Gorbachev Issues New Warning of Nuclear War over Ukraine
BERLIN (January 9, 2015) — Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that the crisis in Ukraine could lead to a major war, or even a nuclear war. In an interview with a German magazine, he criticized both Russia and the West.
In an interview with the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, 83-year-old former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the crisis in Ukraine could lead to large-scale war in Europe or even a nuclear war. “We won’t survive if someone loses their nerves in the current tension.”
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate decried the “loss of trust” between Russia and the West as “catastrophic,” and said ties must be “defrosted.”
Gorbachev accused the West and NATO of destroying the structure of European security by expanding its alliance. “No head of the Kremlin can ignore such a thing,” he said, adding that the US was unfortunately starting to establish a “mega empire.”
The man seen as a key player in the reunification of former East and West Germany in 1990 also accused Germany of interfering in Ukraine’s crisis, saying, “The new Germany wants its hands in every pie. There seems to be a lot of people who want to be involved in a new division of Europe.
“Germany has already tried to expand its influence of power towards the East – in World War II. Does it really need another lesson?”
He said Western attempts to disempower Russian President Vladimir Putin and destabilize Russia were “very stupid and extremely dangerous.”
He defended the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula last year, but criticized the Russian leader’s authoritarian style of leadership. He said Russia needed free elections and “the participation of the people in free elections.
“It is simply not acceptable when someone such as the anti-corruption blogger and politician Alexei Navalny is under house arrest for speaking out.”
Gorbachev has warned of a nuclear war on a number of occasions in recent months. In an article for the Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published on December 11, he said: “The situation in Europe and the world is extremely alarming . . . the result of the events that took place in the last months is a catastrophic loss of trust in international relation,” which could lead to war.
He urged Russia and the US as well as Russia and the EU to hold talks “without preconditions” and without fear of “losing face.”
“We must think of the future,” the former leader said.
On Monday, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are set to meet in Berlin to launch another attempt to break the deadlock in the Ukraine conflict.
The ministers are expected to discuss the possibility of a summit of the four countries’ leaders in Kazakhstan, which Ukraine had suggested take place on January 15.
Regarding the fragile four-month-old ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, which has been broken on a number of occasions, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said everything should be done to reach a compromise, adding, “It would be wrong not to try it.”
(January 9, 2015) — Two months ago we reported that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis have put the world “on the brink of a new Cold War.”
That warning has now escalated as the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner told Der Spiegel news magazine, according to excerpts released on Friday, that tensions between Russia and European powers over the Ukraine crisis could result in a major conflict or even nuclear war, adding that “a war of this kind would unavoidably lead to a nuclear war.”
As Reuters reports, Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that tensions between Russia and European powers over the Ukraine crisis could result in a major conflict or even nuclear war, in an interview to appear in a German news magazine on Saturday.>
“A war of this kind would unavoidably lead to a nuclear war,” the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner told Der Spiegel news magazine, according to excerpts released on Friday.
“We won’t survive the coming years if someone loses their nerve in this overheated situation,” added Gorbachev, 83. “This is not something I’m saying thoughtlessly. I am extremely concerned.”
Tensions between Russia and Western powers rose after pro-Russian separatists took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine and Russia annexed Crimea in early 2014.
The United States, NATO and the European Union accuse Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the separatist uprising, and have imposed sanctions on Moscow.
Russia denies providing the rebels with military support and fends off Western criticism of its annexation of Crimea, saying the Crimean people voted for it in a referendum.
Gorbachev, who is widely admired in Germany for his role in opening the Berlin Wall and steps that led to Germany’s reunification in 1990, warned against Western intervention in the Ukraine crisis.
“The new Germany wants to intervene everywhere,” he said in the interview. “In Germany evidently there are a lot of people who want to help create a new division in Europe.”
The elder statesman, whose “perestroika” (restructuring) policy helped end the Cold War, has previously warned of a new cold war and potentially dire consequences if tensions were not reduced over the Ukraine crisis.
The diplomatic standoff over Ukraine is the worst between Moscow and the West since the Cold war ended more than two decades ago.
* * *
As we concluded previously, Do not forget that Russian generals have also pushed for adding pre-emptive nuclear strikes into the new military doctrine . . . having also previously predicted the US/NATO as enemies reported above.
Lord Rothschild Warns Investors of
‘Most Dangerous Geopolitical Situation Since World War II’ Before It’s News
(March 6, 2015) â€“ BIN Editor’s Note: Billionaires, hedge fund managers and other “elites” in the know are quickly snatching up land and secret hideaways around the world in anticipation of a serious crisis. As you read the following report from Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, pay attention to where Lord Jacob Rothschild has put his focus.
It’s no longer about making money for clients, but rather, protecting and preserving their wealth from the coming destruction of our financial, economic and monetary systems. Lord Jacob Rothschild has warned investors that the world is mired in the most dangerous geopolitical situation since World War II.
The 78-year-old chairman of RIT Capital Partners, a Â£2.3 billion trust, used the organization’s annual report to caution savers that the focus of the firm would be the preservation of shareholders’ capital and not short term gains.
Rothschild said that “a geopolitical situation perhaps as dangerous as any we have faced since World War II” has created a “difficult economic background” of which investors should be wary.
Rothschild, whose business associates include Warren Buffett and Henry Kissinger, blamed the fraught climate on, “chaos and extremism in the Middle East, Russian aggression and expansion, and a weakened Europe threatened by horrendous unemployment, in no small measure caused by a failure to tackle structural reforms in many of the countries which form part of the European Union”.
“RIT is popular among private investors thanks to its excellent track record and its conservative approach to conserving capital,” notes the Telegraph‘s Richard Dyson. Rothschild and his daughter Hannah jointly own shares in the trust worth approximately Â£160m.
Rothschild’s warning follows reports from January’s Davos Economic Forum during which it was revealed that the wealthy are purchasing secret hideaways in remote locations in order to escape social upheaval and possible riots.
Economist Robert Johnson made headlines when he divulged that “hedge fund managers all over the world . . . are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.” Johnson cited income inequality and the potential for civil unrest and riots as the reason for the panic.
“A lot of wealthy and powerful people are quite afraid right now â€“ they see us on an unstable trajectory,” said Johnson. “As the system doesn’t have proper resources, as it doesn’t represent people, things are getting more and more dangerous as say Ferguson, Missouri brings to bear.”
Realtors in New Zealand subsequently confirmed the flight to safety by the elite, noting that “paranoia” and concerns about personal safety and global crises were driving the trend.
Gen. Wesley Clark Exposes Secret US Plans
To Attack Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan and Iran
(February 22, 2015) â€“ AMTV.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Cluster Bombs Following Nukes in Yemen
Saudis Still Using Cluster Bombs against Yemen: HRW Press TV
TEHRAN (May 31, 2015) — Human Rights Watch (HRW) says evidence shows Saudi Arabia has been pounding neighboring Yemen with internationally banned cluster bombs, warning that such attacks are “harming civilians.”
In a report released on Sunday after a visit by HRW officials to Yemen’s northern province of Sa’ada, the New York-based rights organization said the cluster bombs have targeted civilians and residential areas. The report said three types of cluster bombs have been used in the attacks.
The rights body also posted photos showing remnants of cluster munitions and unexploded submunitions found in several areas, including al-Nushoor and al-Maqash in Sa’ada.
“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded submunitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting,” said Ole Solvang, a senior researcher at the emergency division of the HRW.
A Yemeni man from the area of Marran in Sa’ada told the HRW that he was injured in a cluster bomb attack, explaining that the weapon “first explodes in the air, and then explodes many times on the ground.”
19 Killed, Dozens Injured in Saudi Airstrikes against Yemen PressTV
(May 29, 2015) — At least 19 people have lost their lives in the latest wave of Saudi airstrikes against the people of Yemen. Some 12 people, mostly women and children, were killed and about 80 others injured on Friday after Saudi fighter jets targeted a residential area and a military base in the northwestern province of Hajjah, the Yemeni al-Masirah TV network reported.
