(Article published courtesy of the Carnegie Council)
International Security Issues
Killing of al-Qaeda Number Two
The killing of al-Qaeda’s number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi, by a drone strike in Pakistan in early June was another serious blow to the terrorist organization. He was the latest in over a dozen senior al-Qaeda leaders killed in the past year since the SEAL attack on a compound in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The United States has now carried out an estimated 254 drone attacks on targets in Pakistan since President Obama was inaugurated. This compares with only 47 drone strikes during the entire eight years of the Bush administration.
There was a $1 million reward for information leading to al-Libi. He was a Libyan by nationality who was described as al-Qaeda’s “theological hardliner” and “insurgent theologian.” Al-Libi had filmed numerous propaganda videos urging attacks against American targets. He had successfully escaped from a prison at the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan in 2005. It is believed that since he assumed the role of second in command for al-Qaeda, he was responsible for the group’s day-to-day operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as managing outreach to the terrorist group’s affiliates worldwide.
Pakistan remains in a political crisis as the government’s ruling political party and coalition partners try to find a solution to the Supreme Court’s ouster of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Currently, the seat of prime minister is occupied by Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was elected on June 22.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States remained both difficult and mixed during June. Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, announced that the two countries appear to be edging closer to a deal on the re-opening of critical NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. But at nearly the same moment, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta observed that the United State is reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan serving as a safe haven for terrorists attacking American forces in Afghanistan. He also confirmed that the United States would continue to use drones to strike terrorist safe havens on Pakistani soil despite serious objections by the Pakistani government.
Pakistani leaders were also clearly annoyed by the recent visit of Defense Secretary Panetta to India, in which he was obviously on a mission to deepen relations between Washington and New Delhi. During his stay, the defense secretary urged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan.
Reorganization and Reductions in the British Army
In early June, I attended the annual Land Warfare Conference in London hosted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the largest defense think tank in the United Kingdom. This event drew senior military officers from a number of NATO nations, including General Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. It is widely supported by both British and American corporations and, consequently, senior representatives from defense industry also were in attendance.
The conference had several themes. First, all speakers began their presentations with an analysis of the emerging security environment. Second, it was clear from the onset that the British government was using this event to unveil its plans for what was characterized as the largest reduction and reorganization of the British Army since World War II. Third, senior allied officers, representatives from industry, and defense academics provided their perspectives on the challenges of contemporary international security.
The context for the conference was also fascinating. It occurred with the backdrop of growing fears about the continued viability of the euro, and the impact that economic challenges, particularly in Greece and Spain, might have on economic growth across the continent. Consequently, it was clear from the beginning that economic austerity was central to any discussion of future defense spending.
The global security setting. The conference began with an overview presentation by Julian Miller, deputy national security adviser to Prime Minster David Cameron, on the nature of contemporary threats. Miller observed that, in the aftermath of Iraq and the planned departure from Afghanistan by 2014, all nations who were contributing forces must now carefully reconsider their defense priorities in the light of widespread economic challenges. He further stated that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq might not necessarily be the models for the future. This has become a recurrent theme in recent commentary by senior government officials, military officers, and defense analysts who have begun to question whether or not counterinsurgency should remain a centerpiece for future defense thinking.
Miller further argued that national security planning in the United Kingdom focused on four likely challenges: (1) a massive cyberattack on the nation, (2) a large scale terror attack, (3) a humanitarian disaster, and (4) a major military threat to the nation’s population or territorial integrity. He further observed that these threats and the nature of the emerging security environment demanded a “greater precision” in the application of force. Consequently, senior military leaders in Western countries must insure that advice is candid and includes a clear statement of the risks associated with various policy options. The adherence to a “HOOAH” attitude that posits an ability to accomplish any task is not helpful or appropriate. Finally, a “whole of government” approach to dealing with security questions is essential. This must include a careful calculation of those places and issues that are of significant national interest. This must also include a careful and realistic determination of goals.
Subsequent speakers expanded on the discussion of emerging security issues. They suggested that, in light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, political unrest in Russia, and economic turmoil across Europe, the international community may now be moving into a period where the concern about the continuing strength of larger states may become a greater concern than failed or failing states, which have been a focal point since perhaps the end of the Cold War.
This is further complicated by two emerging realities. First, there is a greater dispersion of power among a number of emerging powers around the globe that have disparate interests. As a result, there will be a growing “ambiguity” of relations. Important trade and investment relations may occur between states that do not and probably will not have a positive security relationship.
