Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category
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.
It is funny how a topic can keep coming in to your scan after being in the background for so long. The last few weeks, the Navy and the Atom kept breaking above the ambient noise.
First was something I first wrote about 30-yrs ago as an undergrad. The topic of the paper, which I received a very disappointing B- on if I recall correctly (NB: when your POLYSCI professor rants against militarism and you are NROTC, avoid military topics on papers) was New Zealand deciding they were going to ask, and we were going to tell, or we could shove off.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced during a joint news conference with Biden in Auckland that New Zealand had invited the U.S. to send a ship to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary later this year. Biden, who is visiting New Zealand as part of a tour of the Pacific, said he had gladly accepted the offer.
“It will be yet another expression, another expression of our close and cooperative relationship between both of our countries that we’ve worked together so hard to strengthen,” Biden said.
No U.S. warships have been allowed to visit the country since the 1980s, when New Zealand introduced its nuclear-free policy. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand’s default position has long been to ban them from its waters. But as military relations have improved between the two countries in recent years, speculation had grown that New Zealand would allow the U.S. to participate in its anniversary celebration.
“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters.
Key still needs to formally sign off on the ship visit. The prime minister said he did not yet know what type of vessel the U.S. was planning to send, but said it would still need to comply with New Zealand law, which requires that he be satisfied that any ship entering the country’s waters has no nuclear capabilities.
PEO LCS, call your office. Great liberty. Congrats to whoever goes.
That little move got my attention, and as I pondered one 30-yr old topic, look what else came through the mists of time;
The Russian Navy is preparing a contract with the nation’s largest shipbuilder for eight new nuclear-powered missile cruisers.
According to local media, United Shipbuilding Corporation Deputy President Igor Ponomarev says the contract is currently under review. The construction of the first vessel is expected to commence in early 2018.
The new missile cruisers will be designed by the Severnoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and are expected to have a deadweight of 17,500 tons, a length of 200 meters (650 feet0 and to be equipped with more than 200 missiles including a version of the S-500, the newest and most lethal Russian missile system.
That is about 80% of a Kirov Battle Cruiser and, if they move forward with what will unquestionably be an very expensive warship, it will be interesting to see deployed.
The Russians have been modernizing the smaller units its fleet in the last few years with quite a bit of success, and this would be a step in modernizing their blue water fleet. Interesting concept, not unlike the one they had for the Kirov;
“Nuclear-powered cruisers are autonomous and well-armed. They can face various challenges in any part of the world ocean. The Russian Navy has not placed orders for vessels of this class since 1989. The decision to build several ships means that Russia pursues geopolitical interests to maintain its presence in remote parts of the world.”
Things come in threes, and after reading the bit about the newest Russian aspirations, I thought of one of my more dystopian conversations as of late that involved nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This doesn’t go boom, or glow all that much at all – but compared to dirty bombs or nuclear war – this is more likely to occur.
In your mind, picture all the CVN we have. Now picture all the SSN/BN we have as well. Add to that how many port visits they make globally each year. Put that to one side.
Recall the reaction to the rather insignificant release of radioactivity at Three Mile Island, and the reaction to very significant nuclear releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In between these data points are a lot of possibilities. Put those to the other side.
Put this in the center. Though the Russians (nee Soviets) have had a few significant nuclear accidents, we have not. The Russians have a different press and social culture than the West, so impact is different. What would the impact be here of either a nuclear accident (unlikely) or some kind of release – however small – following a terrorist attack against one of our nuclear powered ships (unlikely, but not hard to outline)?
The American people and our friends are comfortable with our nuclear ships because they are used to them. They are comfortable because we have had such a superb safety record for decades. Our nuclear designs are the best in the world and everything comes second to safety.
All that being said, all human institutions and creations are flawed. None are perfect. It would be one thing to have a nuclear armed ship sunk in combat on the open seas with miles of water between it and the nearest person; but what about the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Norfolk? Groton? Yokosuka?
No one could claim this as a black swan; this is a pink flamingo. Exotic, but well known.
What would the domestic and international response be following an incident where even a small amount of radioactive leakage occurred, especially if it followed an attack while tied up to the pier or moored close ashore upwind from a city of over a million souls?
When does nuclear power become “that?” What would be the tipping point?
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.
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.
My 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.
