Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

Delivering the EA-18G to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be a highly celebrated event, and rightfully so. This December, RAAF Six Squadron began their transition from the F/A-18F to the EA-18G. In January of 2017, the RAAF will take custody of their EA-18Gs and begin flight operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. In February of 2017, the RAAF EA-18Gs will fly-in to the Avalon Air Show, Melbourne Australia – a capstone event for the U.S.-Australian team orchestrating the foreign military sale (FMS). Unfortunately, media announcements and fanfare may not adequately capture or commemorate the storied relationships, close partnership and hard work of the team that made this epic milestone possible.

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

The Electronic Warfare (EW) landscape has been one of the most heavily-guarded domains of the U.S. military portfolio. The marking “NOFORN” was the default classification for all EW information, indicating that EW information was not be shared with any foreigner. Growing up in this environment, it seemed inconceivable we would one day execute the EW mission side-by-side with any partner nation.

That changed in 2013 when the RAAF redefined their EW posture and requested twelve brand-new EA-18Gs, two electronic warfare ranges, a training contract for EW aircrew, intelligence officers, and maintenance professionals. This pivot exponentially expanded the RAAF’s ability to sustain an EW infrastructure and offensive capability for years to come. The RAAF and wider Australian Defense organizations designed the EW material acquisition plan impeccably. The plan accelerated the EA-18G’s “capability realization” through an academically disciplined architecture of networked FMS cases. The RAAF EW portfolio encompassed all elements to support the EA-18G as a “platform,” or in other words “EW equipment.”

A straightforward move on paper, but EW tacticians will understand that EW requires a vast depth of knowledge beyond the equipment. To quip, if EW had a Facebook status it would read: “it’s complicated.” There is a “je ne se sais quoi” ingredient to EW. As the RAAF realized, this ingredient lies within the people and the know-how. Traditional FMS transactional activity could not capture the “je ne sais quoi” ingredient, it required compressing seven decades of EW “corporate knowledge” into 24 months. If anyone could make that leap, it’s the RAAF.

Aligning EW methodologies is an incredible asset to both Australia and the U.S. Aligning tactical know-how and EW methodology is critical to our shared interests, and it was imperative that Australia gain this knowledge. EW is unlike kinetic air-to-ground payloads that simply require target coordinates, or an air-to-air missile that needs an appropriate target. It requires our sensors to call the signals the exact same thing, employ the exact same waveforms/payloads, and deliver at the exact same time with exact positioning. If we do not put the “right” payloads on the “right” target, we undo each other’s effects, degrade blue systems (called electromagnetic interference – EMI), or completely miss the target. Simply put, having the same equipment is not enough. Mission effectiveness requires that we think alike, train alike, and speak the same EW language.

To achieve total alignment and close the “corporate knowledge gap,” the U.S. and RAAF established a personnel exchange program (PEP), to embed RAAF pilots and aircrew in operational U.S. Navy Expeditionary EA-18G squadrons. In July of 2013, only three months after signing the FMS for twelve EA-18Gs, we ambitiously planned to start training aircrew in October of 2013 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), with RAAF aircrew serving two year stints in deployable units by early 2014. This aggressive timeline represented the hardest path to traverse in our fledgling EW partnership.

Integrating RAAF aircrew into the FRS and then into operational VAQ units meant moving mountains. Mountains made from decades of cultural biases resisting the precise things we were trying to accomplish. This meant assembling a team and working through painstaking details, dubbed “stubby pencil work” by one of the most vital and experienced active duty EW experts leading our team.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the West Coast of California, Pacific Ocean, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd "Woody" Woodford.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the Coast of California, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd “Woody” Woodford

The short story is that we did it. A cross-functional team including professionals from the Naval service and other wider DoD organizations changed the tactical EW realm from “NOFORN” to “YESFORN.” Men and women worked long hours, gave up “flex-Fridays”, curtailed summer leave plans, even skipped convalescent leave and poured their hearts and souls into the mission. Senior Navy, U.S. DoD, and RAAF officials took risks, trusted their teams and approved the necessary things to ensure the partnership would be durable. The team believed in the mission and got it done.

