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Dreams from a Deal with Iran

The Buzz

The other night we had a dream. We dreamed that the negotiations with Iran had produced a comprehensive agreement that not only credibly contained the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons forever but also effectively checked its regional ambitions. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu came close to endorsing the agreement, taking credit for having pressed hard for some of the limitations that the agreement enshrines. President Obama received congratulations from almost every corner of the earth and even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a dramatic announcement of support, stressing that the agreement was a turning point in his country’s history. He noted that the deal represents the ultimate failure of those who have sought all along to topple Iran’s regime and that it would in no way diminish Iran's deeply held suspicions of the "Great Satan". Khamenei claimed that the agreement signed leaves his country as the acknowledged regional power and critical global power. He announced the appointment of the Head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force Genaral Qassem Suleimani as his personal envoy to promote a peaceful settlement in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, implying that even a long-term armistice with Israel could be part of this initiative, provided the "Zionist entity" would discontinue its “creeping annexation” of the West Bank and its “aggression” against Gaza.       

In the wee hours of the morning very noisy garbage trucks outside our respective homes woke us up to the realization that this was a mere fantasy – that the achievable deal yielded neither a verifiable Iranian commitment to restrict its nuclear endeavors to the parameters of a peaceful energy program nor a mechanism that reliably prevents Iran from funneling the enormous unfrozen funds provided to it to all the wrong causes. Moreover, Iran has already begun to set limits on the access rights of the IAEA to its facilities, to violate with impunity the ban on arms transfers to and from Iran, and to create “facts on the ground” ahead of the deal's entry into force. Within 10-15 years it was to become a legitimate nuclear threshold state, weeks away from nuclear weapons. And Iran’s Supreme Leader continued his virulent attacks and relentless diatribes against the U.S. and the Israel – the greater and smaller Satan respectively.

The following night we had another dream. In it the negotiations yielded a highly flawed deal, one that would expire after only seven years and that contained few real limitations on Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and weaponization activities. It also lacked any extraordinary verification arrangements. Iran was not required to convert or dispose of much of its enriched uranium stockpiles, or to mothball more than a third of the centrifuges at its disposal. It was permitted to operate a third of its spinning centrifuges in the relatively immune Fordow facility near Qom, and to sustain the Arak heavy water reactor with only symbolic (and reversible) modifications. Moreover, the measures put in place to monitor the mothballed centrifuges seemed almost amateurish. Astonishingly, no meaningful restrictions were placed on Iran’s ability to research, develop, test and eventually deploy much more advanced centrifuges, thus making the limited quantitative restrictions placed on its existing centrifuges almost meaningless.  

The President defended the flawed deal, arguing that the sanctions regime was already under duress, making this deal the only viable alternative to war. He further submitted that the deal would encourage the moderates within the Iranian leadership, and would pave the way for Iran to play a more constructive regional role, first and foremost in Syria. Finally, the President reiterated the assurance that U.S. would, if the need arose, employ all the means at its disposal to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. 

Numerous experts and Iran buffs came out in support of the agreement, hailing the diplomatic breakthrough as far superior to going to war, and arguing in favor of the timely substitution of sanctions for an agreement before the former would inevitably crumble. They noted that the concessions made were all warranted given the ability of the U.S. and the IAEA to monitor the agreement and the U.S. to act in case it would be violated. They further emphasized what they saw as new opportunities the agreement opened for mobilizing Iran to fight ISIS as well as its contribution to the strengthening of the so-called “moderates”, led by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Well, at least this dream had a happy end. The Obama administration's claims, that the deal was the best that could be obtained under the circumstances and that the alternative was an inevitable slide toward war, were universally rejected. Palpable public outcry erupted over the provisions of the agreement – that in exchange for measures that would only extend Iran’s nuclear “breakout out time” by a mere two to three months, the P5+1 consented to opening the doors of hell by releasing tens of billions of dollars of frozen assets that Iran could immediate funnel to murderous organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. A very large number of high ranking retired U.S. military officers and other former defense and intelligence officials were to uniformly testify that the agreement reached was an unmitigated disaster. 

