increasingly volatile situation, the U.S. now supports Saleh resigning power.
The question then, is how will Saleh's departure from the office of the president affect the U.S. national security situation in Yemen? My answer is that not much will change over the next several months or years. In fact the situation may get worse before it gets better. Yemen will become even more unstable as various factions and opposition groups grapple for power. Yemeni security and intelligence forces may be too overwhelmed keeping track of the domestic issues to thoroughly fight Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
However, the security situation is not as bad as it sounds. Saudi Arabia has no interest in seeing democracy flourish south of the border and the reality is that a relatively hardline government will emerge once again. In addition, a son and three nephews retain powerful posts in the military and intelligence service, and will no doubt continue to work with the U.S. to fight terrorists as President Saleh did. Drone strikes and intelligence gathering on Yemeni soil are likely to continue as normal.
According to police officials in Manila, Philippines, four individuals were arrested on charges of hacking into AT&T business customer accounts in the United States. These hackers diverted money from the accounts to a group which has been known for funding Jemaah Islamiyah attacks throughout Asia.
Jemaah Islamiyah is a group that operates in Southeast Asia. The group seeks to establish an Islamic state which will encompass territory of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore. They have been responsible for multiple attacks against civilians, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines. Some of the group’s members were among those in the Mujahedeen forces who fought against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. The CRS report to Congress on Foreign Terrorist Organizations lists different connections that Jemaah Islamiyah has to Al-Qaeda.
The group has been tied to multiple attacks throughout Southeast Asia. The attacks have been bombing. While the technological sophistication of these bombs has varied, they have been set predominately against civilian targets. The most well known bombing occurred on October 12, 2002 in Bali. The attack was on a night club and killed approximately 200 people. However, the group has been connected to plans for bombings in Singapore. These plans were for bombings of the U.S. embassy as well as other places commonly visited by American troops and businessmen. Plans were also uncovered in 2002 for multiple car bomb attacks to critically hamper U.S. interests with eight Southeast Asian nations.
The actions of these hackers are thought to have started in 2009. The FBI has been working with the Philippines officials to investigate this issue. AT&T has reported that hackers did not target or breach their network. Although there is discrepancy so far on if the hackers truly were able to hack into AT&T accounts and if these hackers were in fact acting on behalf of Jemaah Islamiyah. Yet, it is interesting that more and more criminal acts reported in international news are being linked to terrorist groups. This could be because of greater technology and investigative techniques. This leads us to the first major question, what could be the consequences of greater connections between terrorist groups and hackers? The connection between hackers and terrorist groups could be very crucial to the future of U.S. national security. It will be especially important in how the U.S. defends itself against future terrorist attacks. Furthermore, this situation brings about a second question. Does the international relations implications of the containment of “communists” in the Cold War mirror the War on Terrorism today? This question is not in regards to the threat that each of these circumstances presents, but more so the political and economic benefits that come from being a country which is “fighting” communism or terrorism. For example, there are 97 countries included in the U.S. Country Reports on Terrorism. Many of these countries are not reported to have major terrorist operations within their countries, but they do have counterterrorism.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
The legacy of the US presence in Iraq may include the rise of rap and hip-hop culture. Apparently, aspects of the American culture resonate with the youth of Iraq much to the chagrin of older segments of the population. Teens with baggy clothes and hats turned backwards are not an uncommon sight some neighborhoods of Baghdad these days. American slang and the tough guy bravado of 50 Cent have crept their way into hearts of Iraqis who have come of age during a time of bloodshed and occupation.
In disregard for strict Islamic codes against bearing skin in public, these youth are proudly displaying their new tattoos. According to Brett McGurk, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, nearly half of the population of Iraq is under the age of 19. The future leaders of Iraq are no longer spending their childhood being sheltered from the American ideal of personal expression. They are now growing up searching for who they are and who they want to be much like teens in the developed world.