Also on Friday, Saudi warplanes attacked a hospital and a house in the Bani Hashish district of the western province of Sana’a, killing seven people and injuring several others. An unspecified number of people were also killed and wounded in airstrikes on the Dar-al-Sharif area of the Tayal Khawlan district in Sana’a Province.
Two Saudi air raids were also reported at the entrance of the central province of Ma’rib with three others in the al-Arish district of the southern province of Aden on Friday, according to al-Masirah. Casualties were also reported as Saudi jets pounded residential areas in the al-Ashraf district of Ma’rib, al-Masirah added.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV reported that the Zabouh military base in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a was also targeted by Saudi warplanes. Saudi jets also attacked a house in the Razeh district of the northwestern province of Sa’ada.
According to figures released by the United Nations, about 2,000 people have been killed and over 500,000 displaced as a result of the conflict in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has been conducting military strikes against Yemen since March 26 without a UN mandate.
Fresh Saudi Air Raids Leave 7 Dead in Yemen PressTV
(May 30, 2015) — At least seven people have been killed and several others wounded in the latest wave of airstrikes conducted by Saudi Arabia against Yemen. The casualties came after Saudi warplanes bombarded a hospital in the Bani Hashish district of Yemen’s western province of Sana’a on Saturday.
Saudi fighter jets also demolished two houses in the Saqin district of Sa’ada Province. Saudi warplanes further pounded residential areas in the districts of al-Hamidan and Maran in Sa’ada, according to the Yemeni al-Masirah TV network.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese TV channel al-Manar reported the bombing of the building of a technical vocational center in Heymeh in Sana’a Province. Al-Manar further reported that Saudi jets fired more than 100 missiles into residential border regions of al-Malahiz, al-Manzaleh and al-Hesameh in Sa’ada.
According to the Arabic-language news website, Yemen Now, Saudi warplanes repeatedly attacked premises belonging to Yemen’s Air Force in the northern part of Sana’a overnight. Al-Deylami air base in Sana’a was also hit by four missiles, causing an explosion in a warehouse.
Meanwhile, a government compound in Yemen’s Western Hudaydah province was targeted by Saudi airstrikes. Al-Anad military base in the impoverished country’s southern Lahij Province was also bombarded six times by Saudi planes.
In a separate development, there are reports of the advances of popular committees, backed by Ansarullah fighters, suggesting that they inflicted heavy losses on al-Qaeda militants in the central Shabwah Province.
According to the Yemen Saba Net news agency the Yemeni army has made gains against terrorists in the southwestern Tai’zz Province.
Saudi Arabia has been conducting military strikes against Yemen since March 26 without a UN mandate. About 2,000 people have been killed and over 500,000 displaced as a result of the conflict in the Arab country since March 19, according to the UN.
The photo released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) shows five ZP-39 submunitions in the village of Baqim in Yemen’s northern governorate of Sa’ada, April 29, 2015.
Solvang, the HRW researcher, further said all sides “need to recognize that using banned cluster munitions is harming civilians.”
“Increasing evidence of cluster munition use raises concerns not just for civilians now, but for when the fighting is over,” Solvang said.
The report also urged the supporters of the Saudi aggression against Yemen, particularly the United States, to condemn the use of the banned weapons by Riyadh.
On May 3, the rights organization said photographs, video footage, and other evidence have surfaced since mid-April 2015, indicating that cluster munitions have been used in attacks on Sa’ada.
In August 2013, the US Department of Defense agreed to provide Riyadh with 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by Textron.
Yemen has been the target of incessant Saudi airstrikes since March 26. The UN says the ongoing conflict in Yemen has claimed the lives of about 2,000 people and has injured in excess of 500,000 others since March 19.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
“I would characterize current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous.”
— Former USA Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
No Progress on Nuclear Weapons Control – As Planned US leadership vetoes steps toward nuclear weapons-free world William Boardman / Reader Supported News
(May 31, 2015) — Worst case scenario: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2015 has failed to make progress in controlling nuclear weapons at the same time that an Israeli Air Force F-16 with Saudi markings, acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia, may have dropped a neutron bomb on Yemen. [Fireball and mushroom cloud on YouTube, May 25, inconclusive.] [See related articles on June 1, 2015 edition of “Breaking News” — EAW.]
Best case scenario: the nuclear non-proliferation conference has failed to make progress on controlling nuclear weapons, increasing the odds that the worst case scenario is, if not already a reality, an ever-present possibility.
In either case, Saudi Arabia has again floated hints that it will get a Saudi bomb, by buying it from Pakistan if necessary. Or maybe it’s a done deal already.
In a world where six of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are already directly or indirectly engaged in armed conflict, even the best case scenario is a disaster. The nuclear-armed US and Russia are facing off over Ukraine. The nuclear-armed US, UK, France, and Israel are supporting Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, with nuclear-armed Pakistan weighing its options. The only nuclear-armed states engaged in relative peace are China, India, and North Korea.
Another Ideal Lost to Reactionaries
Nuclear weapons-free zones might seem to be a no-brainer to some. Currently five treaties have established nuclear weapons-free zones in South America, Central America, Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific (including Australia).
These zones have been promoted by the United Nations, outlining principles that provide for consultation with nuclear-armed states and for peaceful use of nuclear science, as well as the principle that:
The initiative to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone should emanate exclusively from States within the region concerned and be pursued by all States of that region.
Egypt first proposed a nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East in 1990. In 1974, the UN General Assembly voted for such a zone as proposed by Egypt and Iran (and passed again in 1980 and every year after).
When Egypt again proposed working toward such a zone, supported by a large majority of participating states in the 2015 NPT conference, the United States vetoed the proposal.
The Egyptian proposal called only for a meeting of the region’s states to discuss the possibility. The US vetoed even the possibility of discussion in order to protect Israel’s undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons (estimated at up to 400).
Israel is not a party to the non-proliferation treaty, participating for the first time in the 2015 conference as an observer. Israel officially neither confirms nor denies that it is the nuclear-armed state in the Middle East. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed gratitude to the US for preventing any forward movement toward a nuclear weapons-free Middle East.
The US veto, supported by UK and Canada, is just one more betrayal of a treaty that has been betrayed time and again by nuclear-armed states. In the rest of the world, the treaty’s principles of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament retain political vitality for reasons expressed by the South African delegate on May 16:
If for security reasons the [P5 (US, Russia, UK, France, China)] feel that they must be armed with nuclear weapons, what about other countries in similar situations? Do we think that the global situation is such that no other country would ever aspire to nuclear weapons to provide security for themselves, when the five tell us that it is absolutely correct to possess nuclear weapons for their security?
South Africa is one of four nations that has given up its nuclear weapons. The other three were formerly part of the Soviet Union: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
Nuclear Proliferation Has Slowed,
Disarmament Isn’t Happening
When the non-proliferation treaty came into full force in 1970, it recognized five nuclear-armed states, which are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Of those, the US, UK, and the Soviet Union (now Russia) had signed the treaty, along with 40 non-nuclear states. In 1992, nuclear-armed France and China acceded to the treaty. Today there are 191 parties to the treaty, 189 UN member states plus the Vatican and Palestine.
As described by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has three basic and contradictory purposes:
The NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. The Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the IAEA, which also plays a central role under the Treaty in areas of technology transfer for peaceful purposes.
After 45 years, the number of nuclear-armed states has less than doubled. The two major nuclear-armed states, the US and Russia, have reduced their nuclear arsenals to about 5,000 each, while other nuclear arsenals have stabilized or continue to grow. Peaceful use of nuclear energy is an ambiguous and mixed bag in which increased use of nuclear reactors to generate energy looks less and less beneficial in the wake of Fukushima.
And as the Washington Post reports, all the original nuclear-armed states are expanding and improving their weapons:
The United States has embarked on an overhaul of its nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, a commitment that may cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years, according to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. China’s new generation of mobile missiles are outfitted with multiple warheads and penetration aids, the Pentagon reported to Congress in April.
