Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Education Insanity – Bold Policy Needed!


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.

I'm just a bill...


If you haven't seen the video...

Every year, Congress has to pass a bill to fund our nation's military.  This bill is called the National Defense Authorization Act, and it is slated for voting in the Senate this week under Senate Bill 1867 (this will open the bill in PDF in a new window).  This matters for two reasons.  One, it lays out the exact means by which the Department of Defense will acquire and spend its money.  In and of itself, this is pretty important.  And two, there is usually some tidbit buried in it that causes great uproar on the Hill, if not necessarily anywhere - even though it probably should.  This year, the tidbit has to do with detaining suspected terrorists.
When was the last time you read 682 pages of legislative bill?  Yeah, me too.  However, with the wonders of technology - aka the word search feature in Adobe Reader - you can jump straight to the sections of the bill that are being debated: Section 1031-1032.  Section 1031 is titled "Affirmation of Authority of the Armed Forces of the United States to Detain Covered Persons Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force."  In a nutshell, this section gives authority to the President under the AUMF to detain "covered persons" until they are dealt with according to the law of war.  A "covered person" is basically anyone who had anything to do with 9/11 attacks and anyone who has anything to do with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban (subsection b).  The options for dealing with a detained "covered person" include detention without trial until the cessation of hostilities (which, this being a war on terror, will never happen), trial in a military court, transfer to a different yet appropriate court, or transfer to custody of a foreign country.  So, this subsection would appear to give unqualified power to the President to detain and hold indefinitely, without trial, anyone anywhere who has been or is involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.  Including, perhaps, Americans.
And this is what has the ACLU, other human rights organizations and the blogosphere in general all worked up:  Americans could be detained, anywhere, at any time, if they are suspected of being involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.  Even in your OWN BACKYARD!!  Yes, the U.S. Military doesn't have anything else to do, so they'll be cruising your neighborhood.  Other news sources have picked up on this angle and are fomenting fright of the totalitarian police state - just do a Google News search for "S.1867" and see for yourself.
All the furor in the media and blogosphere is stemming from the changes to these sections that occurred between Senate Bill 1867 and the earlier version from June, Senate Bill 1253 (this will also open in PDF, so you can do the text search).  In S.1253, Section 1031 specifically stated that the authority to detain a person does not extend to U.S. citizens on U.S. territory, except to extent permitted by the Constitution.  The current bill, S.1867, no longer has that text in Section 1031.  What happened to it?
According to Senator Carl Levin, the primary author of S.1867, the current Administration requested the language excluding U.S. citizens in Section 1031 of S.1253 be deleted.  However, he did not provide any evidence of the request, nor could I find any Statement on Administration Policy concerning S.1253.  An SAP was issued for HR.1540, the House Bill that became S.1867, and while this SAP did address detainee matters, they did not concern the detention of U.S. citizens.  Later, the Administration issued an SAP concerning S.1867, saying that the language in Section 1031 may open “a whole new series of legal questions” concerning detention authority.  So, it would appear that the White House wants any language concerning detention to be withdrawn from the bill, and has threatened to veto if it is not done.  Although Senator Udall tried to do so in his amendment, the Senate did not approve it. 
So where does that leave us?  With a 682-page bill to appropriate funds for our nation’s military possibly vetoed over wording in a half-page long section.  Granted, a critical issue is at point here – the extent of power to detain suspects – but might not the other 681.5 pages be important enough to be signed into law?  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Russia launches new missile defense to cover Atlantic

“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

With Liberty and Justice For All!

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.

Economic Sanctions and the Threat of Force in Syria


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

Live Blogs Defining Success in National Security?


After reading several blogs discussing topics from the Republican Party presidential debates, it is interesting to deliberate on the topic of National Security and evaluate the Administration’s ability to show strength in National Security. One of the blogs covering the live debate entitled “Political Intelligence” written by Glen Johnson of The Boston Globe commented on President Obama’s ability to show strength in National Security by “killing Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders”. When talking about showing strength in National Security – are we really only talking about killing the enemy –i.e. the killing of Osama bin Laden? Or is there more we should be looking at to adequately evaluate the strength of our Nation and its leaders in meeting National Security requirements?

