The Lessons of 2010 in National Security: A Year End Summary and Look Forward

As the year 2010 draws to a close it is a good time to think back on the national security landscape of this year and to think forward to the implications of what we have experienced and observed for the future. The first observation is how the national security challenges we have encounter have become if anything more complicated, difficult to fully assess, and even more dangerous than heretofore.

Let’s look at that landscape one issue and problem at a time briefly:


Dealing with Russia:

Putin’s Russia is not a putty place.  It is authoritarian, corrupt, sometimes violent and for most of its people depressing and dark. Yet it too like China is in the process of significant change and its direction may not be unalterable. This is the same nation that made the New START treaty with us and is helping in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is a state that kills or jails its journalists, dissenters, and permits the health of its population to deteriorate while its rich and connected oligarchs live like sultans and rape the economic landscape.  Nevertheless, we must pay attention to Russia for the security and well-being of the globe. It is vital in decisions about non-proliferation, arms control and dealing with Afghanistan, Iran, and important given its energy resources geopolitical position.


Dealing with China:

Under Obama, we have made some real efforts in this area but China has a divided leadership, with rising largely self-generated nationalism, perhaps some aggressive motives but probably has not yet firmly decided on a commitment to be either a “responsible great power” verses a “hostile global state.”  Some in America would like to make them into a “hostile state” which is only playing into the hands of those in China bent in this direction and hurtful to efforts to integrate them into a peaceful and cooperative nation.  North Korea shows again this ambivalence both working in some respects for stability and peace but also assisting North Korea towards its irresponsibility.  Nor has China understood the difference between its short and long term interests in the area of trade, currencies, and human rights.  It is a work in progress with an uncertain direction. Think of the example of the Soviet Union then and today…still authoritarian yet also not a “Stalin totalitarian State.” George Kennan, my old teacher, counseled diplomacy, containment and patience.   China and the world are at a kind of tipping point of either a responsible state or a problem for the whole world. We need more not less attention to this critical problem.


The Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Triangle:

Obama was handed an impossible situation in this region which was not of his doing. Afghanistan had become a disaster during the Bush administration which had falsely misdirected it attention to a needless war in Iraq when it had the capacity to deal with the Taliban in the early period of our action in that country. Each day we are there seems to have only increased the people’s anger, skepticism, and belligerency against us and the corrupt government we are backing. The choices however are difficult and it is likely that the current strategy will run its course through 2011 to 2014.  Many experts feel that the government in Kabul will never be able to achieve either the necessary security in the countryside, the loyalty of a disgruntled and despairing population, or a reliable and honest army and civil service.  Yet the choices of pulling out and letting the situation become even worse, or upping the surge and kinetic levels and deaths provides only bad options.  Further, Afghanistan is only the smaller part of the problem which is really the future of Pakistan. There the trends seems always down and in the background a catastrophic outcome looms. India has also instability and growing acts of violence and duplicity.  Add nuclear weapons, the Kashmiri conflict, and internal unrest in both countries and you have the makings of a major global crisis. Here. like in the Middle East, some solutions are known but few are willing pay the price to go down a street of peace and compromise.  But we can’t turn our back on this region.


The Rogue States: North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, etc:

Here again these problem states are of long standing and again few good answers.  For both North Korea and Iran, the “nuclear” problem looms and narrows the choices. Isolation and containment with a touch of diplomacy seems to be the current policies and that is better than “war-war.” Sudan a different kind of problem is a brutal state carrying our warfare against its own citizens.  “Failed states” seem to grow with each year as poverty, lack of jobs and corrupt governance spreads and the developed world turns its back on these problems or deal with them in ineffective ways.  New approaches are needed that probably require more “hands on” tactics.


Climate Change and Global Environmental Challenges:

Having failed at Copenhagen, the world is trying again at Cancun where efforts are being made to find some common ground and modest progress against the world’s greatest threat to its environmental survival as a viable planet. Here the problem is lack of will, willingness to commit the necessary resources and share in a common burden and sacrifice.  All the other world’s crisis and conflicts draws away the energy and the focus and commitment to deal with climate change. The rich feel already burden by the economic crisis and the poor feel the problem should only be solved by the rich and they see only worse ahead.  Clearly, there is need for new approaches and creation of forms of global governance that so far have alluded us all.  The questions need to be faced and soon or again we will see catastrophic results.


