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Turn the question around: Secretary Gates’s speech on the all-volunteer force October 8, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Duke last week with a somber, bracing message about our all-volunteer military.  The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he rightly noted, are the longest campaign fought entirely by volunteers since the Revolutionary War.  Gates used this fact as a call to service, asking the country, “How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we – as a military, as a government, as a society – continue to place on them?”

This question is exactly backwards.  Rather than stress-testing our troops to see how long they can carry this burden, Gates should turn the question around to ask how long we intend to place it on their shoulders.  After all, we chose and continue to choose these missions, as well as the means by which we conduct them.  For example, as recently as last December, the President chose a manpower-heavy counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan, urged on by Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen and Gates himself, rather than a narrower counterterrorism approach advocated by the Vice President. Read more…


It’s all just a little bit of history repeating October 8, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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Lately, I can’t help but thinking of Miss Shirley Bassey’s sultry voice singing “History Repeating” every time I hear the term ‘security assistance.’

Security assistance is nothing new for the U.S.  In the early 1940s, for example, the Lend-Lease Act provided huge amounts of equipment to the Allies in World War II before the U.S. got directly involved.  And, of course, all throughout the Cold War guns and money were given to armed forces worldwide under the auspices of countering the expansion of communism. Read more…

No Civilian Left Behind: Educating the Elusive “Interagency” October 6, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in Analysis.
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By Laura A. Hall and Jonathan M. Larkin

“Interagency” has become a favorite noun and adjective in the national security community (perhaps we’ll even hear it as a verb one day!).  Over the years, the need for greater cross-department planning and operations has engendered many efforts to improve the way organizations work together.  The proposed legislation’s goals – to foster greater interagency cooperation and to provide extended professional education, training, and interagency assignment opportunities to national security professionals across the U.S. government – can only be applauded.  The sponsors are serious legislators.

Rep. Geoff Davis has long been an advocate for national security human capital development and Rep. Ike Skelton took part in the debate that led to Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which established the joint military command and improved the ability of U.S. armed forces to conduct joint operations in the field.  However, “Goldwater Nichols II,” this is not.  The bill suffers from several problems that could serve to make it yet another unmet mandate. Read more…

Naval protection of peacetime commerce: An attempted but failed subsidy October 5, 2010

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By Benjamin Friedman

Benjamin Friedman is research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.

The Cato Policy Analysis that I recently completed with my colleague Christopher Preble, Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint, has enough detail about cutting the defense budget to bore most casual readers to tears. (Risa Trump wrote about it here anyway) But the description of the non-interventionist* strategy that underlies the cuts is full of ideas and statements that may stir more people’s interest or ire.

One such statement is that, “despite its popularity, there is scant evidence for the claim that international commerce requires American military hegemony.” Read more…

Mullen debates himself about Afghanistan strategy October 5, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood before an audience at Texas A&M last Thursday and declared unequivocally: “We have the strategy right” in Afghanistan.    His confidence was assuring, but it glossed over an even more elementary and important question.  Do we have a strategy at all in Afghanistan?

ADM Mullen is his own most formidable opponent in that debate.  Surely the Chairman, circa last Thursday, would answer adamantly that we do.  But the ghost of ADM Mullen past, specifically August 1st of this year, suggests otherwise.  On that first Sunday in August, ADM Mullen made the morning talk show rounds, and twice was asked, point blank, what the United States is doing in Afghanistan. Read more…

Budget is Policy: Integrating National Security Spending September 30, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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By: Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams

At a roundtable discussion yesterday on the administration’s new global development strategy, Secretaries Gates, Clinton, and Shah urged for more funding for the State Department.  Secretary Clinton may have said it best: [the withdrawal from Iraq] “the military saves $15 billion. We ask for, you know, about one-tenth of that, and that’s considered too much, even though there’s savings accruing to our transitioning to the civilian side.”

Increasingly the security challenges the U.S. faces must involve all of our tools of statecraft, often in synergy with each other.  If counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us nothing else it is that military might wins battles, but political and economic efforts win the war to undermine violent extremism.

Yet, the military tool in the US toolkit has become, in many ways, the “leading edge” of American statecraft. Be it an overreliance on the military or an effort by the Pentagon to expand their mission set, DOD has taken on an ever growing number of missions that are not combat-related, including foreign aid, global health, and even foreign police training. This imbalance erodes the civilian foreign policy agencies and adds missions to an overburdened military.

It is time to right this structural imbalance, change our national security planning and budgetary processes so that the balance, tradeoffs, and synergy between the tools are visible and taken into consideration as planning and budgeting is being carried out.  For the past sixty years, planning and budgeting for diplomacy, development, and defense has been carried out in stovepipes, limiting strategic planning across the departments.  The result, instead, has been the duplication of programs, projects that simply don’t make sense within a larger context, or even some efforts that undermine foreign policy goals down the road. (more…)

Security or subsidies: Mr. McDonnell and the Virginia delegation go to Washington September 28, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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by Mariah Quinn and Matt Leatherman

Elected officials across the country know how closely their constituents’ job security affects their own.  Virginia’s congressional delegation and the administration in Richmond have lived richly, though, relishing an unemployment rate more than a quarter better than the national average (7% relative to 9.6%).  Indeed, certain parts of Virginia have unemployment rates harkening back to the pre-recession glory days – Arlington and Fairfax counties come in at an enviable 4.2% and 5.0%, for instance, while York County in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area looks similar, at 5.7%.