Responding to this criticism, no less than twenty-six Democratic Senators – twice the number needed – joined their Republican colleagues to over-ride President Obama’s veto of the Resolution to Disapprove tabled earlier by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Reluctantly, the administration announced that although Iran was unlikely to agree to go back to the negotiations table, the U.S. was prepared to do so. Astonishingly America’s other five partners went along and suspended all plans to implement sanctions relief and the unfreezing of assets.

Faced with this new reality, and desperately needing sanctions relief, the Islamic Republic announced that it, too, was prepared to go back to Vienna or Geneva and reopen a number of the issues already codified in the JCPOA but which have since proved to be highly objectionable in the U.S. In these renewed talks Iran relented, and a near perfect deal emerged.

But the sigh of relief on averting the worst outcome did not last long. Utterly exhausted from the previous dream we fell asleep again, this time experiencing an only modestly less troubling dream. Twisting and turning in our beds the rest of the night, half awake and half asleep, we dreamt that President Obama has just proudly announced the successful attainment of the landmark JCPOA. While the administration has immediately launched a campaign extolling the virtues of the agreement reached, closer scrutiny revealed its various shortcomings. That said, this agreement was unquestionably far superior to the one appearing earlier in our nightmare, not nearly bad enough to make it easy to build a consensus against it. The JCPOA, supported by many former American diplomats and non-proliferation experts and rapidly endorsed by the UNSC, was nonetheless rejected by comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress, largely along partisan lines. But the Congressional majority was not large enough to over-ride President Obama’s veto of the Resolution to Disapprove. Ultimately, however, the Congressional rejection hardly mattered. All of America’s partners to the P5+1 demurred, and the deal went into effect as originally stipulated, 90 days after the passage UNSC resolution. Most sanctions on Iran were removed shortly after the IAEA stipulated that Iran responded fully to all its pending questions. And all but the U.S. rushed to Teheran to seize on the business opportunities created by the insatiable demand of Iran’s population for investment in infrastructure and new capital goods.

President Obama, sulking and true as ever to his convictions, stretched his executive power to the maximum to honor the U.S. side of the deal by easing all the sanctions on Iran he could, including the highly meaningful ones pertaining to banks transfers to and from Iran. Meanwhile the government of the Islamic Republic got away with voluntary and eclectic implementation of its obligations under the JCPOA.

The rooster's call in the neighborhood finally appeared to wake us up but only to realize that the latest scenario was hardly a dream – it might still materialize. So throughout the hot August day we continued to sweat: Was this outcome inevitable and could we have made a difference? Supposed we had been called to testify in front of Congressional foreign relations and armed services committees ahead of the vote on the deal? Where would we have come down on the balance sheet between the agreement’s advantages and apparent flaws? How would we have responded to Senator Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) poignant question, if there was a feasible alternative – a deal that Iran might accept and which would buy more than 10-15 years? And what if Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) would ask us what level of confidence would we have that a military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations would buy us more than 10-15 years? Conversely, what if the inquisitive Senator John McCain (R-AZ) would inquire whether vigorous U.S. intelligence monitoring on Iran's nuclear activity coupled with the sustained threat of a U.S. military attack and daring covert actions could not have reliably kept Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold for many years to come, just as they have done so since 2003, and without making so many concessions to Iran?

And what if Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the straight shooter Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would ask us whether we have any confidence in the estimates of how many billions of dollars the deal will place at Iran’s disposal and would we not have to admit that we have even less confidence in estimates of how much of these billions Iran would use to fund its terrorist allies rather than invest in its ailing economy?

And what if their House counterparts were to have pressed us with similarly legitimate questions? What if the eminently sensible Susan Davis (D-CA) would ask us if we have any confidence in the estimates of how China, Russia and the Europeans would react if Congress were to over-ride the President’s veto and the U.S. was accused of sabotaging a deal that its own government had negotiated? And what if Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the level headed Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee would press us whether we would not be better off if Iran were to respond to Congressional disapproval by scaling up the level of its nuclear activities – which clearly serve no current or imminent peaceful purpose – thereby exposing its true intentions?

