Saturday, November 30, 2013

Responses to China’s New Air Defense Zone

China ADIZ
Photo from

         On November 23rd, the Chinese government shocked everyone when they declared a vast area in the East China Sea to be under a new Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  The zone was immediately controversial due in no small part to the fact that the area contains such disputed territories as the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China) which are claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwan. The zone also includes Ieodo Island, currently controlled by South Korea.  Also, in the South China Sea, the new air defense zone includes intersecting claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.  Many of China's neighbors view the move as yet another step toward hegemonic growth on China's part, and their progression toward greater control into the blue water.
       It has been extremely interesting to note the reaction from many of the states impacted.  Beijing declared that all aircraft entering the zone must pre-report a fight plan and identification and be willing to obey Chinese orders.  On Tuesday, of last week, the United States flew two unannounced B-52 bombers through the area, in flagrant disregard for the new Chinese declaration, but incurred no incident.  The increasingly nationalistic segment of Chinese society, and the commentators and bloggers thereof, were quick to decry what they viewed as an incursion by the United States and the lack of sufficient response by the Chinese government.  In short order, the Japanese and the South Koreans followed the United States’ lead with their own unannounced military flights thorough the ADIZ. 
       However, not all of the responses to the air defense zone declaration nor the Chinese counter-response have been so simple.  The Republic of Korea immediately and vocally demanded a re-drawing of the air defense zone, before they conducted  their flights into the area.  Australia officials sent for the Chinese Ambassador to their country so that they might express their concerns interpersonally and privately, but the Australian Foreign Minister was much more public about her country’s opposition to the zone.  The United States at once denounced what they felt as an attempt by the Chinese to upset the status quo in the region and led the way in defying the zone militarily.  However, the Obama administration is now urging American civilian airliners to adhere to the Chinese demands of the zone, to prevent any unintended consequences.  This is already being viewed by some as a Chinese win in a battle of wills between to the two countries, unfortunately.  
ADIZ Overlap
Photo from
The Japanese, whose air defense zone is overlapped by the new Chinese claim, have taken a multi-faceted approach in their opposition thus far.  While quickly following the United States’ lead to defiantly fly military aircraft through the zone; Tokyo, unlike Washington, is urging the Japanese civilian airliners who were voluntarily complying with the Chinese demands, to stop.  The Japanese are now looking at their options in the United Nations.  Japanese officials have asked the International Civil Aviation Administration (a UN agency) to look into how China’s new declaration may threaten civilian airliners; this is likely in an attempt to gather together even more international opposition to the  ADIZ declaration.

       The Chinese counter-response has been equally murky.  Soon after the Japanese and Korean "incursions" into their newly declared ADIZ, the Chinese sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into the area to patrol the zone.  In spite of this, the Chinese government also attempted to downplay earlier threats of military retaliation.  One Chinese official recently "clarified" that the zone is not a no-fly zone, and that it was incorrect to assume that China would shoot down any unannounced planes.  This dual response seems to indicate that Chinese claims to this ADIZ will remain firm, and their monitoring and escort of uncooperative flights may increase, even while they continue the attempt to verbally decrease fears of military retaliation. 

        Going forward, it will be worthwhile to monitor whether the actions and counter-actions over this issue by each state involved is in keeping with a traditional, unitary rational-actor model of national security policy decision-making.  Or is a model that emphasizes either organizations or bureaucratic politics in the different defense architectures already starting to emerge as better able to describe the nuanced phenomena we are witnessing.  To be sure, a in-depth follow-up after some time has passed is in order.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Korea's Phantom Menace

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Korea's Phantom Menace

Korea’s Phantom Menace

The territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diayou Islands has long been the preeminent maritime issue in East Asia, and for good reason. However, there is another which also has serious implications for geopolitics in the region: the dispute between the Republic of Korea and the State of Japan over the ownership of Dokdo/Takeshima in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

The offending shoes
The enmity between Korea and Japan can in large part be traced back to the annexation of the Korean Peninsula by Japan in 1910, which was followed by 35 years of colonial rule. The Koreans generally view this era as one of Japanese repression, with grievances such as the plight of comfort women receiving significant attention. The resulting anti-Japanese sentiments, exacerbated by the perceived lack of
apology from Japan, pervade Korean politics. Korean President Park Gyeun-He recently suffered severe political backlash for the simple act of wearing Japanese brand shoes in public. 62% of Koreans responded positively when asked if they felt “militarily threatened” by Japan in a recent poll by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. The product of this charged climate has been that two of the United States’ closest allies in the Pacific are largely incapable of cooperation or even civil dialogue. 