Fortune is running short even in these areas, though, after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates detailed the “Defense Efficiency Initiative” on August 9. With the stated aim of reducing the number of contractors by 10 percent per year for the next three years, more than 30,000 defense contracting jobs are on the chopping block, undercutting the boom towns just outside Washington where many of these jobs are located.  Gates’ decision to close the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command, home to 2,800 military and civilian personnel and 3,300 contractors, means that similar pain is in store for Virginia’s coastal money makers as well.

Small wonder then that a rhetorical storm erupted in the state after Gates’ announcement.  Efficiency, it seems, might not be in Virginia’s best interest.


Tis’ the season, to (burden) share September 27, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in Analysis.
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by Risa Trump

Today the U.S. government spends at least $2 billion annually to permanently station 28,500 American troops in South Korea.  Less than half of this – 40 percent to be precise – is reimbursed by South Korea.  This cost is attributed largely to the mission of deterring North Korea, but does not fully account for an able and fully equipped South Korean military force.

A modern South Korean force suggests that the U.S. could scale back its spending while still deterring North Korean aggression (and be prepared should it ever come).  As Senator McCain (R-AZ) remarked in his opening statement at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, “there is no doubt…that South Korean forces are among the most capable and best equipped in the world.”

The worry, of course, is what the North Koreans are up to. North Korea is committed to a draconian “military first” policy in which nearly a quarter of its GDP goes to defense (estimated between $1.5 -$5 billion).  This buys a standing army ostensibly 1.1 million strong, with another 4.7 million troops in reserve and 620 combat aircrafts, 3,500 tanks and a 360-ship navy. South Korea’s force of 686,000 active troops and 4.5 million in reserve, supported by 538 combat aircrafts, 2,300 tanks and a 230-ship navy, looks paltry by comparison.   (See the International Institute of Strategic Studies.) (more…)

POGO’s nuclear report: Let’s talk substance, not scare tactics September 24, 2010

Posted by Hans-Inge Langø in Analysis.
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The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has thrown a curveball into the debate on the reduction of nuclear stockpiles by proposing that the U.S. government sell surplus uranium for a profit. In a new report, POGO is proposing to use a process called downblending to turn U.S. high grade enriched uranium (HEU) into low grade enriched uranium (LEU) and then sell the material as fuel for nuclear power plants. According to POGO’s estimates, the government stands to make a $23 billion profit.

The proposal offers a unique synergy between two separate priorities of the federal government. The U.S. already has a backlog of material to dismantle, but the Department of Energy has not made downblending a priority. In addition, should the new START treaty be ratified, the U.S. will have international obligations to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

POGO’s proposal offers a way of turning the Obama administration’s long-term foreign policy objectives of nuclear disarmament and the practical matter of disposing surplus material into a profitable enterprise. Selling LEU as fuel works as an economic incentive for DoE, and increased supply could also stimulate the energy sector. More fuel could mean more nuclear power plants and energy, which in turn could help the economy – though this is not discusses in the report.

Nuclear terrorism

POGO’s report is weaker on its second argument, pertaining to national security. It cites the threat of nuclear terrorism as an important reason for going through with their proposal. The argument goes that, in the wrong hands, HEU material can be used to set off a nuclear explosion, and so the U.S. should reduce its stockpiles to minimize this risk.


Continuity in Development Policy, but Implementation is Key September 23, 2010

Posted by Laura A. Hall in Analysis.
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by Laura A. Hall

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

Listening to President Obama’s speech at the UN and reading the new U.S. Global Development Policy, one cannot help but notice how similar the themes sounded to those of his predecessor.  This suggests we may have entered an era when there is little political difference in how the parties approach development and when effectiveness and sustainability will trump faddish approaches [1].  The real issues coming from this week’s announcements will be in the implementation and management, where the bureaucratic weeds can entangle any policy.

Baby Not Thrown Out With Bathwater: Overall Continuity in Approach

The new policy, despite assertions, is hardly the first of its kind, as the Bush team had a clear set of goals and strategies that it followed.  The Bush development strategy treated development as a major national security imperative that reflected American values in order to put resources behind it.

The Bush Administration, for all of the critique it received from progressive and liberal voices, did earn a lot of credit for its international development assistance. Bush’s approach focused on good governance, private sector led growth, and host country leadership.  Among its specific efforts, the Bush Administration:

  • Doubled, then doubled again, official development assistance;
  • Instituted new, major programs targeting specific diseases with massive resources and an intention to address underlying governance and systemic deficiencies in order to create long-term, sustainable solutions;
  • Instituted a new program that relied on developing country leadership and rewarded good governance;

All of these approaches appear in the Obama administration policy.  This is welcome in terms of consistency and continuity. It is also important because the focus on aid effectiveness, local ownership, linkages between governance and investment climate, and on the role of the private sector and trade can harness the interests of the private sector and private voluntary donors and combine them with the unique role played by the government. (more…)