Friday, March 31, 2017

More Reasons to Resist Further U.S. Involvement in Yemen


In a previous post, I explained my concerns with the Department of Defense proposal to offer direct military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.  Daniel DePetris has a good piece in National Interest that explained why this would indeed be a bad idea.  DePetris focuses on the impact of further U.S. involvement on the current humanitarian crisis, and also notes the violation of the laws of armed conflict by all sides.  The most interesting argument he offers, however, focuses on how our intervention will hurt efforts to negotiate a peace:
The civil war in Yemen isn’t a top-tier priority for policymakers in Washington, but when it is discussed in the public domain, U.S. officials often repeat the mantra that there is no military solution to the conflict. The State Department talking points are repetitive, but ultimately correct: only a Yemeni-led peace process among all of the country’s belligerents and stakeholders will end the conflict and allow Yemenis and the international community to begin the expensive process of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. During his last months in office, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to the region and met with Arab leaders on multiple occasions, ultimately coming to the same exact conclusions: that the war is at a military stalemate; no combatant is strong enough to vanquish their enemies without completely destroying Yemen as a nation; and the most durable way to resolve Yemen’s many political problems is by striking a fair political agreement that ushers in a new era of Yemeni politics.
If the U.S. does indeed decide to plunge further into the conflict and assist the Saudis and Emiratis in their campaign, Washington is effectively deepening its role as a belligerent to the advantage of one side in an internal conflict. In other words, at the same time that the United States would be trying to work with the UN to resurrect a dormant Yemeni peace process that is hanging on by a thread, Washington would be sending thousands of smart bombs to Riyadh and improving the intelligence picture for Saudi and Emirati aircraft searching for Houthi targets. The two are completely contradictory; the United States would be dousing a burning house with water on one day, only to light a match the next.
You can read the entire article here.  As I explained in my last post on Yemen, the motivating factor here within the Administration seems to be a desire to push back on Iran.  In my view, Yemen is not the time or place for this pushback.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why U.N Peacekeepers Are a Good Deal For America


It appears from the Trump "Skinny Budget" that the U.S. financial contribution to United Nations peacekeeping forces will take a big hit.  As Heather Peterson explains in a U.S. News post, this is a bad decision.  U.N. Peacekeeping is both effective a good deal for America.  The U.N. peacekeeping forces mean U.S. military forces don't have to intervene:
The answer is that U.N. peacekeeping operations are generally successful and much more cost effective than using U.S. forces. Research by RAND found that U.N. peacekeeping operations have a pretty good track record and can be "an effective means of terminating conflicts, insuring against their reoccurrence, and promoting democracy." This conclusion is supported by research by Nicholas Sambanis who found U.N. peacekeeping operations have a "robust positive effect on peacebuilding outcomes … (which is) stronger when peacekeepers remain." In other words, U.N. peacekeepers are good at their jobs, especially if they stick around.
But, what about the cost to the U.S.? It turns out that U.N. peacekeepers are an incredibly good deal when compared to U.S. forces. Let's take a historical example. In 2004, a coup in Haiti created a potential refugee crisis as Haitians attempted to flee the violence in boats bound for U.S. shores. The George W. Bush administration decided to deploy U.S. military forces to Haiti to stop the violence and prevent a potential influx of refugees. After the initial intervention, Haiti was far from stable. In order to maintain stability, a long-term military presence was needed. The U.S. didn't want to keep forces in Haiti and was able to convince the other members of the U.N. Security Council to authorize a peacekeeping mission.
The Government Accountability Office put together a report comparing the actual costs of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti to a hypothetical U.S. force (over a 14 month time period). The GAO determined that if U.S. forces stayed in Haiti, it would have cost the U.S. $876 million. The cost to the U.S. of the actual U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti was $116 million.
In other words, the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces saved the U.S. approximately $760 million in just over a year.
Read it all here. My friend Colonel Dave DesRoches (West Point graduate with a PhD) points out thst even these savings estimates are too low.  It doesn't include the lifetime medical costs of sending soldiers and Marines in a Malaria infested area.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Facilitating Lone Wolf Terrorists: ISIS's "Virtual Entrepreneurs"


As is apparent in the recent terrorist attacks in both Europe and the U.S., the biggest threat now are "lone wolf" attacks by radicalized Americans and Europeans.  It is therefore imperative that we better understand the radicalization process so we can effectively intervene. Seamus Hughes and Alexander Melagrou-Hitchens of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, have done some very interesting work that could help us stop these attacks.  They have focused their attention on ISIS's use of English speakers on social media to recruit and facilitate these attacks.  They have found that these "virtual entrepreneurs" were involved in at least 21% of all terror plots in the U.S. and more than half the plots in Europe:
Virtual entrepreneurs represent a natural progression of the IS threat to the West. As military pressure has squeezed the group in its bases in Iraq and Syria, and governments have largely staunched the flow of foreign fighters from their shores, the group has sought to exploit its online reach to maintain a presence in the countries of its enemies.
Junaid Hussain’s presence on social media platforms like Twitter, for example, allowed him to gain an almost cult-like following among Western sympathizers. Hussain, a former hacker who had frequent run-ins with law enforcement, travelled to Syria while awaiting trial for a charge of violent disorder. Here was a man who practiced what he preached; he talked the talk and walked the walk. Not only did he support jihad on his Twitter feed, he joined and fought for the group in its heartland. Hussain’s actions gave him a level of credibility that he quickly leveraged into a following, allowing him to further the terrorist aims of IS in the West. Hussain was revered by American and British jihadists, who looked to him for religious advice and practical answers on everything from how to travel to join IS to religious rulings on fighting Jihad.
Hussain was always happy to advise potential jihadis on matters large and small. In one case, he provided an Ohio man, Munir Abdulkader, with the address of a U.S. military officer, and suggested that he be killed. Abdulkader relied on Hussain to provide material details. “Make sure the soldier was in Iraq or Afghanistan,” one text stated. “Do you know his work schedule? When he home etc?” said another. Abdulkader went further in his requests: “How do you make Molotov? You have a link? And what’s the knife to use? Sharpest?” He gave Hussain a play-by-play of his surveillance of targets and the supposed ease of purchasing a AK-47. At each step, Hussain was online and encouraging. Abdulkader was arrested shortly after that, having plotted part of his attack with an accomplice who was an FBI informant.
Read their Lawfare post here.  They elaborate on their work in West Point's Combating Terrorism Center's Sentinel.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Trump is Wrong: America's Allies Are A Critical Strategic Advantage



If you listen to much of the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump during the campaign, you would think that America's allies are a bunch of useless leeches that drain American strength.  Indeed, he all but implied that Making America Great Again and America First meant that we needed to rethink our alliance relationships.  Fortunately, at least some of this rhetoric has been tempered after the Inauguration, but it raises the question:  was candidate Trump right that our alliances sap our strength?  To me, the answer is an emphatic NO.

The U.S. alliance network comes in four forms.  First, we are members of multilateral security alliances.  This includes NATO (Europe, Iceland and North America) and ANZUS (US, Australia and New Zealand).  Second, we have formal bilateral agreements with several countries, including South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.  Third, we have informal, but quite strong security understandings with some countries, most notably Israel and Taiwan.  Finally, we have lots of security arrangements that make limited formal commitments, including agreements with many Middle Eastern nations.

