2010 July

Col. Paul Yingling is one of the most thoughtful soldiers of his generation.  In particular, his articles in Armed Forces Journal on the failures of military leadership and the compact between the United States and the men and women who fight the Long War have provoked much needed debate.  The second of these pieces, “The Founders’ Wisdom,” a call for a return to a conscript military as the most effective and equitable way to raise forces for this struggle, has merited particularly close attention, rebuttal, and now, thanks to the folks over at Small Wars Journal, an invitation to further discussion. An offer I can’t resist.

Yingling makes three arguments for abandoning the current All-Volunteer Force.  The first argument is based on the experience of the two world wars of the 20th century and based upon Yingling’s reading of the American tradition.  Both these points are suspect.  Take the analogy between the world wars and the Long War.  The world wars were, relatively speaking, large and short, overwhelmingly conventional and decided by firepower.  The Long War is, well, long, and though it has taxed the current force nearly to its breaking point, it is still rightly regarded as a series of small wars or campaigns.  And the “American tradition” must account for the Civil War as well as the world wars.  While the Civil War marked the first use of conscription in America, both Federal and Confederate armies were volunteers; conscripts accounted for about 6 percent of the total Union army.

But Yingling also extends his reading of this tradition: “[T]his approach demands popular participation in national security decisions and provides Congress with powerful incentives to reassert its war powers.  Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America.”  This is a revealing quote, echoing two laments often expressed by American officers.  The first is the belief that, absent a formal congressional declaration of war, an imperial presidency rides roughshod over the people’s representatives in committing long-service regulars to war.  This is a highly corrosive myth (and one of the enduring problems in American civil-military relations) that conveniently overlooks what Congress does do, such as voting its direct approval of the Iraq war (a vote demanded by Democrats in the Senate, most stridently by Joe Biden) by a 78-22 margin, and what it intentionally does not do, namely, directly fulfill its Constitutional war declaration responsibilities.  The convention of war resolutions suits the Congress and the executive, but also the strategic situations a global great power is apt to find itself in.  This is, undeniably, a kind of buck-passing exercise, and it might be preferable in the abstract to have a straight-up declaration of war.  Nonetheless the resolution votes amount to much the same thing: no member of the Congress is in any doubt about what the vote means, and its has been the consistent practice of even the most ardent proponents of executive power in many White Houses—even those named “Bush—to seek approval from Capitol Hill before deploying large forces.  The idea that Congress would want to “reassert” its war powers by committing a conscript force is highly speculative.  It’s also belied by the Vietnam experience—the ultimate in unhappy endings for a conscript force.  The Vietnam experience also undercuts Yingling’s second lament, that the burdens of war would be more widely felt.  If anything, the Vietnam-era conscript force became more demographically unrepresentative even than today’s AVF, more skewed toward the truly poor and the underclass.  And an unfair system of conscription has been and would be a recipe for turmoil at home.

Yingling’s second argument is that conscription will allow for a sufficient expansion of the force to meet its long-term commitments.  Yingling believes that conscription would result in amelioration of the excessive burdens imposed on today’s force: “stop-loss policies or an endless cycle of year-on, year-off deployments.”  As one who has long argued for an increase in the number of U.S. ground forces, I’m entirely sympathetic to the stated goal—the size of the force has not only meant an excessive burden for soldiers and Marines (and unexpected duties for sailors and airmen), but been a confounding strategic and operational constraint—but I am entirely suspect about the means.  What’s needed is something like an active-duty increase of 200,000 to 250,000, both to offset the over-use of the National Guard and Reserve but to ensure that there are sufficient regulars available to do what needs to be done.  A rough estimate, based on U.S. Census data, of the military-service-age population of the United States, would be about 80 million Americans; thus the needed increase represents about a quarter of one percent of the appropriate demographic slice of the population.  That’s a small proportion, but one that could only result in a most inequitable form of conscription.  It’s also bound to result in a loss of military effectiveness.  In a two-year period of enlistment, a conscript can only be expected to do one tour of duty in combat—in a kind of combat that rewards professional competence and experience.  While the price to be paid for tactical misjudgments wouldn’t be as high as in World War II, it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be some cost measured both in terms of American casualties and itchy trigger-fingers leading to other casualties.  In sum, a draft isn’t the right way to achieve the necessary increase and would introduce some level of uncertainty about indiscipline and combat effectiveness.