Between March 2014 and March 2015, both Russia and the United States slightly increased their numbers of deployed warheads, and both countries are working on new long-range strike bombers. France is developing a new cruise missile and Britain will decide in the near future whether to replace its fleet of nuclear-armed submarines.
Media Coverage of the Month-long Conference:
Scant, but Unedifying
Given the stakes, with nuclear-armed states in confrontations of unpredictable intensity around the world, mainstream media performing actual journalism would presumably have covered the NPT Review Conference in some detail. Obviously that didn’t happen.
There was little coverage even of the month-long event, and most of that coverage was unenlightening. The Washington Post summed up the nuclear weapons conference as a “failure . . . as international delegations squabbled over a long-sought goal of establishing a ban on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East” but offered little insight as to the reasons for the “failure.”
The NPT Review Conference operates by consensus decision-making, giving each participant a veto. The veto by the US (and its allies) spiked the entire final report of the conference even though the US articulated only one objection, to the Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone procedure and process.
The US explained this in a final-day speech by the US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, speaking for the Obama administration.
That under secretary is the notorious Rose Gottemoeller, whose job seems to be to go around trying to minimize the likelihood of nuclear war while, at the same time, working to maximize its availability. Gottemoeller blamed “Egypt and other Arab League states” for failing to be flexible, by which she meant: failing to agree with the US:
Unfortunately, the proposed language for a final document did not allow for consensus discussions among the countries of the Middle East for an agreement on the agenda and the modalities of the conference and set an arbitrary deadline for holding the conference.
We attempted to work with other delegations — in particular, Egypt and other Arab League states — to improve the text; but a number of these states, and in particular Egypt, were not willing to let go of these unrealistic and unworkable conditions included in the draft text.
In the end, the proposed final document outlined a process that would not build the foundation of trust necessary for holding a productive conference that could reflect the concerns of all regional states.
This is a Catch-22. The US position is that it will only support a nuclear-free zone process in which Israel has a veto, knowing full will that Israel would almost surely veto any such process. This is beyond disingenuous. This is dishonest.
But this is the result the US chose. The once and future client state of Egypt once again put forward the quaint notion of having the Middle East become a nuclear weapons-free zone, since no Middle East states are declared nuclear-armed states. Of course this put Egypt at odds with a higher-ranking American client state, Israel, which is an undeclared nuclear-armed state.
As a demonstration of US commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons, the US protected the Israeli arsenal by vetoing the Egyptian proposal to talk about any nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. This prompted Saudi Arabia to float hints that the Saudis would get a bomb from Pakistan in order to defend itself from the nuclear threat from Iran having no bomb.
Some call that diplomacy.
When Confronted by a Stonewall,
Some Choose to Go Around
Blocked by the US from making serious progress at the NPT conference, 107 other nations have now signed a document called the “Humanitarian Pledge,” which seeks to emphasize that using nuclear weapons is a war crime, to make nuclear weapons morally unusable, and “to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.”
Under Secretary Gottemoeller even paid lip service to the Humanitarian Pledge when she said, ungrammatically, condescendingly, in passing, without naming the document, “We acknowledged the sincere and shared concern of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.”
No, the US is not one of the 107 nations that has signed the Humanitarian Pledge. Unsurprisingly, neither are China, France, GB, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Turkey, most of Europe, and many other “nuclear weasels.”
The signers include South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, Yemen, and Iran.
Even less-reported than the NPT conference results is the appearance of a groundswell of resistance among the Humanitarian Pledge signer nations and like-minded NGOs. It’s way too early to know how great the swell will get, but the first measure will be this August as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the atomic annihilations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Referring to organizing around the Humanitarian Pledge, the delegate from Costa Rica said in her closing statement: “The humanitarian conferences demonstrate that democracy has come to nuclear disarmament, even if democracy is yet to come to the NPT.” She concluded:
Despite what has happened at this Review Conference, there is no force can stop the steady march of those who believe in human security, democracy and international law. History honors only the brave, those who have the courage to think differently and dream of a better future for all.
This is not the time to lament what has happened here, as lamentable as it may be. Now is the time to work for what is to come, the world we want and deserve. Let us all, boldly and finally, give peace a chance.
In the real world, the majority does not rule, and the majority has little chance of ruling — unless the majority can change the real world.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years of experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work.
(March 26, 2015) — President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow.
McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obamaâ€™s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.
What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan? More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagonâ€™s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.
Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.
Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that. It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.
Despite the jaw-dropping resources available to the national security state, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Martin Dempsey recently claimed that, without significant additional infusions of cash, the US military wonâ€™t be able to â€œexecute the strategyâ€ with which it has been tasked.
As it happens, Dempsey’s remark unintentionally points the way to a dramatically different approach to what’s still called “defense spending.” Instead of seeking yet more of it, perhaps itâ€™s time for the Pentagon to abandon its costly and counterproductive military strategy of “covering the globe.”
A Cold War Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Even to begin discussing this subject means asking the obvious question: Does the US military have a strategy worthy of the name? As President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it in his farewell address in 1961, defense requires a “balance between cost and hoped for advantage” and “between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable.”
Eisenhower conveniently omitted a third category: things that shouldnâ€™t have been done in the first place — on his watch, for instance, the CIA’s coups in Iran and Guatemala that overthrew democratic governments or, in our century, the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. But Eisenhower’s underlying point holds. Strategy involves making choices. Bottom line: current US strategy fails this test abysmally.
Despite the obvious changes that have occurred globally since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US military is still expected to be ready to go anywhere on Earth and fight any battle. The authors of the Pentagonâ€™s key 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), for instance, claimed that its supposedly “updated strategy” was focused on “twenty-first-century defense priorities.”
Self-congratulatory rhetoric aside, however, the document outlined an all-encompassing global military blueprint whose goals would have been familiar to any Cold War strategist of the latter half of the previous century. With an utter inability to focus, the QDR claimed that the US military needed to be prepared to act in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.
In addition, plans are now well underway to beef up the Pentagonâ€™s ability to project power into the melting Arctic as part of a global race for resources brewing there.
Being prepared to go to war on every continent but Antarctica means that significant reductions in the historically unprecedented, globe-spanning network of military bases Washington set up in the Cold War and after will be limited at best. Where changes happen, they will predictably be confined largely to smaller facilities rather than large operating bases. A planned pullout from three bases in the United Kingdom, for instance, will only mean sending most of the American personnel stationed on them to other British facilities.
As the Associated Press noted recently, the Pentagon’s base closures in Europe involve mostly “smaller bases that were remnants of the Cold War.” While the US lost almost all its bases in Iraq and has dismantled many of its bases in Afghanistan, the Pentagonâ€™s base structure in the Greater Middle East is still remarkably strong and its ability to maintain or expand the US troop presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan shouldnâ€™t be underestimated.
In addition to maintaining its huge network of formal bases, the Pentagon is also planning to increase what it calls its “rotational” presence: training missions, port visits, and military exercises. In these areas, if anything, its profile is expanding, not shrinking.
US Special Forces operatives were, for instance, deployed to 134 nations, or almost 70 percent of the countries in the world, in fiscal year 2014. So even as the size and shape of the American military footprint undergoes some alteration, the Pentagonâ€™s goal of global reach, of being at least theoretically more or less everywhere at once, is being maintained.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stepped up its use of drones, Special Forces, and “train and equip” programs that create proxy armies to enforce Washington’s wishes. In this way, it hopes to produce a new way of war designed to reduce the Pentagon’s reliance on large boots-on-the-ground operations, without affecting its strategic stretch.
This approach is, however, looking increasingly dubious. Barely a decade into its drone wars, for example, it’s already clear that a drone-heavy approach simply doesn’t work as planned. As Andrew Cockburn notes in his invaluable new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, a study based on the US military’s own internal data found that targeted assassinations carried out by drones resulted in an increase in attacks on US forces.
