Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Security Strategy Crisis: The USA's C+ Grade at Leading the World in Higher Education

Warnings and fears that the United States and its super power status will fade in the future seems to be the hype that many Americans are concerned about. During the Cold War it was an armaments battles concerning missiles, building the strongest alliances and alliance organizations, NATO. In a Post-9/11 world it was declaring a Global War on Terror and leading the free world in combating terrorism. However, as much as Americans fear global terrorist threats now, and feared the threat of the Communist Soviet Union and worked to contain its influence, then, they don't fear a future where it's children grow up to be uneducated, unprepared and unskilled Adults at maintaining the United States' status as a leader in free-thinking and innovation. The United States must do more to be a leader in creating the world's most educated, skilled and free-thinking society, or, risk lagging behind the international community. At present the United States is behind : Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, there are those that frown down upon public education as a failing institution. Some school districts succeed and are the best in the nation: Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), Specialized High Schools in New York City (NY). What makes these high schools stand out? Their ability to educate and graduate students that go on to seek higher education. But what does it take to be a graduate in these school systems? In New York City it is taking the high school entrance exam. Your score determining if you enter one of the few specialized high schools that rank best in the City and Country or going to your locally zoned high school (where more money goes towards funding metal detectors for guns then it does towards graphing calculators or lab equipment or participating in address fraud to go to a safer school, or waiting on the high school lottery results). In Fairfax county it means high cost of living outside the Washington DC metropolitan area and a high school student population where 2,500 students are homeless. And then there is the controversial educational reforms started in the District of Columbia, where even the President of the USA wouldn't send his children to Public School.  The last President to send their daughter to Public School was President Carter. 

For the US National Security Strategy, improving education at all levels is a security concern. The idea is that by 2020, in seven more years the US lead the world in its proportion of college graduates. But in a country where the Department of Education is just starting to realize the issue of high, increasing college costs and creating outreach forums, is there hope that 7 years is enough time to be a leader? The United States can't continue to slip behind the world in terms of our human capital potential to be skilled in mathematics, science and innovation. 

We know that throwing money at the education problem is not the solution. The solution is investing the people that lead the classrooms: teachers. Teachers need to have smaller classes, more resources and a change in the culture of how teachers are respected and viewed in the United States. Incentives need to be created to motivate teachers, parents and students to succeed. If the incentive of the prestige of a college bachelors degrees is thousands of dollars in debt and a job market where undergraduate degree holders have difficulty finding even entry level jobs related to their degrees. Meanwhile their own standard of living and economic advancement remains at the same level of wage earning as their parents a generation ago. Seven years is not enough. The United States should change it's focus now, the national attention of all policymakers should be at investing in higher education in a way that makes it affordable, attainable and beneficial for all Americans young and old, seeking to make a difference and learn skills that will make them wealthier and restore America's status to leading the world in Education once again. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Tale of the Wise Elephant

  Mice : elephants : : insurgents : powerful nations

            The very same majestic and gargantuan behemoths possessing the fearsome physical sway to protect their young from fiercely muscular lions, are all but helpless in the face of tiny, delicate, scurrying mice. Due to their sheer size and mass, elephants are among the most powerful creatures in existence. But in the face of diminutive, almost dainty mice, elephants find themselves at a disadvantage. Their tusks are useless against these little beasties, and they do not possess their agility or speed. There are, nonetheless, ways in which elephants may use their abilities to their advantage against these puny pests. If able resist the compulsion to use their bulk, often their greatest advantage, in favor of calm, still patience, an elephant may easily flatten the furry little fellows by stomping them with deliberate precision.

            Let us, then, compare the US Military to these extraordinary elephants; insurgent groups or militants to the quick, agile mice; and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to the precision strikes of the elephant's patient, precise foot. The US has carefully assessed the modern threat environment to determine that ground wars involving tanks, troops, heavy artillery, etc., are now all but obsolete. With the superpower 'elephants' either armed with menacing 'tusks' (nuclear weapons), or comfortably situated under the protection of an ally's 'tusks,' open conflict between such 'elephants' is unlikely. We have moved into an age of proxy wars and insurgent fighters working in loosely connected cells. These militant mice have found that they may strike at elephants that they could never hope to overcome on an even battlefield, simply by devising strategies for irregular warfare that allow them to use their smaller size and agility to their advantage.

