Thursday, October 29, 2015

Office of Net Assessment Seeks Troubling New Strategy

New leadership within the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) threatens to stifle creative capacity for military strategic problem solving. Retired Air Force Col. Jim Baker has replaced the legendary strategist, Andrew Marshall. The ONA’s core purpose has been to examine and dissect issues that do not necessarily hold weight in current strategic issues. These issues could even include factors as seemingly irrelevant as examining Putin’s body language for clues to his demeanor. Such superficially irrelevant factors can often prove to make long term strides in threat assessment to national security.

 "[H]elp me think about the long-term consequences of near-term policy decisions. Your work remains future focused, but you must ensure the team’s work has present relevance to me."
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter 
This new direction will risk turning the historically independent DOD think tank into a policy-driven, intelligence-producing machine. The new directive exactly undercuts the core mission of the ONA and completely misses the point on its value.

A certain degree of irony can be synthesized from this new directive. Net assessment seeks to tackle major confounding or unforeseen issues, decompose them, and appropriate them to departments or agencies within the US government. This allows departments to chew pieces of the problem, rather than the whole meaty, threat assessment steak at once. Issues can then be compared against departments and checked for congruency. The transformation of the office pulls away from the essence of discovering new issues that will affect future policy, to short term policy driven intelligence production, cloaked as ‘long term goals’. These threat assessments will not appropriately represent unforeseen future threats that are not yet of focus.

It is unclear what weight the transition will bear on US national security policy, as the ONA’s success is rarely publicized or quantified as being the primary cog that aids the national security machine. However, it is somewhat of a disservice that this independent think tank will lose its ability to investigate potential rising threats that are out of the popular scope of focus. One can only hope that we won’t look back in 50 years and regret not studying something as incredulous as “Putin may develop a lightsaber”, had it been a noteworthy issue for threat assessment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

South China Sea Conflict Just Got Bigger

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that a United States Navy warship illegally entered the contested waters and trespassed near China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.  More specifically the Ministry’s statement said, “The action taken by the U.S. warship has threatened China’s sovereignty and securityinterest, and has put the safety of personnel on the reefs in danger.” The name of the vessel they are referring to is the USS Lassen.  According to the United States, the destroyer was conducting a transit near the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands on Tuesday, October 27th.  If the United States were to recognize these man-made islands as Chinese territory then the U.S. operation would be considered an infiltration of Chinese sovereign territory.

In response to the incident,  this morning the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a warning that was threatening in nature, specifically towards the United States.  The warning was actually directed at any country who “caused trouble or raised tensions in the territories China claims as its own.”  However, in another statement China alluded that they would not hesitate to build up and use their military force to hinder anyone that threatens their territorial rights and security, safety, peace and stability. 
          The United States should take these warnings seriously, regardless if officials agree on whether or not international law was broken in this situation.  The conflict in the South China Sea has only gotten more complicated and is continuing to fill with varied territorial claims centered around the myriad of islands and surrounding waters in the area.  While certainly some of these claims may be valid, China’s most recent argument involving the United States’ naval vessel may be faltered.  This is because that “in a little over 18 months China has reclaimed more than 2,000 acres at three main locations in the Spratly Islands.”  This rapid acquisition of territory should raise eyebrows and should prompt the United States to further examine international and maritime laws and how it will shape future U.S. foreign and national security policies as one administration comes to a close and as another one emerges.

US gives China a $1.8 Billion Dollar Middle Finger

Just over a month ago US officials were surprised to hear China's President Xi Jinping state that China had "no intention to militarize" the artificial islands in the South China Sea. With contradicting photographs, the United States attempted to challenge Xi's statement today. The USS Lassen, a 1.8 billion dollar guided missile destroyer, sailed within the 12 nautical mile territorial limits claimed by China. 

The Subi Reef in the Spratlys

The Chinese claims surround man-made islands which are not under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, this did not stop China from using strong language and shadowing the USS Lassen. A reuters article cites the Chinese Defense Ministry stating, the US patrol was a "coercive action that seeks to militarize the South China Sea region" and an "abuse" of freedom of navigation under international law. 

USS Lassen

This is interesting as it was just 6 weeks ago that the Chinese sailed within 12 nautical miles of the American controlled Aleutian Islands. While it is not all too uncommon for nations to "innocently" pass within these limits, the US has been cautious in sailing its naval vessels within these Chinese claimed territories. The last time the US Navy navigated within the 12 mile limits was in 2012 near the Spratlys.

In the coming months it will be compelling to see if the US continues to test China's claims. Some US security officials believe these exercises will have to be a common occurrence in order to be effective. This maneuver gives China the last clear chance in responding to US actions. So far, China has responded through diplomatic channels, the media, and shadowing the US patrol. The potential for escalation is here. But the question remains how valuable are these islands and perhaps more importantly, China's claims and legitimacy in the face of an almost $2 billion dollar destroyer.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Potential Shortcomings of National Security Strategy

How much value should we place on national security strategy? Strategy is a way for officials to simplify decisions, cut out the bad policy options, and appease the citizenry. The Obama administration’s policy has been largely retrenchment and retreat after the heavy United States military presence in the Middle East. This is understandable considering recent history. Adapting to a new situation can be difficult when firm strategy is made in advance based on the past. Current national security strategy has lead the United States to playing a more passive role in the Middle East conflict with ISIS and the Syrian government.

It is highly debated as to whether pulling out of the region, in the fashion the United States did, was the most pragmatic decision. Now the Unites States faces another predicament in the region that has many complexities, therefore many differing opinions. The question is, how much value should be placed on set out national security strategy? The current strategy may not fit this particular situation and could be diminishing creativity on how to solve the problem. The early 2000’s invasion of Iraq may be seen as a monumental mistake, but that does not necessarily mean an invasion would be an error in this circumstance. It is important to use history as reference for the future and to take public opinion into consideration when making any policy decision. However, if this is taken to an extreme and each decision isn’t taken on a case-by-case basis, a mistake in judgment is likely.

