A SHIFT IN GEOPOLITICS IN CENTRAL ASIA: WHY IS CHINA SO INVESTED IN AFGHANISTAN?

Foreword: Chelsea Kaser is the current National Security Intern at the Center for International Policy for the Spring of 2015. She conducted research on Chinese and Afghan relations before writing this post. She currently attends Muhlenberg College, where she concentrates on peace and conflict resolution and Russian studies.  She hopes to attend graduate school after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the opening ceremony of the 4th Ministerial Conference of Istanbul Process of Afghanistan at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing, October 31, 2014.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the opening ceremony of the 4th Ministerial Conference of Istanbul Process of Afghanistan at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing, October 31, 2014. (Voanews)

By: Chelsea Kaser

Since 2014, China has become much more diplomatically engaged with Afghanistan. Several factors have raised the interest of Beijing in securing a more stable and secure Afghanistan. For both national security and economic needs, Chinese leaders have not only given substantial economic aid to the country, but also supported and even hosted peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. However, because of border disputes with India and China, as well as historical tension between India and Pakistan, several other aspects have come into play with this newly diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Kabul.

In February 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kabul and indicated China would support Afghanistan in achieving “smooth political, security, and economic transitions.”  In October 2014, China also hosted the fourth foreign minister’s meeting of the Istanbul Process, and international efforts launched in 2011 to encourage cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. In this way, China showed desire to take initiative in promoting a smooth power transfer after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election and a stable security transition following the gradual withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops an U.S forces in December of 2014.

In January 2015, during a speech marking the 60th anniversary of China-Afghan relations, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said, “We hope that China will play a proactive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, because whatever the Chinese do, they do it according to a plan and with focus. Now, as they have become involved, we will witness more steps toward achieving peace.” And in February 2015, the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue that includes China, Afghanistan and Pakistan met for the first time in Kabul, highlighting new Chinese desire to engage with Afghanistan diplomatically. At this meeting, two decisions were highlighted: (1) China agreed to support relevant proposals such as strengthening highway and rail links between Afghanistan and Pakistan including Kunar Hydroelectric Dam, pushing forward connectivity and enhancing economic integration and (2) China and Afghanistan support Pakistan holding the fifth Foreign Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan and the three sides agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation on this matter.

Economically, China also has given several types of aid. In 2014 alone, China provided Afghanistan with a total of 500 million yuan (80 million USD) and pledged an additional 1.5 billion yuan (240 million) over the next three years. These numbers are substantially larger than any aid that the Chinese have given in previous years, and has promoted economic stability in a country that is rising from over a decade of war. China also promised to provide 500 scholarships for Afghan students to study in China as well as training to 3,000 Afghan professionals in various fields including counterterrorism, anti-drug trafficking, agriculture, and diplomacy. Another big factor that has created closer cooperation between China and Afghanistan is the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. This proposal shows Chinese efforts to focus less on domestic issues and become more involved in a widely regional sense. Under this initiative, China aims to create a modern Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to boost trade and extend its global influence. Projects under the plan include a network of railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, power grids, and other infrastructure links across Central, West and South Asia to as far as Greece and Russia, increasing China’s connections to Europe and Africa.

Now the big question is, why has China invested so much into Afghanistan? Besides the obvious benefit of the Silk Road Initiative in terms of opening up trade, Chinese diplomatic involvement is mostly about Afghanistan stability. A stable Afghanistan means two things for China, (1) To be able to create this Silk Road Initiative, Afghanistan must be a key player, as Kandahar is being considered as a central stop on the trade route, and (2) To control the Muslim majority Uighur population in the Xinhang province, which resides in Northwestern China and shares a small border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Chinese leaders fear with the close proximity the Xinhang province is to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that it is especially vulnerable to the effects of terrorism and extremism, posing a great threat to Chinese national security. Without Afghan stability, the Xinhang province will be harder to control and keep stabilized.

This second concept was made a real fear in October 2013, when a car crashed in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in what police described as a terrorist suicide attack. Five people were killed and another thirty-eight were injured. Chinese police described it as a “major incident” and as the first terrorist attack in Beijing’s recent history. The other most recent attack was in March 2014 at the Kunming train station. The incident, targeted against civilians, left 29 civilians and 4 perpetrators dead with more than 140 others injured. The attack has been called a “massacre” by some news media. Both male and female attackers were seen to pull out long-bladed knives and proceed to stab and slash passengers. Although no one group took responsibility for either attack, there was evidence in both that pointed to the Uighur Insurgency in the Xinhang province. With these heightened security concerns, it is not in the least surprising that China has taken a lead in stabilizing Afghanistan and supporting the new government among other things.

Another factor that has played into China’s role in Afghanistan is its neighbor, Pakistan. Pakistan’s role is quite interesting, as it is connected to China’s involvement in Taliban peace talks and has become a growing regional nuclear threat. Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal; and as of recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announced that he had approved a new deal to purchase eight diesel-electric submarines from China, which could be equipped with nuclear missiles, for an estimated $5 billion.  Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India. China is using its good relations with Pakistan to cultivate more cooperation in peace talks with the Taliban, as Pakistan has closer ties with some the organizations’ leaders.  China and Pakistan’s alliance is both beneficial militarily and economically. Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road Initiative is integrated with CPEC (Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor), a channel for trade running from China across South and Central Asia. CPEC involves major overhaul of infrastructure, with rail roads, pipelines, and ports in a bid to ease the energy crisis and increase investment in Pakistan. Militarily, both countries recently made a $6.5 billion commitment to build a new nuclear power plant in Karachi.

This alliance does not help India’s interests, as both India and China have taken great measures in assisting Afghanistan in its political transition.  India has given $2 billion for a number of areas of infrastructural development, capacity building, rural development, and education. They have also spent some time training Afghan military and police. However, because of India and China’s rocky relationship as well as India being a “common enemy” to both Beijing and Pakistan, India likely does not have a chance in competing in Afghanistan for power.