Sejong the Great-class Destroyer
ROK Navy 
Perhaps then, one should not be surprised by the proportion of the Korean defense budget devoted to combatting maritime threats. Starting in 2005, the ROK Navy has procured three Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships (at an estimated cost of $650 million each) and six Sejong the Great-class destroyers (at $938 million each). Furthermore, the ROK has conducted multiple military drills in which it protects the Dokdo islets from a foreign invasion, despite the questionable strategic value of holding .18 square kilometers of uninhabitable rock. These defense priorities are understandable in light of South Korea effectively being an island, and the strategic imperative all such states share for a robust blue water capability. However, unique to South Korea is the presence of an existential threat with which it shares a 160 mile border. Any shift in defense priorities before the North Korea issue is resolved seems premature, especially in light of the ROK’s stated inability to defend itself without US assistance.

North Korean Artillery
While Korean grievances regarding Japan’s historical wrongs have some merit (and continue to be fertile material for Korean politicians), they should not be determining Korean defense strategy. The ROK has spent billions on vessels such as the Dokdoand Sejong the Great­-class, despite the ships having minimal value in combatting the North, in order to combat a largely imagined maritime threat from Japan. While a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would almost certainly result in the destruction of North Korea, the loss of life would be catastrophic, as the North Koreans rained down 10,000 artillery rounds an hour on one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The threat from North Korea is real, and should be by a large margin the highest priority for ROK defense planners. Many Koreans are quick to point out that those outside the peninsula take North Korea too seriously, but perhaps the converse also possesses some truth; that is, Koreans do not take the threat from the North seriously enough.

Government Organizations, Redundancy, and Space

     On November 12, 2013, t he U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a solicitation notice for a Single-Stage To Orbit (SSTO) spaceplane, designated the XS-1 (for Experimental Spaceplane). Requirements for the design revolver around it being launched "ten times in ten days, at ten times the speed of sound (Mach 10) as well as being ten times cheaper at putting surveillance satellites in orbit than the US Air Force’s admittedly expensive Minotaur IV—a four-stage rocket based on a decommissioned MX intercontinental ballistic missile."

An artist's rendering of one technical option is below:

While this might seem to be a logical step to replace the now-retired shuttle program, the problem is that NASA already has a initiative for it.  This type of redundancy is a perfect example of Allison's bureaucratic and organizational decision making process within the government.

     DARPA is responsible for several innovations which have impacted the civilian sphere, or at least enough to deserve an article in Forbes extolling the agency's virtues.  They helped develop satellite imaging technology and the American GPS system, amongst other things.  So why is a defense agency looking at sinking additional taxpayer money into yet another space program?  Simple: because they can, and spaceplanes are sexy.  From an organizational standpoint, it makes sense, as this redundancy of the NASA program will net DARPA additional funding from Congress, while also allowing DARPA to stay relevant to the developing world.  As an added bonus, a reusable spaceplane design could easily be argued to be a "green" alternative to conventional rockets, so they're helping to save the environment.  Save the world while saving the world?  Win-win for all involved.  What could possibly go wrong?  Maybe the fact that DARPA already has a spaceplane, the details about which are classified:

     That would be the Boeing X-37 spaceplane, operated by the USAF.  And of course, the Air Force wants part of any governmental vehicle with wings, so they want in on the game--even though the X-37 is the only orbit-capable winged aircraft still flying.  The USAF already operates conventional rockets using the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) and Minotaur IV launch vehicles.  Both operate with a rocket based on ICBM technology (the LGM-118), and in some cases are literally worked over ballistic missiles.  Even using existing rockets, these programs' costs have risen dramatically and are vastly more expensive to operate than originally planned.  These rockets recently started getting launched from a spaceport in Virginia on the East Coast (which was originally built to launch reworked ICBMs).  As a bonus for the program, this increases the visibility to millions of Americans during a time of budget battles with Congress, which might help the programs retain funding--another hallmark of the Organizational and Bureaucratic systems.

     The Air Force has been trying to remain relevant in the space game since the 1960s when the military X-20 Dyna-Soar got cancelled in favor of the NASA's civilian space shuttle.  With the demise of the shuttle program, the Air Force jumped at the X-37 and the organizational interests it would protect.  It would be unsurprising if the USAF tried to co-opt the DARPA XS-1 program as another attempt to fulfill their self-serving organizational goals.  In an era when Congress is keen to cut the costs of the Air Force's Minotaur rockets and taking a closer look at the F-35's rising costs--and when notable academics are making logical cases to abolish the Air Force entirely--the "space race" has all the hallmarks of Allison's Organizational and Bureaucratic processes, with the future of DARPA, the USAF, and NASA's space programs hanging in the balance.


