2011 April


Fighter Jet Deal Stunts U.S.-India Partnership

by Michael Mazza

India’s decision against purchasing an American-made fighter jet in its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition is a big disappointment for those of us who have been high on the potential of a U.S.-India strategic partnership. Had New Delhi decided upon either Boeing’s F/A-18 or Lockheed Martin’s F-16, the selection would have enhanced U.S.-Indian military ties, defense-industrial cooperation, and economic relations as well (the $10 billion deal would have been equal to over half of the value of all 2010 U.S. exports to India).

Instead, as Sadanand so succinctly put it, “India has rebuffed the U.S. offer of a closer strategic partnership.” India, of course, has a long tradition of maintaining a “non-aligned” foreign policy, but this decision strikes me as shortsighted. While Pakistan remains a constant worry, the national security establishment in New Delhi is increasingly worried about China, as well; indeed, over the longer term China almost certainly presents a much greater strategic challenge. And of the participants in the MMRCA competition, only the United States has truly overlapping concerns with India vis-à-vis China.

India’s selection of an American aircraft would have allowed the two countries to enhance their capacity for combined combat operations, which would both serve as a deterrent to future Chinese aggression on the subcontinent or in the Indian Ocean and prepare the militaries to fight alongside one another should deterrence fail. The Rafale and the Eurofighter may be fine planes, but the Europeans aren’t looking to operate jointly with the Indians. Should, God forbid, the Chinese and the Indians ever come to blows, the French will be content to watch from afar. If any country has the interest and the capacity to intervene, it’ll be the United States.

However disappointing this recent news is, it perhaps should not be surprising. Rather, it fits in with a recent pattern. India’s abstention on UNSC Resolution 1973, its disinclination to cooperate on Iran (and its inclination to skirt sanctions), its dallying with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and its attempts to coordinate with the other BRICS members—these are all suggestive of an Indian foreign policy that remains suspicious of America’s preponderant power. Unfortunately for the Indians, that suspicion seems to cloud long-term strategic thought. India has benefited significantly from U.S. efforts to enhance the relationship—see the civil nuclear agreement, for example—but with little to show for it, those efforts are now likely to stall. The Obama and future administrations simply will not be so sanguine about what increasingly looks like a not-so-strategic partnership.

(DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin, U.S. Air Force. )

In today’s Wall Street Journal Asia, I write about the implications of Islamabad’s decision to field tactical nuclear weapons. I argue that while such weaponry may enhance Pakistan’s security in the short term by undermining India’s plans for military retaliation (called “Cold Start”) in response to terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan, over the longer term they serve to enhance instability and make violence more likely. In order to counter this new threat, I suggest that New Delhi may devote more resources to missile defense and field its own tactical nukes. I write:

Confident in its missile defenses, India will then be able to retaliate. But because tactical nuclear weapons, which are difficult to counter, will continue to negate the effectiveness of its ground forces—and thus the “Cold Start” option—India will likely need to rely on a wider air campaign aimed at bombing Pakistan into submission. Rather than a shallow incursion into its territory, Pakistan will be faced with air strikes against military targets (perhaps including infrastructure) throughout the country.

Such a campaign will be less effective than “Cold Start”—air campaigns tend to accomplish little on their own—and more escalatory. Assuming the Indian air force achieves air dominance, Pakistan’s military response options will be limited. If the campaign does not quickly achieve the desired result, India, too, will be tempted to at least threaten the use of strategic weapons, confident that its own cities will be effectively defended from nuclear retaliation. In short, nuclear escalation, which India had hoped to avoid with “Cold Start,” suddenly becomes more plausible.

Ironically, then, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons will upset deterrence rather than enhance it. Peace in South Asia becomes ever more elusive.

Unfortunately, the implications here are not limited to South Asia alone. Indeed, Pakistan is quietly making a mockery of international nuclear disarmament efforts. Islamabad’s decision to field tactical nuclear weapons highlights the challenge of achieving global zero. While arms control efforts have for decades focused on American and Russian stockpiles, future such reductions will mean little if others’ armaments continue to grow and if other deterrence relationships continue to destabilize. As I note in the piece, Pakistan’s decision “can only lead to intensified Indo-Pakistani nuclear competition,” with “implications for Sino-Indian nuclear rivalry as well as for other potential nuclear-aspirant countries in the region.”

