Democracy Arsenal

December 03, 2013

Can the F-35 Replace the A-10?
Posted by The Editors

by Nickolai Sukharev 

F35One of the big decisions the United States Air Force has considered over the last few months is whether to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet as a cost saving measure while developing and procuring the F-35A Lightening II. Given the Budget Control Act caps on Pentagon spending and the need to better allocate funds, officials have expressed their preference to prioritize multi-mission platforms in the inventory. But the problem is that the F-35A is not a replacement for the A-10’s close air support. The reason is simple: it lacks comparable capabilities despite a higher operating cost.

Given the constrained budgetary environment, the comparative cost to maintain and operate the two aircraft should be a decisive consideration. The A-10 is a significantly cheaper aircraft to maintain, costing about $17,564 per flight hour. In contrast, the F-35A nearly doubles that with a hefty $35,200 per flight hour. Accounting for this difference are facts like the A-10’s 1:5 fuel consumption ratio. To put that into monetary context, the DoE’s Energy Information Administration estimates that current aviation jet fuel prices average at approximately $2.87 per gallon. The A-10 carries approximately (11,000 pounds) of internal fuel compared to the F-35A’s (18,250 pounds). Using a conversion calculator we can convert fluid weight into gallons. That comes out to approximately 1,647 gallons for the A-10, and 2,733 gallons for the F-35A. By multiplying the gallons by the average price, the fuel cost for a mission requiring a full tank would be $4,726.89 for the A-10 while the F-35A would be an astounding $7,843.71. These costs render it financially impractical for the F-35A to perform close air support operations of the A-10 in a tight fiscal environment.

Not only is the F-35A more costly to operate, but also it buys less close air support capability. The A-10 was designed from the start to be a close air support platform as a replacement for the Vietnam era A-1 Skyraiders. Close air support heavily depends on the aircraft’s loiter time. Loiter time is defined as the ability to cruise at slow speeds over a small area. Loiter range is, in part the function of range – the greater the range, the longer it can spend over an area of interest, where ground support may be needed. Compared to the F-35A, which has a range of about 1,200 nautical miles, the A-10 out flies its potential successor by about twice the distance, reaching a distance of 2,240nm. That additional range allows the A-10 to loiter above areas of battlefield activity further from its takeoff origin without the need to refuel.

Continue reading "Can the F-35 Replace the A-10?" »

October 16, 2013

After Geneva Talks A Consensus on Moving Forward
Posted by The Editors

By Homa Hassan

The two-day round of P5+1 negotiations with Iran just concluded in Geneva and Western diplomats are carefully reviewing a detailed proposal presented by Iran. As this proposal is being reviewed ahead of the follow-on meetings in November it is important to look at what the realistic prospects of a deal will look like. Going into this week’s talks, a number of commentaries came out attempting to set negotiations up for failure. However, it is widely agreed that a negotiated solution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program is the best way to achieve a sustainable solution and a recent survey of reports and recommendations from bipartisan think tanks and high-level experts demonstrates a broad consensus on how to approach negotiations and overall policy towards Iran.

On Sunday, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) wrote in the British paper The Telegraph, “My colleagues in the US Senate and I…will not accept any level of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. We will not accept an Iranian plutonium reactor. And unless we see Iran take immediate steps to comply with all its Security Council obligations, we will move forward with a new round of sanctions targeting all remaining Iranian revenue and reserves.”

Across the board, however, experts agree that it is unrealistic and infeasible to expect a permanent end to Iranian enrichment.  The body of literature indicates that after international concerns are resolved through rounds of negotiations, future enrichment will need strict IAEA supervision. At the same time, the authors encourage exchanging recognition for the right to enrich for a limit on the extent of enrichment, as well as discussing the cost-benefit angles of Iran’s nuclear policies, facilities, and security. Tantamount to moving negotiations forward, the reports say that hostile rhetoric needs to take a backseat during opening of the negotiation process.

Important to keep in mind is that negotiations do not mean appeasement. If sanctions have thus far been working well enough to commence negotiations again, their value has provided the leverage most useful as a preventative tool. The experts agree that forgoing new sanctions and creating a plan to gradually lift them with verifiable cooperation allows sanctions to be among the negotiators’ most useful bargaining chips. They also note that new sanctions could be counterproductive and prevent an amenable deal for the West. The reports further note that a more positive reaffirmation of commitment to the region and strengthening of security and diplomatic ties during negotiations with Iran serve to more adequately bolster U.S. interests, regardless of Iran’s nuclear future.

On the military options, Ambassadors Eric Edelman and Dennis Ross, co-chairs of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, put out a report over the long weekend, saying “[The U.S.] should also make clear the alternatives to an acceptable deal are enhanced sanctions that could collapse Iran's economy and/or a U.S. military strike.” Echoing the sentiment yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) published an op-ed for USA Today in which he wrote “[A]t some point, Congress should consider making it very clear that if it becomes necessary, the United States reserves the right to take military action to prevent Iran from continuing to advance its nuclear weapons program.” 

The body of expert literature indicates that while the P5+1 have pursued parallel diplomatic and pressure tracks, it is clear that neither approach on their own can induce desirable or sustainable consequences. They assert that while keeping a credible and well thought-out military plan on file is important, ramping up the threat of military force could be extremely costly in a number of ways. Any military operation in a country with the geographic size and location of Iran would not be enough to dash Iranian nuclear aspirations, but could easily rock an already volatile geopolitical region and destroy international support that has taken years, if not decades, to form. Even in the event that the international community fails to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, the authors assert that predefined contours of a military option as a last resort necessitate multilateral and long-term strategies to resolve the nuclear impasse.

To see the full set of options, refer to the matrix on Addressing Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recommendations


Ms. Hassan is a Herbert Scoville Peace Fellow at the National Security Network


October 15, 2013

TPP, TTIP and Getting America's Competitiveness Back on Track
Posted by Bill R. French

By Marcela Heywood

TPPLast week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia marked further progress for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and set an ambitious goal to finish negotiations by the end of the year. Although the U.S. government shutdown – and President Obama’s absence in Bali – did not hinder the trade talks, it did call America’s credibility into question. Government shutdown could threaten both TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations by displaying uncertainty in U.S. economic and foreign policy priorities. Congress needs to reach an agreement and prioritize TPP and TTIP, as they are necessary policy initiatives to boost American competitiveness, stimulate the economy, and exert soft power to create and solidify American norms overseas.

21st century foreign policy must recognize the increasingly economic nature of competitiveness. Globalization has created an environment where “economic concerns typically -- but not always -- outweigh traditional military imperatives.” Over the last 10 years, world powers, like China and other recent leaders, have established power on economic rather than military capabilities, showing the importance of a dynamic economy. U.S. competitiveness depends on our ability to lead with the economy at the center of our geopolitical strategy while maintaining military strength.

American competitiveness has declined over the past decade, threatening the economy as well as our national security. The international power structure is shifting as economic growth has surged in developing countries. Since 2008, American economic competitiveness has fallen from its historically consistent 1st place ranking to a 7th place ranking for 2012-2013. In addition, decreasing FDI inflows to the U.S. mark falling competitiveness, because FDI flows primarily go to multinational companies, which often fuel innovation.

Continue reading "TPP, TTIP and Getting America's Competitiveness Back on Track" »

September 06, 2013

Reassessing the Washington Consensuses (Consensi?) -- Views from Brazil
Posted by David Shorr

Palacio PlanaltoLast month, colleagues and I spent a week in Brazil in an effort to take the pulse of Brazil's foreign policy community. The intensive itinerary was arranged with the help of leading think tank CEBRI and included senior and very senior officials. 

Our conversations were pretty wide-ranging, trying to gauge sentiment in a key emerging power. Naturally there isn't any single collective worldview of the Brazilian establishment, so instead I'll convey some of the different strains of thought. The best way to summarize, perhaps, is to take stock of the Washington Consensuses. I use the plural consensuses because the term can be used in three different senses -- two that are familiar, and another that I'd add. 

At one level the consensus remains solidly intact. The international system operates on the tacit assumption that free market economies and democratically accountable governance work best. Think of the frequent observation that China's shown no signs of being a revolutionary power or pushing an alternative 'Beijing Consensus' paradigm. And nor were any such ideas broached by Brazilians we spoke to.

Of course this level of generalities and broad principles leaves major issues open for debate, and important new debates seem to be percolating. I will discuss those further below, but first I want to raise a second sort of Washington consensus: basic confidence in, and acceptance of, American global leadership. In this area we heard notable ambivalence. 

On the one hand, an affirmation of the United States durable influence was signaled --explicitly rejecting the notion of American decline. Contrary to media depictions, we didn't get complaints about the NSA eavesdropping revealed by the Snowden leaks. We were in Brasilia at an interesting time, shortly after a visit by Secretary of State Kerry that had focused on a prospective state visit by President Rousseff to Washington. Even though our trip preceded the current Syria controversy, the debate over intervention points toward the other side of the ambivalence in Brazilian policy circles toward US leadership. It can be seen in the contrasting US and Brazilian multilateral agendas; where the US views "rogue" nations as the greatest threat, Brazil harbors significant concerns about the sole superpower going rogue.

The third meaning of Washington Consensus is the neoliberal agenda, and it's the level at which interesting renegotiation is taking place. This Washington Consensus entails unquestioning belief in the marketplace -- just stay out of the way and let the invisible hand work its magic. Many of the issues currently on the multilateral agenda represent departures from neoliberal laissez faire fundamentalism. 

Let's start with the story of Brazil's success as a major emerging economy. While Brazil stabilized its economy initially by taming inflation in the 1990s, its achievements in poverty reduction and economic equality came through state intervention -- classic social safety net. Some of the biggest issues here at the G-20 summit (I'm in St. Petersburg this week) reinforce the point: regulation of financial markets and capital flows and clamping down on corporate tax-avoidance. All run counter to the dictates of liberalization.

The food security agenda of protecting the world's poorest against sharp commodity price spikes is also part of the trend. Where liberalization calls for all the commodities produced to be on the market, the 2008 food crisis brought renewed interest in the usefulness of government-held "buffer stocks" to dampen any panic buying or speculation. And one of the rationales for regulation of derivatives is to prevent investor profiteering during a crisis.

One question after the financial meltdown was whether it would totally discredit the US economic model and prompt a wholesale abandonment of the Washington Consensus at this level. That didn't happen, and acceptance of market principles is still the accepted wisdom for many issues. Even so, other that policy approaches that used to be dominant orthodoxy are now interesting debates.

September 04, 2013

Beware the G-20 Summit Syria Freak-Out
Posted by David Shorr

782291274ST. PETERSBURG - For the next 24-48 hours, there will be a lot of breathless stories about the G-20 summit here being swamped by controversy over what to do about Syria. You might want to add a few grains of salt before consuming. 