Monday, November 25, 2013

DoD: America's Premier Aid Agency

The devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan the week of November 7 provided an opportunity for the U.S. military to showcase its soft-power capabilities.  Pacific Command’s quick response to the disaster brought much-needed relief in the wake of the fourth-strongest typhoon in recorded history.  The initiative, which brought together the Defense Department, State, and USAID was a win-win for the military.  The arrival of the USS George Washington along with 50 additional ships and aircraft undoubtedly saved lives, and was a clear reminder of American supremacy in the Pacific- in sharp contrast to China’s woeful (and somewhat petty) initial commitment of $100,000 in aid.


We’ve seen this kind of US military disaster-response success before, in situations where a quick response was the first priority.  The 2010 Haiti earthquake garnered a response that included the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  Also in 2010, the U.S. provided airlift support and delivered assistance via the military during massive flooding in Pakistan. In 2009 the Air Force partnered with the Indonesian National Agency for Disaster Management to provide relief after an earthquake struck the city of Padang, deploying an Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team field hospital.  Finally, the U.S. military sent 24,000 servicemen, 189 aircraft and $90 million to Japan in response to the Fukushima earthquake in 2011.  All of these are examples of how the military has been used successfully for aid purposes.

It is in situations of long-term development and poverty reduction that the military’s role becomes more controversial, and these situations are more common than you might think.  The U.S. Department of Defense accounts for 22% of American Official Development Assistance (ODA). 

To be clear, ODA is defined as aid that is:

1.      provided by official agencies, including state and local governments, or by their executive agencies; and
2.      each transaction of which: a) is administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective; and b) is concessional in character and conveys a grant element of at least 25 per cent (calculated at a rate of discount of 10 per cent).

ODA does NOT include military aid, anti-terror programs, or peacekeeping, so that 22% refers to straightforward economic development aid. 

William Easterly is an outspoken opponent of a military role in development, and cites failed efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He argues that economic development aid provided by the military in both states have made little impact, and generally have not made the U.S. or the military any more popular.  He, along with many others, warns of the dangers of conflating development with security.

In general, the objections we hear from Easterly and other development economists result from a clash of organizational cultures.  NGOs and civilian aid agencies approach their assistance in and entirely different way, and don’t always approve of the military's SOPs (see: NATO in Bosnia and Afghanistan).  It’s not difficult to see how Save the Children’s strategies would differ from the Marines’. 

In truth, there are some elements of international aid practice the military just isn’t great at.  The first is legitimacy among the impoverished populations ODA hopes to reach.  NGOs and aid agencies are better at and more committed to the long-term capacity building and stakeholder engagement needed to build trust.  When a Lieutenant turns up at your door in full body armor with a bag of rice in one hand and a weapon in the other, trust tends not to be your first instinct.   The second is conditionality.  Afghanistan is a great example of military-administered aid encouraging corruption and failing to make enough of an impact to call it a win.

Of course Typhoon Haiyan, the Haitian Earthquake, and Fukushima all prove that there are times when the U.S. Military is the most appropriate and effective tool for the job.  Deploying American armed forces in this capacity has little downside, and if they take on enough humanitarian relief missions, that legitimacy as an aid agency might just materialize. 


The G Word

As news of the nuclear deal with Iran, continued crises in the Philippines and Syria, and other prominent stories continue to flood media outlets, a story is growing in the Central African Republic. The UN and officials in France are warning of a possible genocide in the coming days as violence has escalated. Reports of children being massacred, used as child soldiers, and left alone because of the murders of their parents are beginning to come to light. National security does not rest on the security of the Central African Republic, but as the leader of the free world, the United States must acknowledge and address issues of genocide.

In 1994, 100 days of massacre in Rwanda was largely ignored by the international community. Rather than using the "g-word," officials in the UN and Washington preferred to refer to this genocide as "ethnic tension" or a "civil war." The reluctance to label the Rwandan case as genocide stems largely from failures in Somalia. Clinton and other high level officials in D.C. chose to refrain from taking action, hemming and hawing while thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered. There were reasons for inaction, of course, but in light of what we know now, inaction in future genocide is unacceptable.

