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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.

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