Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's the End Game in Gaza?

As the Israeli assault on Gaza continued into its fourth day, it's not at all clear what end state Israel is seeking. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert released a statement that the aerial campaign was "the first of several stages" suggesting that a ground operation may be forthcoming, while international pressure mounts for a temporary cease-fire to allow for humanitarian aid and assistance. So far, an estimated 350 Palestinians have been killed -- more than 60 of them civilians -- and more than 600 wounded, while the rocket barrages from Hamas killed three Israelis on Monday. Israel's stated war aims have been quite narrow -- to destroy the ability of Hamas to launch rockets into Israel -- and there are no overt signs that Israel intends to seek the destruction of the Hamas regime. Internal intelligence assessments in Israel claim to have destroyed so far one-third of Hamas's rocket arsenal.

So what outcome does Israel seek? What is Israel hoping to achieve through this assault? First, Israel is very likely seeking to restore its reputation after the debacle of the 2006 Lebanon War. While that war was on balance better for Israel than many people perceived it to be, it is perception that matters for Israel's deterrence posture. Seccond, while the rockets launched into Israel by Hamas may not be particularly effective in killing Israelis, they are extremely effective at highlighting Israel's defenselessness. No government anywhere in the world could long survive under constant rocket attack, even if few casualties resulted, as a government that is seen as unable to protect its people cannot be effective. Given the alternative of a Netanyahu-led Likud government (which most Israeli polls show to be the likely outcome of the February elections), the centrist-Kadima government had to respond to demonstrate its ability to protect the people of Israel and hold on to power. The Israeli response very well may strengthen the Labor Party and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (currently Israel's minister of defense).

But these goals are strategic, higher-order goals that while perhaps important are not directly tied to current assault. What outcome does Israel want vis-a-vis Hamas and Gaza? Destroying the rockets is one, but that is an ephemeral goal. Destroyed rockets can be resupplied. Toppling Hamas is another possibility, but that could be exceedingly dangerous. Fatah has been largely routed in Gaza, and if Hamas is brought down it's not at all clear what would replace it. Anarchy in Gaza may be even worse for Israel than Hamas.

What is more likely is that Israel is seeking two goals, one short-term and one long-term. In the short-term Israel is likely hoping to force Hamas to accept cease-fire terms that are more favorable than the one that recently ended. While Israel certainly didn't entirely uphold its end of the agreement by failing to allow sufficient supplies into Gaza, Hamas didn't carry its weight either by refusing to crack down on militants launching rockets, particularly in recent days. In the long-run, Israel may be hoping to expose Hamas as ineffective in its responses to Israel and incapable of protecting and providing for the welfare of the Palestinians.

The problem is, perhaps, that Hamas's popularity may have been waning before the assault. As Daoud Kuttab writes in today's Washington Post, Hamas has been on a steady decline since coming to power on Gaza:

Things began to sour when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, but even then, Hamas enjoyed considerable domestic support -- and much goodwill externally. Then the movement turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators to pursue reconciliation, and support for it began to slip.

Things got worse in November when a carefully planned national unity effort from the Egyptians failed because, at the very last minute, Hamas's leaders refused to show up in Cairo. Failure to accept this roundtable invitation greatly upset the Egyptians, and they and other Arab leaders scolded Hamas publicly. Omar Suleiman, the head of the Egyptian intelligence service who was organizing the meeting, termed Hamas's reasons for rebuffing the invitation "unwarranted excuses." Hamas sought for its leader a seating position equivalent to the Palestinian president's, and it wanted Hamas security prisoners held in the West Bank to be released. Palestinian nationalists insist that Hamas's rejection of unity talks was solely to avoid the PLO's demand for new presidential and parliamentary elections.

A poll carried out afterward by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center showed that most Palestinians blamed Hamas for the failure of the talks. The survey, which was sponsored by the German Fredrich Ebert Foundation, found that 35.3 percent of respondents believed Hamas bore more responsibility for the stalemate. Fatah was blamed by 17.9 percent, and 12.3 percent said both Fatah and Hamas were responsible.

The lack of international support since the 2006 elections, followed by this rebuff to Gaza's only Arab neighbor, Egypt, compounded the deterioration of Hamas's internal support. By November, the survey showed, only 16.6 percent of Palestinians supported Hamas, compared with nearly 40 percent favoring Fatah. The decline in support for Hamas has been steady: A year earlier, the same pollster showed that Hamas's support was at 19.7 percent; in August 2007, it was at 21.6 percent; in March 2007, it was at 25.2 percent; and in September 2006, backing for the Islamists stood at 29.7 percent.

Now, Kuttab writes, Hamas will reap the PR benefits of the Israeli assault, once again assuming the mantle of The Ones Who Stand Up To Israel and:

has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. While it is not apparent how this violent confrontation will end, it is abundantly clear that the Islamic Hamas movement has been brought back from near political defeat while moderate Arab leaders have been forced to back away from their support for any reconciliation with Israel."

