Asia Needs a Larger U.S. Defense Budget

by Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza

In Washington the season of budget cuts is in full blossom. Unfortunately, leaders of both political parties may soon agree to further slash the defense budget. Yet this comes as the military is fighting an ongoing war against jihadi terrorists while also confronting a China that is using its growing military power more aggressively. The prescription should be more, not less, U.S. military power. It is easy to see how cuts will save today, but difficult to assess how much cuts will cost tomorrow. In Asia, the price will be unacceptably high.

China’s military rise is changing the balance of power in its neighborhood. While Washington debates how to cut America’s military, China continues to spend generously on defense. Last year, the Obama administration took the first steps in a $400 billion defense spending cut, ending several crucial programs. The White House has now asked for another $400 billion in cuts. China, meanwhile, has averaged 10% annual spending increases for more than 20 years. As former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown once said of the Soviets, “When we build, they build; when we cut, they build.”

Beijing has the most ambitious missile program in the world–including an anti-ship ballistic missile that threatens U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also investing heavily in submarines and surface ships; stealthy fighter aircraft; and space and cyber-warfare capabilities. The equation budget cutters should ponder is that China’s aggressive build-up plus American defense cuts equals Asian instability.

To read the rest of the article, go to the Wall Street Journal.

To learn more about China’s military build-up and its implications for U.S. defense spending, see Defending Defense’s March white paper on the subject.

(DoD photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Logico)

Billiards in the South China Sea

by Michael Auslin

In the South China Sea, China is playing billiards, while America is playing some version of Capture the Flag. For Beijing, the goal is to knock the other billiard balls off the table, leaving itself in control. Washington, on the other hand, is trying to keep Beijing from capturing the flag of regional hegemony.

American policy makers need to recognize they’re playing a different game from the Chinese and adjust their strategy. While shifting to billiards is too provocative for Washington, if trends continue, it may soon find itself behind the eight ball with few options for maintaining its stabilizing role in the region.

Observers have two different interpretations of what the Chinese challenge actually is. Many in Washington believe that China threatens freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, thereby potentially harming U.S. national interests, including uncontested passage of U.S. Navy ships, the free flow of global economic trade and maritime lifelines to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea.

Read the rest of the article in the Wall Street Journal.

(DoD photo/Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Lewis, U.S. Navy.)

In the June 30th issue of Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer details the doubts some Israelis are expressing about the future of the Herev Battalion (299), the IDF’s storied Druze unit. The Druze are a religious minority in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, whose faith is an esoteric 11th century offshoot of Isma’ili Shi’ism. 122,000 Druze live in Israel, where they are prominent in the military, police, and politics. Though Druze can serve anywhere they wish in the IDF, many Druze youths historically request to serve in Herev. Today, however, with Druze well-integrated into Israeli society and eager to compete for spots in elite units, some claim that to keep the battalion alive, many Druze youth are assigned to Herev despite requesting other units.

Why is there a separate Druze unit? Is there any benefit to the Druze community and to Israel in keeping the unit open?

Young Druze started fighting alongside Jews in 1947, when Druze community elders agreed to allow them to serve in the pre-state Haganah militia. When the war over Israel’s newfound independence erupted, the Druze joined a new minorities unit, made up of Bedouin, Circassian, and Druze. Many more Druze began volunteering during the 1948/9 war, as the community historically supports the local ruling power.

The bond between Israeli Jews and Druze, forged on the battlefield, grew closer over the ensuing decades, as the Druze unit fought in the 56, 67, and 73 campaigns. The Druze battalion came of age in Operation Litani in 1978. During the successful Israeli drive to push the PLO out of southern Lebanon, the battalion operated independently and with distinction.

As Druze soldiers completed their mandatory service, a sizeable reserve force grew, and the IDF created reserve Druze battalions. The soldiers were determined and willing to serve. When called up for the 1982 Lebanon War, Druze reserve enlistment rates reached 100%.

The battalion was later named the Herev, or Sword, Battalion, designated for Druze youth. A new unit, the Bedouin Scout Battalion 585, was created for the Bedouin community in Israel. With the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, Herev moved from the Gaza Strip to the northern border, close to the Druze villages.

While Herev patrolled the border with Lebanon in 2006, Hizbullah fighters ambushed an IDF reservist patrol in a neighboring sector. The Second Lebanon War had begun. The Druze battalion entered Hizbullah territory on the first day of the war, and was the last unit to leave more than month later. Permanently stationed in north for the previous 6 years, the battalion was well-trained in fighting in dense, mountainous terrain. The preparation proved itself in the fighting. Herev suffered no casualties in the entire war, and killed at least 15 Hizbullah fighters. Interestingly, four Druze soldiers rushed back to their villages during the war to get married, then immediately rejoined their comrades in combat.