The case in the Central African Republic (CAR) erupted in March when Seleka Muslim rebels overthrew the government. What followed was months of violence, including widespread use of child soldiers, massacres of civilians, and other atrocities. Reports say that over 6,000 children are currently being used in the violence as child soldiers. Sectarian violence between Christians (who makes up 50% of the population) and Muslims (only 15% of the population) has only increased since the overthrow. Although Christians did not provoke the violence, they have taken up arms in vigilante groups, increasing the volatility of the crisis.While Seleka Muslims have taken control of the government, over 400,000 people have been displaced, seeking refuge in the jungles. This has led to widespread malaria outbreaks. Basically, the CAR is in crisis, and no one is talking about it.

France has argued for an increase in French troops. Currently, there are 400 on the ground, mostly defending airports and French assets in the capital. Those in the UN are pushing for forces from the African Union to intervene. The U.S. has pledged $40 million to those security forces. African Union forces may prove to be the peacekeeping body needed to establish some relief from the violence, but as we know from history, simply sending some forces may not be enough. In Rwanda, UN troops were grossly underfunded and under-supplied. The lack of supplies rendered them somewhat impotent, other than being able to secure a few safe zones for civilians to seek shelter.

Samantha Powers, US Ambassador to the UN, has said that the situation in CAR is "the worst crisis most people have never heard of." A lot of this seems very familiar. As the story continues to unfold, I wonder if the U.S. will focus more on this crisis, or if it will be put on the back burner. While children are thrown to crocodiles and mothers are murdered in front of their children, we as Americans may continue to focus on our own issues. I argue that as long as we continue to ignore mass atrocities, we as a "superpower" will not hold moral standing. We lost a lot of ground after Rwanda, and then again during the War on Terror. Championing the rights of civilians and children in these cases of violence can increase our moral standing in the world, while arguably doing what we should have done in 1994.

Baby, please don’t go!

Hamid Karzai is delaying the bilateral security agreement with the United States, despite the loya jirga’s approval for the agreement - the neighbors are restless.

The common assumption is that if the agreement was to fall through and American troops left Afghanistan, the country would be overrun again by the Taliban. Karzai’s delay is likely just an attempt at securing his legacy and image as a strong leader that fought for Afghanistan, rather than being a puppet to America.  Like with most leaders around the world, legacy is important, especially when it is necessary to sign away a bit of national sovereignty to the United States in order to keep the country from falling back onto worse times.

Theater aside, Pakistan and Tajikistan are watching closely.  Both have keen interest in the United States staying in Afghanistan.  While the Pakistani government may be publicly critical of U.S. drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), it does welcome the U.S. militaryaid and U.S. drones killing Pakistani Taliban leaders.  It also benefits from the relative stability that comes with U.S. presence in Afghanistan.  Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan would strengthen its Pakistani branch located in the FATA along the border which would impact internal security in Pakistan.  Obviously, due to the social stress and tension that foreign military presence brings neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan want American presence in their countries if they can avoid it, but right now, it seems that the bilateral security agreement is the best option.
While Tajikistan does not necessarily come to mind right away with respect to American presence in Afghanistan, because of its common border with Afghanistan, it has significant interest in having its neighbor as stable as possible.  Tajikistan is one of the least developed former Soviet Union states and suffered greatly during its civil war in the mid-90s.  The southern region of the country is particularly poor and the border with Afghanistan is long and largely unguarded.  Along with being a low income country with limited defense funds, this makes securing the border especially difficult.  In addition, President Emomali Rakhmon, after having been in office for good twenty years, was re-elected on November 6th for his fourth seven-year term (It is noteworthy that the U.S. and the E.U. have not as of yet recognized any election in Tajikistan as free and fair since its independence).  Tajikistan has seen an increase in Islamist militancy and drug trafficking over the past three to five years. In order to prevent "spillover" between conflicts in Central Asia, the U.S. has increased military aid to Tajikistan, despite the large amount of known corruption in the government. Another attempt to counter this increase in militancy, in October 2012 Rakhmon extended a lease to Russia for a military base left over from the Soviet era for another thirty years.  This may give a good idea about how vulnerable parts of Tajikistan could be if the U.S.-Afghan agreement fell through.  Unfortunately for Tajiks, even if the U.S. keeps military presence in Afghanistan, they are still denied constitutional democracy, economic development and freedom of speech.

Hopefully Karzai does not overdo his play to keep face - if the agreement is not signed, his legacy may mean instability and insecurity not just for Afghans but also Pakistanis and Tajiks.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Not Munich, Not Paradise: Why the Iran Nuclear Deal is Significant – and why it isn’t

Opponents of diplomatic solutions to potential international conflicts are fond of bringing up Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, and Chamberlain’s subsequent declaration that he had achieved both “peace with honour” and “peace in our time.” As Winston Churchill immediately pointed out, and as history has borne out, he was wrong on both counts. The lesson was clear: negotiating with evil is na├»ve, and any agreement that results will be worthless.

