Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

Failed-states-index-2011A republic of ideas like the United States makes a poor imperial power. By birth, design, and national character – it just isn’t us.

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.



In July 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed to by Iran on one side and on the other by the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France plus Germany (the P5+1).

At the inception of negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran was believed to be within 2 to 3 months of being able to manufacture 10 to 12 nuclear weapons.[i] Three basic options were available to the United States and its P5+1 partner countries regarding how to deal with an Iranian nuclear threat: (1) deterrence after Iran had such weapons, (2) military operations to disarm Iran, or (3) a diplomatic agreement to rollback the Iranian nuclear program.

Negotiations_about_Iranian_Nuclear_Program_-_the_Ministers_of_Foreign_Affairs_and_Other_Officials_of_the_P5+1_and_Ministers_of_Foreign_Affairs_of_Iran_and_EU_in_LausanneThe P5+1 governments decided not to accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program, nor to simply try to deter its use after it was established. None of the P5+1 countries were willing to live in a world where Iran’s radical leaders were permitted to have atomic bombs so the deterrence option was placed on hold. Also, P5+1 saw war as a last resort and sought through diplomacy to prevent a nuclear Iran.

War was rightly always considered to be the last resort. War with Iran likely would be even more costly than the 12-year war in Iraq since Iran has a much larger economy, is over three times larger in area than Iraq, and has a population two and a half times greater.

The Iran nuclear agreement is controversial both in the U.S. and abroad. On the one hand, if honored, it retards the capacity of Iran to go nuclear and would buy a decade or more to seek a more permanent solution, but JCPOA also does not offer a permanent end to the Iranian program and gives Iran added fiscal resources at the beginning of the deal.[ii] When Iran met threshold conditions required on Implementation Day, on January 16, 2016, US, UN and EU sanctions were suspended so Iran is in the process of receiving around $ 100 billion of its previously frozen assets.[iii] In addition, Iran can again sell its oil freely on the world market. The U.S. Treasury Secretary said economic sanctions have cost Iran more than $160 billion since 2012 in oil revenue alone”[iv]

Some U.S. Republican Party candidates and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu have argued that this is a bad deal because it does not forever remove the Iranian nuclear threat[v] and provides Iran new resources that might be used against Israel and others.

Netanyahu appears to have favored a military intervention over the diplomatic option represented by the Iran nuclear agreement. But, as a former Israeli official, concluded, ” An [Israeli] attack probably could not have achieved more than a few years delay of Iran’s program whereas the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Attack, if observed, will do so for at least 10 to 15 years. “[vi]

In the real world no agreement is ever perfect. JCPOA seems to have achieved what was possible to achieve. It is unclear what rejecting the agreement would accomplish short of hastening the arrival of an Iranian nuclear capacity or a war to prevent the same.

This agreement would give Iran’s leaders a strong incentive to avoid actions that might bring back sanctions and increase the threat of war against them. The agreement also strengthens the hand of Iranian moderates against their more hawkish elements who most dislike the agreement.

The important point is that Iran would likely get a nuclear arsenal far faster and more certainly without this deal than with it. JCPOA allows additional years to try to change the regime, or relations with it, short of their acquiring nuclear weapons.

Comparing a Future With or Without JCPOA

There are two paths to a nuclear weapons capacity, the plutonium path using heavy water reactors and the uranium route accomplished by separating Uranium 235 from Uranium hexafluoride using centrifuges. Once the material is enriched to 90 percent U-235 it is nuclear bomb material.

The Iranian plutonium path to a bomb is currently blocked by JCPOA. Iran’s only potential source of plutonium, the Arak reactor has had its core removed and disabled. As of January 31, 2016, Iran filled the Arak reactor calandria with concrete.[vii] For 15 years Iran will be legally prohibited from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel[viii]

The Iranian highly enriched uranium path to the bomb is also blocked. The Iranians have agreed to reduce its number of active centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104. Almost all of these will be the oldest and least advanced centrifuges in their inventory. Iran’s advanced centrifuge R&D will be limited for 8.5 years to a small number of IR-3, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges at Natanz. The others have already been dismantled and put in storage, as verified by IAEA inspectors. JCPOA also imposes a 20 year ban on Iranian centrifuge production. Until the agreement, such centrifuges had been operating at three Iranian centrifuge facilities: two at Natanz and one at Fordow. Now, centrifuge enrichment activity is permitted only at a single site at Natanz.