Motivation to serve remains extremely high. Around 83% of eligible Druze men serve in the IDF, compared to only 72% of eligible Israeli Jews. 369 Israeli Druze have lost their lives in service to Israel. The Druze have a long martial tradition, and service in elite IDF combat units fits that heritage well. Druze soldiers are known as tough, determined fighters, easy to serve with but sensitive about issues of personal and familial honor.

There is a strong element of community pride as well. The battalion gives Druze a tangible symbol of their ongoing and disproportionate contribution to Israel, despite grievances about the state’s allocation of resources. “I think that the Battalion is a symbol of pride and sets a good example for the Druze community,” said Colonel Mufid Am’ar (res.), a former commander of Herev. “Druses can serve in any unit and that’s something to be proud of, but at the same time, we must safeguard the Battalion. I think that today the soldiers have the Battalion, warm homes, and commanders that they can be proud of.”

Why, then, are many young Druze requesting to be drafted into other units?

Since 1971, Druze have been free to enter regular IDF units, and have reached the elite pilot, Sayeret Matkal, and Hovlim (Naval Officers) units. When the first Druze IAF navigator finished his course, his family used every connection they had to secure hard-to-attain 100 tickets to the ceremony. With the greater prestige of regular special forces and infantry units, and the integration of Druze into Israeli society, Druze conscripts often feel little attraction to service in Herev. The battalion “was formed in response to needs that have been irrelevant for decades” said a senior Druze officer. “Today Druze soldiers want to serve in the Golani Brigade, the Paratroops and other elite units.”

Other top Druze officers agree. “Forming the battalion was a mistake,” said BG (res) Imad Fares. “When you’re recruited to the IDF, it should be to the entire IDF. There shouldn’t be a unit purely for Druze soldiers.”

The officers have a point. IDF units created around communities, like Herev, the Bedouin 585, and the ultra-Orthodox Netzach Yehuda battalion, serve two purposes. They give these communities a unit to rally around and express communal identity and pride, and they help integrate otherwise disaffected youth into Israeli society and economy through military service. The units are especially tailored to meet the needs of the various communities. For example, the Bedouin battalion offers specialized Hebrew lessons and carries extra social workers, and the ultra-Orthodox battalion carries no female instructors. But the Druze have no religious restrictions keeping them from serving in a regular IDF unit, and are already quite comfortable operating in Israeli society. For Israel, it is preferable that there be as much integration as possible in their units. A society in which citizens have close friends from other sectors is a healthy one, and Israel needs to be especially vigilant in this regard. Druze, too, are better off building relationships with other Israelis, connections that give a serious advantage in the Israeli professional world.

So why not simply disband Herev? After all, as Pfeffer points out, the IDF manpower command wants to move away from homogenous units.

There are number of reasons. Besides the communal pride, there are Druze youth for whom a specialized environment is ideal. Because of behavioral issues, language skills, or social problems, a familiar, supportive unit reduces some of the challenges of military service. Also, with Herev carrying only Druze officers, Druze currently enjoy  an advantage in finding combat command positions. Many Druze are career soldiers, and the army and other security services are important sources of employment for the community.

Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yosef Mishlav, the highest ranking Druze in the IDF argues that “there is still a place for the Herev Battalion, and its conscripts can go far. I am acquainted with the people involved and I know the battalion’s existence is important … There are those for whom this unit is the most suitable one.”

A solution might exist in the middle ground. Keep the battalion, its name, its insignia, and its unique history, but open it up to all Israelis. Druze still have the option of volunteering for it, if they want to serve in the same unit as fathers and older brothers did, but with adequate manpower coming from all sectors of Israeli society, there will be no need to send anyone there against his wishes. Integration will happen whether Druze serve in Golani, the armored corps, or Herev. The battalion could still offer special services to Druze soldiers, including language and financial assistance, but Druze youth who want to serve in other places will feel no pressure to stay close to home. And with other Israelis serving in the historically Druze battalion, the sense of pride that Druze have for their battalion might grow even more.

(flickr/user kikasso)

New Worries That Libyan Arms Flow to Al Qaeda

by Gary Schmitt

News out of a Madrid meeting between Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and European interior ministers is that there are new worries that Libyan government arms might be flowing to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). According to Spain’s interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, “There is arms trafficking at the border between Libya and Mali and this has to worry us because it could at this moment be supplying sophisticated weapons, which are therefore dangerous, to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” And, “If we don’t do anything, AQIM could take advantage of this situation to grow, and if AQIM grows so will the risks faced by Europe and the United States.”

