2011 September

The killing of al Qaeda leader Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen was a good and important step forward in the war against terrorists.  Combined with the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the subsequent killings of other al Qaeda leaders there, it deals a blow to the movement. The death of Awlaki is particularly important because it weakens al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is emerging as the most effective and dangerous al Qaeda franchise with global aims.

We must not, however, see in these killings a strategy for dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and preventing it from re-establishing itself—the president’s apt exposition of our overall aims in this conflict.

Senior-most leadership is important in this terrorist franchise network, make no mistake. The succession from Bin Laden to Ayman al Zawahiri caused turmoil within al Qaeda and will probably have long-term effects on the shape and development of that movement. Awlaki’s death will likely have somewhat less of an impact on AQAP, since he was neither its founder nor its principal leader, although his spiritual and recruiting functions will be difficult for the group to replace.

But replace it they will if attacks against them are confined to strikes against the most high-profile and senior-most leadership. A number of al Qaeda franchises and fellow-traveller movements have gone through successful leadership transitions. U.S. forces killed al Qaeda in Iraq founder and leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in June 2006. He was rapidly replaced by a deputy, Abu Ayyub al Masri, who led the organization into an even more lethal and effective strategy aimed at fomenting sectarian civil war in Iraq in 2006, at which he nearly succeeded. The Haqqani insurgent network has seen the leadership torch passed from its founder and patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, to his son Sirajuddin, and the lethality and effectiveness of that group increased as well. The killing of Tehrik-e Taliban-e Pakistan founder and leader Beitullah Mehsud—who was responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto—has had a more significant effect on that group, which has splintered under the pressure of his death, limited Pakistani operations, and resumed the tribal infighting that Beitullah Mehsud had worked hard to overcome.

The splinters, however, continue to fight both the U.S. and Pakistan, and that group is far from defeated.

The effect of Zawahiri’s succession to the leadership mantle of the core al Qaeda group remains to be seen, but that is the exception that proves the rule. The U.S. and Pakistan have been aggressively and effectively targeting senior- and mid-level leadership of the core al Qaeda group for a decade.

We have removed not only the founder and leader, but numerous operational commanders, facilitators, trainers, and others. In the case of operational commanders, we have killed successors to the successors many times.

Zawahiri thus takes control over a group that has been severely degraded by constant pressure against leadership at all levels, not just the top. His group, moreover, does not control territory within Pakistan any more, leading either a comfortable but hidden existence as bin Laden did, or a more flitting and migratory existence as most of the facilitators do. All of that pressure has been essential to reducing the effectiveness of the core al Qaeda group to its current level, and the killing of bin Laden, important though it was, was just another piece of a robust strategy that denied al Qaeda Central concentrated safe-havens and continually disrupted the network’s leadership at all levels. It is also worth noting that Pakistan has generally been very supportive of U.S. efforts directly focused against al Qaeda, debates over ISI knowledge or ignorance of bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad notwithstanding.

The U.S. is pursuing no such strategy against AQAP.  The group currently has safe-haven within Yemen, and the chaos surrounding the spread of the Arab Spring to Sana’a has allowed it to expand that safe haven. Neither American nor Yemeni forces are seriously challenging the major support areas that AQAP has already established—the fighting in Southern Yemen against AQAP is aimed at limiting its expansion rather than reducing its base. We have not been able to muster the same kind of top-to-bottom pressure on AQAP through targeted strikes, moreover, as we have conducted against al Qaeda central.

We don’t have the bases or intelligence needed to do so in a theater with virtually no U.S. presence and very limited cooperation from local security forces. The prospects for developing that kind of infrastructure in Yemen are very poor.

The notion that the targeted killings of a handful of key leaders of al Qaeda franchises around the world will end the terror threat to the U.S. cheaply, quickly, and efficiently is seductive but wrong. We have far too much evidence to show that committed terrorist organizations can and do replace leaders faster than we can kill them, and that the replacements can lead the movements as well or sometimes better than their deceased predecessors. It takes the kind of sustained, high-tempo, focused operations we have directed against the core al Qaeda group to reduce the threat of such an enemy significantly, but we do not have the capabilities ourselves or the capable partners in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere to repeat that exercise.