It's true that the Syria war is quite off-topic for the G-20 -- the main focus of which is the health of the global economy -- and that world leaders can hardly avoid the subject. But in all likelihood they will handle the matter with great caution, and with minimal disruption to the existing G-20 agenda and role.

A few things to bear in mind. First, recall that when President Obama cancelled his bilateral Moscow summit with President Putin, he made a point of confirming his attendance at the G-20 conclave. His reason: the importance of continued cooperation on the global economy. Second, even if the G-20 had a clear role or mechanism to handle international security crises, the gap dividing the key players is too wide for them to take collective action. It's hard to see how a public display of diplomatic rancor would benefit any of the leaders.  

Then to bring it down to a practical level, ask yourself what kind of communique would be issued from a summit that became unmoored from the agenda presidential advisers developed for the past year and wrapped around the axle of the world's most sensitive current issue. Actually the question of the communique is a good departure point to imagine potential scenarios, from likeliest to improbable:

1. Syria is discussed more in the summit's margins than in the plenary sessions with all the leaders, and the communique includes brief and bland language on the subject. Regardless of how much (or little) consensus is reached, Syria will be Topic A for most of the discussions outside the main meeting room. If Obama and Putin remain sharply at odds, for instance, each will be pressing hard to gain the sympathy and support of the other leaders. In this regard, it's notable that G-20 foreign ministers have been invited to St. Petersburg (it's typically a finance ministers' show). 

2. The Syria crisis is embraced as a summit topic and communique language reflects substantive agreement or differences (or both). It could happen. As professional politicians, the G-20 leaders feel a strong need to remain relevant to world events and the daily news cycle. It's conceivable, then, that the communique gives at least a barometer of attitudes toward the Syria crisis. In that event, media parsing of the result will be worth watching. Then again, do we really envision Putin playing the consensus-building facilitator for the group? Quite a delicate task for a leader who has thus far staked a pretty strong position. But who knows, stranger things have happened. One more caveat here, there could be extensive discussion of Syria but minimal language due to lack of agreement.

3. The St. Petersburg summit turns out to be a watershed for unified collective action on Syria. As I say, the leaders must be feeling the tug of relevance and the pressure of an awful situation that doesn't reflect very well on them. We've seen vague signs of new flexibility from President Putin but that could be merely an attempt to lower the temperature. And even if there is some sort of diplomatic breakthrough, it won't be conclusive multilaterally -- never mind for the crisis itself. Since the G-20 simply doesn't have a mechanism to deal with such situations, this meeting could only tee things up for another multilateral venue, most likely the UN Security Council.

4. A full and frank exchange of views (as they say). What if the summit host decides to raise the temperature, rather than lower it? It would certainly be an odd choice, given that leaders usually volunteer themselves as hosts to make themselves look statesman-like. In the scenario of a rancorous full and frank discussion, the communique would offer little hint of how contentious it really was. For that we'd have to rely on leaks and media coverage.

But I'll make one confident prediction regardless of which scenario emerges: the summit agenda that took shape before Syria worsened will remain largely intact. For a broad variety of issues -- from financial regulation to infrastructure investment, climate change financing and food security -- a whole series of steps and agreements have been crafted by G-20 counterparts at all levels of government. For that matter, the current G-20 agenda is the result of the past five years of the forum's evolution. And perhaps that is the key point: multilateral cooperation is a patient and steady endeavor.

Photo: Russia G20 Host Photo Agency

September 03, 2013

Some Questions That Skeptics of a Syria Attack Should Ask Themselves
Posted by David Shorr

File:Syrian soldier aims an AK-47.jpgWe really have to get a few things straight for this debate over attacking Syria to be remotely constructive. Above all, we need to focus on the proposition at hand -- the proposed action and its intended aims -- rather than loading it up with the full weight of this awful situation in Syria.

The confusion has run rampant across the recent media coverage and commentary. For every paragraph on President Obama's proposal to punish Assad for using chemical weapons there is another graf criticizing the plan for failing to resolve the core conflict.

The first step to an intellectually honest debate, therefore, is for everyone involved to get clear on the first-order questions: is the use of chemical weapons in itself a distinct transgression and grounds for a discrete punishment by force?

For my part, I believe that the chemical weapons attacks stand out from Assad's sustained brutality, even in the context of the wanton massacres he has inflicted on his own people. Likewise I think that military strikes to uphold the taboo against CW can duly punish the Assad regime without further ensnaring the United States in the war. No, President Obama's proposed strikes will not bring the political resolution to the conflict that Syria so desperately needs. Achieving a peaceful settlement is a worthy aim, no question. It is also a lot harder to achieve than President Obama's objective of making Assad pay a price for gasing his own people. 

Having addressed some of the issues raised by skeptics of the proposed strikes, I'll pose the rest of my points in the form of questions I'd like them to consider. 

1. Did Assad cross a line by using chemical weapons? We can stipulate that Assad has flouted a number of humanitarian norms in the two years of his bloody campaign to hold onto power. I'm asking whether these most recent 1,000 killings stand out from the 100,000 others. Being something of a lapsed old-school arms control wonk, I place real value in international norms against categories of weapons. And for the other pertinent body of global norms, international humanitarian law, the essential point is to rule some actions out-of-bounds even amidst the horrors of war. In historical terms, we could consider punishing Assad as a way of honoring the victims of the World War I gas attacks that originally shocked the global conscience about chem weapons. I remember 20-25 years ago when the Chemical Weaopns Convention was negotiated, the first President Bush was said to be spurred by his mother's memories of that war. 

2. Is intervening really an all-or-nothing proposition? I see a lot of arguments that it's only worth striking Syrian government forces if it will tip the balance of the war in the opposition's favor -- or that initially limited strikes would inevitably lead to wider US involvement. On the latter, I don't accept the premise that our military actions cannot be kept within a relatively modest scale and objectives. Tom Nichols gives a similar view (but with the added historical perspective befitting a scholar) in his own excellent blog post / list over at the War Room. My own proposed aims are even narrower than Tom's: inflict significant damage on Syria's military capability so that Assad pays a price for his CW attacks. 

Then on the former argument about changing the course of the war, we notably have the McCain-Graham position -- and it's a strange one. Flying in the face of the American public's war-weariness, the Senate's two amigos are threatening to oppose President Obama's proposal as not enough. They want the US to get deeper into the Syrian war. Surely Senators Graham and McCain realize there's zero chance of Congress approving wider US involvement; can they explain their calculation that a limited strike would be worse than none at all? Now I'll admit that this leaves the question of how, exactly, to calibrate the attack to the punitive objective (on these difficulties, see Fred Kaplan over at Slate). My point here is to defend the very notion of a limited action. 

3. Can the taboo against chem weapons be upheld without a military strike? I don't think so. At this point, the only way to enforce the international norm is by force -- as I say, hitting Assad where it hurts militarily. The only serious alternative I've seen outlined came from our own Heather Hurlburt (aka @natsecHeather) in a series of tweets on August 29, but I think it's too late for that. While President Obama himself might draw lessons about the trickiness of red lines, even those might not spare us from the dilemmas posed by the August 21 chemical attack.

4. What is the likelihood of a Syrian / Hezbollah / Iranian retaliation, and why would they want to?  When it comes to the possibility of the US or allies facing retaliation for our attack, we have to distinguish between plausibility and probability. Just because we can imagine reprisals from Syria or its allies, doesn't mean they'd happen. I don't mean to be glib or dismissive of these parties' asymmetric options; I'd just highlight the difference when the United States is already fully involved in a war versus intervening from the outside. In other words, does Damascus or Tehran really want to provoke the US to ? I think Assad has his hands full with the opponents already lined up against him. (Actually, it's the Syrian opposition who have an interest in drawing the US all the way into the conflict.)

And what about multilateralism? The last question is one I direct to myself. I am keenly aware that the world community is not unified as it was in 2011 against Ghaddafi. And I can't really add much to Ross Douthat's pitch-perfect column on the subject. This is where the comparison to Kosovo is most apt, an intervention that could be legitimate without being legal. Because I can't see a failure to punish Assad as the right thing. 

August 12, 2013

On the Importance of Relationships -- The Artie Fufkin Doctrine
Posted by David Shorr

Artie fufkinThe current rough patch between Presidents Obama and Putin sent me back to a figure who placed a lot of stock in relationships: Artie Fufkin (Polymer Records). When no fans showed up for an in-store appearance by Spinal Tap, Fufkin had little patience for the store owner's weasel words about business being slow and it not being a personal thing:

Forget personal thing. We had a relationship here, forget personal thing, what about a relationship?

But to be more serious, Obama's cancellation of the summit is a good opportunity to ask what is achieved through bilateral dialogue with other governments -- not just Russia, but nations that matter to the United States for one reason or another. For instance, where does this leave the idea of engagement and the importance of talking to regimes with whom we have serious differences? In short this idea has its limits, just like anything else. 

The original critique of refusal to engage still stands. It just doesn't do any good to say "we don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it." In retrospect, though, the term engagement an imperfect watchword for the alternative approach because it implies that US reasonableness offers a short, sure path to diplomatic resolution. Of course engagement doesn't come with a guarantee any more than square-jawed resolve does. Either way, it depends how the other side responds; as they say in the military, the adversary gets a vote.

So there are a couple key points about the real purpose of engagement. First, being reasonable and seeking mutually acceptable outcomes is the only way diplomatic solutions are even possible. Second, there's the advantage that a reasonable party can gain over another party that's clearly being more stubborn. Which is precisely the basis for the Obama administration's success in building a united international front of pressure on Iran. (Actually, I've always liked the way President Obama prefers operating from the position of the provoked rather than the provoker.)

Now returning to the case of Vladimir Putin, bilateral dialogue is vital when it has the prospect of reaching agreement but not as a fig leaf for dysfunctions in a relationship. Maybe the Snowden affair wouldn't have been worth a cancellation if there were possible agreements on other matters such as arms control or human rights, except that there aren't. Nevertheless, Snowden isn't worth a serious rupture in US-Russian relations. The challenge now is to keep tensions from escalating or friction from getting out of hand. And that's why they call it statecraft.

Meanwhile, as this situation was percolating I noticed a couple of very smart pieces by experts looking at other high-stakes relationships. The Wilson Center's Michael Kugelman offers an interesting post mortem on Secretary Kerry's recent visit to Pakistan and offers some general context for strategic dialogue and relationships:

Washington has few strategic relationships — wide-ranging, foolproof partnerships overflowing with so much trust that intelligence-sharing is taken for granted. Those relationships that do exist (the US-Israel and US-UK interactions) can easily withstand any bilateral bumps.

The US-Pakistan relationship, by contrast, is not blessed with a large reservoir of goodwill to weather crises. Cursed with unrealistic expectations, divergent interests and mutual mistrust, US-Pakistan relations are volatile at best and dysfunctional at worst. It wouldn’t take much to bring a resurrected strategic dialogue to a screeching halt.