The ability for teens in Iraq to have the freedom to express themselves outwardly through body art, rapping, break dancing, and dressing provocatively (for an Iraqi) sets the foundation for a population that values the freedom the of individual. When a population places value on the rights of individuals, I would bet, their value of human rights would also be high.
With all of the official diplomatic effort poured into Iraq, the most influential and lasting mark was made by the foot soldiers interacting with the population on a day-to-day basis. Our soldiers, with the exception of a few outliers, performed above and beyond the call of duty and well outside of their initial training. They became the ambassadors of a better life and they performed with distinction. I hope the youth of Iraq take ownership of their right to express themselves and never let their government take it away.
Among other things, he suggests narrowing the time between conceptualizing programs and bringing them to realization – but is this really “New Thinking” and is it not more like “Wishful Thinking”?
Besides those standing by to profit from drawing out the realization of a program, everyone would agree that this should be done. So what stands in the way? One of many answers includes the nature of doing business with the government and production scales required for military procurement. There may be ways to improve the process, but the ability to consistently narrow the time between conceptualizing programs and bringing them to realization might require drastic measures such as privatizing areas of the military.
In light of several blog postings mentioning the MV-22 Osprey and its consideration in DOD budget cuts, I thought it was important to include a piece elaborating on the expeditionary mission of the MV-22 Osprey and its current and future importance. In order to fully appreciate why the MV-22 Osprey is NOT just another expensive DOD system that the U.S. military doesn’t need, we have to pull ourselves away from political discourse, popular media articles written by biased or lazy journalists, and focus first on the overall mission of the MV-22 Osprey. The Osprey is used in support of all services with the Navy/Marine Corps and Air Force being its biggest supporters. Those that critique its existence or mission fail to appreciate the mission of the United States Marine Corps and its expeditionary use. Many - even some Marines - from communities not acquainted with air-ground operations – either haven’t been made aware of or simply do not appreciate the self-sufficiency of the Navy and Marine Corps to perform its own air-ground operations.
America needs an expeditionary force in readiness that is prepared to respond to any crisis. With the US being a Nation with global responsibilities – it requires ready, sea-based forces organized, trained and equipped to conduct operations in the littorals – from humanitarian assistance to major combat operations. Yes, this sounds like an advertisement for the United States Marine Corps, but the United States Marine Corps is this force in readiness and the Osprey is ideally suited for these wide ranging missions.
The Osprey is designed for the Ship-to-Shore assault mission to support the Marine Air-Ground-Task Force operations to support maneuver, operations ashore, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel and amphibious evacuation. It is one of the only aircraft built to perform numerous missions thus replacing several aging aircraft CH-46E, CH-53D and even lessening the burden of troop and support maneuver tasks to the Marine Corps’s KC-130s. It is the first wholly composite aircraft ever built for the military – ca. 90 percent is plastic (which eases manufacturing and permits easier and cheaper repair of battle damaged panels –plus it has digital data bus with fly-by wire controls. In addition, it is impressively configured with various weapons systems, external store attach points and a refueling probe – AND with its blade construction the aircraft is incredibly quiet compared to helicopters- An important feature in the battlefield!
With the global population moving towards littorals – future conflict may require increased use of Naval operations– both humanitarian and warfare operations. For example, recent operations in Libya proved that conflict can arise suddenly and require swift deployment of military assets in other areas of the globe. To date, the Osprey has performed missions in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM(Afghanistan), OPERATION ODYSSEY DAWN (Libya), OPERATION UNIFIED RESPONSE (Haiti), Humanitarian Relief for SOUTHCOM as well as other amphibious operations for Marine Expeditionary Units. Critiques of the aircraft remain focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and fail to include other operations or fail to appreciate how future operations are forecasted to occur.
