Look at all the nations we invaded (often like Haiti multiple times) and then left as soon as we could with the hope the “natives” would make the best of the opportunity and we wouldn’t have to come back. The closest we came to empire was with the former Spanish colonies we took after the Spanish-American War. We never really wanted Cuba and let them go. We didn’t quite know what to do with The Philippines and tried to help them go their own way. We still don’t know what to do with Puerto Rico – but then again, neither do the Puerto Ricans. In any event, most of Puerto Rico is moving to Florida – which is probably best for everyone except for those who have to drive to work on I-4.
We were forced in to WWI and for that matter WWII. The hot spots of the Cold War were a mixed bag for us, but one thing is clear – the American people do not have the patience for colonial wars – which would be the archaic term for most of the hot spots we fought in during the roughly four decades of the Cold War.
With our allies we won the Cold War, but we have yet to break our habits. Not just our habits, but the habits of the international security infrastructure that have come to rely on the USA being the indispensable nation, if we like it or not. We are 5% of the world’s population, 20% of its economic power, primary cultural power, and the unchallenged global military power. Other nations are increasing their wealth and power – Russia, China, & India with the greatest impact – but for the foreseeable future, we are it.
Even at the height of our supposed “neutrality” in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, we were not isolationist. Especially our Navy and Marine Corps, from the Revolutionary War on, we have been forward deployed and engaged in order to promote what has always been in our interest – the global flow of goods at market prices. That has never changed.
So, in the middle part of the second decade of the 21st Century – what should we do? As a nation, how do we match what the American people will support with what the international community needs from us?
So far this decade we have tried and failed on two faculty lounge concepts made flesh; nation building and Responsibility to Protect (R2). Good people can argue either side of the argument, but if they failed because they were not executed properly, we lacked strategic patience, or the concepts themselves are just not compatible with the human condition – it really does not matter. From Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Syria – the record is clear.
With this understanding, it was with a slight cringe that I read the Op-Ed by William Burns, Michele Floumoy, and Nancy Lindborg, “Fragile States and the Next President: What Washington Should Do.”
What I thought at first glance might be another integration of the neo-imperial nation-building or R2P repackaged with the help of a thesaurus was actually a framework that could provide a basis for a desperately needed bi-partisan consensus on what type of national security policy we should have towards those nations that have a tendency to produce more problems than can be consumed locally.
The opening paragraph sets out an idea that is not really new, but would be a new area of emphasis and dedication of effort;
Fragile states lie at the root of much of today’s global disorder, from turmoil in the Arab world to the refugee crisis, and from pandemic diseases to economic malaise. When governments exclude citizens from political and economic life, they lose legitimacy, become brittle, and break.
”Fragile States.” A useful term for the “about to be a Failed State.” Not quite full blown nation building – not the humanitarian driven R2P – but a national enlightened self-interest of nudging? Close.
First, the United States must be strategic—concentrating its efforts where its interests are greatest, where the stakes for regional order are most profound, and where, together with its partners, it can invest in prevention and resilience so that festering tensions don’t bubble over into conflict and instability.
Nigeria, Tunisia, and Ukraine all fit the bill, and all deserve priority attention.
The 2nd and 3rd parts require planning. This is where you need to have the right intellectual capital on the project.
Second, the United States must be systemic—tackling security, political, and development challenges in relationship with one another and not in isolation. It is one thing to bring the full toolkit of statecraft to bear. It is another entirely to make sure that the tools in the toolkit work in concert.
Third, the United States must be selective; it must focus on a few countries where it has leverage and set realistic goals that align with key actors within fragile states.
The 4th? Here is where your whole-of-government approach needs its buy-in. Money to feed it and strong bi-partisan leadership to keep the national support. Not our strong suit.
Fourth, U.S. engagement must be sustained; it often takes years or even decades for a state to transcend fragility. Without strong domestic political support, the United States will never be able to make the kind of patient and flexible investments required for success.
That last clause above is a big bucket of cold water. Look at the blood and treasure that we threw away with our premature zero-option in Iraq that midwifed the Islamic State. Look at the cresting wave of 2nd and 3rd order undesired effects of the December 2009 West Point speech where President Obama moved from a conditions based to a calendar based plan in Afghanistan. Not just patience, but strategic patience that is decoupled from Party politics and personal pique is what we need more than anything.
As for the levers of power to make it happen, the sisters of D.I.M.E., we can do this and probably do it well with the right intellectual capital running it. We have a long history of helping “fragile states” so there is a lot to draw on – but as with all things, there is a chance to do it better. Where it may have been a supporting effort to a larger operation, how can we make it the supported effort? Where has it been done well in the past, and where has it failed? Why?
That is the follow on I’d like to see. Fragile States case studies. If you see some, let us know in comments.
We’ve seen good people suffer under an IG cloud through a few FITREP cycles only to be exonerated in the end of the accusations – but the professional damage was already done and reputations unrecoverable.
We’ve seen an IG investigation finding nothing to substantiate the original accusations, but in the end crush someone based on totally unrelated items discovered in the very wide and deep net they throw.
How many people could survive one of these IG investigations that have no boundaries? Are you willing to risk it? I don’t know many who would.
I’ve written over the years about a few Kafkaesque nightmares coming out of the IG office, as have others – but nothing has really changed. Perhaps there is a chance here for some traction on looking at what the IG is and what it is doing. Not just DOD, but all the service IG as well.
The investigation of Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey has become a flashpoint for the broader criticisms of the Defense Department Inspector General, which is an independent agency tasked with investigating allegations of internal misconduct.
The former head of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, Losey’s career was derailed by allegations that he was obsessed with loyalty and retaliated against subordinates who complained anonymously to the IG about his travel expenses and the “toxic” work environment he cultivated.