Consider the opening section of the National Security Strategy (NSS) focusing on American leadership starting at home to enable renewed projection of strength abroad by rebuilding our economy and infrastructure and empowering its population through education. Undoubtedly, the government has attempted investments focused on this agenda, but either it is too early to really evaluate the results or quantitative analysis shows an unsatisfactory trend. Instead of relying on the mere act of killing someone to define in National Security, we should be asking questions like the following:

How is the United States strengthening its long-term partnership with the Iraqi Government and people? Our NSS highlights that we will counter “bankrupt agendas of extremism and murder with hope and opportunity”. How are we doing this and how do you measure advancements? Our NSS mentions shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier time…by engaging countries with shared interest and values, but then goes on to state that international institutions should more effectively represent the world in the 21st century. How are we pursuing this and how do we hold those countries accountable that break the rules of these institutions and their agreements? Yes, the U.S. should take the lead on these endeavors, but have we been fulfilling this role?

Hopefully future live blog coverage of presidential debates the answers to the above questions will be considered; instead of equating one objective out of many from the NSS as a sign of strength.

You're Tearing me Apart Ahmadinejad

Over the past year, the Iranian government has decided that it has a traitor in its midst. In much the same fashion as a number of pundits in the US, the state of Iran feels that its political leadership is not only to blame for the country's state but that it is also actively trying to sabotage the state. While this started as a personal disagreement between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei over the place of Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister, it has blossomed into an all out turf war over the hearts and minds of the political elite.

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.

Security in Post-Saleh Yemen





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.

Are we on the edge of more violence in the Middle East?

The Arab world has seen a lot of upsets in the past year or so. Zine ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak have been removed from power and Muammar al Gaddhafi lies dead. Other nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain have been able to launch successful counter-revolutions to maintain their grip on power. These usually involved both military suppression and government concessions. Now, while there is still unrest, the overall level of violence has dropped.

However this may simply be the calm before the storm. Egypt's military government has been facing continued protests in Tahrir Square calling upon them to give up power. Even though the government has resigned and legislative elections are scheduled for Monday, this may still not be enough to the people, who may seek quicker change and a military with a less integral role in Egyptian politics. In that case, more violence is likely to erupt, or even a second revolution against the military government.

Syria is also becoming more dangerous, with Assad now an international pariah. Many middle-eastern nations have called for him to step down, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League has levied economic sanctions against Syria for Asad continuing the crackdown against his own people. Here the future is much less certain. Perhaps Assad may actually cease the crackdown if the economic sanction damage Syria's economy (though this is unlikely because several nations, such as Iraq are ignoring the sanctions). There is also the possibility that the Syrian opposition may morph into a full-fledged rebellion, like in Libya. However, unlike with Gaddafi, who was a pariah even among other Arab nations, there is likely to be much less support for international intervention, particularly if it risks upsetting the regional power dynamic with Iran.

The one thing for certain is that this is not the end of the Arab Spring. The United States should be prepared to deal with further outbreaks of violence, and more shifting power dynamics in North Africa and the Arabian Penninsula.


Hackers and Terrorists in Southeast Asia

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

Response to Increased Violence in Guadalajara

The recent discovery of several dozen bodies in Guadalajara – one of Mexico's wealthiest, largest, and most culturally important cities – is indeed disconcerting. However, I disagree that the recent increases in violence in formerly calm cities signifies an increased threat to the US or Mexican security. An article in this week's Economist sumarizes recent research from David Shirk at the Trans-Border Institute which argues that drug violence may have actually plateaued. While violence may be increasing in Guadalajara and Monterrey, the once ravaged cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Jarez are experiencing less violence than they have in the past. One theory is that the Sinaloa cartel has eliminated its competition in Tijuana and has essentially consolidated its control over Juarez. The increased violence in Monterrey and Guadalajara is likely indicative of a new battlefield for the Sinaloa-Zeta rivalry.

