The Buzz

The Iran Deal: An Agreement Worth Supporting?

The Buzz

Ahron Shapiro’s critique eloquently expresses the strongest arguments against the P5+1 interim deal. In many ways this debate is “the principle versus the technical.” It’s regrettable that in 2015 the discussion is about how many thousands of centrifuges Iran may continue spinning. The mere fact that we have arrived here reflects a condemnable failure of policy over many years.

Ahron is also absolutely correct in saying that Iran’s nuclear program serves no legitimate civilian purpose. Iran does not require its existing nuclear infrastructure to service its fuel needs. Demanding that Iran dismantle its entire nuclear program on these grounds is therefore a defensible position—just not an effective one.

To say the deal will “legitimize Iran as a nuclear weapons threshold state” is a major overstatement. Once the deal is implemented Iran will have significantly less capacity to build a nuclear bomb than it does now. Although Iran’s nuclear facilities will remain in place, what makes this deal surprisingly effective is the degree to which Iran is surrendering those elements that could lead to a bomb. As Joe Cirincione puts it “Iran gets to keep its buildings. And we get to move out most of the furniture.”

Admittedly, this deal does legitimize Iran’s enrichment activities. This is plainly undesirable and undermines those seeking to limit the kinds of nuclear activities that individual states can legitimately engage in elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the interim deal with regard to enrichment is still quite strong. One risk was that the P5+1 would negotiate a ceiling on the number of centrifuges, while allowing Iran to upgrade its existing cascades with more advanced models. This did not occur. Iran is only permitted to use IR-1s in its enrichment activities, and strict limitations are being placed on Iran’s LEU stockpiles. Ahron’s speculation that Iran may utilize IR-8 centrifuges in its enrichment program is therefore incorrect. Moreover, Foreign Minister Zarif’s claim that Iran may “operate its high-speed centrifuges from the first day” does not contradict this. Iran will be able to undertake “limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges.” Iran will not, however, be permitted to use those centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

Ahron also understandably raises Iran’s refusal to discuss its ballistic missile program, Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and the continued outrages from Tehran denying Israel’s right to exist. These are all serious matters that must be addressed—but the fact is sanctions imposed on Iran’s nuclear program are not in place for this purpose. The interim deal expressly states that “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Finally, Ahron asks two key questions:

1. What happens after the agreement ends?, and;

2. What happens if Iran doesn’t keep to the deal?

When the agreement ends, we will be in another world. The good news is that the interim deal is not one that just allows Iran to bide its time. Another risk in the negotiations was that Iran would get relief from sanctions and achieve acceptance of its nuclear program, only to be in a position to race for bomb on the deal’s expiry date. However the interim deal sufficiently winds back Iran’s existing program in a manner that makes this a difficult proposition. As part of the deal, Iran will be expected to join the IAEA Additional Protocol and comply with an intrusive inspections regime. Once the deal expires those inspections will continue to be in place.

What happens if Iran cheats is perhaps the most important question. I share Ahron’s scepticism regarding the effectiveness of "snap back" provisions for sanctions, especially those sanctions imposed by the UN. For a substantive violation my recommendation would be for a limited military response. For instance, if Iran was found to be secretly enriching uranium then the offending sites should be targeted. Leaving the remaining facilities unscathed (at least at first) would provide Iran with a clear incentive for returning swiftly to compliance. Moreover, a targeted military strike against Iran under those conditions would likely be seen as legitimate by the international community, far more so than any such action would be today.

This is where Israel should have focused its attention. Obtaining from the US clear and specific commitments as to what consequences Iran would face for cheating would have been an achievable and useful Israeli objective.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

TopicsDefense RegionsMiddle East

America's Military Is the Best: What about the Acquisition Process?

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According to Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology—in other words, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer—the state of military acquisition in the United States is fairly good today.

Whether one ultimately agrees or not, this is a welcome antidote to the more frequent media focus on nonperforming weapons, cost overruns, Congressional logrolling, and other narratives that characterize much of the discussion of the state of American military acquisition in the modern world.

Kendall appeared at a Brookings event on Monday April 13, at which he again discussed his “better buying power” initiatives that have characterized his tenure at the under secretary position, a job he has held since 2012.

Eschewing any belief in silver bullets as a way to improve how DoD equips today’s American soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine, he made a pitch for a broad-based, incrementalist approach focused largely on making gradual improvements to the quality of the Pentagon’s acquisition workforce. That is a civilian-dominated group, numbering some 150,000 full-time federal employees, in DC and around the country.

The current version of better buying power, known as version “3.0,” advocates as a key theme further empowerment and education of DoD’s program managers—the individuals who supervise specific weapons buying efforts for the military services.

Kendall gave a grade of “B+, maybe A-“to the overall DoD acquisition process. Many will find that surprisingly good. And perhaps there is an element of “grading one’s own homework” going on; after all, Kendall has been running this effort long enough to want to believe that things are going fairly well.

But in fairness, he made a pretty good case. America’s weapons are easily the best in the world. And while development costs for new weapons frequently exceed estimates, some of that is the inevitable consequence of the fact that invention is a messy and unpredictable process. Once DoD gets into the production phase, it does better, according to Kendall, with weapons cost growth more modest (perhaps 10 percent, in contrast to 30 percent in the R&D phase, he said). These figures are not universally accepted, but the thrust of his comments was certainly credible.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn spoke next at the event. He concurred with Kendall’s grade for how DoD, and the industrial base of private firms making equipment for the American military, perform in regard to major weapons systems. But Lynn was more critical of how the Pentagon handles information technology, saying that DoD tends to have big problems with anything affected by Moore’s Law. (Indeed, Kendall himself had acknowledged that bringing new computer technologies into the arsenal, through faster and more modular approaches, is where DoD can and should improve the most.) Lynn gave this part of the Pentagon system a grade of perhaps C-.