            In spite of decades of experience with conflicts against Native Americans, revolutionaries in the Philippines, the Vietcong, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc., the US experienced some regrettable growing pains while adapting to the concept of irregular warfare. We have now, however, begun to focus on addressing the strengths and weaknesses of insurgents so that we may use them to our advantage. Insurgents owe much of their agility and efficiency to the availability of communications technology that allows groups (or cells) which are geographically remote relative to one another, to remain in constant contact. This coordinative use of communications technology can work to our advantage if we are able to successful monitor communications and use collected data to predict movements or attacks. This allows us to position our elephant feet in just the right way, so that when these militant mice scurry beneath them, we may crush them with ruthless precision.

            Perhaps the best tool we have to serve as this deadly 'elephant's foot' is the drone. Less costly both financially and in terms of human lives expended over the course of a given strike, drones may also be the best option for addressing our inflated defense budget. The US has successfully taken some first steps toward devising strategies for preventing and, less desirably, responding to insurgent strikes. We have now to stay the course while keeping the mice away from the one weapon we cannot use effectively against them, but which they may use to great effect against us: our tusks (nukes). 

            These irregular opponents could raise the stakes exponentially if they managed to get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction, particularly an armed nuclear device. For obvious reasons, this is highly undesirable. So...let's not let that happen.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

No Cause For Alarm in East China Sea

It’s probably better to overestimate the threat of conflict in international affairs than to underestimate it.  But it’s certainly better to dispense with alarmist assessments if you can make more accurate ones. 

Ask anyone who follows international affairs where the hotspots in Asia are right now and that person will be quite likely to bring up the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute between China and Japan.  We heard an informative presentation by Mr. Daniel Hartnett at last weekend’s fall conference on the matter in which it was predicted as being “likely” that a skirmish will occur between China and Japan and potentially lead to war.  National pride and the desire to exploit possible sea floor oil deposits have caused tensions to rise over the last few year and most informed people see a tipping point looming on the horizon. But consider the incentives all nations involved have to avoid war and it’s rather obvious that violence isn't even close to likely. 

Distorted assessments like these are often created by a lack of important information about the capabilities and interests of the parties to a dispute.  The Team B Report from 1976, for example, took advantage of American ignorance of the USSR.  With a dearth of reliable information, its assessment was driven by ideological goals emphasizing the possibilities for conflict instead of its probability.

But in the East China Sea we have a tremendous amount of information to give context to our assessments.  The values of the three main parties to the dispute – China, Japan, and the U.S. – are well understood and we can see them choosing to behave rationally to avoid conflict.

Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people in China who would love to go to war with Japan – riots occurred in Chinese cities after Japan purchased the islands from one of its citizens and nationalist Japanese sojourned to the Senkakus to wave the Rising Sun.  

But in China, the government runs the show no matter what – what regular people think doesn't matter in the formulation of foreign policy.  After initially seeming to encourage the protests, Beijing put the clamp down to calm tensions.  This has been in keeping with the recent trend in Chinese foreign policy to stop trying to scare the wits out of its neighbors through saber rattling and instead grow its soft power in the region and throughout the world.

Conversely, Japan is a democratic society that is staunchly anti-military.  If shots are fired, it won’t be Japan who does it first, as it is forbidden from initiating aggression by Article 9 of its constitution.  There have always been nationalist elements who would like to reinterpret Article 9, but they remain a minority according to an August, 2013 poll by the Asahi Shimbun:

The U.S. itself has every incentive to prevent violence breaking out, as it is obligated by security treaty to come to Japan’s defense.  And, of course, Japan and China are two of the United States’ largest trading partners. 

In today’s liberal international framework, nations no longer view war as the best path to economic riches and political power.  Particularly for Japan and China, no matter how deep the historical enmity, one huge factor will maintain peace: economic interdependence. 

