This coming Tuesday, May 31, Defending Defense partner the Heritage Foundation will host Rep. Allen West. The Congressman, a highly-regarded member of the freshman class, will discuss “The 21st Century Battlefield.” Rep. West, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and a veteran of Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. His address will be preceded by an introduction by former Senator Jim Talent.

To attend the event, register here.

(flickr/Gage Skidmore)

According to Russia’s top military prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, every fifth ruble Moscow spends on defense is lost to corruption in Russia’s notoriously opaque procurement system. But this should come as no surprise. Transparency International ranks Russia 154th out of 178 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index—along with Laos, Cambodia, and Tajikistan.  And Russia’s defense industry isn’t immune to the broader currents of Russian society. In fact, weapons procurement is arguably more prone to graft because of Kremlin paranoia and the secrecy that surrounds Russia’s military-industrial complex.

Fridinsky believes that a debilitating contributor to inefficiency in Russia’s weapons acquisitions system stems from contractors’ tendency to “turn over” initial payments made by the state. That is, Russian weapons manufacturers receive money for a particular contract but often misappropriate that money for other purposes. The Sarapulsky radio components factory in Russia’s Udmurtia federal district, for example, failed to meet its deadline for several government contracts because it opted to use the state’s advance payment to cover more immediate, yet entirely unrelated, factory costs. Consequently, Russia’s military didn’t receive its contractually stipulated hardware until the end of 2010 rather than the beginning of 2009.

But delays aren’t worst case scenarios in the world of Russian weapons procurement. It’s become common practice for many weapons manufacturers to simply recycle previously developed technologies and to repackage them as state of the art innovations. Fridinsky’s office recently conducted an inspection of 275 fighter jet refurbishment plants and discovered that several factory directors and subcontractors were colluding to reduce expenditures by employing outdated, used, or damaged parts. They concealed this by falsifying technical documents. The plants, in addition to knowingly putting the lives of Russian pilots at risk, cost the state millions in additional expenses.

Similarly, a past inspection in southern Russian revealed that a torpedo factory was presenting its old products as highly modernized improvements—well worth the millions in tax dollars (or in Russia’s case oil and natural gas dollars) being spent on their development. But this particular torpedo plant was a repeat offender. A more recent inspection exposed that the plant, having learned that it can’t merely repackage its own products, was now importing obsolete torpedo components from abroad. So much for Russia’s purported self-sufficiency in defense.

Such accounts are particularly relevant in the context of Russia’s ongoing military modernization program, which will nominally include an investment of $720 billion during the period 2010-2020. Last week President Dmitry Medvedev fired the heads of several weapons plants and a number of Defense Ministry officials because arms manufacturers failed to meet the state’s deadline for new weapons. The entire affair was very Soviet. Not only did the Kremlin set specific targets but Medvedev reminded those fired that back in the good old days they would have all been sent to labor camps. Much like in Soviet times, however, the dismissal of officials won’t stimulate the type of change needed to transform the Russian arms industry into an efficient and reliable procurement system. If Fridinsky’s figure is correct then Russia will lose roughly $144 billion to defense-related corruption over the next decade. A large fraction of the remaining $576 billion will likely be spent on marginally updated armaments whose technological sophistication remains rooted in models developed during the late Soviet era. What the Kremlin doesn’t understand is that Russia’s endemic corruption represents more of a threat to its national security than NATO ever will.

(flickr user mashleymorgan/U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg)

Secretary Gates’ Farewell Tour

by Richard Cleary

In today’s Boston Herald, the editorial board rightly praises Secretary Gates’ for his candor in a valedictory address earlier this week at AEI. Writing that the outgoing defense secretary has “truly found his voice,” the board applauds Gates’ stance on the defense budget amid trendy calls for slashing Pentagon spending: that further cuts will not leave America’s role in the world unaffected.

If anyone is positioned to say “enough” to ever-more draconian defense cuts, suggests the Herald, it is Gates, who has been relentless in the pursuit of efficiencies. But, tellingly, even this secretary is circumspect about the potential for deeper cuts:

The ‘low-hanging fruit’ — those weapons and other programs considered most questionable — have not only been plucked, they have been stomped and crushed.

The editorial staff closes with a compelling critique of those unconcerned about the strategic effect of defense cuts:

There are those benighted souls who would leave this nation a fifth-rate power, believing there are no good wars, no battles worth fighting. Gates is surely not in that camp. But he is a realist who has posed the right question: Do we want this nation to continue to lead? We vote yes to that.

