Last month’s G8 Summit was fairly eventful for both Russia and France. The Obama administration unexpectedly added Moscow’s most wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, to the Rewards for Justice Program—offering $5 million for information on his whereabouts. After weeks of vehement criticism, Russia finally conceded Gaddafi’s loss of legitimacy and offered its mediation services to end the Libyan conflict. For its part, Paris reiterated its support for the ongoing campaign in Libya, even advocating expansion, and forcefully condemned Damascus’s violent suppression of demonstrations in Syria.

But a “definitive agreement” on Russia’s purchase of four Mistral assault ships from France was largely buried beneath the headlines. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev announced that a formal contract stipulating price and components will be signed this month, which coincides with Prime Minster Vladimir Putin’s June 21 trip to Paris. The principal stumbling block in the Mistral negotiations—which formally began in October 2009—has been the inclusion of certain technological components and their potential production under license in Russia.

The components in question are the SENIT-9 combat management system and the SIC-21 command information system. In reality, however, the negotiations are centered on the SENIT-9. The aging SIC-21 doesn’t raise the same strategic concerns as the SENIT-9. But because of its use on France’s sole aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, the SIC-21 is a matter of prestige for the French. Many in the French military oppose its transfer to the Russians for reasons of national pride. The SENIT-9, however, would provide Russia with real advantages. Its operating modes are intended for coastal warfare and are designed to employ sophisticated anti-surface weapons and address “pop-up” air threats. Analogous systems have the capacity to track up to 1,000 targets simultaneously.

According to one of Russia’s foremost conventional arms experts, Ruslan Pukhov, the Mistral would be “blind” without the SENIT-9. He believes that Russia’s acquisition of SENIT-9-equipped Mistrals would give Moscow the capacity to receive “a mass of information.”

But Mistral skeptics abound in Russia. Shipbuilders Jantar (Янтарь) and Admiralty Wharves (Адмиралтейские верфи) filed suit with Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service after the Defense Ministry rejected their bids in favor of Mistral-producer DCNS.  Jantar claimed that the Defense Ministry failed to precisely outline the specifications of the ships they were seeking to procure, thus implying that the contest was rigged in favor of the French, which is common practice in Russia’s notoriously corrupt arms acquisitions system. Moreover, Jantar believes that the Russian arms industry has the capacity to manufacture assault ships comparable to the Mistral—an argument that’s to be expected from a domestic shipbuilder standing to lose a fair share of a multi-billion dollar contract, however.

Other Mistral opponents in Russia question the potential deal on the basis of military necessity. Russia’s military brass has made infrequent and contradictory comments about where exactly the Mistrals would be sent and how their presence would help safeguard Russia’s security. Responses have varied from the North Sea, the Black Sea, and the Pacific. Only after Medvedev’s announcement at the G8 Summit did the Defense Ministry finally confirm that the first two Mistrals will be sent to the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Its inclusion in the latter would help fend off potential Japanese aggression against the disputed South Kuril Islands (Northern Territories in Japan), which remains a farfetched scenario everywhere save Russia.

The Kremlin’s failure to properly explain the military rationale behind the Mistral purchase has generated considerable speculation. Some observers note that unofficial Mistral negotiations began shortly following Russia’s intervention in Georgia. France’s mediation during the conflict and its willingness to maintain close relations with an isolated Russia—even holding an intergovernmental meeting at the prime ministerial level a mere month after the conflict—were highly appreciated in Moscow. Russia’s acquisition of the Mistral could, therefore, be an attempt to demonstrate its appreciation. Such a move wouldn’t represent an aberration in Franco-Russian relations. Token policies are often pursued by both sides to strengthen their “partnership” regardless of whether any economic—or in this case military—basis exists.

Russia may also have other political interests in pursuing the Mistral. Paris plays an important role in Moscow’s continual efforts to divide the EU and undermine NATO—and the Mistral deal achieves both. Virtually any large-scale, bilateral Franco-Russian cooperation in the realm of defense and security challenges NATO’s relevance in Europe. France’s readiness to disregard the concerns of NATO’s Baltic members and NATO-aspirant Georgia weakens the alliance’s cohesion. Both Moscow and Paris realize this. The Russians are thrilled. And the French don’t seem to care.

(flickr/user FaceMePLS)
6/10/11
1:29pm

New START Facts

by David J. Trachtenberg

One of the arguments used by critics of the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia was that its impact on both sides would be unequal, forcing the United States to reduce its strategic nuclear weapons while allowing Russian totals to increase.  The validity of this criticism has now been confirmed by the very government agency that negotiated the treaty – the U.S. State Department.