Killings of high-profile terrorist leaders are important both symbolically and practically. President Obama and his team are to be congratulated on their recent successes, and may they continue. But we must not confuse those successes with a strategy, or allow these news-grabbing positive events to conceal the reality that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a virulent organization that will continue to threaten the U.S. directly and indirectly until and unless we can develop, articulate, and implement a more comprehensive strategy to attack and defeat that network than we have yet done.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(wikimedia commons/Muhammad ud-Deen)
9/30/11
12:07pm

Killing Anwar Al Awlaki

by Katherine Zimmerman

Anwar al Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American Islamist cleric connected to multiple plots to attack the United States, was killed in Yemen today. A senior U.S. official confirmed the report. Details of the operation that led to Awlaki’s death are still forthcoming; the Yemeni defense ministry reported that “Awlaki was targeted and killed 8 KM from the town of Khashef” in al Jawf governorate. He was traveling between al Jawf and Ma’rib when an airstrike hit his convoy.

Killing Awlaki will have a short-term impact on the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to recruit foreigners and to conduct attacks against Americans. The cleric’s rise in Yemen’s al Qaeda franchise galvanized the organization’s English-language outreach. Awlaki brought with him a charismatic personality and the ability to preach radical Islamist ideas in colloquial English. He, along with Samir Khan, another American who found his way to Yemen, was responsible for AQAP’s English-language magazine, Inspire, that couples al Qaeda propaganda with how-to tips for would-be terrorists. Operationally speaking, Awlaki was extremely active in AQAP’s “far” war, its war against the West. Awlaki helped train the 2009 Christmas day bomber, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, and directed him to blow up a plane over the United States. It is also believed that Awlaki was connected to the 2010 parcel plot, in which AQAP shipped bombs disguised as printer cartridges to a Chicago synagogue. Moreover, Awlaki’s writings have served to inspire others: Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, has noted as much.

The broader impact of Awlaki’s death is much more limited. Awlaki was not one of the founding members of AQAP. Others such as AQAP’s leader Nasser al Wahayshi, deputy leader Said al Shihri, military commander Qasim al Raymi, and senior operative Fahd al Quso will be able to carry on AQAP’s activities without the radical cleric. Further, his death does not reduce AQAP’s hold over territory in Yemen. AQAP has a safe haven in the country that it has progressively expanded over the course of the Arab Spring. The Yemeni regime’s crisis served the terrorist organization well – al Qaeda-linked militants began to seize territory in south Yemen at the onset of the unrest and have held parts of Abyan governorate since then. Senior AQAP leaders have traveled in and out of Abyan despite an uptick in targeted drone strikes in Yemen. The increase in tempo has come from increased intelligence cooperation from the Yemeni government, and likely, increased operational activity within the core leadership. Finally, targeted killings to take out al Qaeda leaders in Yemen have not effectively halted the organization. Top leaders were killed or detained in the years following the 9/11 attacks, but al Qaeda reemerged in Yemen as the more virulent AQAP franchise.

Today’s event should be heralded as progress against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it will not prevent AQAP from attacking the United States and its allies over the medium and long term. The environment in Yemen has permitted al Qaeda to flourish. The Sana’a government, before the Arab Spring, faced two more threatening security challenges from an active rebellion in the north to a growing secessionist movement in the south. The unrest that spread to Yemen during the Arab Spring has only served to make the environment more permissive to AQAP and al Qaeda affiliates. Yemen’s military, never a powerful force in the country, is divided between regime supporters and opponents. Further, the regime’s distraction by the political crisis in Sana’a and the threat of civil war, served as a prime opportunity for al Qaeda-linked militants, who call themselves “Ansar al Sharia” (Supporters of Islamic law), to seize and hold territory in the south. Defeating AQAP will require a broader strategy that includes denying al Qaeda territory in Yemen.

Cross-posted from the Critical Threats Project.

(wikimedia commons/Muhammad ud-Deen)
9/29/11
11:06am

Rethinking Taiwan’s Defense

by Daniel Blumenthal

The Obama administration has fumbled in denying Taiwan the additional F-16s it badly needs and instead offering upgrades to the existing older fleet. Among other problems, this move sends the message that China can have a veto over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as long as mainland officials object loudly enough. While President Obama’s decision to deny Taiwan a credible air force adds to Taipei’s defense burdens, all may not be lost. Washington and Taipei are hinting at combined work on a new Taiwan defense policy.