Agonizing all day and finally ending up thanking God that we were not the ones actually having to make the call, we finally hit the bed early that evening hoping to get a good night sleep at last. But the issue that has been haunting us all through the previous days and nights would not go away. When we finally managed to get some desperately needed rest another Iran-related dream descended upon us. This one seemed especially surreal, bordering on the incredulous. In the dream we saw President Obama actually acknowledging the weaknesses of the deal with Iran – not only extolling its virtues – and leading opposing members of Congress conceding its advantages. Both proceeded to work together to let the deal go through while offsetting its weaknesses by enacting explicit legislation that would set ground rules for its implementation. It would also lay out clear understandings on how the U.S. would tightly monitor not only Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA but also the general orientation of its nuclear program – has it truly transformed its program into a peace-oriented one? It would further spell out how the U.S. would react, unilaterally if necessary, were Iran to encroach on the deal or misuse the resources that the sanctions relief would channel its way to further foment mischief in the region.  

Wait, the dream went even further. We saw the president actually employing the congressional platform to reassure America’s allies in the Middle East, especially about U.S. responses to Iran's subversive activities, and, unbelievably, the latter even welcomed the hand extended to them.  Finally, it saw the three European partners amazingly casting aside for a moment their business interests in Iran and pledging to work with the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia to ensure that the Islamic Republic would actually faithfully implement its side of the deal, or face severe consequences if it contemplated otherwise.

This sweet journey gave us a remarkable night sleep. It was only when we woke up that the sobering reality caught up with us. This must have been sheer fantasy – another “Dream from the Deal with Iran”? Or was it?

Shai Feldman is the Director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies and a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Ariel E. Levite is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

TopicsNuclear Proliferation RegionsIran

Could Underwater Drones Replace Today's Lethal Submarines?

The Buzz

In my previous post, I described the changes to submarine operations driven by developments surfacing in detection technology. The conclusions were that submarines would have to be able to deliver their effects from greater distances if they wanted to be effective in hotly contested spaces, but were unlikely to be replaced by drones any time soon. This post dives a bit deeper (sorry, I’ll stop the puns now, but it could be much, much worse) and explains why unmanned underwater systems (UUVs) will be a complement rather than a replacement for manned boats.

There’s certainly a lot of research activity. The U.S. Navy released its first UUV Master Plan in 2000, updating and expanding it in 2004. The plan prescribed the development of UUVs ranging in size from 10kg to 9 tonnes, and identified an expansive set of roles for them that included ISR, mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare and oceanography, as well as some high-end tasks such as time critical strike.

The RAND Corporation’s 2009 comprehensive survey of UUVs pruned the list back to seven missions that appeared ‘most promising’, mostly at the more passive end of the spectrum. But despite the high interest, progress has been uneven and slower than for airborne drones. A goodly number of smallish UUVs are in service in specialized roles, but as a genus they’re still being described with caveats like ‘if technology fulfills its hype‘, despite some innovative thinking that has produced a Thunderbirds-like UUV that also flies.

There are straightforward reasons for the relatively slow development of UUVs. UAVs fly through a medium that’s compatible with high data rate transmissions ranging from line of sight signals in tactical settings to high bandwidth satellite communications that enable live video feeds and remote control from thousands of kilometers away. But seawater isn’t like that and communication choices for UUVs are limited to acoustic or low frequency electromagnetic methods, both of which result in slow data transmission and are limited in range (at least from the UUV). If higher data rates are required, then the UUV has to be tethered via fibre optics or somehow communicate with the surface, exposing itself to potential detection. As RAND notes:

The ability of UUVs to communicate while submerged … is limited by physics. The ability of UUVs to communicate while surfaced is limited by such design factors as mast height, SATCOM system throughput rates, power availability, and the need to avoid detection. Additional research and development will not significantly alleviate these limitations. Communications system technologies are considered mature.

That’s not the only drawback to operating submerged. The density of seawater compared to air has significant consequences for the range and/or speed of UUVs. Pushing through water imposes a cost in fuel that grows as the cube of the speed—going twice as fast requires eight times the fuel burn. (The same physics drives the relative speeds and endurance of submarines—long range and high speed requires either a large conventional submarine with lots of diesel or the energy density of enriched uranium.)

Those facts allow us to estimate the performance we can expect from UUVs. The communications bottleneck means that they won’t be able to carry out complex tasks requiring real-time decision-making unless they have a high degree of autonomy—something still very much a ‘work in progress’. And the size/range/speed problem means that they’ll be limited in the areas to which they can deploy under their own steam.

