Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Trading Washington for Tbilisi?

Alliances often are advanced, as with NATO expansion, as a cheap way of keeping the peace.  After all, it is said, no one would dare challenge America.  But while alliances can deter, deterrence can fail – with catastrophic consequences.  Both World Wars I and II featured failed alliances and security guarantees.  Oops!

If deterence fails, the guaranteeing state either has to retreat ignominously or plunge into war, neither of which is likely to be in America’s interest.  Moreover, promising to defend other nations encourages them to be irresponsible:  after all, why not adopt a risky foreign policy if Washington is willing to back you up, nuclear weapons and all?  It’s a form of moral hazard applied to foreign policy.

That appears to be the case with the country of Georgia.  There’s a lot of disagreement over the character of Mikhail Saakashvili’s government, even among libertarians.  But a new European Union panel has amassed evidence that President Saakashvili is a bit of a foreign policy adventurer.  Reports Spiegel online:

Unpublished documents produced by the European Union commission that investigated the conflict between Georgia and Moscow assign much of the blame to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. But the Kremlin and Ossetian militias are also partly responsible.

From her office on Avenue de la Paix, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, 58, looks out onto the botanical gardens in peaceful Geneva. The view offers a welcome respite from the stacks of documents on her desk, which deal exclusively with war and war blame. They contain the responses, from the conflicting parties in the Caucasus region – Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia – to a European Union investigative commission conducting a probe of the cause of the five-day war last August. The documents also include reports on the EU commission’s trips to Moscow, the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, dossiers assembled by experts and the transcripts of interviews of diplomats, military officials and civilian victims of the war.

The Caucasus expert, nicknamed “Madame Courage” by the Zurich-based Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, is considered a specialist on sensitive diplomatic matters. The Caucasus issue is the most difficult challenge she has faced to date. The final report by the commission she heads must be submitted to the EU Council of Ministers by late July. In the report, Tagliavini is expected to explain how, in August 2008, a long-smoldering regional conflict over the breakaway Georgia province of South Ossetia could suddenly have escalated into a war between Georgia and its much more powerful neighbor, Russia. Who is to blame for the most serious confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War?

In addition to having a budget of €1.6 million ($2.2 million) at her disposal, Tagliavini can draw on the expertise of two deputies, 10 specialists, military officials, political scientists, historians and international law experts.

Much hinges on the conclusions her commission will reach. Is Georgia, a former Soviet republic, a serious candidate for membership in NATO, or is the country in the hands of a reckless gambler? Did the Russian leadership simply defend South Ossetia, an ally seeking independence from Georgia, against a Georgian attack? Or did Russia spark a global crisis when its troops occupied parts of Georgia for a short period of time?

The confidential investigative commission documents, which SPIEGEL has obtained, show that the task of assigning blame for the conflict has been as much of a challenge for the commission members as it has for the international community. However, a majority of members tend to arrive at the assessment that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili started the war by attacking South Ossetia on August 7, 2008. The facts assembled on Tagliavini’s desk refute Saakashvili’s claim that his country became the innocent victim of “Russian aggression” on that day.

In summarizing the military fiasco, commission member Christopher Langton, a retired British Army colonel, claims: “Georgia’s dream is shattered, but the country can only blame itself for that.”

Whatever the justification for President Saakashvili’s conduct, it certainly isn’t the kind of policy to which the U.S. should tie itself.  Yet including Georgia in NATO would in effect make President Saakashvili’s goals those of the American government and, by extension, the American people.

How many Americans should die to ensure that George gets to rule South Ossetia and Abkhazia?  Should we risk Washington for Tbilisi?  These are questions the Obama administration should answer before it joins the Bush administration in pushing NATO membership for Georgia.  The American people deserve to know exactly what risks the Obama administration plans to take with their lives and homelands before adding yet another fragile client state to Washington’s long list of security dependents.

Veterans against the F-22

Jon Soltz over at VoteVets delivers a stinging rebuke of Congress’s plans to buy more F-22s – the $350+ million fighter aircraft designed to fight the Soviet Union, and that the Pentagon doesn’t want.

If the F-22’s backers can round up the votes and the money, it won’t be the first time that Congress has overruled the combined wisdom of the SecDef and the Joint Chiefs. But you’d think that by now the specious arguments that military spending is an efficient way to stimulate the economy had pretty much run their course. Alas, they haven’t.