The scope of this alliance network is huge: over 60 nations that produce 75% of the world's economic network have have a total population of $2 billion  people.  This is in marked contrast to our major peer competitors.  Neither China nor Russia have more than a handful of small allies, and these alliances are, by and large, usually momentary alliances of convenience or exist on paper only.

Given this extensive U.S. alliance network, there are two possibilities: either these alliances are entangling arrangements that drain us economically (Candidate Trump's view) or they are a core strategic advantage for the U.S. (my view).

In my experience, our alliance network is a huge strategic advantage for several reasons.  First, in both Europe and Asia, our alliances have kept the regions secure and peaceful, which is no small thing considering that NATO includes two nations that are often at odds (Turkey and Greece) and two of our Asian bilateral partners (South Korea and Japan) have a rocky relationship even in the best times.  Our economic prosperity is a direct result of this peace and stability.

Second, our alliance network allows us a global reach.  We have bases around the world that allow us to respond quickly to national security threats anywhere in the world.  Our bases in Europe and the Middle East, for example, were critical to our rapid response to the September 11 attacks.  Moreover, our allies have come to our aid.  NATO helped us after September 11th (including flying AWACS planes in the U.S.), and our NATO allies fought with us in Afghanistan.

Third, it is hard to overstate the simple relationship advantages that come from our alliances.  I knew well and worked with the top Defence Ministry lawyers in several countries (especially the UK and Australia) and that relationship was critical in working on common problems (or disputes).  Most senior U.S. military officers have known their alliance nation counterparts for years since we train and exercise with our allies.  And our diplomats similarly know their counterparts very well.  These relationships, built over years, are critical when we face cries or difficult problems.

Finally, to a remarkable degree, our allies are good at getting us not to do stupid stuff.  And we have prevented our allies from doing the same.  I wish we had listened to the French before we invaded Iraq, but there are actually other examples where we listened to our allies and wisely stepped back from military action, as Tufts Professor Michael Beckley explains:

Against this limited evidence of entanglement are numerous cases in which alliances restrained the United States. Allies dissuaded the United States from escalating the Korean War and crises in Laos and Berlin, and struggled in vain to prevent the United States from entering or escalating other conflicts, the 2003 Iraq War being only the latest major example. Indeed, instances of alliance-induced restraint are evident even within the ¬™ve cases of entanglement discussed above: in the 1954–55 Taiwan Strait crisis, concerns about European alliances discouraged U.S. policymakers from bombing the Chinese mainland and publicly committing to defend Jinmen and Mazu; in the Vietnam War, allies impeded U.S. entry into the war and then repeatedly implored the United States to get out; and in Bosnia and Kosovo, U.S. allies initially restrained the United States from lashing out violently and then provided all of the NATO ground forces and most of the postconflict peacekeepers for the eventual operations.
We should obviously continue to evaluate whether our current security agreements make sense, and a little jaw-boning to urge our allies to pay more for the common defense makes sense.  But we also need to remember that the alliance network created since Wold War II has served us well, and is a key element of our national power.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Blaming Islam

There is an assumption in many conservative circles, and some unease even in liberal circles, about whether there is something unique in Islam that results in the terrorism we see today.  Both point to some passages in the Quran that seem to advocate violence.  David Shariatmadari has a well-reasoned post in the Guardian explaining why it is geopolitics, and not religion, that best explains Jihadist violence:
Let’s assume for a moment, then, that Islam is especially predisposed towards violence. If that’s your view, then you’ll need to show why the history of jihadi terrorism is so very short: this is emphatically a late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon, yet Islam has been around since the seventh century.

What about its wars of conquest? Well they definitely happened, but not in a way that marks Islam out from other cultures. The subsequent wave of imperial expansionism came via the sky-worshipping Mongols, before they settled down to become Muslims. Not only that, the dominant military powers since the 17th century have been Christian – and they often regarded themselves as having an explicitly religious mission.

Aspects of Islamic teaching do indeed justify some kinds of violence. Islam isn’t a pacifist religion. But again, it has this in common with Christianity, Judaism and other world faiths. Since that’s the case, and since we know that violence in the name of Islam has waxed and waned, it follows that we cannot look simply to theology to explain recent Islam-inspired terrorism.

.  .  .

It’s here that the question of politics – geopolitics – becomes inescapable. The Qur’an and the hadith, the sources of Islam, didn’t get rewritten in the last few decades. But they were taken up and used by certain political actors to justify horrific violence. Why?

The answer must lie among the political, economic, military and social changes in the Middle East in our times, and how they have ramified in the wider world. It’s only by looking beyond the texts that we can hope to understand why certain interpretations of them have gained currency among a tiny minority – but a minority willing to indiscriminately kill civilians.
Read it all here. The point here is that politics and economics are driving the terrorism and Islam and the Quaran are largely being used as a post hoc justification for the violence, instead of being the ideology that drives the violence.

Is the Trump Administration About to Escalate the War in Yemen?

The Washington Post is reporting that Defense Secretary Mattis has asked President Trump to lift restrictions on U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Persian Gulf states engaged in a civil war in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.  The obvious question is whether this request makes sense.  I, for one, am deeply skeptical.

Yemen is a complicated mess, and for most of its history it has been a complicated mess.  I can hardly do justice to explaining the current conflict, and don't pretend to be an expert.  I am also firmly convinced that few in the U.S. Government understand Yemen as well (which may well be our biggest problem).  Nonetheless, I will do my best to provide some context for what is going on.

There are multiple conflicts going on now within Yemen, but there are two main conflicts that get the most attention.  First, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen has been challenging the central government for years.  In addition, this group has global  aspirations to conduct terrorist operations in Europe and the United States.  For this reason, the United States has been engaged in armed conflict with this al Qaeda affiliate, including several air strikes.   Even this conflict is itself complicated.  While al Qaeda in Yemen clearly wants to strike the West, it is allied with local tribal groups that have a more locally focused desire to challenge the central government.

Second, an Iranian-backed Shi'a group, the Houthi rebels, have been engaged in a civil war with the central government.  With the backing of Iran, they control significant territory in Yemen--including Sanaa, the capital.  This conflict has effectively become a proxy war between the Sunni Persian Gulf states, and Iran, with the Saudi Air Force engaged in a highly controversial air war against Houthi held territory.  This conflict is also complicated,  with the former President of Yemen allied with the Houthis.

And to make matters even more complicated from time to time al Qaeda and the Houthis attack each other.  Given that the Houthis' focus on been local, and have shown no desire to attack the U.S., we have largely stayed out of this conflict (other than the uncomfortable fact that much of the weaponry used by Saudi Arabia was made by U.S. companies).

So the current situation is a mess, which raises the critical question: why on Earth would Mattis think intervening to support the Persian Gulf states was in our national interest?  These Gulf states are clearly our major allies in this reason, and the stated purpose of the request to the U.S. is to open a port for humanitarian aid.  All true, but it still begs the issue of why the U.S. should join a proxy war against Iran.  My only guess is that elements in the Administration are eager to join any fight against Iran.