So this aircraft may have had an incredibly rough “go” during its test period, but what platform hasn’t? The major takeaway is that this aircraft can haul troops and cargo twice as fast and can carry three times as much, and goes six times farther than the CH-46E and CH-53D, it has performed MEDEVAC and SAR missions, can protect itself in a battlefield environment and do close air support (CAS) when needed. It is incredible bang for buck –considering all that it replaces. Can’t say that about too many other aerial systems.
All services have proven their ability to “adapt and overcome” in order to prove their worth in whatever the current conflict may be. Herein lies the “beauty” of the minds who took the time to design an expeditionary aircraft that doesn’t JUST bomb something or doesn’t JUST transport troops and items from point A to B. Instead the MV-22 is designed with the intent of not only meeting the “Ship-to-Shore” mission of the Marine Corps, but is able to be employed for a wide range missions across ALL military services in an ever changing battlefield environment at an affordable cost.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city, and has not typically served as one of the major battlegrounds of the Mexican drug war. However, the recent escalations of violence in the city are evidence of cartel’s seeking to expand their influence in areas that are already claimed by rival cartels. The escalating violence in Guadalajara is a consequence of this, as the Zetas seek to assert authority in a city under the dominant criminal power of Mexico’s Western coast, the Sinaloa Federation. Authorities have claimed that the Zeta’s might be seeking to expand their influence into Guadalajara in order to increase their profits in the Mexican methamphetamine industry in the vacuum left after the death of a local Sinaloa drug boss.
As cartel leaders have been killed in Calderon’s war against drugs, cartel loyalties have shifted and factional fighting within the cartels has increased. The divisions within the cartels lead to increased competition between the groups, which in turn lead to increased criminal activity that affects the civilian population. Not only does this danger the lives of Mexican cities, but it will also prove to be economically damaging to the Mexican economy. The criminal activity has occurred in the midst of well publicized national events, such as the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the largest book fair event in the Spanish speaking world. The bodies from the aforementioned incidents were found on Wednesday and Thursday, only a few days before the event, and Mexican officials were worried about the toll this would take on the event’s crowd. Because of cases like this, tourism has declined due to the outpouring of violence within Mexico. This weakens the Mexican economy, which in turn deteriorates the government’s ability to adequately work against the cartels, thus augmenting the power of the cartels and prolonging the drug war.
Furthermore, a weak Mexican economy and government obviously means increased security and economic risks for the United States. This would mean more illegal immigrants crossing the border seeking economic relief, violence increasing in American border cities, decreased tourism in said border cities, an increase in drug traffic across the border, among other risks. Therefore, an increased American partnership with Mexico is recommended in order to avoid long term negative consequences. This has already been initiated, as seen by the American government sending unarmed drones into Mexico to gather intelligence about cartels. Operations like this should be continued, and increased in accordance to the need, in order to effectively combat the growing power of Mexican drug cartels.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
So I watched the Republican Presidential Debate Saturday November 12. At least the hour that was aired. This debate was advertised as the “Commander-in-Chief” debate and focused on national security and some foreign policy questions sure to come up. If you know anything about what is currently going on in U.S. foreign policy, you were probably screaming at the TV and engaging in numerous /facepalms.
Despite seeing the appalling performances, I decided to subject myself a second time to the Republican attempt to understand, let alone talk about, national security. I’m apparently a sadist because that was painful. At least this time, the two full hours of the debate were aired. But that’s the extent of the good. I spent another two full hours yelling at the TV (and drinking) about how wrong what they were saying was. And the unfortunate thing is that most Americans don’t know how wrong they are, which is why they can get away with saying the things they did. New required high school courses: national security policy and defense statecraft. Seriously (Syriasly), the world would be a better place if Americans and their possible politicians knew what they could actually do.
It’s not like the questions were hard. The debate was hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, neoconservative bastions where the members want the candidates to look good. But the majority of the people on that stage had no idea how to answer them. At least they’ve stopped harping on leaving Iraq this December. Someone must have explained what the SOFA does and showed the candidates the poll numbers that show solid support for this. Some also took on the budget and debt issues, but they wanted to cut foreign aid which is under a percent of the total budget. That’s going to fix anything.