Lynn’s arguments also included the observation that DoD needs to involve a broader community of equipment providers. Since the Cold War ended, it has depended a bit too much on a relatively small number of U.S. firms whose primary focus is defense. These firms are excellent, to be sure. But there is not quite enough back and forth with the commercial world, not enough willingness in the Pentagon to purchase from foreign providers, and insufficient outreach to Silicon Valley. All of this at a time when traditional defense firms are scaling back their own R&D investments and potentially failing to develop and offer up an adequate portfolio of affordable new technologies for the future U.S. military.

Brookings fellow and Coast Guard officer Jason Tama rounded out the discussion, picking up where Lynn left off on the issue of Silicon Valley. He drove home the importance of making information technology and computer firms feel that they can access, and navigate, the DoD procurement labrynth, without risking intellectual property rights or reasonable profit margins along the way.

He also favored a more flexible and adaptable Pentagon civil service, including for the acquisition workforce. According to Tama, that approach should allow people to move in and out of government more easily as a way to induce more talented young people to work for the feds—and along the way, to change its culture in ways that would in fact make Silicon Valley feel more drawn to the military acquisition system.

On the whole, the event produced lots of calls for ongoing, patient reforms. No one proposed any panaceas—say, a new type of federal procurement contract system that would ensure fewer cost overruns, or a new piece of federal legislation that could solve most remaining problems for us quickly and easily.

While the panelists underscored the need for continued improvement and reform, it was also refreshing to hear that at least certain parts of the DoD system merited respectable assessments, in their eyes.

The system needs big improvement in some ways, especially in regard to IT and computers, but at the same time, it is far from broken. In a messy and scandal-plagued world, and a partisan and often gridlocked Washington, that is a nice message to hear—even if it must not be confused with a call to complacency.

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow and director of research in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.

Image: Flickr/ U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos

TopicsSecurity RegionsAmericas

Operation Desert Fox: A Blueprint for Crushing Iran's Nuclear Program?

The Buzz

In an interview with the Family Research Council last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) described what U.S. military action against Iran’s nuclear-related facilities would entail:

“The president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case. It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox: Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior—for interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we’re asking is that the president simply be as tough in the protection of America’s national security interest as Bill Clinton was.”

Several policymakers and analysts have correctly pointed out that Cotton vastly underestimates the costs and consequences involved with bombing Iran’s nuclear program. Beyond underselling the difficulty of such an attack, Cotton either misrepresents or misunderstands what really happened during the four-day U.S. and UK bombing of Iraq in December 1998. Though Operation Desert Fox is now routinely misremembered as such, in reality, it was not a bombing campaign intended to “take out” Iraq’s WMD program. Rather, it was designed and executed to punish the Saddam Hussein regime by degrading Iraq’s air defenses, killing Hussein’s security forces, and damaging missile and aircraft delivery systems for potential WMDs.

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It is essential to know that the Operation Desert Fox target list was not primarily WMD-related. In fact, when Secretary of Defense William Cohen briefed the press about the scope of targets, he did not mention WMD at all:

• I want to stress that this military action is substantial. It is inflicting significant damage on the seven target categories that we have selected. These are as follows"

• Iraq’s air defense system.

• The command and control system that Saddam Hussein uses to direct his military and to repress his people.

• The security forces and facilities to protect and hide his efforts to develop or maintain the deadly chemical and biological weapons. These are the forces that have worked to prevent the United Nations inspectors from doing their jobs.

• The industrial base that Saddam Hussein uses to sustain and deliver his deadly weapons.

(Recommended: 5 Iranian Weapons of War America Should Fear)

• His military infrastructure, including the elite Republican Guard forces that pose the biggest threat to his neighbors and protect his weapons of mass destruction

• The airfields and refinery that produces oil products that Iraq smuggles in violation of economic sanctions.

conversation between President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that took place one day into the 1998 Iraq bombing was just released by the Clinton Presidential Library. During the phone call, Clinton stated, “The first thing we try to take out is their integrated communications and air defense systems.” Similarly, any bombing of Iran’s known nuclear program would absolutely start with establishing air superiority with a broad-based series of cruise missile and airstrikes against Iran’s integrated air defense system.

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In reality, only 12 percent of Operation Desert Fox’s intended targets were related to Iraq’s possible WMD sites—several of which were under full-time United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) camera monitoring. The one-hundred planned targets included twelve WMD industry and production facilities, and eighteen WMD security sites (the barracks and headquarters for Hussein’s most elite military units that primarily protected regime leadership). The other non-WMD or -missile targets included thirty-four air defense installations, twenty command and control sites, nine Republic Guard barracks, six airfields, and one oil refinery.

Moreover, degrading Iraq’s integrated air defense system and the regime’s command and control capabilities was easy since American and British pilots had been patrolling the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq for six years. The intelligence staffs for Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch had carefully mapped and continuously tracked every threatening air defense radar, anti-aircraft gun, and towed or mobile surface-to-air missile systems that Iraq possessed. In addition, the CIA had penetrated UNSCOM weapons inspection teams, including its communication relay towers, to collect information on Iraq’s military communications. The U.S. military and Intelligence Community (IC) had unique insights into Iraq in 1998, which they would not enjoy in Iran today.