To date, the worry has been that elements of al Qaeda were infiltrating the ranks of the Libyan rebel forces. But if the above intelligence is correct, the greater worry may be a Gaddafi willing to strike back at the United States and its NATO allies by supplying weapons to terrorists. Of course, this would not be the first time that Gaddafi has employed “indirect” means to attack the United States, the most devastating example being the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988 that killed 270. There is also the possibility that the weapons going to AQIM are being sold by elements within Libya’s security forces because of a breakdown in control from Tripoli. In either case, weapons appear to be getting in the hands of some pretty dangerous folks.

This is just another reason why letting the military campaign against Gaddafi drag on—as the administration has—is such a problem. Common sense says that stirring up a hornets’ nest is a sure way to get stung. If you don’t want that to happen, it’s best to destroy it—and the sooner the better.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(flickr/users Hans and Carolyn)

Kosovo Redux in Libya

by Alex Della Rocchetta

In the latest twist to the Libya campaign, French military officials confirmed Wednesday that they have equipped opposition forces in the western Nafusa mountains with guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and other weaponry. The move is designed to provide momentum to a rebel advance toward Tripoli, as U.S. confidence in the four-month long military offensive wanes.

The conflict has continued longer than many United States and international officials initially envisioned.

While U.S. policy makers continue to debate how long Western military engagement in Libya can last, rebel leaders of the Transitional National Council routinely complain that the international coalition pays no heed to their requests for air support. This lack of support has blunted several promising rebel offensives. It is clear that the sluggish pace of coalition military action has allowed the campaign to drag on, permitting Qaddafi government forces to continue their attacks on civilian populations in Nalut, Zintan, and Yifran, and to crack down on civilians in cities already under Qaddafi control.

From the outset of the conflict, the intervention in Libya has been beset by a level of military incrementalism reminiscent of the 1999 air war in Kosovo. The war in Kosovo was launched to stop Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal assault on Kosovo’s Albanian population. The tepid start of NATO’s campaign in Kosovo strengthened Milosevic’s belief that he could wait out an air war, and in the meantime provided him an opportunity to escalate ethnic cleansing against the Albanians.

Indeed, by increasing military pressure in moves considered modest at best, NATO has allowed Qaddafi sufficient time to adjust to, and counter, the tactics employed by rebels on the ground and coalition air assets above. NATO’s current efforts to fight a minimalistic campaign may eventually work, but it is in the alliance’s best interests to employ the means that will bring the war to its speediest possible close and prevent Qaddafi from having the opportunity to inflict further atrocities against the civilian population.

In his new piece, entitled “Trying to Win Ugly, Again: NATO Brings Incrementalism to Libya, my colleague Reza Jan at AEI’s Critical Threats Project argues that NATO has disregarded lessons of previous conflicts hampered by military incrementalism, namely the intervention in Kosovo. In doing so, NATO is “choosing to allow rather than deny Qaddafi the time necessary to inflict further brutalities upon Libyan innocents, as a result, violating the spirit of bellum iustum, Just War, and the UNSC resolution under whose pretext it chose to engage in war.” In order to avoid the political consequences of a failed mission, Jan identifies the necessary steps to be taken—providing rebels with close air support, expanding operations against regime assets, and increasing the number of military advisors on the ground, among others—in order to avoid the missteps of past interventions.

Stepping up the campaign is likely to be politically unpopular at home. The decision to use lethal force has, however, already been made and it is now incumbent upon our political leaders to give its commanders the latitude they need to do the job properly. The United States has the opportunity to “make use of history” and bring the conflict to a swift and conclusive end. Or Obama can repeat the mistakes of the past, at a cost that can only be imagined.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sergeant Benjamin Wilson)

Gates’ Farewell

by CDS Editors

This morning, departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a final statement to the men and women in uniform. The text is below. 

To the men and women of the United States armed forces: tomorrow, 30 June 2011, I will retire as Secretary of Defense. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four and a half years.

All of that time we have been engaged in two wars and countless other operations.  It has been a difficult time for you and for your families, from long and repeated deployments for those in all four services–and the associated long separations from loved ones–to the anguish of those of you who have lost friends and family in combat or those of you who have suffered visible and invisible wounds of war yourselves.  But your dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan. Your countrymen owe you their freedom and their security. They sleep safely at night and pursue their dreams during the day because you stand the watch and protect them.