The Obama administration must take diplomatic action now to dissuade Pakistan from deploying tactical nuclear weapons. Only by doing so can it hope to save its global disarmament drive before it’s barely begun.

(Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen)


Petraeus to Langley: An Opportunity Lost

by Tom Donnelly

Perhaps the most eventful news of the Obama administration’s shuffling of its national security deck chairs is the fact that General David Petraeus—commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, architect of the Iraq surge, and the driving force behind the Army’s willingness to adapt to the persistent irregular wars it’s been asked to fight rather than wait for the conventional conflict it would prefer to fight—will not become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but be asked to run the CIA. As my AEI colleague Arthur Herman neatly put it, this is like pulling Ulysses S. Grant away from Richmond to run the Pinkerton Agency.

That is, Petraeus has not only been the most successful post-9/11 field commander, but a symbol of innovative and adaptive military leadership. And, as the Libya campaign indicates, the American role in building a decent and durable order across the greater Middle East is very much a work in progress. Neither of the likely alternatives—Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright (who would inevitably carry the weight of having been designated “Obama’s favorite general” by Bob Woodward) or NATO chief Admiral James Stavridis—has the experience or the credibility. Tucking Petraeus away at the CIA won’t really explain away the failure to reward success in war with the ultimate mission of remaking the U.S. armed forces as an institution.

The American military will be under enormous strain over the four years that would comprise the likely tenure of the next Joint Chiefs chairman. The wars and crises will continue across the Middle East and the military balance with China will continue to erode. Iran is very likely to acquire a nuclear capability. The White House and Congress are a hair’s breadth away from a race to the bottom to cut future military budgets; in the course of three years, the Obama administration has trimmed about $800 billion from its defense plans, and it’s unclear whether congressional Republicans will want to hold the line or slash more deeply. It will be a Herculean task to preserve sufficient strength and maintain troop morale in the coming do-even-more-with-ever-less years.

Passing Petraeus over does no favor to Leon Panetta, the incoming defense secretary, either. Robert Gates has been extremely lucky in having not only Petraeus but Generals Raymond Odierno in Iraq and Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, but it was also a luxury that enabled him selectively to dismiss a number of officers who didn’t meet his standards. While Gates also had the advantage of being a Bush holdover, having a stable of successful commanders gave him both latitude and leverage in running the Pentagon. It’s likely that one of the first questions Panetta will have to answer as SecDef is, “Why not Petraeus?”

This all makes the president and the administration look weak. To all appearances, the White House has found a too-clever-by-half solution to its own self-inflicted “Petraeus Problem,” stemming from its over-hyped worries about the general’s supposed political ambitions. A more confident commander-in-chief would have made Petraeus the chairman to execute and explain the coming cuts. The CIA job keeps the general “inside the tent” but still hidden away in the CIA closet.

Finally, putting a serving general in what is essentially a political and policy job muddies the line between what should be a civilian responsibility and appropriate military professionalism. As younger generations of politicians come into the White House, they are increasingly turning to serving or recently retired officers to be intelligence chiefs and even national security advisers. While this again reflects an intellectual, political, and even moral weakness on the civilian side of the equation, it is dangerous for those on the uniformed side as well—George Marshall was the exception that is increasingly becoming the rule. Few, if any, of Marshall’s successors proved equal to the task, and the result is not just personal embarrassment but a reflection on the shortcomings of American generalship. To oversimplify, battle and tactics are the trade of the professional officer, war and strategy the trade of the politician.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.)

