Blogs

The Ultimate Guide to the SA-11 Gadfly

The Buzz

Editor’s NoteHarry Kazianis, Managing Editor of The National Interest, spoke with Ivan Oelrich, a former vice president of the Strategic Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists, and presently an adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University concerning the SA-11 Gadfly.

Kazianis: To begin, if you could, please describe in general terms the SA-11 Gadfly system. What it its primary role? How effective is it? What countries operate it? In general terms, does it have a good reputation in terms of combat capabilities compared to the competition?

Oelrich: The 11 is a mobile surface-to-air missile SYSTEM. The emphasis is to say that it is not a rocket, it is a radar for finding targets at a distance, a command vehicle, a launch vehicle that carries the rocket and a tracking radar. So normally the big radar would detect potential targets at a distance and then assign the target to one of a few launch vehicles. The tracking radar is not as powerful so it is helped by instructions from the surveillance radar, telling it where to look. Now it is far from the preferred approach but the launch vehicle can operate autonomously, using its radar for both surveillance and tracking.

It is a Soviet system so some ex-Warsaw Pact countries still have it but it was widely exported. The 11 is fairly old now. Most of the upgrades in air defense systems would be better resistance to jamming and other electronic countermeasures. The 11 would probably not be very effective against modern air forces, the US, Britain, France, and a few others but airliners don't have radar jamming equipment, even radar warning alarms, they fly straight and level at constant speed so even an old radar will be perfectly capable against such an easy target.

Kazianis: How much more capable is this system as opposed to, say, a shoulder-fired weapons, or a MANPAD?

Oelrich: There are two major differences. First, by definition, MANPADS have to be light enough for a person to carry. This limits fuel and, hence, range and altitude. No MANPADS could reach the cruising altitude of an airliner. Second, MANPADS are not as tightly linked into an air defense net as an 11 should be but, in this case, probably was not.

KazianisIn terms of air defense systems, there are other more advanced systems like the S-300 or S-400. What is the difference between the SA-11 and say the S-300?

Oelrich: There are a lot of systems more advanced than the 11. The Russians have upgraded the 11 to a more modern 17. The 300, and its latest version, the 400, are more sophisticated still and, again, a system. The 300/400, for example, combines missiles of different ranges, so some are optimized for long-range attack but, if the attacker gets though that line of defense, it is engaged with smaller missiles optimized for close in defense.

Kazianis: There is also a updated version of the SA-11, the SA-17. What are the main differences between them?

Oelrich: Slight changes in the rocket. But the rocket is the easy part. Mostly, the difference is in more sophisticated radars and electronics to make the missile less vulnerable to radar jamming and other countermeasures. Very important on a modern battlefield, but moot when shooting down helpless civilian airliners.

Kazianis: In your own estimate, how long would it take for a crew to become proficient to use the SA-11 or SA-17? Could someone with, say, just a week’s or a month’s training be able to use such a system?

Oelrich: Ah, that is the point! Remember, this is just part of a system. It takes many months of training for the system to work. Central command centers with long-range radars get information on incoming attackers, they have to alert local surveillance radars, these guys have to find, and identify, potential targets, distinguish friend from foe and then pass that information on to launchers and assign them targets. They have to maintain very strict discipline with use of the radar. Every second the radar is on, the ground crew is broadcasting a message to every enemy airplane within hundreds of miles saying, "Please come bomb me!" The launch teams have to find the targets assigned to them, and no others, and engage them. For all that to work smoothly, everybody has to do a perfect job with extremely fast reaction times (remember that enemy aircraft may be approaching at greater than the speed of sound and their very first priority will be attacking the air-defense network, so thinking about it for a while is not an option) and it would take many months, years, to get all the crews trained up and operating seamlessly. In fact, only the most highly trained militaries can do it well at all. But your question is misleading. Obviously, based on the results, this crew was NOT proficient. For example, they apparently did not know how to operate the IFF equipment, or didn't care enough to bother. I am guessing here, but it might be possible that a crew could be taught to use the system badly, very badly indeed in this case, in just several hours.