A State Department fact sheet released on June 1 cites the official number of U.S. and Russian strategic weapons in both sides arsenals, based on the initial data exchange required by the treaty.  New START caps the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads on both sides at 1,550, the number of deployed launchers at 700, and the combined total of deployed and non-deployed launchers (those held in reserve) at 800.

The official data show that the United States currently has 1,800 deployed warheads while Russia has only 1,537.  This means the United States must reduce its warhead totals by 250 while Russia is allowed to increase its totals to meet the 1,550 warhead ceiling.

In addition, the United States has 882 deployed strategic launchers and will have to cut the land-based, sea-based, or air-breathing legs of its strategic nuclear Triad by 182 launchers (or more than 20 percent) in order to comply with New START’s limitations.  By contrast, Russia has 521 deployed strategic launchers.  Therefore, Russia could increase its launchers by almost the same number that the United States will have to reduce – 179 launchers (a 34 percent increase) – and still remain in compliance with the treaty’s terms.

New START also imposes a ceiling of 800 on the total number of deployed and non-deployed strategic launchers on both sides.  In this area, Russia will need to make only a modest cut in its non-deployed systems while the United States must reduce almost five times as many systems to comply with New START’s limitations.

To argue that an arms control treaty that forces only the United States to cut its arms substantially while allowing Russia to make increases is good for American national security requires, to borrow a phrase from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

(flickr/user Kingdafy)

This morning CIA Director Leon Panetta underwent his public Senate confirmation hearing. While the result of the hearing- Panetta’s confirmation as Robert Gates’ successor at the Pentagon- seemed certain, the question-and-answer session provided a number of interesting moments. Here’s a list of Q & A on the most salient and contentious issues from this morning’s hearing. And, if you’ve read the recent Defending Defense paper, “Questions for Leon Panetta,” you’ll find a few familiar questions below:

$400 Billion Proposed Obama’s Cuts

Does Director Panetta agree with President Obama’s proposed cut of $400 billion from DoD?

“I agree with the commitment of the president to try to take action to reduce the deficit and the number he suggested. I do want to say there is a comprehensive review that is going on that the President and the Secretary stated would take place. That comprehensive review is looking at a number of issues.”

And, if Panetta were to find, with the conclusion of the review, that the $400 cut would impinge on national security?

“If there was something that indicated from the comprehensive review that our military would be adversely impacted, I would share it with the president.”

Cause of America’s “Fiscal Woes”

Does Director Panetta agreed with Secretary Gates’ statement that the defense budget is not the cause of America’s fiscal woes?

“Yes, I do.”

1990’s Procurement Holiday:

What was Panetta’s role in the 1990’s defense cuts and were they deeper than they should have been?

“Looking at it in hindsight, it might not have been the best way to achieve those savings, but it was a decision that was made at the Defense Department.”

Afghanistan

Does Director Panetta agree with Secretary Gates that drawdowns in Afghanistan this summer should be “modest”?

Troop reductions “should be conditions based… If I’m confirmed, I’ll have to obviously arrive at a decision myself… I’m not in that position now. Obviously, I have tremendous admiration for Secretary Gates. But with regards to specific numbers…”

And what happens if we lose in Afghanistan?

“We not only create another safe haven for Al Qaeda and their militant allies, but the world becomes a much more threatened place because of that loss, particularly in that region,” Mr. Panetta said.

Iraq

What’s the prospect of an Iraqi request for US troop presence beyond 2011?

“It’s clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of a presence there (beyond the end of 2011)… I have every confidence that a request like that is something that will, I think, be forthcoming at some point.”

Pakistan

What about Washington’s relationship with Islamabad?

“One of the most critical and yet one of the most complicated and frustrating
relationships that we have.”

Cyberwarfare

And the threat of cyberwarfare?

“The next Pearl Harbor that we face could well be a cyber attack…This is a real possibility in today’s world… It’s going to take both defensive measures as well as aggressive measures to deal with it.”

(CIA photo)

6/09/11
1:08pm

US Politics Must Not Drive Afghanistan Mission

by Katherine Faley

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week, 43% of Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting despite the costs—a 12-point increase since March. The poll results, the Post reports, indicate that support for President Barack Obama’s war strategy has improved, especially among Democratic and independent voters, even though the bump in the president’s approval rating post-Osama bin Laden’s death has largely faded. The data also reveals that while nearly three-fourths of Americans believe the United States should withdraw “substantial” US forces from Afghanistan this summer—the direction the White House may be leaning—50% think the administration will not do so. The upswing in support for the president’s handling of the war and popular sentiment biased towards a drawdown of US troops are cause for concern: As campaign season gears up, the president may jeopardize the mission in Afghanistan in order to gain favor with the American public.

