Monthly Archives: October 2010

Top U.S. Officer: Army Hasn’t Seen End of Wars’ ‘Undetermined Toll’

The annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington D.C. is usually a pretty happy affair for the country’s ground forces. But in his address to the confab, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of continued stress on the Army. A second decade of “persistent conflict” that the Army endures, Mullen said, would take an “undetermined toll” on soldiers and their families — far off the battlefield.

One seemingly positive aspect of the ongoing U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is increased time at home that soldiers can expect — a priority for General George Casey, the Army’s chief of staff. Mullen saw a darker side: soldiers and veterans coming home would continue to struggle with a host of personal problems, like “anxiety, depression, family challenges, post-traumatic stress,” on top of health-care costs for the wounded. He called soldier suicides a problem “we have not yet come close to solving.”

Nor was Mullen particularly upbeat about the recent strong retention rates that the military recently touted. “I’m interested in the quality of those numbers,” Mullen said, meaning how well the military’s doing at keeping “the right” junior and non-commissioned officers within the ranks. Although the Army is “one of our most resilient institutions,” Mullen said, the service would be “foolish” not to wonder how it’s developing the “majors, captains, sergeants majors and first sergeants we deeply need in the next decade.”

Then there’s the “operational opportunity cost” that two simultaneous ground wars have inflicted, measured in tasks and missions that the military is “not so able to do anymore.” Marines who haven’t served on Navy ships. Artillery officers who haven’t fired their big guns in years. Air Force fighter pilots who haven’t honed their air-to-air combat skills. The Army and Marine Corps taught themselves to become “the best counterinsurgency force in the world,” Mullen said, but those martial specialties may have gotten lost along the way.

Mullen’s answers to these challenges echoed Casey’s, who’s remarked over the past several days that the Army is just getting a chance to “breathe again” as the Iraq war winds down. Commanders at home garrisons will have to “build resilience among our soldiers from day one,” he said — getting them prepared to endure the psychological burdens of war as well as the physical ones. Mullen said that would often require “very intrusive leadership,” especially as non-commissioned officers haven’t had enough time away from the wars to exercise “persistent leadership positions on the home front.”

But despite acknowledging that he wasn’t painting “a sunny picture,” Mullen wasn’t all gloom and doom. The country’s faced harder times, he said. Returning veterans are “not a burden, but a tremendous opportunity for the future.” The current generation of troops are, “in a way I’ve never seen before, wired to contribute and wired to serve.”

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One Burst And The World Goes Dark

Electromagnetic pulse impact far and wide

From USA Today:

Modern society relies on technologies vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse effects that, if strong enough, can induce currents that burn out wires and circuits. The following are two worst-case scenarios depending on whom you believe, the threat of an electromagnetic pulse triggered by either a supersized solar storm or terrorist A-bomb, both capable of disabling the electric grid that powers modern life.

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The End of American Power — Again

From DoD Buzz…It’s not quite clockwork, but it looks like it’s time again for us to have the anguished debate — is America in decline and how stark are the limits on American power.

We had this familial argument when the Communist Party took over China. We had this argument when the Russians stunned the world by launching Sputnik. It recurred during Vietnam. President Jimmy Carter made his famous malaise speech just to keep the pattern unbroken. President Bill Clinton sought the peace dividend and pulled out of Somalia and refused to try and stop the genocide in Rwanda.

Then the last administration came along and resurrected American triumphalism. We would fix the Middle East. We would punish and contain the Axis of Evil. Saddam Hussein would be removed and punished for threatening the world and killing his own people with weapons of mass destruction.

Eric Edelman, former undersecretary of Defense for policy under President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, says variations of this debate occur about once every decade and that they get more rambunctious in hard economic downturns.

With Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul leading the charge for enormous cuts to the defense budget, Australia telling the world (and us) that it can’t rely on the US in the future, the Chinese sub surfacing in sight of an American carrier, and all the national anguish centering on Iraq and Afghanistan it seems we are once again in the cycle of questioning our exceptionalism, our global mission, even our very identity.

Here’s the intelligence community’s view of the situation, which Edelman takes as his point of departure: “In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council released Global Trends 2025 which argued that ‘the international system — as constructed following the Second World War — will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, a historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of non-stateactors. By 2025 the international system will be a global multipolar one with gaps in national power continuing to narrow between developed and developing countries” [emphasis in original].‘This conclusion represented a striking departure from the NIC’s conclusion four years earlier in Mapping the Global Future 2020 that unipolarity was likely to remain a persistent condition of the international system.

Edelman, now working with the much-respected Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has penned a report for them titled, “Understanding America’s Contested Primacy.”

Edelman’s bottom line: having this argument usually results in our finding solutions to what ails us. And there is, for the foreseeable future, little likelihood that that the US will lose its place as “the leading state in the international system with a decisive preponderance in all the underlying components of power: economic, military, technological and geopolitical.” It may not mean, in Madeleine Albright’s felicitous phrase, that we are the “indispensable nation,” but the U.S. will be more than primus inter pares. In Edelman’s words: “Although the United States will face increasing competition from rising regional powers and potentially new nuclear weapons states, much will depend on how well the United States as a nation is capable of mobilizing its residual strengths and managing the policy challenges it faces.”