To quote the New York Times at length on the issue:

According to Japan’s Finance Ministry, China was Japan’s largest trading partner last year, and Japan is China’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. Japan is also China’s largest outside investor, with Japanese companies directly or indirectly employing about 10 million Chinese, according to a Japanese lobby group.
Perhaps as important as the volume of the trade and investment, though, is how complementary the two countries’ industries are.
Japan’s still formidable lead in technology allows it to provide much of the production machinery in Chinese factories and many of the core components in Chinese-made products that have helped make China’s rise possible. Japan’s struggling electronics companies, in turn, have become dependent on sales to China’s lower-cost manufacturers, which use Japanese memory chips, display panels and other parts in many of their high-tech products.

Both nations want to exploit any oil-deposits around the Senkakus for economic gain, but realize that war to achieve that goal would first result in economic suicide.  Japan is an established liberal democracy and China’s political development seems to have matured enough to recognize such costs of war and benefits of peace.  As Mr. Hartnett posited, if tensions turn to violence it would most likely not start from official command, but from a Japanese or Chinese captain carried away by patriotic fervor.  So the question is really how committed and able the Chinese and Japanese governments are to preventing hot headedness.

Of course, it’s difficult to know how strictly enforced the engagement policies of the respective governing entities are with any specificity. But my take is that these two politically mature governments recognize the costs of a skirmish and know that providing clear directives to their respective maritime forces is of utmost importance.   

So when the incentives of all three parties are taken into consideration it’s obvious that predictions of war really are alarmist.  What’s most likely is that China and Japan will cool tensions and shelve the Senkaku issue to focus on those that are of much greater importance to their economic securities.  And if things really do start to grow out of control, the U.S. will use its hegemonic influence to press for an internationally mediated resolution where both sides can find victories to claim.  All involved are smart enough to see that their larger interests are better served by negotiation than war.

Iran-U.S. Relations

The recent attempts at détente between Iran and the U.S. over economic sanctions and nuclear capabilities revive the question of how U.S. foreign policy should approach this thaw in relations.  Should the U.S. pursue a policy of containment, first outlined in George Kennan’s long telegram, or should the U.S. approach Iran in nuclear talks?

Is containment a viable foreign policy option for the U.S. today and is Iran even comparable to the Soviet Union during the Cold War?  While there have yet to be any real breakthroughs, the U.S. has already held two days of nuclear negotiation talks with Iran.  Iran has maintained that they are not seeking the capability to produce atomic bombs. However, they have consistently “defied U.N. Security Council demands that ithalt enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities, leading to multiplerounds of crippling international sanctions that have reduced Iranian oilexports, caused inflation to soar and the value of the Iranian rial currency toplummet.”  On a more positive note, Iran did issue a joint statement with the six world powers saying that Tehran aims to defuse “longstanding suspicions over the nature of its nuclear program”.  

While the U.S. policy of Soviet containment was successful over a forty-year period and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, containment was pursued under far different circumstances and against a vastly different enemy.

The Soviet Union had a well-developed military capable of helping defeat Nazi Germany whereas Iran was not able to defeat Iraq over an eight-year period in the 1980s.  The Soviet Union had thousands of strategically placed nuclear weapons able to destroy the U.S. whereas Iran does not have the brainpower or resources within itself to expand its nuclear program (they greatly rely on foreign assistance in this area).  The Soviet Union held enormous political power and was the center of a communist ideology supported by a third of the world’s population whereas the Islamic fundamentalism of Iran hardly has the support of two percent of the world’s population.  The Soviet Union was rational in its foreign policy, negotiated with the West, and withdrew forces where it could not succeed, whereas Iran does not maintain diplomatic relations with others, supports terrorism, conducts cyber attacks on the West, and makes no secret of its desire to destroy Israel.  The Soviet threat was far removed and would take time to reach its intended target, whereas Iran’s targets are within hundreds of miles.  Educated men with a rational international viewpoint made up the Kremlin leadership, whereas radical mullahs with a limited perspective make up the Iranian elite.      

