Archive for the Category » Foreign Affairs «

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Adam Hebert, executive editor of the Air Force Association’s house magazine, wrote an interesting piece in the July issue about the history of MIRVed ICBMs.  He notes that the landmark SALT treaties had the opposite of their intended effect because they restricted only the number of launchers, not warheads—drastically increasing the desire for each side to MIRV their treaty-limited number of launch platforms.

Arms negotiator Paul C. Warnke memorably, and mistakenly, compared the superpowers to “apes on a treadmill,” with both “jogging in tandem on a treadmill to nowhere.” There was only one ape, though. Former Defense Secretary Harold Brown had it right when he said, “When we build, they build; when we stop building, they build.”

According to Natural Resources Defense Council estimates, the US and Soviet Union in 1975 each had roughly 2,200 warheads atop their ICBMs.

Over the next five years, the US total didn’t change, but Moscow more than doubled its MIRV force, winding up with 5,630 warheads fitted to its 1,400 or so land-based missiles. A huge number of these—more than 3,000 warheads—were found on the monster, 10-warhead SS-18 missiles. The Soviets had 308 of them.

— Hebert, Adam.  “Issue Brief: The Rise and Semi-Fall of MIRV.”  Air Force magazine, July 2010. [Emphasis mine]

Although we enjoy considerably less tension in relations between the great powers today, the old dynamic is still at work.  While the United States has agreed to de-MIRV its entire Minuteman III inventory (and currently has about 550 warheads aboard 450 launchers), Russia maintains an inventory of 1,100 warheads aboard its 331 ICBMs.

Simmer down

As doutbless everyone knows, General Stanley A. McChrystal, COMISAF, is in hot water over a Rolling Stone article in which he and his staff are breathlessly reported to have mocked Constitutional officer-holders, leading many commentators of greater and lesser stature to speculate that he had denigrated the majesty of the Presidential office, violated the UCMJ, kicked puppies and stolen candy from babies.

I have no particular love nor hatred for the general, but I do hate to see military figures lynched on specious grounds.

You can read the article for yourself; I’ll excerpt the most damning things directly attributed to General McChrystal here.  First, he is unhappy about being recommended into a job for which the policymaking principals do not appear to support his methods:

Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. “I was selling an unsellable position.” For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks.

— Hastings, Michael.  “The Runaway General.” Rolling Stone, 22 June 2010.

Not exactly damning stuff.  The worst thing McChrystal does in the entire article is imagine waving off a question from the vice president at a Paris dinner party, regarding a prior disagreement with the VP about strategy.

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

So all of the hand-waving we see in the press and electronic media is really predicated on those two instances.  Yes, there are plenty of worse things said in that article, but none of them can be attributed directly to General McChrystal.  They are instead attributed to his staff.  Broadly speaking a commander is responsible for the conduct of his subordinates, yes, but if a lesser rank commits treason or murder, the commander is not automatically guilty of same.  His offence is most likely a failure of command—whether that is failure to provide sufficient discipline and leadership, or a failure to recognise a dangerously corrosive situation and take steps to remedy it.

Now, allowing one’s staff to mock the great officers of state and speak impertinently about State Department officials in the AOR is not fine and dandy, either.  At the very least General McChrystal should have rebuked or reprimanded them, and reminded said officers that they were in the presence of the press.  Some things you can say over drinks in the officers’ club, but those are not—generally—things you want to appear on the front page of the New York Times.  The sin lies not in saying them, but in saying them indiscreetly and to the wrong audience.

If the general is guilty of a crime, it is dereliction of duty by permitting his staff to verbally run roughshod over the civilian administration.  That is miles away from the hysterical media coverage that has been provided thus far.  This is not Truman versus MacArthur, where a general specifically went and made public statements at odds with the policy prescriptions of the President.  MacArthur was insubordinate (announcing a strategy that was in fact opposed by the White House) and in his arrogance, challenged a key principle of civil governance; McChrystal was negligent; nowhere in that article does he utter a policy at odds with that of his masters in Washington.

They are both firing offences, but there is a world of difference between them.  Enough of the hyperventilating comparisons.

RELATED: A poll at milblog Neptunus Lex, with unsurprising results.

ALSO RELATED: Jay Currie, Ben and Skippy Stalin want to see McChrystal get the boot.