The appropriate approach to the Assad regime, ISIS and other factors in play is still unclear. The “right” approach could be any number of strategies that imitate past and controversial tactics considered harder and more leadership oriented. By laying out a specific strategy based on a limited sphere of conventional opinion, we could be forcing ourselves down a path that may not be a suitable response. This would be the opposite of “rolling with the punches”. Ultimately, national security issues require adaptability and creativity which strategy can sometimes hinder.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Migration and security, the European trade off

The migration in Europe has been for some time one of the major security policy concerns for the Union. The elite opinion has tried in the past to shape an appropriate response, by trying to incentivize assimilation. This however has had more or less success as described by Paul Collier’s book Exodus. The author explains here that the constant perpetual flow of immigration does not allow European countries to properly absorb all the newcomers thus creating Diasporas, which are not part of the local society. And according to him, they then keep their beliefs and you start to see friction between migrants and the local population, which may lead to greater instability in the country.  

This difficult situation has gotten worse recently with the conflict in Syria not seeing any improvement. More than 25% of the Syrian population has left the country to try to immigrate to Europe in hope for a better life. With this enormous inflow Europe’s elite opinion has had to change its policy to a much more responsive one. The problem with being reactive is that one cannot afford to be so selective about its choices and has to act more quickly. Some European countries are then thinking about adopting measures that will stop the stream of refugees at the source.

The latest idea proposed by the German government is to apply a value trade off in its relations with Turkey. This country has for a long time wanted to enter the European Union but because of its record with Human Rights, especially with regards on how they treat Kurds, being unsatisfactory Turkey has been denied in its request. It also happens that this country is harboring millions of refugees, most of them from Syria, trying to get to Europe. Germany is then suggesting reopening negotiations with Turkey if the latter agrees to hold more refugees within its borders.

Should such a trade off really be implemented, Germany and the other European countries might see a hinder in their reputation as Human Rights defenders. Especially since one of Turkey’s request is to be seen as a “safe country of origin” during the negotiation process, which would make any Turkish Kurd seeking political asylum in the EU ineligible to do so.  We can conclude by asking ourselves if security is worth turning a blind eye on Turkish loose Human Rights application?

- The New York Times 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Threat Assessment- According to the Public

           Accordingto a recent poll, an alarming number of Americans believe that Russia poses a long-term military threat to the United States.  More specifically, this poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans think Russia and their military is a long-term threat, while 14 percent see Russia as an immediate security threat to the United States.  This is a drastic change from just ten years ago when more than half of those living in the U.S. claimed that Russia posed no significant threat at all to the United States and its citizens. 
            Surprisingly However, when Americans were asked about the conflict in Syria, more than half said that the situation was not a threat to the United States, but maybe will be in the future.  Additionally, the survey said more (23 percent), thought the situation poses a more immediate threat, and a bit less (16 percent) claims that Syria poses no threat at all.
            So why are more American's concerned with Russia rather than Syria?  Some say that Russia's tensions with the United States have worried American citizens because of the Russian airstrikes in Syria that were partly seen as Vladimir Putin's attempt to support Bashar-al-Assad instead of weakening ISIS.
            Keeping this in mind, the fear of ISIS and the uncertainty as to which side Russia is on has sparked a fear of Russia that has been lingering since the days of the Cold War.  It can also be speculated that the extra worry by Americans regarding Russia is because of the Cold War mind-set that forever altered the way the United States has dealt with foreign policy and national security.  Although a bit far-fetched, it would be interesting to do another poll with a set of questions asking about the Cold War and to the extent to which the person's knowledge about that time period may have affected their answers from the first poll.  Regardless, the American perspective over the U.S. situations with Syria and Russia are important because policy-makers tend to cater towards public desire even if their knowledge on the situation may be mediocre at best.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Nuclear Deal 2.0 ?

In attempt to pursue its strategy of denuclearization of the Middle East and Asia after having successfully carried out a deal with Iran. A deal that has just been ratified by Tehran on October 14 2015. The United States is considering the possibility of trying to put a deal in place with Pakistan.
President Sharif is set to visit the US next week, which is when the American government should start pitching to Pakistan a possible deal, that will focus on convincing them to stop producing short range nuclear missiles, much easier to move around and thus to fall in the wrong hands.

However this deal really has to be seen has a strategic objective, something that the US will have to work for in the long run, probably even after the end of the Obama’s administration. 
Pakistan right now resents the US for multiple reasons, firstly they still feel absolutely disrespected after the raid on Bin Laden was carried out without their approval and thus not respecting their sovereignty. Islamabad also did not take very well the fact that the US is assisting India’s civil nuclear program since 2005 even though it is not supposed to, as New Delhi is not a signatory of the Non Nuclear Weapons Proliferation Treaty.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for this new tentative in the US grand strategy of reduction of nuclear weapons is not so much how Pakistan feels about America, as it is its deep fear and hatred of it nuclear neighbor India. Pakistanis see nuclear weapons as the only viable deterrence that they have on India, which is much stronger than they are.
The strategy here in order to be successful may also have to include India in the deal, in order to convince all parties that they can trust each other; and the US might have to concede in helping Pakistan too on its civilian nuclear program to reassure them that the goal is not just to help India but the entire region. Nevertheless this will no doubt be a hard mission for this administration and probably the next as Pakistan feels every day more left out by the US and India who are increasing their military and commercial ties.