Israel must act to counter this development, largely by pointing to conditions in the West Bank. But pointing is not enough. Israel should move to improve conditions in the West Bank, and not just ones that amount to cosmetic changes. Rather, Israel needs to make clear the benefits of following Fatah's path as well as the consequences of following that of Hamas.

Israel should immediately announce a halt to all funding for settlement building in the West Bank, dismantle all illegal settlements, and lift all but the most necessary checkpoints and roadblocks that have made life in the West Bank so difficult. Only by making clear the implications of the choices before the Palestinians can Israel hope to obtain any long-term benefits from the attack on Gaza.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rebuilding the US Military

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an editorial entitled "How to Pay for a 21st Century Military." The editorial made several suggestions about how to pare down current defense expenditures to pay for the changes needed to update the US military for the challenges of the coming years, challenges that include, in the words of the Times, "more ground forces, less reliance on the Reserves, new equipment and training to replace cold-war weapons systems and doctrines."

Here are the suggestions with analysis:

End production of the Air Force’s F-22.
The F-22 was designed to ensure victory in air-to-air dogfights with the kind of futuristic fighters that the Soviet Union did not last long enough to build. The Air Force should instead rely on its version of the new high-performance F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which comes into production in 2012 and like the F-22 uses stealth technology to elude enemy radar. Until then, it can use upgraded versions of the F-16, which can outperform anything now flown by any potential foe. The F-35 will provide a still larger margin of superiority. The net annual savings: about $3 billion.
Not a bad idea. But the F-35 isn't quite an adequate replacement for the F-22. The F-35 is designed to be more of a multi-use fighter, a la the F-15, while the F-22 is a pure air superiority plane, much like the F-16. It's not entirely clear whether the F-35 will be up to the task of air superiority. The multi-service nature of the F-35, however, was an excellent choice and makes the F-35 an excellent bargain. The question is, however, whether the US can afford to put all of its eggs in one basket or, in this case, in one weapons platform. US air superiority is a major priority and a vital part of all US military operations and if the F-35 fails to perform up to expectations, the absence of another platform would be a huge problem. However, the cost of the F-22 and the absence of any serious rival platforms probably makes this a worthy cut.

Cancel the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer.
This is a stealthy blue water combat ship designed to fight the kind of midocean battles no other nation is preparing to wage. The Navy can rely on the existing DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyer, a powerful, well-armed ship that incorporates the advanced Aegis combat system for tracking and destroying multiple air, ship and submarine targets. The Navy has sharply cut back the number of Zumwalts on order from 32 to two. Cutting the last two could save more than $3 billion a year that should be used to buy more of the littoral combat ships that are really needed. Those ships can move quickly in shallow offshore waters and provide helicopter and other close-in support for far more likely ground combat operations.
From a techie-standapoint, it would be a true shame if the Navy cancels the DDG-1000 project, as it is possibly the coolest naval platform ever designed. But, the fact that the Navy has already trimmed its order from 32 to 2 is a clear indication that the Navy doesn't really see the need to fight blue-water engagements and is rather continuing the program as corporate charity and to recoup some of the sunk costs. However, recent concerns over piracy off the Horn of Africa have made clear the need to maintain some kind of ocean-going attack force. But that need not involve the DDG-1000.

Halt production of the Virginia class sub. Ten of these unneeded attack submarines — modeled on the cold-war-era Seawolf, whose mission was to counter Soviet attack and nuclear launch submarines — have already been built. The program is little more than a public works project to keep the Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business. The Navy can extend the operating lives of the existing fleet of Los Angeles class fast-attack nuclear submarines, which can capably perform all needed post-cold-war missions — from launching cruise missiles to countering China’s expanding but technologically inferior submarine fleet. Net savings: $2.5 billion.
The Times is right that building the Virginia-class subs is little more than a jobs program to keep sub-building shipyards open. But that is enough of a reason not to cancel this program. It is imperative that the US retain sub-building capability and there is little civilian demand for submarines, the military must continue to purchase platforms to keep the yards open. Furthermore, the Virginia-class subs are designed for littoral warfare as well as blue-water operations, meaning that they will be capable of performing numerous varied missions, including anti-sub warfare, mine-laying, special operations, and intelligence gathering. Given recent news of Chinese interest in building aircraft carriers and Russian naval missions to South America, the US needs to maintain its naval dominance.

Pull the plug on the Marine Corps’s V-22 Osprey. After 25 years of trying, this futuristic and unnecessary vertical takeoff and landing aircraft has yet to prove reliable or safe. The 80 already built are more than enough. Instead of adding 400 more, the Marine Corps should buy more of the proven H-92 and CH-53 helicopters. Net savings: $2 billion to 2.5 billion.
No argument here.

