2009 October


The EU isn’t up to the job (yet)

by Philipp Tomio

Yesterday, the Financial Times, citing the conclusions of a new study by the European Council of Foreign Relations, reported that “the European Union suffers from a ‘devastating lack of capacity’ when it comes to launching nation-building missions around the world, and is ‘significantly underperforming’ in its deployment of civilian experts to trouble spots.” At a time when certain key states threaten to become failing states, this lack of capacity, the study’s authors argue, “risks becoming a key security challenge.” To underscore ECFR’s dramatic message, the opening paragraphs in the executive summary section of the report are worth quoting in full:

“The European Union prides itself on its so-called “civilian power.” The EU is meant to be able to deploy almost 10,000 police officers to faraway theatres, to exploit the expertise of more than 40,000 diplomats, to dip into the world’s largest development budget – and to ensure that its deployed civilians are able to work hand-in-glove with military deployments. This is an essential element of power in a world where stability in Afghanistan, Yemen, or Somalia is seen as key to security on the streets of Hamburg, Marseille and Manchester.

But this supposed civilian power is largely illusory. The EU struggles to find civilians to staff its ESDP missions, and the results of its interventions are often paltry. For example, international crime networks still see the Balkans as “as [sic] a land of opportunities,” despite the fact that EU police trainers have been operating in the region for the best part of a decade. Ten years after the creation of ESDP, most EU missions remain small, lacking in ambition and strategically irrelevant.”

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Not So Reassuring: Export Control Edition

by Michael Mazza

Color me befuddled. Bill Gertz, of The Washington Times, reports today:

“President Obama recently shifted authority for approving sales to China of missile and space technology from the White House to the Commerce Department – a move critics say will loosen export controls and potentially benefit Chinese missile development.”

Oddly, this presidential determination is posted nowhere on the White House or Department of Commerce websites, as far as I can tell. There is no press release announcing the new policy or explaining the reasoning behind it. So much for transparency.

The shift to the Commerce Department of authority over space and missile technology sales to China has not been accompanied by a shift in the export control policy itself, and department officials insist regulations will be aggressively adhered to.

But that isn’t exactly reassuring. Gertz quotes Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, who explains the concerns:

“It is shocking that it would be delegated to the secretary of commerce, whose job it is to promote trade, rather than to the secretary of state or the secretary of defense, who have far more knowledge and responsibility within their organizations for missile technology…

In fact, the delegation [of power] turns the present law upside down because Congress passed it [the 1999 Defense Authorization Act] after finding that the Commerce Department had improperly helped China import U.S. missile technology in the 1990s.”

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Removing China’s Obstacles

by Daniel Blumenthal

John Pomfret’s return to covering U.S.-China relations for the Washington Post is a boon to Asia watchers. He is fast becoming the dean of reporters covering China, and has yet another insightful story in today’s Post.

This story is about another agenda item on President Obama’s to-do list for his upcoming trip to China: strengthening military-to-military ties. As Obama heads to Asia, under the framework of “strategic reassurance” — the new term of art for what increasingly appears to be a policy of pure accommodation — the President will ask for Chinese help on Iran, North Korea, climate change, and now “strengthening” military-to-military ties.

How will he achieve these worthwhile objectives? It will be difficult. The Chinese are making their separate peace with North Korea as evidenced by Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit there and Beijing’s burgeoning economic relationship with Pyongyang. On Iran, Obama tried a unilateral concession to Russia, backing away from U.S. commitments to build missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland. Moscow gave not an inch in return. The Chinese are even less likely to back any coercive approach to Iran given their deepening energy interests there. Climate change policies that will affect short-term Chinese growth are a non-starter for Beijing.

And what about military-to-military ties? The Chinese have defined “obstacles” to improving ties between their fast growing military and our slowly shrinking presence in the Pacific. This kind of diplomacy with China is exactly what George Shultz, the Secretary of State who presided over a particularly fruitful period of U.S.-Asian relations, warned against. In lamenting the China policies of his predecessors who acquiesced in China’s approach –putting forth obstacles for the Americans to remove before relations could blossom–Shultz said: “it would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on a relationship for its own sake. A good relationship must emerge from the ability to solve substantive problems of interest to both countries.”

According to Pomfret, the Chinese are defining obstacles to a better military relationship: “the Chinese … wanted U.S. reconnaissance vessels out of their 200-mile exclusive economic zone, bristled at the fingerprinting of senior Chinese military officers when they entered the United States and objected to being a target of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

And of course, the Chinese do not want the U.S. to sells arms to Taiwan despite our legal obligation to do so.

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With allies like these…

by Gary Schmitt

The Times (of London) is reporting today that Italy’s “hearts and minds” campaign in Afghanistan has really been a “cash and carry” effort, with Italian intelligence making large, regular payments to warlords and Taliban insurgents to keep them quiet in the areas under their command.  By and large, it’s worked, with the areas under their control being used by the Taliban as space for “R and R” and for smuggling drugs into and weapons out of Iran.  It was a good deal for everyone, except of course it ran directly against the UN mandate under which NATO-ISAF forces were operating–and, as the Times reports, likely cost the French ten of their best soldiers in a bloody ambush in August of last year.