It is worth noting that a policy of containment with the educated and rational Soviet Union almost ended in nuclear war over Cuba.  Would that same policy of containment succeed against an economically, militarily, and politically weak Iran led by radical mullahs who have consistently operated as a rogue state?  If containment were the course of action the U.S. pursued, it would allow a rogue state to take risky gambles not taken by rational actors.  It would also increase the likelihood of an unintended or accidental nuclear launch if Iran truly had that capability and presumed to be under attack.        

While Kennan’s containment of the Soviet Union was successful, it does not seem to be the best course of action for the U.S. because Iran is not the same adversary that the Soviets were.  As the U.S. is beginning to engage in talks with Iran the issues that have proven to be a stumbling block in the past must be resolved to ease economic sanctions, most notably the scope of Iran’s nuclear enrichment labs and any stockpile of nuclear material it has produced.  While U.S. ally Israel is pushing for Iran to stop all nuclear enrichment, the U.S. and its negotiating partners (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) are seeking to limit enrichment levels, preventing them from reaching the grade needed for nuclear weapons.  Iran does not want to ship its uranium stockpiles abroad while the U.S. would like to agree upon a long-term plan to ship the enriched stockpile material to foreign countries.

Besides those issues, there are many details that will determine if negotiations are successful.  Iran will have to accept the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, which means letting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have access to Iran’s “undeclared” nuclear sites.  Iran’s conservative Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, will be the actors who will have to provide the most flexibility when it comes to negotiations.  Even if a deal can be reached President Obama will have to persuade Congress to ease sanctions, which would also create friction with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.       

While it remains unclear what these negotiations with Iran will bring and whether or not the final outcome will create a nuclear-free Iran or a world that learns to live with Iran’s enrichment program, the follow up talks slated to be held in Geneva on November 7th-8th promise to bring a seriousness and substance that has never before been seen in U.S. relations with Iran.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Are you there Obama? It's me, Abdullah.

Over 70 members of the United Nations  have never served on the UN Security Council. On October 17, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of rejecting their opportunity to leave this "club." Why would Saudi Arabia reject an influential position on the Security Council after its three year campaign to win it? While there have been many potential reasons offered for this move by Saudi, perhaps the most convincing and important is the perception of rejection as a strong message aimed directly at the United States. Saudi dissatisfaction over Syria and Iran has seemingly come to a head, and it is important to take note.

In Syria, the United States has seemingly settled for a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons issue, and by extension a continuation of the civil war. While this outcome may be palatable for the US, the major loser (in addition to the Syrian people) has been the Kingdom of Saud. The Saudis have spent millions supporting the moderate Syrian resistance, which is increasingly being sidelined as the prospect of a Western intervention dwindles into nothingness. In their place have risen the radical Islamists, who the Saudis see as a threat not only to broader regional security but their own regime, as the Saudis who returned from Afghanistan in the 1980's did. The end of the prospect of serious Western support for the Free Syrian Army has emboldened radical elements in the Syrian resistance, and the scope of Saudi Arabia's campaign pales in comparison to Iran's, which has mobilized Hezbollah and deployed Revolutionary Guard units.

The Saudis' other major concern is the ongoing negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program. Not only has Saudi Arabia not been a party to any talks held, but the Saudis do not believe that Iran can be trusted to negotiate in good faith. To Saudi Arabia, Iran is an existential threat, exacerbated by the deteriorating situation in Syria. The prospect of a radical Shi'a crescent of Iran, Iraq, and Syria is understandably terrifying to the Saudis, and in their minds the United States has not done enough to stem this threat. As long as the United States continues working towards accommodation with Iran, King Abdullah will surely be displeased.