Halt premature deployment of missile defense. The Pentagon wants to spend roughly $9 billion on ballistic missile defense next year. That includes money to deploy additional interceptors in Alaska and build new installations in central Europe. After spending some $150 billion over the past 25 years, the Pentagon has yet to come up with a national missile defense system reliable enough to provide real security. The existing technology can be easily fooled by launching cheap metal decoys along with an incoming warhead. We do not minimize the danger from ballistic missiles. We agree there should be continued testing and research on more feasible approaches. Since the most likely threat would come from Iran or North Korea, there should be serious discussions with the Russians about a possible joint missile defense program. (We know the system poses no threat to Russia, but it is time to take away the excuse.) A research program would cost about $5 billion annually, for a net savings of nearly $5 billion.
I have long argued on this site for cutting missile defense in favor of other programs.

Negotiate deep cuts in nuclear weapons.
Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the United States and Russia committed to reduce their strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200 each by 2012. There has been no discussion of any further cuts. A successor treaty should have significantly lower limits — between 1,000 and 1,400, with a commitment to go lower. President-elect Barack Obama should also take all ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert and commit to reducing the nation’s absurdly large stock of backup warheads. These steps will make the world safer. It will give Mr. Obama a lot more credibility to press others to rein in their nuclear ambitions. It is hard to say just how much money would be saved with these reductions, but in the long term, the amount would certainly be considerable.
No argument here.

Trim the active-duty Navy and Air Force. The United States enjoys total dominance of the world’s seas and skies and will for many years to come. The Army and the Marines have proved too small for the demands of simultaneous ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the forces most likely to be called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to rescue failing states. Reducing the Navy by one carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings would save about $5 billion a year. Making these cuts will not be politically easy. The services are already talking up remote future threats (most involving a hostile China armed to the teeth with submarines and space-age weapons). Military contractors invoke a different kind of threat: hundreds of thousands of layoffs in a recession-weakened economy. We are all for saving and creating jobs, but not at the cost of diverting finite defense dollars from real and pressing needs — or new programs that will create new jobs.
Under no circumstances should the US eliminate a carrier group. US carriers are not only a vital projector of military might, but also serve as a powerful signal of US commitment. Whenever there is an impending crisis, it is always a carrier group that signals US interest and provides a powerful warning. Plus, as it becomes harder and more exepensive for the US to maintain its vast networks of overseas forward basing, carriers serve as irreplaceable mobile bases. The Air Force is a better candidate to be reduced, but given the recommendation to end the F-22 program, any cuts will have to be carefully made to not undermine the US ability to carry out the primary missions: lift and carry, air superiority, strategic bombing, and close air support.

How would the Times use the money saved:

The cuts above could save $20 billion to $25 billion a year, which could be better used as follows:

Increase the size of the ground force. The current buildup of the Army and the Marine Corps will cost more than $100 billion over the next six years. Trimming the size of the Navy and Air Force, deferring the deployment of unready missile defenses and canceling the Osprey will pay for much of that.

Pay for the Navy’s needed littoral combat ships. These ships, which operate in shallow waters to support ground combat, cost about $600 million each. Canceling the DDG-1000 destroyer (more than $3 billion per ship) and the Virginia class submarine (more than $2 billion each) will help provide that needed money.

Resupply the National Guard and the Reserves. At the present rate for replacing weapons left behind or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Guard will still be more than 20 percent short of what it needs in 2013. Canceling the F-22 will provide enough money to do better than that years sooner.

Again, we need to be very careful in transforming the Army and Marine Corps. While it is vital that such changes are made to develop greater capabilities for counter-insurgency and nation-building operations, such changes cannot come at the expense of traditional warfighting. Furthermore, the two missions should be separated; soldiers should not be trained to do both.

President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates will have an excellent opportunity to make some much needed changes to the US military as the war in Iraq winds down and the taks of repairing the military begins. But such changes cannot be made purely based on assessments of the present or future military environment. It must be realized that the absence of any military competitors and the near impossibility of great power war is not an accident nor a reason to draw down the military. It is US military dominance that has made the thought of large-scale international war largely unthinkable and that dominance must be maintained.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's Bad Move on Trade

Reuters is reporting that President-elect Obama has settled on former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to be US Trade Representative. This does not bode well. Obama's first choice, California Representive Xavier Becerra reportedly turned down the job because Obama wasn't planning on making trade a priority of his administration:
"My concern is how much weight this position would have had, and I reached the conclusion that it would not be a top priority or even a second or third priority," Becerra told La Opinion, a Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper, in an interview earlier this week.
With the Doha round of WTO talks stalled, hopefully to resume in 2009, it is imperative that trade be made a priority so the impasses over intellecutal property and agricultural subsidies can be broken. Nominating someone to USTR with zero trade experience and with lowered priority is not a good sign. Furthermore, Reuters reports that Obama's first trade priority will be "to make good on Obama's promise to add stronger labor and environmental provisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact often blamed by labor groups for moving U.S. jobs to Mexico."

