The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, and the Cold War itself ended soon after, but if you're feeling nostalgic, tune into the Cold War of the Andes: somewhat more farcical and definitely less likely to end in nuclear annihilation, but riveting nonetheless.
With Venezuelan troops lining up on the Colombian border, Peruvian officials' urging fellow South American countries to reduce military spending arms purchasing, in addition to creating a regional security force, is making a lot more sense. Peruvian officials indicated that Brazilian President Lula was receptive to the proposal in a recent meeting, and will be meeting with Colombian and Paraguayan presidents in the next week.
Although the campaign should be seen in light of Peruvian suspicion of neighboring Chile, military spending in many South American countries has increased in recent years. Some estimates place 2008 spending at $60 billion, which would be well over double the amounts spent in 2003. According to American calculations, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Colombia account for 80 percent of arms purchases. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also urged caution in purchases, warning against entering a race.
Of course, experts have pointed out in past years that the main concern is probably not war between countries, no matter what Venezuela says, but rather resource related violence. Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias of Costa Rica warned against buying more arms, while noting that the region has never been so peaceful.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the "Taliban headquarters" in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The "headquarters" referred to is the town of Makeen, which had been Mehsud's hometown.
How important is it to clear Taliban headquarters, whether in Waziristan or Balochistan? In an interview with FP, Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, argues the answer largely depends on what comes next:
[Makeen] might have been the center of TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] organization, but I suspect that at some level, ‘headquarters' doesn't mean as much to an insurgency that's able to melt away and reappear down the road at different locations and continue operations... it certainly disrupts the organization of the group. [But] it's a very fluid network, they have alliances with other neighboring tribes, they're able to parlay their way, probably, for a safe haven within Afghanistan, or in the mountains, for a period of time.
So, it really depends on what the follow-up operations are.... I think this is one of the biggest demonstrations of Pakistani commitment, in their ground invasion of South Waziristan, and the most targeted, and probably one of the stronger efforts we've seen in recent years, but I'd still be apprehensive to say this is a categorical success, even [having] secured a few militant strongholds and, I guess, the center of operations, because the real question becomes ‘how long can they hold it?'"
The Taliban certainly isn't handing the territory off. Responding to Pakistan's recent military successes, a Taliban spokesman said simply, "We are prepared for a long war."
Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
There are breaking reports of a deadly massacre at a massive U.S. military base, Fort Hood, 60 miles north of Austin, Texas.
One or three perpetrators -- reports differ -- killed at least 12 and injured dozens more inside the base. One alleged shooter is dead, Major Malik Nadal Hasan, age 39; two other people are in custody. The shooter or shooters allegedly used handguns in a facility for soldiers preparing to head to Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is just a horrifying, tragic situation.
A large contingent of American bands have joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign in direct protest of the use of their music during torture practices at Guantanamo Bay. The new campaign is led by two retired generals: Lieutenant General Robert Gard and Brigadier General John Johns. Robert Gard has spoken out in defense of the musicians, stating:
"The musicians' music 'was used without their knowledge as part of the Bush administration's misguided policies'."
artists such as REM, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg,
Michelle Branch, Jackson Browne, and The Roots have signed an open letter to Congress requesting the declassification of government records concerning how music was utilized during "futility" interrogation tactics - making the prisoner feel hopeless while exploiting his psychological, moral, and sociological weaknesses.
Tom Morellon of Rage Against the Machine fame has expressed his peronsal rage against Dick Cheney:
"Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured - from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts - playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me - we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."
But don't except every rock band to jump on board, some view the use of their music at Gitmo as an honor.
Above, Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Target Center September 3, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Eric Thayer/Stringer/Getty Images
No cabinet-level U.S. official has visited Taiwan since Clinton administration Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater in 2000, but Taipei is hoping to change that with an invitation to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki:
Representatives of Taiwan's Veterans Affairs Commission recently met Shinseki in the United States to extend the invitation, said Hans Song, the commission's overseas liaison department director.
Taiwan's commission, which was founded in 1954 when Taiwan stood on the brink of war with China, has modeled itself on its U.S. counterpart and has used U.S. money to build hospitals.
"Because the Taiwan veterans system has studied the U.S. system, we hope he can give us some suggestions," Song said.