Political chaos and recovering from successful and unsuccessful coups are not unheard of in Turkey. While there are some aspects of the Erdogan government that are less than ideal compared to previous governments, there are good reasons to not buy in to some of the more excited reactions to Erdogan’s response to the coup. At this stage of the game, excessive concern about USA/NATO’s nuclear weapons stored there, NATO status, or the Islamist vs. Kemalist nature of the government should not be top of mind.
Military uprisings, regardless of outcome, never have clean endings or result in gentlemanly treatment of the losing side by the winning side. As such, patience is in order to give the Turks a chance to find their balance again. We should give them time.
The next few months will tell the story, but let’s look at the Most Likely vs. Most Dangerous COA, and some of the Planning Assumptions we are working with.
Hope isn’t a plan, but with the right Assumptions, you can write a plan around it. Let’s be optimists and run with COA-Hope as Most Likely.
Good thing for everyone, I don’t have to make that up – Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret) has a must read looking forward on what steps we should take with Turkey post-coup. Though I non-concur with his 3rd point, he outlines a solid step forward.
If things in the background would trend in a way we would like, these initial steps would go a long way of firming up that path. Even better, if there was a slight drift away from where NATO and the USA would like to see Turkey go, such actions might help the better minds in that star-crossed nation nudge things back in the correct direction.
In summary, here are his four points;
First, we need to stand firmly on the side of the Turkish civilian government.
Second, we should send our senior military officials to Ankara to hear from their counterparts about the situation while congratulating Turkey’s leadership on doing the right thing and helping stop the coup.
A third smart move by the United States would be to increase cooperation in intelligence sharing and targeting against Kurdish radical terrorist groups.
Fourth, and finally, the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions.
We, NATO, and Turkey should be so lucky to have this as an entering argument, but we need to do the responsible thing and look at our assumptions.
We are assuming that Erdogan will not go in the direction he was already heading – a more Islamist Turkey. That is assuming against the trend.
Moderation usually requires peace. If we are assuming that Turkey’s part of the world will become more peaceful, then that is assuming against the trend too.
We could go on, but let’s just stick with those two assumptions being invalid; Turkey more Islamist, a move enhanced by insecurity and internal strife. Those will not create effects on the ground that are in line with what NATO sees itself as in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. That needs a Branch Plan. One variation of that Branch Plan could have a few Decisive Points that lead someplace I’m not sure how we would deal with.
1. NATO membership revoked or best case, as Greece did in the 1970s, Turkey leaves NATO’s military command.
2. In line with #1, NATO nuclear weapons need to removed to a more secure location.
In an ideal world, #2 should happen well before #1 and should really be a stand along plan, but history on occasion moves faster than we like, and not in an ideal order. Though we are far from #1 and #2 today, it doesn’t take all that many more cards pulled from the deck and we could find ourselves close. As the SECSTATE said recently;
Turkey could fall foul of Nato’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.
The US “will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice,” he said, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld”.
That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack if it leads down the path where we need to look at #1 and #2. Those nukes are housed on an airbase in the suburbs of a city of 1.7 million.
The fact that we should even be concerned with this begs the question; besides bureaucratic inertia, why in 2016 do we need a bunch of nuclear gravity bombs stored only 125 miles as the Hornet flies from the Syrian border?
That, perhaps, is another post for another day. In any event, we live in interesting times. Though I think our world will be closer to Most Likely COA-Hope as outlined by Stavridis, it is probably prudent to have a few plans on the shelf to deviate from if some variation of the Most Dangerous COA peeks above the horizon.
On a personal note, like Admiral Stavridis, I served for four years with NATO and developed some great working relationships with good men, officers and NCOs . Once this went down, in particular I thought of a Turkish Air Force officer, now close to Colonel, who I enjoyed working with immensely. He, his wife and children were right out of central casting of what we would see as an almost ideal American military family. Hope they are on the right side of things. I once thought he and those like him were the future of Turkey, now – not so much, and that is sad.
Standing there, head bowed, pausing to reflect on the 46 Republic of Korea (ROK) navy Sailors whose lives were lost when their ship was sunk by an alleged North Korean submarine torpedo, makes one realize how precarious peace remains in the dynamic theater that is the Asia Indo-Pacific.