The fruits of the combined Navy and RAAF endeavor are nothing short of epic. During their two years of service, RAAF aircrew did more than simply learn EW tradecraft and “tick the box,” or “tick” as the Aussies would say. Instead, RAAF officers excelled at nearly every squadron leadership position including, but not limited to: acting Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Training Officer, Division Officer(s), and Standardization Officer. RAAF officers served in every critical billet in an EA-18G squadron and did so with the utmost professionalism and dedication.

This experience and its success continues to be all about the people. It is about the dedication to establish the partnership, the camaraderie forged on deployments, the life-long friendships and bonds that will never be forgotten. There should be little doubt that the capital effort put forth by RAAF officers in U.S. Navy squadrons will persist and carry them to commanding heights within their organizations, just as they “raised the bar” of excellence within ours.

These conspicuous achievements send a clear message that “this thing isn’t over, it’s just warming up.” The way forward includes Growlers in Australia, an indefinite U.S. Navy-RAAF officer exchange beginning in 2017, continued RAAF training at FRS Squadron 129 (the cradle of U.S. Navy EW), and select RAAF aircrew attendance at the EA-18G graduate course HAVOC. The combination of these institutional and close interpersonal relationships will forever align and bond our countries in the EW domain, a massive “tick.”

Without a doubt, the celebration and congratulations for the incredible hard work of the many people in the EA-18G RAAF program is well deserved and symbolized by the Avalon fly-in. This piece was nothing more than a reflection on the incredible depth of the successes forged by people. As our unassuming RAAF brothers and sisters would say in celebrating years of hard work, “cheers mate, well done.”

Please join us at 5pm EST on 18 Dec 2016 for Midrats Episode 363: The South African Border War and its Lessons, with LT Jack McCain

If you define the Cold War as lasting 44 years from 1947 to 1991, then

for over half the Cold War there was a simmering proxy war in southern Africa that involved, to one extent or another, the present day nations of Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa.

Over the course of time, it would involve nations from other hemispheres such as Cuba, and brought in to conflict two political philosophies of the 20th Century now held in disrepute in the 21st Century; Communism and Apartheid.

The last decade of the Cold War brought the conflict in fresh relief as part of the Reagan administration’s push back against Communist aggression in South Africa, Central America, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Acronyms such as UNITA, and SWAPO were as well known then as AQAP and Boko Haram are now.

What does that relatively unknown conflict have to teach us about the nature of war today?

Our guest for the full hour to explore that answer will be Lieutenant Jack McCain, USN.

LT McCain is a helicopter pilot with operational experience in Guam, Japan, Brunei, the Persian Gulf, and the Western Pacific and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is currently assigned as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The opinions he expresses are his own and represent no U.S. government or Department of Defense positions.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or pick the show later from our iTunes or Stitcher pages.

Please join us at 5pm EST on 20 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 359: A Foreign Policy Short List for the New CINC, with Mackenzie Eaglen:

Old foreign and defense challenges return, new ones emerge, and existing ones morph in

to something slightly different. The only thing that is constant is that there is no opportunity for a learning curve for the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. From the first day in office to the last, a needy, grasping, and unstable world will look to or at our nation.

What are those challenges that will test President-Elect Trump in his first few years in office, and what in the background is waiting for the opportunity to spring to the front?

Our guest for the full hour will be Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.

Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. Eaglen is included in Defense News “100 most influential people in US Defense” both years the publication compiled a list. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.

Eaglen has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.mac

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later from our iTunes or from Stitcher pages.

Addleton.11.inddRecently, we asked Dr. John Ballard, Dean of the National Defense College in the United Arab Emirates, to host a Q&A with Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, author of The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan. Their exchange follows.

Professor Ballard: Ambassador, your book really helps readers understand the Afghan conflict from the perspective of a diplomat and development expert. How did you view your mission or main objective(s) when you arrived in Afghanistan in 2008?

Ambassador Addleton: I expected to engage in three very different worlds, one involving responsibility for 140 Embassy officers assigned to fourteen locations across southern Afghanistan; a second related to the ISAF military presence in Kandahar and beyond; and a third focused on Afghans from various walks of life including government official, tribal leaders and religious figures. At some level I wanted to connect to all three worlds, where possible attempting to explain them to each other. From the beginning, I consciously worked to “humanize” each encounter, looking beyond our mutual stereotypes while also trying to help move Afghanistan toward a better and less violent place.