Yingling adds that “a conscripted force would not rely on exorbitant bonuses and reduced enlistment standards to fill its ranks.”  It’s is unclear whether he means to be asserting a moral point or one about combat and cost effectiveness.  What’s “exorbitant” is either in the economic eye of the marketplace or the moral eye of the beholder.  And as to enlistment or recruiting standards, I know of no evidence that the marginal lowering of high school graduation rates and other traditional measures of some recent lean years have been translated into a less effective force, or a less disciplined force.  And we don’t really know what the most expensive military benefits, like TriCare for Life, have meant in terms of the surprising resiliency of the AVF. The moral point is even more obscure: how to fully quantify what the many who don’t serve owe the few who do?

One begins to sense a larger agenda.  Elsewhere Yingling elides these issues. Rebutting a manpower-policy critique of his Armed Forces Journal piece, Yingling argues that “raising and training an army and committing it to war [are not] merely exercises in labor economics, devoid of strategic and political consequences.”  Later Yingling gets to what may well be the underlying point for him: “Does [former Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford] believe that the United States would have gone to war in Iraq if doing so had imposed conscription and higher taxes on the public?” It sounds like Yingling’s arguments are as much surrogates for a closet complaint about Iraq than a debate about the AVF per se.

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A Slap on the Wrist Pyongyang Won’t Feel

by Leslie Forgach

In a UN Security Council statement released today, Pyongyang manages to avoid direct blame for the sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan, thus proving once again that in matters of Peninsular security, China always has the last say, and North Korea can still get away with murder—literally. The statement acknowledges the international investigation which holds North Korea accountable for the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors, but it stops short of directly condemning North Korea for the attack.

This linguistic and diplomatic tango is a dance to which the UNSC and China are now accustomed. It is no surprise to see China push for a watered-down statement, as it strives to maintain the fragile status quo on the Korean peninsula. (Beijing neither wants to see North Korean refugees barreling over its border, nor a unified Korean Peninsula aligned with the United States, in the case of a regime-collapse in Pyongyang). But as a result, the UN has let the most serious North Korean provocation since the 1983 bombing of the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon, which killed 21 and wounded 46 people, slide. This just goes to show that over the past three decades, the international community has only become more complacent about the danger Pyongyang poses—to the point where North Korea can torpedo a ship and the U.N. barely flinches.  The Security Council should not assume that by issuing a weak statement it stands to lure Pyongyang back to the Six Party Talks. There must instead be concrete consequences for North Korean actions; after all, Pyongyang tends not to respond to slaps on the wrist it cannot feel.

Beijing’s tepid response to the Cheonan incident further calls into question China’s  role as a responsible regional power. It’s the only country that has any serious sway over North Korea (as Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and investor, and only military ally), and yet it has consistently refused to use its influence for any greater regional good. Pyongyang has shown it has no problem killing without cause, and Beijing has shown it can live with that, so long as its interests are served.

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In today’s Washington Post, Ernesto Londoño analyzes the results of a recent poll in which roughly 6,500 Afghans were asked to respond to a series of questions about the problems affecting their country. Unsurprisingly, the major finding was that many Afghans view their country’s government as corrupt.  Now, all polls in conflict-torn, underdeveloped places like Afghanistan must be taken with a grain of salt: truly representative random samplings containing honest answers are difficult to achieve even in the best of circumstances, let alone in places fraught with suspicion, danger, and fear.  Still, these limitations noted, the polling data was actually more insightful than the simple “corruption is bad” thesis may suggest.  Here are a couple key takeaways that should be considered:

1. Where is the Urban/Rural Divide?

One of the most interesting aspects of the poll is that it divided the respondents into “urban” and “rural” categories.  This is especially important given the push towards a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on securing population centers, rather than chasing insurgents through the hinterlands.  With this shift in American and ISAF emphasis, one would expect urban (i.e population centers) and rural respondents to respond differently.  And yet, the remarkable observation about the results of the survey is just how similar the responses are from both populations.  They both highlighted “insecurity” as Afghanistan’s biggest problem (41 percent urban compared to 42 percent rural), and other issues—like unemployment, illegal drugs, and education—all had similar response percentages, within a margin of 3 percent or less.

If the United States and its allies are employing a population-centric approach to counterinsurgency, this data raises a critical question: why is our experimental group (i.e. urban centers) the same as our control group (i.e. rural areas)?  To be fair, this may be a function of when the poll was taken (before the Afghan troop surge), but the poll numbers should at least give us pause.