My own view is that we need to be cautious, and avoid escalating this already tragic conflict.  While the Houthis have not shown any desire to strike the West, our involvement could cause them to expand their aims.  More fundamentally, as we have learned even in our conflict with al Qaeda, Yemen is complicated, and the ally of our enemy is not necessarily our enemy as well.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Civilian Casualties in Mosul

The press reports and images are horrific--over 100 Iraqi civilians killed in an apparent U.S. airstrike in Mosul last week.  The U.S. military has confirmed that they engaged targets in this part of the city while providing close air support to Iraqi ground forces that were in  a firefight with ISIS, and has announced an investigation.

I thought that this might be a good opportunity to discuss the Laws of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, and the reality of modern warfare.  Given that the investigation is just underway, I won't have much to opine about what occurred here.  I am confident, however, based on what I know about how the U.S. manages air war, that this was a horrific mistake and not the result of intentional targeting of civilians.


So first a brief primer on the Law of Armed Conflict.  As a result of several international agreements (to which the U.S. has been an active participant), there are rules that govern the conduct of warfare.  These rules are not at all alien to the U.S.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the so-called Lieber Code that ordered the Union Army to comply with the same basic principles found in these international agreements.

The thrust of the Law of Armed Conflict (or "LOAC" if you want to be cool) is to protect civilians in armed conflict.  The basic rules are these.  First, you can only target military targets, and not civilian targets.  Second, you must take reasonable steps to prevent civilian casualties even as you target legitimate military targets.  Third, if civilian casualties are likely even after you take reasonable steps to prevent casualties, the value of the military target must be proportional to the likely loss of civilian casualties.  This last point deserves some emphasis: LOAC reflects the reality that there may be civilian casualties in war, but insists that large numbers of casualties only come when targeting very important military targets.  (If you want to see the U.S. view of the obligations under LOAC, the best place to look is the DoD Manual on LOAC.)

In the Combined Air Operation Centers that run the Navy and Air Force air war (for both U.S> forces and our allies), there are always lawyers present to make sure that the rules of LOAC are followed.   In the current wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the Commanders demand more than compliance with LOAC.  They issue "Rules of Engagement" that impose far stricter rules for when force will be used in an effort to avoid civilian casualties altogether.  This is not done out of humanitarian concern alone.  The Commanders recognize that civilian casualties greatly hurt our effort to defeat the enemy.  For example, General Stanley McChrystal  did not hesitate to use lethal force against the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he imposed a near zero tolerance for civilian casualties in his Rule of Engagement.  As you can see from the picture to the left, there are lots of intelligence analysts, lawyers, and weapons experts advising the commander on every target.

So that is the law, but it is imposed in the realities of the battlefield.  While military leaders work hard to comply with LOAC and the Rules of Engagement, there is much that can go wrong.  Intelligence can be wrong, human beings can transpose numbers in a targeting location, equipment can fail, and human emotions can result in incorrect information.  By and large the U.S. military has a great record for planned attacks (targets chosen days in advance) because it has time to assess likely civilian casualties and double check intelligence.  Most of the civilian casualties, therefore come not from planned attacks, but instead calls for assistance from ground troops in a firefight with the enemy.

It appears that the Mosul airstrike was the result of the U.S. providing air support to Iraqi forces that were under attack from ISIS.  What we don't know is why so many civilians were killed.  Did the Iraqi forces not know that the civilians were in the building (press reports suggest that were hiding in the basement)?  Did Iraqi forces instead fail to tell the U.S. about the presence of civilians?   Were the civilians present because ISIS itself violated LOAC by using the civilians as human shields?  These are all questions for the investigation.

So what are the "take aways" here?  First, to a remarkable degree war is fought subject to clear legal principles recognized by the entire international community and strongly endorsed by the U.S. government for well over a century.  Second, the U.S. takes these legal requirements quite seriously, and in recent Rules of Engagement, the U.S. has been even more protective of civilians than the law requires.

But third, war is a messy business, and errors in information and human mistakes can cause large civilian casualties, which is why we need to not be cavalier about suggesting the use of military force.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It Costs Too Darn Much: Fixing How the Defense Department Buys Stuff



Even the the casual observer of the Department Defense knows that something is broken in the Department of Defense's acquisition of major weapon systems.   Newspapers are full of headlines about these problems: the F-35 program has suffered huge cost overruns and significant delays due to development problems, and the KC-41 tanker may be delayed as well.  Many programs are facing similar problems.  Whether you want to reduce or increase the size the military, it makes sense to see if we can do a better job.

Of course, it is not as if we have not been trying to reduce cost of acquiring new weapon systems.  Indeed we have had some success. Ash Cater's Better Buying Power seems to have been a success, and the Air Force dramatically reduced the number of cost overruns when Secretary Donley was Secretary of the Air Force.  But the problems remains.  What needs to be done?

When I was Air Force General Counsel, I ran across the writings of a maverick Air Force officer, Lt. Colonel Dan Ward, who seemed to me to have the right prescription for what ails the Defense acquisition system.  He examined programs that failed and programs that worked, and concluded that a focus on making things faster and simpler makes for a more successful  acquisition.  But, as you can see from the above chart, Congress and DoD have created a monster of a system that is neither fast nor simple.

As Dan points out, when we ignore the usual process, and focus on a fast and simple solution, we get great results for the war fighter:
The US Air Force needed more Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability and so launched the Project Liberty program. The result was the low-cost MC-12W aircraft, which flew its first combat mission in June 2009, just eight months after receiving funds. It has since flown thousands of successful missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
.  .  .
The US Navy began the Virginia class submarine program after terminating the unaffordable Seawolf program. The USS New Hampshire, first of the Block II Virginias, came in eight months early and $54M under budget, and that’s on top of the $300M cost savings already achieved on the Block II design. You read that right – a nuclear-powered submarine, early and under budget. The USS New Mexico also delivered four months early… you get the picture.
As dan points out, the Virginia submarine program illustrates that this faster and simpler approach even works for very complicated weapon systems.

While I was Air Force General Counsel, I saw the amazing work that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office ("RCO") was able to accomplish using faster and simpler acquisition methods.  Despite deploying some of the most cutting age technology available, the RCO gave important capabilities to the warfighter on schedule and below costs.  (And I also saw serious efforts by some at DoD to kill the RCO model altogether.