During what was a leadership symposium for other task force commanders, led by U.S. 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, I had the solemn privilege to tour the memorial dedicated to those Sailors, which includes the salvaged stern of the ship, ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772).
ROKS Cheonan was a Pohang-class corvette commissioned in 1989, one of the many worthy surface ships in the ROK navy fleet. On March 26, 2010, as the ship patrolled waters near the border with North Korea, she was struck by the torpedo, broke in two and sank.
As anyone with a Twitter account is well aware, North Korea continues to make headlines by test-launching ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s rhetoric and actions is just one fault line in a patchwork of tectonic plates that could lead to regional instability. And as such, we must remain steadfast in ensuring our forces, Sailors and Marines part of the Blue-Green team, are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.
In early June, the Navy conducted a sort of stand down after a series of off-duty incidents. It may have seemed from outside that Navy leadership was going “high” and “right” – but instead it served as an important time to refocus us to readiness and the incredible importance we bare in being forward-deployed here.
As commander of Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, I command over a wide range of forces from an amphibious ready group to a mine countermeasures squadron to a helicopter sea combat squadron. Each unit has a unique role and each Sailor – and Marine – has an equally unique and important role.
To me, the recent stand down was about looking ourselves in the mirror – and looking each other in the eye – and challenging ourselves to do better, to conduct ourselves every second of the day with a recognition that we may be called to action.
One of the key components during this period was a buddy rule. The emphasis here was on accountability, a renewed attention on shipmates being shipmates.
While “shipmate” is a U.S. Navy term, it applies to all services and it applies to our bond with other nations. In my last year in command, I have grown bonds with several other amphibious leaders in different countries.
This past March, I had the privilege of commanding forces, more than 17,000 in total, alongside my ROK counterpart Navy Rear Adm. Park, Ki-kyung in the exercise Ssang Yong. Though we are from different militaries, we share the same oath to defend our nation.
While the specific policies of our recent stand down period have been eased, the mentality to stand tall at all times must remain. Our nation, this region, is counting on us too much for us to “slip.” We must realize that we are not only accountable to ourselves and our unit, but the partner forces that rely on us to answer the call with them.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 “Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg
From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific – Russia in 2016 is on the move.
To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.
Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 10 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 340: China’s Maritime Militia with Andrew Erickson
As China continues to slowly use a variety of tools to claim portions of her maritime near-abroad in the South China Sea and elsewhere, part of their effort includes what can almost be considered naval irregular forces – a Maritime Militia.
What is China doing with these assets, why are they being used, and what could we expect going forward as she taps in to a variety of assets to attempt to establish her authority?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Andrew S. Erickson.
Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and is an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, for which he has authored or coauthored thirty-seven articles.
He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in history and political science. He has studied Mandarin in the Princeton in Beijing program at Beijing Normal University’s College of Chinese Language and Culture; and Japanese language, politics, and economics in the year-long Associated Kyoto Program at Doshisha University. Erickson previously worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a Chinese translator and technical analyst. He gained early experience working briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese, he has traveled extensively in Asia and has lived in China, Japan, and Korea.
It was history in the making on Sunday, 26 June, as an international contingent celebrated the opening of the expanded Panama Canal. I was proud to be there with the U.S. Presidential party, led by Dr. Jill Biden. For Panama, the expansion represents a potential for growth in the country’s maritime sectors and serves as a symbol of national prestige. In recognition of its strategic maritime significance, and the value U.S. Southern Command places on forward engagement with the region, the USS Oak Hill (LPD-51) sailed through the canal a few days earlier (using the older and narrower set of locks). The Oak Hill was pierside at the canal’s Pacific entrance during the ceremony to recognize this Panamanian accomplishment, to celebrate this second engineering marvel that dramatically expanded the path between the seas, and to signal our continued commitment to working with our partners to ensure its defense.
From the very beginning the Canal—both the original and this expanded addition—offered both great promises and significant challenges. It required an investment of time, talent, and treasure—in blood and dollars—as well as great commitment and patience to turn opportunity into reality. At U.S. Southern Command we see transregional opportunities and challenges and the need for multinational solutions everywhere we look—especially standing beside this new Panama Canal.
