Archive for the 'Iran' Tag
Maybe I just haven’t adjusted yet to being back in the U.S. after 5 years overseas.
The partisan vitriol over the Farsi Island incident involving U.S. Navy Riverine boats in the Persian Gulf surprises me. This event has become a lightning rod of polarization, a litmus test of opposing camps of foreign policy. There is excessive emotion from both sides of the foreign policy question with neither acknowledging that their opposition also has some truth on the other side of the issue.
First and foremost, to paraphrase former SECDEF Hagel’s remarks (starting at the 7:36 mark of this video) as the event was unfolding Wednesday: we don’t know yet all the facts of what happened; we will find out more as crew debriefs, tactical reconstruction, and a full investigation ensue. I would add that until then, a lot of the asssumptions and outrage are unfounded. My own hope is that the full investigation will release what needn’t be classified for public knowledge and Congressional oversight; more importantly we need to ensure that lessons learned are subsequently applied from tactical to political levels.
So what do we think we know? This LA Times article – attention grabbing headline aside – appears to be a solid rundown of what we think we know now. I expect that a full investigation will show a typical “mishap chain”: communications or navigation gear failure, human judgment or error, and Murphy’s law in action cascading to a negative event. Bottom line, our small boats inadvertently entered Iranian waters. Despite that, we achieved a positive resolution – the personnel and vessels were pretty quickly released – due almost wholly to the existing relationships between Presidents Obama and Rouhani and Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. This, in turn, is due to having achieved their nuclear agreement. If a strategic leader has to interact with a counterpart, the first phone conversation better not be after the crisis has started.
Barring substantial revelations from investigation, I don’t see how this event justifies calls for heads to roll from SECDEF and SECNAV down. Obviously, Murphy and the mishap chain were in effect. However, more confrontational actions in another sovereign state’s territorial waters would almost certainly have had a negative outcome – in the tactical situation and in larger national interests.
The taped, and now widely distributed, apology of the officer-in-charge has also been roundly criticized. I would submit that this was quite possibly his best course of action: this is not/not a POW situation for name, rank, and serial number only. This is not a code of conduct situation, and that apology does not amount to confessing to be an American air pirate. The Department of Defense “Isolated Personnel Guidance” speaks to detention of uniformed personnel. While it refers to the code of conduct, it sets a different bar: “U.S. military personnel will maintain their military bearing, regardless of the type of detention…they should make every effort to remain calm, courteous, and project personal dignity.” So far, so good. The guidance also says, “A detainee should make every effort to avoid providing propaganda for the detaining government.” Maybe not so good. Overall, though, that guidance refers to detention by “hostile governments,” and whether that condition applies is debatable. My own initial response was that if the boats were indeed inappropriately in territorial waters, it is more akin to dealing with the local gendarmerie when you and your sailors have inadvertently ended up somewhere you shouldn’t be in a liberty port. Defuse the situation, and get back ship.
By no means was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) right in its apparent initial treatment of the crew and propagandizing of the apology video. Captain Sean Liedman provided US News and World Report a great rundown of the ways in which the IRGCN was at odds with USN sovereign immunity, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, the time to protest that and call for accountability is not when the personnel are still on foreign soil, nor in the State of the Union address. One hopes that that diplomatic discussion is ongoing now.
Another thing to understand is that this is more complex and nuanced than a monolithic Iran behaving badly. Everyone who has steamed or flown in the Persian Gulf already knows that the IRGCN and Islamic Republic of Iran Navy will respond differently to a given situation. IRGCN actions may have been exacerbated or exaggerated by domestic political maneuvering between the Rouhani/Zarif camp of (relative) moderates and “hardliners” which could be exemplified by General Soleimani and the IRGC. It may initially seem counter-intuitive, but diplomatic success by the moderates in the administration increases the possibility of hardliners reacting more strongly when they seize an opportunity.
We can be dismayed at the treatment of our sailors, and even question the apology while still being thankful for the overall outcome and larger diplomatic success. I look forward to finding ground truth on the events, and also on learning some lessons – from tactical up to national level. Unfortunately, though, the whole incident has fueled some of the worst behaviors of our polarized body politic.
NB: Scroll to the bottom for updates.
Some blog posts are best put together with few words, but lots of pictures. Pictures matter. Pictures also need to be understood in each cultural context in which they are viewed.
Yesterday’s events that led up to the capture and release of our 10 Sailors will be better known in time, and is best reviewed then. That “how they got there” story is a very separate story than the more important story about what the Iranians did with the opportunity we gave them.