I think Dan Ward (sadly, now retired) was on the right track.    Read the entire article here. You can find an entire collection of Dan's thinking here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Former Senior Department of Homeland Security Officials Pan Trump's Budget

President Bush's Department of Homeland Security Director (Michael Chertoff), the former Commandant of the Coast Guard (James Loy), Jeh Johnson's former chief of Staff (Christian Marrone) and the former head of TSA (John Pistole) have an article in the Atlantic that makes the case that Trump's DHS budget makes us much less safe.  Why?  Because it is focused on the risks we face:
Indeed, paying for border security and interior enforcement by cutting funds to the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, and capping investments in agencies like the United States Secret Service and the United States Coast Guard is akin to double-locking your front door, but leaving your side door open—and your windows, and your garage door, and turning off your alarm.
.  .  .
The recently released budget blueprint, which requests a $54 billion increase in defense spending, makes dramatic reductions to vital agency budgets while flatlining others. For one, it calls for TSA to reduce its funding for efforts that include supporting state and local law enforcement officers at airport checkpoints, and conducting visible patrols in mass transit systems using bomb-sniffing dogs, bag searches, and other techniques at train and bus stations, ports, and other transportation hubs. This at a time when TSA just announced enhanced security measures. Just last year, Congress doubled the number of these teams, both in airports and in train stations. What’s more, the blueprint relies on funding 75 percent of TSA’s costs by raising airline passenger fees. We know from firsthand experience that such a budget device has little chance to be approved by Congress and will ultimately widen TSA’s budget hole.
.  .  .
Taken together, these cuts ignore both the actual threats and hazards that the nation has experienced since 9/11, as well as forward-looking homeland security risks. Almost every credible risk assessment points to the continued terrorist threat to aircraft and urban areas, something with which every leadership team at DHS has grappled. The persistent terrorist threat to mass transit is also particularly difficult to address. And an administration that decreases its investment in, and diminishes its focus on, emergency management runs the risk of large-scale calamity when disaster inevitably strikes.

Read it all here.   None of these authors could even remotely be called liberals.  They are instead all true homeland security experts.  We ought to listen to what they have to say.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Questions Raised by Chairman Nunes Disclosure of "Incidental Collection" of Trump Officials

Just when you thought things could not get crazier. the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, said today that some communications from the Trump transition operation were intercepted as "incidental collection" of lawfully authorized foreign intelligence surveillance.

This raises several interesting questions.

First, who were the Trump officials talking to?  "Incidental Collection"  means that the Trump officials were not the target of the surveillance, but were instead talking with someone who was a target.  In other words, this is not the case of Obama spying on Trump--it is simply ordinary spying on foreign agents.  Unless this was the result of a wiretap focused on criminal activity, any surveillance could only be done pursuant to a FISA Court that was persuaded that there was probable cause that the target was a foreign agent.  This means that Trump transition officials were talking to foreign agents.  Quite frankly, I am not surprised that transition officials would be talking to foreign agents (such as Ambassadors), but I am surprised that the Chairman thought this was a helpful thing to disclose.

Second, given that most FISA warrants are highly classified, who authorized the Chairman to disclose classified information to the press?  Did he violate the law or was he authorized by the President?  My money is on the latter.  If so, does Trump understand that the Chairman is disclosing that his team spoke to foreign agents?  And why does he think this was helpful to disclose?

Finally, should the identity of the Trump transition team members have been masked, as part of the FISA mitigation requirements?   Probably not.  As I explain at greater length in this post,  masking is not required when the name  is necessary to understand the foreign intelligence information in the report.  Given that the counter-intelligence import of the incidentally collected material was that foreign agents were talking to members of the Presidential transition team, their identities would not have been (and should not have been) hidden in any reporting.

My sense is that the Trump team somehow thinks this disclosure helps them revive the quite discredited claim that Obama was spying on the Trump team.  Of course, it doesn't come close to doing this.  All this suggests is that the U.S. was spying on certain foreign officials (which it should obviously do) and that Trump's people spoke to these foreign officials.  Rather than vindicate Trump's false claim, it raises new and disturbing questions about who the transition team were talking to--and why.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Planes, Missiles, and Submarines: Do We Really Need a Nuclear Triad?

During the campaign, President Trump famously displayed that he had no idea what the so-called Nuclear Triad was all about.  He may soon need to make some investment decisions that will determine whether we continue to rely on all three parts of the triad: land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles ("ICBMs"), submarine-based missiles, and nuclear armed missiles.

Ever since the Cold War, we have depended on all three legs of this triad as part of our nuclear deterrence.  Each had advantages and disadvantages.  Submarines could be hidden and could therefore survive a first strike, but until recently they were also the least accurate.  Land-base ICBM's were the most accurate, but they were only useful as a deterrent if we launched on warning (since we would have only 30 minutes or so from the launch of an enemy missile before it hit the silo.  Finally, unlike missiles that could not be stopped once launched, bombers had the advantage that they could be withdrawn before they attack.

The challenge now facing the country is that we will soon need to update and modernize all three legs of the triad, and we are potentially facing a huge trillion bill to maintain the current to maintain the Nuclear Triad.  The current ICBMs were first deployed in the 1970's and will soon need to be replaced by the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent.  The current submarine fleet is also old and will be replaced by the new Columbia-class submarine.  Finally, the nuclear-armed bomber fleet is older than the pilots who fly them, and will be replaced by the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money so there are some (including former Defense Secretary William Perry) who argue that it is time to retire the land-based ICBM, and rely solely on submarines and bombers for our deterrence once the current ICBMs become obsolete around 2030.  The argument is that submarines and bombers have developed nearly the same accuracy as the ICBM, that because ICBMs must be launched on warning, they are likely to lead to disastrous errors, and that bombers and submarines alone can provide a deterrent.  Here is how Secretary Perry explains why the ICBM should be scrapped:
First and foremost, the United States can safely phase out its land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, a key facet of Cold War nuclear policy. Retiring the ICBMs would save considerable costs, but it isn’t only budgets that would benefit. These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world. They could even trigger an accidental nuclear war.
If our sensors indicate that enemy missiles are en route to the United States, the president would have to consider launching ICBMs before the enemy missiles could destroy them; once they are launched, they cannot be recalled. The president would have less than 30 minutes to make that terrible decision. This is not an academic concern.
While the probability of an accidental launch is low, human and machine errors do occur. I experienced a false alarm nearly 40 years ago, when I was under secretary of defense for research and engineering.
 This sounds pretty persuasive. So what is the contrary view?  Supporters of the Nuclear Triad point out that removing ICBMs makes the targeting decision easier for our opponents.  There are only three bases for our bombers and two bases for our submarines, while a challenge to our ICBMs requires an attack on all many silos.  In addition, supporters of the current triad note that ICBMs are no longer as destabilizing as Perry suggest.  Tom Nichols and Dana Struckman of the Naval War College explain:
Perry makes a fair point that the accuracy of both the bomber and submarine force is on par with its land-based counterpart. But this, in turn, means that if America were to “ride out” a strike on the ICBM force, the submarines and bombers—as Perry admits—could do whatever tasks are left once the enemy has emptied its own ICBM force at us. The major virtue of the ICBM force, then, is not what it can do after an attack, but that that the enemy will have to take it into account before an attack, and consider the cost of starting an all-out nuclear exchange between the homelands.
Moreover, if the ICBM force were targeted, the United States would still be able to attack, with great speed and precision, not only the remaining enemy strategic force but important parts of enemy military infrastructure. Russia or China would then be the ones to face the fateful decision to attack cities, a situation they will inevitably bring on themselves the moment they initiate the conflict—which is exactly the realization that should deter them in the first place.