All of this bodes very badly. Obama's anti-trade rhetoric during the campaign bordered on protectionist, and was often down-right scary. Re-opening NAFTA would be a disastrous move, making other states less likely to sign agreements with the US for fear that they would be re-opened in the future, undoing all the hard negotiating on the original agreement. Many people claimed that Obama's talk on trade was just that: talk. The hope was Obama was spouting protectionist rhetoric to win the election and that once president he would adopt a saner approach to free trade. Such hopes were bolstered by top economic adviser Austin Goolsbee's comment in Canada that Obama's anti-NAFTA positions "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

But the closer it gets to inauguration day, the more it looks like Obama was serious in his rhetoric.

The Manama Dialogue 2008: US Secretary of Defense Gates on the Problem of Piracy

video

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Manama Dialogue 2008: The US and the Regional Balance of Power

The 2008 Manama Dialogue opened with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as the speaker at the first plenary session, entitled "The US and the Regional Balance of Power." His speech was extremely interesting, not because of what he did say (as I have written about before, the higher ranking the official giving the speech, the less specific the speech tends to be on policy issues) but because how he said it. He started with a discussion of Iraq, but had little concrete to say there. However, when he moved on to discussing Iran, he offered a fascinating sentence:

When it comes to Iran’s missile programmes, we all know that pictures can be deceiving.
Obviously, the intelligence failure in Iraq has shaken the US defense establishment for Gates to say this. To some degree, this may be some kind of carrot, indicating that the US is still open to being convinced that the nascent Iranian nuclear program is in fact peaceful and not intended for weaponization.

Gates concluded his speech by addressing two issues of specific concern to the Gulf region: air and maritime security. First, Gates made it clear that missile defense is one of the highest priorities in region:
Several GCC nations are in the process of acquiring, or have expressed interest in, shared early warning, near real-time information on air and missile attacks that would allow maximum time for a nation to defend itself. Additionally, all GCC countries have expressed a desire to obtain, or are already obtaining, active defence systems. These procurements demonstrate the GCC’s commitment to regional security and interoperability with each other and the United States.
I am no fan of missile defense. However, the Gulf is one area where missile defense makes more sense than in other areas. Given the proximity of threats, as well as the glut of missile proliferators, missile defense can go a long way to not only smoothing regional imbalances of power but frayed nerves. The experience of Israel and the Patriot missiles during the first Gulf War is clear evidence of the impact missile defense can have; without the reassurance of the Patriots (even though they likely didn't work), Israel very well may have felt pressured to respond to Iraq's SCUD attacks, which would have in turn splintered the coalition. Reassuring the Gulf states against Iran (and to some degree against Israel) will not only help to lower tensions but will also ease escalating pressure to proliferate.

Gates also emphasized the need to deal with the growing threat of priracy of the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Aden:
piracy is a problem that has serious international implications and should be of particular concern to any nation that depends on the seas for commerce. Earlier this year, the United States Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, established a maritime security patrol area in the Gulf of Aden and is leading an international coalition to keep shipping lanes safe. I thank Saudi Arabia for agreeing to support the effort and encourage other nations to do so.

Given the vast coastal areas of Somalia and Kenya, more than 1 million square miles, there are limits to patrolling alone; more must be done. Under the United Nations Security Council resolution passed last week, members of the international community must work together to aggressively pursue and deter piracy. Companies and ships must be more vigilant about staying in recommended traffic corridors, and should consider increasing their security personnel and non-lethal defensive capabilities. New efforts for countries represented here might include developing a maritime surface picture and standard operating procedures against seaborne threats beyond just piracy, such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and smuggling.

As this article in today's New York Times makes clear, dealing with the pirates poses many problems, not the least of which that piracy is more of a symptom of failed states -- specifically, Somalia -- than a problem in and of itself. Gates makes no mention of dealing with the problem of failed states. Still, attention to the problem and more regional cooperation will be essential if the pirates are to be brought to bay.

Following Gates's speech was a Q&A session. Among the most interesting was one from a delegate from Jordan:

There are two ways that we know of [to combat terrorism and political violence in the region]. One is the mutually-assured military destruction through militarization of various countries in the region. The second is the mutually-assured peaceful cooperation through democratic means.

The strategy has failed, judging by the outcome of the Bush administration in the region. Democracy assures the second alternative – the mutual peaceful cooperation – as European history shows that it works. In your speech, it was not mentioned. The word ‘democracy’ was not mentioned. Even in your responses to the questions, it was not mentioned as a policy tool. My question is: has it disappeared as a strategy to build peaceful cooperation in the region knowing that democracy could moderate the extremist views and positions? Is there a new direction in that regard?