But should placating Saudi Arabia be a high priority when determining American policy? Ultimately, Saudi foreign policy options are relatively limited - Saudi Arabia needs the United States more than the US needs them. No other country can provide the military and economic resources that the United States does to
Saudi Arabia, and the United States and world economy at large are much less reliant on Saudi oil than they were 20 years ago. While Saudi Arabia remains an important ally in the Middle East and the United States should remain mindful of its interests, policy in the region should not be overly influenced by a hyper conservative petro-state in a region gradually decreasing in strategic importance; Saudi Arabia's rejection of a Security Council seat is an act of desperation by a state rapidly losing relevance to its most important patron.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not This Again...

Drones are back in the news this week (not that they ever left) as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports have rekindled controversy over several aspects of the U.S. UAV program.  Somewhat ironically, the reports were released just a week after new figures on the casualties of the Iraq War, a cold reminder of the cost of a ground invasion. 

We’ve heard a lot of these arguments before, from Yemenis who say drone strikes fuel terror group recruitment to the Code Pink activist whose 15 minutes came when she disrupted Obama’s May 2013 foreign policy speech at the National Defense University.

The President’s reaction to Medea Benjamin’s bold statements this spring was telling- clearly he takes challenges to the legality and morality of drones seriously, and is cognizant of the many criticisms.  And yet six months later, little has changed on the transparency front and the same arguments are being made by rights groups.   

Many of these arguments can be dismissed by invoking the “least bad option” defense; virtually any other action toward Al Qaeda cells operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region (short of ignoring them) would result in a greater number of civilian casualties, higher cost in American resources and lives, greater alienation and fear amongst the local population, and easier recruitment to extremist ideologies.  Protests against violations of the territorial sovereignty of weaker states are barely worth recognizing.  And for every story of a family terrorized by drones, there’s an interview with Pakistanis who are grateful that someone is going after the militants who have threatened their safety for years.

Family of Mamana Bibi, matriarch killed by a drone strike while gardening
It is clear that this dialogue on the morality (and effectiveness) of drones will continue without resolution.  But more legalistic concerns were raised in the Amnesty International report, and are worth being addressed.  AI accuses the U.S. of committing war crimes, and of carrying out extrajudicial killings.  This is where things get really murky.

The U.S. is not at war with a state, but rather a nebulous non-state entity with secretive leadership and no official representation.  Bearing this in mind, how do we determine who are enemy combatants?  And what constitutes a war zone?  Are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Northern Pakistan?  Is Yemen?  Which rules apply, International Humanitarian Law or International Human Rights Law? And what is the place of Pakistani or American domestic law?

It’s not as if the drone program operates without (slightly flexible) rules.  Generally, UAV strikes are to be reserved for suspects who cannot be captured alive in states with a professed inability to police in ungovernable spaces.  But how these self-imposed regulations fit into the larger framework of international law and agreements is still unclear.  As drone technology proliferates globally, elucidating and codifying the legality of targeted killings becomes increasingly important.

Problems of transparency complicate the dialogue.  The U.S. stance on drones is predicated on the assumption that UAVs are extremely accurate and carefully regulated, but stories like that of Mamana Bibi (and numerous others) seem to indicate otherwise.  As long as the program is shrouded in secrecy, arguments about collateral damage will continue to dominate the discourse at the expense of earnest efforts at legalization.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You Sunk My Battleship!

The Navy is set to launch the first of three new Zumwalt-class destroyers later this week from the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The Zumwalts, weighing in at 15,000 tons and costing $7 billion a piece are more evocative of the dreadnoughts of old than the ships of the modern Navy. Aside from being armed with the standard Tomahawk Cruse Missiles, Sea Sparrow Self-Defense Missiles, SM-2 long range air defense missiles, and two 155mm cannons that fire GPS guided shells, the ship produces enough excess power to eventually be outfitted with Boeing's Free Electron Laser Weapon system. While its fair to say that the Zumwalts can blast the hell out of anything they encounter on the high seas, their utility may ultimately prove fleeting.
An artist conception of a Zumwalt in action.
Ever since Teddy Roosevelt first sent the Great White Fleet trawling the waters of the world, the United States Navy has operated on the principles of naval strategy first espoused by Alfred Thayer Mahan in 1890. Mahan believed that the oceans, what he called the "global commons", served as the great economic highways of the world. As such, he argued the nation that held naval superiority on the high seas could thus control the world's trade. Controlling the global commons however, required a large navy that could operate throughout the worlds oceans. Large fleet actions between heavy cruisers became a main tenet of his theory. The British ruled the waves with a Mahanian minded navy, the US does currently and the Chinese wish too.