So what is the right answer?   A trillion dollars is still a boat load of money.  As Nichols and Struckman point out, while the ICBM serves a strategic purpose, we don't need as many ICBMs as we do now to deter an attack.  In addition, if we negotiate further cuts in our nuclear arsenal with Russia (and perhaps China), we can further reduce the costs of our nuclear deterrence while still have the strategic parity needed to deter an attack.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What President Trump Gets Wrong About NATO


 I never imagined that the President of the United States would display basic ignorance about NATO, a cornerstone of our national security.  But let's use this as a teachable moment.  One of the purposes of this blog, after all,  is to offer some explanations about national security issues for my friends and family.  Sort of a "National Security for Really Smart People."

Saturday, President Trump tweeted the following about Germany and NATO:

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Trump fundamentally  misunderstands how NATO works.  NATO is not some club with some membership fee, and Germany owes the United States nothing for having troops in Europe.

So here is your primer (which is based on a great series of tweets by Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO) :  A few years back, in response to the rise of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the NATO members pledged that they would all spend at least two percent of their Gross Domestic Product on defense by 2024.  Two observations here: (1) the commitment was to a target defense budget, not some payment to NATO or the U.S., and (2) the commitment was to meet this commitment by 2024, not right away.


As of this year, 5 of the 28 NATO countries have met this obligation , but most of the other NATO countries (including Germany) are increasing their defense budgets with an eye toward meeting this commitment.  Remember that the 2024 target date is still seven years away.  Trump's notion that Germany "owes" NATO money is a complete fabrication--or a profound misunderstanding of NATO.

A second point also needs to be made.  The United States benefits greatly from its military presence in Europe.  Europe is critically important to the U.S. economy, and a peaceful and stable Europe is in our national interest.  While, the focus is on the defense of NATO against Russian aggression (and Soviet aggression during the Cold War), there is an often unstated additional benefit--our military presence in Europe and the NATO alliance itself, solidify peace among these allies as well,

Moreover, the troops in Europe also provide easy access to Africa and the Middle East during moments of crisis.  Our rapid intervention in Libya and Mali were only possible because of our forces in Europe.

Finally, it is important to remember, that Article 5 of the NATO Charter--which calls for the collective defense of any NATO member attacked--has only been invoked one time in the entire history of  NATO:  when the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001.  This was not merely symbolic.  Within weeks, NATO AWACS planes were flying over the U.S. providing air defense support.

Our NATO allies should pay more for their own defense, and a little jawboning by the United States is certainly fair game--Obama and Bush both did this as well.  As you can see from the chart above, several countries (including Germany) have lots of work to do to meet the 2024 commitment.  The problem with Trump's comments is that it displays a profound lack of knowledge about how NATO works.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Strategies Fail

Washington, D.C. is a town that loves strategies.  When I was at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we devoted lots of resources to drafting a Congressionally mandated "Annual Strategy" (even though my boss, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey noted that anything done annually cannot be a strategy.  In the Pentagon, I participated in lots of strategic exercises.  As Rand's Raphael S. Cohen (a former Army officer) notes, these exercises are almost very disappointing in a must read post at Lawfare. 

So why do so many strategies disappoint? As Cohen explains, they disappoint because they fail to make tough choices--which is the very point of any strategy:
Finally, good strategies need to be substantive. Somewhat ironically, given how much criticism it received at the time, two decades later, the 1993 Bottom-Up Review is the strategy that is most often used as a baseline for subsequent major defense reviews. There are plenty of reasons for this, but one of them is its analytic transparency. Of all the attempts at national security strategy over the past quarter century, the Bottom-Up Review perhaps makes the clearest argument about linking threats to a force-sizing construct and to procurement decisions—in other words, linking ends, ways, and means together in a transparent fashion. Too often strategies instead devolve into platitudes, leaving strategy’s three major components disconnected and, at times, incoherent.
More often than not, the lack of succinctness, sharpness, and substance in strategies is just a symptom of the deeper reason why the strategy-making process so often yields lackluster results. They fail because leaders are unwilling to make difficult decisions—to focus on one threat as opposed to another, prioritize resources accordingly, and then explain their decisions publicly—at risk of being wrong. Instead, they prefer to delegate the process to the bureaucracy, which lacks the institutional power and the incentive to make decisions.
This may be why so many congressional attempts to reform national security strategies have come up short over the years: The real problem is not process; it is the aversion to making decisive and perhaps irrevocable choices. What makes this aversion all the more vexing is that, from the standpoint of some, it is entirely logical. Decisive choices can make enemies within the bureaucracies, lead to congressional scrutiny, and, perhaps most importantly, risk assuming blame for potential catastrophes when decisions prove wrong. Moreover, the benefits of getting strategy “right” are sometimes only visible long after the policymaker leaves office. Far better to settle for mediocrity and play it safe.
Read it all here. A strategy is a document that guides the tough choices we will make given the constraints in the environment.  If it fails to even recognize that there are choices to be made, it will fail.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Unilateral Disarmament: Why Trump's "Skinny Budget" Would Make the United States Less Powerful

Despite the $54 billion increase in defense spending, the Trump budget as disclosed last week will make the United States less powerful in world affairs. As a practical matter, this would mean that we are less likely to get our way in the world, and our adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran, will become relatively more powerful.

But how can this be?  With more F-35's , a larger Army, and more ships, won't we be more powerful?  Not at all.  Military Power is only one element of national power, and the Trump budget is effectively unilateral disarmament when it comes to the other key elements of national power.

First, a quick look at what the budget proposes. It cuts the Department of State budget by a huge 29%.  This means that the entire State Department budget ($39 billion after the cuts) would be smaller than simply the increase in the Defense budget.  While not detailed, we know that these cuts translate to much smaller aid programs, fewer diplomats, and a dramatic cut in our participation in international organizations. The budget will also cut funding for multilateral development banks (like the World Bank) by $650 million over three years.

So who cares?  We have more starving children in Africa, less diplomats living the good life overseas, and fewer bureaucrats at the U.N. Wants the big deal?

Any one who has worked in the Department of Defense knows that while military power is very important, it is of limited usefulness in many circumstances.  And in other circumstances, diplomacy and foreign aid can be more effective and cheaper (both in terms of dollars and lives) than military power.

Here are just a few examples.  We are battling  al Qaeda spin offs throughout many parts of Africa.  We have found that even modest amounts of security assistance can be an effective alternative to American boots on the ground.  Our assistance to Colombia starting in the 1990's as part of Plan Colombia greatly stabilized the security situation in that country and led to the final peace deal with the FARC.  And our humanitarian assistance goes a long way to shaping attitudes in receiving countries about the United States.

Finally, the most influential tools of influence on our most important allies (who also happen to be the world's leading economies) is the hard work of diplomacy and our participation in international organizations.  We aren't going to prevail in our important ( but friendly) dispute with Canada over border issues in the Artic by the threat of military force, but instead by careful diplomacy.

Many European states are deeply invested in international organizations such as the World Bank and the United States.  As frustrating as it may be at times to deal with the U.N., our active participation is important as a tool of influence over the policies of many countries.

As any reader of this blog will know, I am a bit of a hawk when it comes to a strong military.  But, I am just as much of a "hawk" when it comes to other forms of American power.

Don't take my word for it.  As I noted in a previous post, Defense Secretary Mattis made the same point when he was the Commander of Central Command. Mattis said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.” And Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."