Up until recently, Taiwan’s military has tried to meet China’s threat symmetrically. For example, its naval fleet is built around large capital ships such as destroyers. The Taiwan Army is still a heavy, lumbering force.

Now Taiwanese and U.S. defense officials are talking about reshaping the island’s military strategy to pit Taiwan’s strengths against China’s weaknesses. The Obama administration can help Taiwan build a force structure driven by a three-pronged strategy of asymmetry, combat credibility and survivability.

The rest of this article can be read with a subscription to the the Wall Street Journal site.

(flickr/Ken Huang)

I have been following the discussion of auftragstaktik with interest not only for the debate about the nature of mission command but because it represents, if only indirectly, a larger conversation that needs to be had about the institutions of the Army and the U.S. military.

That discussion–which was constantly open and lively during the years from Vietnam to Desert Storm–has largely been set aside in the post-9/11 era. While the force has adapted rather well to new tactical and operational realities (and must wait for others, mostly civilians, to engage in a much-needed reconsideration of American strategy), its institutions haven’t been as able to adapt. The primary cause may simply be that the combination of a small force, a couple of long wars fought in one-year increments by too many small-minded leaders (but civilian and uniformed), but that doesn’t make the result any different. Stephan Schilling’s recent guest column is a reminder that a system of mission command is something that not only enables gifted leaders to shine but improves the standard of “average” leadership. A system is the product of an enlightened institution, not just the emanation of an individual genius.

Some of the elements for recreating the Army as an institution are present in abundance-the cadre of young officers and NCOs who have figured out how to adapt to the conditions they’ve found themselves in for the past ten years is a priceless asset. On the other hand, if they never supplement the on-the-job education they’ve had with something more reflective, or, when that’s done, never have the assets, opportunity or ability to translate that into a re-fashioned leadership development system, that asset will either be wasted or become a pinhole perspective. And, particularly in the current budget environment, carving out the time, dollars and other resources needed to reform, refit, and remake the Army as an institution is a monumental task.

Nor is the pace of day-to-day operations likely to ease, at least relative to the size of the service. No one knows what size the garrisons in Iraq and Afghanistan will be in a few years’ time, or where the next fight will be. “No more land wars in Asia” is not a plan. The active Army is already on a downward slope to 520,000 and it’s near-certain that the path will get steeper. The troop-to-task ratio is headed down, not up. The minimum price for instituting any durable system of mission command would be a revived TRADOC, one the Army’s golden child but lately a neglected if not abused bastard.

Rather than figuring out how Guderian got it right, it may be more instructive for American officers to study how the British got it wrong. The British army, despite the many innovations developed in World War I, could never escape the constant grind of constabulary deployments along the imperial frontier; by 1942 they had been out-thought and out-fought by both the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in Southeast Asia. And the intellectual rot and become a moral rot: leaders quarreled with one another and did not trust their subordinates. The British army lost, in part, because it expected to lose. Brian Farrell’s The Defense and Fall of Singapore is an acidly honest appraisal of the consequences of a failed military system: “The system produced the plans, men and means,” he writes. “It, not they, invited disaster….From 1921 to 1942 the British Empire’s military system insist[ed that] the situation must fit the plan at all levels.”

Indeed, the discussions in this space show general agreement in regard to the nature of mission command. Paul Yingling is surely right that the conditions of modern combat, particularly for those who serve in the American military, call for a mission-command approach; would any thoughtful veteran of the post-9/11 wars disagree? And a dynamic leader needn’t wait for perfect conditions to improve practices in his unit.

But the challenge is rather in how to systematize, as best as can be done, the Clausewitzian virtues, the coup d’oeil, the courage d’esprit. What we call “mission command” the Prussian described as the product of a cultivated temperament. The student of Napoleonic brilliance could still argue that “it is the average result“-the italics are in the original (or Peter Paret’s version of it)-“that indicates the existence of military genius.”

Guest post on Foreign Policy’s Best Defense blog.