This isn’t to say the strategic dialogue isn’t worth restarting; both nations are certainly better off with a deeper relationship. It would be folly for Washington to take lightly a nation that a) controls critical supply routes to and from Afghanistan b) exerts influence over the Afghan Taliban and c) in the long-term, is one of the world’s most youthful, populous and strategically placed countries. Likewise, it would be silly for Pakistan to shrug off a superpower that provides so many essential things — from export markets to economic assistance to military hardware.

A good clear-eyed argument for why we have to try meeting mutual interests -- and why it won't be easy. If I have one qualm, it's with using the relationships with Israel and the UK as paradigms. Kugelman is right about the high degree of trust and affinity (only Canada, Japan, and Mexico come close as intimates of the United States). But relations with our closest allies are hardly a fair standard by which to measure other efforts at strategic dialogue. 

With America's frenemies dialogue is a matter of accomplishing as much diplomatic business as possible. For a case study in wide-ranging attempted cooperation, just look at the US-China strategic and economic dialogue. In fact, leading China hand David Shambaugh of George Washington University has done just that over at China-US Focus. There's no guarantee that all this dialogue will bear fruit, but it's a fascinating picture of what many call -- with good reason -- the world's most important bilateral relationship. 

July 30, 2013

Chemical weapons or not, more arms in Syria fan the flames
Posted by Homa Hassan

Russia and the U.S. need to take first conflict resolution steps—then Syria can

Exactly one year froSyria weaponsm now will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. A war of firsts in many respects, it was also the advent of modern chemical warfare, when canisters of chlorine and phosgene gases dispersed by the wind into the notorious trenches wiped out swaths of soldiers, and survivors faced a lifetime of suffering. The subsequent uses of chemical weapons in the 1980s and 90s by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Aum Shinrikyu doomsday cult in Japan horrified the international community, so one might understand why chemical weapons use could lend itself to the basis of pinning down “red line” criteria for heightened U.S. involvement in Syria.  However, despite the impulse to react to Syria’s abuses with action such as arming the rebels, sending more arms into the conflict will undoubtedly end poorly.

The two year anniversary of the Syrian conflict coincided with the arrival of two United Nations officials in Syria this past week to begin outlining the scope of inquiry with Syrian officials on allegations of sarin use in Aleppo.  However, the official verification of chemical weapons should not be the determinant of the United States’ next step. While the Obama administration is not tied to committing arms to the rebels in light of the allegations, as is with most U.S. foreign policy decisions, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  So in as unpredictable a conflict as Syria’s civil war, common reason has to supercede political standing in vital decision making.

As UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi remarked, there is no military solution in this explosive civil war, and sending in more weapons will only “fan the flames indefinitely.”  With Russia still brokering arms contracts with Assad’s government and the United States discussing arming the Syrian opposition, these two powers’ foreign affairs leaders are looking for a way to break the impasse contributing to the status quo.

At the beginning of this month, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reinvigorated the initiative of a Syrian peace conference discussed in May that got steamrolled by Assad’s battle gains. But as Kerry stated, “‘Whether the regime is doing better or the opposition is doing better is frankly not determinative of that outcome because the outcome requires a transition government,’ referring to efforts to negotiate a political settlement.”

While U.S.-Russian cooperation is an optimistic sign and both are committed to having the peace conference, as is to be expected, there are multiple hang-ups: The Russians want Iran, which backs Assad in the talks, but the U.S. wants them out. The rebels want additional arms supplies as a precondition to involvement, but the fear that more arms will fall into the wrong hands is looming heavily.  The make-up of who on the Syrian side should be involved in the talks vary.

Brahimi suggests what might be the crucial precondition to the conference, but not for either faction of the Syrians.  He says “the flow of arms has to stop to both sides, stressing its importance to a political arrangement. Considering the stalemate in the Security Council preventing intervention, the divided public opinion on the level or lack of international involvement, and perhaps most significantly the unpredictable consequences of adding more weapons to the mix, it oddly appears that the most controllable aspect is first getting the U.S. and the Russians (and the Iranians and the Europeans) to lay down their arms, at least for the duration of the talks and until a political settlement can be reached.

The U.S., while not walking back on its “red line” commitment, can still strengthen its line of credibility, role in the conflict, and legitimacy as the world’s indispensible superpower.  The Russians find a new outlet of global leadership in an unlikely footing.          

Since getting on the same page has been impossible in rounds of the Security Council, the death toll in Syria is disconcertingly high and escalating, and discussions of the responsibility to protect are failing to mix with volatile regional power struggles, it’s time to expand the alternate tracks of piecing together the foundations of a diplomatic solution. 

Ms. Hassan is a Herbert Scoville Peace Fellow at the National Security Network and has a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

July 14, 2013

Getting Ready to Ratchet Iran Sanctions Down [UPDATED]
Posted by David Shorr

I wanted to circle back to a recent piece by Carnegie Endowment President Jessica Mathews on Obama foreign policy. Ostensibly writing from a sympathetic perspective, I see her falling into the same trap as critics who attack the president from the right. The piece doesn't really wrestle with the trade-offs, tough calls, or factors and actors beyond the administration's control.
That said, she makes a crucial point about sanctions and Iran's nuclear program:
Ultimately, the hardest step may be persuading Congress that sanctions can be effective only if one is as prepared to lift them as to impose them. Unfortunately, Congress has gotten rather drunk on sanctioning Iran at what may turn out to be the worst time.
Absolutely, if we tighten sanctions in the absence of cooperation, then we must ease them when Tehran is more forthcoming. In seeking a peaceful solution, it's vitally important for Iran to be offered a way out of enforced isolation. Unless positive moves by Iran are reciprocated, they won't have any incentive to change course. 
The aim of the negotiations should be concession and compromise, not capitulation. This is why the distinction between policy-change and regime-change is so critical. Working diplomatically to ensure the civilian nature of Iran's nuclear program entails a stark choice. If you want a non-nuclear weapon Iran, this necessarily means reaching a deal with the regime in Tehran. If the true aim is to drive Iranian leaders from power, they'll just barrelahead with the nuclear program. 
After the breakdown of talks in the fall of 2009, I supported the tightening of sanctions. Sensitive to charge of wanting "sanctions for sanctions' sake," I offereded a rationale in my review of Trita Parsi's excellent book for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. As Rouhani assumes the presidency and a new round of talks tests his intentions, the question gains new salience. There is still the matter of how much sanctions-relief should be exchanged for what level of cooperation, but Jessica hit the nail on the head: in order to work, sanctions have to be ratcheted downward and not just ever-tightened. 
[NOTE: An earlier version of this post used a Jon Wolfsthal tweet as a point of departure. I misconstrued Jon's intent and apologize for implicating him in my own critique.]

The G-20 Agenda -- A View From the White House Sherpa
Posted by David Shorr

20130712094420002_hdThe other day I moderated a discussion of the G-20's agenda for St. Petersburg in September at a CSIS summit preview event organized by Matt Goodman's political economy program at the center. But the key point about the scope of the G-20's remit came from Caroline Atkinson, President Obama's top international economic policy adviser and his personal representative (or Sherpa) in the preparations for the G-20 and other summits. (You can watch my panel session on C-SPAN here and Atkinson's keynote presentation here.)

Fellow G-20 wonks familiar with the running debate regarding the breadth of topics on the docket -- and my own view of the matter -- will understand why I was so pleased to hear Caroline Atkinson say this:

So there are other issues that over the years have been added to the agenda, and I was just having a debate yesterday with one of my other Sherpa colleagues who was saying we should do a ‘back to basics’ and only worry about the global economy debate.  And I don’t agree with that because I think that part of the power of the G-20 also is that these countries—if we make policy commitments—they can have an important role in setting a global agenda and in affecting the global economy in a larger sense, not just the current and fiscal account deficits but other important areas.

And one of the important steps the G20 has taken in recent years--which might seem not central to the global macro debate but is of enormous importance in the world—was to agree not to put on export bans for food products in times of shortage. That helped a lot of countries to explain to their domestic audiences why they would not, in times of shortage, think of resorting to an export food ban. And we know from the work that IMF and others have done that these export bans worsened the global food crisis. Just an example of how in a global world what any country does can really have a quick and immediate impact.

The idea of the G-20 going back to basics has many proponents. They argue that the process must stay focused on its core responsibilities for macroeconomic policy and financial regulation. From this vantage, other ancillary issues distract and detract from the really important work. But like Atkinson, I take the opposite view. Far from being distractions, topics like food security, climate change, and anti-corruption are opportunities for the G-20 to do some good.

As I argued at length in an earlier post, there's some scapegoating going on here:

I've seen this many times in discourse regarding multilateral bodies; in the rush to criticize the collective entity, the policy and political divisions among member governments get overlooked. So we can debate the wisdom of tight fiscal and monetary policy, but the G-20 has clearly given its leaders ample opportunity for, as they say, a full and frank exchange of views. The November 2011 Cannes summit, for example, was pretty much consumed by the Greek political crisis.

So let's not forget that the leaders sharply disagreed on the central question of how to promote economic growth and recovery from the Great Recession. Then there is Atkinson's point about "the power of the G-20" and its unique combination of influential global players fom the developed and developing world. The G-20 actually has two identities within the broader multilateral system. Its more prominent role is collective stewardship of the global economy. The other has to do with shifts in the global power distribution and the rise of emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil. The G-20 summits are a multilateral innovation that bring together the emerging and established powers as peer equals, and macroeconomic policy is hardly the sole sphere needing their collective attention and action. (For a fuller exposition and proposal, see Barry Carin and my "G-20 as a Lever for Progress.")

The example of food commodity markets cited by the US Sherpa is apt indeed. Besides the historic financial meltdown, 2008 also saw a food crisis and spike in prices with an even more direct impact on the world's poorest households. The underlying issue for what Atkinson described is, just like with financial regulatory reform, whether enough has been done to prevent a recurrence. And as it happens, my organization recently published a paper on this question by food security expert Sophia Murphy.

June 16, 2013

Zero Nuclear Weapons -- Maybe / Maybe Not in My Lifetime
Posted by David Shorr


Like many foreign policy mavens of a certain age (i.e. from That 70s Generation), I got into this business to oppose the nuclear arms race. Thirty years later, we find ourselves living in proverbial "interesting times." Ever since President Obama's famed Prague speech, the aim of US policy is the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, as the above video from Global Zero so poignantly reminds us. The arsenals of the two Cold War-era superpowers have been reduced significantly. Yet we've also seen so-called horizontal proliferation -- to new nuclear-armed states -- headed in the wrong direction, with the addition of the world's 9th and potentially 10th nuclear powers.

