Sunday, March 1, 2020

This Blog

Thanks to University of London Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller's kind post about this blog at Opinio Juris (which is a big deal in international law circles), I am getting far more traffic than I had anticipated.  I thought that it might be useful to explain what this blog is all about. This is not my first blog. For years I wrote on faith issues at my "Guy in the Pew" blog,  and was also the "weekend corespondent at the Episcopal Cafe's "The Lead" news blog.  I also had an Office blog when I was the Air Force General Counsel (which sadly folded after I left that office).  While in private practice, however, I did not feel I had time to go back to blogging.  After finding myself doing several long posts on Facebook that were very well received, I thought I should give this blogging thing another try.

My intended audience for this blog is not for other national security practitioners.  There are plenty of existing blogs and websites that already do a good job of reaching that audience.  Instead, this blog will be written for the same audience as my Facebook posts:  people like my friends and family who have never had a national  security job, but are curious about what is happening in the world.  I certainly hope that true experts like Kevin Jon Heller come join the conversation (and correct my inevitable errors), but my blog will be successful if I help explain the often surreal world of national security and foreign policy to the curious folks like my Facebook friends.

I do allow comments, so please join the conversation.

(And by the way, that is me in the back seat of the F-15E you see above--one of the coolest experiences as Air Force General Counsel)

Friday, April 28, 2017

How Trump Just Screwed Up South Korean Elections (And Hurt U.S. Interests)

One of the U.S.'s most critical allies in Asia is South Korea.  In response to North Korea's recent actions--including its threats to use missiles against South Korea and Japan--the United States has deployed an anti-missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.  While the deployment will certainly protect South Korea, the deployment is also very important to the protection of U.S. military bases in South Korea as well (and the tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel in South Korea).

The decision to allow the U.S. to deploy THAAD has been controversial in South Korea for several reasons.  First, China is deeply opposed to this deployment because they think the sophisticated THAAD radars will allow the U.S. to take a deep look into China.  As a result, China has imposed informal  economic sanctions on South Korea in an effort to force South Korea to reject the deployment.  Second, the deployment did not receive Parliamentary approval.  Indeed, the deployment of THAAD has been a major focus of the South Korean elections, which occur on May 9.  The leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, has called for an immediate halt to the deployment.

Given that the U.S. has a deep interest in protecting its military bases in South Korea from North Korean missile attack, you would think that the Administration would want to maintain a low profile on the THAAD deployment during this critical election.  After all, the U.S. wants to be able to persuade the winner--especially if it is Moon Jae-in--that deployment of THAAD is in the interests of both South Korea and the U.S. despite the Chinese opposition.

Sadly, President Trump doesn't seem to have understood this, and just made comments to the press about the THAAD deployment that already has affected the South Korean elections and will significantly increase the chances that South Korea will halt the deployment of THAAD.  He announced (apparently without warning South Korea) that we would demand that South Korea pay for THAAD, despite a previous agreement that the U.S. would pay for the deployment:
To protect against a North Korean attack, the United States is on the verge of making a new antimissile system operational in South Korea. Mr. Trump said in the interview that he would seek to have South Korea pay for the system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, putting its cost around $1 billion.

Under its arrangement with Washington, South Korea was to provide land and build a base for the Thaad system, while the United States would pay for it and cover its operational costs.

In South Korea, Mr. Trump’s comment shook the election campaign to choose a successor next month to Park Geun-hye, the ousted president. Ms. Park’s decision to accept the Thaad deployment has been one of the most contentious issues on the trail, and Moon Jae-in, the leading candidate, seized on the remarks and, through a spokesman, called for a halt to the deployment.

“We must consider whether it conforms to the spirit of the alliance,” the spokesman, Youn Kwan-suk, said on Friday, accusing Mr. Trump of “demanding unilaterally and without close bilateral consultations that South Korea pay the cost” of the missile defense system.
Read more here.