But there are still some useful and growing niche roles for a relatively slow and relatively dumb UUV when deployed forward from a manned submarine. A Mk 48 torpedo can travel 50 km at 40 kts (74 kph). The cube law tells us that a UUV the same size (so able to be deployed from a torpedo tube) can travel 400 km at a respectable 20 kts. If it’s mapping a minefield or collecting acoustic or oceanographic data to help the parent submarine negotiate a tricky passage, it’ll need loiter time as well, but an operating range of well over 100 km from the parent submarine is practical.

For example, the USN’s near-term mine reconnaissance system is connected to the submarine via a fiber optic cable, allowing for high rate real-time data transfer. For mapping mines up to 200 km ahead, an impractical distance for a cable, the long-term mine reconnaissance system communicates via radio frequency and acoustics (and presumably also brings data back). Another potential application is the collection of high-value adversary ship and submarine acoustic signature data near their operating bases, where a manned submarine would be at high likelihood of detection.

That’s certainly enough to ensure that UUVs have a future. But the fundamentals of the underwater environment aren’t going to change, and UUVs are likely to continue to be a complement to manned submarines, helping them circumvent new detection techniques. That means that Australia’s future submarine still makes good sense—but it’ll have to have a UUV capability.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Death Down Below: Are Submarines Set to Become Obsolete?

The Buzz

As a member of the Australian Defense Minister’s White Paper panel, I’ve had many discussions about issues that paper will wrestle with (and a few that it certainly won’t, but that’s a post for another time). With the obvious disclaimer that I’m not about to divulge any white paper content, I thought it was worth addressing some of the questions that have come up repeatedly.

Naturally, questions about Australia’s future submarine plans are near the top of the list. Many topics are predictable enough. Where will they be built? How many do we need?

I’m surprised at how often I’ve been asked whether we’re wasting our money because submarines are about to become passé. That question is based on one of two premises: that the oceans are about to become ‘transparent’ due to new detection technologies, or that submarines will be replaced by unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

Both propositions have a reasonable pedigree, and neither can be dismissed out of hand. And both technologies will have a significant impact on the future conduct of submarine operations. But when examined closely, they actually point towards an increased relevance for submarines.

Let’s start with the detection issue. The attribute that most contributes to the effectiveness of submarines is their stealth. An adversary faces significant uncertainty even with just the possibility of a submarine being present. A great deal of effort has to be put into anti-submarine warfare to have even a reasonable chance of nullifying their effect. Having a capable submarine somewhere in a theatre of maritime operations complicates planning everywhere—or at least within a large circle of possible locations that grows steadily with time.

The ability to quickly and reliably find submarines would certainly change their cost benefit calculus, and the notion of making the ocean ‘transparent’ isn’t a new one. The Cold War U.S. Navy (USN) put a great deal of effort into being able to track Soviet nuclear missile-carrying boats, building an array of networked underwater sensors under the Long Range Acoustic Propagation Project. Their effort met with considerable success and the USN often had a pretty good hold on Soviet submarine movements.

But there are two important caveats. First, those were earlier generation nuclear submarines, which were noisier than their current counterparts. Second, even when Soviet submarines were detected, precise localization wasn’t always possible. The arrays were heavily supplemented by other techniques, not least of which was the ‘tailing’ of Soviet boats by American submarines. (See the ‘ripping yarn’ bestseller Blind Man’s Bluff for a popular account). In fact, when the arrays picked up the sounds of the destruction of its own USS Scorpion, the USN still took four months to locate the wreckage. The simple fact is that reliable localization of sound sources in large ocean basins is a formidably difficult task that gets progressively harder as the difference between the source and background noise gets smaller—as is the case with modern submarines.

Of course, detection technologies and the ability to analyze collected data have also improved. I wrote about the effect of Moore’s Law on submarine detectability here, and it’s true that future submarines will face challenges in remaining hidden. They’ll also have to worry about techniques other than acoustics, such as wake detection, thermal signatures or even the light given off by sea creatures disturbed by their passage. Given enough data and enough signal processing power, even very subtle signs could be giveaways—potentially even from orbit.