So it isn't easy to envision how we get to zero, but nonetheless important to try. In Prague the president said the goal might not be reached in his lifetime. Assuming we make it to our early-80s, though, that gives us 30 more years -- a timeframe that does seem plausible. A lot can change in three decades, as we've seen. And that's really the point: that nuclear abolition will be achieved through a sequence of changes.  

These issues came to mind recently when writing a piece for the G8 Research Group and Newsdesk Media's issues guide for the upcoming G8 summit and also in side conversations with colleagues at the ASAN Plenum conference in Seoul. In my summit piece, I framed US-Russian reductions and the challenges of North Korean / Iran as representing alternative nuclear futures. They presage the futures that were on the minds of negotiators in the late-1960s as they drafted the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Depending on how things go, we'll either move toward the disarmed world stipulated by the NPT or the ever-growing nuclear club the treaty was intended to prevent.  

As I say, the path toward zero will be marked by changes along the way. Clearly the final steps will be especially tricky; nations surrendering their last nukes will want to be quite confident that everyone else is doing likewise. On the other hand, those last disarmament steps will only come after the ground has already been laid. By the time we're dealing with the practicalities of a nuclear weapons-free world, the world will already have travelled a great distance. Consider the following as a rough sequence of steps / contingencies.

Continue reading "Zero Nuclear Weapons -- Maybe / Maybe Not in My Lifetime" »

June 13, 2013

Breaking Down the Wonk/Pundit Stovepipes
Posted by David Shorr

Oilprice logo3Recently I did a media interview with a different kind of outlet than usual: a web-based energy market newsletter called Since it was this blog that led interviewer James Stafford to my doorstep, I thought I'd complete the circle by posting substantive points from our exchange as well as some broader reflections on what foreign policy wonks and traders -- or at least economic and foreign policy -- have to do with each other.

Our main topic was the multilateralism of climate change, particularly the question of whether the regime for carbon emission reductions post-Kyoto Protocol must take the form of a legally-binding treaty. As I say in the interview, a system of pledges and peer review may be more workable and appropriate:

We’ve seen that Beijing and New Delhi are more amenable to a system of peer review for GHG reductions than a fully elaborated and codified treaty. And here in our own country, senate Republicans’ waning interest in the issue (or outright hostility) makes US ratification of any treaty uncertain at best. 

Not that shifting to a looser “pledge and review” framework would settle all the difficult issues. China and India have also put up resistance when it comes to measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG levels.  Yet these kinds of steps to monitor progress are no less important for an informal climate regime. The whole point of a peer review system would be to get on with the work of cutting emissions instead of wrangling over every word of a draft treaty.

In certain areas like nuclear disarmament, I believe in traditional black-letter conventions as much as the next multilateralist. But as I've written on this blog before, that might not be the right approach for climate change. The reasons have to do with India and China. To start with, the Kyoto agreement's glaring gap was that it placed no obligation for emission cuts on the two rising powers (a flaw that climate-shirkers in the developed world have seized on). And because of China and India's economic development and growth imperatives, they'll only be willing to go so far. Also, one of the big questions about the impact of rising powers on the international system is the anticipated shift of their role from "rule-takers" to "rule-makers." This issue might be the harbinger of that shift. 

Not that I'm breaking new ground here. Bona fide experts on energy and climate change diplomacy like CFR's Michael Levi or Joshua Busby of the LBJ School have forgotten more than... But despite the intense fight in the UNFCCC over a legally-binding agreement, it hasn't really been subject to much debate in the wider policy community.

Which brings me to the topic of the lines that divide the major areas of discourse and policy in international affairs. We tend to think of stovepiping as an inter-agency process problem, with parts of the bureaucracy too focused on their patches of turf to see the big picture or produce smart policy. But lately I've wondered about the relationship between larger policy realms and professional specializations such as economic, foreign, social, or security policy. Is there another problem stemming from too much separation of the conversations among wonks contending with the different baskets of issues? 

In my own case, I'm a foreign policy specialist who often finds himself the odd man wonk out in a crowd of economic policy types. This could mean two things. Either I'm at the vanguard of a new convergence between economic and political affairs, or I've wandered off from my own herd and ended up in another. I'd like to think it's the former -- that the dividing lines have shifted, or blurred at any rate. So then, what's wrong with the standard ways of categorizing and deliberating the substance of international policy? 

Continue reading "Breaking Down the Wonk/Pundit Stovepipes" »

May 08, 2013

Revisiting Benghazi
Posted by James Lamond

IssaToday’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa raised more questions than it answered. These are not questions about the assault on Benghazi or the response to the events, but rather questions on the process and rationale behind the hearing.

The tragic Benghazi attack has been thoroughly examined and has established a record with more than 30 hearings, interviews and briefings with senior government officials – including high-profile hearings with former Secretaries Clinton and Panetta as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey; the review of more than 25,000 pages of documents; and a thorough investigation by an Accountability Review Board (ARB), chaired by two distinguished nonpartisan statesmen: Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen.

Meanwhile, today’s hearing was the follow-up to a report released last month by the Republican chairs of five committees, who excluded their Democratic counterparts from the process - an unusual move on a sensitive national security issue. Needless to say there are a few flaws with the process going into the hearing and concerns about how the Committee’s methodology for its investigation.

Witness list: Was Amb. Pickering denied an invitation to testify? This morning a new controversy emerged about the witness list. Chairman Issa claimed in his opening remarks that Amb. Pickering was asked to testify but declined. The State Department disputed this telling ABC News that “Ambassador Pickering volunteered to appear… But Issa said no.” And Amb. Pickering told Andrea Mitchell “Yes, I'm willing to testify.” Jonathan Karl has the full back and forth on this.

Amb. Pickering, in addition to leading the ARB is one of America’s most distinguished and accomplished career diplomats having served as Ambassador to Israel under President Reagan, President H.W. Bush’s UN Ambassador and Undersecretary in the Clinton administration.

If he was denied a spot in today’s hearing this raises a lot of questions about the purpose of the hearing. Much of the hearing focused on the method of the investigation done by the ARB, and Pickering is best in a position to address and answer these concerns. He answers many of the main points in an interview this morning with Andrea Mitchell including the availability and logistics for the aircraft show of force discussed in the hearing and he states that the ARB did in fact interview Sec. Clinton, despite claims to the contrary. If the purpose of the hearing was to determine what happened and address concerns about the ARB report, then Amb. Pickering would be a logical witness to have appear.

Military’s role in the hearing. It is also curious, considering that much of the controversy is over the military response, why there was not a representative from the Pentagon at the hearing to discuss the military deliberations and operations logistics. Spencer Ackerman reports today that Pentagon officials insist “there was just no way that a small team of special-operations forces could have saved four Americans in Benghazi during last September’s deadly attacks.” This was an important part of the discussion in today’s hearing and if there are still concerns remaining from the previous investigations and hearings – including Chairman Depmsey’s testimony – then a representative from the Pentagon able to speak to these issues should have been present.

FEST deployment. One of the items discussed in today’s hearing was whether or not the deployment of the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) could have been deployed quickly enough to save lives in Benghazi. The FEST is the “United States Government's only interagency, on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide.” While it is a rapid response team there remains a question about how quickly such a team can actually be deployed. The website for the FEST states that the team “leaves for an incident site within four hours of notification, providing the fastest assistance possible.” The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Foreign Consequence Management  Deskbook goes into details about the process and timing:

“In the event of a terrorist incident, a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) and/or Consequence Management Support Team (CMST) could be deployed to assist the country team in coordinating the U.S. response…  DOS will work with the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate interagency deliberations to: 1) assess requests for U.S. assistance, 2) identify the specific support to be provided and the agencies that will provide that support, and 3) develop the initial guidance required for responding organizations. This process may take between 4 to 6 hours, but a decision to deploy the FEST could occur within 30 minutes of the event and it could be airborne within 4 hours. More time (i.e., up to a few additional hours) would probably be needed to deploy a CMST.”

Amb. Daniel Benjamin who was the top counterterrorism official at the State Department at the time of the attack spoke specifically to the decision making that took place on that day regarding the FEST deployment:

“After the attack, the first question to arise that involved the CT Bureau was whether or not the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) should be deployed. This interagency team is designed to assist and advise the U.S. Chief of Mission in assessing crises and coordinating U.S. government crisis response activities. The question of deployment was posed early, and the Department decided against such a deployment. In my view, it was appropriate to pose the question, and the decision was also the correct one. There is nothing automatic about a FEST deployment, and in some circumstances, a deployment could well be counterproductive.”

Talking points controversy: Once again the controversy over the talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice used following the attack has returned. The argument over the talking points that Amb. Rice used and the controversy over stating the possible connection to the protests that were occurring throughout neighboring countries was a favorite election year talking point for Republicans. The timeline and development of the talking points has been repeatedly addressed. And as recently as last month the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a career defense intelligence professional, testified that they were accurate given the information at the time, stating “They were the best we could do at the time. And also in light of our concerns from both an intelligence and an investigatory standpoint, that is much as we should say at the time.” This issue has been addressed and readdressed, if the purpose of the hearing was to uncover new information or address new concerns this was not it. 

April 26, 2013

Country See, Country Do - Nonproliferation Edition
Posted by David Shorr

77-Uranium dismantleMany of our debates about America's role in the world are merely different ways of asking how goody-goody we should be when faced with others' unruliness? This question is at the heart of a Jim Traub post a couple weeks ago on "Limits of Leading by Example." The piece asks whether President Obama's climb toward the nonproliferation moral high ground has gotten him anywhere. Do good deeds such as negotiating New START, narrowing doctrine for n-weapons in the Nuclear Posture Review -- and the yet-to-be-announced, though rumored, further reductions in the US arsenal -- help the United States gain others' cooperation? 

Traub offers interesting thoughts about the special challenges posed by a troglodyte regime like North Korea. He also, for the most part, avoids the familiar right wing canard about the naivety of expecting Iran or North Korea to be inspired or swayed by American rectitude. Instead Traub correctly highlights Russia, China and other key swing states as the proximate targets of the policy. Yet he still manages to oversimplify in his own way:

But the coin of rule-abidingness has not bought as much cooperation, from as many actors, as the president had hoped. As with "engagement" policy generally, Obama has found that better U.S. behavior brings applause from predictable corners (i.e., Europe) without necessarily encouraging refractory actors -- the ones Washington really worries about -- to change their ways.

This has been one of the elemental lessons of the last four years.Obama no longer expects to persuade his adversaries, whether in North Korea or Iran (or the U.S. Congress). Indeed, his policy toward Iran has increasingly come to resemble that of George W. Bush, with punishing sanctions designed to force Tehran to relinquish its program of uranium enrichment. 