(wikimedia commons)
9/23/11
5:19pm

He’s Back: Implications of Saleh’s Return to Yemen

by Katherine Zimmerman

Today, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh unexpectedly returned to Sana’a, the capital. Saleh had been in Saudi Arabia since early June receiving medical treatment after the June 3 attack on the presidential mosque. It is unclear what effect Saleh’s return will have on the crisis in Yemen. Saleh’s probable motivation to return is either to complete the transition process or, more likely, to continue to fight for control in Sana’a. As the political crisis drags on, however, the challenges to the Yemeni state have grown and it is increasingly clear that any Yemeni government will be faced with the task of reuniting a fragmented state, part of which has been seized by al Qaeda militants, and mitigating the effects of a collapsing economy.

The situation in Sana’a has been tense for the past week as fighting flared. Saleh granted the vice president the authority to negotiate and sign a transition deal on September 12. This delegation of power to Vice President Abdul Rab Mansour al Hadi briefly breathed new life into ongoing political negotiations, along with Monday’s arrival of mediators from the UN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The ruling and opposition parties seemed to be close to agreeing on the details of the GCC’s transition deal and a final agreement was projected to be reached by the end of this week.

Peaceful protests, however, turned violent Sunday. Anti-government demonstrators, previously kept in check by troops from the defected First Armored Division, were permitted to march outside of the protest camps toward loyalists’ territory. This march elicited a crackdown by security forces. Defected troops stepped in to protect the protestors, escalating the violence. Opposition tribesmen loyal to Hashid tribal confederation leader Sheikh Sadiq al Ahmar also fought sporadically with security forces in northern Sana’a. As of Saleh’s return today, the fighting is not on the same scale as earlier in the week, but tensions are running high.

The timing of Saleh’s reemergence on the Yemeni political scene is worth some consideration. First, Saleh may actually be seeking to fully transfer power to the vice president. A ruling party spokesman said that the GCC’s transition deal would be signed this coming Sunday. Should Saleh be seeking to transfer power, there would be no pressing reason for him to leave Riyadh for Sana’a unless his subordinates were not properly executing the deal – either they were unwilling to move forward in the process or unable to negotiate acceptable terms. The second and more likely reason for Saleh’s return is a decision to secure his hold on the Yemeni government. Should Saleh be forced out of power, it is likely that demands to arrest and try him would increase. Saleh has nothing to gain by transferring power and still has a significant section of the Yemeni military under his authority. The question still stands as to whether Saleh will or will not transfer power peacefully.

The ongoing political crisis masks underlying challenges to the Yemeni state. Yemen has long-term problems such as a weak economy, further stressed by the unrest, and resource depletion that will need to be addressed. State fragmentation, long a concern in Yemen, has become a reality. The al Houthi rebels in the north, whose last battle with the Yemeni state prompted Saudi military involvement, have carved off territory. Of more concern to the United States is the success that al Qaeda militants have had in south Yemen, which has increased the operating space of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. An al Qaeda-linked militant group calling itself Ansar al Sharia seized control of Abyan governorate’s capital, Zinjibar, in late May. From there, the militants increased the areas under their control and, at one point, controlled much of the highway running to Aden. A Yemeni military offensive has yet to defeat the militants and re-establish control in the south.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s sudden return to Sana’a will impact developments in Sana’a by either hastening a transfer of power or driving the country closer to broader armed conflict. Al Qaeda’s gains and long-term challenges to stability in Yemen should not be forgotten, however, as they could quickly erase any short-term gains made in the capital.

(Yemen News Agency)
9/22/11
11:49am

The Administration Gets Taiwan Policy Wrong

by Gary Schmitt

When King Solomon was faced with settling a dispute between two women over who was the actual mother of a baby, his initial decision was that the baby should be split in two, with each given a half. Intending to spark a response from the true mother, Solomon of course never meant to split the baby in half. His wisdom was in creating the ploy, not in following through on it. Apparently, the Obama administration has never taken to heart the full account of this story when it comes to its policy towards Taiwan.

This past Friday, administration officials briefed Congress on its decision not to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16s — fighters the government of Taiwan has been attempting to buy for the last several years. Instead, yesterday, the administration announced that it was offering Taiwan a package that would help modernize Taiwan’s existing fleet of F-16s and which date from President George H. W. Bush’s decision to sell them to the island in 1992. There is no question that those planes need the upgrades in radars and weapon systems. As the backbone of Taiwan’s air defenses, the F-16s in Taiwan’s inventory are increasingly overmatched by China’s deployment of several hundred advanced fighters and fighter-bombers across the Taiwan Strait, and its procurement of equally advanced air defense systems. As a RAND Corporation study noted two years ago, because of the rapid expansion of Chinese air and missile capabilities, “The danger to both” Taiwanese and American air force “operations in the Taiwan Strait is sufficiently grave that a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air forces have even fired a shot.”