BUT THAT’S DIFFERENT: Of course nobody remembers General Eric Shinseki’s public falling out with SecDef Rumsfeld during the 2003 run-up to the Iraq War.  Funny how Shinseki wasn’t compelled to make obeisance to his political masters then.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags: ,  3 Comments

The other lesson of Cheonan‘s sinking

Via the always insightful Bubblehead at The Stupid Shall Be Punished:

Now that submarine torpedoes are in the news, expect more less-than-knowledgeable commentary like this post at the Human Events blog, which brings up not-infrequent meme that supercavitating torpedoes are a superweapon that can’t be countered (and that they’re somehow superior to regular homing torpedoes). The author also says:

The evolution of submarine warfare has been a cat-and-mouse game in which a technological advantage can turn the hunter into the hunted. The March 26 incident may now give the submarine the advantage.

As if that hasn’t been the case for about 50 years. Sure, it helps skimmer morale to run exercises where they think they’re actually tracking a submarine in real-world conditions, but the fact remains that the best defense against a well-handled submarine is another submarine (or a clever minefield). This incident only shows that even a crappy submarine is superior to most surface ships, especially unalerted ones.

— Bubblehead.  “The Submarine Advantage.” The Stupid Shall Be Punished, 19 May 2010. [Emphasis mine]

There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

Also not-to-be-missed are the stories of ASW adventures in the comments; this one is my hands-down favourite.

Category: Foreign Affairs, National Defence  Tags: ,  Comments off

You can offer no consequences that matter

There’s a lot of noise in the press today about South Korea’s Cheonan investigation, and how the evidence points to a deliberate torpedo attack by an NK submarine. Perhaps my favourite headline is this one from the Voice of America: “S. Korea Says North Will ‘Pay’ For Ship Sinking.” Well, no, they won’t. And here’s why.

It makes a lot of strategic and tactical sense for the North to apply pressure to South Korea and adopt a more threatening posture.

North Korea’s a country in terminal decline; its economy stagnating, its people malnourished if not starving. For a long time South Korea sent food and economic aid to the North, in order to stave off a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. For many years the South gave more aid to the North than its putative ideological sponsors in China. But two years ago, the South cut off most of its aid because of the North’s foot-dragging on nuclear non-proliferation agreements. They had only recently reinstated some food aid shipments.

The North is trying to remind the South that it can’t be shunted off to a corner and ignored; it needs food, and the South needs to provide it. Or there will be war. And in order to prove that the threats of war are clear and present, it has to do something that looks and smells an awful lot like war—such as torpedoing the Cheonan without warning or provocation.

North Korea is canny enough to know that its southern neighbours would do just about anything to avoid a war. The collective memory of the last Korean peninsular war is long-lived, and the South is well aware that its present prosperity and social cohesion would be strained by a protracted war with the North. Thus the North can commit these acts of war and cold-blooded murder at the times and places of its choosing, and be assured that the South would never respond in kind. The South may threaten sanctions, but what are more sanctions to a nation already saddled with many, and a population already starving? The North is battling for survival and is willing to take big risks.

When things quiet down again, the South will probably reconsider its food aid once more, which will then provoke a newer, bloodier attack. And the South will once again emit a lot of harsh words but take no effective deterrent action. It will be forced to deal with the North and send more aid, purely because it can’t stomach the alternative.

The South, unfortunately, will have to re-learn the lessons that Britain did in the late 1930s—namely that there are fates worse than war. Such as having a neighbour who feels free to murder your citizens and servicemen at regular intervals in order to underscore the point that you need to ship them more food. Avoiding a war now seems like a small price to pay, but forty years hence, when a dozen corvettes have been sunk and various other atrocities committed, will the bargain in lives seem quite so cheap and easily bought?

Let us be blunt, it will be difficult if not impossible to avoid war with such a state. The North is already committing acts of war without fear of reprisal, and will only grow bolder as each new escalation goes unanswered. The South has nothing to mitigate these provocations, short of war—but because such an outcome is what is fears most, it will put up with no end of outrages in order to avoid it. At some point, its populace will lose patience and South Korea will be forced to wage a concerted campaign to bring the North down—whether by covert means or an overt economic and military campaign. One thing is certain, though: no nation of free peoples can long endure paying Danegeld to tyrants.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags:  Comments off

Port-au-Prince, before and after

Len, 767 captain and author of Views From The Left Seat, has crafted a pair of posts that amply illustrate some of the problems with Haiti’s aviation infrastructure.  Haiti’s weak national government and longstanding social malaise are well-known and well-documented, but it is informative to see that the lack of rigour extends even into the highly disciplined arenas of air traffic control and airside management.