Remarkably, despite the facts that the U.S. has a vital interest in the deployment of THAAD, that South Korea only reluctantly agreed to allow this deployment, and the fact that THAAD was a leading issue in the South Korean elections, President Trump decides that it is time for an Asian variant of "we will build a wall, and they will pay for it."  The result will be that South Korean opposition to THAAD will grow, and the U.S. may have to stop its deployment, thereby removing one of the few defenses against a North Korean missile attack against our bases in South Korea.

Both China and North Korea must be thrilled.

Two Economists Discover Sweatshops Are Bad

While conditions in third world sweatshops are appalling, economic theory nonetheless supports the view that even these bad jobs can be “an escalator out of poverty,” because the jobs are better than the alternative and a booming industry will raise wages over time.  While it is great sport to criticize economists for being out of touch with reality at times, there is historical support for this theory.  The industrial revolution in Western Europe was based on horrible factory jobs, but in the end this turned out to be the road to prosperity for workers.

Economists Christopher  Blattman and Stefan Dercon set out to prove this was indeed the case in the third world today, and were surprised to find that the evidence did not support the theory:
We picked Ethiopia because its small export industry was beginning to boom. It offered a chance to see what effect these jobs would have at the earliest stages of industrialization. In addition to local exporters, many Chinese, Indian and European companies are setting up factories in Ethiopia, producing everything from clothing to flowers.

.  .  .

Since there were more qualified applicants than jobs, we had a perfect opportunity for a randomized trial. Five businesses — a beverage bottler, a garment factory, a shoemaker and two industrial greenhouse operations — agreed to hire qualified applicants by a lottery. We followed the 947 applicants who were and were not offered the job over a year, surveying them multiple times.
To our surprise, most people who got an industrial job soon changed their minds. A majority quit within the first months. They ended up doing what those who had not gotten the job offers did — going back to the family farm, taking a construction job or selling goods at the market.

Contrary to the expert predictions (and ours), quitting was a wise decision for most. The alternatives were not so bad after all: People who worked in agriculture or market selling earned about as much money as they could have at the factory, often with fewer hours and better conditions. We were amazed: By the end of a year only a third of the people who had landed an industrial job were still employed in the industrial sector at all.
Blattman and Dercon still believe that industrial employment over time will mean better and higher paying jobs, but they caution that their study suggests that the path is not smooth.    Read it all here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Dangers of Overreacting To North Korea


Fred Kaplan has an excellent post about why treating a real long term problem (North Korea's ability to use ICBM's to hit the US) as a short term crisis (in response to a new nuclear or missile test) is quite dangerous.  First, Kaplan makes the case that this is exactly what Trump appears to be doing:
The worry (and it’s a legitimate worry) is that, sometime soon, the North Koreans will test another ballistic missile or nuclear weapon, which would, yet again, violate a U.N. resolution and put them one step closer to threatening American troops and allies in East Asia—and maybe, years from now, the United States itself. But there is no immediate crisis, no threat that must be staved off now or never. And yet President Trump is sending an aircraft-carrier task force and a guided-missile submarine toward North Korean shores. At the same time, he has summoned all 100 U.S. senators to a classified briefing on the subject, to be conducted on Wednesday, at the White House, by the secretaries of defense and state, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. military exercises in the region are routine, as are top-secret briefings to select lawmakers. But to hold a briefing for all senators, by the administration’s top security officials, is unusual. To hold it at the White House (or, more precisely, the Executive Office Building next door to the White House), instead of in the Capitol, is unprecedented. And to do all this while the deadliest warships in the U.S. Navy’s non-nuclear fleet dart toward the country in question—well, the leaders in the region needn’t be paranoid to infer that Trump might be preparing to launch an attack on North Korea.
Second, if Trump decides that he needs to show resolve by military action in response to a new test, all hell might be unleashed:
 But let’s say Kim ignores Trump’s unwitting stab at the ploy and risks another missile or nuclear test. Will Trump—riled by Kim’s persistence or feeling a need to display “resolve” and “credibility”—launch a volley of cruise missiles and more at the test sites, at some nuclear facilities, or even at Kim’s hangouts in Pyongyang?
Most North Korea–watchers are convinced that, in this scenario, Kim would retaliate with an attack—possibly a bring-them-all-down-with-me attack—on U.S. bases and allies, not necessarily with nuclear weapons but with a barrage of artillery shells. North Korea’s military has thousands of these shells deployed on the border with South Korea (whose capital, Seoul, sits only 35 miles away) as well as on its eastern shore (within firing range of Japan). North Korea’s live-fire long-range artillery drills on Tuesday were no doubt meant as a “signal” of what Trump should expect if he follows through on his own threat.
 No one could possibly want a military conflict, with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of casualties on both sides. But a mix of mutual bluff, bluster, ego, and insecurity—fueled by heavy firepower and an itchy trigger-finger or two—makes for a potentially lethal concoction. In the annals of history, wars have erupted from less combustive kindling.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Success in Colombia: An Example of Smart Power (and Praise for My Wife's Work)


