Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Washington Should Not Risk War over Ukraine

Russia’s brazen annexation of Crimea has generated a flood of proposals to reinvigorate NATO. Doing so would make America less secure.

For most of its history, the United States avoided what George Washington termed “entangling alliances.”  In World War II and the Cold War, the United States aided friendly states to prevent hostile powers from dominating Eurasia. 

The collapse of communism eliminated the prospect of any nation controlling Europe and Asia. But NATO developed new roles to stay in business, expanding into a region highly sensitive to Russia. 

The invasion of Crimea has triggered a cascade of demands for NATO, mostly meaning America, to act. President Barack Obama responded: “Today NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics, and we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland, and we’re prepared to do more.”

The Eastern Europeans desired much more. An unnamed former Latvian minister told the Economist: “We would like to see a few American squadrons here, boots on the round, maybe even an aircraft carrier.” A gaggle of American policy advocates agreed.

The Whistleblower Versus Robert Mugabe and the United Nations

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a corrupt authoritarian.  The United Nations is a wasteful, inefficient organization that tolerates corrupt authoritarians.  Unfortunately, the two don’t make beautiful music together.

Not everyone at the UN is corrupt.  One hero is Georges Tadonki, a Cameroonian who for a time headed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zimbabwe.  The others are three judges in a United Nations Dispute Tribunal who last year ruled for Tadonki in a suit against the international organization.

Soon we will find if members of a UN appeals panel possess equal courage.  That ruling is expected soon with rumors circulating that these judges might reverse course and absolve the organization of misconduct.

In 2008 President Robert Mugabe, who took power in 1980, and ZANU-PF, the ruling party, used violent intimidation to preserve their control.  At the time Tadonki had been on station for six years and predicted epidemics of both cholera and violence. 

Unfortunately, UN country chief Agostinho Zacarias dismissed Tadonki’s warnings.  By the end of the year 100,000 people had been infected with cholera and thousands had died.  During the election campaigns hundreds also had been killed by government thugs, who succeeded in derailing democracy. 

Naturally, no good deed went unpunished.  After extended discord between the two UN officials, Tadonki was fired in January 2009.  There was little doubt that the action was retaliation for being right and embarrassing Zacarias—who now serves the UN in South Africa. 

The controversy demonstrates that something is very wrong with the UN system.  Tadonki decided to fight, though he had to ask the international law firm Amsterdam & Peroff to handle the litigation on a pro bono basis.  Last year the UN Dispute Tribunal based in Kenya heard his case and Judges Vinod Boolell, Nkemdilim Izuako, and Goolam Merran issued their 104-page judgment. 

They concluded “that the Applicant was not, at all material times, treated fairly and in accordance with due process, equity and the core values of the Charter of the Organization” and that OCHA management ignored the UN’s “humanitarian values.”  The tribunal ordered the UN to apologize for its misbehavior, investigate the mistreatment of Tadonki, hold his superiors accountable for their misconduct, cover Tadonki’s litigation costs, pay past salary through the judgment date, and provide $50,000 in “moral damages for the extreme emotional distress and physical harm suffered by the Applicant.”

Great Moments in Academic Citation

Last year,* Twitter was, well, atwitter with news of a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions (who knew there was one of those?) calling for a moratorium on “lethal autonomous robots.” Readers who have seen Terminator 2 will know the potential for trouble in such platforms, but the UN came online with some concerns of its own.

The real utility of the UN’s call for a moratorium, however, is to allow me to start a competition: “great moments in academic citation.” What does academic citation have to do with autonomous robot armies, you ask? Simple. One of the entrants has to do with exactly that subject.

I think all scholars and policy wonks have occasionally come across a brilliantly witty turn of phrase buried in a footnote of an otherwise dry academic treatise. Three stuck in my mind enough that I kept them written down.

Sadly, though, I only have three entries worthy of competing against one another, and all are from my narrow reading in security studies. Which means I need your help: If you have another entrant, from a bona fide, published scholarly work (or approved dissertation) in whatever field but on this level of wit, email me to enter it in the competition. The prize is nothing. With that…

Visiting Nigeria: Tragic Poverty, Pervasive Insecurity Extraordinary Potential

ABUJA, NIGERIA—Like so many developing states, Nigeria showcases poverty while exhibiting potential.  People are entrepreneurial but the state is exploitative.  Wealth is made but too often stolen.  Evidence of security—which really means insecurity—is everywhere.

I traveled with a journalist group on a business tour of Nigeria.  We were met by representatives of the organizer, along with a driver and two national policemen armed with AK-47s.

All of my hotels around the country had metal detectors.  High walls and gates manned by armed security personnel. 

Nevertheless, Abuja, as the seat of government, is relatively safe.  Former governor Orji Uzor Kalu, a successful businessman considering a presidential run, complained that “without a police escort you can’t move” in much of the country:  “You can move in Abuja, maybe some parts of Lagos, but you cannot move elsewhere.”  Security checkpoints on major roads were common as we traveled outside of major cities.