There are a number of problems with Traub's argument. First, a policy course can be better than the alternatives even if it hasn't yet succeeded in its ultimate aim. To be clear, the objective has always been to corral Iran's nuclear program into being verifiably civilian, and the fact that this situation continues to fester is a big problem. But to point out that a policy has fallen short of its goal is not an argument for a different policy -- which presumably must be justified on the grounds that it would do better. If we're going to debate the wisdom of being the nonproliferation "good guys," we should focus on whether this posture has helped keep us on a better track toward our objective than we otherwise would be, whether it's been productive or counterproductive.

To be fair, Traub does mention other reasons that justify the Obama administration's move to get America's own nonproliferation house in order and some positive results he sees it attaining. Still, I think Jim has been too dismissive of the impact on other players and the international politics of nonrpoliferation. He takes the tack of saying China and Russia are too driven by national interests to be impressed with American uprightness. I see the dynamic differently; for me this is a contest over the weight of international sentiment.

It boils down to whether the world community is largely unified in putting the onus squarely on Iran, or whether Tehran manages to deflect that pressure. The increased difficulty, since Obama came to office, that Iran has had in trying divide and conquer the international community is the fruit of his stake-the-moral-high-ground approach. The point of setting a good example is to make it harder to make the US the topic of conversation rather than Iran. Contrary to what skeptics say, neither China, Russia, nor any other key player is impervious to moral authority. The tightened sanctions simply wouldn't be in place without the Obama administration's push to position itself as the reasonable one.

And the same goes for "engagement policy more generally." The more I've thought about it, the more I think engagement was a misnomer when it comes to conveying the essence of Obama foreign policy. This tag encouraged expectations, inadvertently I'd argue, that reasonableness and good faith would be a short and sure path to diplomatic solutions. It also set the administration up for the perception of a major shift in course, as portrayed by Traub and many others. Yet I see the Obama foreign policy approach as remaining basically on the same course, the one on which it originally embarked. The real point about reasonableness is that it offers the only chance of diplomatic resolution -- with the United States being accommodating enough to seek compromise, but isolating renegade regimes when they spurn the opening. We needed to get away from bluff-and-bluster foreign policy premised on getting others to capitulate by showing our resolve. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that President Obama is trying to bring back the idea of tough diplomacy that actually involves diplomacy. Oh, and if you want to know more about the idea of the US exerting influence through global civic-mindedness, then read about The Responsibility Doctrine

Image: National Nuclear Security Administration

April 19, 2013

Questions on the Brothers Tsarnaev
Posted by The Editors

Suspects-in-crowd-1This post was written
by James Lamond and Bill French

Events and reports are coming out of Boston rapidly. Much of what we hear in the next few hours will be refined and corrected. This week’s media coverage has been a reminder of the need to wait until the facts are in before jumping to conclusions, speculation and accusations. However, it can be helpful to think through what questions need to be answered in the near term, what this means for the investigation and what lessons can be learned. Many of these questions are based on early reporting and speculation and may prove to be void in the coming days.

Did the Tsarnaev Brothers act alone? There have been reports about a third accomplice involved. Clearly if that is the case the manhunt will extend to that individual. However, it will be important to determine if they received any sort of funding or training from a larger network. Can investigators trace the funding back to individuals or groups that were involved in the planning? The Treasury Department’s tools for tracking terrorist and illicit finances have improved drastically in the past few years.  Of course, one question remains, if they had a sponsor of sorts, why were they forced to hold up a 7/11?

What was the motivation? Adam Serwer reported on a video posted on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s YouTube account “dedicated to the prophecy of the Black Banners of Khurasan which is embraced by Islamic extremists—particularly Al Qaeda.” However as Aaron Zelin warns against jumping to conclusions saying, “it's important to AQ, but it doesn't necessarily mean jihad.” At this point we do not know the motivation or ideology of the suspects. It is always possible that it could be something off of the radar, as what happened in the Anders Behring Breivik attack in Norway in 2011.  

Did the suspects receive any training? There have been mixed reports that the suspects received military or paramilitary training in the past.  These reports have been widely questioned. However, this needs to be investigated, and will be. If they received training, how and where did they do so? What group(s) is connected? If not how were they able to assemble these crude yet effective explosives? Simply from online instructions?

If there is an international connection, what are next steps? With all the speculation of ties to Chechnya, the question of U.S.-Russia cooperation will likely be raised. Relations between the two countries have been rocky – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. However, even throughout the tough times, there has been an increase in international cooperation on counterterrorism and international law enforcement issues.  

If there is a connection to Chechnya and/or Dagestan what does this mean for the terrorist threat from the region? If there does turn out to be a strong connection with the region, which at this point is pure speculation, there will undoubtedly be an increased focus on the region and militant groups in the area. The Washington Post explains recent cases with alleged connections to the region, “In 2011, a Chechen-born man was sentenced in Denmark to 12 years in prison for preparing a letter bomb that exploded as he was assembling it in a Copenhagen hotel a year earlier… Last month, Spain’s Interior Ministry said French and Spanish police arrested three suspected Islamic extremists in an operation in and around Paris. A statement said the suspected activists were of Chechen origin and believed to be linked to an alleged terror cell dismantled last August in southern Spain.” To be clear, ethnic origin does not mean any organizational connection. Ian Bremmer points out that there are different kinds of groups from the region adding that Russia plays up the region’s connection to al Qaeda in order to justify Russia’s harsh tactics there.

March 28, 2013

Progress and Warnings On U.S.-Africa Security Cooperation
Posted by James Lamond


This morning Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with a delegation of leaders from Africa to discuss security and democracy in Africa. The event with presidents and prime ministers from Malawi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Cape Verde was meant to highlight African countries where democracy and security have had a mutually reinforcing impact on one another. 

The Pentagon’s increased interest in Africa is part of a progressively broader security-related interest in Africa. In the 1990’s a training program that began as a peacekeeping initiative turned into the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), under which the U.S. provided greater training to African militaries. The focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations over the past decade has grown the engagement to include training and arming African counterterrorism forces and increasing the presence of U.S. Special Operations forces. These efforts culminated in the creation of AFRICOM, a new regional command meant to integrate military efforts diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts in Africa.

Last year’s assault in Benghazi, the intervention in Mali and the Algerian hostage crisis earlier this year have brought security issues in Africa to the front page. Today’s meeting focused on many of these developments. The topics of discussion were the often interrelated topics of extremism, terrorism, narcotics and other trafficking, border security and martime security. These all have implications for U.S. security interests:

Extremism and terrorism: The seizure of more than half of Mali’s land area by Islamic militants, the violence of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the continued religious-inspired violence from al Shabaab in Somalia have heightened attention on Islamic extremism and militancy in Africa. Terje Ostebo explains the complexity of this issue in a brief for NDU’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies: “the gains of these Islamic militant groups are not attributable to their military strength. Rather, their expanded influence is just as much a symptom of fragile and complex political contexts. More generally, Islamic militancy in Africa today represents the intersection of broader trends in contemporary Islam and local circumstances. Responding to the challenge is all the more difficult in that very little is known about these often secretive Islamic groups, some of which have only recently emerged.”

There has also been an increase in concern regarding al Qaeda related organizations in Africa. While the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi brought AQIM international infamy, analysts are still debating whether or not the al Qaeda offshoot is a transnational terror threat or one with primarily local goals. Its ambitions towards Europe and the United States remains unclear. However, the U.S. State Department expressed concerns that AQIM was networking with other prominent terrorist groups in the region, including Nigeria's Boko Haram, Somalia's al Shabaab, and Yemen's AQAP.

Narcotics trafficking and border security: Illicit trafficking of drugs and other material has been on the rise in Africa. A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that cocaine trafficking in West Africa is being fuelled by an increase in local consumption of crack cocaine and organized gangs increasingly turning to producing and trafficking methamphetamine. Over the past few years an increase in maritime patrolling had reduced the high volume of cocaine going through the traditional smuggling route from South America to Europe via Africa. However, it appears that the illicit networks have adapted to the patrolling and have increased the volume of cocaine transiting through Africa up to about 35 metric tons, still down from the high point of 47 metric tons in 2007, but a large increase from the 18 metric tons measured in 2010 following the improved patrolling. This increase is also due in part to a rise in the use of crack cocaine regionally, as many smugglers pay their way with their own product, which is then broken down into cheaper crack cocaine to be sold locally. Also, according to the report, there is an increase in regional production of crystal meth, which is produced locally due to lax control over the precursor chemicals that are highly-regulated in many countries.

This has an impact on U.S. security interests in two ways. First there is the broad concern that for the U.S. that “transnational crime threatens democratic governance, financial markets, and human rights,” as Moises Naim, former Executive Director of the World Bank explains. More specifically, though there are concerns about the smuggling routes, most of which end up in Europe, being used for moving other illicit material including weapons or people.

Maritime security: An escalation of attacks from pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2007 and 2008 raised a number of alarms about the threat of piracy. According to a report from the Atlantic Council, “Since 2008, Somali pirates have attacked more than 620 vessels, hijacked over 175 private and commercial ships, and held over 3,000 people from more than forty countries hostage.” Since then, however, real progress has been achieved. As Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro outlined in a speech at the Atlantic Council last year, “According to figures from the U.S. Navy, we are on track to experience a roughly 75 percent decline in overall pirate attacks this year compared with 2011… [and in] 2011, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by half compared to 2010.” This has been achieved through a multifaceted approach using all means of national power, including military power by expanding the use of naval assets; collaboration with the private sector by empowering industry to protect itself; legal enforcement through effective prosecution and incarceration; targeting networks with financial tracking; development and governance working to improve credible governing institutions and law enforcement in Somalia; and first and foremost through diplomatic engagement with the international community.

While piracy on the East Coast of Africa is in decline, on the West Coast it is on the rise. This is a very different phenomenon. On the West Coast it is more based on robbery and hijacking close to the shore, rather than the hostage-taking and ransom seen off the coast of Somalia.

While anti-piracy efforts have shown results, the Atlantic Council report points out that the cost of the counter-piracy is high, “The naval response alone cost the United States and its allies some $1.27 billion  in 2011,” stating, “Self-protection efforts by the shipping industry may offer a sustainable and cost-effective alternative, but a set of enabling policies is urgently needed.”

These issues are important to both U.S. and African security concerns and present both models of success and opportunities for progress. However, as cooperation continues on these near term threats it is also important not to lose sight of the long-term challenges. In a recent essay for Foreign Policy, Gordon Adams warns, “through a growing security assistance program and special operations forces action, U.S. engagement in Africa is shifting from a focus on governance, health, and development to a deepening military engagement” Adding, that security-focused engagement could “backfire, harming our long-term foreign policy interests.”