Though the target sets were well known and threat environment minimal, Operation Desert Fox was not a resounding military success. This, despite President Clinton, without prompting, increasing the number of authorized cruise missiles and air sorties initially proposed to him from 300 and 700, to 400 and 800, respectively, according to then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton. There were 275 aim-points (211 of which were partially or fully struck) amongst the one-hundred planned targets: forty-three targets were severely damaged or destroyed, thirty moderately damaged, twelve lightly, and thirteen untouched. Afterward, Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), characterized the bombing as “74 percent successful.” Pentagon and CENTCOM officials wanted to restrike several of these targets, but the White House insisted that the bombing be completed by the start of Ramadan. Sen. Cotton would probably not tout Operation Desert Fox so glowingly if he knew it had lasted only four days out of concern for political sensitivities in the Muslim world.

In total, Iraq’s ballistic missile production capabilities were set back about one to two years, and 1,400 of Hussein’s military and security forces were killed and wounded. Within just fourteen months, U.S. satellite imagery and intelligence reports revealed that Iraq had rebuilt several of the alleged WMD and missile facilities that were damaged. Worse, the IC lost what little direct access it had to these sites when UNSCOM inspectors were kicked out after the four-day bombing ceased. As the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted in its 2004 report on pre-war intelligence of Iraq, “Most of the intelligence community’s knowledge of Iraqi WMD programs was obtained from, in conjunction with, and in support of the UNSCOM inspections…When UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, the [IC] was left with a limited unilateral collection capability against Iraq’s WMD…The CIA did not have any WMD sources in Iraq after 1998.”

After several media outlets questioned Sen. Cotton’s assertion last week, his communications director clarified his thinking: “We think Desert Fox is a very close comparison. It serves as an analogy of the intent, execution and objective for that type of operation [long-range strike to target weapons facilities].” Yet, Operation Desert Fox is a poor historical analogy for thinking about bombing Iran’s nuclear program. This is because the 1998 military operation had little to do with Iraq’s WMD program, and everything to do with punishing Saddam Hussein. If Cotton truly desires to (temporarily) punish and coerce the leadership in Tehran, and lose direct insights into Iran’s nuclear sites, then Operation Desert Fox is indeed a useful comparison.

This piece was first posted on CFR’s website here

TopicsDefense RegionsMiddle East

China's Next Super Weapon Revealed: Satellite Destroyers

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China will soon be able to destroy every satellite in space, a senior U.S. military official has said.

According to Breaking Defense, Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of the 14th Air Force, said this week that China’s amassing formidable anti-satellite capabilities. Raymond claimed that Beijing is already capable of holding every low-orbit satellite at risk, and “soon every satellite in every orbit will be able to be held at risk” by China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities.

Speaking at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs this week, Raymond also confirmed that China’s anti-satellite missile test last July was a success.

As I reported elsewhere, last July, China claimed it had successfully tested a ballistic missile defense system. However, a week later, the U.S. government revealed that the test was actually of an anti-satellite missile.

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“We call on China to refrain from destabilizing actions—such as the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems—that threaten the long term security and sustainability of the outer space environment, on which all nations depend,” the State Department said at the time, Space News reported. “The United States continuously looks to ensure its space systems are safe and resilient against emerging space threats.”

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It was not the first time that China had tried to conceal its ASAT tests. For example, in May 2013, China claimed that it had launched a rocket into space from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China. State-run media reported in 2013 that, “the experiment was designed to investigate energetic particles and magnetic fields in the ionized stratum and near-Earth space. According to a preliminary analysis by the NSSC [National Space Science Center], the experiment has reached expected objectives by allowing scientists to obtain first-hand data regarding the space environment at different altitudes.”

Almost immediately following the test, U.S. officials began raising questions about it, suggesting off-the-record that China had in fact tested a new ASAT missile: the Dong Ning-2 (DN-2). The DN-2 is a ground-based, high earth-orbit attack missile.

Later, a report by the Secure World Foundation (SWF) concluded that:

The available evidence strongly suggests that China’s May 2013 launch was the test of the rocket component of a new direct ascent ASAT weapons system derived from a road-mobile ballistic missile. The system appears to be designed to place a kinetic kill vehicle on a trajectory to deep space that could reach medium earth orbit (MEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO). If true, this would represent a  significant development in China’s ASAT capabilities.

To be fair, the technologies for anti-satellite and ballistic missile defense systems are very similar. Indeed, China has used the SC-19 missile for some of its past ballistic missile defense tests, as well as its direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) tests. Regardless of the precise missile employed, ballistic missile intercepts and anti-satellite missiles both use hit-to-kill technologies to accomplish their missions.

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China also used the SC-19 missile to destroy an aging weather satellite in January 2007. China faced strong international condemnation after announcing that test. Since then, it has concealed its anti-satellite tests, including ones in 2010 and January 2013.

As I’ve noted before:

The military applications of ASAT missiles appear fairly obvious. China would seek to use the ASAT missiles to knock out U.S. satellites in order to degrade its C5ISR capabilities, rendering distributed U.S. military and allied assets unable to communicate or share information. The U.S. is seeking to counter China’s growing capabilities in this area in a number of ways, including through creating greater redundancy in its own systems.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Luo Shaoyang/CC by 2.0


Why the Iran Deal is Dangerous: The Nuclear Threshold State Challenge

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If the recent Iranian nuclear framework deal progresses into an actual signed agreement, it would legitimize Iran as a nuclear weapons threshold state by allowing it to maintain a vast nuclear infrastructure.