In that resepect, I think that Soltz is taking the right approach. Rather than assaulting the Iron Triangle head on, he highlights the aircraft’s limited utility (as I have on this blog and in my book), and suggests that the troops in the field, and the troops who just left, won’t appreciate it if Congress puts parochial interests above those of our men and women in uniform.

Whether the vet’s voices are stronger than the interests who will make money off the purchase of a dozen more planes is an open question. But I hope that the anti-F-22 forces prevail.

Time for Japan to Do More

It seems that the Japanese government no longer seems entirely comfortable relying on America for it’s defense.

Reports Reuters:

A draft of Japan’s new mid-term defense policy guidelines is calling for the reinforcement of military personnel and equipment in the face of growing regional tensions, Kyodo news agency said.

The draft, obtained by Kyodo, says Japan needs to reverse its policy of reducing its defense budgets in light of North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear tests, as well as China’s rise to a major military power, the news agency said.

The document urges the government to raise the number of Ground Self-Defense Forces troops by 5,000 to 160,000, Kyodo said.

The new National Defense Program Guidelines, covering five years to March 2015, are scheduled to be adopted by the government by the end of the year.

The draft also says there is a need to “secure options responsive to changing situations” of international security, indicating Tokyo’s intention of considering if it should be capable of striking enemy bases, Kyodo said.

This is good news.  Historical concerns remain, of course, but World War II ended more than six decades ago.  The Japan of today is very different than the Imperial Japan of yore – the mere fact that Japanese have been so reluctant to become a normal country again illustrates the change.

There’s still a substantial distance for Japan to go.  But the Japanese government is moving in the right direction.

Obviously, peace in East Asia benefits all concerned.  That peace will be more sure if Tokyo is prepared to defend itself and help meet regional contingencies.  It is time for prosperous and populous allies to stop assuming that Washington’s job is to defend them so they can invest in high-tech industries, fund generous welfare states, and otherwise enjoy life at America’s expense.

Morozov vs. Cyber-Alarmism

I’m no information security expert, but you don’t have to be to realize that an outbreak of cyber-alarmism afflicts American pundits and reporters.

As Jim Harper and Tim Lee have repeatedly argued (with a little help from me), while the internet created new opportunities for crime, spying, vandalism and military attack, the evidence that the web opens a huge American national security vulnerability comes not from events but from improbable what-ifs. That idea is, in other words, still a theory. Few pundits bother to point out that hackers don’t kill, that cyberspies don’t seem to have stolen many (or any?) important American secrets, and that our most critical infrastructure is not run on the public internet and thus is relatively invulnerable to cyberwhatever. They never note that to the extent that future wars have an online component, this redounds to the U.S. advantage, given our technological prowess.  Even the Wall Street Journal and New York Times recently published breathless stories exaggerating our vulnerability to online attacks and espionage.

So it’s good to see that the July/ August Boston Review has a terrific article by Evgeny Morozov taking on the alarmists. He provides not only a sober net assessment of the various worries categorized by the vague modifier “cyber” but even offers a theory about why hype wins.

Why is there so much concern about “cyber-terrorism”? Answering a question with a question: who frames the debate? Much of the data are gathered by ultra-secretive government agencies—which need to justify their own existence—and cyber-security companies—which derive commercial benefits from popular anxiety. Journalists do not help. Gloomy scenarios and speculations about cyber-Armaggedon draw attention, even if they are relatively short on facts.

I agree.

He Is the Very Model of a Modern Right-Wing Foreign Policy Thinker

Jim Lobe points us to the thoughts of Andrew McCarthy, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, on Barack Obama’s reticence to urge other people to spill their blood in Iran.  A few choice bits below:

  • andymccarthy“The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society.”
  • The divergences between radical Islam and radical Leftism are much overrated — ‘equal rights’ and ‘social justice’ are always more rally-cry propaganda than real goals for totalitarians, and hatred of certain groups is always a feature of their societies.”
  • It would have been political suicide to issue a statement supportive of the mullahs, so Obama’s instinct was to do the next best thing: to say nothing supportive of the freedom fighters.”
  • It’s a mistake to perceive this as ‘weakness’ in Obama. It would have been weakness for him to flit over to the freedom fighters’ side the minute it seemed politically expedient. He hasn’t done that, and he won’t. Obama has a preferred outcome here, one that is more in line with his worldview, and it is not victory for the freedom fighters. He is hanging as tough as political pragmatism allows, and by doing so he is making his preferred outcome more likely.  That’s not weakness, it’s strength — and strength of the sort that ought to frighten us.”