Shinseki is also just prominent to be counted as a diplomatic victory for the KMT government, but perhas not prominent enough to anger China too much. Shinseki is still mulling the decision apparently.
It does seem a little strange that the U.S. is apparently willing to invoke China's wrath by selling $421 million in missiles to Taiwan, but a short stop-over from a high-ranking cabinet official would be considered a brazenly provocative act.
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
Izhmash Arms, makers of the developing world's favorite automatic weapon, the AK-47, is facing bankruptcy, thanks to competition from cheap knockoffs:
According to Izhmash Arms' parent company, the Rosoboronexport State Corporation -- which has a monopoly on supplying Russian arms to the international market -- there are about eight countries in which dozens of business are making their own versions of the Kalashnikov. And they are doing this without passing on any licensing fees to the Russians.
And now it appears that the financial difficulties facing the weapons manufacturer have reached crisis point: its very existence is threatened. A businessman in Izhevsk has filed a motion to declare Izhmash Arms bankrupt because of outstanding debts of around 8 million rubles (around €180,000 or $265,000). The case has caused a sensation in Russia because for a long time the Russian armaments industry has been one of the only industries considered competitive on an international basis. And Izhmash, which was founded in 1807 by Russia's royals, is one of the largest firearms manufacturers in Russia.
However, arms exports have fallen dramatically over the past year, falling from around $10.8 billion (€7.4 billion) worth of weaponry in 2007 to a mere $3.5 billion (€2.4 billion) in 2008.
According to the Der Spiegel article, Izmash's problems are partly of its own making. Licenses to manufacture the AK were granted generously to like-minded regimes throughout the third world during the Cold War. After the Soviet Union fell, the companies that were already making the weapons saw no reason to stop.
RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
It appears that the Obama administration's revised plans for a missile shield will heavily focus on the Caucasus, perhaps even that perpetual thorn in the Kremlin's side, Georgia:
US defense officials have not specified the radar’s new proposed location, but some Georgian and Russian officials and commentators have been quick to suggest that the Pentagon has Georgia in mind. These analysts said that if the United States is thinking about the South Caucasus, Georgia would be the best place for the radar deployment. Armenia, they say, would not wish to anger its close strategic ally Russia by hosting the radar, while Azerbaijan would not want to put its already strained relationship with Iran to the test.
Russian military analyst Vladislav Shurygin said that intelligence provided by the radar might also help Georgia to protect itself from Russian missiles. "We should not have any illusions about the US plans," he told the Regnum news agency. US officials have long maintained that the defense system would focus on Iran, rather than Russia.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright has said that Russia should actually be reassued by a Caucasus location since the radar won't be aimed at them:
“The X-band radar is a single directional,” he said. “In other words, when you put it down, it points in a single direction. And it will be very clear that it is pointing south towards Iran.”
That might be true, but the Bush adminstraion also argued that the Eastern European location had nothing to do with Russia and was purely aimed at Iran, which did little to assuage Moscow's concerns. I would imagine that an expanded U.S. troop presence in Georgia would annoy Russia as much, if not more, than having them in Poland.
CentCom commander Gen. David Petraeus writes in the (London) Times to make the case for a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and praise U.S.-British cooperation:
[W]e need to be realistic in recognising that the campaign will require a sustained, substantial commitment. Many tough tasks loom before us — including resolution of the way ahead after the recent election, which obviously has been marred by allegations of fraud. The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable. In truth, it is, I think, accurate to observe that, as in Iraq in 2007, everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time.
Iran constitutes the main state-based threat to stability in the region. The impact of its malign activities and harsh rhetoric are felt throughout the Arabian Peninsula, making it, ironically, the best recruiter with prospective partners. We now have eight Patriot missile batteries spread across countries on the western side of the Gulf, where two years ago we had far, far fewer.
If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that “being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life”, and I’m inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country’s finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.
Petraeus also gave an address at London's Policy Exchange think tank, saying, "The challenges in Afghanistan are significant, but the stakes are also high, and while the situation unquestionably is serious, the mission is still do-able." (See the AfPak Channel for more.)