Think about not so much the view with your eyes, but with the eyes of those who do not wish our nation well; those who are on the fence, looking for the strong horse; those friends who lean heavily on their confidence in the great United States Navy.
Look and think about this part of the story – it will have much longer impact on our nation than the tactical details about how we got to the point where our flag was pulled down, our Sailors had their hands behind their heads, and from that sad view in the corner, our female Sailor appears to have been forced to wear a head scarf.
Oh, and yes; you must watch the video.
ویدئو: لحظه دستگیری ملوانان آمریکایی در حریم آبی ایران در خلیج فارس pic.twitter.com/KPAf3USGrA
— روزنامه شرق (@SharghDaily) January 13, 2016
Update: More video.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
Update II – Electric Boogaloo: Like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex, you will be made to watch.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
UPDAE III: Interior video post capture. Nice comm gear.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
We all know the old phrase, “nations don’t have friends or enemies…nations only have interests.” As a rather young and insular nation, we can often forget about the interests and history of other nations, especially ones that don’t show up on a regular basis in the news cycle.
There are some nations who are geographically exceptionally important, but politically stable inside the last couple of decades. Stability, like civilization in general, is never a given and can fall apart in the blink of an eye to either internal or external conflict. What do you do then?
When reading up on some of the possible second and third order effects of Iran’s recent diplomatic victory over the West, I came across a great article from Amir Taheri on Oman. Anyone involved in maritime or national security over the last two decades do not need a refresher on how important that nation has been to us.
Taheri’s article brings to light some important points to consider because, if a stable Oman and reliable access to her facilities are one of your Planning Assumptions, then I sure hope you have a Branch Plan.
Let’s set the stage.
Determined to press its claim as “the regional superpower”, the Islamic Republic has decided to develop its maritime units into a full-fledged blue-water navy.
Three events have spurred the Iranian program for projection of power. The first is US President Barack Obama’s declared intention to drawdown and eventually conclude American military presence in the Middle East. If Obama’s policies are continued by his successor, the US would leave a huge gap to be filled in the region. The Islamic Republic hopes to fill it.
The second event was the “deal” made with the so-called P5+1 group over Iran’s nuclear project. If implemented, the deal would unfreeze Iranian financial assets estimated at between 120 billion US dollars and 150 billion US dollars, providing enough resources for a massive upgrading of the navy. The new Iranian budget has, in fact, raised defense expenditure by almost 23 percent, part of it devoted to the projection of naval power.
Another foreign power signals withdraw, so what are the small nations left behind to do as their foreign friends leave? They need to come to terms with their powerful neighbors. It is only natural that they go back to habits of the past and historical connections. Regression to the mean, if you will.
The third event was the speedy signing by Oman, with which Iran had its longest maritime border, over 248 miles (400 kilometers), of a treaty demarcating the limits of the two neighbors’ territorial waters. Prepared by the Iranian Defense Ministry, the treaty was sent to the foreign ministry in Tehran last spring with a demand that it be negotiated and finalized with Oman over a three-year period. As it turned out, however, the Omanis did not need such lengthy negotiations and quickly ratified the treaty which was signed by Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id in July.
How does this change things from a maritime security point of view?
… Iranian media have reported that the new treaty would systematize a series of arrangements that Iran had made with Oman in the early 1970s. At that time the Shah had sent an expeditionary force to crush a Communist rebellion backed by South Yemen in the Omani province of Dhofar.
For years, Iran has used the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz in its game of chicken with adversaries. The strait is 54-kilomtere long body of water that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and thus the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hormuz is, in fact, cut into two channels by the 110-kilometre long Iranian island of Qeshm.
… the part to the south of Qeshm, touching on the Omani enclave of Ras Mussandam that is of strategic importance because of massive international traffic including the passage of tankers carrying more than 30 percent of global oil trade.
Two islands are of strategic importance as far as commanding the southern part of the strait is concerned. To the north of the waterway is the Iranian island of Hangam, a satellite of Qeshm, which is already highly militarized. To the south is the Omani island of Beit Al-Ghanam.
“By having a presence in both islands, Iran would control the two halves of the gate,” says Hamid Zomorrodi, a former captain of the Iranian navy. “That island and the neighboring Ras Mussandam have been important in Iranian naval planning since the time of Nader Shah in the 18th century when Iran decided, for the first time, to build a navy in its southern waters.”
There you go. Is that connection made by Zomorrodi a stretch?