As engagement with Africa on security interests deepens it is vital that broader concerns, including more capable and responsive civilian governments and economies, are not ignored and put to the side. In addition to the harm on Africa, it also raises the likelihood of increased hostility toward the United States. Adams points out there is an applicable lesson to learn from America’s experience with Latin America during the Cold War, and America’s focus on building security and anti-Communism over long-term democracy and goodwill towards the U.S., which led to a resentful population that saw America as a contributing to security states. The lesson not to ignore progress on governance and democracy should be heeded. 

March 26, 2013

Nuclear Deterrence, National Security, and Budgetary Savings
Posted by The Editors

2012-01-06-NucleardistributionThis post is written by Katie McBee, a researcher at NSN

The argument for reducing excess nuclear arms often focuses on enhancing the
nonproliferation regime. However, while less discussed, the financial benefit
of nuclear reductions is significant, especially in the wake of sequestration.
The exact amount of savings possible depends upon the specific reductions made, but easily reaches the billions.

But determining safe, smart levels of reductions first requires thinking about the legitimate national security role of American nuclear forces. Throughout the nuclear age, the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear forces has been providing deterrence. Given the size and expense of U.S. nuclear forces the key question is: what special advantages in terms of deterrence does such an overwhelming nuclear arsenal give the U.S.? The answer: not much. The U.S. can obtain the same benefits of a massive nuclear arsenal with fewer warheads while simultaneously redirecting some savings from nuclear reductions towards more pressing security matters, thereby enhancing national security.

The U.S. numerical advantage in nuclear weapons is overwhelming compared to any conceivable competitor or bad actor state by a grossly excessive margin. According to the Ploughshare’s World Nuclear Stockpile Report, the United States possesses 7,700 nuclear weapons, including strategic and nonstrategic warheads, warheads in reserve, and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement. This is 7,460 more weapons in total than China -- which possesses an estimated 240 weapons. Russia possesses 1,499 deployed strategic, 1,022 nondeployed strategic and 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads. While the U.S. only has 500 tactical nuclear warheads in comparison, it outweighs Russia’s strategic warheads arsenal with 1,722 deployed strategic and 2,800 nondeployed strategic warheads.   

While the nuclear arsenal of the U.S. and Russia appear too close for comfortable U.S. nuclear reductions, the Obama administration has no intentions of undertaking immediate or unilateral nuclear reductions without the involvement of the only U.S. peer in terms of nuclear capabilities, Russia. The administration continually demonstrates this stance. The New START entered into force in February 2011 limits the U.S. and Russia each to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads by 2018. And deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on January 31 of this year that President Obama “believes that there’s room to explore the potential for continued reductions, and that, of course, the best way to do so is in a discussion with Russia.”

Furthermore, overwhelming U.S. nuclear superiority thus far has not prevented so-called rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, from developing or maintaining nuclear programs in the first instance. Iran has neither gained the capability to produce a bomb nor made the decision to do so, according to a recent National Intelligence Estimate. However, U.S. nuclear deterrence capabilities have yet to produce any tangible results as Iran continues to be evasive and secretive about their nuclear program. Pyongyang recently declared that “they [North Korea’s nuclear weapons] cannot be disputed… as long as the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy persist.” This statement is in addition to the common acceptance that North Korea is not a rational state, a characteristic needed for traditional nuclear deterrence.  Therefore not only does the overwhelming U.S. nuclear superiority not act as a deterrent against so-called rogue states, it can actually inflame their desire to protect their own sovereignty against a perceived U.S. nuclear threat.    

These cases show that today’s nuclear arsenal is a relic of the Cold War and no longer fulfills national security needs. Nowhere is this truth more clear than in the case of the risk posed by non-state actors. The National Security Strategy identifies terrorists buying, building, or stealing nuclear weapons as the chief national security concern in the context of nuclear weapons. Non-state actors generally do not respond to deterrence in the same ways as states responsible for large swaths of territory and national populations. For these reasons, the National Security Strategy goes on to recognize the limited benefits of nuclear deterrence capabilities in dealing with non-state actors, “Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered in a global nonproliferation regime…”

If such a large nuclear stockpile is of such low value with regards to competitor states, rogue states and non-state actors, one wonders: what is it good for? Not much, it turns out. Indeed, U.S. defense strategists have already recognized this reality. The National Defense Strategy states that, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy.” Furthermore, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Leven noted in mid-2012 that nuclear weapons are “totally useless.”

This conclusion prompts the questions: how can the U.S. cut spending on nuclear weapons in a safe and secure manor that would provide savings that could be redirected towards more pressing national security objectives?

Over the next decade the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy will spend between $352 and $392 billion on strategic nuclear weapons programs. The diminishing returns associate with nuclear deterrence in today’s security environment coupled with this hefty investment raise the question: what cuts can be made to the nuclear arsenal that would preserve national security deterrence and provide for federal budget savings needs?  

Nuclear reductions based on the lack of legitimate national security benefits and excessive spending has widespread, bipartisan support. Heritage Foundation reminds us that President Ronald Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist, demonstrating the Republican legacy behind nuclear reduction. Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, along with 44 other House Democrats submitted a letter to Senate and House leadership calling for nuclear arsenal cuts for reasons including, “It makes us less safe by preventing investment in the systems that our soldiers need most.” The Four Horsemen, wrote, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” advocating nuclear reductions. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees that there is a great incentive to reduce the quantity and that the current expenses take away from more pertinent national security programs. And the Nuclear Posture Review published by the Department of Defense focuses on reduction and drives President Obama’s nuclear policy. Despite the widespread, bipartisan support it is still underrepresented in the rapport concerning nuclear reductions. Clearly, more attention needs to be given to the options available for reductions that benefit both national security and budget needs.  

Given the widespread support for some form of nuclear reductions in order to match federal budget spending needs and 21st century national security threats, what are the reduction options? There is no single answer, instead there is no shortage of options including these three that range from most to least significant reductions: 

  1. In May 2012 General (ret.) Cartwright and other Global Zero members recommended the most extensive nuclear reduction. They proposed a nuclear arsenal of 500 to 900 total nuclear warheads. This includes transforming the nuclear triad into a nuclear dyad by eliminating the Minuteman land-based ICBM force. And further reducing the dyad to include ten Trident ballistic missile submarines armed with 720 strategic missiles warheads and eighteen B-2 bombers armed with 180 gravity bombs. Only half of each of these weapons systems would be deployed at a time. The B-52 heavy bombers would be dismantled or converted to carry only
    conventional weapons. Additionally, all tactical nuclear weapons would be
    eliminated. Conservatively, this 10-year agenda would reduce spending on
    nuclear weapons by $100 billion.  
  2. A similarly extensive rout is provided by the Sustainable Defense Task Force of the Commonwealth Institute. It concludes that reductions to the nuclear arsenal could save $139.5 billion over the next decade. This is a two step solution. First, reduce the US nuclear arsenal to save $113.5 billion. This requires reducing the U.S. nuclear warhead total to 1050, 1000 deployed and 50 in store; limiting launchers to 160 Minuteman missiles and 7 Ohio-class SSBNs, with an official total of 328 launchers;
    adapting the nuclear “dyad” by retiring bomber aircrafts; and ending work on
    the Trident II missile. Second, limit the planned modernization of the nuclear
    weapons infrastructure and reduce research activities to save an additional $26
    billion. These two steps add up to a substantial total of $139.5 billion in
    budget savings over the next decade.   
  3. Even modest reductions can have sizable saving benefits. Nuclear reductions recommended by Daryl Kimball and Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association include four options that would translate into major budget savings in the billions over the next decade. First, reduce the existing Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines from 14 to 10 boats and set a limit of 8 new nuclear-armed submarines saving 18$ billion. Second, delay the development of the new $68 billion nuclear-armed strategic bomber fleet and save $18 billion. Third, trim the land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force from 450 to 300 and save around $360 million in the coming fiscal year and $3-4 billion in the next decade. Finally, they urge the White House and Congress to show greater budgetary discipline in the B61 bomb life extension program (LEP). If all these steps are implemented, the U.S. could save a minimum of $39 billion over the next decade, while maintaining the nuclear triad.   

The savings from any of these options would be significant. They present the opportunity to make safe, smart budget cuts between 10.48 to 63.3 percent of 67.16 percent of the total Department of Defense and Department of Energy budget. During a time of tough budget cuts and the looming sequestration, it is essential that the U.S. make smart budget decisions that will best attend to national security objectives fit for 21st century threats. As demonstrated above, the excessive nuclear arsenal does not fall under these objectives. 

March 22, 2013

Graham's Green Light to Israel's Red Line on Iran
Posted by Homa Hassan


As the dust settles from President Obama’s highly anticipated visit to Israel, one message stands out in particular.  In Jerusalem, Obama reaffirmed the strong bonds of the U.S. and Israel to Israeli students, with an added note that “it is important to be open and honest, especially with your friends,” even in disagreement.  A significant point in light of the two countries’ differing stances on dealing with Iran’s nuclear program that could incite chaos and confusion in the region unless streamlined.  And a message that Congress can be served better to remember as a controversial resolution winds its way through the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

  • Undermining Diplomacy:  Mainstream Pentagon and U.S. national security officials overwhelmingly agree with the executive’s approach that any attack on Iran would not only strengthen Iran’s resolve to pursue weapons capabilities, but also lead to regional chaos and weaken Iran’s internal democracy movement.  However, even as diplomatic and technical talks between Western powers and Iranian officials have been underway in Almaty, Kazakhstan earlier this month, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), introduced a bellicose and poorly timed resolution. S.Res65 potentially jeopardizes the already delicate, U.S.-Iranian negotiations through counterproductive messaging for the U.S. to join Israel in hard-lining with Iran.  While talks are already faltering, Graham’s resolution not only threatens to fracture the incremental gains from these talks, but also risks the derailment future negotiations.
  • Fractured bargaining chips:  As the executive branch expresses the necessity of Iran’s cooperation, it has offered the possibility of lifting some of the sanctions in exchange.  To attribute credibility to this bargaining chip, U.S. officials need their Iranian counterparts to legitimately be convinced that sanctions can be removed with compliance.  However, these sanctions are largely enacted by Congress and therefore need Congressional action to be repealed.  Graham’s legislation, therefore, undermines the credibility of proposed U.S. incentives in exchange for Iranian cooperation to scale back its nuclear program.  In effect, Graham and his colleagues ought to find ways to signal their assertiveness, while also allowing the executive to administer credible proposals.  
  • Redefined Redline:  Because opponents of the Graham resolution seek a diplomatic resolution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they have sounded an important alarm regarding the uneasy movement of the marker towards a military option that Graham’s green light for Israeli action permits. Graham adopts the Israeli definition of a redline being a “nuclear weapons capability,” in contrast to the Obama Administration’s assurance that the U.S. will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.  The ambiguity of a bold U.S. redline not only impedes the United States and Israel’s objectives, but also hinders Iran’s prospects to give up its nuclear program peacefully.
  • Unprecedented Alliances:  Even amongst alliances, Graham’s justification for unconditional support of an Israeli strike on Iran is irregular.  The traditional establishment of alliances like NATO created an agreement that an attack from the Soviet Union on any country in the coalition would be seen as an attack on every country in the coalition, thus creating a base of support for a response.  It did not, however, propose unconditional obligations of offensive measures.  In other words, the traditional nature of alliances lays out a framework for mutual defense, not offense, as Graham’s resolution proposes.