However, with the US questioning its forward deployments throughout the world and cutting budgets, does it make sense for the Navy to dump $7 billion into battleships? Probably not, especially since the US can consider other strategies to maintain its dominance of the global commons.

In 1911, Julian Corbett, a British naval historian, published Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. While Corbett, like Mahan, believed that the global commons were the economic lifelines of states, he did not think large fleets were necessary for their control. Instead, Corbett believed navies could control the waves by building small, mobile ships that could conduct guerre de course, or war against the merchantmen of enemies. Sinking an enemy's merchant fleet would destroy his economy and halt his ability to wage war. The French utilized guerre de course tactics against the British in the Napoleonic Wars, as did the Germans with their U-boats in World War I and II. Indeed, the US Navy sunk the Japanese merchant fleet during World War II utilizing submarine tactics.

While it's debatable which theory is more effective (Convoys defeated German U-boats, but not US submarines), if the US wishes to draw down its forces and cut military spending, adopting Corbett's theory and a guerre de course strategy would be most effective. Instead of spending $7 billion on new battleships that may be prone to capsizing, it should build up its submarine and light littoral attack forces. Doing so would not only guarantee US dominance of the seas for the foreseeable future, but also allow the US to draw back from its expensive forward position.

NATO Clusters..... they're grrrrrrreat!

In a time of tightening budgets, uncertain economic recovery/growth and the U.S. congressional kindergarten, it is becoming harder to justify keeping defense spending constant while cutting other government services that may arguable aid the economic recovery.  This is not a problem unique to the U.S., other NATO members like the UK, France etc. are having similar issues at home. While the U.S. share of NATO spending increased from 63% to 72% since 2001, most other NATO members reduced their budgets. Furthermore, at some occasions Robert Gates questioned NATOs longterm relevance, if other member states were to continue to cut or fail to increase their proportional contributions. Current target defense spending is set at 2% of GDP; good thing that this is a target and not a membership retention requirement because besides the US and the UK, only geopolitical giants like Greece and Estonia are currently meeting it. 
One large economy that is not scrambling for cash is Germany, which after a decade long economic structural adjustment is reaping the benefits of getting ahead of the austerity trend that is moving across Europe. One would assume that in time of need, states with relatively more money to spend on defense and/or NATO would step up and make up the difference if needed. Unfortunately, in this case it is Germany, which because of its 20th century history politely declines any sort of leadership that may seem to imposing. Furthermore, the German public often has a difficult relationship with military (or patriotism) for obvious reasons and a general lack of understanding about the importance of national security.
Nevertheless some of its politicians and delegates do recognize the importance of national security as well as NATO and on Tuesday came up with a suggestion to bridge the gaps through clustering.  This would entail creating several clusters within NATO, each containing a larger country and several smaller members. Each cluster would provide capabilities and/or develop new ones for the entire organization. There would be a certain amount of specialization in certain capabilities by each cluster, which would help share costs of defense systems more effectively and make processes within each cluster and the entire organization more efficient.  If this sounds a bit like the theory of comparative advantage, that is because it does. In international trade, nations gain from specializing in certain industries or products and trading for others; clustering could be faintly similar in that it allows for concentration on specific tasks/missions by clusters that are/could be better at these. Ideally then when they come together everything works great, looks great and is cheaper..... we will see about that.  
So far the British have welcomed the proposal, while France and some others were critical, citing specialization by nations as potentially dangerous. The latter has its merits in certain situations, but as a NATO or EU member, is it not the point of collective security to make national security more effective and efficient by sharing resources?
Lastly, it is unclear how this clustering would work out with respect to the U.S., since it probably already is the most efficient at doing most types of missions, tasks, etc. There could be some cost savings, though they may not be large enough to be significant within the overall very large U.S. defense budget. A more likely scenario could be that European members contributions start to bridge the gap without the U.S. needing to increase their share of spending even further.

