I serve as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs as the Senior Fellow for War and Ethics. For a number of years I have been writing this brief column monthly to summarize what are the most recent developments and pressing issues in American national security affairs. I have decided to now share this column with many of the radio stations that I have the pleasure to work with in my other capacity as a National Security Consultant for CBS radio and TV.
The “sequester” went into effect 1 March, and we are now beginning to see the full effects. Will this be the economic disaster that some predicted or just another “mini-economic crisis” that results from our fractious political climate? The nation also took time to ponder the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and what lessons we might glean from one of the longest wars in American history. We are now confronted by what may well be the first “nuclear” crisis of the 21st century as tensions mount on the Korean peninsula.
Domestic security issues and observations
a. Effect of Sequester. The “sequester” commenced on 1 March with serious cuts in the defense budget for the current fiscal year. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff pulled no punches during testimony before Congress. “The uncomfortable truth is that we’re halfway through the fiscal year, and we’ll be 80 percent spent in our operating funds. We don’t yet have a satisfactory solution to that shortfall, and we’re doing everything we can to stretch our readiness out.” Dempsey further pointed out that the new numbers show DOD must find $41 billion to cut in the remainder of fiscal 2013, which is better than the previous $47 billion estimate, but that the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is running $7 billion over budget. Later in his testimony Dempsey related a message from the Marines he visited at Parris Island. “Dysfunction back here is a distraction to them. Nearly every question I fielded in my town hall meeting with military members and their families was about the protracted budget uncertainty. And that’s a shame.”
Still the question remains has the military “oversold” the impact of sequestration on the force and readiness? Furthermore, it is unclear at this point whether this is a onetime budgetary reduction that is the result of political paralysis and a dysfunctional Congress or the onset of a new reality. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio posed the following question to General Dempsey during a recent interview: “Are we entering a period of readiness crisis? Or is it more a period of adjustment, where you have to live within your means, basically?” Straight answer, from Dempsey: “The answer is yes, actually. It’s both.” Dempsey said to ask again in two weeks if there’s enough in the budget to avoid a full-blown readiness crisis. “We’re in the midst of trying to figure that out.”
b. Capture of bin Laden’s son-in-law. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a senior al-Qaeda leader and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was captured in Jordan. He had been expelled from Turkey and was enroute to Iran. Abu Ghaith is a former mosque preacher and religious teacher. He had served as a senior spokesman for al-Qaeda and justified their attacks on September 11th 2001. He argued that Muslims had the right to kill four million Americans. He is believed to have been part of the al-Qaeda senior inner circle that included bin Laden and current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
He was arraigned in Federal court in New York on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans. Many Republicans criticized the administration for allowing Abu Ghaith to appear in a Federal court. They argued that he should be transported to Guantanamo to face a military commission. The Obama administration has long argued that terrorists such as Abu Ghaith have appeared before Federal courts and been successfully prosecuted. In fact there have been 67 convictions in Federal court and only seven by military commissions.
c. Tenth anniversary of invasion of Iraq. March 19th marked the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and there were numerous discussion, conferences, and television broadcasts to mark this date. All of them reflected on the nature of the war and what the United States achieved or failed to achieve during the conflict. The cost of the war seem terribly clear. Overall the United States suffered 4,482 killed in action and 32,221 wounded. 110 female soldiers were killed in action and 235 service members committed suicide while deployed. The number of severely wounded is nearly the same as the number killed in action. Over one million Americans served in Iraq, and many served multiple tours. The total budgetary costs are roughly one trillion dollars with many millions more to be spent caring for injured veterans.
But the costs of this war must also consider Iraq. At the time of the war the population of Iraq was roughly 26 million inhabitants. According to the Brookings Institution Iraq Index 115,376 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and 2007 as sectarian violence intensified. The number wounded is unknown but is very likely to be 500-750,000. The number of displaced Iraqi civilians rose from 400,000 in 2003 to 2.7 million by 2010. Iraq remains a violent place with fifty civilians being killed in a series of attacks on the anniversary.
The US military can take some solace in its ability during the war to adapt albeit more slowly than many experts would have preferred. In reality, the US military fought several “wars” with differing actors during its time in Iraq.