Nonetheless, the real world is a noisy and untidy place. Covering very wide areas with sufficiently sensitive sensors with high bandwidth to link them together and having the ability to respond quickly and effectively to a detection—especially given a likely high ‘false positive’ rate—will be beyond even the best resourced forces. Much more likely is that high performance ASW capabilities will be concentrated on key focal areas, such as around task groups, near naval bases, and chokepoints such as critical sea lanes through straits and narrows. The old model of submarines getting ‘up close and personal’ in their adversary’s strongholds probably doesn’t have much future.

But in terms of avoiding detection, being under the water will always be preferable to being on top of it. And if the submarine can carry out its mission from a reasonable distance, there’ll still be ocean enough to hide in. To remain viable, future submarines will have to be even stealthier. They will need be able to stand off and deploy medium to long-range sensors and weapons—in a sense perhaps becoming ‘underwater motherships’ for sensor and weapon packages. In fact, as life gets harder on the surface, that ability will become more relevant, not less.

And that’s a neat segue to UUVs. In the next post I’ll discuss their strengths and weaknesses and explain how the complementary package of manned submarine and unmanned subsystems could come together to help defeat improved sensors.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The Nuclear Deal with Iran Isn't Enough

The Buzz

One of the contentious debates surrounding the recent nuclear deal with Iran concerns whether or not U.S. negotiators should have demanded broader shifts in Iranian foreign policy before signing any agreement. Critics of the deal argue that by providing sanctions relief before Iran curtailed its support for Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthi rebels, and Bashar al-Assad, the United States effectively agreed to bankroll Iran’s regional influence.

In response, the Obama administration has argued that by focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. negotiators were better able to avoid war while containing the most threatening of Iran’s ambitions—namely, its quest for nuclear weapons. This controversy raises a broader question: can U.S. agreements with nuclear-aspiring adversaries persist over the long term without a broader resolution of bilateral tensions?

I am currently revising a book manuscript that directly addresses this question by identifying the conditions under which nuclear aspirants comply with or defy U.S. demands for nuclear restraint. In my research, I have found that states peacefully give up their ambitions when they expect to suffer steep military or economic costs for pursuing nuclear weapons and when their security environment no longer compels them to acquire a deterrent.

These impulses can point in opposite directions, which is why negotiating with adversaries like Iran is so difficult. On the one hand, if U.S. negotiators had refused to provide sanctions relief without broader changes in Iran’s foreign policy, they would have diluted U.S. leverage over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. By threatening to maintain punishing sanctions even if Iran complied with U.S. nonproliferation demands, this negotiating strategy would have reduced Iran’s incentive to exercise nuclear restraint. But by confining the negotiations exclusively to Iran’s nuclear choices and trading sanctions relief for nuclear concessions, U.S. diplomats increased their ability to negotiate stricter controls on Iran’s facilities, and achieved a better nuclear deal than they would have otherwise.

On the other hand, by avoiding negotiations over the broader set of conflicts between the United States and Iran, U.S. diplomats constructed the nuclear deal on a shaky foundation. That is because Iranian support for actors that threaten U.S. interests and allies in the region will continue to produce tensions, and could even lead Iran into military confrontation with the United States. Anticipating this outcome, Iran has powerful incentives to violate the nuclear deal and acquire nuclear weapons as a means of deterring Washington’s use of force.

While Iran and the United States share an interest in containing ISIS and other Sunni Jihadist groups, the two countries nevertheless have a number of deep differences. For example, the United Arab Emirates’ recent decision to deploy ground forces in Yemen could escalate into a broader war between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which recently strengthened military ties with the United States, and one of whose members, Bahrain, hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Likewise, dogged Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad could provoke a fight with Turkey, which is committed to Assad’s ouster, and which recently increased its cooperation with the U.S. military to fight ISIS forces in Syria. All of these potential flashpoints create long-term incentives for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons as a precautionary deterrent.                                                                                                  

Certainly, cheating on its nonproliferation obligations would entail costs, including renewed sanctions and the prospect of U.S. strikes on its nuclear facilities. But if Iran comes to expect that confrontation with the U.S. is inevitable, then it might calculate that the benefits of a nuclear deterrent for its security outweigh the military and economic costs of violating the nuclear deal. Thus, by focusing narrowly on the nuclear issue, U.S. negotiators achieved a stricter nuclear deal, but without ensuring its long-term durability.