Oh Good...More Alarmism!

            In an age when cool heads must prevail due the destructive capabilities we've developed, what we really need is...more alarmism?

            While an unhealthy organism may either act in ways it (accurately or inaccurately) understands to be in its best interest, or actively seek to self-destruct, any healthy organism will act in its own best interest. It follows, then, that a given healthy nation should take stock of itself, then chart a course to procure as prosperous a future for itself as possible. With this in mind, we may reasonably imagine that, like the US (well, at least arguably), other nations are working for their own best interest. This is where the logic breaks down, because the actions of nations are guided its leaders, and those leaders do not always act in the best interest of the nation itself. This being the case, the next best step is to determine what the leadership of a given nation is likely to see as being in its own best interest - sometimes that will match with what is best for the nation at large, and sometimes leadership is concerned only with a smaller unit within that nation. Once this determination is made, one might begin evaluating some of the ways in which the leadership in question will go about achieving its desired end. We can then consider whether they have the means to achieve their goals, the allies to support them, or even the motivation to undertake certain courses of action. From George Kennan's Long Telegram of 1946, to the Team B Report approved by Papa Bush under the Ford administration in 1976, we see painstaking efforts to evaluate our opponents, determine their objectives, and assess their capabilities with regard to meeting those objectives.

            Kennan stressed containment due to the notion that the Soviets under Stalin, much like North Korea under the various 'Kim' thumbs, needed to construct a hostile external world in order to legitimize their brand of autocratic rule as a protective measure against the evil world beyond their borders. While he later explained that he didn't suspect the Soviets of wishing to launch an attack on the US at the time, Kennan was not explicit on this point when he basically said that if/when Soviet leadership confronted the US with dangerous hostility anywhere in the world, the US should seek to contain the Soviets in order to prevent expansion. This led to a certain amount of alarmism due to the idea of a Soviet threat.

            This alarmism was fueled by the Team B Report, which consisted of assessments by Richard Pipes, Daniel O. Graham, Thomas Wolf, John Vogt, William Van Cleave. These analysts indicated that the Soviets were not chiefly interested in a peaceful coexistence and simply reacting defensively to the threat posed by the US; rather they were more oriented toward offensive strategies and were likely to become increasingly aggressive as their power expanded. According to this report, the Soviets were not buying into the idea of mutually assured destruction; the goal of the Soviet Union was to achieve nuclear first strike capability under the assumption that they could win a nuclear war. More fuel for the alarmist fire.

            In John E. Mueller's Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda, Mueller basically explains that we live in a kind of irrational nuclear mania, ever fearing that the entity which has more or less replaced the Soviets as the US' most reviled foe: terrorists, will access these weapons. Mueller explains why he believes terrorists are unlikely to procure nuclear weapons, and that much like during the Cold War, this nuclear phobia drives us to make policies and set budgetary priorities that do not mesh with reality.

            In what appears to be a refusal to learn from our past mistakes, and instead of examining the facts regarding practical nuclear capabilities, we indulge in an almost frantic awe of the power of these magical, mystical scientific innovations. Playing up their capabilities may be beneficial for the purpose of deterrence, for those who are believers in deterrence theory, but for those who prefer to calmly examine reality in an effort to more reasonably plan according to a set of plausibly likely scenarios, it is probably preferable to consider things less zealously. By no means should we undermine the considerable and formidable power of nuclear weapons, but we must awaken from the potent nuclear spell we're under. We need to come fully to our senses and measure nuclear capabilities and our response to them as calm, detached, objective observers.

            While it makes sense to anticipate that other entities will use the tools at their disposal to their advantage, which will sometimes be at odds with our own interests, we must undertake measured consideration of the goals of our opponents, whether they have the means to achieve those goals, whether they have (or need) the right allies to support them, and whether they have the motivation to undertake certain courses of action.