Sharee argues that Mexico's drug violence poses two primary risks to the US: increased illegal immigration and a weak Mexican government and economy. While I agree with Sharee's explanation of the logic of violence between the cartels and the government, I believe the risks he/she highlights are largely overstated. First, although drug violence has been increasing for several years, illegal immigration from Mexico has actually declined over that time. Some of this is due to the recession which crippled the US economy and reduced job opportunities for immigrants. Increased border security may have also played a role. However, some of the decline is due to the heightened danger of crossing the border illegally. Mexican criminal organizations now control the major border crossings, making illegal immigration much more treacherous. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America now cite the border violence as a deterrent from crossing the border. Although asylum requests from Mexico have increased over the last few years, illegal immigration has not.

Second, the threats to Mexico's economy and political stability are real, but we should be careful not to overstate them. While Mexico's tourism industry has suffered due to the grisly headlines coming out of the country, the overall Mexican economy is pretty healthy. FDI in Mexico has not decreased significantly since the drug war began, and its economy has been projected to grow over 5% this year. The real problem with Mexico's economy is that it does not provide enough opportunities to young men who have not succeeded in school. In Mexico these young men are called ninis, because they neither work nor go to school. The Economist notes that there are now over 100 criminal organizations operating within Mexico, a tenfold increase since 2007. Many of the members of these gangs are ninis who have no schooling, no job opportunities, and no hope. As far as governance is concerned, Mexico has a strong central government that is able to provide most basic goods and services to its people in most areas of the country. Although some criminal organizations have tried to influence recent elections, their primary interest is to be left alone. There really isn't any threat that the government will collapse because of drug violence. A larger concern is that the government could lose legitimacy. Already, citizens are tiring of the drug war; some worry that a younger generation of voters who do not remember the worst aspects of PRI leadership could fall for the party's illusion of stability and vote it back into power. The return of the vintage PRI would be a step back for democracy. Only time will tell if the PRI has changed since 2000.

Now, just because I believe we tend to inflate the risks Mexican criminal organizations pose to the US government, it doesn't mean that I think we should ignore the problem. Indeed, the US has helped fuel the violence in Mexico with its massive demand for narcotics and its inability to stem the flow of weapons into Mexican territory. Our own government even knowingly let guns cross into Mexico! As such, I agree with Sharee that the US should work with the Mexican government to address its drug violence. While the Merida Initiative and other "militarized" forms of assistance may be necessary, there is room for real progress on two fronts: cracking down on the financial support for the cartels, and helping Mexico reform it's justice system. In my opinion, the US needs to be more active in closing off the cartels' financial networks. Additionally, DOJ and civil society groups within the US should partner with Mexican organizations to help foster more rapid reforms of the Mexican judicial system. Ultimately, as long as criminals can operate within Mexico with impunity, crime will always pay.

This could be the big one

Well, this could be a problem. As you've probably read by now (unless you check this blog for news first thing, in which case, get ready!), NATO airstrikes on two Pakistani border checkpoints occurred on Saturday, killing at least two dozen Pakistani soldiers. While this has many implications, the most immediate was announced within hours of the strike. Pakistan has once again shut down the two border crossings by which supplies were provided to coalition troops in Afghanistan.

I say once again shut down because, as you may remember, this has happened before. In the fall of 2010, Pakistan shut down the Torkham border crossing in response to an American helicopter attack on Pakistani forces. Following a week-long snag in the supply chain that saw a number of insurgent attacks against supply trucks unable to cross the border, American forces acquiesced to Pakistani calls for an admission of guilt and an apology.

So no big deal right? Because this is the first incident since the events of last October, both sides are probably willing to call it even. Well, except for this. And this. Oh yeah, this too. As such, it is unlikely an apology and an admission of guilt will gloss things over this time. Consider that in addition to cutting off the aforementioned supply crossings, Pakistan has also given the Americans 15 days to vacate drone forces from Shamsi Air Base in western Pakistan. This may seem like a harsh punishment, but it would be surprising if the closing of a drone base in western Pakistan really hampered the operational range of drones in the area. What would really matter is if Pakistan came out and explicitly stated that no American operations, drone or otherwise, were to occur in their territory.