While we seem to be wallowing in our foreign policy failures, we need to celebrate one of our critical successes.  Twenty years ago, Colombia was suffering from an active insurgencies that perpetuated great violence on the Colombian people.  These same insurgencies were also fueling a large increase in cocaine smuggled into the U.S.  Twenty years later, we have a peace agreement, and a far more peaceful and stable Colombia.  This was no accident.  while most of the credit must go to the Colombian government and people, the United States planned a critical role.  I must admit upfront that I take special interest in this success because my wife, Allison Blanchard (then Allison Major) was a key player who helped frame the U.S. policy that was such a success.

Bill Lane has a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining this success:
A politician looking for new material should cast a gaze toward South America. Twenty years ago, Colombia was on the verge of becoming a narco-terrorist state. The government had ceded large swaths of territory to the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. In 2000, President Clinton and House Speaker Dennis Hastert came together in a bipartisan effort to help Colombians take back their country. It was known as Plan Colombia.

The program combined military assistance with civil-society initiatives. Free-market reforms were included, resulting in the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. All of this bolstered the efforts of Colombia’s determined political leaders, its courageous citizenry and its dedicated military.

.  .  .

The U.S. invested about $10 billion in Plan Colombia. To put it in perspective, the financial cost of the entire effort was equivalent to about three weeks of the Iraq war.
Plan Colombia is a reminder that a sustained, bipartisan intervention that includes defense, diplomacy, development and democratic values can be effective. Smart power isn’t cheap, quick or easy, but it can work.
Read it all here.   Some other articles about this success can be found here, here, and here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some thoughts About The French Elections

The French election results are in, and they some good news for those of us concerned with the rise of far right nationalism.  Center/left reformer Emmanuel Macron came in first with 23.9% of the vote, and far right Marine LePen came in second with 21.4% of the vote.  they will participate in a runoff on May 7.  All polling shows Macron with a 26% lead over Le Pen, which if it holds, is good news indeed.

A few observations about this election.  First, what is notable here is that the two major parties in Franch that have dominated French elections since Charles de Gaulle--the conservative Republicans and the left Socialists--did not even make the runoffs.  Instead, the candidate of a fringe far right wing party (Le Pen) and an independent movement arising from the reformist center/left (Macron) prevailed.  Indeed the candidate of the incumbent Socialist party only got 8% of the vote.  To be far, the Republican candidate might very well been in the top two had he not had a serious of mini-scandals.  The French voters sent a clear message--they want serious change.

Second, the polling in France was remarkable accurate, which suggests that polling showing a huge Macron lead will also hold.  Nate Silver has an excellent post explaining why we should not expect a Brexit/Trump surprise in France.


Third, the stakes in the first round are striking.  With the exception of Macron, all three leading candidates were very close to Putin.  Two of the candidates were hostile to the U.S. and NATO, as well as the EU.  If Macron had not made it to the runoff, the future of Europe would have been very bleak indeed.

Fourth, while immigration and the EU were center to the election rhetoric.  The real reason for the rejection of the establishment was the very low growth in the French economy and the bleak employment prospects for young French citizens.  Both the far left candidate and the far right candidate blamed the EU, and both adopted pretty similar prescriptions--more State involvement in the economy, an end to the Euro and either the elimination or the weakening of the EU.  Yet, France's economic troubles long predate both the immigration surge and the current Euro troubles.  Most economists have long blamed the very inflexible labor system and its extraordinarily high payroll taxes as the reason for slow growth in employment.  Macron was unique is promising to focus on solving the diagnosis offered by most economists, and rejecting the excuses of the left and right.  A good analysis of the economic issues in this race can be found here.