We have Congressional interest. Good.
“This was a tragic outcome that has failed to do justice to one of America’s top warriors,” said Rep. Ron Desantis, R-Fla., a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“The whole ordeal raises questions about how the whistleblower process functions,” Destantis said.
The oversight committee held a hearing Wednesday about Losey’s case and the criticisms of the IG’s office.
This is getting much bigger than Losey.
…some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are worried that the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s Office has become too aggressive and may be wrongfully punishing good leaders.
The Pentagon IG’s handling of whistleblower reprisal investigations was criticized in a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which said the IG was taking too long to complete the probes and was using a separate internal case management system that makes it harder for lawmakers to oversee the military reprisal investigations.
The IG’s response?
In defense of the IG’s office, lawmakers heard from Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general.
“Whistleblowers are important to exposing waste, fraud and abuse in government programs and they are instrumental in saving taxpayer money and improving the efficiency of government operations,” Fine said.
Squid ink. The “women and children hurt worse” tactic. May be true, but not germane to the issue at hand; the IG system’s culture and approach to its mandate.
Perhaps the IG should take a pause and look inside its lifelines as it lashes out;
Mandy Smithberger, the head of POGO’s military reform project, testified Wednesday and pointed to surveys given to all federal government employees that reveal that one in four DoD IG Office employees are themselves reluctant to report misconduct for fear of reprisals.
And about half of the IG office’s employees do not believe their leadership maintains high standards of honesty and integrity.
Why would that be? Well, there is a good topic for a follow on article by the author.
“We are going to get critics from both sides — you’re too hard; you’re too soft; you’re doing a whitewash; you’re doing a witch hunt. You’re a junkyard dog or you’re a lap dog. We get that often in the same case. We can’t let that deter us,” Fine told lawmakers.
“Our job is to take the facts wherever they lead,” he said.
In an ideal world, sure – but I don’t think that is what actual experience is showing.
The lack of self-reflection by the IG concerns me the most. It is a classic sign of an unhealthy command climate and world view. None of this seems worthy of the military of a representative republic.
We can do better – or at least make the effort to address the appearance of abuse and misuse of power.
I was lucky, I was a JO in the last act in the Anti-Submarine Warfare golden age; the Cold War. Headed over to Desert Storm as an Ensign, came back a LTjg and then spent a few glorious years in an ocean where Soviet Tangos and Victor IIIs still prowled, frustrated, and more often than not – snuck by us when we weren’t trying to run away from them.
In exercises towards the end of that first sea tour a few years after the Soviet collapse, we still were a well oiled machine living off of tactical inertia. I have one of those memories at sea that at the moment you knew you’d always remember; a clear, bright evening. RED submarine was, I believe USS GATO (SSN 615). In the distance there were two SH-3 dipping one after another as a P-3 flew in orbits a few hundred feet above them throwing out flares/smokes on occasion while for the DD & FFG, tails were wet and working the same sub.
What made it so memorable wasn’t just the visual beauty of it all, but was that everyone seemed to be able to locate, track, and even make simulated attacks. It wasn’t that easy. It was never that easy – but at that one moment in time it all came together and had a bit of a non-goat-rope feel about it. Though you hoped that is what it would be like with a no-kidding adversary submarine – whichever nation they came from now that the Soviet Union was gone – but you knew that it wouldn’t. You remember the message traffic that outlined that TANGO disappeared when they wanted to, and that Angel of Death VICTOR III – well, people were still collecting jock-straps from Bear Island to the Malta Escarpment.
Surface, submarine, and aviation – everyone was in on the game. Carriers had large numbers of escorts when they deployed – and for the time almost all of them were ASW capable themselves for a knife fight, and the FFG, DD, and CG came with a mix of the last of the SH-2 and the sparkly new SH-60 to reach out a bit. The carriers had the S-3 and the SH-3 with the SH-60 coming along there as well. The submarines, well, say no more. Ashore, you always had the P-3 bubbas for comic relief.
The hope was that somewhere in that mix was the key to keep the submarines away, if not dead. We were never happy with the one trick pony of the LWT – after they took away our DUSTBIN – but if nothing else it might be good enough to make a hostile submarine break contact.
But, then the post-Cold War mindset came in. ASW went to the back and the money went elsewhere right when the potential enemy submarines were getting much better – our ASW technology was only getting marginally better, and our ASW skill against non-permissive and non-scripted submarines drifted and faded in the ambient noise of higher priorities.
As, rightfully, much of our ASW discussions should only take place behind the cipher door, it’s helpful to find something in open source as a reference point. In The Economist last month, there is a great article on modern ASW challenges, Seek, but shall ye find?
Some nice points to ponder a couple decades post-drift;
DURING war games played off the coast of Florida last year, a nuclear-powered French attack submarine, Saphir, eluded America’s sub-hunting aircraft and vessels with enough stealth to sink (fictitiously) a newly overhauled American aircraft-carrier, Theodore Roosevelt, and most of her escort. An account of the drill on a French defence-ministry website was promptly deleted, but too late for it to go unnoticed.
Nor was this French victory a fluke. In 2006, in what was very far from being a war game, a Chinese diesel-electric submarine surfaced near Okinawa within torpedo range of another American carrier, Kitty Hawk, without having been detected by that carrier’s escort of more than a dozen vessels and anti-submarine aircraft. And, from the point of view of carrier-deploying navies, things are threatening to get worse. Saphir, launched in 1981, hardly represents the state of the art in underwater undetectability; in the decade since the Okinawa incident diesel-electrics have become even quieter. For an inkling of the silence of the new generation of such subs when they are running on battery power alone, without their engines turning, Jerry Hendrix, a former anti-submarine operations officer on the Theodore Roosevelt, asks: “How loud is your flashlight?”