For more on the Secretary’s farewell tour, see my blog post after the AEI address and check out AEI coverage of Gates’ earlier Notre Dame speech by Gary Schmitt, Mike Mazza and me.

Learn about the strategic implication of defense cuts from Defending Defense, a joint project of AEI, the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative, and don’t forget to read Gates’ AEI address in full and watch video highlights.

In a wonky speech at the American Enterprise Institute this afternoon, departing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reflected on his institutional decisions at the Pentagon and considered issues that his successor must confront. Beyond recapitalizing certain programs and addressing the Pentagon’s overhead costs, Gates argued that the team conducting the comprehensive review must be prepared to consider the strategic cost of further budget cuts. Gates noted that, though efficiencies remain to be found, they will not alone bring the Pentagon’s budget in line with President Obama’s proposed $400 billion reduction: in short, real capabilities must be cut. Gates advocated a clear-eyed approach to budgetary decisions and their effect on American missions:

We need to be honest with the president, with the Congress, with the American people, indeed with ourselves, about what those consequences (of additional defense budget reductions) are:  That a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.

Building on this point, the Secretary indicated that the ends should define the means in the defense budget. The comprehensive defense review must take stock of the big picture:

The tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people – accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades – want their country to play in the world.

In closing, the outgoing Secretary waxed eloquent on America’s place in the international order:

America does have a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet.  I share Winston Churchill’s belief that “the price of greatness is responsibility…[and] the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.”  This status provides enormous benefits – for allies, partners, and others abroad to be sure, but in the final analysis the greatest beneficiaries are the American people, in terms of our security, our prosperity, our freedom.

I know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the continued strength and global reach of the American military will remain the greatest deterrent against aggression, and the most effective means of preserving peace in the 21st century, as it was in the 20th.

Watch the video here and read the Secretary’s remarks here.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.


Iraq Needs Long-Term US Troop Presence

by Katherine Faley

Baghdad and Kirkuk have witnessed a series of violent bombings targeting Iraqi security forces this past week, as Iraq’s leaders meet this month to discuss the extension of a U.S. military presence beyond 2011. AEI resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan argues in a new report that negotiating a security agreement lengthening the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq past 2011 is an urgent national security priority for both Baghdad and Washington. Iraqi leaders, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, face a critical turning point that will determine the future of Iraq and its neighbors. Similarly, President Barack Obama must stay true to his pledge to Iraqis last Thursday that the United States will continue to be a “steadfast partner” by building a long-term strategic military partnership. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

• The absence of a U.S. strategic partnership with and military presence in Iraq will weaken the Iraqi military and could lead to the breakdown of internal security and political gains, which in turn could cause renewed communal conflict and the reemergence of militant Islamist groups. Conversely, Iraqi response to the sense of being abandoned by the United States could lead Baghdad to launch a rapid buildup of Iraq’s military to respond to regional threats, which would further destabilize an already unstable Middle East and badly damage essential efforts by the Iraqi government to meet the desires of its people for domestic progress.

• The presence of U.S. air power and ground troops in Iraq would assure Baghdad of its survival, and at less cost to Iraqi and regional security. The U.S. military can provide Iraq with the ability to hold its own against Iranian proxy groups, to deter and defeat an Iranian conventional military attack or air attack, and to deter or retaliate against an Iranian missile campaign. Internally, the United States could continue to play an irreplaceable role in keeping the peace along the Arab-Kurd fault line in northern Iraq.

• Iraqi leaders must choose what kind of Iraq they want—an independent, fully sovereign state beholden to no one, or a weak state, riven with internal tensions, subject to the constant manipulation and domination of its Persian neighbors. The decision will mark a fundamental bifurcation in Iraq’s future and must not be taken lightly.

The full text of the report is available now.

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

(flickr/U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Martin K. Newton)

It is still unclear what exactly happened during the Nakba Day protests on Israel’s northern border last Sunday, but thanks to Haaretz’s Amos Harel , things are a little less murky on the Israeli side.