The problem with learning this lesson, of course, is that it does not apply to every negotiating situation. Not every opponent is Hitler, despite what the rhetoricians might have you believe at the time; this is merely the intellectual equivalent of Godwin’s Law transferred from the Internet to the corporeal realm. And so it is with Iran, current pariah state and former member of the “Axis of Evil,” who signed an agreement in the small hours of the morning with the US, the UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany agreeing to limit development of their nuclear weapons capability and increase access for outside inspectors in exchange for $7 billion of sanction relief.

The key point to understand about this agreement – in addition to its very existence being impossible only a year ago under the Ahmadinejad regime – is that it is a modest start. That $7 billion figure represents just over 1% of Iran’s Gross Domestic Product for 2011 and, while it will doubtless provide a tangible benefit to some Iranian citizens, is clearly a token level of assistance. In exchange, Iran agreed to:

·        Stop enriching uranium beyond the critical 5% level at which it stops being necessary for civilian purposes, and will neutralize its current stockpile of 20% enriched uranium (the enrichment level much closer to weapons grade) by diluting it back down into 5% or turning it into fuel rods, making them impossible to use for weapons;
·        Grant increased access to UN inspectors, including daily access to the Fordo and Natanz sites; and
·        Halt development of the Arak heavy water reactor plant, rumored to be the main point of contention leading to the French scuppering of the previous attempt at an agreement two weeks ago.

The agreement is set to last for six months, during which time the signatories agreed that there will be no new sanctions levied against Iran if they abide cooperate to the above extent. The idea is to reward Iran for becoming a member of the international community, and that in exchange for abiding by the behavioral strictures and limitations that implies, they will be entitled to economic prosperity and the same protection of international law and society afforded to other members of this community.

This civil transformation of Iran is especially important given their position of centrality in the Middle East. An Iran that is, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warns, devoted to the destruction of Israel would be by definition a de-stabilizing force in a region of the world that is already extremely unstable, and if the deal does in fact legitimize the Iranian nuclear program instead of working towards dismantling it, as Netanyahu claims, then Netanyahu – when he calls the agreement “a historic mistake” – will truly be Churchill to Obama and Kerry’s Chamberlain.

The agreement’s very modesty, however, militates against this comparison. Hitler had already annexed the Sudetenland when he met with Chamberlain and – with the hindsight of history – clearly had no intention of stopping with Czechoslovakia. The signals coming from Iran, including support for the deal as well as the idea of Iran rejoining the international community, by the new, more moderate Iranian President Rouhani suggest that, while he is committed to developing a nuclear energy program, he is also committed to Iran’s being a more engaged, responsible member of the international community. In contrast, Secretary Kerry, in saying the deal “is not based on trust,” could hardly sounds less like the naif the deal’s critics suggest him to be. It is entirely possible that this agreement is exactly what President suggests it is: “an important first step.” And if it is a mistake, it is an easily reversible one.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Half A Century

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of  President John F. Kennedy.  50 years following his presidency, what does the country remember him for?  The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, continued US engagement in the Vietnam War, the famous televised presidential debate with fellow candidate Richard Nixon.
Photo courtesy of
Yet, perhaps the most significant event of his presidency was in fact his tragic assassination.  The sudden shooting in Dallas, Texas highlighted glaring insufficiencies in presidential protection measures.  Consequently, it is significant how drastically presidential security measures have changed over the last fifty years in response to the assassination.  The inclusion of the Secret Service into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 points to presidential security (and the security of other key country leaders) as a critical point of the national security agenda.

At the time of JFK's assassination, the president was accompanied by only 28 Secret Service agents.  Additionally, the Secret Service operated on a budget of $5.5 million and employed only 350 agents.  The Service is now allocated $1.6 billion a year for its operations and employs 3,400 agents.  Its jurisdiction has expanded to include visiting heads of state, presidential families, and presidential candidates.  Armored cars and lengthy, detailed contingency plans have replaced open-top convertibles and comparatively minimal planning.

Originally established as a part of the Department of the Treasury in 1865, the Secret Service was tasked with investigating instances of counterfeiting and other cases of fraud.  The division did not begin providing full-time presidential protective services until 1902.  Only two agents were assigned to the White House detail at this time.  Despite the Secret Service assuming these duties in 1902, Congress did not authorize permanent presidential protection until 1913.  In 1951, presidential protection was expanded to include the president's immediate family, the president-elect, and the vice-president.  This expansion illustrates how protection of the president and other leaders slowly increased in priority over time.