But Taiwan’s problem is not simply that its existing F-16s are old. So too are its other fighters. Taiwan’s fleet of first generation F-16s, ancient F-5s, dated French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan’s own indigenously developed fighters from the 1980s are all showing the wear, tear, and “down” rates that come from older planes being used constantly. Taiwan doesn’t just need upgrades to its existing F-16s; it needs new fighters as well. Quantity and quality are both needed if Taiwan is to have a fighting chance in defending itself or, at least, holding off the Chinese until American help arrives.

Perhaps the administration thinks with its decision it is prudently providing some help to Taiwan while doing so in a fashion that will not lead to a rupture in U.S.-China relations. But in doing so, the White House is ignoring its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” To be fair to the White House, it is not the first administration to ignore the act’s proscriptions. Both Republicans and Democrats sitting in the Oval Office have fallen short in this regard — which is precisely why the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has reached the problematic state it has.

Of course, the argument in the past has been that one could short-change Taiwan’s defense needs for one of two reasons: Either China’s own military was judged inadequate to challenge the U.S. military should a conflict arise or, more broadly, the inevitable tensions with Beijing that followed when the U.S. did sell arms to Taiwan were judged to be a distraction from the larger goal of easing China into its role a being a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. But, today, both assumptions appear to be in question.

In the first instance, China’s two-decade-old effort at modernizing its military has produced a situation in which America’s ability to project naval and air power in the region is now at risk. In 1996, President Clinton ordered two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups into the waters off of Taiwan in response to China’s attempt to intimidate the voters of Taiwan in the run-up to their presidential election by firing ballistic missiles in their direction. He did so confident that U.S. forces would be able deter China from threats of escalation. This would not be the case today, with U.S. forces facing a formidable array of cruise and ballistic missiles, dense air defenses, modern fighters and sensor systems capable of finding and targeting ships at sea.

Nor is it clear that the policy of engagement has produced a China whose leaders believe that its future depends on accepting the U.S.-led international system of institutions and norms. If anything, with both the United States and Europe facing dire economic prospects and declining defense budgets, it’s no surprise that Beijing has been more blunt about its own ambitions and assertive in laying claims to an expanding number of “core” interests.

But if the trend lines are not especially auspicious in the case of China’s rise as an Asian power, the administration’s response is no less problematic. “Splitting the baby in half” as the Obama team has done with the arms sale to Taiwan will neither placate China nor help to reverse in a substantial way the deteriorating security situation across the Strait. It’s a solution that is only likely to end in tears.

Cross-posted from National Review Online.

(flickr/user Miles)

9/21/11
10:23am

What Does Rabbani’s Assassination Mean?

by Ahmad Majidyar

Suicide bombers on Tuesday evening assassinated Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and the chairman of the High Peace Council, at his residence in a high security area just 100 meters from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Masoom Stanekzai, President Karzai’s key strategist for reconciliation efforts, was also seriously injured. The attack came just a week after Taliban militants launched a complex raid on the U.S. embassy, NATO headquarters, and police stations, which paralyzed the Afghan capital for 20 hours and killed more than two dozen people.

The recent spike in Taliban violence and assassinations of senior Afghan leaders has called into question both the terrorist group’s willingness for a negotiated settlement and the Afghan government’s readiness to assume security responsibilities as foreign troops withdraw. Kabul was among the seven areas that transitioned to an Afghan security lead last July.

Afghan officials say that Rabbani and Stanekzai were holding a “peace meeting” with two insurgent commanders when a bomber — most probably one of the visitors — detonated explosives hidden in his turban.

Karzai, who is in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly and was scheduled to meet President Obama to discuss a strategic agreement between Kabul and Washington, has cut his trip short to return to Kabul.

