Posts Tagged ‘National Security’

smart powerSticking the word "smart" in front of almost anything is a practice that must end.

As evidence, I offer the Smart Car, the worst car of the last decade, and calls for more Smart Power.

We’re all aware, of course, that our stupid cars and our stupid power just won’t cut it anymore.

What is Smart Power? It’s merely another effort to grab more mission, manpower, and money for the diplomatic corps. Just how does that make it "smart," anymore than giving $56 billion to TSA to make air travel safer (or not)?

We’ve ended up in the current State Department/Department of Defense configuration we have for a reason. If circumstances have changed, let the appropriators argue it out, but don’t besmirch logic and reality by jamming ‘smart’ in front of something that may make sense and work, or may not.

A better way to advocate for the hopes (no disrespect intended, but that’s what they are) imbedded within the Smart Power call would be instead to simply use the most correct tool for the job. (Just don’t use the terms "toolbox" or "quiver," which should also be similarly banned from the vernacular, unless talking carpentry or archery.)



Not all professors of history and international relations who wander are lost.  But some are.

At least that’s an explanation for an op-ed in the L.A. Times from Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich’s hypothesis is that “A new world order is rapidly emerging,” of which America may remain important (if we do the right things) but far from preeminent.  What should be done in order to remain relevant instead of slipping further into international decline?

…spending hundreds of billions vainly attempting to pacify Afghanistan is unlikely to help much. Far more useful (if hardly less challenging) might be the following:

Negotiating "boundaries" — constraints, for example, on the use of force — that will limit great power prerogatives (including our own) in the 21st century.

Establishing norms governing the competition for increasingly scarce natural resources.

Reducing armaments and curbing the international arms trade, thereby restricting the availability of the hardware that sustains wars once they begin.

Focusing increased diplomatic attention on trouble spots that threaten to put great powers on a collision course, among them Taiwan, Kashmir, Korea’s 38th parallel and, of course, the Palestinian territories.

The assumption being made is that wandering processes (negotiating constraints, establishing norms, reducing armaments, and focusing attention) will result in desirable national security progress.  While such outcomes are possible, they are far more likely if we can first agree on the security outcomes and endstates we’re looking to achieve.  It’s all Steven Covey 101; begin with the end in mind. 

Process, while important, should be based on goals.  Otherwise we end up confusing with activity with outcomes.  Such activity and process often fails in its aims (consider the myriad UN resolutions against North Korea and Iran).

A few years ago, before the Air Force had to get its nuclear deterrence enterprise back on its feet, nuclear deterrence was described as ‘the ultimate backstop’ which underwrote the nation’s security.

The analogy always made me cringe.  I’ve seen too many ball games and the idea of ‘the ball’ (global stability, for example) getting past the ‘global catcher’ (that is, the United States), and ending up at ‘the ultimate backstop’ as ‘the runner’ (a near-peer or a rogue) went from first to third just didn’t do it for me.  As the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise was later being restored, my suggestion was instead to frame nuclear deterrence as a foundation from which we build out other military capabilities versus the ultimate backstop.

So as the defense community stiffens itself for cut and gut funding decisions, it gladdens my heart to see a smart guy say this:

Deterring future wars requires, first of all, a secure and credible U.S. nuclear arsenal. This arsenal must be of sufficient size and varied deployment modes so as to ensure that whatever the circumstances, adversaries will know that the U.S. can respond to a nuclear attack on the homeland, U.S. allies and forward deployed forces with an appropriate but also devastating response. In practice this means maintaining the ICBM force, designing a new generation of missile carrying submarines and building a new long-range bomber. It also means deploying the next generation of early warning satellites.

Nuclear war may not be probable, but the consequences of nuclear deterrence are significant.  Counter-insurgency operations are much more likely but the consequences are much less significant.  Having our most consequential needs addressed first is important because real priorities are shown by whether they are funded or not.

The London riots are what Janet Napolitano might rightly call a man-made disaster.  Shaun Bailey, writing at the Guardian offers this assessment:

I believe there are four main aspects to the riots: young people being opportunistic; young people wanting to show those in authority who is boss; a general anger and angst among young people; and politicians jumping on the bandwagon to forward their own beliefs.


The biggest problem our country has faced over the last two decades is that everyone thinks the government should do everything.


In a way, we are all responsible for the riots, whether directly or indirectly. We watched the previous government talk up rights for young people but with no mention of responsibilities. We have allowed our welfare system to prop up immoral lifestyles. We have not taught all our young people that an entitlement culture is morally wrong. And we have paid the price for this liberalism. Now we need to collectively grow up and take responsibility for responsibility.