As far as the Taliban peace talks go, China has a lot to lose if this peace process fails. China is well-equipped to take on the role of peacemaker, as it is a major power in the region and has a great degree of political influence. China also has a lot invested in these talks, as its national security and economic prosperity with the Silk Road Initiative are big factors at stake. Ensuring Afghanistan security and stability creates a risk for China, and if they do not succeed, its credibility will most likely be damaged.

With the United States, at some point, removing the last of its troops out of Afghanistan, there is a question of whether or not China will be the next “U.S. in the country.” Is China filling the void left by the likely U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan? Although the answer is uncertain, China has invested too much into Afghanistan’s infrastructure to try to create stability to let Afghanistan falter again, but it is nearly impossible that Beijing will ever invade Afghanistan like the U.S. did. China will likely continue to invest in Afghanistan and be involved in reconciliation with the Taliban until a time when it becomes pointless, as this is there number one priority is promoting a stable Afghan government.

As far as U.S policy should be concerned, China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not an immediate threat. China could prove the ultimate winner in Afghanistan, having shed no blood and only giving economic aid for stability purposes. China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not a potential threat to U.S power, and if this involvement is completely benign, it will continue to not be a threat. We should be happy that the transition of the government in Kabul is going rather smoothly. However, Chinese involvement is a “mixed bag”; if it uses its influence to gain power in the region and not for stabilizing Afghanistan alone, the threat to U.S power will become evident. One of the most serious threats that could come of this is Chinese and Pakistan’s nuclear ties, as growing, destabilizing nuclear forces will continue to be one of the biggest national security threats for the region, and for the United States, in years to come. 

We welcome your comments!


Recently, the New York Times Editorial Board published this article, titled ” China’s Big Plunge in Pakistan”. The article is below:

“President Xi Jinping of China showed up in Pakistan this week with one of his government’s most powerful weapons — money, and lots of it. He signed agreements worth more than $28 billion as part of a total promised investment of some $46 billion in a new “Silk Road,” an ambitious land-and-sea-based economic corridor connecting China to Europe and the Middle East through Pakistan, Central Asia and Russia.

The corridor is intended to shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, which could be blocked in war. Pakistan and its neighbors would unquestionably also benefit from this project if it can be completed.

Pakistani officials said that about $10 billion would be invested in infrastructure projects, including a deepwater port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, with rails and roads leading from the port across Baluchistan Province into western China. The route from Gwadar to Xinjiang Province in China would be a shortcut for trade between Europe and China. Up to $37 billion is earmarked for coal-based power plants, hydropower plants and solar parks to fill Pakistan’s huge energy needs.

For China, the investment also addresses issues of national security. China fears that Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, one of China’s most restive regions, are being influenced by militants in Pakistan, which has been battling an insurgency for more than a decade.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia have missed out on Asia’s economic boom, leaving them vulnerable to unrest. Ideally, China’s project would promote growth in Pakistan, weaken the extremists, encourage the Pakistani Army to support peace efforts in Afghanistan and begin to knit together a fragmented region with new development and trade.

There’s reason to be skeptical. The United States pursued many of the same goals when it poured $31 billion into Pakistan between 2002 and 2014, yet achieved little. One problem was that most of the American money was military aid. Congress was finally persuaded to authorize $7.5 billion in development aid in 2009, but by then the United States was in economic distress and fed up with the duplicity of Pakistani Army leaders who took counterterrorism aid from Washington while also working with militant groups against American interests.

China’s government is flush with money and has considered Pakistan among its closest allies since the 1970s. It may have learned from America’s mistakes by going big on development and targeting assistance to specific needs. But it will face the problems of Pakistani corruption and incompetence that the Americans experienced, as well as safety issues. Much of the construction would occur in Baluchistan, in southwest Pakistan, where a separatist movement has been fighting for independence from the central government for decades and could threaten Chinese workers.

Some suggest the project will further enhance China’s standing in Asia at America’s expense. But that is perhaps too narrow a view. Both the United States and China share an interest in a stable Pakistan. If China can advance that goal through development programs, the whole region would benefit.” (April 23, 2015)

AFGHANISTAN, NEW DIFFICULTIES — ADD DUPLICITY TO FRAUD AND YOU GET TRAGEDY

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AFGHANISTAN, NEW DIFFICULTIES — ADD DUPLICITY TO FRAUD AND YOU GET TRAGEDY

by

Harry C. Blaney III

 

The recent reports that President Karzai has been double-dealing with the Taliban has created yet another, almost appearing insuperable, barrier to a path of keeping some U.S. “non-combat” troops in Afghanistan after 2014, adding to the likelihood that Afghanistan will once again become a land of brutality, backwardness, and chaos. 

 

On Tuesday, February 4th at the White House press briefing, the spokesperson said that the U.S. was not against the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government but refused to indicate if Karzai had given advance notification of the talks. From the Afghan side Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman  said “I can confirm that … Taliban are willing more than ever to join the peace process.” “Contacts have been made and we are also in touch with them. …… Talks took place in Dubai three weeks ago between government officials and Taliban who flew from Doha, but we are still waiting to see the result,” he told Reuters. But these talks were denied by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, who said by phone, “The group has not been involved in peace talks with [Karzai], …… If he doesn’t sign the [security agreement], we praise Karzai. …… It will create positive relations with him.” But he added: “I suspect Karzai’s resistance against the U.S. may not last for a long time and he will sign the pact.” Everyone is playing games, and the truth is hard to discern.