As for the broader political backlash generated by such strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, it’s clear enough by now that they act as effective recruitment tools for terror organizations among a fearful and traumatized population living under their constant presence.
At a theoretical level, the drone may seem the perfect weapon for a country committed to “covering the globe” and quite literally waging war anywhere on the planet at any time. In reality, it seems to have the effect of spreading chaos and conflict, not snuffing it out. In addition, drones are only effective in places where neither air defenses nor air forces are available; that is, the backlands of the planet. Otherwise, as weapons, they are sitting ducks.
A Pentagon for All Seasons
Washington’s strategy documents are filled with references to non-military approaches to security, but such polite rhetoric is belied in the real world by a striking over-investment in military capabilities at the expense of civilian institutions. The Pentagon budget is 12 times larger than the budgets for the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined.
As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, it takes roughly the same number of personnel to operate just one of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier task forces as there are trained diplomats in the State Department. Not surprisingly, such an imbalance only increases the likelihood that, in the face of any crisis anywhere, diplomatic alternatives will take a back seat, while a military response will be the option of choice, in fact, the only serious option considered.
In the twenty-first century, with its core budget still at historically high levels, the Pentagon has also been expanding into areas like “security assistance” — the arming, training, and equipping of foreign military and police forces. In the post-9/11 years, for instance, the Pentagon has developed a striking range of military and police aid programs of the kind that have traditionally been funded and overseen by the State Department.
According to data provided by the Security Assistance Monitor, a project designed to systematically track US military and police aid, the Pentagon now delivers arms and training through 18 separate programs that provide assistance to the vast majority of the worldâ€™s armed forces.
Having so many ways to deliver aid is handy for the Pentagon, but a nightmare for members of Congress or the public trying to keep track of them all. Seven of the programs are new initiatives authorized last year alone. More than 160 nations, or 82 percent of all countries, now receive some form of arms and training from the United States.
In a similar fashion, in these years the Pentagon has moved with increasing aggressiveness into the field of humanitarian aid. In their new book Mission Creep,Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray describe the range of non-military activities it now routinely carries out. These include “drilling wells, building roads, constructing schools and clinics, advising national and local governments, and supplying mobile services of optometrists, dentists, doctors, and veterinarians overseas.”
The specific examples they cite underscore the point: “Army National Guardsmen drilling wells in Djibouti; the US Army Corps of Engineers building school houses in Azerbaijan; and US Navy Seabees building a post-natal care facility in Cambodia.”
If one were to choose a single phrase to explain why General Dempsey thinks the Pentagon is starved for funds, it would be “too many missions.” No amount of funding could effectively deal with the almost endless shopping list of global challenges the US military has mandated itself to address, most of which do not have military solutions in any case.
The answer is not more money (though that may not stop Congress and the president from dumping billions more into the Pentagonâ€™s slush fund). It’s a far more realistic strategy — or put another way, maybe itâ€™s a strategy of any sort in which the only operative word is not “more.”
The Pentagon’s promotion of an open-ended strategy isn’t just a paper tiger of a problem. It has life-and-death consequences and monetary ones, too. When President Obama’s critics urge him to bomb Syria, or put more ground troops in Iraq, or arm and train the security forces in Ukraine, they are fully in line with the Pentagon’s expansive view of the military’s role in the world, a role that would involve taxpayer dollars in even more staggering quantities.
Attempting to maintain a genuine global reach will, in the end, prove far more expensive than the wars the United States is currently fighting. This yearâ€™s administration request for Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, both against the Islamic State (IS), was a relatively modest $5.8 billion, or roughly 1 percent of the resources currently available to the Department of Defense.
As yet. not even John McCain is suggesting anything on the scale of the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq, which peaked at over 160,000 troops and cost significantly more than a trillion dollars.
By comparison, the Obama administration’s bombing campaign against IS, supplemented by the dispatch of roughly 3,000 troops, remains, as American operations of the twenty-first century go, a relatively modest undertaking — at least by Pentagon standards.
There are reasons to oppose US military intervention in Iraq and Syria based on the likely outcomes, but so far intervention in those nations has not strained the Pentagon’s massive budget.
As for Ukraine, even if the administration were to change course and decide to provide weapons to the government there, it would still not make a dent in its proposed $50 billion war budget, much less in the Pentagon’s proposed $534 billion base budget.
Using the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria as arguments for pumping up Pentagon spending is a political tactic of the moment, not a strategic necessity. The only real reason to bust the present already expansive budget caps — besides pleasing the arms industry and its allies in Congress — is to attempt to entrench the sort of ad hocmilitary-first global policy being promoted as the American way for decades to come.
Every crisis, every development not pleasing to Washington anywhere on Earth is, according to this school of thought, what the Pentagon must be “capable” of dealing with. What’s needed, but completely dismissed in Washington, is of course a radical rethinking of American priorities.
General Dempsey and his colleagues may be right. Current levels of Pentagon spending may not be able to support current defense strategy. The answer to this problem is right before our eyes: cut the money and change the strategy. That would be acting in the name of a conception of national security that was truly strategic.
CPI, 2000 M Street NW, Suite 720 â€¢ Washington, DC 20036, Phone: (202) 232-3317, Fax: (202) 232-3440
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In the Same Week, the US and UK
Hide Their War Crimes by Invoking “National Security” Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
(May 22, 2015) — Colonel Ian Henderson was a British official dubbed “the Butcher of Bahrain” because of atrocities he repeatedly committed during the 30 years he served as chief security official of that Middle Eastern country. His reign of terror began in 1966 when Bahrain was a British “protectorate” and continued when the post-“independence” Bahraini King retained him in the same position.
In 1996, The Independent described him as “the most feared of all secret policemen” in Bahrain, and cited “consistent and compelling evidence that severe beatings and even sexual assaults have been carried out against prisoners under Henderson’s responsibility for well over a decade.”
A 2002 Guardian article reported that “during this time his men allegedly detained and tortured thousands of anti-government activists”; his official acts “included the ransacking of villages, sadistic sexual abuse and using power drills to maim prisoners”; and “on many occasions they are said to have detained children without informing their parents, only to return them months later in body bags.”
Needless to say, Col. Henderson was never punished in any way: “although Scotland Yard launched an inquiry into the allegations in 2000, the investigation was dropped the following year.” He was showered with high honors from the UK-supported tyrants who ran Bahrain.
Prior to the massacres and rapes over which he presided in Bahrain, Henderson played a leading role in brutally suppressing the Mau Mau insurgency in another British colony, Kenya. In the wake of his Kenya atrocities, he twice won the George Medal, “the 2nd highest, to the George Cross, gallantry medal that a civilian can win.” His brutality against Kenyan insurgents fighting for independence is what led the UK government to put him in charge of internal security in Bahrain.
For years, human rights groups have fought to obtain old documents, particularly a 37-year-old diplomatic cable, relating to British responsibility for Henderson’s brutality in Bahrain. Ordinarily, documents more than 30 years old are disclosable, but the British government has fought every step of the way to conceal this cable.
But now, a governmental tribunal ruled largely in favor of the government and held that most of the diplomatic cable shall remain suppressed.
The tribunal’s ruling was at least partially based on “secret evidence for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from a senior diplomat, Edward Oakden, who argued that Britain’s defence interests in Bahrain were of paramount importance”; specifically, “Mr Oakden implied that the release of such information could jeopardize Britain’s new military base in the country.”
The UK government loves to demonize others for supporting tyrants even as it snuggles up to virtually every despot in that region. Her Majesty’s Government has a particularly close relationship with Bahrain, where it is constructing a new naval base. The Kingdom is already home to the United States’ Fifth Fleet.
The tribunal’s rationale is that “full disclosure of the document would have â€˜an adverse effect on relations’ with Bahrain, where the UK is keen to build further economic and defence ties.” In other words, disclosing these facts would make the British and/or the Bahrainis look bad, cause them embarrassment, and could make their close friendship more difficult to sustain. Therefore, the British and Bahraini populations must be denied access to the evidence of what their governments did.