And can we talk about what wasn’t said. China was barely mentioned and even then only in the last five minutes. India wasn’t spoken of which is odd for how much time was spent on Afghanistan and Pakistan. A question was asked about Somalia and Al-Shabaab, but no one really answered it. There was no mention of the Eurozone crisis. North Korea was mentioned in passing with all of the comments on Iran’s nuclear program.
In closing, I just want to give an awesome shout-out to the EMP comment by Newt Gingrich. Thank you sir for the token crazy comment of the night.
Happy Thanksgiving all.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Today President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to aim Russian missiles at U.S. missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe if the U.S. doesn't address Russia's concerns with the program. He also threatened Russia would withdraw from its nuclear arms reduction treaty with the U.S. Although Russia has been working with NATO as a partner in the defense shield program to protect Europe against a potential attack from Iran, it is now raising more concerns about the exact use of these missile sites. The Russian government is worried that Russia itself could be a target of the U.S. in the future.
President Obama has refused to sign an agreement that would ensure Russia will never be a target of America's missile-defense sites. As a result, Russia is more skeptical of the nature of these missile-defense sites. In Cold-War type rhetoric, Medvedev stated that short-range Iskander missiles could be placed in Kaliningrad, "ensuring our ability to take out any part of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe."  All of these statements undoubtedly put a huge damper on the "Reset" on U.S.-Russian relations which was started only two years ago.
The legitimacy of these remarks are also debatable. One might argue that the possibility of Russia actually deploying missiles in Kaliningrad is highly unlikely. However, the timing of Medvedev's statements is particularly concerning, considering the recent IAEA report that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. needs Russia's help with Iran but the latter has sided against them on the matter, criticizing the U.S. for placing further sanctions on Iran.
It also begs the question, is this the beginning of a return to hostile relations between the U.S. and Russia-- especially considering the change in leadership which will take place next March? How will the U.S. and NATO respond if Russia does indeed aim Iskander missiles at U.S. defense sites in Eastern Europe? And even if Medvedev's comments were only intended to mobilize Russian voters, how realistic is it that the two countries can maintain good relations when not only the Russian government, but also a significant proportion of the Russian population, has a deep suspicion of America's intentions?
More recently, because of mass protests against the outcome of the legislative elections, Vladimir Putin is blaming the U.S. for "intervening" in the country. What exactly should America's role be in this matter? We should do more to pressure Russia to politically reform. However, I believe the U.S. and its allies will continue to look the other way due to their dependency on Russia for oil and other energy sources. Unlike the protests happening in the Middle East, the Russian government is much better equipped, militarily and systematically, to suppress these protests. Sadly, it seems that the massive discontent with the current regime in Russia will be all for naught.
|Image by Rodger Bosch/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images|
The U.S Peace Corps program announced on November 18 that it had “suspended its volunteer activities in Kazakhstan based on a number of operational considerations.” After 18 years in the country, the agency is pulling out 117 volunteers, pointing out that “Kazakhstan is one of the most developed countries in the world to host a Peace Corps program.” More than 1,120 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Kazakhstan since 1993, working with communities in projects focused on teaching English, education, youth development and HIV prevention.
Jon Larsen, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan, confirmed the Peace Corps would be leaving the country but said he was unable to comment on the reasons for the withdrawal. Officials in Astana, as well as Peace Corps representatives, refused to recognize any tensions surrounding the volunteers’ presence in Kazakhstan, and instead are promoting the pullout announcement as the natural outgrowth of the country’s prosperity. Kazakh education ministry, though, later insisted that Peace Corps was leaving because the country had developed too rapidly to need its programs.