Kazianis: There has been much speculation that the SA-11 or SA-17 was involved in the tragic incident involving MH17. Much has been made of the radar system of the SA-11 and that the operators of the system may have been firing blindly if the radar system attached was poor. Are there different variations of radar systems in each variant of these weapons? How would the operator of the system know if a potential target was civilian or military?

Oelrich: See above. The radar on the tracker would not normally be used alone but it can be. Even so, I do not know specifically, but would be astonished if the radar on the launcher did not have an IFF interrogator. If you want to learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about IFF systems, you can read my OTA report on friendly fire.

TopicsDefense RegionsUkraine

Five Things to Know About the Extension of the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations

Paul Pillar

The recently extended nuclear negotiations with Iran have had to compete for front-page attention with acute crises elsewhere. The agreement to extend both the negotiations and the interim commitments associated with them for another four months has nonetheless provoked comments from the usual quarters, including those who have never wanted any agreement with Iran and continue to try to sabotage the negotiations. Here are some key facts to bear in mind about the extension itself:

The extension makes possible a continuation of major negotiating progress. The progress to date has been remarkable. Few would have predicted it even a year ago. As Secretary Kerry commented in a statement on Friday, it was less than a year ago that a U.S. secretary of state and an Iranian foreign minister met for the first time in more than three decades. The key events making this possible were the advent of a new Iranian president with a much different orientation from that of his predecessor, and the willingness of the United States and its negotiating partners to seize this opportunity. The negotiations have gone from a standing start with no communication to an important interim agreement and a common text for a final agreement, with some remaining bracketed language and gaps yet to be negotiated.

The need for an extension is not surprising. In fact, the interim agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action, that was reached last November specifically provided for the possibility of an extension beyond the original target date. The matters being negotiated are complicated and highly technical, from the design of nuclear reactors to the details of international financial transactions.

Both sides are negotiating seriously. The Iranian side has demonstrated its seriousness through its compliance, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with all of its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action. It also has demonstrated its seriousness through its acceptance already of lopsided concessions while gaining little so far in return (see next key fact). Nothing in the history of these talks, or of the history of the Iranian nuclear issue before the talks began, suggests that Iran needs to be squeezed harder to get it to negotiate earnestly and flexibly.

Iran already has the biggest motivation to conclude the negotiations swiftly. The P5+1 (the United States and its negotiating partners) clearly got the better deal in the interim agreement. The Joint Plan of Action froze or rolled back the aspects of Iran's nuclear program with the most concern regarding possible weapons proliferation, as well as introducing international inspections more intrusive and frequent than what any other nation undergoes. In return Iran got only minor sanctions relief, involving peripheral matters such as airplane parts and access to a small fraction of its overseas financial assets to which it has been denied access. This pattern continues under the additional agreement struck as part of last week's extension of the talks. Iran has committed to hasten the conversion of its remaining supply of medium enriched uranium into reactor fuel plates, which would make it even more difficult to use the material in weapons. In return it gets access to only a small additional slice ($2.8 billion out of more than $100 billion) of its frozen overseas financial assets. The main, debilitating sanctions regarding oil and banking remain in place. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani directly, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei indirectly, have a big economic and political stake in reaching a final agreement promptly.

Diplomacy remains the surest way to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon. The extension does not change this reality. With a negotiated agreement, Iran's nuclear activities would be subject to the most extensive international inspection and monitoring arrangements ever implemented, and Iran would have multiple major motivations not to let the agreement break down. Without an agreement, there would be far less comprehensive inspections, much less of an Iranian stake in keeping its program peaceful, and a political swing in Tehran away from those most determined to keep it peaceful.

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr.                          

TopicsIran RegionsMiddle East

Putin, MH17, and the Risk of Anomie

The Buzz

Vladimir Putin’s impenitent response to the killing of 298 innocent people last week crystallizes in dramatic fashion just how far his government is becoming isolated from the rest of the international community.  Disbelief and disgust in the West is being met by defiance and disdain from Moscow, with Putin seeking to shift the blame onto Kiev.  A worrying lack of intersubjectivity thus separates the two sides.  More alarming still, history shows that the implications of such estrangement, which may take years or even decades to play out, are potentially huge and extremely dangerous.