The always quotable Jerry!
…submarines are spreading. Since the cold war ended, the number of countries deploying them has risen from a dozen or so to about 40.
While we have rested some, tinkered with “new” ASW search methods a bit, the world continues to build.
Worse, for those trying to defend ships from submarine attack, Western powers have routinely cut anti-submarine spending since the end of the cold war. American carriers retired the S-3 Viking submarine-hunting warplane in 2009, leaving shorter-range helicopters to compensate. Since the Soviet Union’s demise the average surface escort of an American carrier has shrunk from six vessels to four. … Many carry anti-ship guided missiles as well as torpedoes. One such, the CM-708 UNB, was shown off by China in April. It packs a 155kg warhead and, after popping out of the water, flies at near the speed of sound for about 290km. An export version is available but, if you prefer, Russia’s submarine-launched Kalibr-PL missile offers a bigger warhead and a terminal sprint at Mach three.
So, solutions? We need to be careful in putting too much trust in high-demand, low-density “war winning” capabilities yet to be robustly tested (and always remember, no one has really faced a sub threat since the Royal Navy in the early 1980s), or promises of something just around the corner – we should reinforce what we know works.
Keeping track of submarines is good to remove uncertainty in peace, and a quicker kill in the transition to war – but how do you try to recreate the Cold War multilayered tracking system? Well, we don’t have the numbers or the money – so we’ll experiment a bit.
We are thinking about drones, but their utility starts to wear thin after the second follow-on question – but they have great promise not as a solution – but a tool;
Perhaps belatedly, but certainly determinedly, a new approach to the submarine threat is now being developed. It is based on a simple principle: since submarines are hard to detect, when you do find one you should never let go.
Shadowing threatening submersibles is nothing new. Trailing something is a much easier sensory task than discovering it in the first place, when you have an entire ocean to search. But at the moment this job is done by destroyers and (for those that have them) nuclear submarines. These cost billions of dollars to build and tens of millions a year more to run. Instead, the idea is to use smallish unmanned ships—marine drones, in effect—to do the job. These will be packed with enough sensors and artificial intelligence to follow adversaries’ submarines automatically.
Half a dozen Western naval powers are conducting the R&D needed to build these, according to Eric Wertheim, author of the US Naval Institute’s reference doorstop “Combat Fleets of the World”. America is furthest along. In June its Office of Naval Research and its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, began tests in the Pacific of the Sea Hunter, an unmanned (and, for now, unarmed) 40-metre trimaran, pictured. It is designed to follow an enemy submarine from the surface relentlessly for months, even in high seas. While the crew of the boat being tailed will probably be able to hear their pursuer’s diesel engine, that is not really a problem. Short of a torpedo launch, which would be an act of war, “there’s nothing you can do about it”, says Nevin Carr, a retired rear admiral in the American navy who now works at Leidos, the firm which designed Sea Hunter.
ASW is not that easy. The water column is not constant, busy sea lanes are loud, the ocean bottom can be fussy – and your target gets a vote and the right to have countermeasures.
Saab Kockums’s new 62-metre A26 model will sport a tube from which an underwater drone could slip out to attack surface drones. This, Mr Wieslander says, is the first time that such a feature has been fitted to a production submarine. Mr Krepinevich, however, counsels caution regarding underwater drones. They are fine for attacking other drones, but without huge advances in battery technology (see article), no such machine could keep up for long with a big submarine that charges its batteries from a diesel engine and can travel at up to 20 knots—much less with a faster nuclear-powered one.
More sophisticated systems than this are in the works—including anti-drone countermeasures. According to Torstein Olsmo Sæbo, a scientist at FFI, Norway’s defence-research establishment, drone-towed acoustic arrays can now mimic the signature of a big submarine, luring a drone off in the wrong direction.
A new IUSS?
One way to do this, at least for home waters, is to have a dense grid of fixed detectors. One of the more advanced of these is Singapore’s. It consists of underwaterbuoys called acoustic nodes that are tethered to the sea bed two or three kilometres apart. These nodes can talk to each other. They communicate by broadcasting precisely calibrated vibrations through the water. At the moment they are sending test messages, but eventually they will be equipped with their own submarine-detecting sensors.
Active and passive? Huh … wait unit the whale people find out about that active part.
Anyway, we have been here before;
The arms race between surface vessels and submarines has been going on for almost exactly a century—since Germany’s demonstration to its enemies in the first world war of the threat from its U-boats. By the end of the second world war, the Allies had become so good at finding U-boats that German crews taking to the sea had a life expectancy of about a week. As the examples of the Kitty Hawk and the Theodore Roosevelt show, the balance at the moment has tipped back in favour of the submariner. The great question is how long it will stay that way.
The key in the hyper-Darwinian game that is ASW is to never stop. Never stop developing, never stop training, never stop understanding the threat.
Another lesson of real-world ASW? It takes numbers of ASW units on, above, and under the surface, a wide diversity of units, and the investment to maintain them.
As for the kill-chain part of the problem, well … ahem. Let’s not go there right now.
For some it is at least a half-decade late – or for long term critics, perhaps a decade – to stop what we are doing with LCS and to re-baseline our assumptions about what we have wound up with at the terminal end of the sausage maker.
The events of this year have brought even the most invested LCS advocates to pause a bit.
Sources said the Coronado is about 800 nautical miles west of Hawaii, proceeding at about 10 knots. The Military Sealift Command oiler Henry J. Kaiser is accompanying the ship. About 70 sailors are aboard the LCS.