This is the core mindset now prevalent in both the US and UK for hiding their crimes from their own populations and then rest of the world: disclosure of what we did will embarrass and shame us, cause anger toward us, and thus harm our “national security.”
As these governments endlessly highlight the bad acts of those who are adverse to them, they vigorously hide their own, thus propagandizing their publics into believing that only They — the Other Tribe Over There — commit such acts.
This is exactly the same mentality driving the Obama administration’s years-long effort to suppress photographs showing torture of detainees by the US. In 2009, Obama said he would comply with a court ruling that ordered those torture photos disclosed, but weeks after his announcement, reversed himself.
Adopting the argument made by a group run by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney against disclosure of the photos, Obama insisted that to release the photos “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.”
Obama went further and announced his support for a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to amend the Freedom of Information Act — a legislative accomplishment which Rep. Louise Slaughter told me at the time had long been “sacred” to Democrats — for no reason other than to exempt those torture photos from disclosure.
In March of this year, a US judge who had long sided with the Obama DOJ in this matter reversed course. In a lawsuit brought in 2004 by the ACLU, the judge ordered the release of thousands of photos showing detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib. He ruled that the Obama DOJ could no longer show any national security harm that would justify ongoing suppression.
Rather than accepting the ruling and releasing the photos after hiding them for more than a decade, the US Justice Department last week filed an emergency request for a stay of that ruling with the appeals court. The argument from The Most Transparent Administration Everâ„¢:
Government document. (Photo: The Intercept)
No healthy democracy can possibly function where this warped mindset prevails: we are entitled to hide anything we do that makes us look bad because making us look bad harms “national security,” and we are the ones who make that decision without challenge. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer said:
To allow the government to suppress any image that might provoke someone, somewhere, to violence would be to give the government sweeping power to suppress evidence of its own agents’ misconduct. Giving the government that kind of censorial power would have implications far beyond this specific context.
But even more threatening than the menace to democracy is the propagandzied public this mentality guarantees. A government that is able to hide its own atrocities on “national security” grounds will be one whose public endlessly focuses on the crimes of others while remaining blissfully unaware of one’s own nation.
That is an excellent description of much of the American and British public, and as good an explanation as any why much of their public discourse consists of little more than proclamations that Our Side is Better despite the decades of brutality, aggression and militarism their own side has perpetrated.
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The US and Russia should move away
from a competition of arms and toward
a competition of ideas for influence in Europe.
(May 30, 2015) — The unexpected May 12 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry at Sochi, Russia, suggested the beginning of a new direction for the Ukraine crisis. Suddenly, it seemed possible that the US would join last winter’s Minsk 2 agreement drawn up to resolve Ukraine’s civil war.
It is therefore disappointing to see that developments since the parley have been uniformly negative. But a surprising source, the US Army War College, sees a possibly promising outcome. It recently issued a report exploring different scenarios of how US-Russian tensions may play out over Ukraine and suggesting that Washington and its NATO allies adopt a more conciliatory and accommodationist approach to Moscow. Let us hope it receives the attention it deserves.
The Kremlin continues to show its displeasure with even the minimal current US support of the Kiev regime. On May 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree that abruptly cut the air bridge over Russian territory used by the US for resupplying its combat units in Afghanistan.
Washington, for its part, has continued its hostility toward Moscow since the Sochi meeting. On May 17, the US assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Victoria Nuland, traveled to Moscow to meet with her peer in Russia’s Foreign Ministry to discuss US involvement in Minsk 2. Immediately afterward, she accused the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region of violating the cease-fire “on a daily basis.”
Kiev has stepped up its provocative decisions since the Sochi meeting. On May 21, the Ukrainian parliament voted to end several military agreements with Russia, including its permission for Russian troops to transit through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldova region of Transnistria.
NATO chimed in. On May 19, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “to withdraw all its troops and support for the separatists.”
Finally, on May 28, after US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced criminal action against seven senior officials of FIFA — soccer’s international governing body, which picked Russia to host the 2018 World Cup — Putin blasted the US, saying, “This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states.”
The document is the product of an interdisciplinary war game conducted by the Army War College, employing faculty members, think tank scholars, Kremlinologists, students and NATO officers, divided into US and Russian teams plus a “white team” as arbiters.
The study’s half-dozen hypotheticals seem at first glance to be rehearsals for an imminent disaster. Collectively, however, they demonstrate that there is no stable solution without accommodation with Russia — what is likely to be disdained by more hawkish members of the US national security establishment as appeasement.
Two of the scenarios imagine continuation of the Ukrainian civil war as a frozen conflict that favors Russia. Three of the scenarios imagine violence — in Ukraine, in the Baltic states and in Russia.
The scenario indicated as most probable is a resumption of the fighting along the Minsk cease-fire line, leading the US to designate Ukraine and the fragmented Georgia as major non-NATO allies as a prelude to large-scale NATO support for Kiev.
Only the sixth scenario conceives of a peaceful Ukraine. Washington continues to be frustrated by Russian aggression, however, and accepts Moscow’s demands for a transition to a decentralized country and a Crimea that remains under Russian authority.
Time to Stand Down
The study concludes that the US has fallen into a “reactive posture” that creates a risk of “misunderstanding” and threat of serious violent confrontation. By shaping the present stand-off in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe into scenarios that largely favor Moscow’s options, the study makes a strong case that Washington and its NATO allies would be wise to stand down.
A promising alternative to the present course is for the US and Russia to move away from a competition of arms and toward a competition of ideas for influence in Europe. There is also the possibility of cooperation in areas of self-interest, such as managing Syria’s civil war, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s violence and resulting refugee crisis in Middle East.
The Army War College study, designed to speculate on possible escalations of the crisis, instead provides a bright path away from the New Cold War to what can be called the New Detente.
John Batchelor is a novelist and host of a national radio news show based in New York City. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.
The Future of US-Russian Relations The US Army War College
Russian aggression in 2014 caught US policy and strategy off guard, forcing reactive measures and reevaluation of the US approach toward Russia. Moscow employed nonlinear methodologies and operated just beneath traditional thresholds of conflict to take full advantage of US and NATO policy and process limitations.
In light of this strategic problem, the US Army War College (US-AWC), conducted a wargame that revealed four key considerations for future policy and strategy.
â€¢ The US must shift from a mostly cooperative approach towards Russia to one that recognizes the competitive nature of Moscow
Moscow consistently pursues the development of frozen conflicts, exclusionary bi-lateral relationships, “sweetheart” and opaque economic deals, and proxy forces willing to promote Russian interests, all in an effort to â€˜winâ€™ against the West.
Meanwhile, current US policy describes Russia as both a competitor and a cooperative partner. In reality it is clear that the US and Russian systems are inherently competitive, especially regarding Russiaâ€™s “near abroad,” NATO, Asia, and the Arctic. A clear US policy that illuminates the competitive nature of the two systems is a necessary step towards regaining the strategic initiative.
â€¢ US policy must clearly articulate its position toward Russia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine
US lack of clarity and prioritization toward Russia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine creates hesitancy and risk aversion, and limits innovation on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States must develop a coherent, unified policy toward Russia, one that avoids creating disunity within the transatlantic community.
Differences in how the United States and Europe view the incorporation of Russia into a European security architecture are fundamental and will continue to create wedges in the transatlantic community that Moscow will seek to exploit.
To strengthen deterrence and reassurance, the United States should consistently reiterate its Article 5 obligations. Meanwhile, Washington must also clarify US interests in the Ukraine crisis, otherwise it is likely to continue causing confusion among European allies.
â€¢ US policy must challenge Russia in the competition of ideas and influence
Russia emphasizes information operations as central to its strategy. The United States advocates the power and influence of a truthful message, but approaches the issue more defensively and incoherently. The United States must undertake a more robust information campaign.