Almost all credible observers, including most western leaders and media, appear confident in two beliefs regarding the violent downing of MH17: (1) Russian military equipment was used to bring down the passenger plane; and (2) Russian-backed separatists pulled the trigger.  Although few officials are using John McCain’s language of culpability in reference to President Putin, the sentiments expressed by Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron and others basically amount to the same thing—that is, unabashed criticism of Russian actions and direct challenges for Putin to take some responsibility for the attack on MH17 and do more to control his proxies inside Ukraine.

The problem is that Moscow’s response to the international opprobrium being heaped upon it has been characterized by a marked lack of contrition, resulting in a gaping mismatch between East and West over how to interpret and respond to what is, at base, a reckless act of aggression undertaken by armed insurgents against innocent civilians.  Taken in the immediate context of the civil strife in Ukraine, this failure of the world’s states to arrive at a modus vivendi is worrying enough, portending that the military stand-off on the ground in eastern Ukraine will become more entrenched instead of showing signs of abatement.  But even worse is the longer term prospect of Russia—a Great Power with awesome military capabilities and occupying a pivotal role in geopolitics—sliding into further international alienation.  A specter is haunting Eastern Europe—the specter of anomie.

Émile Durkheim defined anomie as the condition whereby the behavior of an individual becomes radically out of sync with prevailing societal norms.  Usually, any given society is able to regulate the actions of the individuals that exist within it.  Norms, values, beliefs, expectations and the anticipation of sanctions—all of these factors combine to shape and constrain the behaviors exerted by individual actors.  Logics of consequence and logics of appropriateness work in tandem.  Anomie occurs when this ability of society to order the behavior of its members breaks down.  Under a condition of anomie, individuals view society as an improper or illegitimate regulator of their actions.  Individuals become laws unto themselves—and dangerously so.

Of course, the international system (“international society”) does not exert the same level of influence over states or their leaders as domestic societies do over individual human beings.  Nevertheless, many scholars agree that a form of international society does exist—not least of all in the corpus of agreed upon public international laws that are supposed to regulate international conduct.  Even beyond codified laws, certain standards of behavior are expected of sovereign states—that emissaries be afforded diplomatic immunity or that civilians not be targets during war, for example.  States that fall short of these shared expectations suffer the consequences of being named, shamed, and potentially sanctioned and ostracized.

To be sure, many states have rebelled against the strictures of international society over the course of world history.  Indeed, norms are flouted, laws broken, rules refashioned or rejected outright with some degree of frequency.  Nevertheless, derogation from international expectations rarely is regarded as a good thing.  Nor does it tend to go unpunished.  There is even an assortment of unflattering epithets for states that defy international society wholesale or on a regular basis: “revisionists,” “spoilers,” “rogue states,” “pariah regimes” and the like.

States become targets of such vilification and are exiled from international society via a process that is partly of their own making yet partly foisted upon them.  On one hand, most statesmen crave international acceptance and the legitimacy that membership of the international community confers upon them as leaders.  Few wish to be ostracized by other leaders.  On the other hand, national leaders cannot be seen to passively respond to discipline meted out by their sovereign peers for fear of looking obsequious and dishonored in the eyes of audiences both at home and abroad.  As such, the urge to push away ones foreign detractors in a show of defiance is thus just as likely to obtain as is the impulse to make amends.  States spiral into anomie when international opprobrium and a national response of defiance work in tandem, reinforcing one other and working against a pariah state’s rehabilitation into international society.