First, it must be acknowledged how incredible it is to hear someone from the Arab world talking about democratic peace theory.

Second, it shows that, if nothing else, the establishment of democracy in Iraq, however imperfect and fragile it may be, is a truly transformative event. The recent shoe-throwing event in Iraq and the resulting protests hint at a political culture that is largely unknown in the Arab world -- open dissent and spirited protest. While it is too early to laud Iraq as a success, and while the jury is still out as to whether the invasion was worth the costs, even the prospects of a democracy in Iraq is an amazing event.

Finally, Gates was asked about Pakistan:

I give you three very quick challenges. Firstly, the ease with which extremist groups based in Pakistan are able to travel around the world and launch terrorist attacks, as we have seen recently in Mumbai, and even the training given to a group in Belgium. Secondly, the attacks on US and NATO convoys going through Pakistan, and the apparent inability of the Pakistan army to protect these convoys. Thirdly, the presence of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta, the ‘Quetta Shura’ about which US officials seem now not to be mentioning.

Gates's answer, while brief and slightly evasive, is interesting:

Firstly, the US has been very impressed with the transition to a democratic government in Afghanistan. We have been developing our relationship with that democratically-elected government over the past months. Pakistan needs to be our partner in this. Pakistan is a sovereign country. It is important that we work together with Pakistan to try to deal with the problems, particularly in the western part of Pakistan.

The Pakistani Army has very been aggressive in that area in recent months, and with some considerable effectiveness. It has a positive effect, in terms of reducing the number of Taliban people and other extremists who are crossing the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan’s government has come under the weight, in recent months, of the fact that they face an existential threat from these violent extremists who have declared their intention to overthrow the Government of Pakistan. We would like to see an evolving partnership with Pakistan, working with Afghanistan as well, to get control of that situation in the border areas. That in turn will address all three of the issues that you have raised.

Tomorrow, I will report on the second plenary session, entitled The Economics of Regional Security, featuring Barham Saleh, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, and Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of Japan's House of Councillors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Major Breakthough in Public Health

One of the major scourges of the developing world is disease, and in Africa, malaria is one of the biggest killers. Approximately 1 million people -- primarily children under the age of 5 -- die every year, and more than 2 million are sickened.

But hope is on the way. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that clinical trials of a malaria vaccine by GlaxoSmithKlein Biologicals have more than halved the infection rate among children in Kenya and Tanzania.
A vaccine against the parasitic disease malaria cut illnesses by more than half in field trials and could be safely given with other childhood inoculations, two studies have reported. The vaccine, which will begin a third and final phase of clinical trials early next year, could become the first to protect children from malaria, which kills nearly 1 million people worldwide every year.

...

In the first study, conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, 894 children ages 5 months to 17 months were inoculated either with the three-dose experimental malaria vaccine or a rabies vaccine as a control group. In the eight-month follow-up period, researchers found that children receiving RTS,S had 53% fewer diagnosed cases of malaria -- 38 episodes compared with 86 among recipients of the control rabies vaccine.

In the other study, conducted in Tanzania, the vaccine was given to 340 infants at 8, 12 and 16 weeks old, along with vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and Haemophilus influenzae B without lessening the safety or effectiveness of the vaccines. The ability to administer the vaccine as part of already established immunization programs is important for countries where health workers, clinics and roads are in such shortage that delivering a drug can be almost as challenging as developing one, researchers say.

Again, the trial was randomized and double-blinded -- considered the scientific gold standard -- with half the infants receiving the malaria vaccine and the other half receiving a hepatitis B vaccine as a control. Although it was not the main object of the study, the researchers found that infants who received the malaria vaccine had 65% fewer infections, as measured by the presence of parasite in the bloodstream, over a six-month period than those who did not, confirming the findings from an earlier, smaller study.

...

In the last few years, widespread distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and a new combination of medicines have reduced malaria deaths in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Zambia by 50% and more. But because of the threat that Plasmodium falciparum could develop resistance to medications or insecticides, health workers consider a vaccine to be a vital tool. Developing such a vaccine has proven a challenge because the parasite is adept at evading the immune system.
This is spectacular news. Disease is a primary cause of underdevelopment, as it kills children, destroys communities, and undermines the economic bases of life. Ending diseases such as malaria is a vital step towards improving the lots of billions of people around the world. Pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKlein have long come under fire for ignoring the health concerns of the developing world, instead preferring to produce medicines aimed at the richer developed world. So let's now give credit where credit is due: Congratulations to GlaxoSmithKlein for working towards ending one of the developing world's worst killers.