So the question is simple:  why does the Trump Administration want to unilaterally disarm these important tools of American power?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump's Budget Reflects a Policy of Deliberate Ignorance

There is a great deal that can be said about Trump's "skinny budget" released earlier this week.  (I joked with a friend that the cuts in anti-poverty programs looks like it was drafted by a teenager living in an upper middle class suburb who just finished reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. )  I think, however, that the real headline is this:  Trump's budget displays that his Administration does not merely deny climate change, but instead simply doesn't care if it is true.  Instead, the budget displays a policy of deliberate ignorance by zeroing out all scientific research on the topic.

The most stunning example of this is how the budget deals with NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  This is satellite that is already in space (at a cost of $141 million).  It has two sets of sensors: one focused on the Sun to detect space weather events (such as solar flares).  The second set of sensors focus on the earth, and includes a camera that takes images of the earth across 10 different parts of the visual spectrum and  a radiometer that measures how much sunlight is reflected and emitted from earth.  These sensors monitor changes in the Earth's climate and weather patterns.  This data can constitute a barometer for the process of global warming.

The Trump budget keeps the program that involves the solar weather sensors, but simply turns off the sensors  from the earth-viewing instruments.  Cost savings can't be a reason for turning off the Earth-facing sensors because NASA spends just a bit more than $1 million to operate the satellite and process its data--most of which it will continue to spend on the space weather mission.

In other words, while we have already spent over $140 million dollars to put these sensors in space, the Trump budget demands that we stop collecting the data.   This is the very definition of deliberate ignorance.  Simply put, they don't care to know the truth, and are taking steps to actively prevent us from learning the truth.  This seems to reflect the view that if we stop doing science on climate change, we no longer have to do anything about it.

This policy of deliberate ignorance permeates the budget.  In addition to DSCOVR, the budget three other NASA missions that would have observed the Earth from Space:  PACE, OCO-3, and the CLARREO Pathfinder.  It eliminates all funding for EPA's climate research.  As I noted in a previous post, it drastically cuts NOAA weather satellite program, likely leading to the elimination of a critical polar satellite.

More generally, the budget reflects not merely a policy of deliberate ignorance toward climate research, but a disregard of science in general.  It includes cuts in science spending of at least $7 billion, including an 18% cut in medical research at the National Institutes of Health, and the elimination of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

When I think about what has made "America Great", our scientific and technological achievements certainly come to the top of the list.  By not merely cutting science research, but by displaying a policy of deliberate ignorance to critical climate research, this budget will not make American Great.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When and How Should We Use Military Force to Fight Terrorism?

Several days ago, Charlie Savage had an important article in the New York Times  that reported that the Trump Administration is "exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from  drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan."  As Charlie reported, the President had already declared three provinces of Yemen to be  an "area of active hostilities" where less restrictive policies should apply.  The first use of this policy was the Special Operations raid in Yemen, which killed several civilians.  He is also expected to make a similar decision with regard to Somalia.

So what's the big deal?  Why shouldn't we "unleash" our military?  That is a question that I and 34 other former national security officials tried to explain in a set of principles that we sent to Defense Secretary Mattis.  As we explained in this principles, civilian casualties are not merely a human right problem.  They also hurt us in our fight against terrorist groups:
The United States has always put a strong premium on minimizing civilian harm in armed conflicts, both because it is the right thing to do and because doing so is strategically beneficial. However, even small numbers of unintentional civilian deaths or injuries—whether or not legally permitted—can cause significant strategic setbacks. For example, civilian deaths from U.S. operations can cause partners and allies to reduce operational collaboration, withdraw consent, and limit intelligence-sharing; increase violence from militant groups; and foster distrust among local populations that are crucial to accomplishing the mission. As a result, reducing civilian harm and appropriately responding to harm that does occur play an important role in helping the United States achieve its mission objectives.
We noted that attacks in countries outside the battlefield (in Yemen and Somalia) require special caution:
The use of force outside traditional war zones, particularly using drone and other air strikes, raises complex legal, strategic, diplomatic, and humanitarian considerations that warrant continued use of heightened standards and procedures. To ensure that such operations are both strategically effective and lawful, the executive branch should, absent extraordinary circumstances . [u]se lethal force only when there is a near certainty—or a similarly high standard—that no civilian harm will occur; this standard has proven useful for maintaining support for kinetic operations among foreign governments and populations, and for minimizing the downsides and unintended consequences that occur when the United States accidentally kills or harms civilians.  

The letter was  signed by an impressive list of former national security professionals, all of whom had to make tough life and death decisions in the fight against terrorism, and all of whom learned from the experience.  We hope that the Trump Administration will recognize that while military power is an important tool against terrorism, it needs to be used with great care.

You can read the entire letter here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Overselling Cyberwar

With most of us still smarting about the Russian hacking of the emails of the DNC and John Podesta, and today's stunning announcement of the indictment of two Russian intelligence officials for the huge hack of Yahoo, cyber issues are very much in the forefront.  This is a big issue for our country, and we need to take it seriously.

One problem, however: the news media too often directs us from the real issues.  While some cyber espionage uses highly sophisticated tools, in most cases, the biggest hacks involve very simple and quite unsophisticated tools to get into our systems.  The best analogy is that we are leaving our doors and windows open.  The bad guys don't need to (and often can't) pick locks.

Evan Osnos had a piece in the New Yorker today (with the great title "How Not To Freak Out About Cyber War") that does a good job making this point:
Almost always, journalists and analysts describe the latest cyber attack as a “sophisticated” operation, even when technical experts describe them as ordinary and preventable. Ben Buchanan, a Harvard researcher and the author of a new book called “The Cybersecurity Dilemma,” wrote this week on the Cipher Brief, a security blog, that “when every case is described as unprecedented and every threat actor billed as nearly unstoppable, it fuels what I call ‘the legend of sophistication.’ The effect of such a legend is to paint a picture of a world with so many talented adversaries that practical cybersecurity is out of reach.”

In some cases, the costliest attacks are relatively low-tech. Hackers accused of working for Russian intelligence breached the Gmail account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, using an old-fashioned technique called “spear-phishing”: sending an e-mail under false pretenses to garner personal information, such as a password. Thomas Rid, a scholar at King’s College, in London, told me, “It’s like an I.E.D. In the nineties, leading up to Afghanistan, you had this expectation that the future of warfare would be very high tech, and that America would be leading because the American Armed Forces were spending so much money on network-centric platforms. But then what happened is the I.E.D. improvisation. If you drive with a vehicle that has wheels, it can be attacked. If you have an e-mail account, it can be hacked.”
 As Osnos notes, while policymakers spend a great deal of time and attention devoted to applying Cold War deterrence thinking to cybersecurity, what we really ought to be thinking about is "why don’t accounts like Podesta’s have two-factor authentication by default?”  You can read the entire piece here.