What happens when states—willingly or not—become ostracized from international society, cut loose from its orbit and freed from its capacity to regulate their behavior?  Interwar Japan represents an interesting parallel with the contemporary Russian case.  By most accounts, Japan was a fairly responsible stakeholder of the pre-World War I international system, a trusted ally of Great Britain from 1902 and a markedly restrained rising power during the late nineteenth century.  Japan’s territorial gains in Korea, for example, while obviously anathema to Koreans, were carefully negotiated with the era’s primary Great Powers such as Britain and the United States, and Japan even agreed to check its territorial ambitions when faced with stern international opposition—for example over its occupation of the Liaodong Peninsula (Port Arthur) in 1895.  Overall, Japan’s leaders were preoccupied with a powerful desire to avoid rocking the boat in international diplomacy up until 1914.

Yet Japan began to chafe against the prevailing norms of international society in the 1920s and 1930s.  More and more, Japan’s leaders became frustrated with the perceived double standards of western states.  In 1919, Japan’s motion for racial equality was voted down at Versailles, for example.  Japan was also denied absolute control over Germany’s erstwhile colonies in the Asia-Pacific despite British wartime pledges to the contrary.  Most bothersome of all, Japan was repeatedly chastised for its meddling in China despite centuries of widespread and naked European colonialism in Asia, Africa and the Americas.  Throughout the period, Japan and the Eurocentric international order looked ripe for confrontation.

The catalyst for estrangement came in 1931, when soldiers in the Kwantung Army faked an attack on a Japanese-controlled railway in Manchuria—the so-called “Mukden Incident.”  The event was used by Japan’s leaders as a pretext for the invasion of Manchuria and the establishment of a puppet state across the region, Manchukuo.  Abroad, however, the Mukden Incident was quickly exposed as a ruse and in 1932 the League of Nations issued a report condemning Japan and denying recognition to Manchukuo.

The League’s actions were mirrored by criticism from leading states and statesmen.  The United States, in particular, issued the Stimson Doctrine to formally declare any conquest by Japan in China to be illegitimate.  Exposed and isolated, Japan departed the League of Nations in 1933 and drifted into diplomatic isolation, becoming ever more hostile towards the outside world even as it became insulated from and immune to criticism from abroad.  A radical diplomatic realignment was set in motion with Japan increasingly rejecting the international system it had once tried so hard to belong to, a process that would culminate in Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 and its fateful bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The Japanese case shows that it is not just small states like North Korea or Iraq under Saddam Hussein (rogue states par excellence) that can reside outside of the bounds of international society.  Great Powers, too, can find themselves exiled from the broader international community.  When that happens, their destructive behavior can intensify as they find themselves free of social constraints that might otherwise have been exerted upon them.

Japan’s interwar experience also highlights the importance of catalytic events—in Japan’s case, the Mukden Incident and its controversial annexation of Manchuria.  Other examples abound.  The vilification of Benito Mussolini following his invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, for example, was instrumental in pushing Italy outside of the orbit of London and Paris and into the arms of Berlin.  For Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, it was the abrogation of the Munich Agreement and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 that finally marked Germany’s irrevocable departure from European society.

Today, there is a huge risk that Russia is headed in the same direction as interwar Japan, Italy and Germany.  Although not totally isolated on the international stage, Putin’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine visibly trouble his counterparts in the west, drawing both the ire and the exasperation of foreign leaders.  With Putin sticking to a defiant and bellicose tone even withstanding such a blatantly hostile action as the downing of MH17, the future of east-west relations looks ominous.  Anomie is at the door.  And the worst could still be to come.

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

TopicsMH17 RegionsRussia

Time for a Strong U.S. Effort to Cripple the IRGC

The Buzz

Though a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely to take shape in Vienna before Sunday’s self-imposed deadline, the U.S. should make it clear in the negotiations over an extension of the diplomatic talks that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps cannot stand to benefit from sanctions relief.

In the delicate diplomatic game with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, the IRGC are seen as hardliners, and for good reason. As Syria’s Bashar al-Assad found himself threatened by a popular uprising, it was IRGC training, personnel, and financial assistance that saved the Syrian dictator. The IRGC is the conduit for Iranian support to terrorist groups in the region and beyond. The Syrian-made missiles being fired on Israel by Hamas are transferred to Gaza by the IRGC. They’ve propped up Hezbollah in Lebanon. They’ve helped establish and train Shi’a militias in Iraq that for years contributed to a sectarian bloodbath. In addition, IRGC companies are at the forefront of Iran’s clandestine procurement efforts for Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, both key components of Iran’s military industrial complex.

