Archive for the 'Hard Power' Category

It is interesting to note that the debate concerning any intervention into Syria is a binary one, where we debate either using hard power to ‘punish’ the Assad Government for use of chemical weapons, or we do nothing. This is interesting because somehow we are unable to publicly consider using soft power in this instance–we are unable to conceive alternate courses of action that circumstance demands from us.

Look at where the world is right now. First, at the UN Security Council Russia and China will block any punitive measures against the Syrian Government. Their reasons for this are varied, but we would be remiss to not acknowledge that Libya and Operation Unified Protector are not ancient history. Their begrudging acquiescence to western intervention was, from their perspective, too much. We shouldn’t now nor should we into the future count on any approval from the UNSC for military interventions in the old Soviet sphere. Syria is not a big enough issue to eschew the auspices of the UNSC, especially in light of the importance placed on UNSC authorization by NATO and the western powers in Libya.

While this may cause some teeth grinding among many, it should not. After all, the US was the cornerstone in designing the UNSC, and Russia and China are well within their rights on the UNSC to do as they do. So, what’s next? Something short of direct application of hard power.

The argument could be made that the transfer of small arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Syria is the ethical thing to do in light of our own forces not being permitted to take any action. However, taking such action does not lead directly enough to a desirable end-state for the current civil war in Syria. It leaves open too many outcomes and flies in the face of lessons learned from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

So, what is a best case for resolution to the Syrian civil war–what should we work towards?

In short, we should work towards: A much more friendly neighbor for Israel in any new Syrian government, Iran losing their proxy, Russia has loosing the lease on their naval base, the Russian strategic communication strategy they’ve employed being turned around and used against them, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to handle situations like Syria being strengthened, and lastly that the United State’s position in global leadership reestablished.

Israel has spent the last two years in the eye of a hurricane. Most of Israel’s neighbors have experienced some degree of revolution and civil war. However, at least in the public’s eye, Israel has remained passive and not gotten involved in the Arab Spring. But, in regards to Syria, Israel has a real opportunity to change the dynamic on their Northern border. In fact, Israel has already begun to do this. Israel has spent much of the last 15 years on the wrong side of the news cycle in the Arab world and in the West. The pictures and videos of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli tanks can’t come across in favor of Israel. The narrative this has fomented has not been to the benefit of Israel, and yet it is not an accurate portrayal either.

Israel must do all it can to connect with the Syrian people by helping their refugees and victims of the civil war. This is vital because it enables another narrative to emerge that can in turn become the foundation upon the next Syrian government being friendly to Israel. In the best case, it would also allow for a new dialog to emerge with the Palestinians and others that to date have not had enough evidence for Israel to be an acceptable neighbor to them.

If Israel can build enough confidence with the Syrian people the likelihood of Iran maintaining their proxy in Syria becomes much more unlikely, and makes serious headway towards containing Iran’s influence to the Gulf. It is at this juncture that the interests of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council converge, and it behooves both to work together towards their shared strategic goals. What’s more, the relationships established here between Israel and the GCC can be built upon in the future as needs arise.

Russia is attempting to rebuild their naval influence, and it is in the interest of the US and west to counter Russia’s waxing influence on the world stage. The Borei class SSBN, Bulava class SS-N, Neustrashimyy FFG, and missiles like the SS-N-26 and the jointly developed Brahmos missile all put into action the words of the Kremlin. This growing naval clout will depend on a Mediterranean port to extend Russia’s influence outside of the Black Sea. With a very real chance that Russia’s Navy could outnumber all other nation’s navies in the Mediterranean. If Russia seems assertive with their oil and gas reserves towards Europe, what will they do with the strongest Navy and a port in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Russia’s newly waxing influence on the world stage is in the interest of the US and West to counter. Over the Syrian civil war we find a moment to counter Russian moves. Russia has positioned itself through rhetoric as being against Western and US imperialist inclinations. The narrative they draw with their words is backed by the numerous interventions the US and West have been involved in since 2001. They are able to play against the sensitivities many citizens in the West feel for their Governments seemingly constant need to use hard power in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

In addition, Russia has been able to set out a predicted course of action that the governments of the West will take in dealing with Syria. However, in Russia’s most recent remarks they unintentionally highlight their own hypocrisy regarding Syria. The rhetoric from the Kremlin speaks only towards maintaining the status quo in Syria – a civil war that has caused upwards of 100,000 deaths; while also positioning itself to be the mediator (with the US following their lead) in any final peace settlement. The words they speak to the public are backed by their actions in supplying the Syrian Government with weapons.

The United States must take a global leadership role in resolving the Syrian civil war. However, as outlined above this leadership will not encompass hard power being directly applied against the Assad government. In assuming a global leadership position the US needs to build a coalition of nations to deploy humanitarian aid around the Syrian borders and augment the humanitarian efforts already underway there. In seeking to do as such, the US is assured to build a very broad coalition of Nations.