â€¢ US policy must account for the two national election cycles in 2016 and 2018
President Putin needs a political “win” before 2017 to ensure success in the 2018 Russian elections. What is unknown is what actions he will take to achieve that “win” and how he may use the US election cycle as an opportunity. The United States must be pro-active in shaping the environment prior to Putin taking the initiative.
The reemergence of Russian aggression in 2014 forced an immediate review and evaluation of US policy and strategy toward Europe and Russia. Russian nonlinear approaches, often operating just beneath traditional thresholds of conflict, exploited weaknesses of longstanding US and NATO policy constructs, exposing gaps and seams that now require reexamination.
Trends within the strategic environment indicate that the nature of the US-Russian relationship is likely to remain competitive, thus requiring a critical look at current assumptions and a comprehensive reexamination of Western thinking about Russia.
In support of that reexamination, in October 2014, a team of six students from the CSP at the USAWC began a six-month project to assess the driving factors behind Russian foreign and security policy, in order to better anticipate future behavior. The project was grounded in systems thinking and aimed at building a strategic-level system design of Russia as a point of departure for research, analysis, collaboration, and experimentation.
The CSP team created a visualization and formal paper describing what it came to term “the Russian System,” culminating in a strategic-level wargame to test key hypotheses and expand collaborative learning. This report provides some insights into the broader project, but is more focused on the results of the wargame and how those results can inform future thinking about US-Russian relations.
Systems thinking is a subcategory of critical thinking and an appropriate tool for addressing complex, strategic-level problems. This project attempted to see Russia holistically, properly arranging Russian actors and relationships and defining the environmental, historical, and cultural forces behind observed system behavior and patterns.
The overarching idea behind this method, is that once one can fully visualize a system and begin to understand that systemâ€™s logic, one can better anticipate future behavior, identify second and third order effects, accurately conceptualize risk, and potentially influence strategic outcomes. Here is a synopsis of the system design method to learning that produced the teamâ€™s understanding of the Russian System:
1) Initial Research
â€“ The team conducted intensive research into Russian history, economy, politics, and military reform. Additionally, the team reviewed current news reports, field reports, and commentary by Russia experts across multiple disciplines. This created the foundation to begin initial system design.
2) Brainstorming and Synthesis
â€“ The team identified the array of actors, relationships, and forces that contribute to Russian behavior. This established the framework for the Russian System, but fell short in fully explaining causal relationships. Assumptions and hypotheses generated from these sessions drove additional research and review.
3) Follow-on Research
â€“ The team conducted another research effort dedicated to accumulating more data to support, or disprove, ideas discussed during initial system synthesis.
4) Visualization of the Russian System
â€“ As additional data and analytical refinement strengthened the teamâ€™s understanding of the array of actors and forces, the next step was to create a visualization of the system to guide further analysis.
5) Collaborative Learning and System Reframe
â€“ Over the next three months, the team engaged think tanks, Department of Defense entities, academic institutions, and international organizations to discuss and critique the conceptualization of the Russian System. These discussions resulted in further refinement of the system model and the causal relationships that underpin it.
6) Wargame and System Testing
â€“ On 15 and 16 April 2015, the US Army War College hosted a strategic level wargame designed to test the ideas behind the Russia System and act as a venue for thought experimentation, synthesis of perspectives, and competitive heuristics related to the nature of US-Russian relations. The overarching objective of the effort was to assess the implications for the US military of various potential future scenarios
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(January/February 2015 issue) — In mid-September, while President Obama was fending off complaints that he should have done more, done less, or done something different about the overlapping crises in Iraq and Syria, he traveled to Central Command headquarters, at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. There he addressed some of the men and women who would implement whatever the US military strategy turned out to be.
The part of the speech intended to get coverage was Obama’s rationale for reengaging the United States in Iraq, more than a decade after it first invaded and following the long and painful effort to extricate itself. This was big enough news that many cable channels covered the speech live. I watched it on an overhead TV while I sat waiting for a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
When Obama got to the section of his speech announcing whether he planned to commit US troops in Iraq (at the time, he didn’t), I noticed that many people in the terminal shifted their attention briefly to the TV. As soon as that was over, they went back to their smartphones and their laptops and their Cinnabons as the president droned on.
Usually I would have stopped watching too, since so many aspects of public figures’ appearances before the troops have become so formulaic and routine. But I decided to see the whole show. Obama gave his still-not-quite-natural-sounding callouts to the different military services represented in the crowd. (“I know we’ve got some Air Force in the house!” and so on, receiving cheers rendered as “Hooyah!” and “Oorah!” in the official White House transcript.)
He told members of the military that the nation was grateful for their nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on them through the past dozen years of open-ended war. He noted that they were often the face of American influence in the world, being dispatched to Liberia in 2014 to cope with the then-dawning Ebola epidemic as they had been sent to Indonesia 10 years earlier to rescue victims of the catastrophic tsunami there.
He said that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in its country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”
If any of my fellow travelers at O’Hare were still listening to the speech, none of them showed any reaction to it. And why would they? This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.
The public attitude evident in the airport was reflected by the public’s representatives in Washington. That same afternoon, September 17, the House of Representatives voted after brief debate to authorize arms and supplies for rebel forces in Syria, in hopes that more of them would fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, than for it.
The Senate did the same the next day — and then both houses adjourned early, after an unusually short and historically unproductive term of Congress, to spend the next six and a half weeks fund-raising and campaigning full-time.
I’m not aware of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace — as opposed to immigration, Obamacare, voting rights, tax rates, the Ebola scare — were first-tier campaign issues on either side, except for the metaphorical “war on women” and “war on coal.”
This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military — we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them — has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm. But it is not. When Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a five-star general and the supreme commander, led what may have in fact been the finest fighting force in the history of the world, he did not describe it in that puffed-up way.
On the eve of the D-Day invasion, he warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.” As president, Eisenhower’s most famous statement about the military was his warning in his farewell address of what could happen if its political influence grew unchecked.
At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire US population was on active military duty — which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck.
Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.
Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The US military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 millionâ€“plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them.
So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military — nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.
The difference between the earlier America that knew its military and the modern America that gazes admiringly at its heroes shows up sharply in changes in popular and media culture. While World War II was under way, its best-known chroniclers were the Scripps Howard reporter Ernie Pyle, who described the daily braveries and travails of the troops (until he was killed near the war’s end by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Iejima), and the Stars and Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who mocked the obtuseness of generals and their distance from the foxhole realities faced by his wisecracking GI characters, Willie and Joe.
From Mister Roberts to South Pacific to Catch-22, from The Caine Mutiny to The Naked and the Dead to From Here to Eternity, American popular and high culture treated our last mass-mobilization war as an effort deserving deep respect and pride, but not above criticism and lampooning. The collective achievement of the military was heroic, but its members and leaders were still real people, with all the foibles of real life.
A decade after that war ended, the most popular military-themed TV program was The Phil Silvers Show, about a con man in uniform named Sgt. Bilko. As Bilko, Phil Silvers was that stock American sitcom figure, the lovable blowhard — a role familiar from the time of Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners to Homer Simpson in The Simpsons today.
Gomer Pyle, USMC; Hogan’s Heroes; McHale’s Navy; and even the anachronistic frontier show F Troop were sitcoms whose settings were US military units and whose villains — and schemers, and stooges, and occasional idealists — were people in uniform. American culture was sufficiently at ease with the military to make fun of it, a stance now hard to imagine outside the military itself.
Robert Altman’s 1970 movie M*A*S*H was clearly “about” the Vietnam War, then well into its bloodiest and most bitterly divisive period. (As I point out whenever discussing this topic, I was eligible for the draft at the time, was one of those protesting the war, and at age 20 legally but intentionally failed my draft medical exam. I told this story in a 1975 Washington Monthly article, “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?”) But M*A*S*H‘s ostensible placement in the Korean War of the early 1950s somewhat distanced its darkly mocking attitude about military competence and authority from fierce disagreements about Vietnam. (The one big Vietnam movie to precede it was John Wayne’s doughily pro-war The Green Berets, in 1968.