2. Fighting Perceived versus Actual Corruption

As the Washington Post article notes, corruption in Afghanistan is a problem, but the story is more complicated than it may seem at first blush.  Londoño notes that “28 percent of households surveyed reported having paid a bribe last year.  Of those, about 78 percent are in rural areas.”  And yet, as high as this number may seem, 65 percent of Afghans reported not having “personally experienced corruption over the past 12 months.”  Moreover, despite the fact that rural respondents were overwhelmingly more likely to actually pay a bribe to a corrupt official, urban respondents were more likely to identify corruption as Afghanistan’s biggest problem (by 18 percent compared to 11 percent).

If these numbers are accurate, then they reveal an important truth: Afghans’ anger about corruption does not stem from personally paying bribes, but from the less direct perception that their government is corrupt and incompetent.  In some ways, this is far more difficult problem to solve than actual corruption.  Actual corruption can be fixed directly at least in theory: corrupt officials can be prosecuted, bribes stopped, nefarious deals investigated.  Changing perceptions about corruption, on the other hand, has far fewer direct fixes.

3. Fixing Corruption May Not Need to Start at the Top

There is some good news in the poll data, however.  One well-worn argument about fixing corruption in Afghanistan goes something like this:  “Hamid Karzai is corrupt.  Corruption in Afghanistan is the key problem. The solution, therefore, is to remove Karzai.”  Needless to say, this recommendation is both controversial and a difficult one to fix—short of toppling Afghanistan’s government.

If these polls numbers are to be believed, however, there may be a simpler solution.  In contrast to the common wisdom, “the President’s office” ranked towards the bottom of the list of public institutions that Afghan’s viewed as “most corrupt,” coming in at 7%.  According to the survey, the anti-corruption campaign should focus on the Interior (42 percent) and Justice Ministries (32 percent), rather than the Karzai administration per se.  No doubt this is still a tall order to fix, but possibly a more manageable one than focusing on the president and his closest coterie.

Looking Beyond the Poll Numbers

To be sure, polling data is not the be-all and end-all of politics, nor should it be the guiding force behind strategy.  Still, poll results deserve to be analyzed; in this case especially, analysis should not stop simply with the conclusion that corruption in Afghanistan is rampant and bad.   Instead, the data should prompt us to reconsider some of our basic assumptions about our efforts in Afghanistan—be it the effects of population-centric counterinsurgency strategy, or the challenge of combating perceived versus actual corruption.  Polls may not provide us with all the answers, but at least they force us to ask the important questions.

A former active duty Army officer, Raphael Cohen is a Government Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

(flickr/isafmedia/(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest\Released)

A Moment of Clarity

by Tom Donnelly

The writer Michael Kinsley once observed that in Washington a “gaffe” occurs when someone inadvertently tells the truth.  If that is so, the World Trade Organization committed one of the largest gaffes in late memory with its recent ruling that European government “launch aid” to Airbus aircraft amounted to large-scale and illegal subsidies.

Well, duh.

That Airbus received such prohibited subsidies is, of course, an important issue of international trade.  And although, speaking as a sometime passenger on Airbus planes, I applaud the willingness of European taxpayers to subsidize my traveling comfort (they make a nice plane in Toulouse), the WTO ruling brings a moment of policy clarity to an issue too often clouded and intentionally obfuscated.  And, from a defense perspective, this clarity comes not a moment too soon, for the U.S. Air Force will soon choose whether to buy a new refueling aircraft based either on the Airbus A330—identified as one of the planes that received “launch aid”—and Boeing’s 767.  That is, the competition is between a European government-directed consortium and an American private company.

One might argue that, like my traveling comfort, a tanker partially subsidized by European governments stretches the Air Force’s and the American taxpayer’s dollar.  Or, more cleverly but more mendaciously, that local and state governments or U.S. defense contracts represent a subsidy for Boeing.  Even if these analyses were true—and they are not—they quite miss the point.  The two essential issues in the tanker decision are: one, the operational suitability of the competing aircraft; and two, the strategic importance of preserving the American defense industrial base.  On both of these counts, the case for the Boeing tanker is overwhelmingly clear.