The lesson he offers regarding national security has to be parsed out, but it’s something like this: people (and nations) can be very opportunistic; people (and nations like Russia, China, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, et al, and the leaders of those nations) may want to both stick it to the man (that is, Uncle Sam) and forward their own beliefs and agendas (again, preserving their own power and…sticking it to the man).  Finally, everyone on a team has a job to do and when free-riders don’t do their part, things fall apart.  Taken to its conclusion, this could be viewed as a condemnation of the all-volunteer force and a call to return to the shared burden of compulsory military service, the draft.

Theodore Dalrymple, writing at City Journal offers this on the London riots:

Only someone who never looked around him and never drew any conclusions from the faces and manner of the young men he saw would have been surprised.


…he [the rioter] may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude.

The first lesson is the observation that man is the only creature capable of deceiving himself.  In that regard, consider Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program (and nuclear proliferation writ large) vis a vis the cult of bilateral arms control.  The second lesson again addresses the detrimental effect of long-term free-riding.  Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, NATO, and much of Western Europe come to mind in that dependency (on the U.S. to underwrite Western security) does not promote gratitude.

George Will, at the Washington Post offers this on life in Britain:

…almost 30 percent of public spending here [in Britain] is still for a welfare system under which an unemployed single mother with two children has more disposable income than a postal worker. There is, [Chancellor George] Osborne says, considerable resentment among people who “go to work at seven in the morning and the blinds are down next door.” Almost a fifth of British households have no wage earner [of any sort].

Yes, that’s the power of repetition. 

Again, free-ridership is a detriment to society (whether it regards security, “free” handouts, or playing-field unleveling subsidies) and not a benefit.  And membership in the European Union has resulted in “leakage of Britain’s sovereignty to Brussels, [and Prime Minister David] Cameron’s ability to deregulate his nation’s economy is significantly circumscribed.”

Well, there’s another lesson: sovereignty is a good thing or rephrased, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’  While the EU may look at Britain’s problems with concern, they aren’t really committed as are the British people.  The same paradigm holds true for the UN and the United States and Israel (and a few other less-favored nations).

In London, and regarding national security in the United States, there is still the fact there’s much figurative (and literal) broken glass to clean up.  Who will be doing the heavy lifting of cleaning, securing, and repairing, the free-riders, or the usual suspects, that is, the responsible parts of society? 

The Apostle Paul, John Smith, and even Vladimir Lenin were all in agreement on one thing: He who does not work shall not eat.

The Foreign Policy article Is climate change the biggest national security challenge we are facing? was supposed to be posted at The Onion, right? 


Given this magazine cover circa 1979, Time flies, even at The Onion Foreign Policy.

What can I say: Dr. Peter Venkman was a prophet.

The money observation from the President’s plan to split the drawdown baby in Afghanistan:

Nor should the president shy away from establishing the centrality of the U.S. economy in U.S. national security. Saving money in Afghanistan is nothing to run away from, as White House press secretary Jay Carney sought to do last week. “Obviously every decision is made with a mind toward cost,” he said, “but this is about U.S. national-security interests, primarily.”

Quite the contrary—reducing America’s debt is essential to maintaining U.S. military strength and diplomatic power. Obama could save more than $100 billion a year on the Pentagon budget just by sequestering savings after exiting the Iraq and Afghan wars.

National security: if it ain’t funded, it ain’t. 

However, I’d guess the “savings” from Iraq and Afghanistan have probably already been accounted for.  This is because of the inauditable and creative nature of government accounting where reductions in growth rates are cuts and savings (or is that cuts?) are almost always in the the out years (and are projected on assumptions like reduced inflation rates, military members serving less time, making more of their own retirement/medical contributions, etc.).

What’s the Libyan endgame?  Not really sure.

What’s the Libyan timetable?  Haven’t worked that out.

What’s the Libyan price tag?  It depends.

Loren Thompson argues it’s about $2 billion per day because of sunk costs.

The military-accounting complex says about $550 million to date based on incremental costs, with over half coming in the form of munitions expenditures.

So, the real answer is “it depends.”  Still, if all the numbers had to be teased out and put on a balance sheet (and based on the fact the Pentagon remains inauditable) I’d offer Thompson’s estimate is probably a more accurate representation of reality.

Why does it matter? If you believe the CJCS, the U.S. government’s debt is the most significant national security threat we face.