Domestic politics, however, should not drive strategy. Frederick and Kimberly Kagan argue in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that conditions on the ground necessitate the current troop level in order to effectively keep pressure on terrorist groups and build on the critical gains made in the last year and a half. Premature withdrawal, the Kagans explain, would likely doom the campaign’s success altogether:

The Afghan government will behave more counterproductively the more it believes that the U.S. isn’t serious about succeeding. The Pakistani military is much more likely to double down on its support for insurgent proxies in Afghanistan if Mr. Obama reinforces its decades-long conviction that America will inevitably abandon the region. And Pakistani failures to address terrorist bases on their own territory will be compounded by the re-emergence of such sanctuaries in Afghanistan… If Mr. Obama announces the withdrawal of all surge forces from Afghanistan in 2012, the war will likely be lost. Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other global terrorist groups will almost certainly re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The Afghan state would likely collapse and the country would descend into ethnic civil war.

The terrorist threat to the United States is alive and well, as I stated last week. The current strategy in place has allowed coalition forces to drive out the Taliban from the south and significantly weaken the presence of al Qaeda and other militant groups keen on attacking the United States. Withdrawing US troops prematurely would have catastrophic consequences for US national security and waste the sacrifices made in Afghanistan. Popular attitudes and domestic politics, though powerful forces in Washington, should not dictate war strategy or policy.

Katherine Faley is a research analyst at AEI’s Critical Threats Project.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
6/09/11
10:38am

Iran Marches On

by Maseh Zarif

Iran has long stonewalled the IAEA, the organization tasked with enforcing multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that demand a halt to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities. And this week the rogue regime continued its march: Iranian leaders announced steps to accelerate and harden their nuclear program, ignoring recent measures taken by the U.S. and U.N. that included multiple rounds of diplomacy and sanctions meant to change the regime’s behavior.

The IAEA’s latest report, issued last month, showed significant increases in the production rate of low enriched uranium (LEU). It is believed that Iran’s stockpile of LEU (as of April 2011) provides enough material, if further enriched to weapons-grade levels, to fuel four nuclear bombs. Additionally, the report detailed a list of seven nuclear activities exclusive to a nuclear weapons program that Iran has refused to explain. The level of specificity in the descriptions of the activities and the publicizing of such information suggests that the IAEA believes its evidence is credible.

During the release of the report earlier this week, IAEA head Yukiya Amano told the agency’s board that he wrote Iran’s top nuclear official to reiterate concerns about these activities and to request immediate access to certain nuclear sites, equipment, documentation, and personnel. Fereydoun Abbasi, an Iranian defense ministry scientist previously linked to the weapons program and now the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, responded on June 8. “Our answer is increased work in the sphere of nuclear technology and know-how,” Abbasi said in a statement. The day before, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that there was no incentive the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany could provide to convince Iran to halt its enrichment program. “Iran’s nuclear train has no brake and no reverse gear,” Ahmadinejad said.

In a further provocation, the regime declared its intention to advance its program. Abbasi announced that Iran would increase its 20 percent enriched uranium production and relocate that production process from the underground Natanz facility to the Fordo facility, which is dug into a mountain within a Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) base near the city of Qom. Further enriching 20 percent enriched uranium to a level of 90 percent, or bomb-grade fuel, is relatively easy due to the non-linear nature of the enrichment process, as noted by the Institute for Science and International Security. The Fordo facility, where such enrichment will take place, had been a covert complex until the U.S. publicly identified its existence in 2009.

President Obama said on Tuesday that, if the IAEA determines that Iran is noncompliant, “we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime.” Such steps would have to be drastic.

This entry is cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(flickr/user futureatlas)

Background

  • The Obama administration has requested that Congress provide $553 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget in FY 2012 — $13 billion less than what the administration had projected requesting a year earlier.
  • President Obama’s deficit reduction plan calls for $400 billion in cuts to national security spending over the next 12 years.  This is in addition to the approximately $400 billion already cut by the administration during the previous two years.
  • The baseline defense budget is now 3.5% of America’s GDP, a figure well below the post-World War II average.  If the Obama administration succeeds in its plans to cut defense further, that percentage will drop to 3% or lower — the lowest total in the entire post-World War II era.