Sending Petraeus to rally British support makes sense, but it makes me wonder why the Obama adminsitration hasn't used Petraeus -- certainly the most well-known military officer in the country and a bona fide pop-culture icon -- to pitch the Afghanistan strategy to the U.S. public.
The media-savvy general seemed to be everywhere during the later Bush years defending the Iraq surge. But Petraeus has been out of the spotlight lately and the job of "selling" Afghanistan seems to have been left to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and the previously unknown Stan McChrystal. With the Pentagon worried about declining public support for the war, it seems odd that they haven't pulled out the big guns, so to speak.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
Somewhat lost in the discussion of whether the United States is betraying its Central European allies by scrapping the planned missile shield, is just how difficult it was to get Poland and the Czech Republic to sign on to the project in the first place.
Around 70 percent of Czechs opposed the idea of hosting the radar system for the missile shield and the final treaty faced strong opposition in parliament. The Polish public was more supportive of the idea, but their government held out for months on agreeing to host the missile interceptors, only signing on after the Bush administration agreed to fund an extensive military modernization program.
Back in February, when today's news began to look like a foregone conclusion, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski acknowleged as much:
“What we would like to be honored is what went along with” the missile-defense system, [Radoslaw] Sikorski, 46, said in an interview yesterday during a visit to Washington that included a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We paid quite a political price for the agreement, both in terms of internal politics and in our relations with Russia.”
Hopefully the Obama administration will acknowledge this political price and continue (or even expand) defense assistance to both the Czech Republic and Poland. But despite the grumbling in Warsaw and Prague today, the diplomatic damage to the U.S in these countries may not be all that significant.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
For the last year, one question has been at the core of the piracy debate: Who or what made the Somali pirates into the real, armed, threat that they are? Chaos on land? Opportunity at sea? Poverty all around? Or the latest theory, from an Al Jazeera report: Western defense contractors trained them.
Before piracy spun out of control, Al Jazeera reports, contractors such as the Hart Group trained a Somali Coast Guard force in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region -- where piracy thrives. Those skills, one Somali tells the Al Jazeera reporter, were later helpful in hijacking ships and training others in his newly learned sea-faring ways.
Sounds like a big "oops" for the contracting world... though any experience helping the "other side" hasn't deterred them much from working to stop the pirates. Remember when Blackwater said they would help fight pirates? Better yet, about how winning a lucrative "ransom and release contract" for handsome $500,000 each.
This does not seem like a very efficient use of resources:
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has banned alcohol and assigned American personnel to watch over the embassy's security guards following allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct at their living quarters.
I feel like it might be hard for the military to replace guards with contractors if they need other guards to make the sure the contractors aren't getting drunk and naked.
The L.A. Times's Julian Barnes explains how Stanley McChrystal is increasing combat troop levels in Afghanistan without increasing total troop levels:
U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defense officials say.
The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.
The plan represents a key step in the Obama administration's drive to counter Taliban gains and demonstrate progress in the war nearly eight years after it began.
Forces that could be swapped out include units assigned to noncombat duty, such as guards or lookouts, or those on clerical and support squads.
"It makes sense to get rid of the clerks and replace them with trigger-pullers," said one Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been announced. Officials have spoken in recent days about aspects of the plan.
Kevin Drum responds, "an increase in combat troops is an increase in combat troops. It doesn't really matter how you get there."
I would argue it does matter if those combat troops aren't getting the same level of support, putting them at greater risk and making them less effective. And it's not as if private contractors have exactly distinguished themselves in those jobs lately.
One of the stranger stories of the weekend was Iraq's announcement that it was negotiating the return of 19 Mig fighter jets that had been sent to Serbia for maintenance in the late 1980s and never returned:
Sanctions slapped on Iraq because of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would have made it impossible to bring the MiG-21 and MiG-23 jet fighters back while he was in power.
Two of the jets were ready for "immediate use", the statement said, and a preliminary agreement had been reached with the Serbian government to repair the others and send them back.
The statement did not say when the existence of the fighters had come to light
During his visit to Iraq earlier this month, Serbia's Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac told Iraqi officials about the existence of the jets, said a senior Serbian Defense official who did not want to be quoted by name.
"None are in flyable condition, they are dismantled and in crates. Only one MiG 23 that was displayed in (Belgrade's) air force museum is whole," he said.