As I explain in my latest article on the American Spectator online:  “The Niger Delta, host to manifold energy and maritime operations, is particularly risky.  Residents resent northern domination and perceive that, as one businessman put it, money being extracted from the ground and water isn’t going to the local people.  These attitudes have prompted kidnappings of foreigners and attacks on facilities and ships.” 

Being careful isn’t enough.  Nor is hiring protective personnel.  Company officials privately acknowledge more directly buying protection, spreading cash throughout local communities. 

The smart outsider makes sure he has a well-armed friend or two.  A sign on the door leading from the pool to the hotel proclaimed:  “All Escorts Terminate Here.  Fire Arms Are Prohibited In This Facility.” 

Nigeria has had its share of conflict—four decades ago the central government brutally suppressed the attempted secession of the eastern region as the state of Biafra, resulting in anywhere between one and three million dead.  More recently ruthless military dictators ruled.

Today the greatest problem may be internal divisions within the population of about 175 million divided into roughly 500 ethnic groups.  The country is almost evenly divided between Christian and Muslim, leading to complicated political bargaining.  Recently the terrorist group Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and moderate Muslims.

The country already suffers from the usual Third World maladies of the over-politicized state.  Bureaucracy is pervasive and corruption is rife.  One expatriate worker observed:  “Nigeria is not a country.  It is an opportunity.”

These economic disincentives are greatly exacerbated by problems of insecurity.  A potential investor or trader cannot move freely.  Expatriate employees much watch their backs.  And the costs roll down to indigenous peoples, who lose economic opportunities.

Kalu, who is considering a presidential run, emphasized the need for deregulation and privatization and professed his admiration of Ronald Reagan.  He also highlighted the problems of corruption and energy for his oil-rich nation, where bribes are expected and power outages are constant.

But he suggested that the lack of personal safety is even more basic.  During a recent interview in Abuja he noted that “internal security is crucial.”  Without security, he said, “I don’t know how we can develop.  We need internal security so citizens and non-citizens can move more freely.”

Nigeria’s security problems underscore the country’s extraordinary unmet potential.  It has Africa’s largest population and Nigeria’s GDP will soon surpass that of South Africa. Nigeria’s energy reserves are an envy of the continent.

Moreover, the Nigerian people exhibit both hard work and entrepreneurship.  People are every where on the move, hawking products.  What Nigerians lack, one businessman complained to me, was an “enabling environment” from the government.

Which should include security, perhaps the most foundational government responsibility.

Nigeria has many advantages lacking in its neighbors, and other developing states.  However, so much of its potential is yet untapped.  It is well past time for Nigeria’s leaders to put their people’s interests first.

Obama Sends More U.S. Troops to …Uganda?

The Obama administration seems determined to demonstrate that there is no place in the world so geographically remote or strategically and economically irrelevant that U.S. military intervention won’t take place.  Any doubt on that score was eliminated earlier this week when the administration deployed another 150 Special Operations Forces personnel (along with CV-22 Osprey aircraft) to help the government of Uganda track down rebel warlord Joseph Kony.  The new deployment augments the 100 troops Washington previously dispatched to the region in October 2011.  At that time, the administration assured skeptics that the mission was strictly limited in nature.  Clearly, it has now become somewhat less so, and one must wonder whether there will be future deployments to enlarge Washington’s military intervention.

Make no mistake about it, Kony is a repulsive character.  Among other offenses, his followers have drafted children as young as 12 into the movement’s armed ranks, and there are numerous allegations of other human rights abuses.  But no rational person could argue that Kony’s forces pose a security threat to the United States.  And under the Constitution, the purpose of the U.S. military is to protect the security of the American people, not engage to quixotic ventures to rectify bad behavior around the world.

The willingness of the U.S. officials to send Special Operations personnel, who have been trained and equipped at great expense to American taxpayers, on such a mission underscores a growing problem: the unwillingness or inability of U.S. leaders to set priorities in the area of foreign policy.  America’s security interests can (and should) be divided into four broad categories: vital, secondary or conditional, peripheral, and barely relevant. Each category warrants a different response.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, U.S. leaders have had a tendency to lump almost everything into the “vital interest” category.  The reality is that for any nation, truly vital interests are few in number.  National survival is obviously the most important one, but the preservation of political independence, domestic liberty, and economic well-being from external threats all are part of the mix as well.  When vital interests are threatened, maximum exertions and sacrifices are justified.

But that ought to be the great exception, not the rule, when it comes to the conduct of America’s foreign policy.  Even an effort to protect the next highest category, secondary or conditional interests, requires a rigorous cost-benefit calculation.   Secondary interests are assets that are pertinent but not indispensable to the preservation of America’s physical integrity, independence, domestic liberty, and economic health.  An example would be the goal of keeping a key strategic and economic region such as Western Europe or Northeast Asia from being dominated by a hostile major power.  The defense of secondary interests justifies significant, but nevertheless limited, exertions–especially if they involve military measures.