Almost a year ago, Karzai set up the council to start peace talks with the Taliban, but the council has made little headway. The Taliban leadership has rejected negotiations and responded with violence to Kabul’s gestures and one-sided concessions, such as release of prisoners and offer of senior positions in the government. Frustrated by Taliban’s refusal to enter talks, Rabbani had recently changed his soft tone and accused the Taliban of defaming Islam and using children for suicide attacks.

Rabbani was leader of Jamiat-e Islami, the second largest mujahedeen group that fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, and served as president from 1992 until the Taliban captured Kabul four years later. He then led the Northern Alliance, a coalition of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and some Pashtuns, against the Taliban until late 2001.

His killing is the latest in a series of assassinations of key Afghan leaders by the Taliban in recent months, such as Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, and Gen. Daud Daud, the police chief for northern Afghanistan and a prominent member of the Northern Alliance.

Today’s assassinations will increase resentment and anxiety among other Northern Alliance leaders who oppose political deals with the Taliban and accuse Karzai of cozying up to the terrorists. Ethnic minorities in the north and central Afghanistan have already begun rearming as Kabul and Washington have stepped up efforts to make a compromise with the Taliban to end the war. Rabbani’s death is likely to widen ethnic divides in Afghanistan and hasten rearming efforts that could trigger a civil war once the foreign troops leave the country by 2014. It is time for Kabul and Washington to abandon the illusion of making peace with the Taliban and instead focus on uniting the Afghans to defeat the Taliban and their foreign terrorist supporters.

Cross-posted from National Review Online.

(flickr user ISAF Media/US Navy photo)
9/16/11
2:25pm

Cutting Defense Won’t Create More Jobs

by Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly

With President Obama’s “jobs speech” now delivered to Congress, national attention is fixed more than ever on job creation. And with the unemployment rate above 9%, and the underemployed pushing the “real” jobless rate to over 16%, the stakes could hardly be higher.

But if job creation–and maintaining those jobs Americans do have–is our national focus, why is cutting the defense budget more deeply still on the table? The fact is that cutting defense spending on the scale being proposed under the debt-ceiling agreement will not appreciably help to fix the country’s long-term fiscal problem, will make the nation less secure and is, demonstrably, a terrible thing to do when the economy is struggling as it is.

The Obama administration has already cut $400 billion from the defense budget and, with Congress, has agreed to cut another $350 billion as part of deficit reduction efforts. Now, with the debt-ceiling agreement in place as law, should the “super committee” fail to reach a consensus on how to tackle the country’s longer term deficit problem, it is possible that defense spending could be cut by another $500-$600 billion over the next decade. This will have a significant and immediate impact on a critical part of America’s industrial base.

Consider what already has taken place. In 2009, the decision was made to end procurement of the F-22 stealth fighter at 187 planes–well below the number repeated Pentagon studies argued was necessary. In killing the program, tens of thousands of jobs associated with its production were lost.

Soon, the last of the C-17 cargo planes will roll out of its Southern California plant, with the loss of nearly 4,000 jobs there alone.

And there are thousands more jobs that have been lost and will be lost as the budget for building new capital ships for the Navy is capped or, worse, declines.

When Northrop Grumman made the decision to close down its Avondale, Louisiana shipyard in 2013, what was once the state’s largest employer will shut its gates and, in the process, put the last of its 5,000 workers on the street looking for jobs that probably won’t be there.

Since we don’t know the full extent of the new defense budget cuts in prospect, it’s impossible to be precise about the impact on future employment. However, one thing is clear: there will be further contractions in what remains of the defense industry. Indeed, the true procurement horror story of the last generation is the nation’s failure to buy and field sufficient numbers of systems.

Much has been researched and developed, at staggering cost, but never brought into service in large numbers; that is, production lines were designed and built, but never fully manned. And the biggest failure may loom directly ahead with these coming cuts: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is intended to replace a number of current planes for the Marines, Navy and Air Force. Its production line is structured on a scale to produce up to 300 F-35s a year and employ tens of thousands directly and many more indirectly. But current Pentagon plans barely exceed a rate of 30 F-35s a year. In other words, the program has barely gotten off the ground, but the job layoffs could soon begin.