Obama, Human Rights, and America's Image

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has given hope to all those who believe the administration of George W. Bush has sullied the good name of America. Obama is going to close Guantanamo Bay, end the use of torture, sign the unsigned international treaties, rebuild America's partnerships and alliances, stop climate change, and end the war in Iraq. Just today, Obama promised to "reboot" America's image abroad. No one expresses this belief more clearly than does former President Jimmy Carter in an op-ed in today's Washington Post:

while Americans continue to espouse freedom and democracy, our government's abusive practices have undermined struggles for freedom in many parts of the world. As the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed, the United States lost its mantle as a champion of human rights, eliminating our national ability to speak credibly on the subject, let alone restrain or gain concessions from oppressors. Tragically, a global backlash against democracy and rights activists, who are now the targets of abuse, has followed.

...

With a new administration and a new vision coming to the White House, we have the opportunity to move boldly to restore the moral authority behind the worldwide human rights movement. But the first steps must be taken at home.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and end torture, which can be accomplished by executive orders to close the prison and by enforcing existing prohibitions against torture by any U.S. representative, including FBI and CIA agents. The detention of people secretly or indefinitely and without due process must cease, and their cases should be transferred to our courts, which have proved their competence in trying those accused of terrorism. Further, a nonpartisan expert commission should be named to conduct a thorough review of U.S. practices related to unwarranted arrest, torture, secret detention, extraordinary rendition, abandonment of habeas corpus and related matters. Acknowledging to the world that the United States also has made mistakes will give credence to our becoming "a more perfect union" -- a message that would resonate worldwide. Together, these actions will help us restore our nation's principles and embolden others abroad who want higher moral standards for their own societies.

By putting its house in order, the United States would reclaim its moral authority and wield not only the political capital but also the credibility needed to engage in frank but respectful bilateral dialogues on the protection of human rights as central to world peace and prosperity.
To a degree, I agree with Carter. Bush most definitely has done damage to the moral reputation of the United States. However, I'm not so sure Obama will be able to do as much to fix that reputation as Carter and his ilk hope.

First, as Carter is well aware, the job of president is vastly different than the job of critic of the president. Being president means assuming responsibility for the security of the nation and the well-being of its citizens; sometimes those responsibilities demand actions that run counter to personal moral sentiments. Carter knows this first hand: He entered the White House on a "human rights first" platform, pledging to end US support of dictators simply because they weren't communist and promising to tie US foreign aid to human rights standards. He quickly learned that such a moral approach to foreign policy risked compromising strategic interests and strengthening the Soviet Union. Very quickly, Carter reversed this policy. Nonetheless, many analysts believe that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was, to some degree, prompted by Soviet perceptions of American weakness.

Second, rebuilding America's moral reputation may, paradoxically, require sullying it. Carter and many other human rights activists lodge their hopes for global moral improvement with the United Nations. To some degree, this makes sense. The UN is the closest thing the world has to a world parliament in which all the countries of the world can express their collective opinion. The UN has produced some of the broadest statements on human rights, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.

But that's where things get murky. While the UN may be able to produce broad statements about human rights, it is unable to do much to advance that noble cause. As Joseph Locante points out:

More than half of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, the principal U.N. body charged with promoting human rights, fail to uphold basic democratic freedoms in their own countries. Using the canards of anti-colonialism and anti-Americanism, they block resolutions that might embarrass them on the world stage. Thus, some of the most egregious offenders of human rights--including China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe--typically evade censure. Last week, for example, the Human Rights Council approved a resolution praising the Kinshasa government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose military stands accused of mass rape and murder.

Meanwhile, U.N. preparations for a world conference against racism, a follow-up to a controversial 2001 event in Durban, carry the familiar stigmata of moral cynicism. The U.N. planning committee includes nations such as Libya, Iran, Pakistan, and Cuba. What exactly can Iran--which defends policies that criminalize and brutalize its gay community--teach the world about combating racism? Safely inoculated against self-examination, the U.N. committee has produced a draft declaration suggesting that the United States, Western Europe and other liberal democracies are discriminatory against Islam and fundamentally racist.

The problem is, as I have written about many times here, the UN fundamentally privileges sovereign equality over liberal values. Thus, the UN finds itself forced to place North Korea and Zimbabwe on the UN Commission for Sustainable Development but unable to condemn either country for their brutality towards their citizens.

Law represents an aggregation of individual interest backed by an enforcement power. Without either of these factors, law cannot exist. If it has no ability to be enforced, it is empty; if it does not represent collective interest, it is meaningless. International law often fails on both grounds. But most importantly, because its highest principle is sovereignty, it can't truly represent collective interest. Why should anything the UN be considered legitimate simply because it represents the expressed will of illiberal regimes?

Truly advancing the cause of human rights, then, will require that the US look outside and beyond the framework of the United Nations. Just as NATO chose to intervene in Kosovo without the legal authorization of the UN because it was the right thing to do, advancing the cause of human rights demands action in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and North Korea, just to name the worst. And when the procedural rules of the UN, committed to the preservation of sovereignty as they are, get in the way, those rules must be ignored in order adhere to the true law of liberalism. Such actions will be illegal, and unpopular with many states. But to deny, as Carter and his ilk often do, that such actions are what is required to really promote human rights is disingenous.