This is welcome news for Iraq, which has been looking to build up its air defences, but something seems very off about this. Slobodan Milosevic has been out of power since 2000 and Saddam Hussein since 2003, yet only now has anyone mentioned these planes?
I'm no expert, but given that (according to Wikipedia, at least) Serbia only has about 40 MiGs of its own, it seems like the 19 they were keeping in storage would be kind of hard to miss.
Also, since when was Milosevic that concerned about violating international sanctions?
Photo: Dmitry A. Mmottl under a creative commons license.
A disturbing report from The Telegraph suggests that China may soon cut off the world's supply of the metals needed for many modern electronics:
A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.
China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.[...]
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.
Danger Room's Nathan Hodge comments:
[I]t’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. [...]
Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.
As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
Last week in the Washington Post, Michael O'Hanlon lamented the inability of the U.S. military to get "boots on the ground" in peacekeeping operations in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. O'Hanlon, who served in the Peace Corps in Eastern Congo, made the case that an all-volunteer military force trained for peacekeeping could help overcome the current overstretch of the military and the U.S. hesitation to deploy peackeeping troops for fear of public outcry when, as in Somalia in 1993, casualties could result:
The notion is this: Ask for volunteers to join a peace operations division for two years. They would begin their service with, say, 12 weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of specialized training and then would be deployable. They would receive the same compensation and health benefits as regular troops, given their age and experience. Out of a division of 15,000 troops, one brigade, or about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, could be sustained in the field at a time.This type of training would be modeled after standard practices in today's Army and Marine Corps. To be sure, soldiers and Marines in regular units usually go beyond this regimen to have many months of additional practice and exercise before being deployed. But the peace operations units could be led by a cadre of experienced officers and NCOs -- perhaps some of whom would be drawn back to military service after leaving...
The dangers of deploying such units to missions such as the one in Congo, would be real, but the risks would be acceptable. First, those volunteering would understand the risks and accept them. Second, in most civil conflicts such as Congo's, possible adversarial forces are not sophisticated. Soldiers in the new division would not need to execute complex operations akin to those carried out during the invasion of Iraq or current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would largely monitor villages and refugee camps, inspect individuals to make sure they did not have illicit weapons, and call for help if they came under concerted attack.
agree with O'Hanlon's major point that it can be difficult for
peacekeeping operations to succeed without active U.S. support. Most
current missions are undermanned and underfunded, even for their
already very limited
mandates. I also think the volunteer idea has potential, but my hangup
is the idea of creating a separate track within the military that has
less training. Wouldn't it be better to ask for volunteers from within the armed forces and give them additional peacekeeping training?
To get a perspective on this proposal from the kind of person who might volunteer, I called my friend Marcus Williams, who at the last minute this spring chose to withdraw from his planned Peace Corps deployment in West Africa and instead apply to Officer Candidates School for the U.S. Marines.
Interestingly, Marcus cited peacekeeping and development as one of the reasons he hopes to join the Marines. "Arguably the Iraq war and Afghanistan are right now peace keeping missions. So it becomes kind of hard to define where people are deploying," he said. He added that for better or worse, working on development from within the military means you get resources that Peace Corps volunteers simply do not.
The proposed short training period and separation from the normal military also worried Williams, who graduated from Stanford in four years with both a degree in International Relations and a Masters in African Studies:
If you had people volunteering and there was less training involved, there's this sort of vision of the idealistic African advocate who's in college or going to college and may not have the serious commitment it takes to serve in the armed forces. They're going to end up in the field and not be a very effective unit. When it comes down to it you have to follow orders and accept very seriously that you might die.
Williams pointed out that for the Marine Corps, Officer Candidates School itself is almost 12 weeks and for those who choose to join afterward another six months or so of basic training is required.
Ultimately, Williams argued, if the U.S. wants to get serious about supporting peace-keeping operations in places like the DRC, that would be great, but U.S. troops aren't necessarily the key.
I think that if the U.S. were really committed to these peacekeeping operations we wouldn't be focused on getting U.S. boots on the ground. The cost of the Ghanaian peacekeeper on the ground is much less and if the U.S. peacekeeper is going to literally receive less training, it seems like it would be better to support other troops.