For four and a half years, I have signed the orders deploying you, all too often into harm’s way. This has weighed on me every day. I have known about and felt your hardship, your difficulties, your sacrifice more than you can possibly imagine. I have felt personally responsible for each of you, and so I have tried to do all I could to provide whatever was needed so you could complete your missions successfully and come home safely–and, if hurt, get the fastest and best care in the world.

You are the best that America has to offer.  My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life. God bless you.

Last month, AEI hosted Secretary Gates for a much-publicized event examining America’s role in the world. Read the transcript of Secretary Gates’ address, and don’t forget Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt’s commentary on the speech.

For Leon Panetta’s Senate confirmation, AEI worked with its Defending Defense partners at the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative to produce questions for the incoming Secretary on major defense issues.

(Dod photo/Cherie Cullen)

In the advance to President Obama’s Afghan speech, one of the worst fears of observers was that a drawdown of American troops would open the door for other NATO members to withdraw troops as well. As my colleague Gary Schmitt wrote:

Given how little support there is among most of our allies’ populations for being in Afghanistan, it will be impossible for them to not react with deep reductions of their own—multiplying the problem of having too few (or, at best, just enough) troops in theater.

These fears were well-grounded. Although Germany has been more circumspect regarding any troop reductions in Afghanistan since Obama’s address, France responded immediately with cuts of its own. France will reduce its 4,000-troop contingent along the same timeline- and in the same proportions- as the United States. And, now it appears that the United Kingdom may accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan, bringing home an additional 500 troops (beyond the promised 426 by the end of 2012).  If Germany and other nations follow suit, more strains will be placed on an already overstretched ISAF.

The arrangement of ISAF, with national forces deployed in quantity to specific areas, gives drawdowns a local complexion. British troops, for example, are found principally in Helmand Province, the site of some of the hardest fighting during the Afghan War. Helmand has benefited from an increased troop presence and a sustained campaign to defeat the Taliban. Still, while the fate of Helmand is far from determined, the effect of the British drawdown will be mitigated by the significant American (and, to a lesser degree, Danish and Georgian) presence in the province.

Meanwhile, French troops operate principally in two areas: Kapisa Province and the Surobi district of Kabul Province. Kapisa, adjacent to Kabul, has been important in establishing the security of the Afghan capital, and was a recipient of additional troops in the early 2009 surge after a period of unrest. Surobi, situated along the highway between Kabul and Jalalabad, has long been considered a vital geopolitical cog.

It appears now that the French will meet their drawdown numbers by removing troops from Surobi (Kapisa is more contested and has seen a number of ISAF casualties this year). But even Surobi has not always been as tranquil as it is today. In one of the more infamous incidents of the war, French paratroopers were ambushed after replacing Italian troops who had “pacified” the area through bribes to local militants—and who had failed to inform the French of this practice. The August 2008 ambush was followed by a campaign to secure the area, reaching a tenuous local peace. It may well be that Afghan security forces are now able to take over for the French in Surobi, but it is an uncertain proposition in a strategic district.

As problematic as British and French troop reductions may be, a drawdown of the German contribution would be riskier still. Germany, charged with overseeing Regional Command North from Mazar-e Sharif, has witnessed a spate of violence and upheaval since 2008. Although the lifting of Bundeswehr restrictions on engagement and a bolstered American presence in the region have succeeded in shifting momentum in ISAF’s favor, the situation remains uneasy and undecided. Should Germany follow France’s (and by extension America’s) lead in reducing its presence, these gains would be jeopardized.

Last Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen characterized President Obama’s drawdown as undertaking an “acceptable level of risk.” But beyond the risk of withdrawing American troops lies the prospect for a more dramatic and widespread drawdown across ISAF. In this way, the future of the Afghan War may rest with the chancelleries of Europe.

(flickr/user isafmedia)

U.S. Taiwan Policy: Officially Absurd

by Michael Mazza

This is getting downright ridiculous. According to Defense News, “Taiwan’s June 24 petition to submit a letter of request (LoR) for new F-16 fighter jets was blocked by the U.S. State Department under orders from the U.S. National Security Council, sources in Taipei and Washington said.”

Reread that sentence. Let the absurdity of it sink in.

To paraphrase: Taiwan’s request to request to buy F-16s has been denied by the Obama administration. The Bush administration, which first concocted this ridiculous formulation, set an unseemly precedent. To avoid making what it perceived to be a politically difficult decision, it avoided having to make any decision at all. No wonder the Obama administration, with its penchant for split-the-baby decision-making, has adopted this policy as its own.