Professor Ballard: Thank you. That is very interesting. What kind of preparation did you receive before arriving in Afghanistan Ambassador?

Ambassador Addleton: I enrolled in a couple of required short courses on Afghanistan offered by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Washington, D.C. I attended the “crash and bang” course in West Virginia, learning how to drive a Humvee, break a road block and tie a tourniquet. And I participated in the pre-deployment Third Infantry Division planning exercise at Fort Stewart, GA. I was already familiar with some aspects of Afghanistan, having visited the country several times over the years and served in neighboring Pakistan as well as in Central Asia. I also read and talked to people who had served in Afghanistan beforehand.

Professor Ballard: Still, for someone going to war for the first time at age 55, what you saw in and around Kandahar must have been shocking. Ambassador, in your book you seem to be quite impressed with some of the aspects of military customs and culture that you saw, as “a diplomat among warriors” what impressed you most about the young men and women of today’s military?

Ambassador Addleton: My oldest son was serving in the U.S. Air Force during my time in Kandahar and my second son plans to enlist during the coming months. However, the military culture and traditions that I witnessed in Afghanistan were indeed entirely new to me. More than anything, I was struck by the sacrifice as well as the cost of war, having attended dozens of Purple Heart pinnings, ramp ceremonies and memorial services across southern Afghan during my deployment there. I was impressed with the efforts made to honor that sacrifice, despite the ambiguous nature of the war in Afghanistan. And I was struck by the youth of many of those around me.

Professor Ballard: Ambassador, you write quite movingly about the service and supreme sacrifice paid by the five colleagues who walked with you outside the Zabul PRT on 6 April 2013, how did their loss affect your approach to your work?

Afghan children surrounding an MRAP as it prepares to depart Alexander’s Castle in Qalat, Zabul (Photo by Jonathan Addleton)

Afghan children surrounding an MRAP as it prepares to depart Alexander’s Castle in Qalat, Zabul (Photo by Jonathan Addleton)

Ambassador Addleton: The attack in Zabul occurred eight months into my twelve-month assignment in southern Afghanistan. I accompanied the remains of my colleagues on the long flight to Dover and then returned to Kandahar Air Field two days later to complete the remaining twenty weeks of my allotted time. I continued to engage in outreach and meet Afghans. But the drawdown in civilians serving in southern Afghanistan gathered pace and my own movements were in some instances further restricted. My biggest concern during those remaining months was the safety of my colleagues – I lived in dread that something might happen to one of them.

Professor Ballard: That is absolutely understandable, many of us underwent changed attitudes when we experienced the loss of those working closely with us in war. You noted at one point that the battleplans you saw developed seemed impressive, but that notable portions of Afghan reality were missing. How could we have improved our civ-mil coordination in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Addleton: ISAF was the dominant foreign presence during the year that I spent in southern Afghanistan. The number of civilians was miniscule by comparison. Yet they did play an important role in engaging with Afghans, both politically and with respect to development. At Kandahar Air Field, Embassy staff were closely integrated with the military’s civil affairs structure; they were similarly integrated with military counterparts at the provincial and district level, even as the number of locations where expatriate civilians deployed outside of Kandahar went into steep decline. Having traveled in Afghanistan during the 1970s as a teenager, I was astonished at the remoteness of some of the places where we had attempted to establish a military as well as a civilian presence. It seemed incredibly ambitious and even audacious to me. But increasingly (and appropriately) it was the Afghans that were taking the lead – guided to some extent and in mostly positive ways by the example set by the ISAF forces that preceded them.

Professor Ballard: Your view that the approach was extremely ambitious is a very insightful perspective. You address issues of poor governance frequently in your book, but also of meeting several capable Afghan leaders, do you think Afghanistan can develop leaders who will confront the corruption that you encountered so frequently?

Ambassador Addleton: I tried to place myself into the shoes of those Afghans with whom I interacted – what was their personal history, what was their life experience, what motivated them, what were their hopes and fears about the future? At times, I thought of ISAF as yet another tribe, imposing themselves on the political, economic and social landscape of Afghanistan even while having to adapt and change because of it. Competition is a reality among male Afghans, worked out first within the family and then at the level of clan, tribe and country. Leaders inevitably emerge within that context, based on long-held precepts of courage, honor and respect that would be regarded as hallmarks of effective leadership anywhere, not just in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is a fierce and never-ending competition for scarce resources that undoubtedly drives corruption in Afghanistan. The magnitude of resources deployed by ISAF as well as the perception that its presence would be fleeting drove many Afghans to look for ways to benefit from it before it became too late.