At no point in time, whether during the course of negotiations over an extension to the diplomatic talks or in a final accord, sanctions relief should be constructed in a manner that benefits the IRGC. All relief must be designed to keep the IRGC, its leadership, and its financial and business enterprises under sanctions to deprive them with the opportunity to continue to pursue their nefarious activities.

Sanctions enacted by legislation and executive order allow U.S. negotiators to provide concessions while making an exception for the IRGC. The language was included because policymakers in Washington understand that the IRGC plays a key tool in Iran’s ongoing state sponsorship of terrorism, that they are a tool of oppression and human rights’ violations, and that they are a key instrument in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

European sanctions against Iran, however, are mostly targeted against Iran’s nuclear program and will gradually dissipate once a final agreement is reached. This stands to free the IRGC of impediments to procure technology and benefit from the foreign investment and business opportunities that a deal will usher in.

To protect against that eventuality, ratcheting up sanctions against the IRGC should be a priority for the U.S. government today – especially since, as the EU will relax its restrictions, U.S. secondary sanctions may soon become the only bulwark against Iran’s cheating.

The U.S. can use existing sanctions against the IRGC to target hundreds of IRGC companies that have so far eluded sanctions. Targets should include all IRGC-owned businesses listed on Iran’s stock exchange, the ones that are not publicly traded, and the companies where the IRGC has a minority stake. Their senior personnel should be targeted with asset freezes and travel bans on all senior managers, board members, and C-suite executives. They are the backbone of IRGC, trusted people who make both daily calls and long term strategic decisions for the IRGC’s financial empire.

Critics will no doubt say that expanding sanctions at this critical time in negotiations – or insisting that such stringent measures be passed after an agreement is signed – would doom any compromise to failure. Yet, these critics are usually quick to point out to the ongoing battle between Rouhani and the IRGC as evidence of Rouhani’s moderation.

A strong U.S. effort to cripple the IRGC would have the added benefit of testing if the conventional wisdom of Rouhani’s supposed moderation. Rouhani’s ongoing confrontation with the IRGC is in part a power struggle over influence and state resources. It may also stem from a genuine desire to weaken the IRGC because of its nefarious role in Iran’s economy, its foreign policy, and domestic matters. By showing that the proper nuclear concessions will yield benefits to those who embrace moderation, not those who foment extremism, the U.S. could empower Rouhani with more ammunition to put IRGC out of business.

Besides, denying the IRGC any benefits from sanctions relief stands to yield additional policy advantages even if it were not to boost moderate forces inside Iran. The market value and revenues of IRGC companies would decline, thus reducing their role in Iran’s economy and denying the IRGC access to funds for their terrorist and proliferation activities. The exclusion of the IRGC from the expected windfall that Iran will enjoy from sanctions relief is also bound to weaken their political influence domestically.

The primary goal of the sanctions architecture has been to give negotiators leverage. But they are also a tool to deny proliferators access to wealth and technology. There is nothing to suggest that the IRGC will renounce its designs under any circumstances – and there is good reason, therefore, to deny them the benefits that sanction relief will yield for Iran in exchange for its compliance.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Saeed Ghasseminejad is a Ph.D. candidate in Finance at City University of New York.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsIran

Iran, Russia, Gaza: Why They Need to Be Considered Together

Paul Pillar

In the face of intense, high-profile, and especially fast-moving problems, the decision-making apparatus for foreign policy and national security has a narrow attention span. Limited policy bandwidth becomes even more of a problem than it normally is. The weighing of relevant considerations is subjected to shortcuts. The most difficult problems tend to be viewed in isolation. Just getting through the day or the week without making such a problem even more difficult becomes de facto a national objective.