We do know that hundreds of Palestinian protesters swarmed the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel in an attempt to infiltrate. Many managed to reach the main square of the Druze village Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, and one Palestinian even made his way to Jaffa. Israeli soldiers,-outnumbered 100 to 1 in some places and under a barrage of flying rocks- opened fire at Palestinians crossing the fence. Near Majdal Shams, four protesters were killed and more than 100 injured, while around 10 were killed on the Lebanese border. Israel claims that the Lebanese Army opened fire indiscriminately, causing most of the casualties. Israel has been reluctant to release footage of the incident out of concern that the humiliation of the Lebanese Army will keep them from acting to stop future infiltrations. Internal IDF reviews of the incident are obviously classified, but some information is starting to emerge.

Per Haaretz‘s Harel , we are able to begin gathering a picture of what happened that day on the Israeli side.  His article details the initial review within the Northern Command on the incidents.
Here’s how the events played out for the IDF-

On the Syrian front, Division 36 received intelligence that mass protests would occur at Kuneitra, 25 km south of Majdal Shams. They deployed two battalions in the area.

10:30 am
– In the Majdal Shams area, IDF spotters notice a few small buses of protesters and Syrian soldiers gathering across the border.

11:30 am-
The IDF observes 90 buses rolling toward the border near Majdal Shams from Damascus. Col. Eshkol Shukrun,  Golani Brigade Commander, sends only a reserve CO with seven soldiers to the area.

12:30 pm
– The reservists at Majdal Shams observe thousands of protesters gathering on the “Hill of Shouts”, 400 yards from the border. Col. Shukrun calls in soldiers from a tank battalion as reinforcements.

12:35 pm- Tens of protesters begin running toward the border fence, scuffling with the Syrian soldiers. They manage to steal two rifles and fire several shots toward Israel. They tear at the fence, trying to get into Israel. 1500 protesters swarm down the hill behind them.

12:55 pm
– The eight IDF soldiers face 1000+ angry protesters on the fence. In accordance with IDF rules of engagement, the soldiers begin selective fire at the feet of protesters crossing the fence. Within three minutes, 150 Palestinians cross the fence.

12:58 pm
– Col. Shukrun arrives on the scene. Shukrun and the reserve CO take a number of decisions in the field:
·   To separate the protesters on the Syrian side from those who had infiltrated.
·   To fire only at individuals endangering the lives of soldiers.
·   Despite the hundreds of Druze from Majdal Shams throwing stones at the soldiers, they decide not to place a closure on the town.  Instead, they send backup police and soldiers to the Druze town to contain the protesters who had infiltrated.

The IDF enters into discussions with the local Druze leaders, and convinces them to return the protesters to Syria. 137 uninjured protesters are brought back to Syria.

5:00 pm
– Col. Shukrun reports that the incident has ended.

The IDF incident review focused on the failure to call in the tank battalion to Majdal Shams at 11:30 am, when the protesters started massing. The hour-long wait before ordering in the battalion proved extremely costly. Also, backup forces were stationed too far from the border, and took a half hour to arrive. But overall, the IDF was not too distraught from the incident. Ultimately, the speedy decisions taken by commanders in the field prevented massive civilian deaths.

On the Lebanese border, the situation was quite different. Israel had intelligence about massive protests on the border, and concentrated forces  at three points on the fence. Israel also warned UNIFIL and the Lebanese army that it would use force to stop any infiltration. This seems to have worked somewhat, as the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) did stop protesters in some places, but Palestinians managed to break through the fence near Moshav Avivim.

Snipers and sharpshooters from the Golani Brigade opened fire at the protesters’ legs below the knee. The IDF reports that the Lebanese soldiers opened fire indiscriminately at the protesters. In addition, some protesters were injured when they stepped on the anti-personnel mines that lie on the Israel-Lebanon border.  The incident ended with 10 dead protesters and 130 injured.

Harel reports that the IDF has noticed the difference in the way the Lebanese army acted in this incident as compared to the August 2010 border flare-up. In that incident, LAF soldiers killed Lt. Col. Dov Harari as he commanded reserve soldiers cutting trees on the border, resulting in heavy IDF retaliation. This time, the LAF was completely uninterested in conflict with Israel, and even used heavy fire to keep protesters off the border.

It is important to note that the violence did not lead to any additional protests, and that quiet has returned to the border. However, the IDF is concerned about protests returning on upcoming Fridays, meant to draw attention away from the regular Friday protests against Assad, and about the date of June 6th, the anniversary of the Six Day War battles that resulted in Israeli control over the Golan Heights.

So how much damage did this incident do to Israel? On balance, not much. The usual anti-Israel folks used this as another club with which to hit Israel, fine. But they are going to criticize Israel for any loss of Arab life, so Israel can only fret about that so much.