As Lobe notes, this prompted a rare “that’s over the line” type response from National Review editor Rich Lowry, but McCarthy is having none of it.  Instead, McCarthy says that by no means were his earlier remarks out of bounds, and argues that Obama is going to transform the United States into the sort of country that the Islamic Republic will be fond of.

That’s the sort of calm, reasoned debate we’ve come to expect from the establishment Right.  I’m trying to think, which conservative thinker does this sort of thing finds its lineage in?  Burke?  Kirk?  Carl Schmitt?  It’s tough to say.

The White House as Animal Farm

As George Orwell’s Animal Farm closes, the revolutionary pigs have been transformed into oppressive humans.  It took some time to occur on the Animal Farm.  It’s taken just a few months in the Obama White House.

Reports McClatchy Newspapers:

President Barack Obama is morphing into George W. Bush, as administration attorneys repeatedly adopt the executive-authority and national-security rationales that their Republican predecessors preferred.

In courtroom battles and freedom-of-information fights from Washington, D.C., to California, Obama’s legal arguments repeatedly mirror Bush’s: White House turf is to be protected, secrets must be retained and dire warnings are wielded as weapons.

“It’s putting up a veritable wall around the White House, and it’s so at odds with Obama’s campaign commitment to more open government,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal watchdog group.

Certainly, some differences exist.

The Obama administration, for instance, has released documents on global warming from the Council on Environmental Quality that the Bush administration sought to suppress. Some questions, such as access to White House visitor logs, remain a work in progress.

On policies that are at the heart of presidential power and prerogatives, however, this administration’s legal arguments have blended into the other. The persistence can reflect everything from institutional momentum and a quest for continuity to the clout of career employees.

“There is no question that there are (durable) cultures and mindsets in agencies,” Weismann acknowledged.

Conservatives once opposed executive aggrandizement.  Then with George W. Bush in office, they embraced the idea of the presidency as a kind of elective monarchy.  With President Barack Obama now pushing the executive power grab, will conservatives rediscover their inner-Constitution and again join the barricades for liberty?

New Technology Charts Old Repression

The fact that North Korea is a monstrous tyranny is well-known.  Google Earth is helping map that tyranny in extraordinary detail, from the opulent palaces of the elite to the horrid labor camps for the victims. 

Reports The Independent:

US researchers are using the internet to reveal what life is really like behind the closed borders of the world’s last Stalinist dictatorship

The most comprehensive picture of what goes on inside the secret state of North Korea has emerged from an innovative US project. The location of extraordinary palaces, labour camps and the mass graves of famine victims have all been identified. The online operation that has penetrated the world’s last remaining iron curtain is called North Korea Uncovered. Founded by Curtis Melvin, a postgraduate student at George Mason University, Virginia, it uses Google Earth, photographs, academic and specialist reports and a global network of contributors who have visited or studied the country. Mr Melvin says the collaborative project is an example of “democratised intelligence”. He is the first to emphasise that the picture is far from complete, but it is, until the country opens up, the best we have.

Palaces

The palatial residences of the political elite are easy to identify as they are in sharp contrast to the majority of housing in the deeply impoverished state. Though details about many palaces’ names, occupants and uses are hard to verify, it is known that such buildings are the exclusive domain of Kim Jong-Il, his family and his top political aides. Kim Jong-Il is believed to have between 10 and 17 palaces, many of which have been spotted on Google Earth:

1) Mansion complex near Pyongyang

This may be Kim Jong-Il’s main residence. His father lived here surrounded by the huge, ornate gardens and carefully designed network of lakes. Tree-lined paths lead to a swimming pool with a huge water slide, and next to the complex there is a full-size racetrack with a viewing stand and arena. There is a cluster of other large houses around the mansion, forming an enclosed, elite community. It appears to be reached via an underground station on a private railway which branches off from the main line.

The new technology is creating a new variant to the old saying:  you can run, but you can’t hide.  Tyrants can run their countries but they can’t hide their abuses.

We still have yet to figure out how to toss thugs like Kim Jong-il into history’s trashcan.  But better understanding their crimes is an important part of the process.