With an aging inventory of planes, ships and vehicles, added procurement monies to help recapitalize the armed services could generate thousands of high-paying jobs. In addition, added defense dollars could be targeted at refitting and refurbishing weapon systems and platforms worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a task that has to be done in any case, so pushing forward the time to do it could not help but put more dollars back into a struggling economy. And since almost all of the equipment and supplies bought by the Pentagon is made in the United States, the stimulative effect is virtually 100% domestic and quite immediate in that most of the underlying industrial infrastructure already exists and is able to increase production rapidly.

Also problematic is the decision to cut back on the number of active duty soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in the years ahead–a total likely to reach well over 100,000. With job growth being what it is, especially among the young and inexperienced, it is certainly a problem to eliminate one important avenue for employment that can tide young men and women over until the economy does turn around and, in addition, provide many of them with a level of training and a set of skills they would not otherwise have.

Another certain target is the defense civilian workforce, both direct government workers and the contractors who, over the last decade, have provided essential services for a nation at war and a military that, because of reductions in the 1990s, was too small to carry out the campaigns given it. While these cuts will be styled as “efficiencies,” the result is plain: even more job lost.

While the defense budget has increased over the past decade, it began from a very low starting point at the end of the Clinton years and most of the increase has gone toward paying for the wars and the extraordinary men and women who are fighting in them.

There has been no Pentagon shopping spree when it comes to replacing the legacy ships, planes and vehicles bought during the Reagan years. Equally important, the United States is still dealing with a set of security concerns in the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia that, if anything, will grow more difficult in the years ahead. In short, cutting defense not only makes little sense when it comes to jobs, it makes even less sense when it comes to dealing effectively with the threats we still face.

Cross-posted from FoxNews.com

(US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Bruno J. Bego)

China’s military modernization has continued at a rapid clip this year, most notably with the test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter last January and the test run of its first aircraft carrier, a Soviet-era flattop purchased from the Ukrainians during the 1990s. These advances have coincided with more assertive behavior in China’s periphery. The Department of Defense’s decision to include a special topics chapter on Chinese maritime strategy in this year’s annual report on Chinese military power reflects the growing American and international focus on China’s assertive activities in the South China Sea.  What remains to be seen is how the U.S. will respond in the coming years to an increasingly aggressive Beijing with rising military capabilities.

In a recently published paper, Dan Blumenthal, with Randall Schriver, Mark Stokes, L.C. Russell Hsiao, and Michael Mazza, maintains that the U.S. must develop a new alliance structure in Asia in order to remain engaged fully in the region, provide reassurance to America’s allies, and balance China’s growing military might. They argue that although the flexible “hub and spoke” model has served the U.S. and allies well, the nature and rapidity of Chinese military modernization demand coherence on “shared strategic goals.” This implies heightened and sustained cooperation on a number of fronts, including reconnaissance and intelligence (with a coordinated C4ISR program, for example), as well as the sharing of military technology in order to better coordinate future operations.

Foreign Policy columnist James Traub, however, criticized the paper for proposing such a strong deterrence policy in Asia as both unnecessary and costly. Traub, though he admits that China’s actions in the South China Sea have grown more “bellicose,” seemed to take issue with Blumenthal and company for using Chinese capabilities to interpret its intentions. The authors do spend a good deal of space analyzing China’s new technologies and military hardware, but they also discuss the destabilization that China’s actions are causing and thus show why it is necessary to prepare for possible future conflict scenarios. For instance, the authors demonstrate China’s determination to “press its extravagant maritime claims” not by listing the capabilities it has acquired, but by describing how it is using those capabilities.

Still, Traub’s primary criticism of the “Asian Alliances” report is that the United States simply cannot afford the military capabilities that the authors say are necessary to maintain a favorable balance of power in the region. In a published response to Traub, the authors admit that “national security is an expensive endeavor,” but argue that the costs of failing to respond effectively to China are even higher:

Proponents of defense cuts never answer this question: What are the costs of not properly resourcing American plans and strategies? Which commitments should the United States back away from, and how? Taiwan? Japan? Open access to the South China Sea? Is there a way to elegantly cede Asia to China? Is there a way to do so peacefully, without catalyzing a multi-player nuclear arms race? Can we thrive as a nation if we need China’s permission to access Asia’s trade routes?

With a decision on additional defense spending cuts coming before year’s end, this is an important time to finally be having this debate. Decisions made now on how America resources its military will go far in determining the outcome of the burgeoning US-China rivalry.

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