Second, we are witnessing a movement away from the legitimacy of centralized governments due in part to the so-called “democratization” of information. One speaker suggested that these factors, coupled with reduced resources, will require military officers and defense experts to tolerate “greater shades of gray” when involved in contingency operations. It should also force us to carefully consider “who needs to act” during any crisis. Western policymakers may need to adopt greater patience that allows for smaller deployments and greater dependence on local military forces and government officials.
A very sobering presentation was delivered by the head of humanitarian assistance from the British Foreign Office. For example, Somalia is now a nation that has been beset by warring factions for over two decades with over 3 million people living in total poverty. It now produces over 60 tons of cocaine annually and piracy that emanates from its shores costs the international community over $10 billion every year. More broadly, over 206 million people globally were affected by some form of natural disaster during 2011. Scientists now predict that, based on changing weather patterns due to climate change, this number could rise to 375 million people by 2015.
The reductions and reorganization of the British Army. The British Army will shrink from its current strength of 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, its lowest level since the Boer War. In addition, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will be each be reduced by 5,000. The Cameron government argues that it can maintain the army’s effectiveness at these reduced levels by doubling the reserves, or Territorial Army, from its current level of 15,000 to 30,000 during this same period. This is part of a larger plan referred to as “Army 2020” that will call for the use of reserve units more routinely in overseas contingencies and the integration of reserve and active units into combined formations. The result will be a total of one air assault and three armored brigades that are totally manned by active forces and seven infantry brigades that are a combination of active and reserve formations.
The British Army leadership did argue that the plan does include increased spending for equipment. The government will spend roughly £4.5 billion for new army vehicles, including an upgrade for the warrior armored personnel carrier and purchase of the scout vehicle. An additional £1.8 billion will be spent over 10 years on reserve forces.
A senior French officer in attendance also pointed out that, under the terms of the Lancaster Treaty between the United Kingdom and France, plans exist for the creation of up to two brigades of combined forces. One would be commanded by a French officer and the other by a British officer. Still when pressed on the utility of this plan or any discussions of joint procurement of equipment for these units, there appears to be little interest in either nation.
Two issues appear crucial for the reorganization. First, the basing solution for British forces will be key, especially in light of the return of the remaining units of the British Army of the Rhine that are still in Germany by 2020 and the need to expand available training space for the expanded Territorial Army. Obviously, this could be dramatically affected by the impending referendum in Scotland on independence, which is scheduled to occur in late 2014. While this would have a serious impact on the army, it would have a nearly disastrous effect on the Royal Navy, since all of Britain’s nuclear submarines operate from bases in Scotland.
Second, the integration of the Territorial Army as units into large active/reserve formations will be a change in culture not only for the British military, but the society as well. It was clear that many British defense experts are very skeptical of this plan. For example, Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies stated, “It is not clear that any new blueprint can make up for a fundamental loss in quality and capability.” Furthermore, it was also very clear that many British officials are very concerned about what impact these reductions will have on the so-called “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain in future.
The violence in Syria continued to increase. In early June, troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were accused of killing at least 78 people at Mazraat al-Qubeir, near Hama. UN observers in the country suspended operations on June 16 due to the escalating violence. President Assad has now acknowledged that his county is in a “state of war” following fighting between rebels and Syrian army units near Damascus. Despite the deaths of over 14,000 Syrians, Assad has continued to argue that the fighting was in response to terrorists and criminals. On June 28, the pro-Assad television studio was bombed and two bombs exploded outside the Palace of Justice in central Damascus.
On July 18, the tensions racheted up even further as anti-Assad rebels bombed a national security building in Damascus killing four top Syrian government officials, including the regime’s defense minister and deputy defense minister, who was also Assad’s brother-in-law. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a leading Arab voice against Assad, called the attack a “tremendous blow” to the Assad regime.
Since the beginning of the uprising against President Assad, 16 months ago, countries neighboring Syria have seen a trickle of defectors and deserters from the regimes forces. Recently this trend has greatly increased to include high ranking military officers. During one two-week period in June, a Syrian general, two colonels, a major, and a lieutenant defected to Turkey, along with 33 other soldiers. In late June, two brigadier generals and two colonels announced their defection in an opposition video.
That same day, a Syrian air force pilot, who was both a colonel and a squadron commander, defected with his plane to Jordan. This was the first member of the Syrian air force to defect. Defections from the air force are seen as particularly dangerous to the Assad government as only strong regime loyalists were allowed to join. Following this desertion, the Syrian air force was essentially grounded. Reports of other pilots defecting to Jordan were denied by Jordanian officials; however, the country has been reluctant to release any details on ranking officers seeking asylum within its borders.