The finer points of the deal that remain to be finalized by June 30 are more or less the mechanisms upon which the world would rely to try prevent Iran from weaponzing their nuclear material if they so choose—try being the operative word.

Like the ill-fated case of North Korea, this plan depends heavily on inspections. There is little reason to believe it would be more effective this time around.

This was not the kind of deal that US President Barack Obama said would be safe and acceptable in the past. Why is it somehow safe and acceptable now?

The inescapable fact is that President Obama has repeatedly rolled back his requirements for nuclear safeguards on Iran. He has done so for no apparent reason other than that Iran objected to them, and he was determined to get a deal.

In the 2012 Presidential Debate, President Obama was unequivocal. "Our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the UN resolutions [against Iran’s illegal nuclear program] that have been in place," he said, adding that "we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program."

However, in an interim agreement with Iran, signed in Geneva in November 2013, the US conceded a nuclear program to Iran—provided it only retained the elements required for civilian and peaceful applications.

At the Saban Forum in Washington the following month, Obama volunteered three unacceptable aspects of Iran’s nuclear program that he would target in a final agreement:

"In terms of specifics, we know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program."

Now, with the Lausanne agreement, keeping Iran’s enrichment consistent with a civilian nuclear program is passé. The stated goal has now become keeping Iran a year away from building a bomb, for a period of 10 years (according to Iran) or 15 years (according to the US).

The only real benchmark that appears to have been used for estimating Iran’s breakout time to a bomb would be the time it would take for Iran’s centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels—a formula based on the idea that Iran will keep a set number of known centrifuges running and thousands of others under a temporary seal, though it would not be required to dismantling any of them. Moreover, it assumed Iran will not utilize its newly developed IR-8 centrifuges, which are up to 20 times more efficient than the IR-1 models it primarily uses for enrichment today.

According to all versions of the framework agreement, Iran would not have to close any nuclear facility, including Fordo and Arak, and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif insists the framework would permit Iran to operate its high-speed centrifuges from the first day the signed deal becomes effective.

This is the deal Iran wanted.

Iran was never willing to discuss its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose sole effective purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads. Nor was Iran willing to negotiate its support for Hezbollah or Hamas, or willing to consider recognizing Israel or even to simply stop threatening its annihilation.

Iran’s leaders weren’t willing to negotiate over these issues, and the US didn’t press them to.

Iran has failed to fully comply with every nuclear deal it has agreed to in the past—including the interim deal currently in place. But even if Iran was to adhere to the kind of deal suggested by the Lausanne framework, what would happen after the agreement ends?

What happens if they don’t keep to the deal? President Obama speaks of sanctions that "snap back" into place. This is fanciful—given the complex nature of global economics—and misunderstands the nature of sanctions, which require a long time to have any effect.

As for verification and inspections, there’s no indication that Iran will be willing to give inspectors unfettered "anytime, anywhere" access, nor would any deal be capable of regulating secret nuclear facilities that Iran might choose to construct, as it has in the past.

Moreover, the Lausanne framework ignores the disastrous effect that having Iran legitimized as a nuclear weapon threshold state will have on a Middle East already in turmoil.

Ending Iran’s nuclear program—Obama’s original goal—however challenging, would unquestionably have solved the Iranian nuclear problem. Restricting Iran’s nuclear program to civilian capabilities would have been risky, but arguably manageable.

With the adaptation of the dangerous Lausanne parameters, however, the Obama administration has gambled global security on the mere hope that Iran can be prevented from weaponizing in the future, even against its best efforts.

With a signed deal months away at best, and Tehran still very vulnerable to sanctions, it’s not too late to re-open the debate and find a less dangerous alternative that we all can live with.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: Creative Commons 3.0.

TopicsIran RegionsMiddle East

A New Twist in the South China Sea Showdown

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Elections are rarely decided by foreign policy issues, but election results can decide foreign policy issues.

The 2016 Philippines presidential election looks like it could lead to a sharp change in Manila's approach to its maritime boundary disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea. The US, Indonesia and Vietnam are taking firmer and more active positions on the South China Sea disputes involving China in the face of Beijing's aggressive reclamation activities targeting Philippine claims. President Aquino has won international support for the Philippines' firm stance.

But his most likely successor could significantly soften Philippine policy towards China on this issue.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay, despite being the focus of a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating alleged corruption, is the clear front-runner for the 2016 elections. In the latest Pulse Asia poll on 2016 presidential candidates, Binay garnered 29% support, a clear 15% ahead of Senator Grace Poe in second at 14% and a full 25% ahead of Manuel 'Mar' Roxas (Aquino's presumed favoured candidate), at 4%.

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Binay has no foreign policy experience, having risen to national prominence as long-time Mayor of Makati, the wealthiest city in Metro Manila and the country. In one of his first extended interviews addressing foreign policy issues, Binay focused on the prospects for joint Philippines-Chinese development of natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, and downplayed the case filed by the Aquino Administration to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea regarding the Philippines' maritime boundary disputes with China. The ruling on this landmark case is expected to be delivered in mid-2016, potentially at the same time Binay takes over as president.