Arak_Heavy_Water4The agreement imposes a 3.67 percent enrichment purity limit on all Iranian uranium fuel for 15 years. [ix] As required, Iran has transferred outside their territory 25,000 pounds or 98 percent of their low and medium enriched uranium that has been placed in storage in Russia, a step verified by the IAEA inspectors. [x]

In the agreement, the Iranians have acquiesced in having very strict IAEA inspections and other verification procedures to ensure their compliance. The agreement allows continuous monitoring of Iranian uranium mines and mills for 25 years, and provides oversight of Iranian centrifuge production facilities for 20 years, and permits 15 years of IAEA access to inspect Iranian sites. For already declared Iranian sites, IAEA inspectors are to be granted immediate access. Inspections of any other sites are to be conducted within 24 days of a request for entry.[xi]

U.S. intelligence officials have said they have confidence that any cheating on the agreement could be detected in a timely manner, allowing the U.S. and allies to take corrective military actions a year or more before Iran could race to its first atomic weapons. And with the Iran deal concluded, Iran’s adversaries like the Saudis and Turks will be less likely to start their own nuclear weapons R&D programs to offset an Iranian A-bomb.

For the next 10 years, should Iran cheat on the agreement, all UN, U.S. and EU sanctions would automatically be immediately snapped back into place against Iran. If the agreement succeeds, it will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon capability in the next decade or more. The Iran nuclear agreement buys time to improve US-Iranian relations and to defuse other points of contention in the Middle East. If it fails, the deterrence, international sanctions and military options remain viable.

Notes


[i] BBC, “Iran Nuclear Deal: Key Details,” Middle East, 16 January 2016, p.7 of transcript. See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33521656.

[ii] David E. Sanger, “Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Are Lifted,” New York Times, January 16, 2016. See http://nyti/ms/1NsdrV.

[iii] Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr, “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report 7-5700, p. 14. See also Eric Pianin, ” Lew: Iran Not Getting Full $100 Billion of Frozen Assets,” The Fiscal Times, July 26, 2015. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew said, “We estimate that after sanctions relief, Iran will only be able to freely access about half those resources, or about $50 billion.” He also said ” It’s not money we are giving to Iran. It’s Iran money that sits in other countries that was locked up by international sanctions.

[iv] Eric Pianin, ” Lew: Iran Not Getting Full $100 Billion of Frozen Assets,” The Fiscal Times, July 26, 2015.

[v] Isabel Kershner,” Israel: Netanyahu Denounces Agreement as Historic Mistake and Threat to Region,” New York Times International, July 15, 2015, p. A11.

[vi] Chuck Freilich, ” A Good Deal for Israel,” New York Times, July 20, 2015. See also, Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr, “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report 7-5700, p. 17.

[vii] Arms Control Association: “Key Elements of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Arms Control Today, September 2016, P 28.

[viii] David E. Sanger, “Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Are Lifted,” New York Times, January 16, 2016. See http://nyti/ms/1NsdrV.

[ix] Arms Control Association, Op Cit, PP 28-29.

[x] Sanger, Op Cit.

[xi] U.S. intelligence agencies felt 24 days would allow them to verify compliance. Some others felt this was too long a period and risked some undetected noncompliance. See Institute for Science and International Security, “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” July 28, 2015, p.5.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch

With a resurgent Russia, the security environment from former Soviet Republics to the traditionally neutral nations of Finland and Sweden has changed dramatically.

What are those changes and how are they changing how these nations see their place in the larger Western security infrastructure? We’re going to look at how thing are changing in how they work and see each other, NATO, and what they need to do to provide for both their and collective defense.

Our guests for the full hour will be Colonel Bruce Acker, USAF (ret) and Captain Dan Lynch, USN (Ret).

Bruce is currently a Defense Strategy Consultant in Stockholm Sweden. He spent 30 years on active duty starting as a Air Defense Weapons flight test engineer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, and subsequently served in Space, Missile Warning, and Missile Launch operations culminating as a Minuteman ICBM squadron Commander. Following staff tours managing future Air Force and Defense Space systems programs, he broadened to political military assignments as the US Air Attaché to Malaysia and as the US Defense Attaché and Senior Defense Official in Stockholm. Col Acker has published articles on regional security issues in the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences journal as well as leading National daily newspapers.

Dan is currently beginning his fifth year on the maritime faculty of the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. He spent over 35 years on active duty starting as an enlisted Marine and upon graduation from the Naval Academy selected Naval Aviation where he commanded a VP squadron and a patrol and reconnaissance wing. Following major command, he served on the staff of the US ambassador to NATO in Brussels and retired after his last tour as the Naval Attache to Stockholm.

Due to the location of our guests, the show was recorded earlier today. Listen to the show to at 5pm or pick it up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.



MatrixBluePillRedPillWhen 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.



Pilot Officer WIlliam Fiske, RAF

Pilot Officer William Fiske, Royal Air Force

Seventy-six years ago today, Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske scrambled to his Hurricane along with his fellow pilots at RAF Tangmere to intercept a formation of German Junkers over the English Channel. His squadron destroyed 8 German aircraft, but a gunner badly damaged Fiske’s aircraft and put a bullet through his fuel tank. Rather than bail out, in one final piece of extraordinary skill, he managed to nurse his burning Hurricane back to the airfield, and bring it down through a steep dive into a belly landing. Fiske had to be recovered from his aircraft and died the next day of wounds he sustained over the Channel.