As the Times recounts:

Operating in an arc of territory north and east of the Afghan capital, the French apparently believed that they were serving in a relatively benign district. The Italians they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year. For months the NATO headquarters in Kabul had praised Italian reconstruction projects under way around Sarobi. When an estimated 170 insurgents ambushed the force in the Uzbin Valley the upshot was a disaster. “They took us by surprise,” one French troop commander said after the attack.

A NATO post-operations assessment would sharply criticise the French force for its lack of preparation. “They went in with two platoons [approximately 60 men],” said one senior NATO officer. “They had no heavy weapons, no pre-arranged air support, no artillery support and not enough radios.”

But as the newspaper also reports, “the French troops had believed they were moving through a benign area–one which the Italian military had been keen to show off to the media as a successful example of a ‘hearts and minds’ operation.” What they didn’t know, of course, is that the area they were moving into was “benign” only because the Italians had been cutting deals with the enemy, leaving them blind to the actual tactical situation they were facing.

Last month, six Italian soldiers were lost in a car bombing in Kabul.  Responding to public demands that Italy leave Afghanistan, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared that his nation would begin planning to “bring our young men home as soon as possible.”  If the Times story is accurate–and, I repeat, if it’s accurate–then, as we say, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Gary Schmitt is director of Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

So how’s that Russian reset going? In Moscow yesterday, Secretary Clinton felt “very good” about it. It’s hard to believe she was sincere, considering that both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister Putin have spoken out against attempts to “intimidate” Iran with more sanctions in the last two days. Add that to the planned revision of Russian military doctrine to allow for a nuclear first strike against conventional weapons threats (a jab at U.S. plans to refit ICBMs with conventional weapons) and the reset doesn’t look so good.

Negotiating a new arms control treaty and securing Russia’s support in stopping Iran’s nuclear program were two of the Obama administration’s top stated goals in U.S.-Russian relations and it’s not looking very good for either. While President Medvedev’s statement (“in some cases, sanctions are inevitable”) after meeting with President Obama last month sounded promising, every indication since then has been that the Kremlin will continue to obstruct U.S. efforts to crack down on Iran. And for good reason-Russia makes a nice chunk of change through trade, especially weapons, with Iran, while being the “spoiler” increases Moscow’s international power and prestige.

As for the arms control treaty, one of the major hang-ups is Russia’s insistence on a limiting U.S. ability to refit bombers and missiles with conventional payloads, something that would increase U.S. military superiority over Russia. Knowing that it is no match for the U.S. in conventional weapons, Russia has long relied on its nuclear arsenal to make up the difference. This new “first strike” or preventative nuclear policy is an attempt to convince the Obama administration to cave and address conventional weapons in the treaty. It is also a threat-if Moscow deems that its interests are threatened by the U.S. or its proxies (the “regional and even local level” threats are a reference to Georgia, the Baltic States and Poland), the first strike doctrine would take effect. In other words, accept Russia’s sphere of influence and butt out, or be nuked. That’s a far cry from need for regional stability that President Obama and Medvedev agreed upon a few months ago. It’s also a far cry from President Obama’s dreams of a nuclear free world or a successful U.S.-Russian relations reset.

Kara Flook is a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.


The Tories Talk Afghanistan and Defense

by Gary Schmitt

Last week, Britain’s conservatives held their annual party confab in Manchester.  When it comes to major security issues, there were two dominant newspaper headlines from remarks made by the party’s leadership.  Those were: the UK needs a strategy for leaving Afghanistan and, when elected, the first thing Tories plan to do is make substantial cuts at the Ministry of Defence.  But to be fair to them, the actual speeches to the party faithful are not so easily pigeonholed.

David Cameron, the party head and presumptive nominee of the Tories to be the next prime minister, began his speech by stating that “if we win the election the first and gravest responsibility” would be “for our troops in Afghanistan and their families at home.”  And the “relentless focus” of his national security team, “a war cabinet,” would be to “fighting, winning and coming home.”  All to the good, except that Cameron went on to define “winning” in the narrowest, Biden-like, manner: “we are there to stop the re-establishment of terrorist training camps,” and not “to deliver the perfect society.”  And the means?  “Send more soldiers to train more Afghans to deliver the security we need.  Then we can bring our troops home.”  The message was at best mixed but leaning toward ending the mission as soon as possible and on the lowest terms possible.

The speech by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, at the Tory gathering seemed to do little to change that perception.  As the London Telegraph put it: “Tory government to set out ‘clear strategy’ for Afghanistan withdrawal, says William Hague.”  Now, to be fair to Hague in turn, his remarks on Afghanistan were somewhat more substantial than Cameron’s.  According to the future foreign secretary, the proper strategy for Afghanistan must be tied to “good governance and the protection and winning over of the people themselves,” and given the “time and support to succeed.”  It also requires better coordination among British agencies, providing the right equipment to the forces in the field and a clear explanation of the mission to the public by the government.  The end game is for “Afghans to be able to provide for their own security and livelihood without presenting a danger to the rest of the world.”

Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, was perhaps the most forward leaning of the three.  While noting in somewhat typical Tory fashion that the core mission in Afghanistan was getting the country to be “stable enough” and not turning the Afghanistan into a model of democratic governance and human rights, Fox was also clear that Britain had a vital interest in not seeing Afghanistan become a “failed state” once again, and “from which international terrorists plan and launch attacks against us.”  To “leave Afghanistan prematurely” “would be a shot in the arm for every jihadist globally” and would be “deeply damaging, if not catastrophic, for NATO’s cohesion and credibility.”  Like Cameron, Fox also emphasized the need to train up the Afghan forces more quickly to enable the UK to bring its troops home.  However, unlike Cameron, Fox did note the need, as rule number one for a successful counterinsurgency, for the forces there to do a better job of protecting the Afghan population.

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New Missions for the Japanese Navy?

by Michael Auslin

Japan’s Defense Minister stated yesterday that the Maritime Self-Defense Forces eight-year old refueling mission in the Indian Ocean will end when the current legislation expires in January 2010.  Japanese naval ships have been providing fuel to allied ships, British and Pakistani included, engaged in counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and the maritime region.  The mission has courted some controversy (namely, whether it was legal according to Japan’s constitution), but also was seen by officials in Tokyo as a long-term test of its abilities to conduct missions out of its own region and in concert with America and other nations.  In the absence of the refueling mission, news reports have suggested that Japan might offer to participate more in Afghan reconstruction missions.  Background rumors in Tokyo also hint at the possibility that the JMSDF might dispatch more equipment to its anti-piracy mission off Somalia, currently consisting of two destroyers and several P-3 surveillance aircraft, in lieu of the Afghan operation.  For Tokyo, that would maintain its current maritime role in international waters, allow it to maintain cooperation with allied nations, and gain valuable experience in long-range operations.  Washington policymakers have long known that support for continuing the Indian Ocean mission was eroding, and once the Democratic Party of Japan took power in September, any realistic chance of extending the operations all but vanished.  Given that, there shouldn’t be too much impact on U.S.-Japan relations, especially in light of the far more difficult issues related to base relocation in Okinawa that the two sides must work out.

Michael Auslin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


Changing an Army

by Tom Donnelly

Last week marked the beginning of the ninth year of the American campaign in Afghanistan, and in a few months the Iraq campaign will enter its seventh year.  Without even reckoning the ongoing level of U.S. effort in the Horn of Africa or elsewhere, or imagining anything else that might happen (though the Taliban raid on Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi raises, yet again, questions about who’s winning that fight), you’ve got to admit it’s a Long War.

And it’s a land force war.  A visitor from Mars might reasonably ask why it is that American land forces haven’t changed more than they have in the past eight years.  To be sure, there is a lively debate about the proper consideration that irregular conflicts should play in shaping U.S. land forces, and there’s been a whole lot of tactical innovation.  But that’s about it.  The ways in which the Army, Marine Corps and Defense Department have not changed are a testament to how reluctant we are as a nation to accord the Long War due regard.

The most obvious measure of our lack of seriousness is the fact that our land forces are essentially the same size as they were on 9/11.  The active Army has grown from about 500,000 to 550,000, but of course this is not nearly commensurate with the demand. As Ann Scott Tyson reports in today’s Washington Post, the true level of effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including support troops needed to allow combat units to fully function, is higher than reflected in the headlines.  Thus we continue to mobilize reservists (primarily Army National Guard and Army Reserve) at unprecedented levels–more than 100,000, pretty much every day since 9/11.  And there is little prospect of increasing “dwell time” between deployments, particularly if the required troop increase for Afghanistan is authorized by President Obama.

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The Price of China’s Cooperation on North Korea

by Leslie Forgach

During a visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Pyongyang last week in celebration of the 60th anniversary of PRC-DPRK relations, North Korea stated that it is willing to rejoin multilateral negotiations over its nuclear program, contingent of course on Washington’s acceptance of bilateral talks. China, enjoying its position as lead negotiator, is now urging the U.S. to return to talks. But we should not be fooled by North Korea’s change of heart, or overly optimistic about China’s apparent cooperation–Wen walked away with much more than the promise of North Korean compliance.

As North Korea’s largest trading partner and sometime ideological bedfellow, Beijing has the greatest sway over Pyongyang. While China has a strategic stake in the stability of the Korean Peninsula, it also has a significant financial interest as well.  Chinese foreign direct investment in North Korea has increased dramatically since 2006, with Chinese companies paying particular attention to the region that borders its northeastern provinces, suggesting that China is carving out a sphere of influence. Overall trade between the two countries has nearly doubled since 2002, despite economic sanctions that followed Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations. So when Wen arrived in Pyongyang, he brought with him a complete delegation, not only to regain Pyongyang’s cooperation on nuclear disarmament, but also to further Chinese economic interests in the country. He sealed a number of deals ranging from technological exchange to inspection protocol of imports and exports.  Pyongyang’s apparent willingness to return to multilateral negotiations is only an added bonus. In short, the Chinese are playing a double game: the inducements China offered North Korea will likely mitigate the effects of sanctions currently implemented under UN Resolution 1874.

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