The objective of halting Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons, all sides agree, has its greatest chance for success in a coordinated international effort that needs solidarity among not just Israel and the U.S., but other regional actors, Europe, and even Russia and China.  During this particularly delicate time, Senator Graham, and indeed all Members of Congress ought to ask themselves whether this proposed resolution helps or hinders that common goal.

US Leadership Through Strength
Posted by David Shorr

UN_Security_Council-300x200Recently a bipartisan group assembled by the Project for a United and Strong America released our version of a national security strategy. In the weeks since the report came out, a number of participants have posted their comments: Mark Lagon, Will Inboden, Dan Twining, and me too.  

The most substantive reaction thus far is Paul Miller's perceptive critique over at Shadow Government. One line of criticism hits particularly close to home. Here's how Miller takes aim at hackneyed appeals to American international leadership: 

Sometimes it seems like we demand that American be a strong leader in order to protect America's role as a strong leader, so that American can go on being strong and exercising leadership in the service of our strength and our leadership...and so on. It's circular reasoning, a self-justifying policy of infinite regress. I fear I may be labeled a heretic for asking what we need to be a leader for? Where are we leading people to? The report says the United States "must play an active, day-to-day role in shaping events" to "shape common action on a global agenda." I agree that global cooperation happens more effectively with American involvement, but the report treats "the global agenda" as an intrinsic good. The only intrinsic good of American foreign policy is American security. I'd like to see "the global agenda" and America's burden of leadership justified by how it contributes to American interests, not vice versa. We lead to secure interests; we don't have interests to secure our leadership.

Hey, I resemble that remark! Seriously though, Miller's point isn't heresy but a totally fair question -- and answerable. Begin with what we agree on: the US role in galvanizing international cooperation. Agreement on this is actually significant, because the loudest Republican foreign policy voices expect the United States to lead by fiat; the business of obtaining other nations' cooperation and support doesn't even enter into it. 

My response to Miller is that cooperation is essential to many of America's foreign policy priorities, making it central to our strategy. To some extent, our need for cooperation is a function of lacking the leverage to attain our objectives without others' help. One of the familiar tropes in these sorts of discussions is that "the problems of today's world are too big even for a superpower to solve on its own"; it has the added virtue of being true. [For the last few Democracy Arsenal readers who haven't yet looked at Nina Hachigian and my big "Responsibility Doctrine" article, we see an ongoing strategic push by Obama Administration to gain international support and help.]

More to the point, all the consequential international challenges of our era are basically collective action problems -- issues that aren't particular to the United States, but that we confront along with others. Whenever I've scanned big-think articles and reports in the last several years, the list of major items is the same: restoring and maintaining global economic growth, blocking the proliferation of nuclear arms, stemming global warming, and thwarting dramatic and disruptive terror attacks. And there is your global agenda. 

Instead of talking about the US as a strong leader, let's say we're first among status quo powers. This is why I always go back to Robert Zoellick's definition of a "responsible stakeholder": a nation that contributes to the maintenance of the international system because it benefits from that system. What the four above-listed items have in common is the danger they pose to the international system itself. An economically stagnant world with 15-20 nuclear-armed nations and a temperature rise of 3-4 degrees Celsius will be rough for the United States, China, Europe, and everyone else.

As a framework, the global agenda outlines the international community's norms and civic obligations (Hedley Bull's "international society"). In practical terms, it's about resisting Iranian and North Korean acquisition of nuclear arsenals and attaining a better balance of exports and domestic consumption in the global economy. I'm not sure where that leaves American national interests, and their supposed separateness from the global agenda and cooperation; I guess it's a question I'd turn around and pose to Paul Miller.

What I do know, just for example, is that the global agenda has prodded China to support Iran sanctions and commit to boosting consumption -- two things hard-headed skeptics ruled impossible because they contravened Chinese interests. 

March 20, 2013

Post Mortem on Republican Foreign Policy
Posted by David Shorr

Flickr_-_Official_U.S._Navy_Imagery_-_Deployed_Sailors_watch_a_presidential_debate.Soon I'll be headed to this year's International Studies Association convention, taking part in a panel on "Obama and Beyond: Change and Continuity in American Foreign Policy." Any Democracy Arsenal readers who will be at ISA should come to our session Thursday morning at 10:30 and be sure to say hi. 

No big surprise, but I'll be arguing the 'change' side of this question: that the foreign policies of Presidents Obama and Bush have more in contrast than in common. Sure, there is some continuity between the administrations on, say, executive powers and secrecy. But it is quite a stretch to lump together the president who sends drones to individual houses in Pakistan and Yemen with the one who invaded Iraq.


With the media all marking this week's 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, we've had a lot of fresh reminders of how disastrous it was. The question of continuity versus change in foreign policy is another way of asking whether Iraq has had a chastening effect or the blind spots remain. Has our debate moved on, with the lessons of Iraq having been learned and internalized?

I don't think we really have reached a post-Iraq consensus or synthesis. Not because of Republicans' adventurism or yearning for new wars -- though some segments within the GOP are worrisome -- but the generally unrealistic ideas they still hold regarding American power and influence. You don't have to believe the worst about the GOP to see continued serious problems with their approach to foreign policy. If invading Iraq was the height of hubris, there's still plenty of hubris left in the arguments Republicans have been making recently. 

Exponents of the 'continuity' argument no doubt see the exercise of power and real-world constraints as moderating influences. As the elder Governor Cuomo said, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. After the last few campaigns, though, I'm not buying this tendency to downplay political arguments as indicators of policy -- which I term the heated rhetoric discount or contrast inflation. While it's true that political talking points can be impractical as policy guidelines, policy decisions are not insulated from public debates on the issues. That's what it means for some issues to be politically sensitive.

The title of my paper for ISA is "The Partisan Foreign Policy Divide - Rhetoric or Substance?"[PDF]. I tried to gauge the policy ramifications of recent years' political debates, arguing that the hot-button issues that mark out the partisan battle lines also set parameters for governing. The heart of the paper focuses on three main strands of the foreign policy debate that will be familiar to all DA readers. The first concerns the United States’ basic ability to mold events to its liking. The second is about the power of solidarity among like-minded democracies. The last focuses on the exigencies of diplomacy (the need to compromise for instance).

A blog post isn't enough space to give my full argument (read the whole thing), so the last few grafs after the fold encapsulate the three debate strands. Better yet, if any editors are reading this, I would happily hone the piece down to publishable size (Democratic for pol messager explains how deep Republicans' problems go).

Continue reading "Post Mortem on Republican Foreign Policy" »

March 19, 2013

Commitment Issues on Climate Change and Other Indian Perspectives
Posted by David Shorr

REN_Alliance_press_conference_at_COP18,_3_December_2012Back in late-2011 I published a post here on the UN climate talks, particularly the view of some experts that pushing for a legally binding Kyoto follow-on treaty could do more harm than good. As negotiators weigh proposals to make countries' greenhouse gas reduction commitments as strong as possible, key governments work harder to keep from being on the hook than on steps to reduce emissions.

This problem was readily apparent last week when Stanley Foundation colleague Rei Tang and I were in Delhi for a round of meetings with Indian experts, and it is worth pondering and perhaps factoring into the international response to climate change. 

Just to retrace my steps, below is Michael Levi's explanation of the perverse incentives from a Financial Times piece in which he looks back at the major steps achieved at the 2009 and 2010 UN climate conferences:

Countries enter binding international agreements with an eye to ensuring that they will be able to comply with their commitments. The legally binding nature of an international deal can thus deter national ambition in the first place. It is near-certain, for example, that China would not have pledged in Copenhagen to cut its emissions intensity to well below current levels had it been required to embed that in a treaty. The same is true for the absolute emissions’ cuts pledged by the US. It is similarly unlikely that India, China and others would have accepted formal international scrutiny of their emissions cutting efforts had that been made part of a system for enforcing legal obligations. 

That last point is important because it highlights a trade-off between the strength of the reduction commitments and the process of tracking the levels of greenhouse gases being emitted. In one of our Delhi meetings, an expert stressed that measures to monitor and report on emissions in India should only apply to the plants and technologies that industrialized nations had supplied or underwritten. 

That's not to say India won't be cutting its emissions. In order to meet the energy needs associated with continued economic development, it certainly will cut GHGs through growing use of renewables and efficiency gains. But at the international level, Indians are sensitive and resistant to obligations imposed from the outside. Indian analysts and officials described this as the difference between "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches. 

To my mind, this choice between approaches seems like a matter of which route will help build the most momentum for GHG reductions: a traditional "black letter" international convention or a more dynamic form of mutual accountability and knowledge sharing? To some degree there must be a top-down dimension -- with senior levels of national governments remaining engaged rather than stepping back and seeing what happens. 

International accords should not be ends unto themselves, but means to address real-world problems. We face an important question of whether some of the fights within the UNFCCC may come at a cost to the ultimate aim of reduced emissions.

Of course climate change was not the only topic we discussed with our Indian colleagues. Without attempting a full report, I want to pass along some points -- particularly from a session with our Observer Research Foundation hosts -- that sounded like direct messages to the US. Several Indian experts emphasized India's cooperation with the energy sanctions against Iran, which entailed some cost. We also heard that Indian naval patrols of certain sea lanes alleviates some of the burden off of the US Navy. These are perfect examples of what Nina Hachigian and I meant by our "Responsibility Doctrine," and I was very glad to hear about them. The third message was in the area of energy security: India's eagerness to import liquid natural gas. 

Overall, we greatly appreciated the openness and hospitality of our Indian counterparts, and I'm looking forward to continuing the dialogue. 

Image: International Hydropower Association

March 07, 2013

Foreign Policy Bipartisanship is Not Dead UPDATED
Posted by David Shorr

BannerBipartisanship in foreign policy hasn't vanished entirely, though in the recent political climate it probably qualifies as exotic. Today the Project for a United and Strong America is releasing a proposed national security strategy from a bipartisan group of experts (including yours truly). Having done a couple of these accross-party-lines exercises  back in 2006-07, it was interesting to see how it goes after the change of administrations. So I'll start with a congratulatory shout-out to Kurt Volker, Ash Jain, and Jim Goldgeier for successfully leading us to consensus. 