The reason, to me, this is such a potential powder keg is that it combines the issues found in last year's episode with the current state of more volatile US/Pakistan relations. Not only were Pakistani troops killed in this raid, but it was, at least based on the boundaries the Pakistanis are using, a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, an issue that Pakistan has become more protective of since May's mission to kill bin Laden. It also seems likely that the civilian government in Pakistan is not in the most stable position, and one of the most time honored traditions in international relations is uniting a domestic constituency against the Americans.

This incident by itself is not an overly important event in US/Pakistan relations. However, the incident does not stand alone. Based on recent events between the two countries as well as the domestic situation in Pakistan, the US and its allies should count themselves lucky if the consequences stop at a temporary border closing and a relocation of drone bases.

Pop and Lock to a Better Iraq

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.

Wishful Thinking

In a recent CNAS publication titled “Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions About Prediction and National Security,” The Honorable Dr. Richard J. Danzig examines the nature of prediction in national security and offers strategic recommendations for how the U.S. Department of Defense can improve its predictive capabilities while also preparing for predictive failure. Danzig recommends that the Department of Defense adopt new strategies to improve its predictive abilities while also preparing to be unprepared. It is a relevant report but it doesn’t offer specifics on how to obtain recommendations and some of the recommendations raise the question: even if it is what needs to be done, can the U.S. Department of Defense actually change and become more efficient?

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.

Understanding Why the MV-22 Osprey Should NOT Be One of the DOD Budget Cuts


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

Increased Violence in Guadalajara

Violence in Mexico is nothing new, but recent increases of criminal activity in formally calm cities have pointed to an increased security threat to both the Mexican and American governments. On Thursday, November 24, 26 Mexican men were found bound and gagged inside abandoned vehicles in Guadalajara, a city in central Mexico. A message from cartel members was left in one of the vehicles, but the Jalisco state police chief refused to reveal the contents. This was merely a day after 16 men were found dead inside vehicles in Mexico’s Sinaloa state. These incidents serve as another signal of an increase in mafia violence, and the brutality of that violence, within the country, and create worry among both Mexican and American officials.
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

Republican Presidential Candidates and National Security

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

Что делать? (What should be done?)


 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." [1] 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.[2] 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.

A Fresh Face in US-Pakistani Relations

Less than a day after Husain Haqqani's resignation as Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, former journalist and information minister Sherry Rehman has been appointed to fill the less-than-desirable post. She is currently the chairperson of the Islamabad-based policy think tank the Jinnah Institute, and a member of the Pakistani People's Party's ruling coalition in parliament.

Ambassador Haqqani resigned in the wake of Pakistan's "Memogate," a scandal surrounding an unsigned memo requesting US assistance to forestall a possible military coup to overthrow the civilian government. The memo, written shortly after Osama bin Laden's assassination in May, requested help from the US in exchange for a wide range of promises that would compromise the country's military and intelligence networks. Though his role in the memo remains unclear, Haqqani's reputation was unable to rebound from the scandal.

Choosing Rehman to represent Pakistan in Washington could present an opportunity to improve relations, or at least communication, between the US and Pakistan. She was educated at Smith College, so her long-time exposure to the US could provide nuance and understanding that is too frequently lacking between the two countries. Her career began in journalism before she entered politics, which means that, in contrast to the standard career bureaucrats whose double speak often complicates US-Pakistani relations, Rehman is perceived as a more trustworthy, straight-talking politician and communicator. Compared to Haqqani she is more ideologically and politically consistent, and is considerably more socially-minded. Within Pakistan this has been somewhat detrimental to her image-- she has drawn harsh criticism for her efforts to reform the country's controversial blasphemy laws.

