Archive for the 'Iran' Tag

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Today’s extended episode is a chat on future threat projection with Dennis Smith of the Project on International Peace and Security from William and Mary, Chris Peterson of the Fletcher School’s Neptune Group, and Alexander Clarke of the Phoenix Think Tank. We talk about the next 5-10 years in maritime security, concentrating on global human security, china, and the economy. Please enjoy Sea Control 21- Threat Projection (download).

Remember, we are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, and a bunch of other places my Google data can’t identify. Please, leave a comment and a five-star rating so we can get on the front page one day.



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Benham Talebleu joins us to discuss Iran’s new President, their nuclear weapons program, and the larger strategic aims of the Islamic Republic. Remember to subscribe on Itunes or Stitcher Stream radio! Leave a comment and a five-star rating before telling all your friends.

Please enjoy Sea Control 19: Rouhani, Nukes, and Iran (download).



Michael VitoBecause of Don Vito’s health problems, his son Michael (as a fictional Marine Captain, he was the obvious choice as successor) assumed control of the Corleone family business. His rapid ascent disrupted the distribution of power within the family. After Don Vito’s passing, Michael used an early version of distributed operations against the leadership of near-peer competitors. Michael’s rise within the family and subsequent violent struggle to bolster the Corleone’s position within the organized crime syndicate illustrate the inherent dangers of power shifts.

The reality is – shifts happen. Power shifts happen in clans, in industry and among states. State power shifts occur at various levels – internal, regional and global and many believe power shifts are frequently the cause of international conflicts. The graphic below illustrates various power shifts in modern history.

Source: Conceptualized by Doran (1965; updated 1981, 1989, 1993), based on estimations for the period 1500 to 1815, and data for the years 1815-1993).

Source: Conceptualized by Doran (1965; updated 1981, 1989, 1993), based on estimations for the period 1500 to 1815, and data for the years 1815-1993).

Measuring National Power

As many have observed, the American military has gone to war over the past decade but the United States as a nation has not. When analyzing great power wars it is important to consider the total power of the states involved and not to simply count the number of ships, air wings or divisions. When analyzing military power in this context both actual and latent capabilities (those that a state could produce in the future) must be taken into account. Measuring national power is difficult and extremely subjective. One method, albeit not perfect, is to use the National Material Capabilities data set.

Power is considered by many to be a central concept in explaining conflict and six indicators are widely used to quantify power – military expenditure, military personnel, energy consumption, iron and steel production, urban population, and total population.

The Composite Index of National Capability (CINC) index is based on these six variables. The CINC is useful for historical analysis and often helps explain the outcome and duration of conventional conflicts between states. The figure below displays two conflicts where the opposing forces were at different levels of power; the first, near power parity and the second, an overwhelming power difference. The former lasted nearly eight years and ended in stalemate while the latter lasted only a few days with a decisive victory for coalition forces.

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The CINC can also be used to analyze the future environment. Using the CINC to examine the state powers of China and the US (including Pacific partners) should paint a worrisome picture for US military planners.

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Some consider the CINC model to be obsolete in the information age and only appropriate for historical analysis. Measuring national power accurately in the post-industrial age is still a work in progress. An alternate power assessment method comes from the intelligence community. The NIC historically used a four component model to forecast power that included GDP, population size, military spending, and technology. However in the Global Trends 2030, an updated model included other elements such as health, education, and governance.

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Regardless of the method or data one uses, it is clear that a global power shift is underway. The primary question that remains is will this shift result in peaceful integration or in a great power war?

Revisiting Power Theories

Within the IR field there are two prominent schools of thought regarding power shifts – power transition theory and power cycle theory.

Power Transition: A.F.K. Organski developed this theory in 1958. He asserted that the international system can be categorized into four levels of state power: dominant power, great powers, middle powers and small powers. Unlike the balance of power theorists, Organski felt the system was in a constant state of flux with the dominant power attempting to maintain the status quo. Rising contenders were either satisfied or dissatisfied with their position in the system. The outcome of the contender’s rise could either be peaceful integration or war depending on their level of satisfaction during ascendance. Throughout history, the closer the contender and dominant power were to power parity, the longer and more severe were conflicts.

Power Cycle: Originated by Charles Doran in 1963, the power cycle theory asserts the power of a state is cyclic and it rises and falls based on the state’s relative position within the international system. Along the cycle’s path are several critical inflection points that create shifts in the international system and often result in major wars.

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Both of theories remain relevant today and portend a dangerous threat to the stability of global order.

The Rise of China

Both schools express concern over the rise of China and potential disruption to the international system. Disciples of Organski offer three strategies for the US to consider:

  • Engineering Satisfaction with Realignment: This strategy largely involves economic development in China and places more emphasis on business development and partnerships as a means to keep the contender satisfied during its ascent.
  • Controlling Territorial Flashpoints: Primarily focused on Taiwan, the authors argue that even a successful defense of Taiwan against Chinese military aggression in the near-term will not resolve the power shift dilemma. At some point in time all three parties, China, US and Taiwan will come to the realization that because of the China’s great power status, Taiwan may voluntarily associate itself with China.
  • Reengineering Power Distributions: The United States must prevent China from achieving power parity. To accomplish this it must form a “super-bloc” alliance by expanding NATO and developing alliances with India and even Russia.