The most rapid expansion of the Secret Service occurred as a direct result of the assassination of President Kennedy.  In the years immediately following the assassination, protective services were extended to all former presidents and their spouses for their lifetimes.  Presidential and vice-presidential candidates and nominees were also authorized protection, as were widows of former presidents.  It should also be noted that the lifetime protection extended to former presidents was reduced to 10 years of protective services in 1997.

The assassination of JFK certainly shook the entire country to its core.  Those alive during the assassination vividly remember where they were during the event, much like how the attacks of 9/11 are forever burned into the memories of today's generations.  The resulting policies are indicative of how beloved JFK was by the country, and the value we placed in his leadership.  Technological developments have certainly improved the protection afforded to national leadership; armored vehicles, wireless communication, and the like were certainly not available during JFK's presidency.  But more than technological impediments, presidential travel and events were not planned with the detail that they are today.  Today's Secret Service agents inspect all travel routes of the president before he embarks on the trip, no matter how short the distance.  Lengthy documents are produced, detailing potential threats, detour options, exit strategies, and contingency plans in case of a variety of attacks.  Finally, Secret Service agents themselves receive much more training than they did during JFK's presidency, including rigorous law enforcement training.

As the United States continues to afford more authority to the role of the president, presidential protection has become a vital priority of our national security - the defense of our Commander in Chief, as well as the protection of other critical leaders.  The tragic assassination of JFK, a president so beloved by the people, reminds us of the real threats facing our national leaders and the necessary precautions that must be taken.

Two Monsoons

For centuries, the Monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean propelled fleets of Chinese junks, Mughal raiders and East Indiamen across the waters of the region. The regularity with which the winds altered from the summer to winter months created an Indian Ocean oikoumene of trade so sophisticated it ought sunder the notion that globalization is a modern theme. While merchantmen no longer rely on the monsoon winds to move their ships, the waters of the Indian ocean remain as strategically important to the West today as they did when Vasco de Gama first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 15th century.

Securing the trade routes of the Indian Ocean is an important part of the US Navy's pivot to Asia. Fortunately for the US, the onus of controlling the 'global commons' will not fall entirely on US shoulders. The Indian navy is building its blue water capacity in order to defend these vital trade routes and reduce Chinese influence in the Ocean.

This week the Indian Navy added greatly to its strength by officially accepting delivery of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from the Russian shipyard at Severodvinsk. While Vikramaditya, formerly the Russian carrier Adm. Gorshkov, is an admittedly old ship, it is the second aircraft carrier to join the Indian fleet, making India the only Asian power currently fielding two carriers. In addition, India's first home built carrier, INS Vikrant, is due to be commissioned in 2018.

INS Vikramaditya
Aircraft carriers are the premier means of power projection available to the state. Whether it be the hard power capabilities of the advance strike fighters flown from their decks, or the soft power images of their gargantuan superstructures providing humanitarian assistance to storm wrecked areas, aircraft carriers have become the symbol of superpower status. By fielding a force of three carriers, India is making the statement that it wishes not only to dominate the local Indian Ocean, but project its power into other seas. 

India's naval buildup comes in addition to a renewal of its "Look East" policy. Much like the US, India provides an alternative means of trade for the nations of South East Asia, who tend to look down upon Chinese economic policy. Expanding Indian economic influence in the region is detrimental to the Chinese and as such is beneficial to the US. India's increasing economic influence as well as its growing blue water navy are quickly becoming a viable counter to Chinese influence in the region. 

In the 17th century, Westerners who went to India could expect to survive for two monsoons, less than two years. India's navy, while made up of old western boats, seems to have defied these odds. Hopefully India will continue its naval development, doing so will benefit not only its own national interest, but those of the United States in containing China.  


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The NSA Helps!

America was changed forever after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Many historians and political scientists consider that event as the beginning of America's next chapter in foreign policy since the end of the Cold War in the early '90s. The country essentially went on lock-down for a brief period of time and the president received staggering public support to do what was needed to protect the U.S. from another attack. To this end, the president did not act unilaterally to undertake all of the reforms needed to revamp our national security, but instead he was influenced by a plethora of bureaucracies and organizations. This follows the logic that general state policy, including foreign policy, is determined by a collection of proposals and ideas contributed by various interest groups. To be sure, the executive office could not possibly spearhead the dynamic issue of terrorism alone. The integration of information sharing and broader communication channels between the CIA and the FBI were among the initial needed reforms to be recognized, as was the ability of the U.S. to better track and monitor activities which were deemed suspicious and possibly threatening to the nation.