It was great to visit the Oak Hill the day before the ceremony and talk to the officers, chief’s messes, and assembled crew. Embarked was a U.S. Marine detachment with equipment to help illustrate our humanitarian-assistance/disaster-relief (HA/DR) capabilities and our commitment to rapidly respond to any neighbor in need, such as our support after the recent earthquake in Ecuador. U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley eloquently captured what the Oak Hill represents: “a warship, coming in peace, symbolizing a legacy of partnership, commitment, and ready assistance in times of need.”
On board the Oak Hill, we talked with one officer who said that his earlier UNITAS deployment (an annual multinational naval exercise we host) as a lieutenant (junior grade) kept him in the Navy. We talked about how the Navy runs out of ships long before it addresses all the global requirements we face. We talked about the prioritization of requirements to other important regions and how that inevitably results in minimal allocation of Navy ships to help safeguard our interests in this vital region. I told him that once the littoral combat ship comes on line in greater numbers, U.S. Southern Command will seek to increase its presence in collaboration with maritime forces of the region to better protect our southern approaches and counter threat networks.
For now, we will make the most of the short deployments like that of the USS Lassen (DDG-82), which over a period of weeks wreaked havoc on drug traffickers in the tropical eastern Pacific; and with other Navy ships changing home ports from one coast to the other, such as the USS George Washington (CVN-73) and crew who excelled in partnering engagements and conducted multiple exercises during their South American transit. We are eager for the transit of the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and the USS Wasp (LHD-1). I commented to the young officer that transiting ships should not make quick dashes to their new ports; their time in the Americas should be maximized because our presence is so limited and their ability to create goodwill is something on which you can’t put a price tag.
The Oak Hill was the only warship from any nation to attend the Canal Expansion opening ceremony. When it comes to defending the Canal, however, the duty is shared by many. Following on the ceremony’s heels, civilian and military organizations from 21 regional partner nations, with forces led by Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and the United States, will conduct PANAMAX 2016, an exercise to demonstrate our shared commitment to the defense of the Panama Canal.
Standing beside this great achievement, I see the Canal as a metaphor for the region. It is the embodiment of transregional connections. Its defense depends on a partnership of nations—no one can do it alone.
Transregional Opportunities and Challenges
This region has never held such opportunity. The last remnants of the Cold War may finally be fading as a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations unfolds. Political change in Argentina also shows the promise of improved relations. In Colombia, a peace accord is progressing toward closing more than 50 years of political violence. Yet the obstacles to turning these and other opportunities into reality are large and growing. Astounding violence and related murder rates; transregional criminal networks trafficking not just in drugs, but also humans, illicit natural resources, weapons, and more; endemic corruption; small but concerning numbers of radicalized fighters joining the Islamic State in Syria—all these elements pose challenges to the region. Those challenges flow up to the southern approaches of the United States; what affects our neighbors soon enough is felt on our streets and cities.
Just as the Canal has global reach and impact, so do many of the challenges and concerns that touch Latin America and the Caribbean. More and more, geographic combatant commanders, focused on regional areas of responsibility, are seeing and responding to transregional challenges. In our interconnected world, we need to pay attention to those nations and non-state organizations that may be pursuing strategies across multiple borders and regions. If we are concerned about Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe, we should pay attention to what they are doing in Latin America as well. If we are concerned about China’s performance as a responsible actor in a transparent rules-based system in the South and East China Seas, we may want to better understand their activities in the Western Hemisphere. If we are concerned about Iran’s use of surrogates and proxies in the Middle East, we should keep an eye on their clandestine activities across Central and South America.
The Panama Canal stands as a testament to vision, tenacity, and an enduring symbol of partnership—opportunity turned to reality through patience and perseverance. In Latin America we can achieve great and necessary things with the same patience and perseverance. In the face of these challenges, the United States is fortunate to have stalwart friends, allies, and partners throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, who are committed to working with us and one another to ensure our hemisphere remains a beacon of stability, security, and prosperity.
On a closing note – you never know when you will bump into a fellow Academy Alum. Sitting next to me at the canal inauguration ceremony was Maximo Mejia, the Government of the Philippines Administrator for Transpiration and Communications and USNA class of ’88.
Robert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.
With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.
That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.
That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.
Ponder the nature of man;
… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.
Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?
So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …
Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,
is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”
If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?
The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?
People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.
The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.
Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.
The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.
What is next then?
Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.
We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.
I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?
Hat tip Jack.