The first, written on December 4th, 2009 (before the earthquake) paints a picture of what we in North America might generously call “relaxed” operational and security discipline.

The climb up to FL 370 was uneventful. 600 miles later and approaching Haitian airspace, we said “goodbye” to Miami Center and gave Port Au Prince Control a call.

No response.

Five more calls and they finally answered. Had they not answered we would have been forced to hold at the boundary of their airspace. Glad they answered since we had a small thunderstorm to contend with right along our route.

While descending, we passed an opposite direction outbound airliner 1000 ft below us and wondered why we weren’t advised? A call to Approach Control about that went unanswered.

…We parked, set the brakes and once the ground crew had positioned the boarding stairs, the cabin crew opened two cabin doors. Out flooded the passengers onto the ramp with wild abandon! They all knew where to go but it was almost comical to see so many unattended people on an airline ramp with absolutely no security concerns whatsoever!

—  Len.  “Third World Operations.” Views From The Left Seat, 4 December 2009. [Emphases are mine]

The second post, written on March 20th, 2010, illustrates what air traffic control services were like after the quake—and after Haiti’s own controllers took over from the combat controller services provided by the US Air Force.

It was business as usual until we had to switch over to Port-au-Prince tower.

Descending in, we were cleared for an ILS to runway 10 with a circle to land on runway 28. But we were only given a clearance to descend to 5000 ft and to report inbound on the ILS. OK fine…So we continued on in and reported inbound but the controller was apparently too busy or distracted to hear us. We kept calling until he finally answered us and asked where we were? “We’re overhead the field at 5000 ft” was our answer! He seemed surprised and promptly cleared us back to the initial approach fix and gave us instructions to hold and await further clearance.

20 minutes later he cleared us for the same approach and for us to call the field in sight and to enter a downwind for runway 28. So we did all that and set up for the landing. Meanwhile he cleared a Canadian Air Force C-17 to back-taxi for takeoff on runway 28. As we turned final, the tower amended the C-17’s enroute clearance which resulted in them not being ready for takeoff. With us now on short final and the C-17 still on the runway, we had to execute a go-around and get back in the pattern.

So now we’re back on final and the tower has cleared the C-17 for takeoff. It all was looking good until the C-17 aborted their takeoff with some sort of mechanical issue. We had no choice….another go-around!! We broke off to the right and started a climb. Just then we received a traffic alert on our TCAS with instructions to “CLIMB, CLIMB”. I looked out and saw a Cessna Caravan doing a steep turn to avoid us as we were climbing and turning in the other direction. That was close!

We asked the tower for instructions and all he could tell us was “go hold east of the airport somewhere”. He was completely flustered and not in control of his airspace. Now a clearance like that in the real world is just unheard of! We were clearly on our own this day.

After several minutes of us circling low over the city, he told us to come on in and land. By then we had lost sight of the airport so we had to rely on some basic VFR skills and dead reckoning to re-acquire the airport.

—  Len.  “Port-au-Prince (After The Quake).” Views From The Left Seat, 20 March 2010. [Emphases are mine]

Now to be fair, aircraft convergence conflicts are not entirely uncommon.  Close calls with little (or not forceful enough) warning from air traffic controllers can happen anywhere—in fact a similar incident involving a United Boeing 777 and an Aeronca 11AC occurred near KSFO on Saturday.  Planes travel at hundreds of miles an hour, so you may have only seconds to identify that little dot at your 11 o clock before it ends up in your lap.  This is why large aircraft have onboard radar and TCAS systems, and smaller “pocket” versions (using transponder signals) are available for GA pilots.

The more worrisome aspect is that the controllers (before the quake) were lackadaisical about answering calls from aircraft; this says something unkind about their professionalism even under ideal circumstances.  In the “after the quake” situation, the controller got overwhelmed, lost the picture, and did not give proper radar vectors (i.e. “turn left heading 060, maintain 8,000, follow published missed approach procedure and hold”).  That could have had disastrous and fatal results, especially if the converging aircraft lacked TCAS equipment.  Fortunately, Len survived to blog about it; not every pilot is so lucky.