Not even two months after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush signed into law the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which originated as an Act of Congress. Few were ready and willing to oppose such a measure given the then-recent and traumatic events our nation sustained, yet it did not take too long for critics to take a stand. The Patriot Act has received its fair share of criticism and controversy since then, on the grounds that it violates citizens' Constitutional rights to privacy. These critics insist that the Act was only passed due to the sweeping amount of public support that a fearful public gave to the President. The suggestion is thus that heightened emotions and tensions during a brief period of time should not facilitate the passage of laws which would otherwise be unacceptable. Of course, it is not unusual for organizations to push for measures that may or may not be Constitutional, so long as their interests are served and their continued existence is ensured. In this case, the military, the CIA and the FBI, and the NSA (among many others) had pushed for measures to enhance their capabilities in order to protect the nation. The Patriot Act thus serves as an embodiment to an instance where Constitutional rights (in this case, to privacy) were overridden in lieu of a more safe and secure country.

Recently, criticisms against the intelligence communities have reached a boiling point when it was unearthed that the NSA has been gathering mass amounts of information of the American public via internet companies and mobile phone carriers, along with spying on foreign governments. Even politicians and supporters who helped draft the Patriot Act in 2001 have come out and stated that the NSA has gone too far in its intelligence practices. The arguments include that the system has come to abuse its powers and that Americans' privacy rights have been widely violated. I contend that there can be legitimate cause for concern to the end that the government has overreached and that it could be abusing its power to monitor the public; that we are evolving into a police state. In this regard, measures should theoretically be taken to curtail the extent of government surveillance in order to preserve our rights and freedoms. While we do forfeit some of our freedoms for the sake of order and public safety, if we forfeit too many the concept of living in a free nation will eventually become an ironic paradox. But how can we as citizens expect our government to ensure our safety and protect the nation from being attacked again in the future when we fight and criticize the very measures needed to afford us this safety? Americans thus seem to want to have their cake and eat it too, and voice demands of the government which are inherently hypocritical.

I have no bone to pick with organizations who push their agendas to influence national security policy in the name of our collective security. It was the varying opinions and concerns of many organizations that ultimately convinced President Johnson to begin a limited production and deployment of ABM missiles in 1968, which ultimately coerced the Soviets to engage in strategic arms talks to limit ABMs on both ends. I personally voice support for the roles of organizations to advance measures and actions that would enhance our nation's ability to identify potential enemies-of-state, that may pose a threat to order and public safety, in lieu of my Constitutional rights to privacy. If the government wishes to access my phone records, monitor my activity on the internet, and listen in on my phone calls, then by all means I would willfully encourage it to do so. My relationship with the government is not personal, so why should I care if the government finds out some personal details of my life? If it will make the nation more secure, I would happily yield my privacy rights so that we may all sleep a little more easily at night. If people have nothing to hide, then why insist on so much secrecy and paranoia? It is my belief that those who advocate for greater secrecy have something to hide, which inherently makes them suspicious. Indeed, my activity on the internet and the content of my phone calls (and those with whom I speak) are of no interest to the government anyway. And should I randomly ever become a subject of interest to government agencies, they would be quick to realize that themselves. No harm, no foul.

Many opponents of surveillance measures suggest that the government has become too strong and that it will become tyrannical in nature, to the public's detriment. Yet again, how are we to expect our government to serve its intended functions if we deny it the ability to serve these functions? Therefore the fight to preserve our Constitutional rights relentlessly continues. I sympathize with such opponents in that protecting our rights is the only way to prevent a tyrannical state from ever emerging. But we must be practical and discerning, to realize where conflicts-of-interest exist that cause redundant dissension. In this case, it is evident that our right to privacy must be foregone if we are to expect safety from our enemies. The reality is that only those who have something to hide will be adversely affected. The government will not care if we have affairs in our marriage or if we told our employer that we were sick when in fact we just wanted to make it a long weekend, so long as we aren't scheming to cause harm to general peace and order in society.

In response to those arguments that spying on foreign nations is wrong, it is bluntly obvious that other nations do take measures to spy on us (and our government). I am not advocating for tit-for-tat attitudes or "payback" dispositions, but really what kind of hegemon would we be if we didn't know what our friends and enemies were planning behind closed doors? It is unfortunate that the U.S. was discovered to be engaging in such practices, which led to assured responses by the administration that these activities would not occur in the future. Personally, I would only hope that revamped and more foolproof measures be implemented to continue these practices! It would simply not be responsible for the government to forego intelligence gathering capabilities of foreign nations, as it engenders vulnerability to national security, among other national interests. And the fact that other nations actively engage in the same practices against us should only bolster that philosophy. As the world leader, we cannot afford to be even one step behind both our friends and our enemies.