Finally, Macron appears to be taking on the rising nationalism in Europe head-on by distinguishing patriotism from nationalism, and arguing that a true French patriot needs to be true to the nation's values.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why the French Elections Matter

The French people today are going to the polls, and the results could have profound impact on the U.S., Europe and the world.  Indeed, I would argue that these elections are even more consequential than the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.  We have four major candidates that are basically running neck and neck.  Two candidates--those on the far left and right-- are hostile to both NATO and the EU, and if those two candidates are in the runoff, it is hard to see how the EU survives.  And it will also have a profound impact on European unity in the face of an aggressive Russia.

The extremist candidate are Maine LePen from the ultra-nationalist, anti-EU and anti-immigrant Natioanl Front, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is running far to the left, with an agenda that is hostile to both NATO and the United States.  The "mainstream" candidates are Francois Fillon, who is a social conservative focused on the Catholic vote, and Emmanuel Macron, who is running as a Centrist.  Interestingly, despite the unpopularity of the EU in France, Macron is unabashed in his support of the EU and of the need for economic reform.

What has been fascinating about this election is that only one of France's leading parties, The Republicans, has survived.  The Socialist party is largely out of the picture.  Both Melenchon and Macron are effectively independent candidates.  This largely reflects a big desire for change, and the results of this election--no matter who wins--will have a profound effect on the future of Frane.

The most likely result today is a Le Pen/Macron runoff, what in a normal election year would be won by Macron.  The nightmare scenario for stability in Europe would be a contest between Le Pen and Melenchon.

I for one, am rooting for Macron.

You can read more about the election here.  The first results will come in around 2 pm Eastern time.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Incoherent "Message" of the Syrian Missile Attacks

As I previously posted, the missile attack on Syrian following its use of chemical weapons had little military impact.  Syria was able to fly missions from that airbase the next next.  The real importance of this attack, therefore is symbolic and focuses on the message being sent.  Of course there are multiple potential audiences of this message.  They include the domestic American audience (with the message that Trump is not afraid to use military force), our Allies in the region (with the message that Trump has their back in the fight against Assad), and Syria itself (there are consequences of chemical weapons).

In the days following the attack, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that any message for this attack is muddled at best (other than to the applauding domestic audience of "serious" national security types).  Paul Pillar lays out the muddle nature of the message at The National Interest:
The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons.  But if the purpose was to enforce an international norm and international law about use of chemical weapons, persuading anyone of that was made more difficult by the lack of any effort to obtain international sanction, especially through the United Nations Security Council, before a retaliatory strike.  Moreover, other bellicose administration rhetoric about Syria has sounded much broader.  And indeed, casualties from chemical weapons have been a tiny fraction of overall casualties—including civilian suffering inflicted by the regime’s military operations—in the Syrian war.  So if it really was just about chemicals, how much good did any message-sending strike do?  The Syrian regime evidently was not deterred from  promptly attacking again the same neighborhood that was the scene of the chemical incident.

Messages—like names, and unlike sticks and stones—don’t necessarily hurt very much.  A message-sending military attack can actually help the regime or group that is targeted, by giving it an opportunity to demonstrate to its constituencies how it is surviving the attacks of, standing up to, and striking back against the American superpower.  And it does so with the added benefit of riding any popular resentment against foreign, especially U.S., intervention and resentment against any casualties inflicted by foreign military operations.

.  .  .

What is most important in the end is not only the message and the risk of escalation but a belief in the minds of the leaders of the other state that our own leaders consider the issue at stake to be so important that they are willing to fight a bigger war over it.  But that is not true of the civil war in Syria.  The United States simply does not have that kind of stake in its outcome, which is why the Obama administration wisely did not immerse the United States in that civil war.