That will mean that the U.S. will have to rely more on allies and partners. “Australia will need to take on a greater burden with us in the western Pacific,” he said. Vietnam and Indonesia are also likely new close friends in that region.

I asked him if we are at a strategic turning point in global affairs. He said he thought we are “an inflection point.” In a fine bit of understatement, Edelman said “a lot will also depend on outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan.“

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The Online Threat

Should we be worried about a cyber war?
By Seymour M. Hersh

The New YorkerNovember 1, 2010
Pg. 44

A great deal of money is at stake. Cyber security is a major growth industry, and warnings from Clarke, McConnell, and others have helped to create what has become a military-cyber complex. The federal government currently spends between six and seven billion dollars annually for unclassified cyber-security work, and, it is estimated, an equal amount on the classified portion. In July, the Washington Post published a critical assessment of the unchecked growth of government intelligence agencies and private contractors. Benjamin Powell, who served as general counsel for three directors of the Office of National Intelligence, was quoted as saying of the cyber-security sector, “Sometimes there was an unfortunate attitude of bring your knives, your guns, your fists, and be fully prepared to defend your turf. . . . Because it’s funded, it’s hot and it’s sexy.”

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Britain Bows Out of the Security Game

The DoD press secretary released a statement on Wednesday hoping to dampen concerns about British defense spending cuts, “We are confident that the U.K. will continue to have the capacity to provide top-tier fighting forces in Afghanistan and other future missions in defense of our shared interests and security.”

“We are pleased that the U.K. clearly intends to maintain its historical role as a leading nation that shapes global security, and the fourth largest military budget in the world”


Wall Street Journal
October 21, 2010
Pg. 15

Britain Bows Out Of The Security Game

New defense cuts will leave the U.K. unable to support even its current deployment in Afghanistan.

By Max Boot

The Strategic Defense and Security Review released this week by Prime Minister David Cameron is bad news for anyone who believes that a strong Britain is a vital bulwark of liberty. Granted, the news isn’t as bad as it could have been. The government will cut “only” 8% from the defense budget over the next four years—not the 10% to 20% that had been rumored. Britain will continue to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense—far less than the U.S. (nearly 5%) but more than most members of the European Union.

In announcing the cutbacks, Mr. Cameron promised that Britain would still “punch above its weight.” His words ring hollow.

Which has led to strange bedfellows…

The Economist

France and Britain think the unthinkable on defence

Oct 19th 2010, 22:05 by Bagehot

DAVID Cameron headed to the House of Commons today to unveil the new shape of Britain’s armed forces. For an hour and a half he fielded questions from MPs about planned cuts to the three services, vowing to all comers that Britain would still be able to project power across the world. It was a deft performance, but the truly startling part for me was hearing a Conservative prime minister say, not once but repeatedly, that Britain’s future clout lay in working with its two closest allies, “the United States and France.” Playing down the fact that from now until 2019 the cuts mean that Britain will not be able to fly fighter jets off an aircraft carrier, Mr Cameron specifically noted that at least one of two new aircraft carriers under construction would be redesigned with catapults so that it could take American and French aircraft.

Asked by an MP what had changed to make Britain so keen to work with France, the prime minister said that (a) President Nicolas Sarkozy was very keen on this planned cooperation, (b) Mr Sarkozy had shown willing by putting France back into the military command structures of NATO and (c) that France and Britain were both determined to maintain and enhance their defence capabilities. To translate these cautious words into plain English, Mr Cameron was telling MPs: (a) France is a serious military power, indeed the only other serious military power in Europe (b) Mr Sarkozy is a radical pragmatist whose decision to rejoin NATO’s military structures buried decades of Gaullist anti-Americanism and (c) like Britain, France is broke.

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The U.S. Strategic Imperative Must Shift

Dr. Robert Bunker argues at that the U.S. strategic imperative must shift from Iraq/Afghanistan to Mexico/The Americas and the stabilization of Europe

The United States currently faces two strategic level non-state (network) threats—but only one of them is openly recognized. Al Qaeda, and other elements of radical Islam, have been recognized as the #1 threat since the 11 September 2001 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans and caused well over 100 billion dollars in infrastructure damage, emergency response, and economic disruption. This threat which garners ongoing media attention, however, on many fronts pales in comparison to that represented by the drug cartels and narco-gangs which for decades now have been evolving, mutating, and growing in capabilities and power in the Americas. While presently viewed as a ‘crime and law enforcement issue’, as Al Qaeda was pre 9-11, this more subtle and encompassing strategic threat has resulted in the deaths of well over 100,000 citizens of the Americas (roughly 30,000 in Mexico alone in the last 4 years) and has caused the destabilization of a number of nations including Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and witnessed the rise of heightened narco influence within regions of the US homeland along its Southern Border. Economically, the sustained damage and disruption caused by drug cartel and narco-gang activities to private individuals, local economies, and governmental bodies is well past the trillion dollar mark and rising. Both of these non-state (network) threats challenge the institutions of the many nations affected, the loyalty of the indigenous populations to the state itself, and are indicative of the ‘war over social and political organization’ now being waged in various regions of the globe.

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