In the early 18th century, Iran returned to the region in a big way. Nader Shah bought four warships from the European powers and hired the British seafarer Captain Cook as naval adviser. His admiral, Latif Khan, launched a series of naval raids that ended with the capture of Bahrain, the crushing of pirate tribes, and a brief conquest of Muscat. However Nader Shah’s naval adventure didn’t last long. His assassination replunged Iran into civil war and chaos, deviating attention from tis southern waters. It took almost two centuries for Iran to return to its southern waters under Reza Shah who built a navy with help from Germany and Italy in the 1930s. In 1941, the British sunk the Shah’s navy when they, together with the Russians, invaded and occupied Iran in the name of the Allies fighting the German-led Axis.
In a sense, Oman is like an island because, with the exception of a link to a thinly inhabited fringe of southern Yemen, it is sealed off from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula by the uplands of the Batinah and the Rub Al-Khali, and surrounded by water on the remaining three sides. In geopolitical terms, Oman is a top prize for anyone who wishes to project naval power in the Indian Ocean.
It is not surprising that Oman features prominently in Iran’s long-term planning for naval projection of power. Omanis think they owe Iran a debt of gratitude for having helped them crush the Communist challenge launched from South Yemen in the 1970s.
In a gesture of friendship to the Sultan of Oman, in 1970s Iran rejected a demand by the sheikhs of Khassab and Diba, in the Mussandam Peninsula where the Shihuh and Kamzari tribes, speaking an Iranian language, once ruled, to secede from Oman and set up independent mini-states.
Oman has always tried to project a distinct political profile. In the 1971 celebration of the foundation of the Persian Empire, Sultan Qaboos was the only Arab head of state present.
There is more than just Oman in play if you run this scenario out.
Courting Oman is part of a broader policy of the Islamic Republic to Finlandize the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, by persuading and/or threatening them not to take sides in any conflict between Iran and tis regional or extra-regional rivals.
So far, Oman has managed to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy. But how long that could last depends on how far Tehran wishes to push its regional ambitions.
A friendly Oman is a big asset for Iran’s national security let alone its regional ambitions. A hostile Oman could force Tehran strategists to think twice before they bite more than they can chew.
Wargame that. Throw in a successful Shia uprising in Bahrain and an ongoing one in eastern Saudi Arabia. Well. Interesting times.
Today’s extended episode is a chat on future threat projection with Dennis Smith of the Project on International Peace and Security from William and Mary, Chris Peterson of the Fletcher School’s Neptune Group, and Alexander Clarke of the Phoenix Think Tank. We talk about the next 5-10 years in maritime security, concentrating on global human security, china, and the economy. Please enjoy Sea Control 21- Threat Projection (download).
Remember, we are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, and a bunch of other places my Google data can’t identify. Please, leave a comment and a five-star rating so we can get on the front page one day.
Benham Talebleu joins us to discuss Iran’s new President, their nuclear weapons program, and the larger strategic aims of the Islamic Republic. Remember to subscribe on Itunes or Stitcher Stream radio! Leave a comment and a five-star rating before telling all your friends.
Please enjoy Sea Control 19: Rouhani, Nukes, and Iran (download).
Because of Don Vito’s health problems, his son Michael (as a fictional Marine Captain, he was the obvious choice as successor) assumed control of the Corleone family business. His rapid ascent disrupted the distribution of power within the family. After Don Vito’s passing, Michael used an early version of distributed operations against the leadership of near-peer competitors. Michael’s rise within the family and subsequent violent struggle to bolster the Corleone’s position within the organized crime syndicate illustrate the inherent dangers of power shifts.
The reality is – shifts happen. Power shifts happen in clans, in industry and among states. State power shifts occur at various levels – internal, regional and global and many believe power shifts are frequently the cause of international conflicts. The graphic below illustrates various power shifts in modern history.
Measuring National Power
As many have observed, the American military has gone to war over the past decade but the United States as a nation has not. When analyzing great power wars it is important to consider the total power of the states involved and not to simply count the number of ships, air wings or divisions. When analyzing military power in this context both actual and latent capabilities (those that a state could produce in the future) must be taken into account. Measuring national power is difficult and extremely subjective. One method, albeit not perfect, is to use the National Material Capabilities data set.
Power is considered by many to be a central concept in explaining conflict and six indicators are widely used to quantify power – military expenditure, military personnel, energy consumption, iron and steel production, urban population, and total population.