The key distinction between the 767 and A330 is that the Airbus is a significantly larger plane.  Indeed, Airbus, for its own economic and market reasons, does not make a 767-sized aircraft. And, in fact, the fact that the Air Force has been forced to conduct a “competition” for the tanker job reflects its terrible mismanagement of the program, the illegal behavior of several of its senior acquisition officials, and a mindless, grandstanding vengefulness on the part of a few U.S. senators; the competition has been a penalty exacted for past wrongs, nothing more.  Because it’s a larger plane, the A330 can haul around more fighter fuel.  Nice in the abstract, but, at best, operationally irrelevant.  And here’s a flash of insight: a larger aircraft costs more to operate! It weighs more!  It needs a larger parking space!  In sum, the Air Force rightly, originally identified the 767 as the only aircraft that met is refueling needs.

But the “launch aid” issue should also make clear the nature of the defense-industrial policy questions that the tanker decision—and, really, a host of looming and recent Pentagon program decisions—provokes.  Whipsawed by nearly two decades of defense budget reductions, rapidly changing technology, and a shift in emphasis from high-intensity conventional conflict to irregular warfare, the American “arsenal of democracy” is in a state of chaos.  Even more than Airbus and other European semi-private firms, the military aircraft and the overall defense industry are dependent upon government policy decisions.  Except for a brief period during the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration summoned the will and the expertise to allow for a consolidation and restructuring of the defense industry, the U.S. government has largely been unable to make up its mind—or stick to its decisions—about how much and what kind of defense industry it wants.  The Obama administration now combines an inbred hostility toward capitalism with either a special hatred of “merchants of death” or a curious lack of interest; it is notable that the $780 billion of supposed “stimulus” contained nary a nickel of funding for defense procurement programs, despite their clear Keynesian pedigree, the fact that American military systems are the best in the world (and one of the few reliable sources of export and high-value, well-paying unionized jobs) and—oh, yes—the fact that skipping a couple of generations of procurement leaves American forces with fewer and older systems.

Altogether, the WTO ruling makes it easier for the Air Force and the administration to do the right strategic, operational and industrial thing—alas, a decade later than planned—and to at last begin to replace the aging fleet of tanker aircraft that provide an essential element in American global military power.

(flickr/DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. James L. Harper Jr., U.S. Air Force/Released)

China Cashes In on Iraq’s Postwar Recovery

by Philipp Tomio

Not long ago, my AEI colleague Tim Sullivan explained in this space how China’s economic influence in Afghanistan has been growing at a steady pace in the past few years. In 2008, for example, a state-owned Chinese company provided the largest single foreign direct investment in Afghanistan, doling out $3.5 billion to tap the Aynak copper field in Logar province. Last week, The Washington Post reported that the same appears to be happening in Iraq. Since 2008, Chinese firms have snatched up stakes in three of the 11 contracts the Iraqi Oil Ministry has awarded in an attempt to boost crude output by some 450 percent until 2017. According to the article, the Chinese have also been able to extract more favorable terms for a $3 billion oil deal they signed with the Saddam regime years ago. Yet while Chinese companies have been busy securing large oil contracts for their resource-hungry motherland, only two American firms have reportedly been able to lock in similar deals on behalf of the United States.

Risk-tolerance, the Post reports, is the primary advantage of state-owned Chinese firms over their American counterparts. Chinese companies,and the government that controls them, are not particularly concerned about violence and instability in the countries they target for investment, whereas security issues are usually at the top of the list of potential concerns for American corporations seeking to do business in developing countries. What is more, foreign corrupt practices and political volatility in those parts of the world now being targeted by the Chinese—most notably the greater Middle East and Africa—serve as an additional obstacle for American companies. China’s disregard for foreign corruption and comparatively higher tolerance for personal risk, coupled with what the Post describes a diplomatic corps willing to hash out business deals with some of the world’s most ruthless regimes, have advanced the PRC’s resource-driven objectives abroad.

China is also expanding its business presence in Iraq beyond the oil sector, venturing into construction, government services, and even tourism. The Chinese have made inroads into Iraq’s cement industry, a critical and very profitable business sector in a country where large infrastructure projects remain up for grabs. They have built a billion-dollar power plant in southern Iraq and entered into negotiations with the Iraqi government to construct large residential facilities for laborers—a key step in maintaining compliance with Iraq’s restrictive investment laws.