Any deployment of medical and humanitarian teams to include hospital ships would naturally need to have security provided for them. With having refugee camps and a robust security presence in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel the pressure on the Assad government would be great and the ability for any outside sources of support to smuggle in weapons to government forces would be greatly reduced. The presence of coalition forces along the Syrian border would approximate the desired outcome of hard power being directly applied.

In taking real action to support the victims of Assad’s government we are doing more than what the Syrian government’s supporters are willing to do. We highlight the hypocrisy of their words and place them on the defensive, having them to defend why they are willing to allow the disintegration of the ‘Paris of the East’. We bring the World towards examining the motives behind why China and Russia are willing to allow a country that holds chemical weapons to disintegrate into a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. And most importantly we place doubt in the world regarding the future of a world that has Russia with a fascist like Putin at helm.

Russia is content to allow Syria to destroy itself before they go ahead and try to broker peace. They are content with having a failed state far from their borders, but figuratively in the lap of the West. It is time to get ahead of their decision making cycle and help the Syrian people and thereby ensure that Russia does not enjoy undue influence over the Levant at the expense of the US, Europe, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Between Europe, the US, Israel, the GCC there are many points where strategic interest converge. In years past, capitalizing on these shared strategic interests was the hallmark of American global leadership. The strategy I’ve laid out here can bring the US back to the role that so many other Nation’s admired in the US. This strategy does not rely on any direct application of hard power against the Syrian government. But, it also does not have the US and the West standing idly by as weapons of mass destruction are employed in a near-failed state.

Through our actions we must move our position on Syria from the very nebulous gray area that other nations exploit to weaken US position. We must, through our actions, demonstrate our willingness to limit suffering and for regional stability. Such actions are good for the US, for Europe, for Israel, and for the GCC, and certainly for the Syrian people. It increases our cooperation with allies and partners, it diplomatically isolates our competitors, and it takes the initiative from those who are willing to watch that part of the World burn.



(This article appeared at RealClearDefense and is cross-posted by permission.)

In previous writing about the ongoing East Asian naval race shortly after the launching of the Japanese helicopter destroyer Izumo (DDH-183), I noted that the feverish naval race may be rooted in historical grievances, fierce competition for scarce resources, and the recent sequestration cuts within the Department of Defense, which may make it more difficult for the United States to “manage its alliances and strategic partnerships in the region.”

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The launching of the JDS Izumo (DDH-183) Photo: Associated Press/Kyodo

As some of my readers have pointed out, I may have appeared somewhat biased against Japan because I did not fully account for other dynamics of the regional naval competition. However, it is not my intention in any way to accuse Japan or its neighbors of espousing expansionist tendencies. I should, therefore, point out that the factors behind the ongoing naval race may be more complex than they appear at first.

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This article was originally featured at Real Clear Defense.

“Show me the money” is the mantra of those analyzing Chinese defense budgets, searching for every defense dollar hidden behind state-owned defense enterprises and construction projects. But perhaps what they should be asking is, “where’s the beef?”

Every traveler knows that money is only as good as what it can buy. What you find on the dollar menu on one side of the border may cost $2.05 on the other. A lack of this purchasing-power-parity perspective is a major flaw in standard comparisons of annual defense spending. Analysis of the U.S. and Chinese defense budgets should not concentrate on dollar-vs-dollar, but rather the meat of what those budgets can buy.

For a quick non-scientific assessment of defense budgets weighted by purchasing-power, we look to the Big Mac Index (BMI, no pun intended). In 1986, the Economist developed the BMI as a humorous way of gauging the accuracy of currency valuations world-wide. What started out as educational humor became a serious academic endeavor. The BMI is so effective that the infamous currency manipulating government of Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has passed laws regulating the sale and marketing of the Big Mac. Although the Economist has produced a “gourmet” version controlling for local factors such as differences in labor costs, it is those local market defects that make the raw BMI appropriate for defense budget analysis – the analysis is not of currency on the exchange floor, but on the shop floor.

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On August 6th, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a feature on the latest Japanese helicopter destroyer, the Izumo (DDH-183). CIMSEC contributor Miha Hribernik observed that the Izumo, which is supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron and boasts a 814 feet-long (248 meters) STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) flight deck, is “sure to cause concern in China…[since the launching of the ship] presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF.”

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Aircraft carrier classification and comparison according to globalsecurity.org

According to Business Insider, the launching of the helicopter destroyer “came in” shortly after China’s recent statement that it is in “no rush [to sign the proposed Code of Conduct] since [Southeast Asian nations involved] harbor unrealistic expectations.” Japan’s territorial row involving Diaoyu/Senkaku coupled with threats emanating from the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea) might have triggered increased defense spending. However, the two aims of Japan’s burgeoning defense spending, pre-emptive strike capabilities and the creation of an amphibious assault unit similar to the United States Marine Corps, have made its East Asian neighbors uneasy. As for America’s reaction, Zachary Keck believes that while it is “unclear” how the Obama Administration will respond to Japan’s pre-emptive attack on its “adversary’s bases,” the Obama Administration could become “vocal” should Japan act upon its “threats to review [its] past apologies.”

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Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters’ questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.