The problem isn’t just that Haiti has lax standards, or even lax enforcement of rigorous standards (whether in aviation, building codes, or otherwise).  As Publius at Gods of the Copybook Headings pointed out some months ago, Haiti had no economy to speak of, even before the quake.  It is the poorest country in the Americas; with GDP per capita running at a paltry USD $1,300—or three and a half bucks per person, per day.  Government corruption is rampant, which lead the United States (among others) to end aid in 2000.  The BBC reported in 2004 that “that some 70% of assistance [to Haiti] found its way into the pockets of corrupt officials”.  It’s important to note that without foreign aid, the government of Haiti would literally cease to function.

Haitians themselves need to understand how institutionalised corruption (and social tolerance of it) retards their country’s economic and social prospects; if they cannot bring about significant political reform, all the money in the world cannot drag their country out of entropy and into modernity.

RELATED: Robert Kiltgaard of AEI offers a prescription for tackling corruption in Haiti’s government.

Category: Aeronautics, Foreign Affairs  Tags: , ,  Comments off

Kandahar power grid

Corporal Dave Valentine marches past the ragged and relatively unsafe power lines in Kandahar City. The lines are stringed together with tape and pieces of wire, the power grid in the city is unreliable and electricity is supplied to different parts of the city at various times throughout the day. Members of Stab A from the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT) conduct a foot patrol in District 9 of Kandahar City on 2 February 2010. (Master Corporal Matthew McGregor, Image Tech, JTFK Afghanistan, Roto 8)

RELATED: The battle to electrify Kandahar.

Category: Foreign Affairs, National Defence  Tags:  Comments off

On the Edge of Chaos

Human beings are curious by nature; it is an integral part of the human experience to observe effect, and try to find its causation.   To build a framework for understanding how our universe is ordered, so that we might more frequently encounter beneficent events while avoiding the calamitous.  Ever since Herodotus began the craft in the 5th century BC, historians have struggled to construct overarching narratives to describe the rise and fall of nation-states and empires.  As a result, historians, anthropologists and the general public have become accustomed to viewing imperial decline as a lengthy stage in a stately cycle rather than a short, significant cataclysm.   But we have perhaps over-engineered our analyses by misunderstanding the nature of the beast.  In the March/April 2010 edition of Foreign Affairs, Niall Ferguson—Harvard’s pre-eminent “rockstar academic”—argues that history is not as deterministic and pre-ordained as historians and laymen are often tempted to think.

Great powers and empires are, I would suggest, complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder — on “the edge of chaos,” in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems “go critical.”

…Whether the canopy of a rain forest or the trading floor of Wall Street, complex systems share certain characteristics. A small input to such a system can produce huge, often unanticipated changes — what scientists call “the amplifier effect.” A vaccine, for example, stimulates the immune system to become resistant to, say, measles or mumps. But administer too large a dose, and the patient dies. Meanwhile, causal relationships are often nonlinear, which means that traditional methods of generalizing through observation (such as trend analysis and sampling) are of little use. Some theorists of complexity would go so far as to say that complex systems are wholly nondeterministic, meaning that it is impossible to make predictions about their future behavior based on existing data.

— Ferguson, Niall.  “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” Foreign Affairs 89.2 (March/April 2010): 18-32.  Print.

Mr. Ferguson goes on to tilt with the ghosts of Spengler and Toynbee (and their contemporary successors), arguing that “the proximate triggers of a crisis are often sufficient to explain the sudden shift from a good equilibrium to a bad mess.”  Looking beyond more immediate and obvious causal factors, to mine distant decades for a longer-term cause is “what Nassim Taleb rightly condemned in The Black Swan as “the narrative fallacy”: the construction of psychologically satisfying stories on the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.”  I can’t imagine Ferguson will make many colleagues happy with assertions like those, but—assuming one accepts his primary argument for a more chaotic, less deterministic reading of history—his paragraph-length illustrations of rapid imperial decline are fascinating.