The Israeli-Palestinian / Middle East Conundrum:

As this is written the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have collapsed and   settlement building goes on, and neither side seems to have the political will or ability to make the necessary decisions to agreed to a solution that all know is the only one possible and well known to all. Each day the security situation of Israel gets more dangerous but the political process in Israel moves more and more towards rigidity and unreality. On the other side, Palestinians have such inner conflicts and they need still more help to build their own coherent state governance and civil society. At least on their side of the divide they seem to have made some, albeit limited, progress.  Both the Arab states and Iran are playing dangerous games while the key Western states and others are unwilling to forcefully provide both necessary sticks and carets to make the peace deal that is the only answer.  But give Obama and Clinton credit for trying, but not for courage and steely bold determination.  Downward movement for now.


Terrorism and Conflict Regions:

I have combined these two elements since they go together. Where has terrorism sprouted most has been in the most poor regions, and where conflicts have become endemic. It is clear that despite the spending of billions of dollars and much blood that the problem of both growing conflict areas and of the dangers of terrorism around the world have not gotten significantly better in the last year.  In many cases they have become worse.  Just look at the events in Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Mexico, Iraq, Pakistan, places in West Africa, and elsewhere. We are not solving serious problems of conflict and peacekeeping and peacemaking. Our ability for effective on the ground knowledge of what is taking place, early intervention, and stabilization and conciliation capacity and frankly “nation building” still is in an infant state. Things are happening faster than we can respond and we lack the necessary resources to be effective. But the good part is that some recognize the problem.


US-European and NATO Relations:

Europe is undergoing a major sea change in regard to the economic crisis, with respect to immigration, defense and security policy, and assessment of the role the EU should play within Europe and beyond. There are new questions being raised about cooperation with the U.S. and concern about the direction of our policies with the election of so many uninformed and extreme members of congress in the recent election. The old saw that when the “US catches a cold the rest of the world gets the flue” seems to still be true. When in Britain in late November there were major discussions in political and media circles about a “reassessment” of relations and cooperation with America. The unfortunate aspect is that much of it was accompanied by actions that only had the EU and European countries come to the global table with less, not more, assets of its own due to a mindless hyper deflationary set of policies and funding cut actions which only indicated both moves towards a “double dip” recession in Europe if changes were not made with cuts in diplomacy and defense.  The issue going forward is whether this enforced isolationism and coming to the table with independent policies but with empty hands will do more harm than good.  We need, in the end to work together, in a time of crisis and I foresee harder not easier times ahead. But these are our best allies and no major problem can be advanced without their help.


Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:

We have looked often at the issues of the New Start treaty, non-proliferation and arms control in this blog. At this writing New START ratification remains ion doubt, we made progress at the NPT Conference but it was based on the nuclear weapons counties moving toward lower levels of arms. We have finally stated the long-term goal of nuclear banishment and addressed some other key issues. But this is again an area where trends can turn against us and the spread of more nuclear armed nations is one in which our very existence is in peril.  Yet it is treaty by some of our leaders in Congress as if we were living in a make believe world without dangers. We need at least to strengthen our multilateral and bilateral “tools” including strengthening the IAEA, the NPT framework and ratify the CTBT, and move towards greater reductions and control over tactical nuclear weapons, other WMDs and reductions and control of fissile materials globally.  How long can we delay these actions?

In sum, we have an increasingly dangerous and complex world in the 21st century and seem to have our mind set and vision still looking backward and myopic in perspective and imagination.  We welcome your ideas now and in the New Year on how we might best address these issues!


We send to our readers seasons greetings and hope for a more peaceful New Year.

Harry C. Blaney III


One thought on “The Lessons of 2010 in National Security: A Year End Summary and Look Forward

  1. Richard Wright December 16, 2010 / 5:50 PM

    This is a very good, if daunting summary, of the state of world security. I would say that you are absolutely correct that the futures of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interdependent. I would only add that my own feeling is that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) appears to be using the mostly Pashtun hostiles grouped under the rubric of ‘Taliban’, the U.S., and Afghanistan itself as pawns in its deadly and perpetual game with India.

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