If Binay wins and follows through on these views, it would be a return to the policy preferred by Aquino's predecessor, President Macapagal-Arroyo. Macapagal-Arroyo's joint development plans with China were widely viewed as unconstitutional. In the face of this furore, in 2009, the Macapagal-Arroyo Administration did not renew the 2004 joint seismic study agreement signed in China covering the disputed waters. When Aquino took office in 2010, he and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario quickly adopted a much firmer stance.

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The foreshadowing of a second reversal of Philippines policy on its maritime boundary dispute with China in two presidential terms shows how divided the Philippine political elite and their financial backers are on this issue and its place in Philippines-China relations. A second reversal in two presidential terms would rightfully reinforce views within ASEAN, and in Washington and Tokyo, about the unreliability of the flip-flopping Philippines, and would throw into doubt the wisdom of aligning their South China Sea approaches with the policy prevailing in Manila at any given moment.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Wikipedia. 

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

The New U.S. Maritime Strategy: Taking on China's Rising Military Might

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The revised version of the US maritime strategy (A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower - CS-21R), released last month, has been generating excitement in maritime circles. The new document updates concepts and strategies in the original 2007 document (CS-21) to make them more relevant in the current maritime environment. It is especially valuable for clearly identifying Chinese assertiveness as a threat, for making existing strategy more relevant, and for providing specific ways to guide operational thinking in strategic scenarios.

From an Asian perspective, the document's release is timely. Not only has the US been expanding the scope of its operations with Asian littoral states, regional maritime forces have been grappling with a complex set of challenges. To its credit, the new maritime strategy attempts to comprehensively address the entire spectrum of nautical issues, pulling together diverse strands such as nationalistic posturing in the Asia-Pacific, nontraditional security challenges in the broader maritime littorals, new technologies complicating security responses, and even fiscal prudence as a key consideration in planning future maritime operations.

Like its predecessor, the new document underscores maritime cooperation as the foundational principle of effective maritime security. However, departing from the earlier version's articulation of the concept as a kind of doctrinal "end" in itself, CS-21R presents maritime cooperation and transnational partnerships as a strategic imperative in achieving long-term security objectives. This difference, although marginal, is instructive because it implies a greater keenness on the part of the US Navy (USN) to engage and involve partner-navies in its maritime endeavors. Consequently, the new document advocates a more purposeful engagement with allies and partners to achieve greater synergy in security operations.

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The most noticeable aspect of the CS-21R is its clear acknowledgement of China as a key challenge. Unlike its predecessor, the new document candidly recognizes China's maritime expansion and territorial claims as a source of regional unrest. But it stops short of recognizing China's A2/AD challenge, desisting from making the all-important link, even as it pronounces "all-domain access" as a strategic prerequisite to all its global endeavors. Yet, it raises the possibility of nautical strife arising from the military resurgence of another Asia-Pacific power, Russia. Since traditional challenges are only likely to grow, the document projects "forward presence" as the bedrock of the USN's future security undertakings. The authors explain the need for a joint force to gain and sustain security operations, even as they emphasize flexibility, adaptability, scalability and integration in the sea services.

The CS-21R makes clear that while the United States is exporting more energy than it imports, it remains tied to the global economy. Since the latter remains wholly dependent on the uninterrupted supply of oil and gas from the Middle East and Central Asia, the USN would continue to play an important role in securing oil-flows by forward deploying in key theatres. Oddly, however, the emphasis on forward operations isn't borne out by the dim prospects of future growth in naval force levels. According to the authors, the USN's current budget submission provides for just about 300 ships, of which 120 will be forward deployed by 2020. This is a marginal rise from current force levels - leading to some doubts whether the Navy will at all be able to sustain forward presence in critical areas of operations.

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The new maritime strategy, however, offers some pointers in terms of operational imperatives and trends. The emphasis on cyber warfare, electro-magnetic spectrum operations, battle-space awareness and cross-domain synergy is a useful illustration of the evolving needs of contemporary naval engagement. It is also a reminder that even as navies learn to operate in a climate of financial hardship, they must utilize available means innovatively to effectively tackle nontraditional and regular challenges simultaneously.

Equally interesting, from an Asian perspective, is the introduction of the term "Indo-Asia-Pacific" - an integrated region where the "US Rebalance" is meant to play out. While the document announces a new policy aimed at positioning approximately 60 percent of Navy ships and aircraft in the said region, it does not make a case for distributing resources equally in the Western Pacific and broader Indian Ocean. With increased assets in Japan, Guam, Singapore, and Australia, it is clear the thrust of the Navy's operational focus continues to be in the Pacific theatre.

To be sure, the CS-21R's framers devote renewed attention to regions that were neglected in the previous version. But it doesn't appear entirely plausible. For instance, the reappearance of Europe and Middle East as theatres of strategic attention - though well-reasoned, as a contingency occasioned by the USN's need to operate in the Mediterranean, the Levant and Northwest Asia - seems like an exercise in box-checking.  It is unclear how the US intends to provide security around the Eurasian landmass while forward deploying a majority of its operational assets in the Pacific.

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The document's exposition of naval power projection as a form of "smart power" is noteworthy, particularly the notion that classical naval capabilities can be used in benign missions such as HADR (as demonstrated by the USN during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines). It is also noteworthy that the document expands the US Coast Guard (USCG) role in maritime security. Underlining the USCG's stellar contribution in building partner-state capacity for maritime governance, the authors announce the coast guard as the lead agency responsible for security in the Western hemisphere. The raised profile of the USCG also raises the possibility that the service could support conventional maritime operations in the Eastern Pacific during a conflict with China.