Members of Congress and the American taxpayer may wish for answers to the following questions from Mr. Panetta:

Ten Questions

(1) Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on May 24, 2011:  “I have long believed, and I still do, that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes.”

  • Do you agree with Secretary Gates’ statement?  If so, what is the logic for cutting defense spending even further than it already has been so far during wartime?  Should defense be given higher priority than other areas of federal spending?

(2) The bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Independent Panel — chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley — concluded that “the Department of Defense now faces the urgent need to recapitalize large parts of the force.  Although this is a long-standing problem, we believe the Department needs to come to grips with this requirement…. Meeting the crucial requirements of modernization will require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.”

  • Do you agree with the panel that there is an urgent problem?  If not, why not?  If so, how is the modernization challenge to be addressed with a defense budget that is flat or declining?

(3) Secretary Gates stated in a speech on May 24, 2011 that “a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go to fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

  • Presuming that President Obama’s additional proposed cuts will include a reduction in the size of America’s armed forces, what “places” would you recommend that we forego going to and what “things” would you recommend that the American military stop doing?

(4) Secretary Gates has stated that ill-conceived cuts to defense spending could increase America’s vulnerability in a “complex and unpredictable security environment” and, in the same spirit, that “the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military.”

  • Do you agree with Secretary Gates’ assessment of the dangers incurred by cuts in military spending and the role of hard power in keeping the peace? And if so, how are those views to be squared with President Obama’s proposal to cut America’s base defense budget (as a percentage of America’s GDP) to its lowest point in more than 60 years?

(5) The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, recommended on June 2, 2011 that when implementing President Obama’s plan to cut $400 billion from security spending, savings should be identified in military pay and benefits before making cuts to “force structure” (i.e. weapons programs, equipment and the number of personnel in uniform).

  • Do you agree with Admiral Mullen’s recommendations?

(6) As a chief architect of the defense budget drawdown in the 1990s, you oversaw major reductions in military procurement spending (including a 13.4% decline in FY 1994):

  • Secretary Gates and the QDR Independent Panel have agreed that the U.S. went on a “procurement holiday” in the 1990s. How have procurement decisions in the 1990s affected our operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? Given the experience of recent years — and knowing what you know now – would you have supported the same cuts?

(7) Rising Threats:  China and Iran

China has tripled its military’s budget over the past 15 years, putting at risk our military’s long-standing ability to operate decisively and safely in Northeast Asia.

  • How should the continuing quantitative and qualitative growth of Chinese military capabilities inform U.S. defense investments?

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is working on a likely nuclear weapons program.  Iran’s missile program also demonstrates increasing proficiency and range.

  • Should Iran’s nuclear program inform U.S. missile defense research and development?  Is Iran’s nuclear program relevant to U.S. force structure and strategic posture in the region?

(8) U.S. Air Force

Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz has stated that the present fleet of 187 F-22 fighters creates a high risk for the U.S. military in meeting its operational demands.

  • As China develops and tests increasingly-capable stealth aircraft, like the J-20, and as Russia develops and sells resilient air defense systems, would you support reviewing the previous decision to end procurement of the F-22 Raptor at 187?  Do you favor creating an export variant of the F-22 for sale to allied air forces?

(9) U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy has the fewest number of ships since America’s entrance into World War I.  Yet the Navy is being tasked with arguably more responsibilities than ever before.  Our fleet is undoubtedly the finest ever put to the seas, but quantity has a quality all of its own.  As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen has said, “You are what you buy.”

  • What steps would you take to bridge the gap between our 285-ship Navy today and 313-ship requirement that the CNO has called a “floor”?
  • Congress has mandated that the Navy have no less than 12 aircraft carriers.  Although the Navy currently has 11 carriers, the U.S.S. Enterprise will be decommissioned in 2013, and the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford will not be commissioned until 2015. Do you support a 12-carrier Navy today?

(10) U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps
Current budget plans — even prior to the latest announced defense cuts — were premised upon a complete withdrawal from Iraq and a dramatic drawdown in Afghanistan by 2014. They did not anticipate the prospect of a continued, residual presence in Iraq nor the possibility of a requirement for maintaining a sizeable force in Afghanistan.  And, the plans were made before the events of the “Arab Spring,” including the conflict in Libya.  The current budget plans, and current realities, make it all but impossible to achieve adequate “dwell times” (or rest at home for reset, training and time off) between rotations for combat and support units, and will necessitate continued heavy deployments of the National Guard and Reserves.

  • Do you support Secretary Gates’ proposals to reduce the end-strength of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps?