The Composite Index of National Capability (CINC) index is based on these six variables. The CINC is useful for historical analysis and often helps explain the outcome and duration of conventional conflicts between states. The figure below displays two conflicts where the opposing forces were at different levels of power; the first, near power parity and the second, an overwhelming power difference. The former lasted nearly eight years and ended in stalemate while the latter lasted only a few days with a decisive victory for coalition forces.
The CINC can also be used to analyze the future environment. Using the CINC to examine the state powers of China and the US (including Pacific partners) should paint a worrisome picture for US military planners.
Some consider the CINC model to be obsolete in the information age and only appropriate for historical analysis. Measuring national power accurately in the post-industrial age is still a work in progress. An alternate power assessment method comes from the intelligence community. The NIC historically used a four component model to forecast power that included GDP, population size, military spending, and technology. However in the Global Trends 2030, an updated model included other elements such as health, education, and governance.
Regardless of the method or data one uses, it is clear that a global power shift is underway. The primary question that remains is will this shift result in peaceful integration or in a great power war?
Revisiting Power Theories
Within the IR field there are two prominent schools of thought regarding power shifts – power transition theory and power cycle theory.
Power Transition: A.F.K. Organski developed this theory in 1958. He asserted that the international system can be categorized into four levels of state power: dominant power, great powers, middle powers and small powers. Unlike the balance of power theorists, Organski felt the system was in a constant state of flux with the dominant power attempting to maintain the status quo. Rising contenders were either satisfied or dissatisfied with their position in the system. The outcome of the contender’s rise could either be peaceful integration or war depending on their level of satisfaction during ascendance. Throughout history, the closer the contender and dominant power were to power parity, the longer and more severe were conflicts.
Power Cycle: Originated by Charles Doran in 1963, the power cycle theory asserts the power of a state is cyclic and it rises and falls based on the state’s relative position within the international system. Along the cycle’s path are several critical inflection points that create shifts in the international system and often result in major wars.
Both of theories remain relevant today and portend a dangerous threat to the stability of global order.
The Rise of China
Both schools express concern over the rise of China and potential disruption to the international system. Disciples of Organski offer three strategies for the US to consider:
- Engineering Satisfaction with Realignment: This strategy largely involves economic development in China and places more emphasis on business development and partnerships as a means to keep the contender satisfied during its ascent.
- Controlling Territorial Flashpoints: Primarily focused on Taiwan, the authors argue that even a successful defense of Taiwan against Chinese military aggression in the near-term will not resolve the power shift dilemma. At some point in time all three parties, China, US and Taiwan will come to the realization that because of the China’s great power status, Taiwan may voluntarily associate itself with China.
- Reengineering Power Distributions: The United States must prevent China from achieving power parity. To accomplish this it must form a “super-bloc” alliance by expanding NATO and developing alliances with India and even Russia.
The authors caution against over-militarizing America’s policy towards China and recount former SECDEF Perry’s warning, “If we treat China as an enemy, it will surely become one.”
Doran contends that China’s rise could eventually be slowed by India’s ascent to power and tensions may escalate between the neighboring states. For China to enjoy a “peaceful rise,” it must contend with the challenges of future systems transformation just as the other members of the system had to in the past. Other governments must learn to preserve their security and interests while assisting China to traverse this projected and particularly stressful interval in history.
Examining China’s rise through the power shift lens brings several concerns to the fore.
If a military confrontation between China and the US is inevitable, would the perfect military plan or operational concept overcome the power parity problem or would a long war of attrition be unavoidable? Would America’s military advantage diminish if a conflict is fought on Chinese territory, thus forcing America to project military power thousands of miles from the US homeland?
Second, would any amount of conventional military force be sufficient to compel the state of China to accept an outcome favorable to the US and its allies? Because of China’s population advantage and massive economy, could it simply absorb a shock-and-awe type campaign until its adversary’s magazines were exhausted?
Third, to what extent do America’s domestic problems (i.e. national debt, percentage of Americans not in the workforce, inefficient governance and immigration reform) limit its ability to reverse the current power declination trend in the international system?
Finally, because of advances in missile technology, cyber capabilities and asymmetric tactics, the reality is the US homeland will no longer be a sanctuary during future wars. The American military did not contend with this problem in the great power wars of WWI, WW II and Korea. How would degraded American industrial capacity affect the ability to project power overseas for a significant period of time?