The invasion in 2003 resulted in a short conventional war which ended with the defeat of the Iraqi Army and the occupation of the capital. From 2004 to 2006 the US military witnessed the growth of both a Sunni insurgency and terrorism as al-Qaeda forces entered the country. Clearly, the decision to disband the Iraqi Army coupled with the fact that coalition forces were insufficient to both dampen down the insurgency and secure the borders are harsh lessons that must not be forgotten. In 2006 the destruction of Golden Mosque sparked the dramatic growth of Shiite militia and a near civil war. The decision in 2007 to “surge” American forces coupled with a new counter-insurgency strategy brought a measure of calm to the country that allowed the US to transition its forces home. It is possible to argue that the strategy for force employment was as important as the additional forces. This coupled with the surge of forces also had a dramatic effect upon the Sunni population who in essence changed sides. The “Awakening” by the Sunni tribes particularly in Anbar province, and their decision to work with the US and Iraqi government to defeat al-Qaeda was definitely a turning point in the struggle.
Still President Bush argued in his speech announcing the surge that it was to provide the Iraqis “breathing space” in order to solve difficult political issues. These were critical to not only short term stability but the long term unity of the country. Sadly, most if not all of these issues remain and, consequently, we have witnessed an increase in violence in Iraq since the American departure at the end of 2011. Whether or not democratic forces and processes can overcome the sectarian disputes remains unknown on this tenth anniversary.
International security issues and observations
a. Sanctions on North Korea and growing tensions. March 2013 may go down in Korean-American history as a month of paradoxes. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman visited North Korea and watched a basketball game with Kim Jong-un. He subsequently attended a party at Kim’s palace and described him as “my friend”. While Rodman was enjoying his North Korean “vacation” the United Nations issued a report claiming that a quarter of North Korean children are stunted from malnutrition, while two-thirds of the North Korean population have no idea where their next meal is coming from.
At the same time, tensions continued to rise on the peninsula following North Korea’s successful nuclear test in February and the imposition of additional economic sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. The United States and South Korea also began a series of military exercises that had been planned for many months. These included a flyover of the peninsula by B52 bombers and a practice bombing run by B2 bombers that were launched from bases in the continental United States. Clearly, these exercises were designed to send a “deterrent” message to North Korea as well as a “reassurance” message to both South Korea and Japan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited South Korea and reiterated American support for the ROK. This was followed by a much publicized phone call between Secretary of Defense Hagel and South Korean Defense Minister Kim during which Mr. Hagel also underscored American support for Seoul.
Kim Jong-un has responded to the new sanctions and military exercises with several provocative steps and raised the level of rhetoric to a new high. North Korea announced that it would nullify all non-aggression agreements with the South. Pyongyang further declared that the 1953 armistice agreement was suspended and cancelled the “hot line” between the two capitals. By the end of the month North Korea further announced that it was placing its missile forces on a high state of readiness and would strike American targets not only in Hawaii, Guam, and Okinawa but also the continental United States. There have been reports of massive demonstrations in support of Kim Jong-un in North Korea as well as the evacuation of at least some of its citizens into emergency tunnels with provisions. There were also cyberattacks against South Korea. The computer networks in three South Korean banks and two large broadcasting companies were attacked, and most experts believe these attacks emanated from North Korea.
In response, the Obama administration announced that it will spend $1 billion to deploy ballistic missile interceptors to the Pacific Coast over the next several years in response to North Koreas bombastic threats. While this will do very little in the near term it does suggest that the Pentagon does not believe North Korea currently has the capability to strike the United States with missiles but intends to acquire that capability in future. The Pentagon also announced that it would elevate the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) commander from a three-star job to a four-star position in part due to the increased tension on the Korean peninsula. According to a former USARPAC commander, it was the Pentagon’s belief that war on the Korean Peninsula has become increasingly likely which led to the decision that a four-star commander should be placed in command. LTG Vince Brooks will be the first Army officer to assume this position as a four star.
It is important to also examine this crisis from the perspective of South Korea. Newly elected South Korean President Park urged North Korea to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and reduce tensions. Still during March South Korea also marked the third anniversary of the sinking of the naval ship Cheonan. This resulted in the death of 46 South Korean sailors. While North Korea has never claimed responsibility for the attack, an investigation conducted in the aftermath of the sinking concluded that it resulted from a submarine attack by the North. This was followed by an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island by North Korea in November 2010. In both cases, South Korea placed its forces on a higher state of readiness but did not respond militarily. The new government has made it clear that any such attack will now result in a military response.
Both China and Russia have shown concern as the situation has continued to deteriorate. The Chinese government has, however, reiterated its support for Pyongyang and stated that it will not abandon North Korea. Both Beijing and Moscow have pressed for dialogue and not sanctions.
b. Syria. The situation in Syria has continued to deteriorate, and there is increasing pressure on the Obama administration to provide assistance to the rebels. The number of refugees caused by the civil war has now exceeded one million which is placing increasing pressure on stability in Lebanon and Jordan in particular. The humanitarian crisis in the region is rapidly becoming a major international disaster. In addition, Israel and Syria exchanged gunfire in the vicinity of the Golan Heights in the latest border skirmish between the two nations.