 

It does not add to the hope that some kind of larger peace will ensue as there is strong distaste of the Taliban among a majority of the Afghan people, and in some quarters, such a deal could result in armed insurgency, largely among non-Pashtuns. The history of the Taliban, sadly, is one of duplicity, violence, and suppression of everyday acts of modern society, including education and health care for women, forced dress codes and behavior, and beheading. The recent New York Times article has reported that these secret backdoor negotiations have “helped undermine the remaining confidence between the United States and Mr. Karzai, making the already messy end-game of the Afghan conflict event more volatile.”

 

As background, America  previously tried to undertake negotiations with the “moderate” Taliban. Karzai saw this as an effort to undermine his authority, and the talks led nowhere. There are also conflicting reports as to whether Karzai’s recent efforts ever achieved any results, with American sources saying they broke down. The problem is that any agreement with the Taliban fundamentally leads towards giving them power over areas of the country and/or significant political power, which they will use religiously to create a new insurgency to further their reason d’etre for their existence—the establishment of an extreme Islamic state governed by them alone.     

 

The fundamental weakness of the entire U.S. strategy has been that the Bush administration put a corrupt and devious leader in charge of this sad country, whose aim seems not to be the well-being of his people, but rather accumulating great wealth for his family and loyal backers and maintaining power via a crooked political machine. Thus, our troops were fighting to achieve a secure country in a battle where their hands were tied by an “ally” that was undermining the hope of broad economic and social progress of the people.  This alienated a large proportion of the citizens and disrupted the creation of a stable and unified nation.

 

Today, there will be a meeting in the White House of the key U.S. commanders to discuss the situation, hopefully to devise a strategy to address the problem. At this meeting, there will likely be a discussion of the issues related to keeping American and allied troops in Afghanistan and whether the negotiated agreement can be finalized before Karzai leaves office in April, what kind of cooperation is possible with Karzai in the remaining months of his term, and if not, what strategy and actions would be possible to achieve the best possible outcome. Further, that discussion will likely also look at what options the military has in regards to a military base in that country that can deal with terrorism in the region, including Pakistan. In the case that there are no military bases remaining, the use of drones in the region will be impacted.

 

On the other hand, Karzai may be overplaying his hand, as most of his own backers want the Americans to stay along with the billions of dollars in aid that an American commitment implies. His efforts to undermine U.S. interests, including the release of dangerous Taliban prisoners, in what some reporters think was a concession to get an agreement with the terrorists, was probably the final straw in a long series of wrongheaded actions against American presence and activities in the country. All of this to gain what some believe is leverage against America and make himself look nationalistic and against foreign dominance. Others believe it may be to buy off the Taliban to support his regime and his personal power even past the elections. 

 

In some ways Karzai actions have forced the U.S. government to address some “inconvenient truths” about our war in Afghanistan that our leaders have ignored for far too long, not so much because of ignorance, but rather for lack of any better knowable and doable path forward.

 

One on-the-ground reality is whether we can devise any new strategy with a better outcome than now. The constraints to what can be done are serious and real. Yet, as one wag once said, it seems stupid to bang your head against the wall repeatedly and end up with the same headache. Some believe the best remaining option is to simply get out, but they have yet to propose realistic alternatives to maintain the U.S.’s full range of security interests.  Yet, this option remains on the table, and new alternative tools may yet emerge. 

 

What is clear is that President Obama wants to pull out our troops and stop active military engagement in Afghanistan, but clearly he has agreed to retain something like 10,000 military for training and certain possible actions against terrorists. In the coming days we will learn if this is possible, and if not, what the alternative options are to preserve our interests in the region. It could also lead to a reassessment of these interests. But for now, most analysts see few good choices ahead.

 

The key problems may be Karzai himself, the perverted system he created, and whether any better leader is in the wings ready to act in the interest of the country.  U.S. aid has done much good in terms of education, health, and other services.  Both educational levels and health outcomes are much better than before we came, despite the obstacles. However, much of the infrastructure that we helped build is now crumbling due to corruption and neglect.

 

Finally, Afghanistan is a key strategic arena which impacts the critical state of Pakistan and is closely related to other key countries like Iran, China, and India. Again, we need a “grand strategy” for the region which brings all the powers of interest into some kind of “grand bargain” that enhances security for all of these countries, promotes mutual trade and development, and dampens down the historic hostilities that have been the instigator of conflict throughout the region. Please Secretary Kerry, in addition to all your other burdens, do try to sort out this conundrum. Seriously, we and the international community have a long-term, gigantic task to create better conditions and regional landscape for a more peaceful and secure region and to do it with diplomacy, not with a gun.

 

We welcome your comments!

THE STATE OF THE UNION AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD: PRESIDENT POSTURES FOREIGN POLICY AFFAIRS PERSPECTIVE AND THE WAY FORWARD

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THE STATE OF THE UNION AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD: PRESIDENT POSTURES FOREIGN POLICY AFFAIRS PERSPECTIVE AND THE WAY FORWARD

by Harry C. Blaney III

Most of President Obama’s State of the Union speech was focused on domestic issues, especially the need for America to move forward in dealing with glaring inequality and the need for good paying jobs, but not least improving education and investment in science and technology in our decaying infrastructure. These are, in fact, intertwined with America’s leadership capabilities in an increasingly high risk and complex world. He called last night for a more robust diplomacy and an end to “endless wars” that sap the strength of America and its larger purpose in our world. The speech was both idealistic and realistic, a trait that characterizes much of President Obama’s stance on dealing with many challenges he has had to face.

 

Given the bitter opposition by the right wing Republicans throughout his tenure, he focused in large part on what could be accomplished at home and abroad on his own. Not to the exclusion of finding some common ground on some issues, but clearly he has been chastened by single-minded and merciless obstruction.