If the U.S. really wants to help, he said, it should focus on its comparative advantages:
flying helicopters, intelligence, communications operations. I'm thinking most of the peacekeepers in Sudan. They had boots on the ground but they didn't have any real logistics.
Does all this mean O'Hanlon's idea should be written off? Absolutely not, Williams said, it just needs some careful thought. "I think you'd have a lot of people interested in volunteering," he said.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Wired correspondent Sharon Weinberger has a compelling investigative piece in the New York Post about the CIA's quest for Russian helicopters to sneak into Afghanistan before the full-scale U.S. invasion. It's a tale of secrecy, corruption, Siberian cold, and credit card rewards.
Here's a bit of Weinbeger's synopsis at Wired's Danger Room:
As with many “black” programs, the contract had elements of craziness: Contracting officials paid the multimillion-dollar contract on a credit card at a local El Paso bar and then used the credit card rebate to redecorate their office; the team traveled under the guise of being private contractors; and the charter crew transporting the group abandoned the team in Russia in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, a five-year investigation into the mission led to the conviction of the Army official in charge and the contractor who bought the helicopters on charges of corruption. The two men, currently in federal prison, are appealing their convictions.
The full article is a thrilling read.
For more of Weinberger's coverage of questionable helicopter contracting, check out her April piece, "How to get a no-bid contract for Russian choppers." Turns out being a middleman in U.S.-Russian arms deals is pretty lucrative.
When U.S. taxpayers shell out for these kinds of shenanigans, at least we're getting some entertainment value.
Above, Russian Mi-17s in 2007.
SERGEY PONOMAREV/AFP/Getty Images
China appears to be modeling three UAVs on the same V-tail configuration of the U.S.-made RQ-4 Global Hawk: the Chengdu Aircraft Corp.'s Xianglong (Sour Dragon) UAV and Yilong UAV, and the Guizhou Aviation Industry Group's WZ-2000 UAV.
One mystery is why the plethora of UAV models on display at Zhuhai do not go into production, said Andrei Chang, a Chinese military analyst with the Kanwa Information Center in Toronto. China is having difficulty mastering the technical complexity of operating UAVs in real time, he said.
"The companies displaying these are probably trying to elicit foreign investment and probably do not have an actual prototype," Chang said.
China also conducted a massive war game this week as part of a campaign to improve its "long-distance mobility" using new high-speed rail networks to move troops and equipment. Eyebrows were raised in New Delhi.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday that he will purchase dozens more tanks in response to the new U.S.-Colombian leasing agreement:
"We're going to buy several battalions of Russian tanks," Chavez said at a news conference, saying the deal is among accords he hopes to conclude during a visit to Russia in September.
Chavez's government has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The socialist leader called Colombia's plan to host more U.S. soldiers a "hostile act" and a "true threat" to Venezuela and its leftist allies. He warned that a possible U.S. buildup could lead to the "start of a war in South America," but gave no indication that Venezuela's military is mobilizing in preparation for any conflict.
Chavez's old friend Fidel Castro also chimed in, writing that, "Venezuela isn't arming itself against the sister nation of Colombia, it's arming itself against the (U.S.) empire."
I doubt it. No matter how big his ego, I doubt that Chavez believes he has a chance against the U.S. military in a conventional war, no matter how many tanks he buys. Even if Venezuela increased its current tank force by 20 times, it would still have fewer than Iraq did before the first Gulf War. Bringing a bigger knife to a gunfight doesn't really shift the odds in your favor.
The rising tensions do give Chavez political cover for a military buildup during a time of economic stagnation and an opportunity to prepare in case of a confrontation with enemies closer to home.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
The elimination of the F-22 from the defense funding bill passed by the House yesterday was billed as a major victory for President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates, as this list compiled by the AP shows, the House still managed to fund quite a few expensive programs that nobody at the White House or Department of Defense had asked for:
VH-71 presidential helicopter — Obama recommended just $85 million for program termination costs after the troubled helicopter received $835 million this year. The House provided $400 million, drawing a White House veto threat.
F-35 alternative engine — The House provided $560 million for the alternative engine; Obama proposed "zeroing out" the second engine project and threatens a veto if the final bill would "seriously disrupt" the overall F-35 program.