Could Israel have handled this better? Of course, but Andrew Exum and other intelligent critics of the IDF response should remember that these protests could easily have ended in major loss of life, but the IDF was able to prevent that outcome. Israel has to manage a 150 mile border with Syria and Lebanon, and cannot guard every inch with soldiers on the fence. It will take a combination of intelligence, surveillance, deterrence and mobile defense to keep the border secure, but determined infiltrators will inevitably make it across from time to time.

It would be helpful to view the Israeli footage of the events, especially the LAF fire on the protesters. It would help the Israelis in their PR efforts, but they are thinking about the tangible problems that releasing the footage would cause.   Showing the LAF firing on Palestinians would bring significant pressure on them to not serve Israel’s interests, and would make the LAF much less likely to attempt to control protesters on the border next time.

The quicker the IDF is able to learn from its mistakes on Sunday, the better prepared it will be to drive off future protests without loss of life, and the harder it will be for Assad to divert Arab and world attention from his crackdowns on Syrian civilians.

(flickr/user PSP photos)

Gates Makes the Case for American Hard Power

by Richard Cleary

At the University of Notre Dame’s commencement yesterday morning, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reflected on the place of our military in securing peace: “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.” Arguing for a strong military against the backdrop of President Obama’s proposed cuts to the Pentagon, the secretary sought to address the issue of strategic solvency: “in this place and at this time.” Gates reminded listeners that “indispensable” though we may be, our place as guarantor of the international system is the product of the sacrifice of successive generations, and not something to be “taken for granted.”

The outgoing Secretary closed with the warning that “if America declines to lead the world, others will not.” What the secretary left unsaid is that the “others” most likely to replace us would almost certainly be less altruistic and equitable in their use of power than we have been. A decline in America’s global role would, in short, be to the detriment not only of Americans—including those of us who have led placid and uninterrupted lives while an all-volunteer force fights on our behalf—but also to the world at large.

Secretary Gates will be visiting the American Enterprise Institute this Tuesday, May 24, to discuss “America in the World.” Few are better equipped to reflect on the past and consider the future, and, in keeping with his Notre Dame address above, the secretary’s speech will doubtless thoughtful and broad-ranged. AEI’s Center for Defense Studies has been busy looking at the current policy battle over the ends, ways, and means of American power. Check out the work of our Defending Defense project (a joint effort of AEI, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative), and read up before the secretary speaks: “Setting the Record Straight on U.S. Military Requirements” and “China’s Military Build-up: Implications for U.S. Defense Spending.”

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(DOD photo/D. Myles Cullen)


Was Gates at Notre Dame Prologue?

by Gary Schmitt

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ commencement address this past weekend at the University of Notre Dame was one of a series of farewell speeches he will be giving as he steps down as Pentagon head next month. It will be the swan song not only for his tenure as secretary of defense but also for his four decades of public service in numerous administrations, Democrat and Republican.

The speech at South Bend was both remarkable and not-so-remarkable. It was not remarkable in the sense that it was fully in line with America’s post-World War II view of the place of military might in the country’s grand strategy.  Gates took note of the many threats and security concerns we face today—Afghanistan, the Middle East, new rising powers, Iran and North Korea, and terrorism—and the value of “hard power” as “the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th,” and the role of the United States as “the indispensable” nation in keeping peace and sustaining the international order. Although these points were succinctly and well put, the speech itself was one that any number of previous defense secretaries might have given.

What was remarkable about the address, however, is that it comes at a time when there are calls from both the Left and the Right, in Gates’ words, “to shrink America’s role in the world.” And even more remarkable is Secretary Gates’ willingness (albeit obliquely) to push back against the Obama administration’s decision to cut defense spending even more deeply than it already has, with the result of backing us into a lessened role in the world and forgoing benefits that accrue to having a military second-to-none. And while the secretary says that “all of these things happen mostly out of sight and out of mind to the average American, and thus are taken for granted,” he could just as easily be pointing the finger at the White House itself.

To be sure, Gates appears to have been of two minds when it comes to calls for defense cuts. Last year at this time, in a speech at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, the secretary said that the past decade had “opened up gusher in defense spending” and argued that the military had a surfeit especially of air and naval power. But then, just six months later, in November, when the chairmen of the president’s deficit commission put forward the idea of cutting $100 billion from the defense budget by 2015, he argued that even a 10 percent cut would do little to alleviate the problem of the federal deficit but would in fact be “catastrophic” to the military. One can’t help but think that, with those remarks and his address at Notre Dame, there is a bit of Gates’ attempting to close the barn door [to cutting defense] after that horse has already left.