But what if fourth-century Rome was simply functioning normally as a complex adaptive system, with political strife, barbarian migration, and imperial rivalry all just integral features of late antiquity? Through this lens, Rome’s fall was sudden and dramatic — just as one would expect when such a system goes critical. As the Oxford historians Peter Heather and Bryan Ward-Perkins have argued, the final breakdown in the Western Roman Empire began in 406, when Germanic invaders poured across the Rhine into Gaul and then Italy. Rome itself was sacked by the Goths in 410. Co-opted by an enfeebled emperor, the Goths then fought the Vandals for control of Spain, but this merely shifted the problem south. Between 429 and 439, Genseric led the Vandals to victory after victory in North Africa, culminating in the fall of Carthage. Rome lost its southern Mediterranean breadbasket and, along with it, a huge source of tax revenue. Roman soldiers were just barely able to defeat Attila’s Huns as they swept west from the Balkans. By 452, the Western Roman Empire had lost all of Britain, most of Spain, the richest provinces of North Africa, and southwestern and southeastern Gaul. Not much was left besides Italy. Basiliscus, brother-in-law of Emperor Leo I, tried and failed to recapture Carthage in 468. Byzantium lived on, but the Western Roman Empire was dead. By 476, Rome was the fiefdom of Odoacer, king of the Goths.

What is most striking about this history is the speed of the Roman Empire’s collapse. In just five decades, the population of Rome itself fell by three-quarters. Archaeological evidence from the late fifth century — inferior housing, more primitive pottery, fewer coins, smaller cattle — shows that the benign influence of Rome diminished rapidly in the rest of western Europe. What Ward-Perkins calls “the end of civilization” came within the span of a single generation.

So it was, says Ferguson, with the Ming dynasty in China, Bourbon France, the 20th century Ottoman Empire, post-WW2 British Empire, and Soviet Union.  All went from initial calamity to complete collapse within the span of a single lifetime; usually just a decade or two following the initial catalytic event.  More often than not the catalytic event was (either itself or tied to) a financial crisis.  But these are all hors d’œuvre to the central message, which is that this arrangement of circumstances should sound very familiar and more than a little alarming to our southern brethren living here and now in the 21st century.

America’s debt is blossoming in a less-than-careful fashion; a few decades down the road, it would not take much—maybe just (as Ferguson posits) a negative rating by a creditor agency—to fatally undermine domestic and foreign investor confidence.  This is the road to oblivion; great nations die when citizens lose faith in their vitality.

Finally, a shift in expectations about monetary and fiscal policy could force a reassessment of future U.S. foreign policy. There is a zero-sum game at the heart of the budgetary process: if interest payments consume a rising proportion of tax revenue, military expenditure is the item most likely to be cut because, unlike mandatory entitlements, it is discretionary. A U.S. president who says he will deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and then, in 18 months’ time, start withdrawing them again already has something of a credibility problem. And what about the United States’ other strategic challenges? For the United States’ enemies in Iran and Iraq, it must be consoling to know that U.S. fiscal policy today is preprogrammed to reduce the resources available for all overseas military operations in the years ahead.

Defeat in the mountains of the Hindu Kush or on the plains of Mesopotamia has long been a harbinger of imperial fall. It is no coincidence that the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in the annus mirabilis of 1989. What happened 20 years ago, like the events of the distant fifth century, is a reminder that empires do not in fact appear, rise, reign, decline, and fall according to some recurrent and predictable life cycle. It is historians who retrospectively portray the process of imperial dissolution as slow-acting, with multiple overdetermining causes. Rather, empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse. To return to the terminology of Thomas Cole, the painter of The Course of Empire, the shift from consummation to destruction and then to desolation is not cyclical. It is sudden.

This prospect should concern Canadians because without America, Canada would not exist.  Upwards of eighty percent of our trade goes to America, and an impoverished America is one that cannot afford to buy Canadian goods, unless they will be sold at fire sale prices.  Because of our tight economic integration, a debt-ridden, cash-poor America must also mean an impoverished Canada—unless of course we suddenly and miraculously shift the bulk of our exports to other foreign markets.  But that is not all.

Canada is a wealthy nation in terms of actual and potential resources, but despite those riches, we defend ourselves very lightly.  Our military forces today do not possess adequate equipment, doctrine or personnel to successfully defend the remotest resource-rich areas of the country; the small, highly constrained CF today is clustered around the major population centres.  In a world without the protective umbrella of overwhelming American military force, Canada’s possession of her northern reaches could not long survive.  The decline of American forces to a strictly constabulary or garrison level, able to defend only CONUS, would have disastrous consequences for us, too.

