Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Misinformation from Heritage

The Heritage Foundation has a chart up on its blog, showing defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product and declaring that “Obama plan cuts defense spending to pre-9/11 levels.”

This is a standard rhetorical device for defense hawks (see the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Mitt Romney and lots of others) so it’s worth pointing out that it’s misleading. The unfortunate truth is that Obama is increasing non-war defense spending this year and seems likely to increase it at least by inflation in the near future.

It’s true that defense spending will probably decline as a percentage of GDP, assuming the economy recovers. But that’s because GDP grows. Ours is more than six times bigger than it was in 1950.  Meanwhile, we spend more on defense in real, inflation adjusted terms, than we did then, at the height of the Cold War. The denoninator has grown faster than the numerator. 

By saying that defense spending needs to grow with GDP to be “level,” you are arguing for an annual increase in defense spending without saying so directly. That’s the point, of course.

To be straight with readers, charts that show defense spending as a percentage of GDP should either show GDP growth over time or include a line that shows defense spending in real terms. Otherwise they fail to demonstrate that the decline in defense spending as a percentage of GDP is a consequence of growing GDP, not lower spending.

Here’s a chart from the Congressional Budget Office’s report, “The Long Term Implications of the Current Defense Plans,” that does this.

The assumption in analysis like Heritage’s is that defense spending should be a function of economic growth, not enemies and strategies for defending against them.  It’s easy to point out that this is strategically and fiscally foolish. And it’s worth noting, as I have on many occasions, that we face a benign threat environment and can cut defense spending massively as a result.

But there is something weirder going on here that warrants mention.  Arguing that wealth creation should drive defense spending is to attempt to divorce the military from its strategic rationale. That’s an implicit acknowledgement that defense spending is not for safety.  High military spending in this worldview is either an end in itself or a partisan or cultural tool.  That’s not much of a revelation, I guess.

Schneier and Friends on Fixing Airport Security

Security guru Bruce Schneier comes down on the strictly pragmatic side in this essay called “Fixing Airport Security.” Because of terrorism fears, he says, TSA checkpoints are “here to stay.” The rules should be made more transparent. He also argues for an amendment to some constitutional doctrines:

The Constitution provides us, both Americans and visitors to America, with strong protections against invasive police searches. Two exceptions come into play at airport security checkpoints. The first is “implied consent,” which means that you cannot refuse to be searched; your consent is implied when you purchased your ticket. And the second is “plain view,” which means that if the TSA officer happens to see something unrelated to airport security while screening you, he is allowed to act on that. Both of these principles are well established and make sense, but it’s their combination that turns airport security checkpoints into police-state-like checkpoints.

The comments turn up an important recent Fourth Amendment decision circumscribing TSA searches. In a case called United States v. Fofana, the district court for the southern district of Ohio held that a search of passenger bags going beyond what was necessary to detect articles dangerous to air transportation violated the Fourth Amendment. “[T]he need for heightened security does not render every conceivable checkpoint search procedure constitutionally reasonable,” wrote the court.

Application of this rule throughout the country would not end the “police-state-like checkpoint,” but at least rummaging of our things for non-air-travel-security would be restrained.

I prefer principle over pragmatism and would get rid of TSA.

F-22 and the Big Picture

f22_inflightTravis Sharp of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has a good update on the Nukes of Hazard blog about the current congressional politics of the F-22, the Air Force’s favorite air-to-air fighter.

Secretary Gates and the Obama administration, you’ll recall, want to stop buying F-22s. Soon we’ll have bought 187 at $350 million a pop, depending on how you count. With few air forces out there that can rival ours, DoD, sensibly, would rather spend its billions elsewhere.

Congress isn’t so sure. The House Armed Services Committee narrowly voted to include $369 million in the FY 2010 defense authorization bill to keep the F-22 production line open. An amendment to strip that money from the bill didn’t make it out of the Rules Committee.  The Senate probably won’t include the funding in their version. The appropriators haven’t acted yet, but are generally pro-F-22 in both houses. So this will remain a live issue for a while, with resolution probably coming in conference. Meanwhile,  the White House just threatened to veto the defense bill if F-22 money is in it.

The fighter mafia that dominates (dominated?) the Air Force wants more F-22s but has been silenced by Gates, who stuck a non-fighter on the top of the service to tow the company line. Fighter generals on the way to retirement, however, can speak their mind and show Congress where the Air Force’s heart is.

The logic behind keeping the line open is simple. Politically, defense production lines are hungry mouths to feed, a concentrated set of interests that compel their representatives to favor continued procurement or export licenses. Advocates of defense programs understand that political demand will dissipate when the line closes. So when their program is in political trouble, they punt, and ask for just enough money to keep it open, trying to live to play another day.

We should stop buying the F-22. But I worry that doves consume their political energy arguing about the merits of particular defense programs, while mostly ignoring the bloated defense budget and the excessive commitments it underwrites. The F-22 is just a symptom of the larger malady. With all sorts of new spending commitments and a recession, this is a relatively good time to make the case against our hegemonic military posture and its extraordinary cost, fiscal and otherwise. That’s a way to kill the F-22, and more.

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.