The US need not take such actions alone. Here, Carter is correct to point to the need for allies and reputation. What makes Kosovo a legitimate violation of international law was the broad spectrum of states, and the institutional process, that authorized the intervention when the UN would not. President Obama will have to reach out to the US's ideological kin. But he will also have to violate international law. Let us be clear that such violations are necessary, and may in fact harm the US's reputation. But such harms are the price of liberalism. International law must be recognized for what it is and what it is not. It is not the tool to uplift the downtrodden; it is not the tool to bring freedom to the world's oppressed. If and when President Obama takes action to advance human rights and freedom around the world, let us not blame him when those actions break the "law."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The 2008 Manama Dialogue

Once again Security Dilemmas has been invited to cover the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Regional Security Summit, the 2008 Manama Dialogue. As in past years, I will report and analyze speeches given by the delegates; new this year, I will be able to embed videos of the talks in the posts as well. The Dialogue opens December 12 so look for the first coverage around then.

Here's the draft agenda for this year's summit:


THE MANAMA DIALOGUE 2008
DRAFT SKELETAL AGENDA
Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa
Manama
The Kingdom of Bahrain

FRIDAY 12 DECEMBER
All day Delegates arrive in Manama; registration

SATURDAY 13 DECEMBER
08:50 – 09:00 OPENING OF THE SUMMIT
Introduction and Welcome

09:00 – 09:40 FIRST PLENARY SESSION
The US and the Regional Balance of Power

09:45 – 11:15 SECOND PLENARY SESSION
The Economics of Regional Security

11:45 – 13:15 THIRD PLENARY SESSION
Security in a Global Context

15:15 – 16:45 SIMULTANEOUS BREAK-OUT GROUPS
Group I: Demographics, Labour and Security
Group II: Transnational Problems of Afghanistan in the Context of Regional Security
Group III: Sectarian Politics
Group IV: Piracy and Regional Maritime Security

17:15 – 18:45 AL ARABIYA DEBATE
The Future of Regional Security: Reflections from the Manama Dialogue

SUNDAY 14 DECEMBER
09:00 – 10:30 FOURTH PLENARY SESSION
The Role of the International Community in Regional Security

11:00 – 12:30 FIFTH PLENARY SESSION
Changing Regional Security Architecture

12:50 – 13:30 CLOSING PLENARY SESSION
Concluding Thoughts on Regional Security

Friday, December 05, 2008

Update on Zimbabwe

The chorus is getting louder in its calls for the ouster of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that "it's time for Mugabe to leave," while South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said if Mugabe does not step down from power voluntarily he should be removed by force and prosecuted for war crimes.

However, South Africa still seems to be dragging its feet. A government spokesman noted that it was "encouraging" that Zimbabwe has asked for international assistance in dealing with the cholera outbreak.

So long as Mugabe has support from other African states, he is likely to cling to power as long as possible. The UN, the EU, and the US must put immediate and painful sanctions on South Africa to force it to back away from Mugabe. So long as he remains in power, the people of Zimbabwe will continue to suffer under his megalomania.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Irregular Warfare and the US Military

The Washington Post is reporting that the Pentagon this week:

approved a major policy directive that elevates the military's mission of "irregular warfare" -- the increasingly prevalent campaigns to battle insurgents and terrorists, often with foreign partners and sometimes clandestinely -- to an equal footing with traditional combat.

The directive, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on Monday, requires the Pentagon to step up its capabilities across the board to fight unconventionally, such as by working with foreign security forces, surrogates and indigenous resistance movements to shore up fragile states, extend the reach of U.S. forces into denied areas or battle hostile regimes.

...

[Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates warned that, for the near future, the United States will face the greatest threats not from aggressor countries but from insurgents and extremist groups operating in weak or failing states. "We do not have the luxury of opting out because they do not conform to preferred notions of the American way of war," he said.

...

{Assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities Michael] Vickers [full disclosure: I worked with Vickers during my time at SAIC in the mid 1990s] said he envisions that the Pentagon's primary vehicle for carrying out irregular warfare operations will be a global network -- already underway -- made up of the U.S. and foreign militaries and other government personnel in scores of countries with which the United States is not at war. The network is designed to wage "steady state" counterterrorism operations. The directive also requires the Pentagon to develop capabilities to conduct larger-scale irregular campaigns, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

...

Specifically, as irregular warfare is more manpower-intensive, it is likely to shift more resources toward training the Army and Marine Corps, which are undergoing significant growth, in skills such as language learning and advising foreign militaries, he said.

The policy also supports continued growth in Special Operations forces -- elite troops such as Army Green Berets skilled in partnering with foreign forces and civil affairs soldiers who conduct nation-building.