The Coronado left Pearl Harbor on Friday for the western Pacific, where it was to operate for at least 16 months based from Singapore. The ship recently completed several weeks of operations with the Rim of the Pacific exercises, operating from Pearl Harbor.
“The extent of repairs and any operational impact is unknown at this time. An assessment of the casualty will be completed upon return to Pearl Harbor and additional details will be made available when possible,” the San-Diego-based Third Fleet said in a statement.
The Coronado becomes the fourth LCS to suffer a major incident since December.
As I outlined at the start of this decade, it is really too late to halt the bureaucratic inertia that is LCS. By design, there is no “Plan B” or other class of ship to shift to. The yet to be seen LCS-FF conversion is only a “Plan A (Rev.1)”. Though we have our CVL’s – oh, I’m sorry: Large Deck Amphibs – full of UK VSTOL aircraft, when there was still time to do so, no one was ever brave enough to want to license build a quality EuroFrigate type. On The Hill, many have become so part-of the Military Industrial Complex as opposed to a watchdog-of or customer-of, that halting any further growth in numbers of this sub-optimal platform is almost impossible with the people holding the levers of power.
So, what can be done? The focus this decade has been to hope for the best with the compound technology risk in the two LCS classes, and just focus on making the best of what we have. CNO Richardson, who has spoken most clear-headed about LCS than any of his processors, is doing just that.
“Last night’s problem is the fourth issue in the last year,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson said Tuesday in a statement. “Some of these were caused by personnel and some were due to design and engineering. These issues are all receiving our full and immediate attention, both individually and in the aggregate.”
“To address the personnel and training issues,” Richardson continued, “I established a program-wide review earlier this summer to incorporate deployment lessons learned and identify systemic problems with how the program was structured. Vice Adm. Tom Rowden has completed the review, which recommends changes to the crewing, deployment, mission module, training and testing concepts.These changes will provide more ownership and stability, while also allowing for more forward presence.”
“In light of recent problems, we also recognize more immediate action needs to be taken as well,” the CNO added. “The review is being briefed to leadership before implementation. I also support Vice Adm. Rowden’s decision to improve oversight class-wide, which will result in the retraining and certifying of all LCS sailors who work in engineering.
Still, are the engineering problems buried deep in the bowels of these ships something we can grow and learn through to a fix, or will they be a baked-in characteristic of these ships – an original sin that must be accepted?
We’ll just have to wait and see. Measure the costs and write another chapter in Lessons Identified.
Either way, that Fleet ship count? It is going to need a big asterisk next to it.
There is an almost palatable desire by the NATSEC community to focus on those things it is most comfortable with, what is easy to wargame, what good people can politely in detached manner disagree about alternative Courses of Action in public; territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Syrian Civil War, the future of NATO, a resurgent Russia.
Yes, these are comfortable subjects, but they are wrapped in the vanity of denial. For The West, they may not be the most important subject worthy of time and treasure to prepare for. It should invest more time in looking at the uncomfortable, the difficult – what is driving conflict and building pressures for the next conflict; the intersection of economics, demographics, and migration.
From pre-history to today, masses of people from Finns to Vikings to Magyars to Bantu to Nuristani have all moved to either escape conflict or the inability of their former homelands to support internal population growth at a standard of living that provided a viable and sustainable future.
People migrate from bad places to better places when they can, invade when they must – but unless the marginal cost is higher where they want to go relative to staying where they are, they will move. Some want to join, other want to take.
Arguments over a few reefs in shallow Asian waters or a few hundred square miles of steppe are not existential threats to The West, but the ongoing unassimilable masses of Middle Eastern and African migrants are.
Already destabilizing the EU project and the post-WWII center-left/right political compromise, all trends show that unless steps are taken to make Europe less attractive, the migrant crisis will build on its own momentum.
One great variable is the gravity that is drawing the migrants in, the open door welfare states of Northern Europe and the porous Southern European borders. Let’s put that to the side and instead look at the more easily quantifiable variable, the one easier to put facts and figures to; the source nations.
While migration figures are declining in parts of Europe, Reiner Klingholz believes now is just the calm before the storm.
The head of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development said: “The large waves of migration have yet to come. Measures such as the Turkey Agreement and the closing of the Balkan Route ensure that currently only a few people come to Europe.
“The causes of the refugee crisis, however, have not changed.” … high population growth and low economic opportunities, combing to push migrants towards Europe. … More than 25,000 migrants arrived at Italy’s borders in July alone … The huge influx is a 12 per cent increase on the same period last year, … More than 140,000 migrants are now housed in Italian shelters, a seven-fold increase on 2013, with the migrant now crisis in its third year.
He said: ”The forces that are driving more and more people from their homes – weak states, big tumults within the Islamic world, a divided international system. None of these things are likely to abate soon.”
Each source nation has its own story, but let’s look at one that has the greatest potential to destabilize. Yet to be a major migration source, but by its very size and instability as it teeters on the edge requires a lot of thought. We are talking about a nation with 3.5x the 2010 population of Syria; Egypt.
In most countries a youth bulge leads to an economic boom. But Arab autocrats regard young people as a threat—and with reason. Better educated than their parents, wired to the world and sceptical of political and religious authority, the young were at the forefront of the uprisings of 2011. They toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and alarmed the kings and presidents of many other states.
Now, with the exception of Tunisia, those countries have either slid into civil war or seen their revolutions rolled back. The lot of young Arabs is worsening: it has become harder to find a job and easier to end up in a cell. Their options are typically poverty, emigration or, for a minority, jihad.