Rehman's primary challenge will be to convince Americans to continue working with Pakistan's civilian government without taking a hard stance about the military's involvement, particularly in terms of their policies towards the Taliban. Whether or not US-Pakistani relations improve as a result of this new appointment will depend on how well she can strike that precarious balance.


http://tribune.com.pk/story/296285/profile-sherry-rehman-from-journalist-to-ambassador/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15861042
http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/Pakistan/Sherry-Rehman-new-Pak-envoy-to-US/Article1-772914.aspx

Security vs. Speech in South Africa


Image by Rodger Bosch/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a modern democracy, how can state officials strike a just balance between protecting national security interests and preserving freedom of the press?  On Tuesday, South Africa became the latest state to grapple with this issue in the international spotlight after the Protection of State Information Bill passed the lower house of the national congress by a vote of 229 to 107.  Heavily promoted by the dominant African National Congress (ANC) party, the bill grants selected state agencies the power to classify documents as “secret” if doing so will serve South Africa’s national interests.  Any citizens and journalists found in possession of information deemed a “state secret” will be treated as foreign spies, and could receive a jail sentence of up to 25 years if the information is disclosed.  
As in countless similar debates on national secrecy issues, both sides claim to act with South Africa’s long-term security concerns in mind.  For the backers of the Protection of State Information Bill, “national security” primarily involves keeping state secrets from outsiders.  The bill’s ANC supporters have emphasized its superiority to the 1982 Protection of Information Act, an apartheid-era law that did little to deter activities like the Cabinet-sanctioned destruction of classified state documents in the early 1990s.  By punishing those who collect and disseminate classified information, the bill would more effectively counter what Minister of State Security Siyabongo Cwele has called an “increasing threat of espionage.”  In response to pressure from the opposition, the approved draft allows only the state’s intelligence and security agencies to classify information as secret, and provides for the establishment of a committee to closely monitor the classification process.  Such safeguards are intended to prevent the abuse of classification powers by the agencies, as well as by any outside parties that may pressure agency officials to bury undesirable information under a “secret” heading. 
For the bill’s opponents, however, “national security” also involves keeping citizens apprised of government wrongdoing so that they can more effectively hold their elected officials accountable.  Faced with the prospect of significant jail time, investigative journalists may be less likely to pursue stories that involve “classified” components, allowing more instances of state corruption to go unreported or receive coverage only at a superficial level.  Despite a series of amendments made to the initial draft, the bill currently contains no public interest clause, and fails to provide adequate protection for whistleblowers in the eyes of the legislation’s detractors.  
The ANC’s abuse-safeguard amendments haven’t exactly served as a point of comfort, either.  During a press conference on Tuesday, Minister Cwele commented that, “the foreign spies continue to steal our sensitive information in order to advantage their nations at the expense of advancement of South Africa and her people.”  Rather than limiting the concept of “national interest” to intelligence and military concerns, these remarks reflect a more sweeping definition that could apply to such areas as state economic strategies and, in critics’ worst-case scenario, the strength and reputation of individual rulers.  If preserving officials’ political health is considered a national security concern, documents illustrating human rights abuses and other forms of government corruption could receive a secret classification without interference from the monitoring committee.

Opposition parties have vowed to work on an alternate draft of the Protection of State Information Bill for consideration by the National Council of Provinces, the government’s upper legislative chamber.  The bill’s critics have also promised to challenge it in the nation’s constitutional court should the legislation be passed by the Council and signed into law by President Zuma.  Meanwhile, protests have already begun in front of ANC offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and notable figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are speaking up in defense of press freedoms.  As South Africa struggles with competing definitions of “national security” and “national interest,” its democratic counterparts around the world can empathize with exactly how difficult such a reconciliation can be...and how frustrating it is to realize that the tension between security and free speech is never really resolved.

Kazakhstan: What is Behind the Peace Corps Pullout?

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

Pakistan Surrounded by the New Strategic Triangle in South Asia

The recent developments in regional as well as international politics indicate an emergence of a new strategic triangle in South Asia. It seems that not only Pakistan is not part of this strategic triangle, but there may be far reaching security implications that can dramatically affect Pakistan's behaviour in months and years ahead. Pakistan is currently being surrounded by this strategic triangle that is already in completion phase.

United States of America, India and Afghanistan, which are the three pillars of this strategic triangle have never had a common interest, objective or goal in regional as well as international politics in the past. However, signing of Bi-lateral strategic Agreements between U.S. and India in March 2006, India and Afghanistan in October 2011 and now a likely Agreement between U.S. and Afghanistan, indicates that there is a potential understanding between the three countries regarding regional as well as international issues. It is also important to note that the three countries have been involved and had played a major role in shaping domestic, regional as well as international policies of Pakistan since its independence. Hence, it is a matter of national security concern for Pakistan to see the three major players in one pact.