First, let me be clear. I am whole-heartedly behind such a shift. It is vital that the US develop a capability for dealing with such low-intensity, asymmetric conflicts. As both Iraq and Afghanistan have made clear, the ability to work with a population and build civil society can be just as vital to political success as can military victories on the battlefield.

But, such a shift must be done wisely, and must not come at the expense of the current US dominance in conventional warfighting capabilities. First, while it may be true that, as Gates says in the article "the United States will face the greatest threats not from aggressor countries but from insurgents and extremist groups operating in weak or failing states," it is certainly that to some degree that reality is a product of US military hegemony. That is, if the US's ability in conventional warfighting declines and it becomes more possible for enemies to challenge the US on the battlefield, they will. The US must continue to possess an overwhelming advantage in conventional warfighting. The threat of great power war is still the greatest danger to national and international security, and one of the greatest accomplishments of the post-Cold War era is that such war is increasingly becoming unthinkable. But a decline in US military power could force regional powers in Europe or Asia to provide for their own defenses, stoking arms races, and reinvigorating traditional military threats. This must not be allowed to happen.

That said, I have already recommended in these pages (here and here) that the US should separate its traditional warfighting role from its asymmetric/nation-building role. At a minimum, forces should be tasked to one mission or the other; at best, a whole new service branch should be created, or even a complete reorganization of the existing branches. The missions of warfighting and nation-building/counter-insurgency are extremely different, and soldiers trained to do one task may not be qualified for the other. The Defense Department should consider establishing separate forces or branches to deal with these new missions. Of course, doing so would incur costs. As I wrote about here, the money could come from being smarter about the kinds of weapons platforms the military purchases. Maintaining a dominant military force does not necessitate doing so at any and all costs.

It's good to see the Pentagon thinking creatively about future force planning and missions. Let's hope that any changes are done wisely.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Zimbabwe On The Brink

(Let me apologize again for the dearth of posts lately. But the manuscript is out the door to the publisher, and the grading is done [for the time being...], so I hope to be back to regular blogging)

Things are getting bad in Zimbabwe. Really bad. As if the collapse of the economy or the rigging of the elections by Mugabe wasn't bad enough, now the one-time breadbasket of Africa is being stricken with an outbreak of cholera. 565 people have died so far, and the government is reporting 12,500 infected; clean water is unavailable in the capital city of Harare and the government does not have the chemicals necessary for purification. The deteriorating health conditions, along with the general mess that is the economy -- the inflation rate currently stands at 231 MILLION %!!! -- led more than 100 health care workers to march on the capital, demanding better pay and working conditions. The march was broken up by police wielding batons; several protesters were beaten, at least 15 were arrested. Perhaps even more troubling are reports that Zimbabwean troops are beginning to join the protests:

To add to the chaos, soldiers, angered at the meagerness of their deflated pay, on Monday rampaged through central Harare, breaking windows, looting stores and robbing the money changers who deal in foreign currency. Armed police had to disperse the marauding troops with tear gas.
So far, despite how bad conditions have been inside of Zimbabwe, the government has been able to maintain order. But it looks as if even that may be at an end. A government relies on a mix of force and legitimacy to maintain order. For a democracy, legitimacy is more an important; for an authoritarian regime, it's force that matters more. But all governments need both. When legitimacy collapses, it becomes necessary to use increasing levels of force to hold on to power and maintain order. But as levels of force rise, it becomes even harder to maintain legitimacy, even with the police and soldiers being used to exert force. At some point, the soldiers become unwilling to use force against their fellow citizens and families. For different regimes, this point comes at different times. China was willing to use large levels of force to hold on to power during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, while the governments of Eastern Europe collapsed without so much as a whimper of protest.

If the civil order essentially breaks down as cholera spreads and people are unable to get money for food or basic health care, the army, the police, and the government will have to decide how much force they are willing to use to hold on to a crumbling state. I certainly don't know how far Mugabe will go to hold on to power. Or to put it more precisely, how much will police and army will be willing to do. But, reports such as these indicate that the end of Mugabe's reign may be near. And while the collapse may be ugly, it can't come too soon.

It's not clear what will happen if the regime does, in fact, collapse in the near future. Even if opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is able to take power, what can be done at the point? It's time for the international community -- most likely the UN working in conjunction with the Southern African Development Community or the African Union -- to place Zimbabwe into some kind of receivership. It will be messy, lots of people will likely die in the regime's death throes, and between the collapsed economy, the political turmoil, and the disease, there's not much on which to build. But there's not much choice. Zimbabwe's collapse will mean disaster for southern Africa. Immigrants, disease, ethnic violence...all are likely if swift action isn't taken. The UN should be readying a peacekeeping force now for immediate deployment to Zimbabwe to take control of the situation if and when the government collapses.