The authors caution against over-militarizing America’s policy towards China and recount former SECDEF Perry’s warning, “If we treat China as an enemy, it will surely become one.”

Doran contends that China’s rise could eventually be slowed by India’s ascent to power and tensions may escalate between the neighboring states. For China to enjoy a “peaceful rise,” it must contend with the challenges of future systems transformation just as the other members of the system had to in the past. Other governments must learn to preserve their security and interests while assisting China to traverse this projected and particularly stressful interval in history.

Concerns

Examining China’s rise through the power shift lens brings several concerns to the fore.

If a military confrontation between China and the US is inevitable, would the perfect military plan or operational concept overcome the power parity problem or would a long war of attrition be unavoidable? Would America’s military advantage diminish if a conflict is fought on Chinese territory, thus forcing America to project military power thousands of miles from the US homeland?

Second, would any amount of conventional military force be sufficient to compel the state of China to accept an outcome favorable to the US and its allies? Because of China’s population advantage and massive economy, could it simply absorb a shock-and-awe type campaign until its adversary’s magazines were exhausted?

Third, to what extent do America’s domestic problems (i.e. national debt, percentage of Americans not in the workforce, inefficient governance and immigration reform) limit its ability to reverse the current power declination trend in the international system?

Finally, because of advances in missile technology, cyber capabilities and asymmetric tactics, the reality is the US homeland will no longer be a sanctuary during future wars. The American military did not contend with this problem in the great power wars of WWI, WW II and Korea. How would degraded American industrial capacity affect the ability to project power overseas for a significant period of time?

Conclusion

The examination of power shifts among states should raise concerns among America’s foreign policy makers and military planners. Most of the latter entered active duty after the end of the Cold War when America emerged as an uncontested hegemon. This dominant power status may have resulted in a certain degree of hubris that prompts many into thinking America can simply impose its will on another state at a time and place of its choosing. While this may have worked in Grenada, Panama and against Somali pirates, this paradigm will need to shift to contend with the rise of a great power.

To ensure the relative stability of the international system and American prosperity, planners must challenge some underlying assumptions about America’s relative dominance in the future and develop a national strategy that is not centrally focused on using conventional military force to counter the rise of China’s power.



Sea-ControlMatt, Chris, and Grant are joined by Scott Cheney-Peters for a CIMSEC party on the China ADIZ, corvettes, procurement, and Iran. Grant checks out because he’s has a sub-par phone. Remember to subscribe to us on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Without further ado, here is Sea Control 11: Sand Pebbles.

Also, as promised in the podcast, a link to some international law-y goodness: “Limits in the Seas, No. 114.”



Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
-WSC

Bulls make money. Bears make money. PIGS GETS SLAUGHTERED!

Bulls make money. Bears make money. PIGS GETS SLAUGHTERED!

Jim Kramer, madman behind CNBC’s Mad Money, always says, “where’s the pin-action?” or rather, “what are the wide-ranging domino effects of events.” The deal announced this weekend over Iran’s nuclear program is the axis of a massive strategic wheel which, if the deal is successful, will begin to turn. This article is not a debate on the durability of the coalescing Iran deal, but rather on its wide-ranging diplomatic, military, and economic effects if executed satisfactorily.

Reviewing the Facebook Friends List

In order to counter Iranian influence in the Gulf, the United States has unfortunately had to shackle itself with Saudi Arabia, of whom FDR may have well said, “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Unfortunately, this particular SOB isn’t an SOB to just the enemy. While purportedly a significant source of intelligence aid and support in the GWOT, entities in Saudi Arabia are also suspected of providing significant funding to Al-Qaeda associates, and the country is often a very clear human rights nightmare. Walking the diplomacy, human rights, military operations, and public image line is difficult enough before adding “balancing” Iran with folks who act like the Saudis to the mix. Any working deal with Iran frees the US’s hands to play a tougher game with Saudi Arabia, who is terrified of being left out in the cold of increased Iranian influence in the region.

Standards and Practices/ Money, Money, Money

Actually just on their way to the grand opening of the first Best Buy.

Actually, bothering the neighbors got boring. They’re actually just on their way to the grand opening of Bandar Abbas’ first Best Buy.

Iran continues to be a severe problem in areas of conflict outside the nuclear weapons question, like in Syria and in material of terrorism, as in the case of Hezbollah. Israel still rightfully worries about their non-nuclear activites. However, any practitioner of negotiation would tell you that you can’t get everything you want from the beginning. You need a starting point. If played correctly, the un-freezing of funds and potential increased business relationships/profits from opening trade based on good continuing behavior may create a virtuous cycle. With the potential strategic calculus of the new leadership, Iran may be discouraged from it’s bad behaviors in those far-flung arenas. The opportunity to develop domestically and fulfill the failed economic promises of a decade will hopefully pull attention away from more destructive enterprises and towards the domestic infrastructure programs Iranians have been calling for. Perhaps the US has facilitated Iran’s “Burma Moment.”