This is creating the conditions for the next explosion. Nowhere is the poisonous mix of demographic stress, political repression and economic incompetence more worrying than in Egypt under its strongman, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
Arab populations are growing exceptionally fast. Although the proportion who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total of 357m in 2010, the absolute number of young Arabs will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.
The regime is bust, sustained only by generous injections of cash from Gulf states (and, to a lesser degree, by military aid from America). Even with billions of petrodollars, Egypt’s budget and current-account deficits are gaping, at nearly 12% and 7% of GDP respectively. … Youth unemployment now stands at over 40%. … in Egypt’s broken system university graduates are more likely to be jobless than the country’s near-illiterate.
What is there to do?
Such is Egypt’s strategic importance that the world has little choice but to deal with Mr Sisi. But the West should treat him with a mixture of pragmatism, persuasion and pressure. It should stop selling Egypt expensive weapons it neither needs nor can afford, be they American F-16 jets or French Mistral helicopter-carriers. Any economic help should come with strict conditions: the currency should ultimately be allowed to float; the civil service has to be slimmed; costly and corruption-riddled subsidy schemes should be phased out. The poorest should in time be compensated through direct payments.
All this should be done gradually. Egypt is too fragile, and the Middle East too volatile, for shock therapy.
What are the odds of that happening? I’m not betting on that. The smart money isn’t that things will remain as they are from here on out. Even though it does not have some of the ethnic and sectarian challenges of some of its neighbors, better odds point towards collapse and conflict. If Egypt heads towards collapse, where will the Egyptian refugees go?
Unlike Syria that had a ready buffer of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan – where will they Egyptians go? Israel, Libya, Sudan? No. There is just one reliable external safety valve – the path with the best risk/reward ratio is north, to Europe.
No, history is not even close to ending. She never rests.
When you’ve worked on a problem for a long time and cannot make progress in a direction that is in your favor, and the harder you work the more on the problem the more difficult it becomes – then perhaps it is time to look for fresh ideas and perspectives.
There is a good chance that you have identified both the problem and the possible solution incorrectly.
In this case, let’s look at Syria and Iraq through Part 1 of an exceptional bit of work by the pseudonymous Cyrus Mahboubian over at WarOnTheRocks. The whole article deserves a thorough reading and covers both Iraq and Syria, but let’s just look at the Syria portion.
Why just Syria? Mostly because is aligns well a topic I’ve covered both here and my homeblog; outside the Kurds (who have no desire to take control of the national government), we are backing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. In a lineup of bad actors, some are less bad for strategic national interests as others, that is just a face. If you must choose – and there is always the option not to – then just make sure you pick for the right reasons. In the case of Syria, that is Assad.
Though the author does not directly address the Russians, we have also been ill-served by our kneejerk reaction that if the Russians support X, then we must oppose X. X, of course, is radical Sunni Islamism in Syria that is threatening Assad’s government. ISIS is just one of those groups – but we’ve already covered this in prior posts. Let’s get back to Mahboubian.
The best part of his article? He smashes a lot of talking points about the Shia/Sunni divide in Syria. Agree or disagree, but you have to consider his facts next time someone trots out the usual tropes;
Sunnis are heavily represented at all levels of leadership in Assad’s government. The territory it controls at this point in the war and at all points past is majority Sunni. And the Syrian armed forces are still majority Sunni. Alawites may be overrepresented in the security forces, but all that means is that they get to die more than others. It if it is an “Alawite regime,” isn’t it odd that includes and benefits so many non-Alawites?
Some American analysts have accepted the shrill claims of those who purport to represent the Sunni Arab world, such as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir. They have accepted the sectarian victimization narrative as articulated by Syrian insurgents and their spokesmen — as if these voices represented the majority of Syrian people or even most Syrian Sunnis. …The Saudis’ only appeal to other Arabs is the money they have to offer. The Syrian rebel spokesmen represent only a fraction of Syrian Sunnis. The self-appointed Iraqi Sunni leaders control neither men nor territory. The United States is listening to the wrong Sunnis. When President Obama or Gen. David Petraeus or others repeat the myths of disenfranchisement these voices propagate, they reinforce and legitimize a dangerous sectarian narrative that should instead be countered.
The alternative ideology to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whether in the Middle East, in Europe’s slums, or the former Soviet Union, is not to promote a Sunni identity — what the Bush administration pursued with its mantra of “moderate Sunni allies.” Instead, a counter-ideology should promote citizenship and secular states. This is the model that the West helped destroy in Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser died and the model it is currently destroying in Syria.
We have all seen the photos of Cairo University as it has regressed through the last few decades, as just an example. Only a trend back towards secularism in the region is in our national interest in this part of the world – if that is even possible. By joining in with the sectarian mindset – are we not just feeding the beast that is after our throat?
In Syria, a majority-Sunni military force exists. It represents the only national institution remaining in a state that does not make nearly as many sectarian distinctions as its opponents seem to think. Yes, I am talking about the Syrian armed forces. The majority of Syria’s state employees, government officials, and soldiers are Sunni, even today. The majority of the still-powerful urban capitalist class is Sunni. As someone who has been been interacting with people on every side of the civil war for its entire duration, I have learned that even some of Assad’s top security chiefs are Sunni, such as Ali Mamluk, the head of national security who supervises the other security agencies. Colonel Khaled Muhamad, a Sunni from Daraa, is in charge of securing Damascus for the feared Department 40 of the Internal Security. Deeb Zeitun, the head of state security, and Muhamad Rahmun, the head of political security, are both Sunni, as are the head of foreign intelligence, the minister of defense, senior officers in air force intelligence, the minister of interior, the head of the ruling Baath party, the majority of Baath party leaders, and the president of the parliament. The commander of the National Defense Forces (N.D.F.) in Daraa is a Sunni man of Palestinian origin. The commanders of the N.D.F. in Quneitra, Raqqa, and Aleppo are likewise Sunnis. One of the regime’s leading anti-ISIL fighters who receives support from all regime security branches is Muhana al Fayad. He leads the large Busaraya tribe between the Derezzor and Hassake areas and is also a member of parliament. Even some pilots dropping barrel bombs on insurgent-held communities are Sunni. Many heads of military intelligence branches are also Sunni.