 

While the president has real limits on what he can do at home, he has more freedom to act abroad. That was shown in the last part of his speech when he clearly set forth his large and ambitious but difficult agenda for the coming year and, perhaps, years. He and his Secretary of State John Kerry have decided, against great odds, to go for the “hail Mary” in football terms. The list is ambitious as it is long. Likely not all of it will end in success, as is often the case in messy and contentious foreign affairs challenges. Perhaps some will, but in any case, it is worth the effort since in many cases, the alternatives are very large disasters for us and others. What is the purpose of his presidency if it is not to address our larger global threats and challenges? He said it well in, “America does not stand still, and neither will I.”

 

Let’s look at that list and how Obama addressed the international issues to the American people, as that was his main audience since some half of the Congressional audience was in a dead brain coma. Just look at Speaker John Boehner during the speech, and you will know that syndrome.

 

The president made one of the most difficult tasks ahead in American diplomacy a key priority, namely finding a lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary Kerry is moving as swiftly as possible towards a plan that would smoke out both sides in this long-running dispute that threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. The time has indeed come, perhaps at a difficult juncture because Prime Minister Netanyahu has done just about everything he could to destroy any chance of peace and a fair agreement. On the other side, the Palestinian leadership has been weak, but some of that weakness has been created by the illegal Israeli settlements in Arab land and new settlements that can only be aimed at trying to get the other side to pull out of negotiations. Yet, what is on offer is a so-called “Kerry Plan,” which of necessity must not fully please anyone but give enough that all can and should live with it. The president gave his full backing to this effort and the two state solution in his State of the Union and in quite promises to support Israel’s long-term security under any fair accord. He said: “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel—a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.”

 

On the other difficult negotiation, namely sanctions dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as Obama stated, America has made real progress, and he made clear that new legislation that has been proposed by a group of anti-Obama Republicans and some Neo-Con war hawks will get his veto if passed before the conclusion of the present talks dealing with the long-term issues.

 

He made his argument thus:

 

“And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

 

“But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

 

“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

 

“Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.”

 

One key part of his SOU speech was his clear and decisive direction on ending the long-term wars America has been engaged in over the last decade. Again, in his own words:

 

“Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.”

 

It is the almost impossible challenge of trying to get the warring factions of Syria and their external backers to bring a measure of security and peace to this major civil war that threatens a major regional inter-communal conflict.

 

The problem of Syria was touched on, and this may be his weakest component in the international section. Apart from support for the existing diplomacy, he only briefly mentioned support of the moderate opposition forces, but did not set out any larger vision or new ideas of how to put an end of this horrific killing fields. He said, “In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks… American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.” Perhaps the statement was short because hard new decisions remain under debate in the administration and awaits the final outcome of Geneva II. It could also be the almost impossible challenge of trying to get the warring factions of Syria and their external backers to bring a measure of security and peace to this major civil war that threatens a serious regional inter-communal conflict. 

 

What was also left out was addressing our challenges in Asia, especially the China-Japan clash, the rise of China, dealing with Putin’s Russia, North Korean nuclear efforts, and a fully defined vision on how to deal with climate change, global health needs, poverty and inequality, and strengthening international institutions. However, the speech, for good reasons, mainly addressed domestic policies. One can hope before too long Obama will set forth his fuller vision for all the other international issues that need America’s attention.

 

Obama clearly sees as his lasting legacy the ending of not only the headless Iraq war, but also finally, the active fighting by Americans and the allied forces in Afghanistan. He has seen the price of these wars to Americans and the blood and resources they cost. On his watch, America will see the end of large scale warfare in a distant land which sadly had little understanding of consequences and mission.

 

But the larger message of this speech was Obama’s diplomatic and international ambition of a new vision for America and the world that does not heed the erroneous militaristic and stupid turn our nation took with the start of the Bush II administration. He outlined his hope for an America that will again be a constructive and thoughtful world leader using all the tools of “soft power,” while holding the use of military force only when absolutely necessary and when objectives and risks are clear.

 

I thought there was one statement which set forth succinctly and clearly President Obama’s perspective. “Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not only just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe—to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.”

 

We welcome your comments.

Drones and A “New Warfare”: Morals, Threats, Practicality, and Costs?

Drones Picture2There is a major on-going debate in America (and perhaps elsewhere) about the legality, morality, and the efficacy of the use of drones in warfare and targeted killings. This has been on-going for years, ever since the knowledge of drone attacks were made public before the Obama administration. After Obama came into office these attacks increased rather than diminished.

In this post I will not address the international legal issues, which needs another examination. But, there are major moral, strategic and practical issues that do need added exploration.

The first question is just why this means of “warfare” was developed and used and whether there are better and less problematic options.

The first assumption must be, in this case, that there is adequate and compelling reasons to take down active and dangerous terrorists and their networks that pose an imminent threat to Americans and our allies. That is the fundamental “rationale” of our policy simply put.

However, we must first acknowledge that the killing of innocent civilians has been a sad historic constant in almost all warfare in history, including our own times. Think of Japan’s brutal invasion and butchery of China in the 1930s, the widespread German killing of Jews and non-combatants in areas they invaded and occupied, the German bombing of London and the allied firebombing of Berlin and Dresden, the American atomic bombing of two cities in Japan and the even more destructive fire bombing of Tokyo. Think of the Serbian mass killing of civilians in Srebrenica, of Bosnian Muslims massacred in July 1995, or today the brutality of the Syrian civil war.

The second reason for the decision to use drones was their ability to observe, from an advantaged and largely unseen point, ground activities. They are also able to attack without putting in danger our own military personnel and are able to deliver a pinpoint destructive force. This is not an inconsiderable advantage over insertion of major “boots on the ground” where civilians would still be at risk or large scale airplane bomber attacks or even the use of long-medium-short range missiles that do not have interactive “sight” of the immediate target.

The other reality is that we are unlikely to abolish drones any more than we have been successful in abolishing nuclear or other WMD weapons. We have used drones, others are using them, and it is more likely they will become ubiquitous over time and will be used against us.  Even more destructive “war weapons” have been and are now in use and few efforts are being made to abolish them.