The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.

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Please join us at 5pm (Eastern U.S.), 4 Aug 13, for Midrats Episode 187: “From I to C of the BRIC with Toshi Yoshihara”:

asiaRemember when “Afghanistan” became “AFPAC” in the second half of the last decade? Concepts morph the more you study them.

Just as you started to get used to the ‘Pacific Pivot” – in case you missed it this summer, it is morphing in to the Indo-Pacific Pivot.

Extending our view from WESTPAC in to the Indian Ocean, how are things changing that will shape the geo-strategic environment from Goa, Darwin, Yokohama, Hainan, to Vladivostok?

9781591143901Our guest to discuss this and more will be Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, Professor of Strategy and John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and author of Red Star over the Pacific, which was just translated into Chinese.

A returning guest to Midrats, Dr. Yoshihara some of the last few months in China and India, bringing an up to date perspective on this growing center of power and influence.

Join us live or listen later from the archive by clicking here.



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U.S. soldiers board an Air Force C-130 as they depart Afghanistan. Image: U.S. Department of Defense

General Joseph Dunford, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, has recently told the New York Times that America’s “presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.” His reasoning was that although the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are bearing the brunt of fighting, “at the end of 2014, [they] won’t be completely independent” operationally and logistically.

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USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) returns to Pearl Harbor from a BMD deployment that lasted over 9 months

USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) returns to Pearl Harbor from a BMD deployment that lasted over 9 months

Of all the missions the Surface Navy does, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) might be the least sexy. It involves sitting in a small box in the middle of the ocean for weeks, usually far away from land or even any commercial shipping traffic. Ships on station need to be in a specific engineering and combat systems configuration at all times so they can track or engage a target at a moments notice. This means there aren’t many opportunities for training, ship handling, gun shoots, swim calls, and other evolutions. Sometimes, a poor middle-of-the-ocean satellite uplink makes the internet unusable, and “River City” could be set (meaning the internet is turned off completely) for bandwidth constraints or upholding Operational Security (OPSEC) due to mission sensitivities. Depending on the ship’s heading and location, TV-DTS (the Navy’s satellite TV connection) could go down as well. Hopefully the seas aren’t rough, because there’s little chance to get a modified location (MODLOC) to divert for better weather. If it’s a nice day, fishing from the fantail seems to be the most exciting thing to do; although there never seems to be much luck in getting a catch (it seems most fish know how to avoid the BMD box at all costs). Forget port calls, but even when ships aren’t on station, they could still be on a formal or informal “tether” which prevents them from going anywhere too far away from the BMD Theater (yes that means no Australia!).

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According to the Yŏnhap News Agency last Thursday, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “confirmed…that he had requested the U.S. government” to postpone the OPCON (Operational Command) transfer slated for December, 2015. Citing from the same source, the National Journal elaborated further by saying Minister Kim believed that the United States was open to postponing the transfer because “a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists” Minister Kim’s request for the delay.

Chuck Hagel and Kim Kwan-jin

Ministerial-level meeting

There may be several reasons for the ROK government’s desire to postpone the OPCON transfer. First, the critics of the OPCON transfer both in Washington and the ROK argue that this transition is “dangerously myopic” as it ignores “the asymmetric challenges that [North Korea] presents.” Second, given the shrinking budget, they argue that the ROK may not have enough time to improve its own C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence) capabilities, notwithstanding a vigorous procurement and acquisition of state-of-the-art weaponry and indigenous research and development programs for its local defense industries. Third, South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps have prevented South Korea from developing a coherent strategy and the necessary wherewithal to operate on its own. To the critics of the OPCON handover, all these may point to the fact that, over the years, the ROK’s “political will to allocate the required resources has been constrained by economic pressures and the imperative to sustain South Korea’s socio-economic stability and growth.” As if to underscore this point, the ROK’s defense budget grew fourfold “at a rate higher than conventional explanations would expect” due to fears that the United States may eventually withdraw from the Korean peninsula. It was perhaps for these reasons that retired GEN B. B. Bell, a former Commander of the United States Forces Korea, has advocated postponing the transfer “permanently.

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In the wake of Hassan Rowhani’s landslide victory as Iran’s new president, some foreign policy mavens now believe that Rowhani’s presidency may augur a positive shift in Iran’s hitherto hostile policy towards the West. However, despite a glimmer of hope that Rowhani’s election may translate into moderate policies towards the West, others have “adopted a cautious ‘wait-and-see’ posture,” citing Rowhani’s past affiliation with the Ayatollah.

For East Asian experts, Rowhani’s election warrants attention because it remains to be seen whether Iran will retain its current alliance with Kim Jŏng-ŭn even if it chooses to reconcile with the West. After all, some have alleged that Iran has played a major role in the DPRK’s successful testing of its Ŭnha-3 rocket last December. More importantly, Rowhani’s future stance towards the West deserves attention because it may determine whether or not the United States must revise its strategy to adapt to new geostrategic realities. Indeed, it can be argued that the aforementioned factors are not mutually exclusive but intricately intertwined.

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