Professor Ballard: That is certainly understandable; as you know the issue of stating an end date was very controversial. In 2013, you agreed that the number of ISAF soldiers should be greatly reduced, but felt the slope for our departure was too steep—becoming an unseemly “rush for the exit.” How might we have gotten it right?

Ambassador Addleton: By 2013 the Afghan military was already increasingly in the lead and accounted for at least 80 percent of the casualty figures from southern Afghanistan. At the same time, a continued ISAF presence provided training to Afghan security forces while sending a message to the Taliban and others that Afghanistan was not on the verge of being “abandoned.” My focus was more on the American civilian presence which, while already small, was being drawn down at a much faster pace than our own military. The issue of the appropriate “balance” between “planning” and “implementation” is a permanent fixture in any bureaucracy. However, at times it seemed that the parameters within which we were asked to operate were always subject to change – to such an extent that our latest “plan” was already obsolete, even before it reached Kabul for further review. My concern was that the combination of uncertainty and constantly shifting timelines would damage our credibility, strengthening the hand of those Taliban seeking total victory.

Professor Ballard: You wrote that “even now you cannot leave Afghanistan behind,” what do you see in the future for Afghanistan? You write of tactical successes but a murky strategic future, do you think America’s efforts have helped it?

Jonathan Addleton at Kandahar Air Field in early 2013, standing in front of a wall of sand bags. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ashley Bell, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Mississippi National Guard)

Jonathan Addleton at Kandahar Air Field in early 2013, standing in front of a wall of sand bags. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ashley Bell, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Mississippi National Guard)

Ambassador Addleton: During my last months in Afghanistan I often told local counterparts that the ISAF chapter of their history was coming to a close and it would now be up to them to write the next one. Some embraced this idea while others were skeptical about it, asserting that “it is our neighbors who will write the next chapter for us”. Now a new chapter is indeed being written, albeit with a continued though modest ISAF presence in several parts of the country outside of Kabul including Kandahar. Whatever else might be said, Afghanistan has changed dramatically and irrevocably over the last fifteen years, not only in Kabul but also elsewhere. The most obvious signs include the cell phone revolution and unheralded yet significant improvements in health and education. Although the security that Afghans long for has yet to be established, the Afghan military appears to be more resilient than perhaps some expected. Afghanistan’s narrative is still being written. But, at the very least, efforts by the United States and its allies have given Afghans a chance for a different kind future, one not dominated entirely by the Taliban.

Professor Ballard: Thank you for your book and for sharing more of your insights in this discussion Ambassador. For my part, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will always be thankful for the committed service of men and women such as yourself from other departments of the U.S. government. If nothing else these conflicts have taught us that modern war has to be a whole-of-government endeavor engaging the minds of professionals from a variety of perspectives. The Dust of Kandahar is an important contribution to our understanding of this least-well-understood of our recent conflicts.

Please join us on at 5pm EST on 13 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 568: Seapower as a National Imperative, with Bryan McGrath:

Why a Navy? Why a strong Navy? Why is a strong Navy an essential

requirement for the United States Navy?

From its ability to project national will, to it hidden hand in the economics of every citizen’s life, why is it so critical that we have a Navy second to none.

To discuss this and more – especially in light of the election – will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath, Commander, US Navy (Retired).

Bryan McGrath grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.

He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.

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

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 30 Oct 16 for Midrats Episode 356: Fall Free For All Spooktacular!

Midrats is back live! With a week left to go till the election, I am sure you are about done with all the political talk, so join us at 5pm Eastern this Sunday, October 30th as we cover the the globe on the breaking national security and maritime issues that have come up over the last month.

From FORD to KUZNETSOV; from The Baltic to Yemen we’ll have it covered.

As always with our Free For Alls; it is open mic an open mind. Call in with your issues and questions, or join us in the chat room.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later by visiting our iTunes page or at Stitcher

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.


[i] BBC, “Iran Nuclear Deal: Key Details,” Middle East, 16 January 2016, p.7 of transcript. See

[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.

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