Defense Cuts and the Crisis of Modernization

by Richard Cleary

As the defense spending debate continues, interested observers would do well to consult Karen Walker’s article in this April’s edition of Armed Forces Journal (“Helo, Goodbye’). President Obama’s proposal last week for $400 billion in defense cuts- on top of more than $400 billion in cuts made to the Pentagon since his January 2009 inauguration- puts in question the extent of future defense spending. The moral imperative of providing for troops currently in harm’s way will doubtless weigh on debates in the coming weeks, and rightly so: the President’s effort to slash defense spending while extending American military commitments is deeply irresponsible. Still, last week’s speech touches on another subject: funding for recapitalization projects that will affect future generations of our all-volunteer armed forces. Often lost in the defense spending debate is the growing need for recapitalization and modernization of critical defense platforms, from Bradley fighting vehicles to long-range bombers. Walker’s paper, which examines the state of the American helicopter fleet, is instructive in this regard. Although exploring only one of many areas in need of modernization, Walker gives a sense of the scale of the challenge facing our military.

Walker begins her article with the case of the OH-58 Kiowa, introduced in 1969 and “now the Army’s highest-demand rotary aircraft, flying more than 90 hours a month.” The Kiowa’s ‘tour of duty’ will continue for years to come, with modified versions in service through 2025. Other helicopters will also soon be in need of replacement: the CH-47 Chinook, the AH-47 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk are all set for retirement between 2035 and 2040. These systems have been cornerstones of American efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Given the long timescale for procurement programs to reach maturity, questions of modernization are increasingly urgent.

As Walker explains, the challenge for the Army’s helicopter fleet goes farther still. Decisions to modify extant models- rather than invest in next-generation versions- have combined with the decision to terminate the RAH-Commanche in 2004 to shrink the helicopter production base. Absent significant capital input, the production base is simply too small for a new line of next-generation helicopters. Thus, decisions intended to save money in the short-term will, unfortunately, require greater investment for future systems.

In sum, we face a long-deferred need to replace platforms at a moment of budgetary crisis in Washington. Just as looming fiscal insolvency is the product of sequential decisions in Washington to expand the scope and role of the federal government, so too is the recapitalization and modernization crisis the result of political choices. From the Clinton “peace dividend” onward, administrations have found convenience in cutting modernization programs and shifting funds to domestic projects. But, as President Reagan found upon his arrival in Washington, cuts to modernization can only last so long in a dangerous world. Congressional decisions in the post-Vietnam era to strip funding from the armed forces were corrected in the Reagan years in the face of assertive enemies. Let us hope that, as the budget debate unfolds, today’s elected officials will show similar prudence and political courage amid an uncertain and increasingly inhospitable global landscape.

(DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo, U.S. Air Force)

Over at AEI’s IranTracker.org, I assess the Sino-Iranian relationship and discuss implications for U.S. policy. I argue that “the China-Iran relationship is problematic for the United States not only because it frustrates Washington’s Iran policy, but also because the ultimate outcome of the Iran challenge has wider consequences for U.S. global leadership and credibility.” Indeed, I warn that the Tehran-Beijing relationship could become much more than an annoyance in U.S.-China relations:

Finally, in considering the possibility of a military conflict between Washington and Tehran, American military planners must take Chinese capabilities into consideration. While Beijing does not wish to see such an eventuality—and certainly does not want to be involved—history shows us that great powers cannot always control their partner states and can be drawn into wars that they had no intention of fighting. As Beijing continues to bind itself economically and diplomatically to Tehran, developments in Iran may start having consequences for China’s own credibility. In such circumstances, Chinese intervention in a conflict between the United States and Iran becomes much more likely.

Read the rest here.

(Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen)

The Cost of Defense Cuts

by CDS Editors

In this morning’s The Diane Rehm Show, CDS Director Tom Donnelly discussed the implications of Obama’s proposed $400 billion cut to defense spending. Listen to the show here.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Stewart)

See CDS Contributor Dan Blumenthal’s entry for Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog on China’s increasingly militant and confrontational behavior. Blumenthal cites increased military power, a weak and diluted leadership structure and pandemic, virulent nationalism as the principal forces behind China’s assertiveness. To learn more about China’s military build-up and its challenge for US strategy, see the most recent Defending Defense white paper.