What we think of as the classic run of Vietnam films did not begin until the end of the 1970s, with The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.) The TV spin-off of Altman’s film, which ran from 1972 through 1983, was a simpler and more straightforward sitcom on the Sgt. Bilko model, again suggesting a culture close enough to its military to put up with, and enjoy, jokes about it.
Let’s skip to today’s Iraq-Afghanistan era, in which everyone “supports” the troops but few know very much about them. The pop-culture references to the people fighting our ongoing wars emphasize their suffering and stoicism, or the long-term personal damage they may endure. The Hurt Locker is the clearest example, but also Lone Survivor; Restrepo; the short-lived 2005 FX series set in Iraq, Over There; and Showtime’s current series Homeland.
Some emphasize high-stakes action, from the fictionalized 24 to the meant-to-be-true Zero Dark Thirty. Often they portray military and intelligence officials as brave and daring. But while cumulatively these dramas highlight the damage that open-ended warfare has done — on the battlefield and elsewhere, to warriors and civilians alike, in the short term but also through long-term blowback — they lack the comfortable closeness with the military that would allow them to question its competence as they would any other institution’s.
The battlefield is of course a separate realm, as the literature of warfare from Homer’s time onward has emphasized. But the distance between today’s stateside America and its always-at-war expeditionary troops is extraordinary. Last year, the writer Rebecca Frankel published War Dogs, a study of the dog-and-handler teams that had played a large part in the US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of the reason she chose the topic, she told me, was that dogs were one of the few common points of reference between the military and the larger public.
“When we cannot make that human connection over war, when we cannot empathize or imagine the far-off world of a combat zone . . . these military working dogs are a bridge over the divide,” Frankel wrote in the introduction to her book.
It’s a wonderful book, and dogs are a better connection than nothing. But . . . dogs! When the country fought its previous wars, its common points of reference were human rather than canine: fathers and sons in harm’s way, mothers and daughters working in defense plants and in uniform as well. For two decades after World War II, the standing force remained so large, and the Depression-era birth cohorts were so small, that most Americans had a direct military connection.
Among older Baby Boomers, those born before 1955, at least three-quarters have had an immediate family member — sibling, parent, spouse, child — who served in uniform. Of Americans born since 1980, the Millennials, about one in three is closely related to anyone with military experience.
The most biting satirical novel to come from the Iraq-Afghanistan era, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, is a takedown of our empty modern “thank you for your service” rituals. It is the story of an Army squad that is badly shot up in Iraq; is brought back to be honored at halftime during a nationally televised Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game; while there, is slapped on the back and toasted by owner’s-box moguls and flirted with by cheerleaders, “passed around like everyone’s favorite bong,” as platoon member Billy Lynn thinks of it; and is then shipped right back to the front.
The people at the stadium feel good about what they’ve done to show their support for the troops. From the troops’ point of view, the spectacle looks different. “There’s something harsh in his fellow Americans, avid, ecstatic, a burning that comes of the deepest need,” the narrator says of Billy Lynn’s thoughts.
“That’s his sense of it, they all need something from him, this pack of half-rich lawyers, dentists, soccer moms, and corporate VPs, they’re all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $14,800 a year.”
Fountain’s novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2012, but it did not dent mainstream awareness enough to make anyone self-conscious about continuing the “salute to the heroes” gestures that do more for the civilian public’s self-esteem than for the troops’.
As I listened to Obama that day in the airport, and remembered Ben Fountain’s book, and observed the hum of preoccupied America around me, I thought that the parts of the presidential speech few Americans were listening to were the ones historians might someday seize upon to explain the temper of our times.
I. Chickenhawk Nation
If I were writing such a history now, I would call it Chickenhawk Nation, based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going. It would be the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military.
Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules.
The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.
Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military. Confidence in the military shot up after 9/11 and has stayed very high. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress.
Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing? We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War.
Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”
Moulton told me, as did many others with Iraq-era military experience, that if more members of Congress or the business and media elite had had children in uniform, the United States would probably not have gone to war in Iraq at all. Because he felt strongly enough about that failure of elite accountability, Moulton decided while in Iraq to get involved in politics after he left the military.
“I actually remember the moment,” Moulton told me. “It was after a difficult day in Najaf in 2004. A young marine in my platoon said, ‘Sir, you should run for Congress someday. So this shit doesn’t happen again.’â€‰” In January, Moulton takes office as a freshman Democratic representative from Massachusetts’s Sixth District, north of Boston.
What Moulton described was desire for a kind of accountability. It is striking how rare accountability has been for our modern wars. Hillary Clinton paid a price for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, since that is what gave the barely known Barack Obama an opening to run against her in 2008.
George W. Bush, who, like most ex-presidents, has grown more popular the longer he’s been out of office, would perhaps be playing a more visible role in public and political life if not for the overhang of Iraq. But those two are the exceptions.
Most other public figures, from Dick Cheney and Colin Powell on down, have put Iraq behind them. In part this is because of the Obama administration’s decision from the start to “look forward, not back” about why things had gone so badly wrong with America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But such willed amnesia would have been harder if more Americans had felt affected by the wars’ outcome. For our generals, our politicians, and most of our citizenry, there is almost no accountability or personal consequence for military failure. This is a dangerous development — and one whose dangers multiply the longer it persists.
Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.
Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much.
Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the US has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.
Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the US military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.”
In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, US forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of US interests in, that part of the world.
When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that US advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.
“We are vulnerable,” the author William Greider wrote during the debate last summer on how to fight ISIS, “because our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable military conflicts.” And the separation of the military from the public disrupts the process of learning from these defeats. The last war that ended up in circumstances remotely resembling what prewar planning would have considered a victory was the brief Gulf War of 1991.
After the Vietnam War, the press and the public went too far in blaming the military for what was a top-to-bottom failure of strategy and execution. But the military itself recognized its own failings, and a whole generation of reformers looked to understand and change the culture.
In 1978, a military-intelligence veteran named Richard A. Gabriel published, with Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army, which traced many of the failures in Vietnam to the military’s having adopted a bureaucratized management style.
Three years later, a broadside called Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era, by a military officer writing under the pen name Cincinnatus (later revealed to be a lieutenant colonel serving in the reserves as a military chaplain, Cecil B. Currey), linked problems in Vietnam to the ethical and intellectual shortcomings of the career military.
The book was hotly debated — but not dismissed. An article about the book for the Air Force’s Air University Review said that “the author’s case is airtight” and that the military’s career structure “corrupts those who serve it; it is the system that forces out the best and rewards only the sycophants.”
Today, you hear judgments like that frequently from within the military and occasionally from politicians — but only in private. It’s not the way we talk in public about our heroes anymore, with the result that accountability for the career military has been much sketchier than during our previous wars.
William S. Lind is a military historian who in the 1990s helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against the insurgents, terrorists, or other “non-state” groups that refuse to form ranks and fight like conventional armies. He wrote recently:
The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War — Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan — is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers . . . Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.
During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it — and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way.
Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes.
In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.
Partly this change has come because the public, at its safe remove, doesn’t insist on accountability. Partly it is because legislators and even presidents recognize the sizable risks and limited payoffs of taking on the career military. When recent presidents have relieved officers of command, they have usually done so over allegations of sexual or financial misconduct, or other issues of personal discipline.
These include the cases of the two famous four-star generals who resigned rather than waiting for President Obama to dismiss them: Stanley A. McChrystal, as the commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus in his post-Centcom role as the head of the CIA.
The exception proving the rule occurred a dozen years ago, when a senior civilian official directly challenged a four-star general on his military competence. In congressional testimony just before the Iraq War, General Eric Shinseki, then the Army’s chief of staff, said that many more troops might be necessary to successfully occupy Iraq than plans were allowing for — only to be ridiculed in public by Paul Wolfowitz, then Shinseki’s superior as the deputy secretary of defense, who said views like Shinseki’s were “outlandish” and “wildly off the mark.” Wolfowitz and his superior, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ostentatiously marginalized Shinseki from that point on.
