For all the cyber buffs out there, make sure to check out and bookmark The Cyber Loop. Among other things, the new blog keeps its finger on the pulse of recent developments and potential future trends in the arena of cyber security and cyber strategy. The site’s self-proclaimed goal is to “further the development of strategic thought in the cyberspace domain.” A worthwhile endeavor if you ask us. Here is a brief overview of its mission and purpose.
In the coming month, the Center for Defense Studies will release a new collection of essays, edited by Tom Donnelly and Frederick Kagan, titled Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields. The volume features contributions from a series of national security luminaries: Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, Peter Feaver, Mac Owens, Major General Charles Dunlap, and Colonel (Ret.)Bob Killebrew. More details are available here.
UPDATE: The table of contents from Lessons for a Long War is available for download here.
At NATO’s recent Strategic Concept Seminar in Washington, the fourth and final one before the Group of Experts chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright begins to draft its recommendations for the new Strategic Concept, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates outlined his ideas for NATO’s future structures, forces, and capabilities. In his opening remarks, Gates pointed out that most of the defense planning assumptions enshrined in NATO’s 1999 Strategic Concept are still valid today. The same holds true for NATO’s core functions. First, the alliance remains a military alliance focused on protecting the territorial sovereignty, political integrity, and security of its members. Second, the alliance remains committed to deterring potential enemies and, should this become necessary, fighting them collectively. Lastly, NATO continues to operate on the premise that member nations will fulfill their Article 5 collective defense commitments and obligations. While these fundamental tenets are presumed to hold true today, the new task for NATO is to recommit itself to the common defense of its members and sharpen the core missions and purposes of the alliance.
From a strategic perspective, according to the secretary, the most important institutional development has been NATO’s transition from a “static, defensive force” premised on Cold War defense planning assumptions to an expeditionary fighting force that can project military power and provide security in complex out-of-area operations. This, of course, was first evidenced by the Balkan wars in the late 1990s and now confirmed by NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan. It is now a truism that alliance security and interests are no longer solely a function of territorial sovereignty. Turmoil and upheaval in remote areas of the world can have serious effects on alliance members in Europe and North America. More concretely, Gates argued that the new concept must aim to strengthen the credibility of Article 5 and enhance NATO’s strategic deterrence through improved contingency planning, military exercises, and force postures.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s maiden operation in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province — Operation “Moshtarak” (which as we all now know, means “together” in Dari) in and around the town of Marjah — seems to have a lot riding on it. The media is insisting it’s no less that a “test of President Obama’s war plan” and a potential “turning point in the war.”
So, a couple of weeks into the operation, what do we know?
First, we know that Taliban resistance is relatively light. There are lots of sniper attacks and IEDs, but there have not been many attempts to hold the ground, despite the eminent defensibility of the town and the irrigated fields surrounding it. Marjah has proved no Bala Hissar. While it’s probably too late to really contest the outcome in Marjah or inflict enough casualties to make big headlines, it may well be that other Taliban groups and commanders will strike elsewhere. Given that McChrystal has prepared an Afghan “government in a box,” that administrator Abdul Zahir has just very publicly popped out of that box to distribute rice and other goods along with Helmand provincial governor Ghulab Mangal, and that there is an effort already underway to resettle those who fled in the wake of the advance, the Taliban face at least a significant information defeat. Their strategy thus far has been to play down the importance of the Marjah operation rather than directly contest it.
Yesterday, my colleague Tim Sullivan drew attention to the simmering Sino-Indian military competition, which has been heating up over the past few years. As Tim pointed out, Delhi has recently taken important steps to redress some of the imbalances that have been developing. This competition is not, unfortunately, limited to the military domain.
China has expended much effort over the past decade courting India’s neighbors in South Asia and has effectively, although slowly, chipped away at India’s overriding influence in the countries on its immediate periphery, such as Nepal. China has long provided Nepal with development aid and, according to the New York Times, the country’s trade with China has quadrupled since 2003. In recent months, China has pledged to reduce tariffs on Nepalese goods and Nepal has promised to tighten their shared border.
So what’s the harm to India? By tightening up its border with China, Nepal will stem the flow of Tibetans moving between India and China. Though this will worry Indians because of human rights concerns and their sympathy for the Tibetan people, there is a strategic issue here as well. Much as China has an interest in ensuring that Pakistan remains a thorn in India’s side, Delhi has seen value in a restive Tibet since its traditional role as a buffer state was erased by China’s invasion and annexation. With the flow of communications and pro-Tibet agitators staunched, China may find it easier to maintain stability in the “autonomous region,” which will allow it turn its gaze outward. India, on the other hand, will find it increasingly difficult to play the “Tibet card.”