Plt Off Billy Fiske was the first U.S. citizen to travel to the UK on the onset of WWII to join the RAF and was one of 7 American pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain. Fiske was a member of 601(County of London) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force — the “Millionaire’s Squadron.”

The son of a wealthy New York banker, Fiske was a celebrity in his own country before traveling to the UK. He was the driver of the first five-man U.S. bobsled team to win the Olympics in 1928, and, at 16 years old, was the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport (eclipsed only in 1992). He carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony of the 1932 Olympics and again led the U.S. team to a gold medal. Fiske was also a cresta champion and was well known for jumps from the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel’s bar chandelier in St. Moritz.

Billy Fiske and the 1932 Olympic Bobsled Team

Billy Fiske and the 1932 Olympic Bobsled Team

He studied at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, then worked at the London office of New York banking company Dillon, Reed & Co, and he married Rose Bingham, the Countess of Warwick, in 1938. In 1939 he was recalled to work in New York, but at the outbreak of the war, pretended to be Canadian and enrolled in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, being promoted to Pilot Officer in March 1940.

In a letter to his sister Peggy, written around the time he volunteered, he explained his thinking. The English, he wrote, had “been damn good to me in good times so naturally I feel I ought to try and help out in bad if I can. There are absolutely no heroics in my motives, I’m probably twice as scared as the next man, but if anything happens to me I at least can feel I have done the right thing in spite of the worry to my family – which I certainly couldn’t feel if I was to sit in New York making dough.”

800px-Billy_Fiske_IIIc copyIn 1941 a plaque was unveiled to him in St Paul’s Cathedral which is inscribed: An American citizen who died that England might live. The U.S. Bobsled Federation has also dedicated the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year.

The United States is currently relocating its Embassy in London to a new site, much of which will be a park and accessible to the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to honor the memory of Pilot Officer William “Billy” Fiske, a U.S. citizen and the first American to fly in the Battle of Britain, with a statue in the park, highlighting the close service and historical links between our nations and Air Forces.

Given Billy Fiske’s status in the United States, as a double Olympic gold medalist, and his close ties to the UK, including his education, marriage and subsequent enrollment in the RAF, a statue to this recognized hero would be a fitting tribute to him, and to the enduring relationship between both nations and Air Forces in the UK’s greatest hour of need. An American, in an RAF uniform, who died for Britain, would provide a distinct tie between both countries, and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, particularly with the inclusion of a public park, would provide a fitting venue.

Hawker Hurricane. U.S. Naval Institute

Hawker Hurricane. U.S. Naval Institute

Late this year and early next year, Embassy staff will relocate from the Embassy in Mayfair to a new site south of the River Thames. The Nine Elms district, a South Bank industrial zone under intense redevelopment, offers a unique setting for the new Embassy. With an estimated 1000 daily visitors, the Embassy project is expected to establish a strong framework for the urbanization of Nine Elms. Contributing to this revitalization is a civic plaza and park, connecting the Thames embankment and Nine Elms Lane to a new pedestrian green way, linking Vauxhall to Battersea. The Embassy will sit at the centre of the site, with the surrounding park containing a pond, walkways, seating, and landscape along its edges, all open to the public, in contrast to the usual high walls and fences. This park offers a terrific opportunity to showcase U.S. ingenuity, art and culture, as well as providing a venue to commemorate its history and the special relationship with the UK and to recognize one of “The Few.”

“The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and devotion.”

 “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

— Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940

 



Please join us for a live show at 5pm EDT (US) on 14 August 2016 for Midrats Episode 345: Fisheries as a Strategic Maritime Resource

We live in a crowded world with limited resources. What happens when this meets modern technology’s ability to shorten the time/distance equation and increase the ability to know of what lies below the waves?

What complications do we fine when the above two points meet up with the eternal search by growing nations to reach for the seas to support their homeland’s growing needs?

As populations demand more protein in their diets as per capita incomes rise, many nations see the open seas as the best place to fill that demand. With more competing for shrinking resources, can fishing be seen as a security threat? How does it impact coastal states’ economic, food, and environmental security? What are the roles of transnational organized crime and state power in this competition. Is international law being strengthened to meet this challenge, or is the challenge undermining the rule of law? More than last century’s quaint “Cod Wars,” does this have the potential trigger to broader, more serious conflict?

Our guest to discuss this and more will be Scott Cheney-Peters, LT, USNR.