C-17 cargo jets — Obama wants to kill the program and requested only $91 million to shut down the production line. Congress funded eight planes in this year's war funding bill; the House bill provides $674 million for three more planes.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor — Obama requested no funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, aimed at shooting down enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early mid-course phases of flight. The House provided $80 million.
The idea of spending an addition $400 million for a presidential helicopted that the president doesn't want is obscene enough, but there's plenty more pork to go around, as Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post wrote yesterday:
Although President Obama has repeatedly criticized earmarks, the White House statement of policy on the House bill obliquely criticized only "programs that fund narrowly focused activities." No mention was made of items such as a proposed $8 million Defense Department grant Murtha inserted for Argon ST, a Pennsylvania military contractor that has contributed $35,200 to him in the past four years, or of a $5 million grant Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) inserted for DRS Technologies, a Florida contractor that has contributed $46,350 to Young during that period, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The White House criticized the addition of $80 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, which Gates and other Pentagon officials have said is technically troubled, behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. But Northrop Grumman, the principal contractor, is building a technology center in Murtha's district that would bring 150 related jobs, and Murtha's subcommittee sought its continuation as a way "to recoup the technology," according to an appropriations staff member, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
As Taxpayers for Common Sense notes, another contractor on the KEI is Kuchera Defense Systems, a contractor tied to Murtha that was raided by the FBI several months ago.
The Center for Defense Information's Winslow Wheeler, who predicted on FP back in April that Gates' efforts at procurement reform wouldn't address the underlying flaws in the process gave an interview with Military.com yesterday, in which he described the situation the U.S. Armed Forces now finds itself in as a consequence of out-of-control "Murthaism:" (my emphasis)
We have today, a World War II high in spending in inflation-adjusted dollars, but we now have the smallest army, the smallest navy, and smallest air force we've ever had since the end of World War II and the inventory for major systems is on average older than its ever been before. We're now at a totally outrageous 20 years per tactical aircraft. And training rates are below what they were during the so-called "hollow years" of the Carter administration.... More money has, quite literally, made our defenses worse.The F-22 was a start, but we're a long way from real reform of this utterly perverse process.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- currently leading in the polls -- has a decent chance of unseating the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after more than half a century of nearly uninterrupted rule. But judging from this interview with the DPJ's Secretary General Katsuya Okada in Mainichi Shimbun, a DPJ victory might have some unexpected consequences for U.S. national security. According to Okada, the DPJ will release details of secret bilateral security agreements between the United States and Japan, including one that allows U.S. shipscarrying nuclear weapons to dock at Japanese ports:
Problems involving the secret agreement on Okinawa must be discussed by Japan and the U.S. The existence of the secret agreement on bringing nuclear weapons to Japan means that Japan secretly endorsed the introduction of nuclear arms into Japan's territory despite its three non-nuclear principles banning it. Therefore, if we publicize the secret nuclear accord, we must hold policy discussions on whether we should revise the three non-nuclear principles or maintain them. If Japan and the U.S. have interpreted the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan's territory in different ways, the two countries must unify their interpretation.
The U.S. military has revealed some details of a joint training excercise with their Cuban couterparts at Guantanamo Bay:
A Cuban Army helicopter flew over this Navy base and dropped 500 gallons of saltwater on burning plywood to extinguish a simulated raging wildfire. American sailors crossed into Cuban-controlled turf to set up a mock triage center run by both nations' militaries, should catastrophe strike.
What may be more surprising is that the drill has been conducted every since the mid-'90s, though this is the first time it has been oficially acknowledged.
In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of eight British soldiers in one day's fighting in Afghanistan, attention has increasingly been focused on the shortage of helicopters for the British Army there. Now, embarassingly, the head of the British army has had to tour Afghanistan with a borrowed American helicopter.
The head of the British Army is touring Afghanistan in an American helicopter, it emerged today, as he demanded more energy behind the push to get troops better equipment.
General Sir Richard Dannatt was transported by a US Black Hawk aircraft on a visit to British troops at Sangin, in the north of Helmand province.
Troops from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, were also ferried in Black Hawk helicopters when they launched Operation Panther’s Claw against the Taleban in Helmand last month.