More on Closing Guantanamo

On Monday, I posted about the call by Bush Administration top national security lawyer, John Bellinger, to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.  Today, Paul Lewis, the former Special Envoy for Guantanamo Detention at the Department of Defense, has an excellent post making the same argument.  Paul, by the way, served in both the Bush and Obama Administrations.  The most interesting point he makes is that virtually every Defense Department official who has lived with the issue has come to the same conclusion:

We are all familiar with the primary arguments to close GTMO: it costs too much, it is a recruiting tool and propaganda tool for terrorists (a conclusion reached by both President Bush and President Obama), and it is disdained by the international community. But beyond these individual factors, it is crucially important that the national security leadership of both the Bush and Obama Administration reached the same conclusion. In the best judgement of both Administrations, GTMO hurt us more than it helped us. Both presidents, five secretaries of Defense (Rumsfeld, Gates, Panetta, Hagel, and Carter), and four secretaries of State (Powell, Rice, Clinton, and Kerry) reached the same conclusion. (Yes, even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ultimately concluded GTMO should be closed—if an alternative location were selected.)
I urge the new Administration to reach the same conclusion. As John states, before bringing new detainees to GTMO, the new Administration would be wise to consult with the bipartisan national security experts from both previous Administrations. This list of experts includes a long list of retired military leaders, including former Marine Commandant, Gen. Charles Krulak and former CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Hoar.
As Lewis explains, this does not mean that we release all of the remaining 41 detainee.  He advocates moving them to a federal detention facility in the United States, continuing to securely place those who have approved for transfer, and continuing to use the Periodic Review Board process to evaluate whether others can be safely transferred as well.

Read the entire article here.

Again, by way of full disclosure, I represent one of the detainees at Guantanamo.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

There is Less to the Wikileaks CIA Disclosures Than You Have Been Lead to Believe

There has been breathless coverage by the media about the CIA data dump by Wikileaks.  There is certainly a big story here.  How did Wikileaks get these classified documents?  Was it an insider? A State Actor?  But much of the coverage about the content of the dump itself is, on closer examination, less impressive than you would have thought had you simply believed Wikileaks own comments about the data dump.

Nicholas Weaver, a senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, has an interesting post at the Lawfare blog about how the media got duped by Wikileaks into exaggerating the story:
There are two real stories involving the CIA data dump by Wikileaks, neither of which is about the actual documents themselves. The first is that somebody managed to exfiltrate the data from the CIA in the first place, but the second still seems unappreciated:  Wikileaks once again successfully hacked the media, shaping discussions into deliberately deceptive ways. 
How many articles did you read about the CIA “hoarding zero days”, with “24 Android exploits”?  How many breathless pieces about how the “CIA will frame others by recycling their malcode”? That the CIA is “breaking Signal”?  Or that CIA can “spy on you through your Samsung TV”?   
How many of those stories mentioned that most of the Android “zero days” referenced were anything but, instead documentation on old exploits for out of date devices?  Or that the CIA malcode reuse is not about a “false flag” operation but instead lazyefficient programmers taking advantage of existing code?  Or that the “breaking” of Signal is equivalent to saying “I broke Signal” when I look over your shoulder as you type?  Or that the CIA’s TV bug requires physical access?  These critical caveats change the stories completely.
The problem, as Weaver notes is that many journalists don't have the technical background to evaluate Wikileaks claims, and they rushed to print before talking to real experts.  Still, there is good news here:  my Samsung TV is not spying on me.

Read the full post here.

Defense Spending 101: Part 4: Sizing the Force To Meet the Threat

As I said in my first post in this series, the analysis that should be used is to determine our vital national interests, determine the capabilities of those that threaten those interests, and then determine the appropriate force structure necessary to defeat, if necessary, these potential enemies.  In the last two posts (this post and this post), I focused on the determination of our vital national interests and the assessment of the threat to those interests.  In this post, I will focus on the final step--sizing the force needed to combat the threat.

This is the step that requires the most military expertise.  In the Department of Defense, this is done by developing operational plans to prevail in various scenarios (such as defend South Korea against a North Korean attack), and then determining the force (people and weapons) needed to carry out this plan.  The Combatant Commands develop and update the operational plans, and various parts of the Pentagon do detailed, deep dive analysis to determine the force structure necessary to execute the operational plan.

This is not a mechanical exercise.  There is a great deal of judgment involved in doing this analysis, and there is quite often sharp disagreement among different parts of  the Pentagon about the assumptions used to determine the force.  To give, but one example, the operational plan will tell you how many fighter and bomber sorties there needs to be during each phase of the plan.  In order to determine how this translates into the number of fighters and bombers, other assumptions come into play: how many fighters and bombers will be disabled by the enemy?  How many sorties per week can each airplane do given the need for maintenance?  Will air refueling be required?  If so, how many fighters need to be devoted to protecting the refuelers.  AS you can imagine, different analysts can come up with wildly different numbers of aircraft needed for each operational plan.

There are two other important considerations that come into play here in creating the defense budget.  


First, in determining the force structure that we will pay for in the defense budget, how many operations do we assume we need to execute at the same time.  Armed conflict is rare enough--particularly the operations needed against a peer or near peer foe--that an argument could be made that we only need to assume one operation at a time.  For example, we only need a force large enough to fight North Korea OR Iran, and not both at the same time.  The problem with this approach is that our enemies have a say in the matter.  If we are engaged in a military operation against North Korea, and only have the forces sufficient to fight one war at a time, there is a danger that Iran or China will take this as an opportunity for aggressive action.  For this reason, until recently, our military strategy was built on the assumption that we could be fighting two wars at a time.  As you might imagine, this could be rather expensive. The chart above shows the large difference in force structure that results from different assumptions about how many wars we fight at once.   In the Obama Administration, this was revised to a strategy of being able to deter and hold off another potential enemy, and not a full fledged engagement.  The military "must be capable of deterring and defeating aggression ... in one region even when our forces are committed to a large-scale operation elsewhere," the strategy states. It will be interesting to see the construct developed by the Trump Administration.



Second, while operation plans are focused on the fight we must be prepared for today, the defense budget must also make investments for the weapon systems we need in the future.  For example,, while our current fleet of F-18, F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft might be adequate in executing an operational plan today, they may be too vulnerable against a more technologically able Chinese military in the future.  Accordingly, there also needs to be an assessment of the enemy 20-30 years from now in order to make sure that we still have the weapons need to defeat the enemy.  Accordingly, the defense budget includes research and development and investment accounts in order to ensure that the U.S. military can meet the threats in the future.  For the Air Force, this means replacing our satellite assets with more cable and robust satellites, building next generation fighter craft such as the F-35, and building a new bomber capable of operating against Russian and Chinese air defense systems of the future.  When I was at the Air Force, much of our attention was devoted to this part of the budget--deciding how to time and allocate this investment budget. The chart above shows the projected change in fighter air craft from the old to the new, with a future F-X fighter in the distant horizon.

Once again, this part of the analysis requires judgment calls that can result in quite different defense budgets.  Do we return to the two-wars-at-a-time construct? Adopt another construct?  Do we really need to invest in the super-expensive F-35 or will an upgraded F-18 suffice for at least some engagements? These are not easy questions, and the answers can drive big changes in defense spending.