However, local observers in seeking an explanation for the unexpected development are looking at other potential factors, including sexual assaults, the threat of terrorism, and an uncomfortable operating environment, in which allegations of espionage have been aired in the mass media. Peace Corp volunteers also suggest that if the pullout was based on the country’s development level, then a phased exit would have been planned rather than an abrupt curtailment.
It seems that this serious decision was made largely because of growing safety issues, including terrorism and what has apparently become the highest sexual assault/rape level among PC countries worldwide. Kazakhstan has also this year for the first time faced a series of attacks by radical Islamists who accuse the government of harassing Muslims. Most of the violence had been focused in the west of the country but Saturday’s attack in the city of Taraz was only 350 miles from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.
Another opinion, expressed by one of the PC volunteer putted it more bluntly way: “KNB [Kazakhstan’s intelligence service] agents are sitting in classrooms. Upper-level ministers all but booting volunteers from numerous regions in the country. Questions of espionage and revolutionary tactics.”
The agency has also been smeared in the media. A report last month in a local newspaper, the Aktobe Times, questioned whether “the all-perceiving eyes and sensitive ears of foreign intelligence officers have not been sent onto our territory” under the guise of Peace Corps volunteers.
In a scenario that revived memories of classic Cold War espionage, in 2008 Peace Corps volunteer Anthony Sharp was arrested in possession of explosives at a mine in northern Kazakhstan. In a leaked 2009 diplomatic cable, then US Ambassador Richard Hoagland said the case “appeared to be a classic Soviet-style set-up, likely orchestrated by the pro-Russian old-guard at the Committee for National Security (KNB) and aimed at discrediting the Peace Corps and damaging bilateral relations.” Anthony Sharp was convicted but freed and sent home in 2009. However, after the same scenario, the Peace Corp left Russia in 2003 after being accused by Russian officials of espionage, a charge firmly denied by US officials.
However, it is not clear if the Peace Corp withdrawal from Kazakhstan should be interpreted as the result of a recent signed declaration on Eurasian economic integration targeted at the creation of the Common Economic Space of the three neighboring countries: Russia, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan.
Taking into account the geo-strategic position of country, and the long history of U.S - Kazakh cooperation on a broad range of nuclear security and nonproliferation topics, it will be interesting to monitor the U.S policies towards this Central Asian country. The recently announced bilateral plans to enhance interaction between the nations in guaranteeing international security and restoration of the Afghan economy may also be worth noting.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
On May 25, 2007, Public Law 110-28, setting forth appropriations to Iraq, established 18 Benchmarks to measure the progress of Iraq towards self-governance and required reports to Congress on its progress before further appropriations would be given. These Benchmarks primarily focused on security, in view of eventual draw-down of US troops. In September 2007, a report by the GAO found that Iraq had not yet met most of the Benchmarks; the most important ones being De-Ba'athification laws, an independent electoral commission, distribution of oil revenues, an increase in capable Iraqi security forces, and disarming militias. Since this last report, however, there has not been any follow-up reports. In July 2008, the GAO issued a new report, recognizing some progress had been made on the Benchmarks, but they had not yet all been met. The report called for an updated strategy concerning Iraq's development. In November 2008, the US signed a bilateral agreement with Iraq concerning the withdrawal of troops and their organization in-country during the draw-down. However, there is no mention of the Benchmarks in this agreement. What happened to them? If a decision to start removing troops, and setting a deadline to do so, was agreed upon, only a year after the Benchmarks were established and then deemed unsatisfied, why weren't they included?
The US has occupied Iraq since 2003. Eventually we had to leave, so it only makes sense to have benchmarks by which to measure the progress of Iraq to a stable point so we can leave. This has not happened though, so it is no surprise that there will likely be upheaval, chaos, and violence as the various powers figure out their positions in the weak system that is being left behind. The US has failed to assist Iraq in establishing political capacity and a strong rule of law. We are leaving behind a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. What the General did not say, but which I believe will happen, is the US will be back in Iraq in a few years, to clean up what we left behind.