(DoD photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison)

In Defense of Defense

by Tom Donnelly

In his budget speech last week, Barack Obama mounted his third attack on U.S. defense spending. In 2009 the White House directed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to terminate more than $300 billion in weapons programs, including the F-22 Raptor, the world’s most capable aircraft, and the Army’s Future Combat Systems family of vehicles. This past year, Gates volunteered $100 billion in Pentagon “efficiencies,” for which the administration rewarded him by slicing off another $78 billion. Now the president proposes to subtract an additional $400 billion from future military budgets. Defense is the one government activity that Obama has no qualms about cutting.

By every measure, the armed forces of the United States have been “doing more with less” for more than two decades. The number of Americans on active duty has been reduced by a third. Reservists have helped pick up the burden of repeated deployments. Reagan-era weapons have been refitted with new electronics, new munitions, and employed in innovative ways. A force built to blunt a Soviet thrust through the Fulda Gap on the north German plain has reinvented itself to master the requirements of persistent irregular warfare and to address the “anti-access” challenges posed by China and Iran. But a nation cannot long secure itself or its interests if its defense “planning” depends upon genius generalship, unending sacrifice by lieutenants, captains, and NCOs, and constant deployment of rapidly aging planes, ships, and vehicles. In war, you usually get what you pay for.

The path charted by the president is morally and strategically unsound. Obama argued that entitlement cuts would “[change] the basic social compact in America,” and vowed to defend the status quo. Yet he is prepared to take risks with the social compact between the civilian majority and the extremely few Americans—less than one percent of us—who risk their lives and kill our enemies in our name. The basic compact of the “All-Volunteer Force” is not simply that people in uniform will be paid decently and their families cared for. It also presumes that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will have the wherewithal to win whatever battle they are sent to fight.

Thus far, the president has relied on the credibility of his defense secretary to soothe fears about defense cuts. In his deficit speech, Obama blithely called on Gates to “do that again,” even though the White House dropped its $400 billion budget bomb on the Pentagon with only 24 hours’ warning. The White House did offer Gates a bureaucratic fig leaf in the form of a “comprehensive review,” but that review, like the administration’s recent Quadrennial Defense Review, will be a process with one purpose: meet the budget target.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are struggling to balance their commitment to a strong defense with their desire to reduce the government overall. Thus Rep. Paul Ryan’s deficit-reduction plan adopted what, until this week, had been Obama’s defense numbers. But now the House leadership will have to decide whether to accept Obama’s new proposed cuts or fight back. This is indeed a defining moment for conservatism: Is it still a Reaganite movement?

Last August, Gates confessed that his “greatest fear is that in economic tough times people will see the defense budget as the place to solve the nation’s deficit problems, to find money for other parts of the government.” Gates understood that there are consequences to balancing the budget on the backs of our soldiers:

As I look around the world and see .  .  . more failed and failing states, countries that are investing heavily in their militaries .  .  . as I look at the new kinds of threats emerging from cyber to precision ballistic and cruise missiles and so on, my greatest worry is that we will do to the defense budget what we have done four times before. And that is, slash it in an effort to find some kind of a dividend to put the money someplace else. I think that would be disastrous in the world environment we see today and what we’re likely to see in the years to come.

The president Gates serves is charting a course to realize his fears and worries. The Republican party should choose a different path.

Cross-Posted from the Weekly Standard.

(DoD photo by U.S. Air Force)

Will Gates fight Obama on defense cuts?

by CDS Editors

See Robert Haddick’s excellent blog entry for Small Wars Journal on President Obama’s proposed defense cuts yesterday and what they might mean for the Obama-Gates relationship. With the Defense Department already subjected to deep cuts,  US force structure and global presence would be seriously diminished by Obama’s proposals, writes Haddick. And, the consequences of a reduced American strategic role would be far-reaching: “regional arms races, increased nuclear and missile proliferation, and the establishment of new outposts around the world by America’s rising rivals.” Haddick closes by observing another risk that Obama undertakes in cutting defense again- the alienation of a politically crucial member of his cabinet.

(U.S. Army photo/Spc. Kristina Gupton)
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