Iran has also become a more important actor in this ongoing struggle. During the month, Iran’s Foreign Minister criticized the United States over the decision to aid rebels fighting against the Assad government in Syria. Iranian leaders have long argued that this assistance will only prolong the conflict. Israeli leaders have argued that the Iranian government is fielding 50,000 troops in Syria in an effort to help Assad’s regime maintain power. At the end of the month, Secretary of State Kerry made a surprise visit to Baghdad. His discussions were reported to be focused on convincing the Iraqi government to stop Iran from transporting weapons to Syria through Iraqi airspace. It is widely believed that the Iraqis refused.
It was also reported that chemical weapons were fired on rebels near Aleppo. The Assad regime countered that it was the rebels who had used chemical weapons. UN Secretary General Bain-ki-moon announced that the United Nations would launch a full investigation. President Obama and other American leaders have long expressed the view that the use of chemical weapons by either side is unacceptable and constituted a “red line” for the United States. In the days following the alleged attack, American officials stated that there was a “high probability” that chemical weapons were used and caused at least twenty-five deaths and injured 80 civilians. Britain also announced a plan to send hundreds of chemical weapons detection kits to Syria.
Still it is unclear at this writing whether or not chemical weapons were used and, if so, what type of chemicals were employed? The films that were distributed in the aftermath of the attack did not show casualties with the normal symptoms resulting from mustard or nerve gas. It is possible that chlorine gas was employed which dissipates rapidly and would be difficult to verify.
Many have feared that Syrian rebel groups might get access to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. It was reported in the Long War Journal in December 2012, that Syrian rebel groups may have obtained access to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. In December 2012, the Al Nusrah Front had seized control of the Sheikh Auleiman base in Aleppo as well as a chlorine factory near the city. The Sheikh Suleiman base was believed to have been a key node in the Syrian military’s chemical weapons program. Al Qaeda elements in Iraq had also attempted on a few occasions to use chlorine gas containers against allied forces and civilians in Anbar Province.
The Syrian rebels may have made gains on the battlefield but their political prospects have been mixed. The Arab League announced that Syria’s seat would now be given to the opposition. At the same time Mouaz al-Khatib, the President of the Syrian National Coalition, resigned and its military leaders refused to recognize the Prime Minister who was elected to lead an interim rebel government.
c. Egypt. The security situation in Egypt has continued to worsen despite the fact that it does not receive much media coverage here in the United States. Violence increased in Port Said during the month, and security for the city was eventually turned over to the Army to “alleviate tension.” Protests in the city are due to the courts sentencing twenty-one people to death for stadium riots in 2011 that killed seventy-four. In the aftermath of this decision, the Egyptian Football Federation headquarters in Cairo was burned. Protesters believe the trial was unjust and accuse the police of bias in favor of Al-Ahly, Egypt’s best soccer club because they support the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian elections scheduled for April 22nd were postponed due to a court ruling that the law governing elections should be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The United States announced $250 million in aid to Egypt for economic reforms, while the World Economic Forum released a report on international travel industry ranking Egypt the least safe and secure of 140 destinations. The Egyptian government also announced a plan to start rationing subsidized bread.
The real challenge for Egypt may be economic. There are increasing reports of fuel shortages, electricity blackouts, rising food prices, etc. The government must soon carry out a package of tax increases and subsidy cuts that are tied to securing a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Failure to do so could result in cascading economic problems including food shortages which will only fuel ongoing political turmoil.
d. Iran. Tensions continue between the United States and Iran throughout the month. American and Yemeni officials seized ten Chinese heat-seeking missiles in an Iranian arms shipment off the coast of Yemen. Over the Persian Gulf, an Iranian jet followed an American surveillance drone until contacted by an American fighter escort that warned them off.
U.N. investigator Ahmed Shaheed reported massive human rights abuses in Iran, from the torture of civilians to the detainment of journalists. Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has also moved to block a common type of software used by millions of Iranians to skirt government Internet censorship. This is the latest attempt by Iranian political leaders to reassert national control over the Internet. All these actions are in preparation for the elections in June. The Iranian government has largely denied these reports and claimed that they are propaganda from the West.