On June 22, a Turkish F4 reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire 13 nautical miles out over the Mediterranean Sea. The search and rescue mission sent to find the downed aircraft was then fired upon. Syrian officials claim this was not an act of aggression, but that the plane was mistaken for an Israeli jet in Syrian airspace. Turkey claimed that the plane was shot in international air space as Syrian air space ends at 12 miles.
Turkish officials later admitted that the plane had dipped into Syrian air space and with the ability to travel nearly 1,600 miles per hour, it is likely that the jet was initially fired upon in Syrian air space. As a result of this, however, the Turkish media reported that additional anti-aircraft artillery, rocket launchers on transporters and military ambulances had been deployed to two positions along the Syrian border, in the provinces of Urfa and Hatay, which currently houses over 30,000 Syrian refugees, including military defectors from Assad’s army.
Turkey filed a protest against Syria at the UN and called an emergency meeting of NATO, which condemned Syria for the attack. Alliance members were quick to announce their support for Ankara, yet there was no effort to invoke Article V of the NATO Treaty for collective defense. The 27 members of the European Union also condemned Syria’s attack on the Turkish aircraft.
Domestic Security Issues
Fears of Sequestration Reach the Local Level and the November Elections
The threat of sequestration continues to hang over defense planners and political leaders facing elections in November. It now appears to be having an impact on states and communities who are worried about the possibility of sudden increases in unemployment should there be a significant reduction in defense spending. During June, there were a number of reports of these growing local concerns over the potential economic impact of dramatic changes in the defense budget. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) travelled throughout his state describing near-catastrophic consequences that could include the closure of a number of bases.
But this was not confined to Republican lawmakers. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) also conducted an extensive trip throughout his district warning his constituents of the dangers posed by “sequestration.” Scott frequently quoted an October 2011 economic analysis prepared by George Mason University during his presentations. He argued, “The jobs impact is clear. . . . The planned cuts, combined with defense reductions already set to go into place, would cause more than 1 million job losses across the nation in just one year.”
The George Mason report further indicated that California would lose the most jobs of any state, with 125,800 in projected job losses. Another vulnerable state is Virginia (a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election) where 122,800 jobs could disappear. Florida would be hit hard with nearly 40,000 in job losses, the study said. Representative Scott concluded that the majority of jobs lost would come not directly from defense but from businesses that are reliant on the robust military presence in these local communities—”think mom and pop restaurants, beauty shops, and convenience stores.”
Still some economists have claimed that the impact of sequestration is not as dire as most experts have claimed. “On its face, the automatic cuts do not sound that bad. If they are put into effect, military spending would decline to its 2007 level,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But Harrison quickly added that the overall level of spending may not tell the entire story. The law exempts war costs and allows the administration to exempt personnel levels and military pay, which is about a third of the Pentagon budget. “That means everything else—operations and maintenance, research and development, procurement, fuel, military construction—would face immediate cuts as deep as 13 percent,” Harrison concluded.
There can be little doubt of the potential effect that sequestration could have on the upcoming election. A statistical analysis of how defense sequestration would impact employment in each of the 50 states does find that several “swing” states crucial to President Obama’s reelection prospects would be hit especially hard. Specifically, four of the ten states losing the most defense jobs if sequestration is triggered —Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—could prove pivotal in the November election. President Obama won each of the four states by 5 percent or less of the vote in his 2008 presidential bid, so a modest shift in voter sentiment could endanger his reelection prospects.
In addition to the George Mason report, the impact of defense sequestration on employment is laid out in a report entitled “Defense Spending Cuts: The Impact on Economic Activity and Jobs” released by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). This study was conducted by the Interindustry Forecasting Project at the University of Maryland. Using a rigorous modeling tool, it estimates what would happen to employment if the sequestration provisions in the 2011 Budget Control Act were triggered as currently planned on January 2. The report calculates that in combination with earlier cuts already being implemented under the same law, defense sequestration would reduce gross domestic product by 0.6 percent and national employment by 907,000 jobs in fiscal 2013. The impact would worsen the following year, with 1,211,000 jobs wiped out in a wide range of industries scattered across all 50 states. GDP would be reduced 0.8 percent in 2014, the peak year for economic fallout from the sequestration process.
In addition to George Mason University, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the aerospace industry have reached conclusion similar to NAM’s about the impact of the cuts on jobs and unemployment. More studies are undoubtedly on the way.