Reuters’ correspondent David Rohde not long ago wrote about the other side of the equation:

“The Obama administration’s covert drone program is on the wrong side of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why, promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.” I largely agree with this assessment, but recognize it does not address what alternative better options are available that have less negative impact.

My view is that drones provide so many “advantages” to the using nation, that drones will be an element of warfare as are missiles, planes, and cyber warfare efforts. This is simply a statement of reality not an ethical judgment. But in making policy decisions this reality must be understood and evaluated.

But, we do need to look still at the moral and “efficacy” issues in their specific use and the context in which they are used. To be realistic we need to recognize that the key to this issue is to clearly and publicly define and regulate their use and to ask the question of alternatives and better options and their real efficacy, including “unintended consequences,” which frankly we have already seen in the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the moral dimension, the key question is frankly not “taking out terrorists,” no nation can just stand down if there are individuals or groups that aim to do what happened in 9/11 or to attack our troops or civilians. So, the question is when and how and especially can one eliminate or diminish civilian casualties.  One criteria the new “ground rules” contain is whether alternative means are more dangerous to our people or are basically infeasible.

One major problem of the use of drones, and frankly, any kind of kinetic warfare on the ground, is the “blowback,” i.e. the likelihood when civilians are also killed, that there is a creation of further terrorists and the continued cycle of unending conflict such acts engender.

We already have a policy of minimizing civilian casualties built into our existing requirements for determining an attack. They do not always work due to mistakes in intelligence and judgment, which will likely never be fully eliminated. There is a concept called the “fog of war,” which inherently is a fundamental element of most elements of warfare.  But, frankly decisions are also made based on the importance of the “target” and what is termed the rarity of an “opportunity.”

So, what is the key to looking at “drones,” or to be more precise and focused, how do we develop a smart strategy that can both reduce the dangers of terrorism and conflicts and thus the use of drones and indeed other large scale weapons of even greater destruction – a policy of preventive actions, that are pro-active to the undermining causes of conflict and terrorism.

With all of these realities and constraints and military objectives, the key question is what can be done to minimize terrorism, the use of lethal military force, and the societal dysfunction which breeds hatreds, despair, and terrorist motivation?

First, as I have implied, the “drone debate” has been too narrow and our “moral” perspective needs a wider context.  We need to approach the present strategic terrorist threat or indeed conflict syndrome, in a longer range and preemptive approach.

Second, we need new “tools” that are more efficacious and discreet. That also means we need to know more about the causes and realities of those who feel they are most aggrieved and most marginalized. Poverty is clearly one element that the global community has still not seriously addressed. Another is the development of religious or ideological ideology that puts force and indifference to human suffering at the center of its strategy and belief.  One simple fact is mass unemployment and the despair created provides no path towards upward mobility and political participation.  The other element is the existence of authoritarian rule, which does not respond to broad basic citizen needs. The problem is that there is no broad citizen and political “constituency” for this kind of civilian diplomatic “nation building.” It is easier to get funding for drones and largely useless fighter and bomber planes than for educational projects or job creating programs in failing and at-risk nations.

In short, we need a more careful assessment of the use of force generally and unintended consequences, but even more of looking at how to create programs that both support human rights, democratic norms, and not least economic development that reaches deep to those most in need and disaffected elements in at-risk states and regions. Getting there early, understanding the change forcing trends and events, and the perspective of the affected citizens and leaders and then designing effective intervention modalities and recognizing the long term nature of the task at hand.  Also, tools of public diplomacy, peacemaking, strong international intervention in disputes and unrest when needed, and above all a global consensus towards strong humanitarian program capabilities and on the ground intervention when possible.

Drones, in short, are more a result of a dysfunctional and high risk world, they are not the cause. We need to control their use better, but also look beyond.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

2014 Drawdown: What Does It Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy in South Asia?

With the date for U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan fast approaching, the main mission for the Obama administration and the international forces in Afghanistan is to assure that Afghan forces are ready and able for the transition. The complications of the transfer have already begun due to growing mistrust between U.S. military leaders and forces and their Afghan counterparts due to the problematic increase in attacks on U.S. forces by their Afghan training partners. As a result of the attacks, joint troop trainings between the U.S. and Afghanistan, an integral component to the transfer, were suspended for a period of time. Though eventually reinstated, the program has been altered slightly in order to protect American soldiers. Relations with the Afghani government have also soured, with the U.S. refusal to fully hand over the Bagram prison a recent source of troubles. The combination of the Taliban’s resurgence, a growing drug trade, and the high possibility of a civil war, has led many to question whether or not the administration and especially the military really intends to pull out of the country.  In the coming period before the official withdrawal, the U.S. is focusing its resources on not only the Afghan government, but its neighbors, India and Pakistan, as the roles they play in the region will be integral to maintaining stability. The next two years will be important, as the administration will have to deal with a multitude of issues that could put a successful transition at great risk.

Upcoming Elections: While the ability of Afghan security troops to take over without U.S. assistance is an ongoing concern, and many have discussed the troubling implications of Afghanistan’s current economic dependency on aid, The Economist sees the political transition in 2014 as the most concerning event for a successful 2014 transition. The article notes that the preliminary draft of the strategic partnership agreement (SPA), as well as, the meeting of military recruitment targets by the Afghan Security Forces provides some evidence that the military and economic situations, while concerning, are not dire. And while it remains important that the country continues to receive aid in order to create a smooth economic transition, the most worrying transition post-2014, according to a report from the International Crisis Group, will be the political elections in Afghanistan. The report outlines a pessimistic outlook on the situation and warns about the high potential for election fraud, rigging and post-election instability.