The Obama administration appears to have recognized the vulnerable nature of the nuclear deal, and is working to build on the negotiations by achieving a broader resolution of conflicts with Iran. Unfortunately, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has shown little willingness to reduce support for Iran’s regional proxies or achieve a rapprochement with the United States. If Iran’s leadership continues to insist on a policy of confrontation and refuses to work toward a broader improvement of relations with Washington, the nuclear deal is likely to crumble under the weight of bilateral hostility

Conversely, the nuclear deal could provide Iran’s leaders with an economic and military stake in positive relations with the West, producing a virtuous cycle leading to greater moderation in Iran’s actions abroad. This outcome could be further spurred by a looming generational shift in Iran’s leadership, and by public support in Iran for finding common ground with the West.

Insofar as Iran demonstrates a willingness to compromise, U.S. policymakers will need to carefully weigh their interest in supporting regional allies intent on confronting Iran against the U.S. objective of encouraging Iranian nuclear restraint by reducing tensions. Ensuring the long-term viability of any nuclear agreement will require the U.S. and Iran to negotiate a process that will inevitably involve give-and-take on both sides, and which may create tensions between the United States and its traditional regional partners.

Yet if U.S. policymakers hope to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons without resorting to costly and potentially ineffective military strikes, they will need to recognize and adjust to the inherent tradeoffs in their relationship with Iran, while concurrently deterring aggressive moves by Tehran’s regional proxies. Without a broader process of rapprochement between Iran and the United States, even a perfectly constructed nuclear agreement backed by sanctions and threats of force will eventually fall apart, leading either to war with Iran or an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.

Gene Gerzhoy is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom and the International Security Program at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Beginning in the Fall, he will be working on Capitol Hill as a Congressional Fellow with the American Political Science Association.

Image: Wikimedia/Office of the Russian President

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

The U.S. Army Can Only Get So Small

The Buzz

Last week, General Mark Milley assumed command as the thirty-ninth chief of staff of the United States Army. It was an occasion replete with ceremony—rows of distinguished guests,  a B-52 and a C-17 flyover, a display by the Old Guard, and a traditional “pass and review” by both the outgoing General Odierno and the incoming General Milley — reminders of the peaceful transition of authority that characterizes the U.S. military. Amid the excitement, however, it was also the first chance to note the new Chief of Staff’s priorities and outlook as he approaches the heavy responsibility before him. Among my takeaways from his speech:

Families are the Army’s Backbone:

Milley understands that military service demands sacrifices of all members of so many military families. He honored the leadership of General Odierno’s wife, Linda, and noted the burden borne by his own wife, Hollyanne, throughout his thirty-five years of service including his multiple deployments to war-zones (she has just completed her thirtieth move driving the Haul to DC). Both of Milley’s own parents served in World War II: his father as a Marine in the Pacific, his mother as a military nurse tending to the war’s wounded.

Warfare is a Human Endeavor: He speaks bluntly, echoing many of the themes in the recently released Army Operating Concept:

There are many who think wars can be won only from great distances, and from space, and from the air and the sea; unfortunately, those views are very, very wrong.  War is an act of politics where one side tries to impose its political will on the other, and politics is all about people, and people live on the ground. We may wish it were otherwise, but it is not. Wars are ultimately decided on the ground where people live.

The Army Can Only Get So Small;

Reflecting the steady downsizing for the Army, Milley plants a flag in the ground from the get-go: “We must have forces that have both capacity and capability, both size and skill. They must be manned. They have to be equipped and they better be trained. And they will be well led.”

The U.S. Military Does Not Pick Its Battles:

“As America, we have no luxury of a single opponent.  We have to be able to fight guerrillas and terrorists all the way up through nation state militaries.” His is a reminder, in other words, that Army readiness must remain full spectrum readiness.

Fighting Is the Army’s Main Task:

Finally, Milley concludes, “Ground combat is—and will remain—the United States Army’s number one priority.” In an age of increasingly complex contingencies, some of which do not require the Army to fight at all, this is a useful priority. Milley is bright and cerebral, “Princeton’s first four-star general.” But at the end of the day, he’s still a warrior.

You can watch the full ceremony here (Milley’s speech begins around 92:00).

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog defense in depth here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

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