Ironically, the only noticeable gray-area in CS-21R - apart from the issue of squaring budgets with resources - involves China. The PLA-Navy is growing in size and will soon be the largest presence in the Asia-Pacific region. From a strategy of area-denial the Chinese navy might soon move to one of area-dominance (worryingly not just in the Pacific but also in the Indian Ocean). That means that the US will need to counter China's A2/AD strategy in its near-waters and be prepared to defeat PLAN forces in the far-seas. With its existing force levels in the region, however, it seems unlikely the USN will have the capability for both sea-control and active war-fighting.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the South China Sea, where the US and its allies are involved in a power struggle with China. Washington realizes its limitations, which is why the "Air-Sea Battle" concept has been recently recast as the "Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver," presumably in a bid to make it seem less confrontational to China. In fact, the USN has not only toned down rhetoric on countering China's A2/AD complex, it has also been building a closer relationship with the PLAN. Not surprisingly, the new maritime strategy highlights Beijing's efforts to be a responsible maritime player, extolling its support for Somalia counter-piracy operations, the PLAN's HADR missions, and participation in multinational naval exercises, and the signing of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) that has served to reduce suspicion in maritime Asia.

For Asian analysts, there is much to be gleaned from CS-21R. Its characterization of the emerging maritime dynamic in the Asia-Pacific is apt and holds revealing lessons for other navies. But it is Washington's willingness to articulate a strategy that identifies Chinese assertiveness as a threat that is most refreshing, especially since earlier documents sought to tip-toe around the contentious subject. In fact, now that the US has clearly called out the China threat, other Asia-Pacific powers might be encouraged to follow suit in the revision of their own maritime strategies.

In the pursuit of the objectives laid out in the new maritime strategy, the Indian navy (IN) is likely to be a key partner. But New Delhi is aware that Washington's dependence on regional states is growing. There will be a stronger demand by the USN for high-end collaboration with the Indian navy. So far, India has parried US efforts to link IN-USN cooperation to larger issues of global balance of power. But increasingly, there is a sense that India is expected to not just shoulder a larger proportion of the security workload in the Indian Ocean, but also partner with the US in limiting China's freedom of action in the broader Indo-Pacific. The message in the new maritime strategy is clear: "load-sharing" is now the animating ideology of the USN's concept of collaborative operations and it applies to both irregular and traditional forms of security.

The CS-21R is a credible attempt to refine an existing strategy to make it more relevant to the times. It gives practitioners concrete tangibles to guide operational thinking in strategic scenarios. But it honestly acknowledges that the US isn't the sole arbiter of maritime security in the global commons.

Abhijit Singh is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) at New Delhi and specializes in maritime security affairs. This piece first appeared in the CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here.

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This Country Is 'Sandwiched' Between America and China

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South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se has been defending remarks in a speech to the Korean diplomatic corps that characterized South Korea's position between China and the United States as a "great blessing" and emphasized the "strategic ambiguity" of his government's policies. Washington has been pressing Seoul to consent to deployment of a sophisticated missile defense system on South Korean soil, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), while Beijing has been trying to persuade Seoul to join its project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as a founding member (Seoul agreed on March 26).

South Korea is sandwiched between these two great powers, but rather than seeing this as a dilemma, Yun sees a great diplomatic and strategic opportunity for Korea, as a middle power with significant autonomy, to affect the policies of the superpowers for the benefit of the whole region. Yun's remarks signal a new and constructive approach, which is welcome. Yet his use of the phrase "great blessing" has provoked a backlash among political and diplomatic commentators because South Korean opinion is polarized about THAAD deployment and about joining the AIIB. Will THAAD work? Is a multiple-interception structure necessary to protect the US and South Korean militaries? Is it worth the diplomatic fallout? Are China's proposals - to rehabilitate its traditional Silk Road routes and integrating them with maritime routes connecting the Korean Peninsula to Europe - timely and plausible?

South Korea's Interests

South Korea should explore new markets and investment opportunities: its factories in China - making cars, phones, and other goods - face rising labor costs so it is natural to look further afield. And of course, South Korea should continue to sustain regional peace and stability through its security alliance with the US, not least to deter North Korean threats, from weapons of mass destruction to cyber-attacks. South Korea has only recently begun to appreciate the leverage it has as a middle power and to implement appropriate policies, for example Trustpolitik, the Eurasia Initiative, and the Korean Peninsula Process known as the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI).

Through such policies, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has made a good, if rather belated, start. She is now pursuing middle-power diplomacy with neighboring countries and with the US. Inevitably, however, Seoul will be pulled in two directions: both China, as the emerging power, and the US, as a relatively declining power, have a strong interest in shaping South Korea as a pliant and predictable actor, but South Korea can and must continue to build its capacity to act autonomously.

A Balanced Foreign Policy

South Korea's greatest long-term strategic challenge is how to maintain the US alliance, with its Cold War origins and legacies, while a second great power emerges as a rival to the US. In attempting to manage this issue, Korean policy-makers must consider the best advice from shrewd and experienced analysts, taking into account national security, economics, and international relations. Recent heated disputes have highlighted the difficulties. If the transition is to be managed through a balanced foreign policy that articulates strategic ambiguity then, so far as possible, each great power should be "ambiguously accommodated." Some have derided this strategy as "premature appeasement" in regard to China but Yun's recent remarks have focused attention on questions that need to be considered in an era of geopolitical transition.