According to NAM, these are the 10 top states ranked by the magnitude of the job losses in 2014:
- California: 148,000
- Virginia: 115,000
- Texas: 109,000
- Florida: 58,600
- New York: 42,100
- Maryland: 40,200
- Georgia: 38,700
- Illinois: 35,400
- Pennsylvania: 34,700
- North Carolina: 34,200
Obviously, the defense cuts are of particular concern to manufacturers—not just big defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but also hundreds of smaller firms in their supply chains. The NAM study projects that the aerospace industry could lose 3.4 percent of its jobs by 2015 because of downsizing at the Pentagon. Shipbuilders could shed 3.3 percent of their workforce by 2014. And the search and navigation equipment industry could see employment drop by nearly 10 percent by 2016.
Industry leaders have become increasingly vocal about the impact of sequestration during congressional testimony, as well as at public events. Many are concerned, as they will need to provide 60 days notice to their employees, which would occur around November 1 if action is not taken by Congress. Obviously, this would occur only a few days prior to national elections and could have a significant impact on the results.
Political consequences. There can be little doubt that the NAM analysis coupled with pressure from industry is worrisome for the Obama administration, which is facing weak economic conditions in its reelection bid. As previously suggested, the swing state impact of defense sequestration is especially salient to electoral outcomes. Not surprisingly, the most populous states are near the top of the rankings for job losses from sequestration. But in second place with an estimated 87,000 jobs destroyed in 2013 from sequestration is Virginia, a state in which military spending has long played a central economic role. Democrats carried Virginia in 2008 for the first time since Lyndon Johnson bested Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, but Obama only received 52.7 percent of the vote to Senator John McCain’s 46.4 percent. A shift to the Republican side of only one in 20 voters in 2012 could deliver all the Old Dominion’s electoral college votes to Mitt Romney.
The situation is even closer in Florida, the state projected to lose the fourth largest number of jobs under sequestration. There, President Obama won in 2008 with only 50.7 percent of the vote to McCain’s 48.8 percent. And in North Carolina, the other Southeastern swing state likely to lose a lot of defense jobs from sequestration, Obama beat McCain in 2008 by 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent—a razor-thin victory margin that could be wiped out by modest shifts in voter sentiment. The president is in better shape in Pennsylvania, the one other swing state likely to lose big from sequestration, because his margin of victory there in the last presidential match-up was 54.7 percent to McCain’s 44.3 percent. The model finds that Pennsylvania and North Carolina would both lose about 26,000 jobs as a result of sequestration in 2013.
The Obama camp has developed several electoral scenarios in which it might be able to win in November without Florida or North Carolina or Virginia. However, nobody seriously believes the president could be reelected without Pennsylvania in his column. Florida or Virginia could also prove crucial if other swing states like Ohio decide to go with the GOP in 2012. Obama only got 51.2 percent of the vote in Ohio in 2008, so the projected loss of 21,000 jobs there from sequestration in 2013 could threaten his reelection prospects. Some election experts argue that Obama lacks many of the electoral advantages he had in 2008, so obscure issues like sequestration of the military budget could be potentially decisive in a tight November race.
The way ahead? The Senate did approve a bipartisan plan to require the Obama administration to say how it would implement the cuts and to detail the impact on the Pentagon and other federal agencies. If the measure passes the House (which is likely), a report on the defense reductions would be due in August. At this juncture, however, there appears little likelihood of any type of resolution prior to Congress completing its summer recess.
Senate Version of FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill
The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved its version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254). The bill authorizes $525.3 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) base budget; $88.5 for overseas contingency operations (OCO), which funds the war in Afghanistan; and $17.8 billion for the national security programs in the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The bill authorizes $498 million more than was requested for the base budget of DOD and $301 million less than was requested for OCO. The bill authorizes $431 million less than the requested level of funding for national security programs of the DOE.
The committee authorized approximately $550.7 billion for national defense, excluding war funding. This is a slight increase of approximately $70 million over the president’s budget request, but still $4.67 billion above the Budget Control Act’s FY 2013 cap of $546 billion on non-war spending. In contrast, the House version of the defense bill (H.R. 4310) is approximately $3.6 billion over the president’s request and more than $8 billion above the Budget Control Act cap.
The House passed the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill by a vote of 299-120. The bill authorizes $554 billion for national defense and $88.5 billion for OCO (primarily the war in Afghanistan). This is $4 billion more than the president requested but less than the FY2012 funding levels.
The House bill includes a number of policy and funding proposals that would 1) block the Pentagon’s ability to implement the New START treaty; 2) prevent the president and senior military leaders from making changes to U.S. nuclear posture beyond those outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and agreed to in the New START treaty; and 3) drastically increase spending on nuclear weapons programs and national missile defense.