Read it all here. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A New National Security Problem: Stopping Killer Asteroids?

A large asteroid will come very close to the Earth today, and this is raising the obvious question:  if it were on a path to hit the Earth, what could we do to stop it?  The asteroid is 2,000 feet wide and will come within 1.1 million miles of the Earth.  If it hit the Earth, it would destroy an entire continent.  This is not just a often-used plot for a Hollywood movie, but a topic of discussion at NASA.  Andrew Follett has an interesting post at National Interest, about NASA's thinking on this unique national security (actually, global security) problem:
“I think that we would have tried very hard to launch an interceptor mission,” Dr. Joseph A. Nuth, a senior asteroid scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Given the short time to impact this would most likely have been a mission that would target the asteroid on close approach,” Nuth said. “My guess is that the mission would carry the largest nuclear device possible and would try to both disrupt the body and slow its approach.”
NASA’s nightmare scenarios is an asteroid on an impact course with Earth. Nuth isn’t sure NASA could get a mission together in time to stop it. It could take five years just to build a spacecraft capable of the intercept.

“Given the short warning time, the mission might not work,” Nuth said. ” No design is available for such a mission so everything would be done ‘on the fly’ with little review or testing and probably no backup options. ‘Hail Mary passes’ do occasionally work however, so this attempt might work as well.”
. . .
In recent war games, NASA and other federal agencies were unable to deflect a simulated asteroid on course to hit Earth with four years of warning.

The “city-killer” asteroid ended up land off the Southern California coast. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel were forced to coordinate a simulated mass evacuation of the Los Angeles area to mitigate the damages of a potential tsunami.

You can read the full post here.

Why No One Seems to Care that the Syrian Missile Strike Violated International Law

As I have noted in previous posts, the Syrian missile strike almost certainly violated the U.N. Charter's rules governing the use of military force.  As I have also posted, this may as much an indictment of the dysfunction of the U.N. Security Council as it is of the strike itself.  Indeed, apart from Iran and Russia, Syria's closest allies, the international community's reaction to the missile strike has either been to praise it or to remain silent.  Remarkably, China has not criticized the attacks.  Julian Ku, a very smart international law professor has a great post today that explores why this may be the case:
 In the view of most international lawyers, the US strike on Syria is a crystal-clear violation of the UN Charter. So why doesn’t anybody, except Russia and some international lawyers, seem to care?

.  .  .

This gap between the reactions of governments and the reactions of most international-law scholars is striking. If the United States is flouting a law that usefully constrains nations who otherwise might be tempted to go to war, it could be increasing global instability. On the other hand, if the United States acted correctly in its efforts to deter the further use of chemical weapons by using military force, then international lawyers may be revealing themselves to be wedded to an outmoded and formalistic ideas about the international system — to a worldview that overrates the sovereignty of nation-states and underrates the lives of people living within them. This argument is made by dissenters from the international-law “consensus” view, including Yale’s Harold Koh, the former top lawyer in President Obama’s State Department.

But there is still another, more hard-nosed, realist take on the foreign reaction to the Syria strikes: that the UN’s rules on when force is permitted don’t meaningfully constrain states’ behavior. Although the Trump administration has not formally endorsed this position, I suspect this view is held by many of its decisonmakers.

.  .  .

I am not claiming that international law doesn’t matter; all things being equal, states would prefer to act in concert with their international obligations. But there are many powerful non-legal forces affecting the decisions of states to use or not use military force. Those non-legal forces include questions of global stability, military capability, support from other key and affected states, and domestic political support. Such factors are always going to be more significant drivers of action than the views of international lawyers.
Julian's post is really well worth reading if you want to understand the arguments about the legality of the strike and the increasing irrelevance of the U.N. Charter to the use of force.  I think he is absolutely right that the disconnect between legal academics and the international community suggests that non-legal  factors are making the U.N. Charter far less relevant to many use of force decisions.

This should not be surprising: the U.N. Charter reflects the experience of World War II and reflects a desire to stop all uses of force in international relationships.  The reality of the world today is different, and nations are far less willing to cede the decision to use force to the Permanent Members of the security Council.