Other Posts in this Series:

Defense Spending 101, Part 1: Don't Get Distracted By the Wrong Numbers
Defense Spending 101, Part 2: Determining Our National Interests
Defense Spending 101, Part 3: Evaluating the Threat


Monday, March 13, 2017

John Bellinger on Why Guantanamo Should Be Closed

My law school classmate and current law partner, John Bellinger,  was the Legal Adviser to the NSC during the Bush Administration during the time when the decision was made to open the detention center at Guantanamo.  On Sunday, he posted an important essay on the Lawfare Blog that explains why the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was opened, and why it now should be closed.  Here is how John explains why Guantanamo should be closed:
Although it may be politically popular with some of the Administration’s supporters, it would be a mistake for the Trump Administration to try to repopulate Guantanamo with new detainees from the Islamic State or Al Qaida-affiliated groups, as President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have said they want to do.   The Trump Administration should learn from the bitter legal and policy experiences of the Bush Administration: adding new detainees to Guantanamo will produce more (and more risky) lawsuits; difficult practical problems down the road as to what to do with the detainees; and unnecessary friction with allies.  Guantanamo detainees have prevailed in numerous challenges to their detention in federal courts (including four cases before the Supreme Court).   Any new ISIS detainees in Guantanamo would undoubtedly claim in habeas petitions that the 2001 AUMF detention does not authorize their detention.  As Jack Goldsmith has pointed out, “it is easy to imagine a habeas court ruling that the President does not have the authority to detain a member of ISIL because the 2001 AUMF does not extend to ISIL.”   And as I explained in my Lloyd Cutler lecture last fall, our allies are likely to cut back on intelligence, law enforcement, and military cooperation if they believe the United States is not acting consistent with international law and our shared democratic values.

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions should instead consider  a “Nixon to China” policy of seeking legislation that would allow the President to close Guantanamo and transfer the remaining detainees to their own governments and to one or more military and/or federal detention facilities in the United States for continued detention and potential prosecution.  It is highly unlikely that any detainee could escape from a maximum security prison in the United States.  Although it is possible that detainees held in the United States could bring additional legal challenges to their detention, detainees have already been successful in legal challenges while detained in Guantanamo; it will be difficult for the remaining detainees who have not been cleared for release to persuade a federal court that they should be released or given immigration rights.   President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, Secretaries Mattis and Kelly, CIA Director Pompeo and DNI-designate Coats should consult with the experienced lawyers and policy experts in their departments about the risks of costs and benefits of Guantanamo.  They are likely to find that repopulating Guantanamo will produce more costs and risks than benefits and that it would be both preferable, and possible, to achieve President Bush’s goal of closing Guantanamo without compromising security.

The entire post is well worth a read--particularly the history on why the detention facility was created in the first place.  You can read it here.

Again, by way of full disclosure, I represent one of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo.

Defense Spending 101: Part 3: Evaluating the Threat



As I said in my first post in this series, the analysis that should be used is to determine our vital national interests, determine the capabilities of those that threaten those interests, and then determine the appropriate force structure necessary to defeat, if necessary, these potential enemies.  In the last post, I focused on the determination of our vital national interests.  In this post, I will focus on the evaluation of the threat. Just as is the case with the determination of our national interest, disputes about the threat can drive very different views of the appropriate defense budget.

I will start with three observations.

First, not all of the areas of our vital national interest present threats that require the development of significant military options.  Since this Nation was founded, peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere has been a vital national interest.  Yet, with only a few exceptions quite early in our history, we have not faced significant threats to this interest.  This is why we did not build significant military capacity until we need to defend out interests elsewhere in the world. This remains true today.  While we continue to have an vital interests in the region, we really don't face significant threats.  The nations around us are either allies (Canada), non-threatening (most of Latin America) or too weak to be a threat (Cuba and Venezuela).  

Second, threats to our vital national interests can change over time.  Perhaps the best example is the fall of the Soviet Union.  As a result of the fall of the USSR and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the threat to peace and stability in Europe was dramatically reduced.  Russia no longer had the intention or ability to threaten Europe.  And as recent events in the Ukraine have shown, this is changing once again.  Russia has once again displayed aggressive intent--at least to non-NATO nations on its periphery and perhaps also to some former Warsaw Pact nations such as Latvia that do belong to NATO.  It has also made investments in military technology that make it more of a military threat to Europe.

Third, in evaluating the threats to our national security, we can't just focus on the threat today. Since we are making investment decisions for weapon systems that will be deployed twenty years from now, we also need to take into account threats to our interests that we will face over a much longer time horizon--20 to 30 years.  Here, China is a good example.  China is investing significantly in modern technology that could make it a true peer competitor in 20 years.  Accordingly, our evaluation needs to take into account the threat China presents to our interests 20 years from now, and not just now.

With this in mind, here are some cursory thoughts on the main threats that drive military spending:


Existential Threats:  As a country we are fortunate in not facing many threats to our very national survival.  Chinese aggression in Asia would be very bad for our future, but would not itself threaten our very survival.  We do, of course, face one significant existential threat: nuclear war.  At least for now, Russia (and perhaps China) are the only countries that present such a threat to the United States.  Fortunately, the nuclear balance, reflected in the  New Start limits on the Russian and American arsenals, have resulted in stability (based on deterrence).  North Korea's development on the capability to launch a nuclear-armed ICBM that could reach the U.S. is not an existential threat, but it is still an extremely significant threat nonetheless.


Russia: Russia's military modernization and recent aggression in both Georgia and Ukraine are troubling,and need to be taken into account as we size our force, but the threat still remains significantly below Cold War levels.  Nonetheless, our planning must include significant military assets to deter (and defeat, if deterrence fails) Russian aggression against NATO.

China: The biggest change to the threats we face concern China.  The change is two-fold.  First, China is making a massive investment in developing modern weapons that seek to match the U.S.  While the U.S. has traditionally had a large technological advantage over China, this advantage is rapidly going away.  Second, China is also becoming far more aggressive in asserting its power.  China has always asserted sovereignty over the South China Sea.  The change now is that it is now taking steps to enforce this view.  Both changes threaten the peace in the region and directly threaten several of our allies in the region.  It also threatens freedom of navigation in the region.


North Korea and Iran:  North Korea and Iran are regional powers that have significant military capacity that they have recently asserted in their regions.  Iran threatens navigation in the Arabian Gulf, and it is fighting proxy wars with several of our allies in the region. North Korea threatens South Korea and Japan, and is developing the capacity to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. 


Terrorism:  Much of the focus of our national security policy in recent years has been on Middle East-based terrorism.  Given the metamorphic transformation of al Quida into several variants, the rise of ISIS, and the continued success of Taliban, this threat will likely remain well into the future.  As we will discuss in a later post, however, the current military-focused approach to the problem may no longer be the appropriate solution.

There is much to criticize with my analysis above.  Many analysts, for example, do not consider Iran a traditionally aggressive power, and view its aggressiveness in the region as reflecting a desire to protect minority Shi'a populations  in the region.  Others argue that Russia is merely asserting its power in the areas in which it has vital national interests (Eastern Europe) and that it is presenting little threat to core American interests.  I take a different view, but these kinds of disputes are not academic--they will determine whether we view Russia and Iran presenting a threat to vital national interests that merit a defense spending response.


Defense Spending 101, Part 1: Don't Get Distracted By the Wrong Numbers
Defense Spending 101, Part 2: Determining Our National Interests

Defense Spending 101, Part 4: Sizing the Force to Meet the Threat