Last week the Ministry of Defence was accused of having to borrow American helicopters because there were not enough British ones in Afghanistan.
“Self-evidently ... if I moved in an American helicopter, it’s because I haven’t got a British helicopter,” General Dannatt said.
“It’s part of the wider issue. We’re trying to broaden and deepen our effect here, which is about people, it’s about equipment, and yes, of course, to an extent it’s about helicopters as well.”
The issue became the focus of this morning's Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron (fresh off a New York Times profile) sparred over the shortage. The good part begins three minutes into the video.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
The world media has been full of accounts and opinions about the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. But inside his own country, it's a different story.
In Honduras, some of the most popular and influential television stations and radio networks blacked out coverage or adhered to the de facto government's line that Manuel Zelaya's overthrow was not a coup but a legal "constitutional substitution," press freedom advocates and Honduran journalists said.
Meanwhile, soldiers raided the offices of radio and TV stations loyal to Zelaya, shutting down their signals. Alejandro Villatoro, 52, the owner of Radio Globo, said soldiers broke down doors and dismantled video surveillance cameras.
"They grabbed me and put me face down and put six rifles on me, with a foot on my back holding me down," he said. "It was like I was a common criminal."
Such allegations underscore the one-sided nature of the news that has been served up to Hondurans during the crisis. According to results of a Gallup poll published here Thursday, 41 percent of Hondurans think the ouster was justified, with 28 opposed to it.
Global Post's Ioan Grillo was on top of this story earlier this week, and also notes that some of the biggest commercial networks didn't need any help dumping on Zelaya, as they have been at war with him for a long time. In addition:
[T]he media battle over the Honduras coup also reflects larger news-related issues as leftist governments have risen to power in the region.
Longstanding commercial networks controlled by wealthy families have often had head-on collisions with leftist leaders, who accuse them of undermining their governments.
In reaction, business interests accuse stations controlled by leftist presidents of demonizing the rich and dividing nations along class lines.
“The media across Latin America has become much more polarized in recent years. There is more of an atmosphere of saying, “You have to be with us or against us,” said Elan Reyes, president of Honduras’ journalist association.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Russian aircraft were frequently taken by Russian and Ossetian forces for Georgian aircraft, and they were fired upon without identification and in the absence of any aggressive action on their part.
Russia is not happy that the government of Kyrgyzstan changed their mind and decided to allow the U.S. to continue operating at Manas airbase. But then, if I gave someone $2.1 billion for nothing, I'd be pretty upset too:
"The news about the preservation of the base was an extremely unpleasant surprise for us. We did not anticipate such a dirty trick," the foreign ministry source told Kommersant.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the base in February during a visit to Moscow -- on the same day that Russia unveiled a generous aid package to his impoverished country.
In the package, Russia agreed to settle an estimated 180-million-dollar debt owed by Bishkek to Moscow, extend Kyrgyzstan a grant worth 150 million dollars, and loan it two billion dollars more, news agencies reported at the time.
Russia has consistently denied playing any role in Kyrgyzstan's decision to close the base. But the base's presence had long irritated Moscow, which sees it as an intrusion into its former Soviet domains in Central Asia.
I understand why keeping Manas open is important to the war effort in Afghanistan, but being played like this by Kyrgyzstan against Russia for the personal enrichment of Kurmanbek Bakiyev (the U.S. is paying three times the original rent in order to keep the base open) can't feel like much of a victory for the Pentagon.
With euphoria about the magic of Twitter starting to wear off, analysis of Iran is turning toward what will actually happen to the regime.Two key questions are: 1) Will the security forces unflinchingly support the regime? and 2) When (if ever) will they shoot at demonstrators?
Unsurprisingly ahead in the first line of questioning, National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev wrote yesterday about what he has not heard out of Iran, essentially, information about the things that actually matter for revolution: police defections, army sympathies, behind-the-scenes talks, and economic impacts.
Protests are the energy behind any “color revolution” but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change—as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.
As Neil McFarquhar reported in the New York Times, very little has emerged so far about potential divisions in the security services. And, as FP blogger Stephen Walt wrote after reading the NYT article:
If the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other security elements remain willing to follow orders -- and that seems to be the case so far -- then Iran's current leaders will remain in charge.
