Montag, 23. August 2010

The China Conundrum

Well, finally the Pentagon lived up to its obligation and did report to Congress on the state of China's military. DoD quickly drew criticism for its handling of the report; it came too late to inform the latest round of budget negotiations and some suspect that this motivated the Pentagon to delay publication in the first place. Once published it drew additional criticism for its "on the one hand, on the other"-attitude that is indeed prevalent through the entire report. 

When I finished reading it, I realised that I couldn't recall how many times President Obama is being quoted saying "But the notion that we must be adversaries is not pre-destined." So, I won't recall what the report is saying since the overall impression really is that it is, somewhat reluctantly, the United States that is the driving force for more transparency and closer military cooperation between the two powers. 

The report is indeed more interesting for what is being omitted. So here is my líst of issues that should have been addressed but, somehow, are not:

1. In what way does the current development and the envisaged build-up of Chinese military forces increase insecurity of crucial U.S. allies, most importantly Japan, South Korea and the Philippines?

2. In which way is the current development altering the balance of power in the region? The report does address the situation in the Taiwan-Strait, it fails to address the overall picture.

3. In case of military conflict: In what way could the Chinese military threaten U.S. military installations, most importantly Guam, which is located precisely on the perimeter of the second island chain?

4. As in many other formally communist states it is the Communist Party and not the state that is in charge of the military. The same holds true in the People's Republic. In what way does that outdated civil-military relationship influence or hamper military effectiveness?

5. Again as in many other communist states the military is relying heavily on infantry forces. That is changing, the Navy is apparently at the forefront of current modernisation-efforts. But what is the state of the ground forces? Except mentioning the introduction of new tanks and weapons the report fails to address the Chinese army in any meaningful way.

Sonntag, 22. August 2010

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The planned elimination of Joint Forces Command in Virginia has drawn heavy criticism (for that watch the debate on PBSO's News Hour). The criticism of the state's governor was to be expected. The criticism of Jim Webb, however, is more serious in nature. Not because of its merits, but simply because he is the Democratic Party's most respected heavyweight on defense. But was has gone by largely unnoticed is that Gates is also planning to cut quite a number of admiral and general-positions. And here, Gates is absolutely right. All Western armies suffer from the big-head syndrome. That there simply are to many commanders, a problem that had previously affected third-world-armies on a much larger scale.

Dienstag, 17. August 2010

The Afghanistan Drop

To the gentle reader of this blog it will come as no surprise that I am an ardent supporter of promoting democracy everywhere and that that would have to include Iraq (somewhat successful) and Afghanistan (not quite, but then again it wasn't my idea to allow the rather apparent vote rigging in last year's presidential election). On saturday I've argued in the German weekly die ZEIT that the debate over the war in Afghanistan in Germany is characterised by some myths that needed debunking and, altruistic as I am, I  attempted to do just that. I've since received many emails and comments. Don't worry, I spare you the details of exactly how I am supposed to be "in" on an international conspiracy to subjugate the Middle East to neo-imperial U.S. rule. (Though I'd like to point out that as a historian I've to work with actual evidence, i.e. documents, and not with crazy conspiracy theories in which any document indicating otherwise is simply dismissed as being part of the cover-up. I am just saying). Anyway a good friend of mine directed me to the following website offering some help in the cause. So for the lighter side of the debate pay a visit to the pneumatic parliament.

Samstag, 14. August 2010

Freitag, 6. August 2010

The S 300-Story

This story somehow did not make big news, though it certainly should have. One of the most debated issues when it came to the latest round of sanctions against Iran was the planned sale of the S-300 air defence missile system to Teheran, a particularly thorny issue. It took a while to win the potential seller over: Moscow. Moscow was planning to go forward on the sale but ultimately withdrew. The general feeling of course was that the sale would ultimately boost Iran's ability to defend itself against a still possible airstrike on its nuclear installations. Now it looks like Belarus did sale the system to Iran in which would certainly be bad news. The general problem being that states like North Korea, Belarus, Burma are generally likely to sale such systems despite UN sanctions. This is a new development to a certain extent, since during the Cold War era only the major powers were capable of producing sophisticated weapons systems, and the Soviet Union had control over the potential sale to third parties. Now minor powers like North Korea, Burma, Belarus can copy some of the systems and make a small profit on them. But there has not been major research on this, let alone political action. But this isn't an isolated issue, we might face it somewhere else in the future, I am just saying.

Donnerstag, 5. August 2010

A Note on Iran and the Quote of the Day

This has been a busy week, although officially at least we are supposed to be in the silly season. Though thinking about the nonsense debate on repealing the 14th amendment this might well be where we are. David Ignatius had an interesting piece in the Washington Post in which he argued that Obama was right in giving diplomatic talks with Iran another try. Which indeed he is. The best reponse to the David Ignatius op-ed was delivered by Peter Feaver at Shadow Government that made a wonderful argument on the different schools of thought when it comes to negotiations with Iran. Describing the first school as the school of non-believers in any diplomatic overture to Teheran, the second school was equally naive: 
The second school thinks that diplomatic engagement is hard but doable, provided that the United States faithfully makes ever larger concessions and offers ever larger carrots. This school believes that the Iranian regime has several times made sincere offers that belligerent Bush officials foolishly ignored or rejected. This school wanted Obama to reset Iranian relations and pursue an approach that began with unconditional carrots and only threatened vague and imprecise sticks should the Iranian regime reject U.S. concessions. The problem with this school is that it offers no hedge against Iranian negotiators pocketing the concessions, moving the bargaining space accordingly, and stringing out the negotiations while the Iranian nuclear weapons program inches ever closer to a fait accompli. Like the quest for the Holy Grail, the quest for Iranian moderates who would cut a deal was tantalizing and never-ending. Not surprisingly, this school ends up consistently arguing against applying sanctions, and instead proposes new concessions as the way out of diplomatic impasses. The best gimmick this school has in this regard is pretending that sanctions are the alternative to diplomacy rather than acknowledging that they are part and parcel of a robust diplomatic approach. Thus, second school apologists consistently argue "let's give diplomacy a chance and not pursue sanctions just yet," which is sort of like arguing "let's try to swim the English Channel but let's not use our legs just yet, let's wait until we are drowning first."
All of this, of course, is Feaver's way to introduce a third school that takes sanctions as part of the diplomatic approach. And here I would agree. However, I do remain sceptical when it comes to the feasibility of talks with Teheran. All things being equal I have seen no evidence in any piece today that would make the case for the Iranians seeking substantive negotiations. I might be pessimistic on this, but there are a couple of issues unresolved, so I might as well raise the questions: Whom are we going to talk to? Khamenei might be a political ally of Ahmadinejad in domestic affairs, but it gets murkier when it comes to foreign affairs. There the two Iranian leaders don't always appear to move in lockstep. Second, yes, the sanctions might have an impact on the Iranian economy. But with negotiations the Iranian leadership would have to give away a couple of things it needs more than the lifting of sanctions: a claim of legitimacy that it currently only gets from its firm stance on the West. So, yes, Peter Feaver, it might be too late. But then again, it might have been to late for thirtyone years now.