All may not quite be what many believe in Syria and Iraq.
Poor data feeds bad advice. Bad advice informs bad policy. Bad policy brings about bad results.
I look forward to Part-2.
During the Bush the Younger Administration, there was a lot of blood, treasure, and professional reputations invested in nation building; a right of center interventionist idea repackaged from the previous century as a quasi-modernized move to make the Middle East safe for democracy. To be sure there were other reasons wrapped in with it – but in soft focus the promoted vision was nation building as a way to bring a more peaceful world from the Hindu Kush to the Atlas Mountains.
After eight years of that, we moved to a new era with its most modern roots set in the experiences of Rwanda and sub-Saharan Africa; the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) of the left of center interventionist world view. Though mostly lost in the septic byproduct from the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, the proponents of R2P are still in positions of power and have yet to disavow this line of thinking. The last significant appearances of it were in the 2011 and 2013 attempts in the UN to intervene in Syria’s civil war.
As concepts in the soft-empire of a humanitarian, well-meaning bent, they have one thing in common; they both rely on the application of military power to effect changes in national governments to better meet the perceived desires of nation-building and R2P’s proponents. Call it soft-empire or neo-imperialism, but that is what it represents when you boil it down.
They share another goal; woven inside both of them are a desire to create conditions and influence people in such a way to decrease the threat of terrorism against our nation and its allies. Has it worked? That is subject to debate. What isn’t subject to as much debate is that the American electorate does not seem to be willing to support either.
Is there another way? Is there an approach that works to mitigating the threat from terrorist organizations in ungoverned spaces or failed countries? There is. It doesn’t involve forward deploying tens to hundreds of thousands of people. It does not involve occupying foreign territory (at least long term). It doesn’t involve attempting to force a system of government on a hostile host.
What it does require is a hard, cold, realist view of the world and human nature. It requires a willingness to be clear and unblinking in the use of force. Not generalized violence – but specific, harsh, and unflinching.
The nation that is having success against terrorism is much smaller, but the threat its survival is greater. We cannot adopt their strategy in full as our requirements are different – but is there something to learn?
Right now, our greatest terror threat is the Islamic State, AKA ISIS, ISIL, etc. We say that we want to destroy it, but we seem to be trying to do it on the cheap with a lot of aspiration and hope in others – not quite a successful formula for success, historically.
If we do not want to fight harder with more blood and treasure, can we help guide the tides of history a bit in our favor by looking around at success others have had with fewer resources?
Let’s look at what a nation even more hated by its enemies than ours is doing; Israel.
Via Graham Allison at The National Interest;
The insistence on the “destruction” of ISIS has become such a reflexive linchpin of America’s counterterrorism project that few pause to consider its strategic merit. But the nation with arguably the most experience and success combatting terrorism has considered it—and found it wanting.
…the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has rejected the option of taking the fight directly to ISIS. Instead, faced with an operational threat that could mean the death of hundreds of Israelis at any moment, it has embraced a strategy that has not even been on the U.S. policy menu. Adopting a page from the playbook the United States used to defeat revolutionary Soviet-led communism in the Cold War, Israel is preventing ISIS attacks through a strategy of patient, vigilant deterrence. Obviously, the United States cannot simply adopt the Israeli approach whole cloth. It operates in a different security environment than the Jewish state, which faces a multiplicity of terrorist threats on its borders. But there are important lessons that America can learn to enhance its national security.
…As Cold War strategists learned, making this work in practice is demanding. To be effective, deterrence requires three Cs: clarity, capability and credibility. Specifically, this means clarity about the red line that cannot be crossed, communicated in language the adversary understands; capability to impose costs that greatly exceed the benefits; and credibility about the willingness to do so. Failures occur when the deterrer falls short on any one of the three Cs. So, if I draw a red line, you cross it, and I respond with words rather than the decisive punishment threatened, I fail the third C. Whatever excuse I give for not executing my threat, and however earnest my claim that next time will be different, the blunt fact is that adversaries will find my threats less credible.
If that were not enough, as the great nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling taught us, successful deterrence requires more than just a threat. The flip side of the deterrence coin is an equivalent promise: if you refrain from the prohibited action, I will withhold the threatened punishment. If, for whatever reason, I decide to administer the specified punishment even though you have complied with my demands, I spend that coin—and can no longer use that threat to deter you.
…The American counterterrorism debate has largely ignored Israeli calculus. Washington is generally averse to learning from others, and Israel’s security establishment, until recently, was reticent about revealing its thinking. That changed last August when, for the first time in the IDF’s history, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot published an unclassified version of the IDF defense doctrine. But because the document appeared only in Hebrew, it has remained largely unknown in the American strategic community. To make it accessible, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs recently posted an English translation of the document.
Read it all, and to add a little more depth to your understanding of the Israeli position, I would recommend Adarsh Aravind’s article over at Foreign Policy News;
The percentage of Israelis killed due to terrorist activities is higher than in any other democracy in the world. …The primary goal of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy is to destabilize the terror groups and prevent them from jeopardizing its national security (and) to prevent terrorists from influencing the national agenda and preserve the psychological resilience of the civilian population. … Over these years, Israel has learned that unlike conventional warfare, terrorism is a tenacious phenomenon and a decisive victory over it is uneasy. When one boulevard of attack is blocked, the terrorist will find another one.