Possibility of Civil War and Security Capabilities: Economic aid for the region from the U.S., NATO and other nations has increased greatly in the years after 9/11; as much as ninety-seven percent of Afghan GDP is dependent on military and development aid. However, the fear by Afghans and other leading agencies, such as the World Bank, about dependency on aid and troops has left many concerned about what that dependency would mean for security within the country post drawdown. Partly due to low funds and partly due to the Afghan’s feelings of abandonment, many journalists see the collapse into civil war not as a “possibility” but as an imminent fact upon American troop withdrawal. Richard Engels of NBC news stated “…I spoke to some Tajik villagers outside Kabul, who promised me they would start fighting once American troops leave.” A senior figure in Hizb-i-Islami, Ghairat Baheer, told the Daily Telegraph, “…I don’t think the national army and national police will be able to resist. They don’t have the morale…It will lead to civil war.” Much of the concerns focus on the Afghan Army and its ability to shed its dependency on American forces and act independently once the American combat troops leave.

However, other experts, especially amongst U.S. officials, do not believe that civil war is imminent. Citing the international community’s commitment to Afghan stability, Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, has said that he considers the possibility of civil war or economic instability “unlikely scenarios.” Journalist Robert Dreyfuss has called these claims as “foolhardy” and declares that while civil war is certainly a possible outcome, successful peace talks and war-weary Afghan citizens make it less likely to occur. Javid Ahmad, Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund, points to Washington ambiguity as the source of these anxieties and urges the administration and others to “clarify its role beyond 2014 and clearly stipulate a set of scenarios it will adopt should the Afghan security and political transitions not go as well as planned.”

The Taliban: Central to questions about civil war is the role of Taliban forces in the region. Abandonment of Afghanistan has led many senior British military officials to worry that this will embolden the Taliban and allow them to take over once more.  Earlier this year, it seemed that inclusion of Taliban leaders in peace talks was not possible due to bipartisan congressional opposition to a negotiated a prisoner swap.  Those, such as national security reporter Spencer Ackerman, who believe that peace talks with the Taliban are essential to the 2014 withdrawal, saw this as a tragic mistake. Post-election, however, the administration seems willing to restart negotiations despite resistance from both the U.S. military and the opposition forces. Recent reports have Taliban representatives attending meetings with other Afghan players in Paris to discuss the future. Though just an initial meeting, the administration hopes that peace negotiations can be reinstated.

Involvement of India and Pakistan: Successful efforts in Afghanistan will also hinge on the participation of its neighbors, Pakistan and India. Issues between the United States and Pakistan have increased steadily over the past few years, culminating with the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by American forces. However, Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban has made it a key player in strategic talks over the future of Afghanistan. Slate columnist Fred Kaplan remarked that, “The only way to defeat the Taliban is to make it worth the Pakistanis’ while to help—to make them calculate that clamping down is both feasible and in their security interests.” Furthermore, the Telegraph reports that the Afghan High Peace Council views Pakistan as the natural successor to Washington to direct peace efforts. However, disappointment in Pakistan has led U.S. officials to look to India as the stabilizing force in Afghanistan. Shared concerns over Islamic extremists and stable governance has pivoted Washington’s attentions away from Pakistan towards India.  Relations between India and Afghanistan, supported by the U.S. and NATO, have strengthened with the two signing a strategic partnership agreement in 2011; this is in addition to increases in aid provided to Afghanistan by the Indian government

NATO Summit: Outcomes and Challenges by Harry C. Blaney III

NATO Summit: Outcomes and Challenges

by Harry C. Blaney III

With the end of the Chicago NATO summit,  we can assess the results of this meeting as well as the long term continued challenges. There has been a plethora of uninformed opinions and “short-termism” in much that has been said from the sidelines. We need to keep our eyes on the key issues that impact the overall security of the alliance and the globe.

Much of the reporting focused on the “end game” in Afghanistan. President Obama made a central statement on future strategy in Afghanistan and on the key issue of Pakistan.  He stated: “We are now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan.”  He further noted that there were real challenges ahead and he characterized the decision of NATO as “a major step.”  Turning to Pakistan, the President said “We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. …Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues.” Thus, in a capsule statement, Obama summed up the complex security issues in the region and underlined the advantages of regional cooperation rather than continued double dealing and antagonism that result in instability and conflict risks.

The key element of this Summit is clearly a defined path towards withdrawal of the ground combat forces by NATO forces and a commitment stated by NATO that “Afghanistan will not stand alone.” NATO leaders further declared in their formal statement: “We affirm our close partnership will continue beyond the end of the transitional period.”

What was not  mentioned was the high degree of uncertainty about the capability, commitment, and effectiveness of both the Afghanistan forces and the Afghan government which so far has been characterized by corruption rather than honest service to the people. This clearly needs to change.

But at the same time, after ten years of effort and an increased desire by the Afghans for the foreign troops to leave, there comes a point when the Afghans must take full responsibility for their security and governance. Frankly, I do not have great faith in the Karzai regime but to wait for it to reform is not a viable strategy. There is also the difficult question of how necessary assistance projects will proceed in an environment where security remains questionable.  While commitments have been made to fund the Afghan Army in the long-term, only part of the money has been pledged thus far. Much more will be needed over the next coming months and years; and even with these efforts, the outcome remains murky.

But the alternative of endless war, proposed by Mitt Romney and his neocon advisors, makes little sense given the likely waste of blood and resources. It sounds like more of the Bush II brainless rush into Iraq without an exit strategy and for no rational reason.

The main strategy should be what Obama and the NATO allies are trying, namely a full court press on diplomacy and specifically trying for some kind of regional compact on security that serves all interests. On that issue no agreement was reached on the Pakistan halt of supplies into Afghanistan. Furthermore, no progress was achieved on getting Pakistan to commit honestly to act against the Taliban and other terrorists within their borders. Without this outcome, the chance of a true peace in Afghanistan is highly doubtful. But it may be a reason for getting out than for staying.

The hard part still remains ahead: to carry out a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan and to create as much stability and governmental authority as possible within the country.