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Britain Sends Mixed Messages on Afghanistan

by Soeren Kern

Earlier this week, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox warned against a “premature” troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that British forces would probably be the last ones to leave the country. His remarks, which were made during his first visit to the United States since becoming defense secretary, appeared to contradict British Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently raised the prospect of a quick end to the mission in Afghanistan. Fox also seemed to be questioning the July 2011 timeline that US President Barack Obama has set for beginning an American troop pullout.

In a speech in Washington, Fox warned that leaving Afghanistan before the job was finished “would send the signal that we did not have the moral resolve and political fortitude to see through what we ourselves have described as a national security imperative.” He said a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would “leave us less safe and less secure. Our resolve would be called into question, our cohesion weakened and the [NATO] alliance undermined.” It would also “risk the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially unthinkable regional, and possibly nuclear, consequences” and “be a shot in the arm to jihadists everywhere, re-energizing violent radical and extreme Islamism.”

Fox also played down hopes of an early British withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a separate interview with the BBC, the defense secretary said British troops will be among the last international forces to leave Afghanistan. “The bottom line is that because we’re in one of the most difficult parts of Afghanistan [Helmand province] … the likelihood is that will be one of the last parts to transition to Afghan security,” Fox said.

Fox’s remarks appeared to be at odds with those of Cameron, who only a week earlier had signalled his determination to bring British forces home as soon as possible. Asked at the June 26-27 G8 Summit in Toronto, Canada, if he wanted British forces home before the 2015 general election, Cameron said: “I want that to happen, make no mistake about it. We can’t be there for another five years, effectively having been there for nine years already.” This was the first time as prime minister that Cameron has indicated a timetable for withdrawal.

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Yesterday, National Security Advisor General Jim Jones gave some updates on where the Obama administration is going with its comprehensive export control reform initiative. General Jones’ remarks before the Senate Aerospace Caucus were a follow-up to an April speech by Defense Secretary Gates, who initially laid out the administration’s vision for the reforms. We may recall that Secretary Gates announced that the administration intended to consolidate in three phases over one year the U.S. Government’s export control functions into a single control list, licensing agency, enforcement agency, and IT system. General Jones’ comments shed further light on how some of the details of the reform plan have moved forward. As with Secretary Gates’ speech, however, it is difficult to judge the merits of these proposals without many key details. Nevertheless, here are some highlights of the announcement and preliminary observations:

Congress: The administration has decided that only Phase III requires Congressional action.

Has the administration sufficiently consulted with Congress on this decision? Will this affect Phase III’s political viability?

Export Control Functions: The Treasury Department’s sanctions programs administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) now appear to be included.

Adding OFAC is an important step in ensuring that the reforms are comprehensive. How about the nuclear licensing regime?

Control Lists: Apparently Phase I has already been completed and, among other things, the administration has formulated “independent objective criteria” for cascading tiers of control and a “bright line process” for determining whether products, technologies, etc. belong on the Commerce or Munitions Lists.

Having clear definitions and jurisdictional criteria for establishing what is controlled and how is vital to a well-functioning export control system. General Jones, however, did not elaborate on what these criteria and processes are and whether they will ever be made public.

IT System and Licensing: A single licensing application for all export licensing will be issued. Existing portals for export licensing will be consolidated into the Defense Department’s USXPORTS system.

This is a helpful step for exporters, depending on how well the new electronic system works. While Commerce and State have electronic licensing systems, OFAC still uses paper and has no standard license form.

Enforcement: An Enforcement Fusion Center is being created to consolidate the enforcement agencies’ and intelligence community functions, eventually combining Commerce Export Enforcement Office and DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Also planned is the harmonization of maximum export control criminal penalties, added civil penalties, and a study commissioned with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to add mandatory minimum criminal sentences for export control violations.

Consolidation among enforcement agencies is a good idea provided there is sufficient information sharing and coordination—not guaranteed simply by combining government personnel. The U.S. Government should be tough on violators, but the types of violations that would yield mandatory minimum sentences will be key to assessing whether or not this is good policy or simply political posturing.

Single Agency: A new independent agency will be created—not one housed in an existing cabinet department—to be headed by a board of directors composed of the current export control agencies’ cabinet heads.

This is a long-awaited announcement, but leaves many unanswered questions. Now that we know there might be an independent agency, how is an agency with a board of several cabinet officials supposed to work? How will decision-making be structured? Will all of the existing export control agency personnel be housed under the same roof?

Neena Shenai is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

(Photo: flickr/CSIS Center for Strategic and International Studies)