Therefore, we should not antagonize intelligence organizations whose purpose are to protect us in the first place. National policy should not derive from the president alone; supplementation by organizations are necessary to form the best policies possible. The intelligence agencies know best what national threats we face and what measures are needed to address them - it's the reason for their existence. I like my privacy as much as the next person and I would fight to defend my privacy rights to the death, but for the sake of national security I will yield these rights to impersonal government access to my e-mail account and phone details. We yield some privacy rights with our doctors and lawyers, and as long as we don't wish harm and destruction to our country, the government would be no different. In this and many other aspects, organizations serve a very important purpose in creating our ultimate national policies which strive to serve our national interests and preserve our way of life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why polls do not tell you everything about Iranian public opinion

Iran's (and most of the Middle East’s) public image in the West is tainted in similar ways that the public images of many parts of Africa are tainted.  Whenever the average American hears about any part of Africa (if he/she hears anything at all) it is usually when something bad happens, it is similar with Iran… nobody hears anything about the country unless there is some death to America protest.  It is like if the rest of the world only ever heard about the U.S. when some crazy pastor in Florida is burning the Qur'an.
So what is the rest of a country of 77 million doing while there are 50 thousand people gathered around the ex-U.S. embassy in Tehran chanting for death to America?  Well, the rest is likely working or in school - shocker.  Actually, many students every year try to receive a student visa to the U.S. or to Europe (the U.S. actually maintains a virtual embassy to Iran, specifically to help students and others to obtain visas).  The plan then is to study, find a job and bring over the rest of the family or to join their relatives already in the U.S. Yes, this may come as a surprise to many, but Iranians are the 5th largest group of non-European ancestry in the U.S., with anywhere from 300-600 thousand in California alone.  The majority of these Iranian Americans is better educated than the average American and is earning significantly above the average U.S. income.

But enough about Iranian Americans, let’s look at the other Iranians that aren’t out and about burning American flags.  In order to do this we have to look at little bit at soft power.
So, while the Iranian government heavily polices and censors facebook, twitter and domestic internet users in general, the U.S. and the U.K. are supplying Iranians with entertainment and news via satellite.  One of these satellite channels is BBC Persian, one of several foreign language offshoots of the BBC, which brings 8 hours of Persian language news and programming to the Persian speaking world (Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and parts of Uzbekistan).  And what is Iranians' most favorite program on the BBC? Talk shows discussing politics or religion… no, it’s Top Gear!  For those who enjoy this show as much as I do, it isn’t hard to understand why.  But if you do not know the show, let me sum it up – it features 3 middle aged men driving luxury sports cars that go on trips where they mostly play pranks on each other and crack below-the-belt jokes.
The other channel that is widely watched is Voice of America, basically the State Dept.’s foreign radio and TV channel, broadcasting in many languages, including Persian. VOA, like BBC Persian, features news and other programming, like President Obama addressing Persian speakers every year for the Persian new year, Nowruz. The single most watched show is “Parazit”, a news satire show run by two Iranian Americans, making fun of Iranian politics, criticizing the government and news events.  One of the two producers left the show and now produces a YouTube show called “Poletik” where he recaps the week’s news in a Colbert-like fashion and interviews activists, reporters, artists and musicians (most recent one of the members of the Yellow Dogs after the murder-suicide).
So while 50 thousand are out burning flags one day, roughly 1 million are watching a show broadcasted by Voice of [Great Satan] America every week; so much for public opinion.
While I do not want to deny that there are the flag burners and people that are generally angry at the U.S., I do not think that these make up the majority of people.  Not all polls can be trusted – Gallup’s polls are done over the phone, in a country where the government systematically spies on its citizens and arrests activists - I do not expect that people are giving honest answers on all questions. The questions that do receive honest answers are not really surprising: Iranians are in favor of developing nuclear power. Who would not support having better, more reliable electricity? Like most Americans, I would expect the average Iranian to care little about international relations as long as they do not affect their livelihoods.  One cannot expect that all people in a country in which the government forces schools to preach propaganda, censors the internet and violates human rights like free speech to have nuanced opinions on foreign affairs.
We also must not forget that while it is an authoritarian government, it still has a parliament and there are power-struggles within government.  Rouhani has had difficult times getting some of his ministers passed as conservatives are opposing him.  Sounds familiar to some of the stuff that goes on in the U.S.? So let’s not assume away complexities that are in play when looking at other nations.