NATO still has a ways to go in dealing with nuclear issues and the missile defense questions. But it is making progress despite these issues being played down in the press. But Obama and our allies seem on the right tract.

The other problems that NATO must face, as we have noted earlier, include what direction NATO should take regarding regional and global security.  The general question is when and how should NATO act in “out of area” regions when there is no direct attack on a NATO nation.

The model case is Libya but there are other actions NATO has taken in regions outside of Europe. Little of new substance was said by Obama or other NATO leaders on this topic. The Summit ended clearly trying to avoid taking a stand on Syria.  NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said that the alliance has “no intention whatsoever to intervene.” What this likely means is that one or several nations in NATO are emphatically against any NATO military action. This leaves the friends of Syria as the alternative forum for addressing the still deteriorating and still dangerous situation. See more on this in a future post.

In sum, the NATO Summit did its most important job namely creating light at the end of the tunnel and setting a specific course of responsible action given the almost impossible and difficult landscape it faced in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. And clearly it aims to make diplomacy its key tool to seek stability and peace in the region. The NATO Summit also reaffirmed that NATO remains at the forefront of collective security for Western countries despite critics who predicted its demise. Not least, President Obama showed clear leadership and direction, especially on a global growth strategy and on NATO’s “end game” in Afghanistan and in dealing with a still difficult Pakistan.

Welcome 2012: A High Risk World Beckons!

Yes, we are likely to see this year be both a high risk environment on a global scale and a year filled with key events that will shape our international landscape for decades. Thus “rethinking national security” will be more necessary than ever!  Below is a “tour d’horizon” of the international environment that we are likely to encounter and its key risks, opportunities, and uncertainties. Over the coming months we will explore some ideas on how to deal with the coming challenges ahead for our nation and the international community. 

Not least, this year will determine the policies and role of America in world affairs.  This November’s election will decide what direction our nation will take for the next four years and beyond. This will be a key focus of this blog in the coming months, looking at the national security and foreign policy debate and issues raised by the candidates for elective office. Our thesis will be that in this high risk world we need the best minds, most experienced leaders, and a high level of wisdom and perspective for both short-range tactics and long-range strategy. 

The Impact of the Economic and Financial Crisis on Global Security and Stability

There is little doubt that 2012 will be again a very difficult and even unsettling year for the American and especially the global economy. Europe is facing a downward trajectory with its widespread harsh austerity policies, the Euro crisis, and the persistent high unemployment. Growth is predicted to be anemic at best, and the policies put in place in countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Britain, Ireland, and even France are likely to make conditions worse before they get better. Indeed, the policies are likely to result in even higher ratios of debt to GDP for many of these countries.

The question is will the U.S. follow these policies and what are their likely consequences for our employment, growth, and stability? 

The key determinants of the future capacity of America to shape not only its own society but also the role it can play abroad will be the productivity, inventiveness, possibility of creation of sustainable and fair growth for all its citizens, the capacity to advance its educational infrastructure, and, not least, the ability to create new technologies and support key science fields.  

Thus the question is what policies and action are required to create these conditions. Also, what policies are likely to bring our nation down into a prolonged and sad downward spiral?  Stimulus or austerity? Development of useful products and technologies serving the entire nation and producing good jobs or mindless “paper creation” that burdens our economy rather than advances it?

Is bringing back the gold standard, cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, making health care more expensive and open to fewer people, lowering or abolishing the minimum wage laws, abolishing the Education Department, Environmental Protection Agency, USAID, The Fed, and HUD really going to advance us as a modern society and contribute to our stature and voice in the new complex modern world?

Nuclear Weapons, Non-Proliferation, WMDs, and Arms Control:

There are few more serious questions before the electorate than American strategic and nuclear policies. Key to these is our basic “strategic posture”: what wars may we face and how should we prepare for them? What kinds of wars might they be? What will our armed forces require in order to deal with future threats, contingencies, and natural disasters? Nothing in this regard is more important than our “nuclear posture” and our efforts to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions (WMDs), not least nuclear weapons.  

Further, the development of new arms control measures is a key component of any comprehensive strategic posture, and should, but is not likely, to be fully debated in the coming months.  Questions that should be asked is whether a presidential candidate will give up or further the New START Treaty, support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), support the Nunn-Lugar effort to decommission or better safeguard old Soviet nuclear weapons and material, and support a robust Non-Proliferation treaty process and negotiation to significantly reduce nuclear weapons in both US and Russian hands? 

We are likely to not get beyond accusations of “not being strong enough” or tough enough or not to be willing to “defend America.”  Related to this issue is the judgment to go to war. Be careful of those that “talk war,” remember that we went into the Iraq war on lies and the cost to us, our allies, and the Iraqi people was grave indeed. We need to hold our candidates to the fire on exactly when and how they are willing to go to war.  Are they willing to be peace makers and peace keepers rather than “war hawks”?

Environmental and Climate Change Risks and Challenges

One of the topics that are NOT likely to be discussed is the relationship of our national security to environmental changes and in particular climate change on a global scale. There are few greater risks to our fragile globe than what we are doing to our climate through the burning of fossil fuels and other impacts. The potential costs are lives, the destruction of our ecosystem, the impairment of global water supplies, the rising of ocean levels, catastrophic weather events, and a host of other changes that will impact billions of people. What would any candidate do to deal with the horrific dangers our poor earth faces if we do not address in a major way this coming catastrophe?  The sad part is that almost all of the remaining GOP candidates and their members in Congress, at this stage, are indifferent to these changes and support dirty fossil fuel projects. And what solutions would Obama now propose?