As the Arctic region is further developed for commercial transit routes and petroleum extraction, some ambitious people will regard it and wonder why, given its light defenses, they should not secure those resources and revenue for themselves.  It doesn’t matter much who decides to take it, much as it didn’t really matter whether it was British or French pirates (not to mention their merchantmen and navies) that sapped the lifeblood of Spain’s far-flung colonial empire.  The point is that the putative owner will be displaced in favour of a more ambitious and persistent rival.  I would expect that within this century, at least one island in Canada’s Arctic archipelago will fall from our orbit, and we will have little capacity to do anything but grimace and bear it.  Or, like 19th century China, we may be compelled to sign a deleterious treaty, granting foreign powers the right to traverse our waters, extract our resources, and set up logistics facilities and communities abiding by the dominant power’s civil and criminal laws.  It may end up like the Caribbean, with the islands becoming a cornucopia of foreign-owned outposts, once the big fish in the pond determine that we do not have the capability or national will to hang onto it.

One hopes these potential outcomes remain far-fetched, and that America never becomes too enervated to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.  But it’s worth remembering that Canadians too have a vital interest in ensuring America’s health and prosperity.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags:  2 Comments

Unintended consequences

A few fascinating paragraphs from a New Atlanticist piece on Qatar, the “new Dubai.”

The emir and his government chief, strategic thinker Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, who is both prime minister and foreign minister, and the national security staff see all their many accomplishments in dire peril should Israel decide to bomb Iran. From Iran’s nearest missile batteries to Qatar’s LNG port at Ras Laffan is only 100 miles.

“Two missiles on LNG loading docks as a supertanker takes on a full load,” said one ranking Western diplomat and Qatar “is out of business.” So Qatar endeavors to maintain “cordial” relations with what is perceived to be a military regime now in power in Tehran. Its Northfield cornucopia abuts, even overlaps, with Iran’s claim.

— de Borchgrave, Arnaud.  “Is Qatar the New Dubai?New Atlanticist, 5 March 2010.

This holds true for most Persian Gulf nations, their core economic assets are within easy reach of Iranian military forces.  Unless America is prepared to deploy a considerable number of assets to defend allied economies up and down the Gulf, this is one reason why Israeli air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities are simply never going to happen.

The other interesting angle is also one of unintended consequences:

There was also an emerging consensus that Iran had welcomed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that Iranian officials in the Gulf were privately rooting for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004. One Iranian official was quoted as saying, “America got rid of our worst enemy and turned Iraq over to Iranian influence.”

On balance, I believe getting rid of Saddam Hussein is a net positive, for both American and Iraqi peoples.  Getting rid of Saddam so that Iran would emerge as the dominant regional power was probably not what the Bush Administration (nor its opponents) ever had in mind, though.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags:  Comments off

Nuclear strategies: India vs. Pakistan

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the gentlemen at ArmsControlWonk is that they consistently have decent open-source analysis grounded in realistic assessment of weapon (and development) capabilities.  It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s probably the best online information you can find in a non-classified source.  Although the authors and I are surely on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they do not (usually) go in for easy, empty platitudes.  I may not always agree with their prescriptions, but they do go to some pains to help one comprehend the methods by which they reach their conclusions.  Generally speaking, their writing tends to recognise that nuclear weapons exist for a number of rational reasons, are likely to continue existing as long as those reasons exist, and the only way to actually achieve deterrence and non-proliferation goals is to address the underlying security issues in a realistic fashion.

Earlier this week, Mr. Michael Krepon posted a note at ArmsControlWonk about Indian nuclear strategy, quoting extensively from a book (Crafting peace in Kashmir: through a realist lens, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004) by retired Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara, Indian Navy.  The admiral’s brief but insightful discussion of the realities driving Indian and Pakistani nuclear strategy is worth thinking about.