Despite the continued high temperature of foreign policy debates, relations between Republican and Democratic experts have stayed pretty amicable. For some, this is a vice not a virtue -- symptom of an insular groupthink-prone Washington establishment. For the rest of you, let me offer thoughts to inform your reading of this "Setting Priorities for American Leadership" strategy report.

What I find most interesting in a document like this are the ways it differs from what we hear in the political battles over foreign policy. With apologies to Sherlock Holmes, I suggest you listen for the partisan attack dog that didn't bark. Readers of this blog know all too well what issues and perspectives have split the opposing political camps; the "Setting Priorities for American Leadership" national security strategy marks out their common ground. It's not as if the experts in this group forgot what the political fights have been about; the report represents what all of us were comfortable saying (though not every participant agreed with every...) 

For the moment, I want to hold off from getting into the substance. I'd like to wait until after people have started to read and react to the report. That said though, another participant who blogs over at Shadow Government, Dan Twining, has already offered a comment that begs a response. Here's the lede to Dan's post:

The Obama administration's minimalist foreign policy, animated by domestic political expediency and a cramped view of America's responsibilities to uphold the liberal international order from which it has benefited so richly, can lead observers to forget what a more traditionally engaged foreign policy even looks like. The new national security strategy developed by a bipartisan group under the aegis of the Project for a United and Strong America fills that gap.

Like I say, I wanted to wait and see what others gleaned from the document, but I guess Dan went the other way. For the record then, I do not believe this report can be read as any kind of rebuke or repudiation of Obama foreign policy. At the most, it may be interesting window into a nascent intra-party debate outlined recently by Tom Wright (to which I've already reacted).

On the other hand, I guess the report can be taken as a slam against the figment Obama Republicans are always talking about. But then with enough imagination, anything can be taken that way.  

UPDATED to reflect the project's separateness from the McCain Institute.

March 01, 2013

Syria, Mali - Any Other Takers?
Posted by Homa Hassan

It’s no wonder Secretary of State John Kerry has been walking on eggshells when discussing potential US support to the Syrian rebels.  As The Washington Post reported earlier in the week, a renewed discussion to supply the rebels with body armor, armed vehicles, and military training has arisen.  Until now, the support from the United States had been non-lethal aid along the lines of humanitarian assistance (such as medical supplies and packaged meals), funding for communications and logistical support, as well as an American invitation to the leader of the rebels to discuss the situation.  To date, any combat-related supplies the rebels have received has come from their own conquests of government bases or supposed help from nations like Qatar, Turkey, and, predictably, Saudi Arabia.


Not surprisingly, Syria is one of the last places the Obama administration would want its boots on the ground or its military munitions ending up in the wrong hands; however, as the situation continues to spiral downward, Kerry stated in Paris, “we need to help them to deliver basic services and to protect the legitimate institutions of the state,” indicating a concern of state failure lest the international community take another stab at aiding the rebels. 

However, recent scholarship suggests that U.S. hesitation to intervene in Syria or provide arms thus far may come from a somewhat consistent and historical aversion to military commitment, Afghanistan and Iraq notwithstanding.  According to a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released on U.S. Policy Responses to Potential Transitions, the U.S. has historically gone to great extents to avoid using its military during conflict driven political transitions.  The report goes on to show that over a 22 year span (1989-2010), the United States has most often defaulted to a non-response or issuing a statement, rather than imposing economic aid or sanctions, engaging in diplomatic efforts, offering military supplies, joining multilateral military action, or invoking unilateral military action. 

In effect, as the CSIS researchers point out, the question of intervention in Syria is not just figuring out the contemporary strategy, but anticipating the consequences in the decade to follow it.  The possibility of a failed state, marginalized groups facing increasingly dire livelihoods and further regional chaos loom ahead regardless of any action taken by the United States or others.  Ultimately, the Obama administration is looking to offer some form of support to the rebels before their following and credibility diminishes or Iranian influences pervade the porous Syrian border.

Syria is not the only former French-colonized country that has the leading superpowers hanging in the balance.  The dilemma in Mali has been pressing upon the world’s leaders to direct attention toward the nation without inflaming an incredibly sensitive and volatile region.  Largely credited to the spillover of armed mercenaries in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, Mali had until now been seen by the U.S. as one of the more stable West African nations, despite a façade of democratic rule peppered with bribes, kickbacks, and corruption involving its leaders. 

But Kerry’s comments on Mali in Paris were sung to a different tune.  Kerry voiced that despite transportation, intelligence, and other U.S. support to the French-led offensive, “There has to be an African solution, ultimately. And our shared goal now should be that African and U.N. entities step up, so that France has the ability to step back.”  The different takes on Syria and Mali can be seen as informed by current strategic interests.  Though eager to stamp out strains of non-state actors like Al-Qaeda in the region, Kerry’s remarks indicate that the Obama administration is being incredibly tactful to not jeopardize its presence in regions where it is already working to curb Al-Qaeda’s influence (presumably Afghanistan). 

The question then becomes whether there is anyone more willing to take the lead when France eventually takes a step back.  Though ideally an “African solution to an African problem” would suit, the disparate interests of the neighboring African governments, the African Union, and the Western powers makes Kerry’s proposition more difficult.  Both Syria and Mali share the common roadblock that caused Somalia to turn into a debacle in the 1990s: the intelligence terrain is lacking without the eyes, ears, and interlocutors that eventually made Egypt easier to address by the West. 

Roadblocks not only come from internal politics and faulty governance in each of these nations, however.  Limited appetite for U.S. presence in international crises at the moment can be evidenced by the brutal debate over domestic issues like the impending sequestration debacle, economic instability, the inconclusive and unpredictable aftermath of aid or intervention, and the shadow of two prior military operations hanging over the heads of Americans. 

On the other hand, Russia and China are rattling the discussions further, as the former seeks to hold on to its role at the table and the latter to expand and assume a larger role in the global playing fields, particularly the mineral-rich African nations.  As such, the U.S. cannot simply ignore the impasses.  Refraining from intervention to the extent that the U.S. has done may be prudent, but should not transition their role into bystanders as the conflicts deepen.  As Marc Lynch of the Center for New American Security indicates, arming the rebels with American munitions does not mean the rebels will be able to simply defeat the Syrian army.  Instead, the Obama administration ought to be strengthening the legitimate authority of the rebels and more persistently encouraging a U.N. Resolution that emboldens them.

On the whole, the CSIS report indicates that the best U.S. policy that can and should continue to be pursued in either of these countries is the enforcement of a political solution, which will inevitably be needed whether fatigue or a stalemate batters the fighting down.  As in the civil war within Lebanon, there may be dozens of political solutions that fail, but eventually one will have to stick, even if no one is fully satisfied.  If, as has been suggested, no enforcement will hold without U.S. involvement, the Obama administration cannot simply hope a peacekeeping force will be able to ride out the tantrums wreaking havoc in the Middle East and Africa.

The strategy of having the U.S. take the lead may not be the key here, but working with its allies to push the direct stakeholders from behind in a way that avoids direct confrontation seems to be a discussion worth having.  Kerry’s cautious steps on behalf of the Obama administration regarding these fragile circumstances, therefore, are understandable.  However, both he and his boss know that if they want to make an omelet, no matter how careful, some eggs are likely to be broken.

Ms. Hassan is a Herbert Scoville, Jr. Peace Fellow at the National Security Network and has a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Welcome to Homa Hassan
Posted by The Editors

Please welcome the newest contributor to Democracy Arsenal: Homa Hassan. Homa is a Scoville Fellow at the National Security Network. Before coming to NSN, she co-hosted a nationally syndicated radio show on domestic and international politics, worked in Congress and for the International Broadcasting Bureau in Washington, DC. She has spent time working abroad with the United Nations Development Programme in Kosovo, the Red Crescent Society on the Somalia drought in Qatar, and Transparency International in Colombia and Liberia.  Ms. Hassan holds a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College SC in Political Science, Public Affairs, and Communication, as well as a Master in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

February 13, 2013

The "New Foreign Policy Divide"
Posted by David Shorr

JamesMontgomeryFlagg-UncleSamWithEmptyTreasury1920LargeOver at, Tom Wright welcomes us to "the Democratic Party's new foreign policy debate." Wright has noticed a fissure start to crack open, one he expects to pit progressive sister against brother. At issue is America's international role at a time of domestic challenges, and the emerging contrasts in approach could presage clashes over policy. 

Tom labels the two camps as "restrainers" and "shapers": 

Restrainers see a crumbling infrastructure, the budget deficit, a subpar education system, and a sluggish economy as much more threatening than events elsewhere in the world. Democrats of this stripe call for "nation-building at home," to use President Obama's phrase, and want to prioritize these tasks at the expense of international commitments, which they see as a drain or a distraction. 

The shapers have a starkly different view. They agree that domestic challenges are important -- and should be the subject of a strong domestic policy agenda -- but they don't believe international difficulties are on the wane. The U.S. economy is in a slump largely because of a crisis prone international economic order ... On security, the United States is a global power and detrimental developments in the Middle East, East Asia, or Europe will severely damage U.S. interests.

Since reading the piece, I've been test-driving Tom's idea. Are these two perspectives indeed prominent impulses within our major policy debates -- each of them with a clear enough orientation to offer answers to the big questions of our foreign policy? And has he avoided caricature? Actually, I think Tom's onto something. For one thing, he's given us a badly needed framework to talk about adjustments to American hegemony without the overblown specter of isolationism. 

We can start with the test of trying to place oneself in one of the two camps. Pretty easy in my case: confirmed shaper. Just take one line about the US global role from Nina Hachigian and my "Responsibility Doctrine" piece in Washington Quarterly

With a distinct ongoing role as a global leader, it will put great effort into bringing others along and offer its own cooperation for reasons of self-interest as well as broader peace and prosperity. 

Pretty shaper-ish sounding, I have to admit. Now I should also point out that the rest of the paragraph and article are about shifting some of the burden to other nations -- which sounds like restrainer talk -- but that's not a problem. Recall that Tom described shapers as sharing a sensitivity to our domestic challenges and constraints. 

Back during George W. Bush's presidency, we used to contrast the conservative and progressive approaches in terms that may be applicable here. Conservatives preferred to work unilaterally where they could, and multilaterally where they must; the progressive instinct is the reverse. Perhaps we can say that restrainers want the United States to involve itself only where it's imperative, while shapers also want to get involved where it can be constructive. Crucially, we shapers are still exercising prudence to ensure US involvement has good prospects for success. Shapers are picking our shots, whereas restrainers are pulling in their horns.

Naturally I recoil at Tom's forecast of progressives split into rival factions. There's also a best-case scenario in which the two perspectives provide a creative tension resulting in sound policies. Either way, though, I think Tom has identified a key fault line for us. 

UPDATE: Revised since published to add a sentence to the penultimate graf.

GRAPHIC: Cartoon by James Montgomery Flagg

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