But even reasonably careful attention to each serious problem, considered more or less separately, is not good enough. Different problems need to be considered together. This does not mean the kind of ethereally broad, grandly synoptic approach that is the subject of so much armchair strategizing and kibitzing. It instead means a mid-range awareness of how the way we handle one current, concrete problem might affect the nature of some other current, concrete problem.

Right now the United States faces in particular three big, important, fast-moving challenges, each of them worthy of whatever front-page space they get. One is the negotiation of an agreement, or likely extension of negotiations, on Iran's nuclear program as the previously established target date for completion of an agreement arrives this weekend. The second is a new negative turn in U.S. relations with Russia, with the imposition of added sanctions against Russia—a situation that would have been a significant challenge even without the major added complication Thursday of the downing of a Malaysian airliner over the rebellious part of eastern Ukraine. The third is the expansion of Israel's assault against the Gaza Strip, with the aerial bombardment that already had been ongoing being supplemented by a ground offensive. Each of these three situations can complicate the other two.

The most obvious candidate for complication concerns how the downturn in relations with Russia might affect the Iran negotiations. Some earlier worries about whether the Russians would continue to cooperate in its role as a member of the negotiating ensemble known as the P5+1 have not materialized. As Alexei Arbatov's excellent description of Russian interests in Iran points out, Russia does not want to see an Iranian nuclear weapon and in that respect does want to see an agreement that would be the best assurance against the advent of such a weapon. But the anti-Russian sanctions, and possibly any more severe damage to relations stemming from the airliner incident, have changed Moscow's situation and its calculus enough that a continuation of previous Russian behavior cannot be taken for granted. Russian responses can range from greater resistance to the stand that the United States might want to maintain regarding the permitted scale of Iranian uranium enrichment, to larger departures that might amount to Russia making its own separate deal with Iran. None of this need entail an abandonment of the Russian objectives of getting an agreement and not having an Iranian nuclear weapon; there are genuinely held differences of view even within the United States of what constitutes a good agreement and what is the best way to attain it.

The assault on Gaza crisis also can affect the Iranian negotiations, partly because the party conducting the assault also is the principal opponent of any agreement with Iran. Exactly what the effect will be is hard to determine, however. Given the contrived trade-offs that the Netanyahu government often sees in the balance sheet of its relationship with Washington, perhaps U.S. condoning of the assault will imply an understanding that the government of Israel should have that much less latitude in its efforts to sabotage an agreement with Iran. But the effect easily could work the other way. Impunity in getting away with what is happening in Gaza may impart political headiness in Jerusalem and political momentum in Washington that would mean more, not less, Israeli sabotage of an Iran deal. Whatever public distraction and political gain Netanyahu gets at home from the Gaza operation might make it easier for him to brush aside the voices in Israel who realize that an accord limiting Iran's nuclear program would be in Israel's interests and that sour relations with the administration in Washington are not.

An additional, ever-present factor is how the role of the United States as Israel's principal defender and protector against international criticism or condemnation uses up U.S. political and diplomatic capital. The more that Israeli behavior is subject to such criticism, the more U.S. political and diplomatic capital is consumed. That means there is less of it left to spend on other purposes, including holding together a coalition, and holding it together on U.S. terms, in negotiating with Iran. It also means less capital that might be needed to hold the Europeans together in a similar way in confronting Russia over Ukraine. This factor is likely to become increasing important to the extent that a continued Israeli operation in Gaza incurs moral repugnance among populations in European countries whose governments have not as yet clearly condemned the operation.

There are some symmetries among these three challenges, although not necessarily involving all three at once. The imposition of damaging sanctions on Russia is almost an open invitation for Moscow to become less cooperative regarding the damaging sanctions that have been imposed, under U.S. leadership, against Iran. The death toll in Gaza, after the opening shots on Thursday of the Israeli ground offensive, stood at 246. Given the history of past Israeli attacks there, especially Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, it may take only a couple of more days for the number of dead to match the 298 who perished on the Malaysian airliner.

Image: White House Flickr.                                          

TopicsRussia Iran Israel

Pages