The Defending Defense Project is an effort of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative to promote a sound understanding of the U.S. defense budget and the resource requirements necessary to sustain America’s preeminent military position in a dangerous world. To learn more about the effort, contact the Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eaglen at mackenzie.eaglen@heritage.org, FPI’s Robert Zarate at rzarate@foreignpolicyi.org, or AEI’s Richard Cleary at richard.cleary@aei.org.

Read the full PDF of the Defending Defense release. Learn more about the Defending Defense project on the CDS site or contact Robert Zarate at rzarate@foreignpolicyi.org with questions.

(CIA.gov photo)
5/28/11
5:06pm

‘Enough’

by Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly

In the next month, after more than four decades of distinguished public service including almost five extraordinary years at the Pentagon supervising the successful surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will retire. He departs as the very model of a Washington “wise man,” having served in senior positions in two Democratic and three Republican administrations—the best the inside-the-Beltway establishment has to offer. His parting words, delivered in a series of valedictory speeches, carry the weight of his long experience and sober judgment.

Gates’s career spans a remarkable period from the Cold War to today, the events of which raised immense hopes—none more than the collapse of the Soviet Empire—and were punctuated by deep darkness—9/11 and the year 2006 in Iraq. In his May 22 speech at the University of Notre Dame commencement, Gates summed up the classical wisdom of a conservative: “If history—and religion—teach us anything, it is that there will always be evil in the world, people bent on aggression, oppression, satisfying their greed for wealth and power and territory, or determined to impose an ideology based on the subjugation of others and the denial of liberty to men and women.”

If mankind has fallen, the United States of America still struggles to lift it up. “Since I entered government 45 years ago, I’ve shifted my views and changed my mind on a good many things as circumstances, new information, or logic dictated,” Gates allowed in a speech last week at the American Enterprise Institute that developed the themes of his commencement address. “But I have yet to see evidence that would dissuade me from this fundamental belief: that America does have a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet.”

To protect and promulgate its liberties and the cause of liberty, America must be strong. “More than any other secretary of defense, I have been a strong advocate of ‘soft’ power—of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security.” But, said Gates, “Make no mistake: the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is ‘hard’ power—the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military.”

This is the heart of the matter. During his service under Barack Obama, Gates has been directed to make three significant rounds of reductions in Pentagon plans and budgets. The first came in early 2009. As the Obama administration prepared to inject $800 billion in “stimulus” into the faltering U.S. economy, canvassing agencies for “shovel-ready” projects, it ordered weapons cuts that totaled about $330 billion.

In 2010, seeing the shifts in the domestic political landscape, Secretary Gates seized the initiative to wring $100 billion in “efficiencies” from defense programs, hoping he would be permitted to reinvest the money in higher priority procurements. He got to keep about three-quarters of the “savings,” but the White House took not only the remainder but another $75 billion. The net result was that Gates transferred $78 billion from one Pentagon pot to another, but a further $100 billion was cut. The third round began on April 13, when the president announced—though he hadn’t informed Gates until the night before—that the Defense Department would contribute another $400 billion to his “deficit reduction plan.”

If brought to fruition, the Obama administration will have sliced something on the order of 15 to 20 percent out of the already overstretched military it inherited. The dollar figures don’t reflect the full extent of the damage, but the loss in power is clear: The Army and Marine Corps will return to their pre-9/11 size, and major land, sea, and air projects have been reduced, ended early, or never brought into production. And it might be worse: Secretary Gates has acidly described the defense cuts called for by the chairmen of the president’s deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, as “catastrophic,” driven by budget “math, not [military] strategy.”

Gates’s parting wisdom can be boiled down to one word: enough. The “low-hanging fruit,” he declared at AEI, “those weapons and other programs considered most questionable, have not only been plucked, they have been stomped on and crushed.” The fat has been trimmed; what’s left is bone.

Gates also defined the challenge for the man nominated to be his successor, Leon Panetta, who’s been a strong director of central intelligence but who also, as a congressman in the 1990s, led the charge to reduce defense spending. “We need to be honest with the president, with the Congress, with the American people, indeed with ourselves, about what the consequences [of further defense cuts] are: that a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

Gates’s warning should be a call to arms for conservatives who, in election after election, have retained the public’s trust by adhering to the principle that American military preeminence is absolutely essential if we want security at home and great-power peace abroad. It is a platform that Republicans in Congress and those running for president, in particular, need to reaffirm. Former Minnesota governor and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty got it precisely right when he said: “I’m not one who’s going to stand before you and say we need to cut the defense budget. .  .  . I’m not for shrinking America’s presence in the world. I’m for making sure America remains the world leader.”