Oh, did I mention long-term lower oil prices adding a boon to a stagnating global economy that no longer needs to fear Iranian nuclear weapons or conflict in the gulf?

A Real Pivot

Turn this beast around. We have other fish to fry.

Turn this beast around. We have other fish to fry.

In a time of sequestration, resources are going to be stretched thin. Facility development in Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain, etc… in response to Iranian threats and the massive project of ballistic missile defense will in the immediate term continue to be important, but if successful in changing Iran’s strategic calculus from military to economic success, those efforts can give way to the bigger projects of presence in Asia and projection in Africa. Decreased threats from Iran will help lighten regional carrier presence calculations, for example. Imagine, the resources spent to move the fleet of Cyclone-class PC’s to Bahrain spent elsewhere (PC’s to Singapore, perhaps) if the Iranian threat didn’t loom so large. Lightening that demand signal will give the U.S. military important freedom and flexibility to meet future goals.It is a simple and intuitive point, but one with massive impact.

Verify, then Trust

Ronald Reagan is often known for saying the Russian proverb, “trust, but verify.” In the case of Iran, there is no extended relationship of engagement upon which to base any trust, “verify, THEN trust.” Any deal, as stated by the President and Secretary Kerry, will need to be heavily monitored and enforced by the united front of negotiating parties. Skepticism is an important part of a deal being a success. That said, the perils are many, but the benefit are huge. It’s a long shot, but so worth a shot.



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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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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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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Last week, 600 activists aboard six ships attempted to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza. IDF commandos stormed the ships 68 miles off the coast of Israel, killing almost of dozen activists in a botched raid. In the aftermath of the raid, both Turkey and Iran Revolutionary Guard (IRC) have proposed sending armed escorts to protect a future flotilla to Gaza. However, few believe either Turkey or the IRC will follow through on their rhetoric and run the Gaza blockade.

However, now it looks like another faction in Iran might try. Today, the head of the Iranian Red Cross (not to be confused with the ICRC), Abdolrauf Adibzadeh, announced on Press TV that Iran is sending two ships with humanitarian supplies and a “Navy hospital ship” to Gaza at the end of this week. I do not know of any Iranian hospital ships, but that is likely besides the point. If true, this sets Iran and Israel to face off in the largest naval confrontation in recent years.



Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy | 12 Comments
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I recently had the pleasure of talking to a Financial Times reporter about Iran’s appetite for small boats. The story, dealing with the saga of the “Bradstone Challenger“, a Bladerunner 51 speedboat, just hit the press today (and it got some love from Drudge (bottom middle column), so…good times). (.pdf here)

I noted Iran’s interest in the Ice Marine’s Bladerunner back in early 2009–in fact, I reported that the Commerce Department’s “stop order”, coming on January 22, was one of the Obama Administration’s first actions taken after the inauguration. But, sadly, bureaucracy intervened–South Africa mislaid the order, sending the boat off in the “Iranian Diplomat.”

“The loading went ahead because, said one source, no one saw the US notice sent by fax over a weekend. US special forces were ready to intercept the Iranian merchant vessel but the operation was called off, the source said”

So now the vessel has, reportedly, been militarized (or, more likely, is being reverse-engineered).

(I won’t bore you with this story’s nitty-gritty details–as fascinating as they are. If you are interested, go read the full post at NEXTNAVY.COM–it’s a rollicking story of international intrigue, politics and…Italian speedboats!)

But for now, let’s focus on the strategic question…Iran’s apatite for small boats aside, just how big a danger are Iran’s little boats? Should the U.S. worry?

Not really.

Outside of surprise (a la the USS Cole), the small boat “record” since World War II fails to live up to the modern-day hype. Certainly, small boats are not things to completely disregard, but I do have serious doubts about the danger a swarm poses to a prepared US vessel. And, in the article, I said so:

“Though the US Navy is very concerned a swarm of small boats can overwhelm and sink a large warship, the hypothesis is untested. It has never been done,” Mr Hooper told the FT. “A small, fast boat navy is nothing more than a surprise strike and harassment force. Every time small, fast boats run into helicopters, the helicopters win.”

The proof just ain’t there. Once a fast boat swarm is identified as “hostile,” those small boats tend to lead relatively short, exciting lives.

In 1987, U.S. helicopters made quick work of Boghammar speedboats, and during the 1991 Bubiyan Turkey Shoot, helicopters helped sink or damage 143 small Iraqi naval vessels.

The trick, of course, is avoiding any losses as a “swarm” transforms from “traffic” to a swarming “attacker”…

And that might be a tad difficult.

Or…maybe not. Discuss!

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