We have not reached Western Europe’s regular terrorist attack rhythm yet, but we have had more in the last few years than before. If we as a nation no longer wish to fight them “over there,” then we should look at what we can do to stop having too much to fight them here. Looking at Israel’s Strategic, Operational, and Tactical successes will be helpful.
It also will require the Political level to do its job. That, ultimately, will be the most difficult part, as without that – nothing else will work.
One of my favorite naval stories is that of the impressive but meaningless deployment of the raider CSS SHENANDOAH as told so well in John Baldwin’s book, Last Flag Down.
A non-state actor (the CSA not a recognized nation) builds and deploys a warship with one goal in mind – destroying the commerce of another. Her best work was done against USA whalers in the Pacific.
Though the comparisons are imperfect, the SHENANDOAH came to mind when I got a view of that small but efficient ramming bow on Sea Shepard’s purpose built anti-whaling ship, OCEAN WARRIOR, that was launched this summer.
As Sea Shepard has a history of ramming – it is not too much to look at that reinforced bow and wonder how much extra hardening there is.
Construction on Ocean Warrior, which is scheduled for completion in September, has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery in the United Kingdom and the Svenska PostkodLotteriet in Sweden, who together granted €8.3 million to Sea Shepherd for the project.
While Sea Shepherd remains tight-lipped about exactly what the Ocean Warrior’s first at-sea mission will be, the organisation has assured its supporters the ship will be put to immediate use to defend, conserve and protect oceans and precious marine wildlife.
“Thanks to the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Svenska PostkodLotteriet, the addition of the Ocean Warrior to the Sea Shepherd Fleet has made us stronger, faster, and better able to prevail on the seas. We are counting down the days until the launch of the ship, on what will inevitably be a bad day for poachers, and a great day for the oceans,” said Geert Vons, Director of Sea Shepherd Netherlands.
That is the engineering and money side of the house – but something that we really have not seen fleshed out well is the legal side of the house if Sea Shepard’s “Neptune’s Navy” decides to continue to push the envelope to be the judge, jury and executioner at sea.
Historically, ramming is as much a weapon as a main gun. OCEAN WARRIOR is built for speed and a bit more that I am sure will be revealed in good time. Ramming? Who knows – but what have we seen before from them? What else would they do to stop what they want to stop? I would not expect this organization to become less aggressive.
Non-state actor vigilantism at sea vs. outlaw fishermen? With a couple of USCG ships in its fleet? When does reality show meets well-meaning advocacy tip over to quasi war at sea?
It is funny how a topic can keep coming in to your scan after being in the background for so long. The last few weeks, the Navy and the Atom kept breaking above the ambient noise.
First was something I first wrote about 30-yrs ago as an undergrad. The topic of the paper, which I received a very disappointing B- on if I recall correctly (NB: when your POLYSCI professor rants against militarism and you are NROTC, avoid military topics on papers) was New Zealand deciding they were going to ask, and we were going to tell, or we could shove off.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced during a joint news conference with Biden in Auckland that New Zealand had invited the U.S. to send a ship to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary later this year. Biden, who is visiting New Zealand as part of a tour of the Pacific, said he had gladly accepted the offer.
“It will be yet another expression, another expression of our close and cooperative relationship between both of our countries that we’ve worked together so hard to strengthen,” Biden said.
No U.S. warships have been allowed to visit the country since the 1980s, when New Zealand introduced its nuclear-free policy. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand’s default position has long been to ban them from its waters. But as military relations have improved between the two countries in recent years, speculation had grown that New Zealand would allow the U.S. to participate in its anniversary celebration.
“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters.
Key still needs to formally sign off on the ship visit. The prime minister said he did not yet know what type of vessel the U.S. was planning to send, but said it would still need to comply with New Zealand law, which requires that he be satisfied that any ship entering the country’s waters has no nuclear capabilities.
PEO LCS, call your office. Great liberty. Congrats to whoever goes.
That little move got my attention, and as I pondered one 30-yr old topic, look what else came through the mists of time;
The Russian Navy is preparing a contract with the nation’s largest shipbuilder for eight new nuclear-powered missile cruisers.
According to local media, United Shipbuilding Corporation Deputy President Igor Ponomarev says the contract is currently under review. The construction of the first vessel is expected to commence in early 2018.
The new missile cruisers will be designed by the Severnoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and are expected to have a deadweight of 17,500 tons, a length of 200 meters (650 feet0 and to be equipped with more than 200 missiles including a version of the S-500, the newest and most lethal Russian missile system.
That is about 80% of a Kirov Battle Cruiser and, if they move forward with what will unquestionably be an very expensive warship, it will be interesting to see deployed.
The Russians have been modernizing the smaller units its fleet in the last few years with quite a bit of success, and this would be a step in modernizing their blue water fleet. Interesting concept, not unlike the one they had for the Kirov;
“Nuclear-powered cruisers are autonomous and well-armed. They can face various challenges in any part of the world ocean. The Russian Navy has not placed orders for vessels of this class since 1989. The decision to build several ships means that Russia pursues geopolitical interests to maintain its presence in remote parts of the world.”
Things come in threes, and after reading the bit about the newest Russian aspirations, I thought of one of my more dystopian conversations as of late that involved nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This doesn’t go boom, or glow all that much at all – but compared to dirty bombs or nuclear war – this is more likely to occur.
In your mind, picture all the CVN we have. Now picture all the SSN/BN we have as well. Add to that how many port visits they make globally each year. Put that to one side.