The Implication of the Elections in Russia for Building a More Secure World

In March Russia will hold an election of its president with the likely outcome of Vladimir Putin returning to the top post in the government. There is a dual question here. The first is what does this mean for Russia and its stance towards the outside world? Second, what can we and our allies do to address the challenges of this transition and to work to ensure that they influence a more responsible and cooperative Russian stance towards the international community and not one that threatens peace and stability?  It would be dangerous to try to “restart” the Cold War again rather than engage the Russian leaders towards solutions that serve the interests of all parties.                   

The Rise of China and American Interests

Like the Russian election, the planned transition of the Chinese leadership in 2012 will signal not only a new generation of leaders but the setting in place of new policies. These policies are still opaque but can either move towards reform, democracy, and social and economic fairness for a large proportion of the population that remains poor or towards a new destructive nationalism and militancy.

The transition in China to a new leadership and generation and the “challenge” of the so-called “Rise of China” has already been a cause of partisan debate here in theU.S. which offers little in the way of enlightenment about the real nature of China’s role in the world and its future direction. President Obama has rightly made Asia and engaging China to be a responsible partner a priority. Some, on the other hand, want to make China into an enemy for ideological and other narrow reasons as is the case with Russia. Yet that approach is a disaster for both nations. The question is whether there will be any discussion of how to approach China’s unquestioned growing role in the world. Engagement remains the best option but some on the Republican right seem to think that militancy on our part is in their interest if not that of America. We may get a glimpse in 2012 of the direction of the new leaders and a view of the inner debate.

Challenges of Security and Conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and Iran: A Conundrum for America

There is little doubt that this nexus of countries presents major challenges for regional stability with a likelihood of growing conflict and thus danger for U.S. interests and global stability. The region is a tinderbox of national, ethnic, religious, social discord, and hate. All the countries are interconnected. It is a region rife with terrorism and internal disquiet. America has a stake in each county and the region perforce. 

Further, there are few good or clear options. It has been a source of partisan and often outrageous statements. Ron Paul would blindly totally pull out and institute a global policy of isolationism, while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney seem to take American militancy to a new high of blind American continued combat and ludicrous ignorance of the region. You can bet that in each of the countries 2012 will provide its own crisis which will generate likely statements to prove the candidate’s ignorance and muddy the waters for our interests. Obama has made clear that our military combat role in both Iraq and Afghanistan is ended or will end by 2014.  But under Obama our diplomatic and assistance presence will remain. We are fully engaged and focused on the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan, India, and, not least, Iran. Would a GOP president do the same?  Pakistan remains the most dangerous and volatile of all and no leader has easy answers when it comes to this hot spot.  

The Middle East, Arab Spring, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The problems of this region are clear but solutions seem harder. The Israeli-Palestinian problem remains the linchpin of much of the other problems of the region. Yet under the right-wing trajectory of the present Israeli government and the weakness of the Palestinian regime the likely outcome is tragedy for all sides. Our candidates need to ask what can change this outcome and then state their policies. We are more likely to just get domestic posturing. What stance will they take on making war on Iran, supporting settlements on the West Bank, or support and resources to help shape a more just and safer Middle East for all?  What solution do we have to the Syria debacle? What about the democratic future for the countries of the Arab Spring, especially Egypt with its July presidential election that will likely be shaped by the events of 2012?   

The Role and Evolution of Developing Countries in Latin American, Africa, and Asia

While we are looking at the “rise of China” the other macro reality is also the rise (and in some cases fall) of the developing world and individual regions and countries.  The “emerging economies,” including the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), were called the “new rising global phenomena.” Other countries have also a claim on this category. Some argued they were immune from the global economic crisis, only to find that indeed they were an integral part of globalization which would impact them. 2012 will prove how they might fare in the event of a continued and prolonged downward trend in trade, investment, and a continued dysfunctional global financial sector. Some of these countries suffer from raw material dependence, huge populations in poverty and backwardness, political unrest, and corruption. Yet they are also among the most dynamic of societies, some with fast growth still, and others with highly skilled workers and rich natural resources. They are all likely to be affected by climate change but seem little inclined to fully do their part. They seek a larger global role but have still a very limited reach. They can’t be neglected, however, and deserve our attention during the election. Not least our relations with Mexico seem likely to be a focus of our 2012 debate to some extent.    

The Role of Emerging Science and Technology and Its Impact on National Security

In so many ways 2012 will likely be a year that will see large advances in technology, science discoveries, and new inventions which will transform our lives and, in some cases, help us live better but perhaps make our environment less safe. Some will mitigate risks and others will make a few richer and many poorer. Some will help the poor if they can gain access to these new technologies and if these technologies are directed to lifting the poor rather than enriching the already rich. Ignorance of science is one great problem in the U.S. and lack of support of education in these fields seems to be, in a larger sense, a national security weakness.   

Defense Spending and Priorities, the Debate on How Much is Too Much and What Is Really Needed in a Fast Evolving World

One of the key decisions in 2012 will be the budget for the military. Already cuts are in the works for DOD, but will they be about $400 billion over ten years or so, which still means some growth, or will it be the 10% mandated by the failure of the Super Committee?  Will the cuts be careful and rational or will they be like a sledge-hammer? Will the Afghanistan war finally wind down and prove a saving in both human and financial terms? 

Will we have a strategy for two or just one major war and two minor ones? Who indeed are our enemies and are they able to be a real challenge to our already unmatched strength? Who will be cut the most, the army, marines, air force, or navy? Will we cut our armed forces combat personnel and their capabilities and safety for unneeded big and expensive weapons systems that serve little role in our new world? What will be our most serious dangers in the decades to come and which will fade from the horizon? Do we need to maintain such a massive nuclear infrastructure?   

Who will determine our choices? Will it be a powerful military-industrial coalition allied with hawks in Congress supported by blind corporate contributions or a rational look at real risks, priorities, and a changing global landscape? Watch what presidential and Congressional candidates say but also how they voted and will vote and where they get their money. 

Thus are the questions about 2012 and “Rethinking National Security.” 

By Harry C. Blaney III.