The examination of power shifts among states should raise concerns among America’s foreign policy makers and military planners. Most of the latter entered active duty after the end of the Cold War when America emerged as an uncontested hegemon. This dominant power status may have resulted in a certain degree of hubris that prompts many into thinking America can simply impose its will on another state at a time and place of its choosing. While this may have worked in Grenada, Panama and against Somali pirates, this paradigm will need to shift to contend with the rise of a great power.
To ensure the relative stability of the international system and American prosperity, planners must challenge some underlying assumptions about America’s relative dominance in the future and develop a national strategy that is not centrally focused on using conventional military force to counter the rise of China’s power.
Matt, Chris, and Grant are joined by Scott Cheney-Peters for a CIMSEC party on the China ADIZ, corvettes, procurement, and Iran. Grant checks out because he’s has a sub-par phone. Remember to subscribe to us on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Without further ado, here is Sea Control 11: Sand Pebbles.
Also, as promised in the podcast, a link to some international law-y goodness: “Limits in the Seas, No. 114.”
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Jim Kramer, madman behind CNBC’s Mad Money, always says, “where’s the pin-action?” or rather, “what are the wide-ranging domino effects of events.” The deal announced this weekend over Iran’s nuclear program is the axis of a massive strategic wheel which, if the deal is successful, will begin to turn. This article is not a debate on the durability of the coalescing Iran deal, but rather on its wide-ranging diplomatic, military, and economic effects if executed satisfactorily.
Reviewing the Facebook Friends List
In order to counter Iranian influence in the Gulf, the United States has unfortunately had to shackle itself with Saudi Arabia, of whom FDR may have well said, “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Unfortunately, this particular SOB isn’t an SOB to just the enemy. While purportedly a significant source of intelligence aid and support in the GWOT, entities in Saudi Arabia are also suspected of providing significant funding to Al-Qaeda associates, and the country is often a very clear human rights nightmare. Walking the diplomacy, human rights, military operations, and public image line is difficult enough before adding “balancing” Iran with folks who act like the Saudis to the mix. Any working deal with Iran frees the US’s hands to play a tougher game with Saudi Arabia, who is terrified of being left out in the cold of increased Iranian influence in the region.
Standards and Practices/ Money, Money, Money
Iran continues to be a severe problem in areas of conflict outside the nuclear weapons question, like in Syria and in material of terrorism, as in the case of Hezbollah. Israel still rightfully worries about their non-nuclear activites. However, any practitioner of negotiation would tell you that you can’t get everything you want from the beginning. You need a starting point. If played correctly, the un-freezing of funds and potential increased business relationships/profits from opening trade based on good continuing behavior may create a virtuous cycle. With the potential strategic calculus of the new leadership, Iran may be discouraged from it’s bad behaviors in those far-flung arenas. The opportunity to develop domestically and fulfill the failed economic promises of a decade will hopefully pull attention away from more destructive enterprises and towards the domestic infrastructure programs Iranians have been calling for. Perhaps the US has facilitated Iran’s “Burma Moment.”
Oh, did I mention long-term lower oil prices adding a boon to a stagnating global economy that no longer needs to fear Iranian nuclear weapons or conflict in the gulf?
A Real Pivot
In a time of sequestration, resources are going to be stretched thin. Facility development in Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain, etc… in response to Iranian threats and the massive project of ballistic missile defense will in the immediate term continue to be important, but if successful in changing Iran’s strategic calculus from military to economic success, those efforts can give way to the bigger projects of presence in Asia and projection in Africa. Decreased threats from Iran will help lighten regional carrier presence calculations, for example. Imagine, the resources spent to move the fleet of Cyclone-class PC’s to Bahrain spent elsewhere (PC’s to Singapore, perhaps) if the Iranian threat didn’t loom so large. Lightening that demand signal will give the U.S. military important freedom and flexibility to meet future goals.It is a simple and intuitive point, but one with massive impact.
Verify, then Trust
Ronald Reagan is often known for saying the Russian proverb, “trust, but verify.” In the case of Iran, there is no extended relationship of engagement upon which to base any trust, “verify, THEN trust.” Any deal, as stated by the President and Secretary Kerry, will need to be heavily monitored and enforced by the united front of negotiating parties. Skepticism is an important part of a deal being a success. That said, the perils are many, but the benefit are huge. It’s a long shot, but so worth a shot.
By Jeong Lee
Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”
To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.
The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.
By Jeong Lee
General Joseph Dunford, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, has recently told the New York Times that America’s “presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.” His reasoning was that although the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are bearing the brunt of fighting, “at the end of 2014, [they] won’t be completely independent” operationally and logistically.