Recall the reaction to the rather insignificant release of radioactivity at Three Mile Island, and the reaction to very significant nuclear releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In between these data points are a lot of possibilities. Put those to the other side.
Put this in the center. Though the Russians (nee Soviets) have had a few significant nuclear accidents, we have not. The Russians have a different press and social culture than the West, so impact is different. What would the impact be here of either a nuclear accident (unlikely) or some kind of release – however small – following a terrorist attack against one of our nuclear powered ships (unlikely, but not hard to outline)?
The American people and our friends are comfortable with our nuclear ships because they are used to them. They are comfortable because we have had such a superb safety record for decades. Our nuclear designs are the best in the world and everything comes second to safety.
All that being said, all human institutions and creations are flawed. None are perfect. It would be one thing to have a nuclear armed ship sunk in combat on the open seas with miles of water between it and the nearest person; but what about the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Norfolk? Groton? Yokosuka?
No one could claim this as a black swan; this is a pink flamingo. Exotic, but well known.
What would the domestic and international response be following an incident where even a small amount of radioactive leakage occurred, especially if it followed an attack while tied up to the pier or moored close ashore upwind from a city of over a million souls?
When does nuclear power become “that?” What would be the tipping point?
Political chaos and recovering from successful and unsuccessful coups are not unheard of in Turkey. While there are some aspects of the Erdogan government that are less than ideal compared to previous governments, there are good reasons to not buy in to some of the more excited reactions to Erdogan’s response to the coup. At this stage of the game, excessive concern about USA/NATO’s nuclear weapons stored there, NATO status, or the Islamist vs. Kemalist nature of the government should not be top of mind.
Military uprisings, regardless of outcome, never have clean endings or result in gentlemanly treatment of the losing side by the winning side. As such, patience is in order to give the Turks a chance to find their balance again. We should give them time.
The next few months will tell the story, but let’s look at the Most Likely vs. Most Dangerous COA, and some of the Planning Assumptions we are working with.
Hope isn’t a plan, but with the right Assumptions, you can write a plan around it. Let’s be optimists and run with COA-Hope as Most Likely.
Good thing for everyone, I don’t have to make that up – Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret) has a must read looking forward on what steps we should take with Turkey post-coup. Though I non-concur with his 3rd point, he outlines a solid step forward.
If things in the background would trend in a way we would like, these initial steps would go a long way of firming up that path. Even better, if there was a slight drift away from where NATO and the USA would like to see Turkey go, such actions might help the better minds in that star-crossed nation nudge things back in the correct direction.
In summary, here are his four points;
First, we need to stand firmly on the side of the Turkish civilian government.
Second, we should send our senior military officials to Ankara to hear from their counterparts about the situation while congratulating Turkey’s leadership on doing the right thing and helping stop the coup.
A third smart move by the United States would be to increase cooperation in intelligence sharing and targeting against Kurdish radical terrorist groups.
Fourth, and finally, the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions.
We, NATO, and Turkey should be so lucky to have this as an entering argument, but we need to do the responsible thing and look at our assumptions.
We are assuming that Erdogan will not go in the direction he was already heading – a more Islamist Turkey. That is assuming against the trend.
Moderation usually requires peace. If we are assuming that Turkey’s part of the world will become more peaceful, then that is assuming against the trend too.
We could go on, but let’s just stick with those two assumptions being invalid; Turkey more Islamist, a move enhanced by insecurity and internal strife. Those will not create effects on the ground that are in line with what NATO sees itself as in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. That needs a Branch Plan. One variation of that Branch Plan could have a few Decisive Points that lead someplace I’m not sure how we would deal with.
1. NATO membership revoked or best case, as Greece did in the 1970s, Turkey leaves NATO’s military command.
2. In line with #1, NATO nuclear weapons need to removed to a more secure location.
In an ideal world, #2 should happen well before #1 and should really be a stand along plan, but history on occasion moves faster than we like, and not in an ideal order. Though we are far from #1 and #2 today, it doesn’t take all that many more cards pulled from the deck and we could find ourselves close. As the SECSTATE said recently;
Turkey could fall foul of Nato’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.
The US “will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice,” he said, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld”.
That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack if it leads down the path where we need to look at #1 and #2. Those nukes are housed on an airbase in the suburbs of a city of 1.7 million.
The fact that we should even be concerned with this begs the question; besides bureaucratic inertia, why in 2016 do we need a bunch of nuclear gravity bombs stored only 125 miles as the Hornet flies from the Syrian border?
That, perhaps, is another post for another day. In any event, we live in interesting times. Though I think our world will be closer to Most Likely COA-Hope as outlined by Stavridis, it is probably prudent to have a few plans on the shelf to deviate from if some variation of the Most Dangerous COA peeks above the horizon.
On a personal note, like Admiral Stavridis, I served for four years with NATO and developed some great working relationships with good men, officers and NCOs . Once this went down, in particular I thought of a Turkish Air Force officer, now close to Colonel, who I enjoyed working with immensely. He, his wife and children were right out of central casting of what we would see as an almost ideal American military family. Hope they are on the right side of things. I once thought he and those like him were the future of Turkey, now – not so much, and that is sad.
- On Midrats 19 Feb 2017 -Episode 372: Andrew Jackson’s Navy; Now More Than Ever?
- SECDEF Mattis to NATO: Sober Up
- On Midrats 12 Feb 2017 – Episode 371: Rice Bowls, Silos, & Firewalls – the National Security Bureaucracy
- China Sees Our 350, and Throws Another 150 on Top
- On Midrats 5 Feb 2017 – Episode 370: The SECNAV’s In Basket With James Holmes