Scott serves as a civil servant on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, and is the founder of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

Scott’s active duty service at sea included the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Oak Hill (LSD 41). His shore duty before leaving active service was in Washington, DC, where he served as the editor of Surface Warfare magazine.

Scott graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in English and Government and holds an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. Scott researches issues affecting Asian maritime security and national security applications of emerging technology.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later (along with previous epsiodes) from our iTunes page here or from our Stitcher page here.



3375151904The American people have lost their belief in and desire to participate in the soft-empire concepts of the last decade and a half.

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.



96a65e5a81119e6eddb280d61f9cf1f0When was the last time you thought about not just nuclear weapons, but nuclear power? Not just the engineering aspects, but the political, sociological, and hidden strategic risk of nuclear power?

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.

We shoved 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?



Please join us at 5pm EDT (US) for Midrats Episode 342: Turkey ,Erdoğan & its Miltary – with Ryan Evans:

The events of the last week in Turkey brought that critically important nation in to focus, and we are going to do the same thing for this week’s episode of Midrats.

Turkey has a history of military coups as a byproduct of an ongoing drive to be a modern secular nation against the current of a deeply Islamic people. This week we are going to look at how Turkey found itself at another coup attempt, the response, and the possible impact for Turkey and its relationship with NATO, Russia, Europe, and its neighbors.

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Ryan Evans.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk- Father of Modern Turkey


Ryan Evans is a widely published commentator and recovering academic. He deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 as a Social Scientist on a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team that was OPCON/TACON to the British-led Task Force Helmand. He has worked as assistant director at the Center for the National Interest, a research fellow at the Center for National Policy, and for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and received his MA from the King’s College London War Studies Department.

Join us live if you can or listen later by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from either our iTunes page here or our Stitcher page here.



Maybe President Recep Erdogan is not the only one who can take advantage of an opportunity.

This idea came to me as I calmed down over the anger rising up within me over Erdogan’s demand for his one-time political ally Cleric Fethulla Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania.

Defense Secretary Robert M. GatesMy first reaction was – “Let’s call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and threaten to eject Turkey from NATO.” Of course this is not so easy. No clear article exists about how to go about such a process other than some vague language about being required to “uphold democracy, including tolerating diversity.” But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of taking the unilateral action of simply announcing that the United States itself had decided to leave NATO given, among other reasons, a member nation threatening a fellow member nation as part of its trajectory toward a non-democratic, authoritarian Islamist state. It would also solve the problem of free rides by U.S. allies that Barry Posen has identified in his work.

In addition to this provocative type of thinking — NATO Exit or NAXIT if you will — how the U.S. might actually begin a trajectory toward such a drastic policy move? What elements in the articles and fine print of the existing NATO verbiage allow for someone to leave NATO, in whole or in part? Should the U.S. consult with the French, who to my knowledge are the only ones to have actually tested this, at least from its military component?

So what can the President do within his authority to, hypothetically, pull the U.S. out of NATO? Is it like most other treaties that you have to give notification of intent (i.e. Japan’s notification of withdrawal from the Washington and London Naval Treaties in the 1930s)? And what role do the Senate and Congress play overall in such a process — NAXIT that is?

I think these are ideas worth exploring — if for no other reason than one might be horrified by the prospect of the U.S. deciding to leave NATO.

Finally, as every good officer learns (or should learn) when they identify a problem, what would I recommend the U.S. do after NATO pullout, to compensate for the perceived lost advantages?

There are two choices. The first is nothing. You know, unilateral action along the lines of the Farewell Address by President Washington — something about “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European Ambition, Rivalship, Interest, Humour or Caprice”? Especially with people who do not like us. The U.S. simply acts in its own national interests as an independent sovereign nation. Louis Sears wrote during the supposedly “bad” era of “isolationism” these words of wisdom in 1927: “ . . . inasmuch as friendships are less steadfast than they sometimes seem, international security is best advanced by calm examination of a nation’s interests, rather than by frenzied appeals to an imaginary love.” They still apply today.

There is the separate issue of the UN, but for the time being let us simply accept that the U.S. stays in the UN. There are lots of non-NATO nations in the UN, membership in one does not exclude membership in the other. Which leads to course of action number two, as they say at the Command and General Staff School (CGSS). Form a new collective organization of like-minded sovereign states. Something along the lines of MTAO — Maritime Treaty Alliance Organization; or maybe OTO — Oceanic Treaty Organization. That way the U.S. could unify both its Atlantic AND Pacific AND Indian Ocean security interests into a global collectivist structure. It could include, for example, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and even Great Britain — who would likely leave NATO if the U.S. left, too. Hey, Ireland could join. And the nations of South America. And India.

The U.S. seems to be trapped in an old paradigm — NATO — and thanks to the arrogant and power hungry Mr. Erdogan, we can now see that the existing paradigm need not become our prison.

The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.



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