With concerns mounting that the recent collapse of the coalition government in the Netherlands could lead to a “domino effect” among other NATO states facing domestic opposition to the extension of their Afghanistan mandates, Denmark remains an outlier — a small state with a small military that has been punching well above its weight in Afghanistan and shows few signs of letting up. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, Denmark’s government has managed to sustain consistent public support for the conflict, despite one of the highest casualty rates in proportion to the size of the country’s military contribution to the mission. Free from any debilitating national “caveats,” Denmark’s 750 soldiers have been playing an important role in partnering with British forces in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province.
What’s more, with long-serving defense minister Søren Gade leading the way, Denmark has taken its participation in the Afghan conflict as an opportunity to reshape and modernize its armed forces — acquiring of a variety of additional armored fighting vehicles, setting goals for increased procurement spending and recruiting, and otherwise expanding its forces’ capacity to participate in expeditionary operations. The mission has also led to a serious discussion within the Danish defense community about adjustments to military doctrine and the development of balanced whole-of-government strategies necessary to effectively prosecute protracted, complex conflicts like that in Afghanistan.
In short, Denmark has embraced its role in Afghanistan in a way that many of the other NATO members have not, while at the same time signaling its preparedness for similar missions in the future.
Given the malaise that’s befallen NATO of late — outlined most recently in remarks on Tuesday by Secretary Gates, who noted that “the demilitarization of Europe…has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st” — the United States can’t afford to take allies like Denmark for granted.
At a public event on Thursday at the United States Institute of Peace, AEI research fellow and CDS program manager Tim Sullivan will provide an update on the U.S. military’s activities in Haiti and discuss potential roles for the United States in enabling Haiti’s long-term stability. Register for the event here.
Video from a previous CDS event on Haiti, featuring remarks by Amb. Raymond Joseph, is available here.
Last Friday, the Indian Navy inducted a new platform into its fighter fleet: the Russian-made MiG-29K. The advanced aircraft, of which India is eventually expected to have 45, are intended for deployment on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, soon to be acquired from Russia). This “quantum leap” in the Indian Navy’s capabilities, as it was described by Defense Minister A.K. Antony, can be interpreted in part as a further manifestation of India’s emerging hedging strategy toward its northeastern neighbor.
In the past few months, India has taken a series of steps to enhance its power projection capabilities and otherwise adjust its regional posture so as to check Chinese military ambitions — expanding air force bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, developing high-altitude airstrips near disputed border regions, holding yet another successful test of the Agni III long-range nuclear-capable missile, and announcing planned tests of the Agni V (a missile capable of hitting even the most distant targets in China) later this year. Most notably, Chief of the Indian Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor outlined in December the contours of a new “two-front war” doctrine, whereby India’s armed forces would be trained, equipped, and positioned for simultaneous conflicts with Pakistan and China.
All along the way, Indian military officials have been fairly candid about the purpose of these steps: to deter Chinese aggression and hedge against the country’s growing military prowess. As India’s 2008-2009 defense White Paper makes clear, “India will engage China to seek greater transparency in its defense policy and posture, while taking all necessary measures to protect the national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.” As of late, with border disputes flaring and China’s “string of pearls” strategy proceeding apace, it’s no wonder that the implementation of “all necessary measures” appears to be taking precedence over engagement.
Air power is not simply a way of war; for some it can be a way of life. Today, a certain tribe of zoomies gets annoyed when geopolitical realities interfere with the doctrinal application of air power.
A good example of this upside-down view is on display in a recent The New York Times op-ed by Lara M. Dadkhah, on the role and use of American air power over Afghanistan. Peeved at all the hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency mumbo-jumbo of that war, she argues that “the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost.” Apparently, she would prefer to kill her way to victory.
For the most part, it seems, this is not just a tactical preference: squeamishness in the application of air power undermines the “strategic advantage” provided to U.S. and allied forces. The argument is that the goal in war, once declared, “should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.” True enough, but one has to keep a proper understanding of victory in mind — and true victory in war is always defined by the politics, not by operational “metrics” or whether you had defeated the enemy forces on the field of battle. Air power is a means — and a very good one, to be sure — but not an end in itself.