Through the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bob Gates has seen the thin line that separates “too few” from “just enough.” He knows how hard it is to turn defeat into a chance for victory. When he says “enough,” conservatives—and all Americans—should listen.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(DoD photo/Cherie Cullen)
5/27/11
5:59pm

China Thumbs its Nose

by Michael Mazza

Air China must be offering specials this month on flights to Beijing from rogue states. Over the past 10 days, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (his third time in the past year), and Burmese President Thein Sein have all visited China. (Is it fair to include Pakistan in a list of rogue states? It may be – my colleague Apoorva Shah has recently explained why Pakistan and North Korea have more in common than you might think). All three are countries with challenging, if not antagonistic, relationships with the United States. All are countries which Washington is trying to pressure, isolate, or otherwise punish. And all engage in some activities (in the case of Pyongyang, lots of activities), which are severely detrimental to U.S. national security interests.

These visits have been fruitful for each of the foreign leaders. Pakistan secured the emergency delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter jets; the original two-year timeline has been sped up to six months (see AEI Resident Fellow Dan Blumenthal’s great WSJ article on this).

Though Kim Jong-il reportedly failed to secure the Chinese investments he was hoping for, he did receive a warm welcome. Indeed, the official Chinese news agency reported that “Chinese President Hu Jintao said”—and with a straight face, no less!—“China was glad to see the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) gives top priority to improving people’s lives.” According to the BBC, “Chinese state television showed Mr. Kim being embraced and kissed by the Chinese president…The warmth of coverage of his visit, and the flattery of official comments by China, gave Mr. Kim much-needed political support, analysts said.”

Lastly, during Thein Sein’s visit, China and Burma “upgraded their relationship to strategic partnership and inked economic agreements.”

While the specific reasons behind China’s relationship with each of these three states differ, Beijing nurtures all three in an effort both to complicate the international environment for the United States and to pursue a predominance of influence (and eventually power) in the Asia-Pacific.

The timing and quick succession of these three visits is also indicative of growing Chinese bravado. China is, for all intents and purposes, thumbing its nose at the United States, and it is doing so confident that Washington will not respond. Its confidence is apparently well-placed. While Beijing does not let Washington cast a passing glance at Taiwan without throwing a fit, Washington refuses to return the favor when Beijing praises murderers and supplies “emergency” jets to the country that safely harbored Osama Bin Laden for the past half decade. This is, to put it lightly, unfortunate. Washington’s silence only assures that China (and others) will continue to impinge upon American national security interests whenever and wherever they can.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise blog.

(White House/Pete Souza)

5/27/11
4:05pm

Civil War in Yemen?

by Katherine Zimmerman

Yemen, home to al Qaeda’s most active franchise, could be on the brink of civil war. President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign a transition deal on May 22 for the third time. The following day, clashes broke out in the capital, Sana’a, between Hashid tribesmen and Yemeni security forces. Five days into fighting, over 100 people have been killed and the capital is divided between the opposition-controlled northern districts and the government-controlled southern districts (see map of Sana’a here). A ceasefire was put in place in Sana’a today, but Hashid tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al Ahmar noted that should Saleh return to fighting, then “we are ready.” The fighting is no longer limited to the capital, however. Tribesmen fought elite Republican Guard forces to the northeast and have captured military bases. The Yemen Air Force responded by bombing tribal positions and reports indicate that clashes are ongoing.

AEI’s Critical Threats Project is tracking the developments in Yemen closely as they unfold and providing regular situation reports. An excerpt from today’s update is below. Read the full text here.

Heavy fighting between government forces and tribesmen outside of Yemen’s capital has broadened the conflict. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has gained operating space as Yemeni security forces have pulled out of al Qaeda strongholds to protect the regime’s interests.

Yemeni air force fighter jets conducted air strikes on tribal targets in Nihm district north of Sana’a. Republican Guard soldiers reportedly attacked a village, provoking tribesmen to retaliate and to gain control of two Yemeni military compounds. Military helicopters with reinforcements tried to land nearby and tribesmen report that they captured two helicopters, along with a number of soldiers, and shot down a third. This is not the first time the air force bombed Nihm; on May 10, government air raids killed four tribesmen.

Fighting in the capital has intensified, where Hashid tribesmen have been fighting the Yemeni security forces for five days….

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(flickr/user Ammar Abd Rabbo)
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