During his visit to Israel President Obama reported during an interview on Israeli television that he believes it will take over a year for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, and that the United States is doing everything it can to prevent that.
e. Hagel visits Afghanistan and other developments. The Taliban launched suicide attacks outside the Defense Ministry in Kabul and in Khost province as US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the capital on his first trip to Afghanistan. The suicide attack in Kabul was executed by a Taliban bomber who detonated his vest at the main gate at the Defense Ministry. Two security personnel and seven civilians were killed in the attack, which also injured two Afghan soldiers and 11 more civilians.
The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement released on their Website, Voice of Jihad. The Taliban claimed that “15 puppet officers,” a reference to Afghan security personnel, were killed, and nine vehicles were “destroyed as martyr attack hits defense ministry.” The Taliban routinely exaggerate casualties and the results of their operations. Despite Coalition and Afghan efforts to seal off the Afghan capital, the Taliban have been able to infiltrate Kabul and conduct suicide attacks and assaults. The Taliban have launched two suicide attacks on the National Directorate of Security’s headquarters in Kabul since December, and badly wounded NDS chief Asadullah Khalid in a suicide attack as he was welcoming visitors in a guesthouse.
In Khost, a suicide bomber killed eight children and a security official in an attack in the Mangas area of the eastern province. The suicide bomber detonated his vest as an Afghan and Coalition convoy passed by the area. The Taliban have not claimed credit for the attack, but the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban subgroup, operates in Khost province.
These high-profile attacks in Kabul and Khost follow another that took place in Kapisa province. Three Afghan soldiers turned their weapons on Coalition personnel at a base in the province, killing a civilian contractor and wounding three US soldiers. The three Afghan soldiers were killed during the attack. The attacks also occurred as Hagel was in Afghanistan to meet Coalition and Afghan officials to discuss the withdrawal of NATO and US forces and the transfer of security to the Afghan National Security Forces. NATO officials see the these attacks as part of the Taliban’s coming campaign for the spring fighting season, and there have been a number of attacks on the border with Pakistan.
President Karsai had also accused American special operations forces of ordering their Afghan counterparts to abuse Afghan detainees in Wardak Province and ordered the removal of all such forces from the province. After several weeks of negotiation between American and Afghan leaders the US removed special operations forces from one district in Wardak. U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) finally relinquished full control of the U.S. Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP). It was formerly known as the Bagram prison to the government of Afghanistan. The facility’s new name is Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan (ANDF-P). Both of these events are indicative of the ongoing transition to Afghan forces and the continued efforts by President Karsai to assert his position as well as Afghan sovereignty.
Other media security issues and observations
The following are a brief summary of the major national security issues that the media focused on during the month.
a. Death of Hugo Chavez. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela succumbed to cancer and died during the past month. Chavez had long been a nemesis to the United States and a strong supporter of the Castro regime in Cuba. His vice president has been designated as his party’s candidate for the upcoming election campaign and is widely expected to be successful. Efforts to embalm Chavez’s body and place it on display like Lenin in Red Square failed, and he has subsequently been buried.
b. Marine training accident. Seven Marines were killed and 8 wounded when a 60mm mortar exploded in an “in bore” detonation. An investigation is ongoing as the 60mm is widely used by both the Army and Marine Corps. A temporary moratorium was placed on the use of the 60mm as well as the lot of high explosive and illumination ammunition that were being used.
As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.
a. Crisis in North Korea. As suggested, tensions on the Korean peninsula are as severe as perhaps any time since the so-called “ax attack” in 1976 that resulted in the death of at least one American officer. Most officials seem to believe that Kim Jong-un is largely using this as an opportunity to enhance his position domestically and expect things to cool down following the completion of the ongoing American-ROK military exercises. Still very little is known about the young North Korean leader. As one expert remarked, “we know far more about black holes in the galaxy than what goes on in North Korea!”
b. The impact of the sequester. The full effects of the sequester are yet to be fully felt. Initially, the Obama administration had announced the sequester would result in DOD employees being forced to take a 22 day furlough between May and the end of September. In the aftermath of the passage of the Continuing Resolution that now appears to be reduced to 14 days.
Jeffrey McCausland is the founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC (http://diamondsixleadership.com/).
He is also a visiting professor of International Security at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He serves as a senior fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the United States Naval Academy and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. Prior to these appointments he was a visiting professor of International Law and Diplomacy at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law.
McCausland is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Army and completed his active duty service in the United States Army in 2002 culminating his career as dean of academics, United States Army War College. Upon retirement McCausland accepted the Class of 1961 chair of leadership at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland and served there from January 2002 to July 2004. He continues to hold a position as a senior fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the Naval Academy.