As was the case last year, the Senate bill does not impose policy or funding limitations on New START implementation or future changes to U.S. nuclear policy, posture, and force size. Contrary to the House bill, it also does not include a provision calling for the completion of a missile defense interceptor site on the East Coast of the United States by 2015 and endorses U.S. efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.
Media Security Issues
The following is a brief summary of the major national security issues that the media focused on during the month.
DOD Confirms 2,000 Total Americans Killed in Action in Afghanistan
In early June, the nation passed a sad milestone when the Pentagon confirmed that the 2,000th American had been killed in action since the war began in 2001. The Afghan war has now lasted 3,900 days and is the longest war in American history. The nation has also suffered over 15,000 wounded.
In considering these figures, it is important to realize that this is a NATO war as well, with roughly 30,000 European troops still serving in Afghanistan. The total number of allied soldiers killed in action now is over 1,000. Many of our allies have suffered significant numbers of casualties. The British have lost 417 and Canada has endured 158 dead, which are very significant when one compares this to the overall population of these two nations.
As one examines these statistics, several realities of this war become clear. First, the southern part of Afghanistan has seen the most severe combat. Nearly 1,200 allied soldiers have lost their lives in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Second, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remain the greatest threat to allied forces and account for over 50 percent of all casualties, despite a massive effort to reduce the threat posed by these devices.
It is also important to reflect on the number of Afghan casualties in this conflict since it began in 2001. The best estimates suggest that roughly 13,000 Afghan civilians have died in this conflict, which would mean that over 100,000 have been injured. This is a dramatic death toll for this impoverished country whose population is roughly one-tenth of the United States.
Egyptian Presidential Elections
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has been elected president of Egypt. The victory for the long-repressed Islamist group begins a new act in a central drama of the nation’s politics over the past 60 years—the Brotherhood versus the military. Morsi addressed the nation following the announcement of his election and the military has indicated it will transfer power to the new civilian government.
Apparent Failure of Talks With Iran
In Moscow, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have failed. This will likely lead to an intensification of the crisis, as a full European Union oil embargo commenced on June 28. The meeting between American, European, and Iranian negotiators occurred in the aftermath of an International Atomic Energy Agency report that stated Iran was not complying with the demands of the international community.
It is clear that the United States intends to continue to increase pressure on Iran. So far, there has been no official Iranian reaction to a report that the U.S. and Israel jointly developed a new computer virus called “Flame” that has been used against Tehran. Economic pressure is also increasing on Tehran. Iranian exports are estimated to be down 20-30 percent for the current year and the Iranian currency is reported to have dropped 40 percent in value. Obviously, these statistics will only continue to deteriorate in the aftermath of the new EU sanctions.
Alexis Tsipras, whose party had supported renouncing the austerity deal Greece struck with the European Union, failed in his bid to become the new prime minister of Greece. Both European and American policymakers were clearly relieved by this development, but the new government has already indicated that the austerity measures imposed on Greece by its EU partners must be reduced. This occurs as there continues to be growing concerns about the condition of the Spanish and Italian economies. An agreement reached by European leaders at the end of the month does appear to solve the debt crisis in the short term, but fails to solve many of the longer term structural problems.
As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.
Continuing Economic Turmoil in Europe
Despite the recent agreement that provides some relief to banks across Europe, the continent’s overall economic challenges remain. The members of the EU will need to confront two realities. First, future German governments must accept the fact that their country will be forced to provide greater contributions to the success of the European Union and the common currency. This remains in Germany’s long term economic and political interests. Second, all EU members must acknowledge that both their monetary and fiscal policies must be closely coordinated. Southern members, in particular, (Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece) must be willing to forego a certain portion of their sovereignty over budgetary issues in return for longer term economic stability and growth.
The Presidential Campaign and Domestic Gridlock in the United States
Despite the Supreme Court ruling on the Obama administration’s health care plan, there is little likelihood of the current Congress passing any meaningful legislation during the remainder of this year, especially in light of the upcoming presidential elections. Congress will likely pass a continuing resolution on the budget and the threat of “sequestration” will continue until the “lame duck session” that will occur in the aftermath of the November elections.
It is also interesting to consider that the United States continues to have over 70,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan and spends nearly $100 billion annually for the war. Despite this and the deaths of over 160 Americans this year, the war in Afghanistan is not a campaign issue. Neither President Obama nor his Republican rival Mitt Romney has spoken about the war in any detail during the ongoing campaign.