The "great blessing" debate can be distilled to three questions. First, is China's rise real and permanent? Second, does this mean that US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific will become unsustainable? And third, given the expected increase in China's relative power and the unpredictability of tensions between China and the US, is it better for South Korea to stand firm in its strategic position, as Japan is doing, or to hedge its bets by at least partially accommodating China?

Yun has highlighted the position of Park's government. He believes that Seoul's strategic cooperative partnership with Beijing is strong enough to withstand disturbances arising from Seoul's attempts to nurture its security relationship with Washington, so that a dangerous crisis is unlikely. He also assumes that South Korea can and must remain on good terms with both great powers; it should pursue South Korea's own interests, and scrupulously refrain from any partisan alignment. Yun appears to conclude that Seoul has an opportunity to develop more autonomy through the rise in Chinese power and influence. He believes that by not taking a definite position in the struggle between the two superpowers South Korea can avoid ending up on the losing side, though perhaps incurring the displeasure of one or both.

The Burden of Ambiguity

An earlier attempt at balancing China and the US by Roh Moo-hyun was unsuccessful since he was widely regarded as anti-American. Yun's approach is much more plausible, however, and has much to recommend it, though it will not be an easy path to follow. He proposes to escape the strategic dilemma of choosing one of the great powers by playing them against each other. But such a stance must be driven by the issues of the day, and will always be a difficult and unstable burden for South Korea. For example, THAAD deployment could be interpreted as a quid pro quo for South Korea's joining the AIIB; but any attempts to treat China and the US equivalently will always be subject to criticism from both. What concessions are appropriate in any given situation will remain contentious: too little will be judged unsatisfactory, and too much might destabilize the entire region by providing a critical advantage to one great power. Nevertheless, South Korea's current position offers new opportunities: it is a great blessing, not an intractable dilemma.

This piece first appeared in the CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here.

Image: US Government. 

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The Ultimate Nightmare: A Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East

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If the framework announced in Switzerland on April 2 regarding Iran's nuclear program and detailed in a US State Department Fact Sheet is successfully carried forward to an agreed Plan of Action (due to be concluded by June 30), it will be a major achievement.

But it should not be seen as the end of the process. It is a definitive step, but it will need to be followed by a number of concrete actions before we can consider that the Iranian nuclear problem has been resolved.

If the deal is agreed in June, and if it is faithfully implemented, it will give all parties – Iran, its neighbors, and the wider international community – 15 years of breathing space. It is essential to use this time effectively to ensure the deal doesn't just kick the can down the road. During this period decisions need to be made by Iran and others to ensure that the Middle East does not end up in a South Asia-style nuclear arms race.

It is by no means a forgone conclusion that Iran wants nuclear weapons, though Iran no doubt believes that having the capability to produce nuclear weapons within a relatively short time – what is termed nuclear hedging – has major strategic value. It is essential to ensure that the consequences for crossing the threshold remain high enough to deter Iran from doing so. This will require the US to keep a high level of engagement in Middle East affairs for the foreseeable future.

But having Iran maintain “just” a hedging posture cannot be considered a good outcome – we have already seen some of Iran's neighbors wanting to develop nuclear programs that will give them a similar capability. A situation of strategic competition in nuclear capability will be destabilizing for the Middle East.

With the problem of hedging in mind, an objective earlier in these negotiations was to establish the principle that Iran's uranium enrichment capability should be directly linked to its demonstrated nuclear fuel needs. In current circumstances these needs are zero, because Russia is willing to supply fuel for the lifetime of Iran's only power reactor, at Bushehr. For the future, Iran says it plans a number of reactors, both imported (Russia has agreed to build eight, and would supply the fuel) and indigenous.

But there is a dilemma in pushing the capability-not-exceeding-needs argument: the scale of any power generation need is much greater than Iran's existing capability. Enrichment capability is measured in separative work units (SWU). Currently Iran has installed enrichment centrifuges totaling around 20,000 SWU, and is operating centrifuges totaling around 8000 SWU. Iran's main enrichment facility, at Natanz, has room for 50,000 centrifuges – between 40,000 SWU (based on Iran's first generation centrifuges) and perhaps 250,000 SWU if using more advanced models. This compares with the capacity required to produce the annual fuel requirements for just one Bushehr-size reactor, around 120,000 SWU (and three times this to produce the initial fuel load). Only 5000 SWU are required to produce sufficient HEU (highly enriched uranium) for one nuclear weapon.

So, the scale of a “legitimate” enrichment program easily dwarfs Iran's current program. This could be why the capacity/needs principle was dropped from the negotiations. But it is an important principle, and it should never be accepted that nuclear hedging is a legitimate purpose under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a “peaceful” nuclear program. The last thing anyone – including Iran – would want is a proliferation of enrichment or reprocessing programs. It is essential for the international community to use the 15-year breathing space to address this problem of nuclear hedging.

In this regard the most useful action would be to establish a system of international nuclear fuel supply guarantees so no country can claim it needs an enrichment program to ensure security of supply. Where new enrichment (or reprocessing) programs do proceed, these should not be national programs but controlled on a regional or international basis. Convincing alternatives are needed to show Iran and other prospective newcomers that they have no legitimate reason for pursuing a national program in proliferation-sensitive technologies.