Moreover, signing of strategic agreement between Kabul and Washington is seen not only by Pakistan but even Iran as a threat to their national security. Hence, it is possible that with signing of the agreement, we may witness a set of dramatic events leading to insecurity in Afghanistan that could have far reaching impact on regional security as well.

With the U.S. anouncement of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, regional players especially Pakistan believed that western game in Afghanistan is over. So, they began formulating policies to shape the events in Afghanistan, that with the withdrawal of U.S. troops, they should have a friendly regime in Kabul. It is an open secret that a friendly regime in Afghanistan is long being considered by Islamabad as a lifeline to their very existence as a country. Hence, Pakistan will go to any extend to insure that this goal is achieved.

However, Pakistan's calculations recieved a setback when the U.S. indicated its desire to have permanent military bases in Afghanistan. Political analysts were divided on the impact of such a permanent presence of U.S. military in Afghanistan. While some considered this move by U.S. as a sign of further instability and chaos in the region, others argued that such a presence is required to help stabilize Afghanistan, which will have positive impact on security of the region. But the question remaining to be answered is what are the implications of U.S. military presence for Afghanistan and its neighboring countries especially Pakistan? What will be the reactions of countries in the region? and How will that affect and shape the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Analysts were predicting at the beginning of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan that it would not be a short one, and that the U.S. is looking for permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But, media was dominated with analyses of the war based on fighting terrorism, defeating Taliban, rebuilding Afghanistan and democratizing the region. Now that the issue of U.S. military bases are discussed in public, it is widely supported by the Afghan government under president Karzai, supported by Afghan Loye Jirga (Grand Council) and maybe ratified by the Afghan parliament. However, understanding the sensitivities of the neighboring countries, president Karzai has declared in a number of occasions that U.S. military bases in Afghanistan does not mean that Afghanistan would allow U.S. forces to use its territory to launch an offensive against any other country.

It is understandable that Pakistan is not happy with this move by Afghan and U.S. governments. They have widely considered such moves against Pakistan's sovereignty and national interests. They have been closely watching the shift in U.S. pririties in Afghanistan and the region as a whole which has in turn strenghtened the idea of Indian involvement in the region among some circles in Washington. Pakistan is really worried about such an idea turning into U.S. policy in the region. The latest Indo-Afghan strategic agreement was considered by some in Islamabad as a move by U.S. policy makers into Indian involvement direction.

Eventhough Pakistan is a strategic U.S. ally, but this may change with signing of strategic agreement between Kabul and Washington. With Indo-U.S. strategic agreement and Indo-Afghan agreement already in place, the forthcoming agreement between U.S. and Afghanistan will put Pakistan in a triangle of forces which have not been bery happy with Islamabad's domestic and regional policies.

For a long time, Islamabad was worried about possible Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been enjoying huge U.S. economic and military assistances for years. With its strategic depth in Afghanistan, Pakistan had been considered a major player in the region. All of this will come to a dramatic end in months and years a head. The new south Asian strategic triangle is very likely to undermine not only Pakistan's regional influence but it may also endanger some of its economic and security interests in the region. While Pakistan is engulfed with problems emerging from every corner, it is very likely that the new triangle will have a much more say into domestic affairs of Pakistan.

While some regional analysts hope that this triangle will be able to bring long term peace and stability in the region, Pakistani analysts termed such a triangle to insecurity and chaos not only in Pakistan but the whole region. However, it is early for us to predict the outcome of such a triangle, but we can claim that if formed successfuly, it would be a very unique and significant player in regional as well as international politics.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Well, duh.

General Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of US forces in Iraq, today stated the obvious when he predicted upheaval in the country as militant groups jostle to fill the power gap left behind by the withdrawal of US troops.  Why is this the case?  We've been there long enough to have certainly enabled some stability and capacity in politics and rule of law, no?  Apparently not.  

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.