The irony, of course, is that selling F-16s to Taiwan should not be a difficult call. This administration, like its predecessor, is so concerned about avoiding Chinese ire in the short term that it’s blind to doing what is necessary to avoid conflict in the long term. The current administration, like every U.S administration since Harry Truman’s presidency, sees an interest in preserving stability in the Taiwan Strait. What the National Security Council apparently fails to recognize is that at least a semblance of military balance across the Strait is necessary for keeping the peace.

A decision not to sell new fighters to Taiwan is, frankly, a decision that Taiwan doesn’t need an air force. A Taiwan that can’t control its skies is a Taiwan that can’t defend itself. And a Taiwan that can’t defend itself is a Taiwan that invites Chinese coercion, if not outright aggression. The outbreak of fighting in the Strait is not likely to be a conflict from which the United States can remain aloof. There will be no neutrality, no splendid isolation to enjoy when China starts loosing missiles on its neighbors.

And yet such considerations seem to receive little weight in the administration. Illusory though they continue to be, the short-term benefits of friendly ties to Beijing—China can supposedly help prevent Iran’s nuclearization, denuclearize North Korea, end climate change, maintain global economic stability, and, most importantly, perfect the president’s jump shot and cross-over move—dominate the administration’s decision-making. It may seem reasonable for the president to hesitate to cross what Beijing has declared to be a red line—but the fact is that the sale of F-16s to Taiwan has never been a red line before, China has not actually explained what it means by “red line,” and there is little reason to think that the United States would suffer by crossing it.

Sure, China would throw a temper tantrum. Our ambassador would probably receive a dressing down and Beijing would likely cut off military-to-military ties for a period. But so what? The long-term benefits of maintaining a favorable balance of power in the region far outweigh the short-term costs to the Sino-American relationship. When the price for peace in the coming decades is a spat today—well, that’s a trade worth making.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

Claiming progress in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, President Obama declared Wednesday that he would withdraw all 33,000 “surge” forces he had authorized 18 months ago, with the initial 10,000 troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Obama’s troop drawdown plan was much quicker and larger in number than recommendations by his most senior military commanders who fear a rapid draw down could undo security gains in southern Afghanistan and hamper forthcoming offensives against the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda terrorists in the east.

Just as the troop withdrawal deadlines he called for during his campaign, and then later as president in a speech at West Point when he unveiled his new Afghanistan strategy in 2009, Obama’s calibration of strategy with a greater focus on politically-motivated deadlines and less emphasis on security realities on the ground is a strategic mistake.

The president tried to rationalize his military timelines in 2009 by arguing that a troop withdrawal deadline would pressure Afghan President Hamid Karzai to curb corruption and improve governance. But the effect was opposite.

Obama’s initial pledge to withdraw troops by 2012 further undermined the effectiveness of the surge. The president’s strategy emboldened the Taliban, strained ties with Kabul, and convinced Pakistan that continued support for the Taliban would be the best strategy to wield influence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.

Instead of learning from his past mistakes, the president has done the opposite. Mr. Obama has now succeeded in laying out a new and unrealistic timeframe to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close. This timeframe will only serve to undermine U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan. It will also, ultimately, cost more American lives.

Both the 2011 and 2012 timeframes for troop reductions coincide with the fighting season in Afghanistan. Troops will begin leaving Afghanistan next month as violence in that country is at its worst in nine years and the Taliban reasserts itself in territories U.S. forces have abandoned.

The deadlines will also weaken the coalition in Afghanistan. Our allies will use Obama’s withdrawals to provide diplomatic cover for their own forces. British Prime Minister David Cameron will use Obama’s declaration of progress in Afghanistan to justify his own troop withdrawals. Canada, Holland, and Poland and many other countries have also announced their own withdrawal dates. It will now be difficult for Washington to convince allies to contribute the troops needed not only to win in Afghanistan, but simply to maintain progress there.

The deadlines also have negative psychological implications. After three decades of conflict, survival is a priority for Afghan leaders and tribesmen, who will not risk backing the United States and the Afghan government if they think Washington will leave them at the mercy of Taliban retribution. In Iraq, tribal chiefs cut ties with Al Qaeda and allied with the United States because the Bush administration pledged it would not abandon them. Obama has made no such commitment to our Afghan allies.

Alas, the president’s hasty withdrawal plan not only gives the Taliban an incentive to retrench and hold on to their arms, but Mr. Obama has now justified the terrorists’ belief that America may have the clocks, but they have the time.

Cross-posted from FoxNews.com

(U.S. Army photo/Sgt. Joseph Watson)