Iran's military and theocratic leaders knew some time ago that regime survival could eventually depend on military control. AEI's Ali Alfoneh observed in a report from September, 2008 (via Andrew Sullivan) that Iran's leaders took explicit steps for "internal security" issues more than a year ago. Specifically, the elite Revolutionary Guards, tasked with protecting Iran's government, became more focused on internal deployments than external security. Additionally, the less-vetted but politically loyal Basij militiamen were increasingly integrated into normalized forces.
Assuming that security forces remain loyal and that protests continue, the next question is will confrontations turn even bloodier? Shadi Hamid observes that while Iran's crackdown on protesters has been vicious,
it has not reached the level of brutality that we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Syria (1982) or Algeria (1991-2), where the opposition was literally massacred en masse or rounded up and put in desert concentration camps.
In the calculation of the current regime, Hamid concludes, the costs of such explicit violence still outweigh the alternatives.
A final point, however, is that as Iranian forces try to disband and discourage protests, the regime may not be able to dictate exactly how violent its enforcers get, even if it does not order them to open fire. Ohio State political scientist John Mueller argued in a relatively well-known article in International Security, "The Banality of Ethnic War" (.pdf), that mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was less the result of "ancient hatreds" than was often previously alleged.
[Instead] the violence seems to have been the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic, and often distinctly nonideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein by political authorities.
Tasked with harming civilians, Mueller notes, formal security agents like those in the army and police often refuse, as they did in Yugoslavia, and it is paramilitary groups that do much of the damage.
Applying this to Iran, while joining the Basij may open some social and political doors (and not as many as the Revolutionary Guards), it may also be an outlet for the more violent and power-hungry types to feel important. Does anyone really think the regime ordered a sniper to shoot a nonthreatening unarmed girl? Or that it ordered other beatings to go as far as they have? The more Iran's current rulers rely on and arm paramilitary groups like the Basij, the less hierarchical and organized control they have over what happens on the streets. No matter what Obama says.
In March, Travis Sharp noted for FP that "governments around the world are throwing billions into the one sector of their economies that will probably do the least good for the world: their military-industrial complexes." Today's announcement from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) confirms the trend:
Global military spending reached a record $1,464 billion last year with the United States taking up by far the biggest share of the total, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on Monday.
Arms shipments were up 4 percent worldwide from 2007 and 45 percent higher than in 1999, the think tank said in its annual study of the global arms trade.
"The idea of the 'war on terror' has encouraged many countries to see their problems through a highly militarised lens, using this to justify high military spending," Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the Military Expenditure Project at the think tank said in a statement[...]
The United States accounted for 58 percent of the worldwide increase between 1999 and 2008. China and Russia both nearly tripled their military spending over the decade, SIPRI said.
Other countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Brazil, South Korea, Algeria and Britain also contributed substantially to the total increase.
The institute, which conducts independent research on international security, armaments and disarmament, said last year's military spending comprised about 2.4 percent of global gross domestic product, corresponding to $217 per capita.
And if that weren't enough to worry people:
Last year there were around 8,400 operational nuclear warheads in the world, according to SIPRI estimates. Of them, almost 2,000 were kept on high alert and capable of being launched within minutes.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to compile my apocalypse survival kit.
Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images
The trial of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who worked for Al Gore's Current TV, started today in North Korea.
The two were arrested in March along the North Korea-China border, apparently reporting on the refugee situation. Pyongyang has charged them with "hostile acts" and espionage. If convicted, they face five to ten years in one of the country's feared labor camps.
North Korea gains some leverage over the U.S. and its allies by holding the women. In the past weeks, the country has stoked tensions by engaging in some serious saber-rattling, testing a series of missiles and a nuclear bomb; it's provoked South Korea to begin fortifying the militarized border and moving warships into better strategic positions.
I'm more and more concerned by the situation, in which Lee and Ling are pawns in a reckless, needless game of military embrinkmanship. The easy answer here is, of course, that North Korea should simply stop testing missiles and join in six-party talks.
But since that situation is unlikely, it's China that needs to step up here. They have the best relationship with Pyongyang, much at stake, and the best opportunity to assuage the tensions.
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