The nuclear strategies of both countries emphasise deterrence, but there is a fundamental difference between the two in that Pakistan’s strategy is aimed at deterring a conventional threat from India, while India’s is aimed at deterring a nuclear one from Pakistan. Since a conventional confrontation is easier to develop and must almost invariably precede a nuclear one, Pakistan’s deterrence has to function much more actively than India’s.  This has an impact on force structure, force posture, and the relationship between conventional and nuclear strategies.  As the conventional military balance continues to shift in India’s favour, Pakistan’s reliance on its nuclear capability will increase and so will its effort to lower the nuclear threshold.  Thus Pakistan’s strategy is likely to emphasize not just ‘first use’ but ‘early first use’ in the coming years. The big problem for Pakistan is that not only is the conventional military balance in India’s favour, but so is the nuclear one.  Pakistan was able to maintain conventional operational parity with India for many decades, but is now losing ground rapidly.  Much the same is going to happen in the nuclear field.

— Koithara, Verghese (VADM, IN).  “Nuclear Danger.” Crafting peace in Kashmir: through a realist lens.  New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004.  p. 113. [Emphasis mine]

Worth reading both the ArmsControlWonk impressions and, for more detail, the chunk of the “Nuclear Danger” chapter that Google Books excerpts.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags: ,  Comments off

Ne penitus misera patria deleretur nomenque Romanorum

“the unfortunate fatherland should not be erased to the end”

The Roman Bridge Abutment On The South Side Of The River, originally uploaded by TyB.

Britain appears to be agog that President Obama has not explicitly backed their country’s claim to the Falkland Islands in its never-ending territorial dispute with Argentina.

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue

…“We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality,” a State Department spokesman told The Times. “The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”

— Whithhell, Giles.  “US refuses to endorse British sovereignty in Falklands oil dispute.” The Times (of London), 25 February 2010.

Even the left-wing Manchester Guardian is aghast that the United States is not backing its historic ally:

Washington’s neutral policy and its failure to uphold automatically the right to self-determination is fuelling the already widespread suspicion that Obama’s America has more respect for its enemies than its friends.

…If the dispute became serious, [British] diplomats are certain that Obama would back Britain, and most Latin American governments would quietly applaud him.

I am sure they are right, but I am equally sure that Obama’s critics are not all wrong however much they overdo it. There will not be a second Falklands war this year because the Argentinians know we would defeat them. But if not over the Falklands then on some other crisis, Obama will have to make up his mind whether he wants to be a liberal president or to follow the worst rather than the best traditions of neoconservatism and hold that basic principles can always be sacrificed for the sake of a usually deluded view of the American national interest.

— Cohen, Nick.  “Obama should back our claim to the Falklands.” Manchester Guardian, 28 February 2010.

South American nations are falling into line behind Argentina, of course, and this—combined with studious US neutrality—has upset the British.

I cannot say that I am overly surprised, though.  This president has demonstrated clearly, from his first few meetings (or lack thereof) with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, that Britain (and Europe) are yesterday’s news, worth little thought and expenditure of energy.  It should likewise be obvious to observers of United States foreign policy and defence that isolationist sentiment has risen, as it has historically whenever the American economy enters a prolonged period of contraction.

Given that the United States has issued its Honorian rescript and told the foederati to look to their own defence, one wonders why the tribes of Europe refuse to do so.

I am not an apologist for the president’s foreign policy, but there is admittedly a certain logic in re-orienting US relations so that its energies get spent primarily in its own hemisphere and in Asia, where future superpowers are developing.  Historical ties aside, this picture does not look good for Europe.  It is a continent awash in economic, financial and social troubles, unable to come to grips with home-grown radicalism, and unwilling to adequately fund its own defensive forces.  At the very least, it does not appear logical to tie America’s fortunes to that of its slowly drowning European cousins.

The real problem arises because in previous eras, America’s isolationism was underwritten by the existence of the British Empire, which continued to expend its treasure and resources keeping sea lanes open and international trade flowing, maintaining national borders of competing regional states, and so on.  Today’s American empire is itself isolationist, and a world without a global superpower ensuring security of trade and stability of borders is a recipe for increasingly predatory behaviour amongst rival nation-states.

Still, this is the world to which the Obama Adminstration has set its course, and it has not been delinquent in signalling such to its many allies and client states.  Is it the fault of the president that no one seems to take him seriously in this regard?  Or is it the fault of those who receive the message, but cannot quite bring themselves to believe its contents?

It is time for Britain, and Europe at large, to understand that they really are on their own, however unpalatable that might seem.  America’s focus has shifted elsewhere.  You must look to yourselves for your own defence.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags:  2 Comments