The cost-benefit calculation shifts even more in the direction of restraint when the matter involved is one of peripheral interests.  That category consists of assets that marginally enhance America’s security, liberty, and economic well being, but the loss of which would be more of an annoyance than a significant blow.  The existence of an unpleasant regime in a mid-size country in Latin America (Venezuela comes to mind) is an example of a threat to a peripheral interest.  Russia’s crude coercion of Ukraine is another example.  It may be asking too much for Washington to be indifferent to such matters, but there is nothing at stake that normally requires more than a diplomatic response.

Many situations in the world do not rise even to the level of peripheral interests.  They instead fall into the category of barely relevant (or often entirely irrelevant) matters.  Whether Bosnia remains intact or divides into a Muslim-dominated ministate and a Serb republic, or whether East Timor is well governed, can and should be a matter of indifference to the United States.  It is highly improbable that such developments would have a measurable impact on America’s security, liberty, or economic health.  Washington ought to confine its role to one of routine diplomatic involvement on the margins—and sometimes not even that.

Joseph Kony’s activities in Central Africa are a textbook example of a largely irrelevant development.  That conflict certainly does not warrant the expenditure of defense budget dollars, much less putting the lives of American military personnel at risk.

U.S. Policy Blunder Made Ukraine Vulnerable to Russian Coercion

There is a lot of hand wringing in Washington and other Western capitals about Russia’s sudden invasion and annexation of Crimea. But as I point out in a recent article in The National Interest Online, a policy that the United States adopted more than two decades ago made such an outcome nearly inevitable. The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton bribed and pressured Kiev to give up the nuclear weapons it had inherited upon the demise of the Soviet Union, thus making Russia the only nuclear-armed successor state.

As University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer pointed out at the time in Foreign Affairs, that policy was extremely myopic. He argued that a Ukrainian nuclear deterrent was “imperative to maintain peace between Russia and Ukraine. That means ensuring that the Russians, who have a history of bad relations with Ukraine, do not move to reconquer it.” In a prophetic passage, he added: “Ukraine cannot defend itself against a nuclear-armed Russia with conventional weapons, and no state, including the United States, is going to extend to it a meaningful security guarantee. Ukrainian nuclear weapons are the only reliable deterrent to Russian aggression.”

The Crimea incident demonstrates how ill-advised it was for Ukraine to relinquish its inherited nuclear deterrent. Under intense U.S. pressure, Kiev discarded the one strategic asset that would have made the Kremlin exercise caution. Now, Ukrainians have no alternative but to accept a humiliating territorial amputation. Despite the abundance of rhetorical posturing, there is little that the United States and its European allies will or can do to prevent Russia from pursuing its goals regarding Ukraine—unless they are willing to risk a military confrontation with a nuclear-armed power in its own neighborhood. And no sane person advocates that. Even ultrahawks such as Senator John McCain concede that a U.S.-led military intervention is not an option.

True, if Ukraine had retained its nukes and Putin had nevertheless gone ahead with his military conquest of Crimea, that crisis would have been more dangerous than the current version. But it is highly improbable that the Kremlin would have adopted such a risky course against a nuclear-armed country. Moscow received a great geopolitical gift when Washington succumbed to its obsession to oppose nuclear proliferation in all cases, regardless of the strategic circumstances. That move effectively disarmed Ukraine and made it vulnerable to coercion by its much stronger neighbor. Both Ukraine and the United States are now paying the price for that policy blunder.

Visiting Nigeria: Tragic Failure, Greater Potential

ABUJA, NIGERIA—Arriving in Abuja, Nigeria results in an almost simultaneous impression of poverty and potential.  After decades of economic disappointment, even collapse, much of Africa is growing. Yet even its leading states, such as Nigeria, remain locked in an impoverished past and fail to live up to their extraordinary potential.

I’ve arrived with a journalist group organized by SLOK Holding Co., chaired by former Gov. Orji Uzor Kalu, a potential presidential contender. Although cities such as Abuja (Nigeria’s capital), Lagos (Nigeria’s most populous urban area), and Port Harcourt (dominated by the nation’s oil industry) enjoy significant development, poverty is never far away. 

In Lagos, wealth has created a genuine skyline on Victoria Island. Yet crowded streets filled with poor street vendors sit in the shadows of these fine structures. Electrical outages are constant, requiring any serious enterprise to maintain a generator. 

Rural Nigeria is much poorer. Even the main highways are in desperate need of minimal maintenance, while burned and rusted wrecks, stripped of anything useful, litter the sides and medians.

Trash is tossed alongside or piled in medians. Roads off the main drag are dirt, always rutted, often muddy, and barely adequate. Most shops are shacks built on dirt just feet from traffic. 

Still, hope remains. Every where in Nigeria I saw enterprise. Open-air markets, which seem to occur every couple miles, are bustling, with people dashing hither-and-yon selling most everything you can find in a department store or supermarket. At major intersections and along busy streets, people sit in the median and walk into traffic hawking most anything, including triangular hazard signs (quite appropriate given Nigeria’s roads!). 

Intellectual capital also is growing. Citizens of this former British colony typically speak English, the global commercial language. I visited a university filled with bright and engaging students hoping to make better lives for themselves and their country.