Another essential project to pursue during the breathing space is a Middle East WMD-free zone. Iran must be persuaded that the best way of ensuring its long-term national security is not through nuclear capability but through the establishment of such a zone, a point recently made by Saudi Arabia. If Iran pursues nuclear weapons, or a stronger hedging posture, its current advantage will erode over time as others pursue the same. Eventually Iran will find itself with nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable neighbors, and its strategic circumstances will be substantially worse than anything it can imagine today.

The same challenge confronts Israel. If others in the region become nuclear armed or even just nuclear capable, the strategic advantage Israel now enjoys will disappear. It would be very risky to rely on nuclear deterrence in these circumstances. For Israel as well as Iran, a WMD-free zone offers the best long-term future. This means that eventually Israel will have to divest itself of nuclear weapons. This may seem unthinkable today, but a future where others in the region also have nuclear weapons is even more unthinkable. Others in the region must be realistic; Israel cannot be expected to disarm as a pre-condition for a WMD-free zone. But Israel must be prepared to think in terms of a phased approach, disarming in stages as a WMD-free zone is established and is shown to be effective.

The Iran deal may present a 15-year breathing space, but the negotiating parties (the P5+1) cannot afford to rest on their laurels. To resolve the challenges discussed here will require a program of work every bit as intensive as over the past several years.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

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The Real Iran Nuclear Dilemma No One Is Talking About

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In 2003, a “perfect storm” of intersecting developments saw Tehran caught with one hand in the nuclear weapon cookie jar (secretly enriching uranium), despite having joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and given assurances that it would do no such thing. The Iranian regime was humiliated.

India and Pakistan had endured sustained condemnation when they declared their nuclear-armed status via a blizzard of tests in 1998, but they were known proliferation risks and had declined to join the NPT. Even the DPRK—not a state that anyone wants to be compared to—had gone through the formality of withdrawing from the NPT in April 2003, to (redundantly) signal its intent to pursue a nuclear weapon capability.

Iran opted to bluff its way through. Tehran steadfastly denied that it had an obligation to restore confidence in its compliance with the NPT. It insisted that everything the IAEA could discover was consistent with its intention to build a substantial network of nuclear power stations. It maintained that it was also exercising its rights under the NPT to acquire its own capacities to fuel its future reactors with enriched uranium and (potentially) plutonium. For its part, the US insisted that Iran had to get out of the enrichment business.

Twelve years later, on April 2, 2015, negotiators from China, France, Germany, Russian, America and Iran announced agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning special arrangements to bolster confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in intent and that it has no aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons. The JCPOA—details of which can be found here—is commendably comprehensive, addressing both the enriched uranium and plutonium paths to the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Enrichment capacity will be cut by two-thirds and technological development precluded for 10 years; stocks of low-enriched uranium are set to be reduced to token levels for 15 years; the IAEA will have enhanced visibility of and access to Iranian nuclear facilities to verify compliance with the new agreement.

The central bargain may well have been Iran’s acceptance of the need for “special arrangements” with the US conceding retention of an enrichment capacity, albeit on that’s circumscribed. If one looks at the key players, the regional context over recent decades and the broader global developments on the nuclear weapon front, easily the most surprising thing about this agreement is that it happened at all.

Support for the agreement, generally on arms control grounds, has been qualified while opposition to it has been markedly more absolute and trenchant. The Australian’s Greg Sheridan  called the deal “a dismal outcome for the world” as the restraints on Iran’s nuclear activities are either reversible or expire after 10–15 years while economic sanctions, once lifted, are unlikely to be re-imposed if Iran misbehaves.

Henry Kissinger and George Shultz share Sheridan’s disappointment, contending that the deal won’t stop Iran’s nuclear potential from stoking anxieties in the Arab world that, in the final analysis, Washington will have to deal with. They stress that Iranian–Arab rivalries have been shaped over millennia, making a decade of restraint of little consequence to Arab states.

Coming to a comfortable judgement on the utility of this deal is not easy. But most criticisms fail to consider what alternative courses of action were both feasible and likely to deliver better outcomes. If abandoning enrichment had been made non-negotiable, the options might have been continual intensification of economic sanctions—with the mounting risk that Russia and China would trigger either a break in the ranks—or the use of force.

America still has unique capacities to attract support and make things happen, but it’s relative power and room for maneuver, including on the home front, isn’t what it used to be. Even the use of force could only delay an Iran determined to acquire nuclear weapons. The fact is that the character of the non-proliferation challenge has been transformed.

Acquiring nuclear weapons is not a trivial undertaking but neither is it any longer a massive, complex challenge fraught with uncertainty and the risk of failure. The decision of whether Iran becomes a nuclear-armed state rests entirely in their hands, just as it does for a significant number of other countries around the world, including Australia.

If Iran remains a non-nuclear weapons state indefinitely, it’ll be because that’s its preference. Many factors (and states) will shape the outcome on this question, not just Washington and not just this agreement.

The JCPOA is an interim agreement. Many crucial details—not least concerning the verification arrangements and the lifting of sanctions—still have to be thought through, agreed, and expressed in clear language before June 30, 2015.

Iran’s supreme leader has already tried to pre-empt the process, signaling that he’s prepared to walk away from the deal if any agreement on June 30 doesn’t provide for the immediate and complete lifting of sanctions. But if a deal can be finalized without distorting the integrity of the package, it should make a positive difference. Certainly, it is hard to see how it would make things worse.

This piece first appeared in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) blog The Strategist here

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