Tomorrow, the secretary will be here at AEI. And the question is: was the Notre Dame address the prologue to a more detailed critique of what further cuts to defense will do to the nation’s security and its global role? Or will the secretary let his speech at South Bend stand as his final statement on the defense debate—useful, no doubt, but not explicit enough to be memorable.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(Defense Department photo/Cherie Cullen)

Press the Advantage

by Gary Schmitt

When you are in a fight and have your opponent down on the pavement with your boot on his neck, the last thing you want to do is step off. You keep the boot firmly planted, pressing even harder, until he yields. Otherwise it’s a certainty that he’ll get back up, start throwing punches again, and drag out a fight that should have been settled sooner.

Such is the case in Afghanistan with the American-led counterinsurgency against the Taliban and its jihadist allies. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we have the boot on our opponent’s neck. First, there was the killing of Osama bin Laden. While not directly related to the insurgency, the raid on Abbottabad did eliminate the most notable figure tied to the original reason for invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban regime.

Second, as each day goes by, there are more signs that the surge of troops into Afghanistan has reversed the momentum of the insurgency. So far, the Taliban’s spring offensive has amounted to attacks designed more as publicity stunts than as operationally serious counteroffensives. In the past 90 days alone, the allied effort has killed or captured some 500 insurgent leaders, while taking 2,700 lower-level fighters off the battlefield as well. Over the past half-year, with the surge fully in place, the coalition has seized more weapons caches than in the previous two years combined. Faced with this mounting pressure, it’s no surprise that reports from the field are full of accounts of local Taliban and Taliban sympathizers attempting to cut deals to save their skins.

Instead of using this momentum to finish the job, however, there are persistent rumors that the White House wants to use the success of the surge to reduce force levels this July more than commanders in the field desire. Bolstered by the usual voices on Capitol Hill, the White House may also use the opportunity to call for further cuts at year’s end, and promise more rapid withdrawals over the following year as we head into the presidential campaign season.

To be fair, President Obama has twice added a substantial number of U.S. troops to the Afghan theater, bringing the total number of American forces to around 100,000. But a precipitous withdrawal of those forces, just as they have gained the initiative, will only prolong the conflict. Our European allies will use the announcement of cuts to make their own. The Taliban will be bolstered by believing that time is on their side. Both the Afghan and Pakistani governments will increase their self-dealing and Machiavellian scheming. And the general population of Afghanistan will once again go back to fence-sitting, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

There is a simple truth about counterinsurgencies: If resourced properly, and if the strategy of “clear, hold, and build” is carried out consistently, success is very likely. Final victory may take awhile. But the cost of securing that victory decreases fairly rapidly once the population views the insurgents as more of an irritant than a potential victor. Since these conflicts often occur in the messiest and most uninviting of places, however, democracies typically under-resource their effort and do all they can to get out as quickly as possible. All of which is politically understandable—but strategically self-defeating.

We should not kid ourselves that the number of troops we have deployed to Afghanistan gives us the kind of flexibility that would allow for a significant drawdown. In late 2009, when General Stanley McChrystal spelled out his plans for what was required to turn around Afghanistan, he said the minimum number of troops needed was 40,000. The president gave him 30,000. The Afghan war is resourced at a level that allows the military to simply “get by” with its campaign plans. It’s a credit to the American and coalition troops that the anti-Taliban campaign has been as successful as it has been over the past year. But one would be hard pressed to find anyone on the ground in Afghanistan who thinks the effort is flush with soldiers.

One could make the argument that a politically astute White House would build upon this recent success to shore up the president’s commander in chief credentials and help neutralize the GOP’s traditional advantage when it comes to national security. But, given the close attention the administration pays to poll numbers and the apparent decline in support for the war in Afghanistan, it seems just as probable that the White House will see promises of substantial cuts in our forces there as good politics. That would be a terrible mistake.

Choosing a course of premature withdrawal will be the equivalent of taking America’s boot off the Taliban’s neck. And it will make it even more difficult to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion.

Cross-posted from May 23 issue of the Weekly Standard.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo/Cpl. Colby Brown)