In that case, the general was right and the politicians were wrong. But more often and more skillfully than the public usually appreciates, today’s military has managed to distance itself from the lengthening string of modern military failures — even when wrong. Some of this PR shift is anthropological.
Most reporters who cover politics are fascinated by the process and enjoy practitioners who love it too, which is one reason most were (like the rest of the country) more forgiving of the happy warrior Bill Clinton than they have been of the “cold” and “aloof” Barack Obama. But political reporters are always hunting for the gaffe or scandal that could bring a target down, and feel they’re acting in the public interest in doing so.
Most reporters who cover the military are also fascinated by its processes and cannot help liking or at least respecting their subjects: physically fit, trained to say “sir” and “ma’am,” often tested in a way most civilians will never be, part of a disciplined and selfless-seeming culture that naturally draws respect. And whether or not this was a conscious plan, the military gets a substantial PR boost from the modern practice of placing officers in mid-career assignments at think tanks, on congressional staffs, and in graduate programs across the country.
For universities, military students are (as a dean at a public-policy school put it to me) “a better version of foreign students.” That is, they work hard, pay full tuition, and unlike many international students face no language barrier or difficulty adjusting to the American style of give-and-take classroom exchanges.
Most cultures esteem the scholar-warrior, and these programs expose usually skeptical American elites to people like the young Colin Powell, who as a lieutenant colonel in his mid-30s was a White House fellow after serving in Vietnam, and David Petraeus, who got his Ph.D. at Princeton as a major 13 years after graduating from West Point.
And yet however much Americans “support” and “respect” their troops, they are not involved with them, and that disengagement inevitably leads to dangerous decisions the public barely notices. “My concern is this growing disconnect between the American people and our military,” retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School), told me recently.
The military is “professional and capable,” he said, “but I would sacrifice some of that excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”
Citizens notice when crime is going up, or school quality is going down, or the water is unsafe to drink, or when other public functions are not working as they should. Not enough citizens are made to notice when things go wrong, or right, with the military. The country thinks too rarely, and too highly, of the 1 percent under fire in our name.
II. Chickenhawk Economy
America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat.
We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors.
This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops (see “Gun Trouble,” by Robert H. Scales, in this issue).
We know that technology is our military’s main advantage. Yet the story of the post-9/11 “long wars” is of America’s higher-tech advantages yielding transitory victories that melt away before the older, messier realities of improvised weapons, sectarian resentments, and mounting hostility to occupiers from afar, however well-intentioned.
Many of the Pentagon’s most audacious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, including (as we will see) the major air-power project of recent years, the F-35. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards.
Those technological breakthroughs that do make their way to the battlefield may prove to be strategic liabilities in the long run. During the years in which the United States has enjoyed a near-monopoly on weaponized drones, for example, they have killed individuals or small groups at the price of antagonizing whole societies. When the monopoly ends, which is inevitable, the very openness of the United States will make it uniquely vulnerable to the cheap, swarming weapons others will deploy.
The cost of defense, meanwhile, goes up and up and up, with little political resistance and barely any public discussion. By the fullest accounting, which is different from usual budget figures, the United States will spend more than $1 trillion on national security this year.
That includes about $580 billion for the Pentagon’s baseline budget plus “overseas contingency” funds, $20 billion in the Department of Energy budget for nuclear weapons, nearly $200 billion for military pensions and Department of Veterans Affairs costs, and other expenses.
But it doesn’t count more than $80 billion a year of interest on the military-related share of the national debt. After adjustments for inflation, the United States will spend about 50 percent more on the military this year than its average through the Cold War and Vietnam War. It will spend about as much as the next 10 nations combined — three to five times as much as China, depending on how you count, and seven to nine times as much as Russia. The world as a whole spends about 2 percent of its total income on its militaries; the United States, about 4 percent.
Yet such is the dysfunction and corruption of the budgeting process that even as spending levels rise, the Pentagon faces simultaneous crises in funding for maintenance, training, pensions, and veterans’ care.
“We’re buying the wrong things, and paying too much for them,” Charles A. Stevenson, a onetime staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former professor at the National War College, told me. “We’re spending so much on people that we don’t have the hardware, which is becoming more expensive anyway. We are flatlining R&D.”
Today’s weapons can be decades in gestation, and the history of the F-35 traces back long before most of today’s troops were born. Two early-1970s-era planes, the F-16 “Fighting Falcon” jet and the A-10 “Thunderbolt II” attack plane, departed from the trend of military design in much the same way the compact Japanese cars of that era departed from the tail-fin American look.
These planes were relatively cheap, pared to their essentials, easy to maintain, and designed to do a specific thing very well. For the F-16, that was to be fast, highly maneuverable, and deadly in air-to-air combat. For the A-10, it was to serve as a kind of flying tank that could provide what the military calls “close air support” to troops in combat by blasting enemy formations.
The A-10 needed to be heavily armored, so it could absorb opposing fire; designed to fly as slowly as possible over the battlefield, rather than as rapidly, so that it could stay in range to do damage rather than roaring through; and built around one very powerful gun.
There are physical devices that seem the pure expression of a function. The Eames chair, a classic No. 2 pencil, the original Ford Mustang or VW Beetle, the MacBook Air — take your pick. The A-10, generally known not as the Thunderbolt but as the Warthog, fills that role in the modern military. It is rugged; it is inexpensive; it can shred enemy tanks and convoys by firing up to 70 rounds a second of armor-piercing, 11-inch-long depleted-uranium shells.
And the main effort of military leaders through the past decade, under the Republican leadership of the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership of Obama, has been to get rid of the A-10 so as to free up money for a more expensive, less reliable, technically failing airplane that has little going for it except insider dealing, and the fact that the general public doesn’t care.
The weapon in whose name the A-10 is being phased out is its opposite in almost every way. In automotive terms, it would be a Lamborghini rather than a pickup truck (or a flying tank). In air-travel terms, the first-class sleeper compartment on Singapore Airlines rather than advance-purchase Economy Plus (or even business class) on United.
These comparisons seem ridiculous, but they are fair. That is, a Lamborghini is demonstrably “better” than a pickup truck in certain ways — speed, handling, comfort — but only in very special circumstances is it a better overall choice. Same for the first-class sleeper, which would be anyone’s choice if someone else were footing the bill but is simply not worth the trade-off for most people most of the time.
Each new generation of weapons tends to be “better” in much the way a Lamborghini is, and “worth it” in the same sense as a first-class airline seat. The A-10 shows the pattern. According to figures from the aircraft analyst Richard L. Aboulafia, of the Teal Group, the “unit recurring flyaway” costs in 2014 dollars — the fairest apples-to-apples comparison — stack up like this. Each Warthog now costs about $19 million, less than any other manned combat aircraft.
A Predator drone costs about two-thirds as much. Other fighter, bomber, and multipurpose planes cost much more: about $72 million for the V-22 Osprey, about $144 million for the F-22 fighter, about $810 million for the B-2 bomber, and about $101 million (or five A 10s) for the F-35. There’s a similar difference in operating costs.
The operating expenses are low for the A-10 and much higher for the others largely because the A-10’s design is simpler, with fewer things that could go wrong. The simplicity of design allows it to spend more of its time flying instead of being in the shop.
In clear contrast to the A-10, the F-35 is an ill-starred undertaking that would have been on the front pages as often as other botched federal projects, from the Obamacare rollout to the FEMA response after Hurricane Katrina, if, like those others, it either seemed to affect a broad class of people or could easily be shown on TV — or if so many politicians didn’t have a stake in protecting it.
One measure of the gap in coverage: Total taxpayer losses in the failed Solyndra solar-energy program might come, at their most dire estimate, to some $800 million. Total cost overruns, losses through fraud, and other damage to the taxpayer from the F-35 project are perhaps 100 times that great, yet the “Solyndra scandal” is known to probably 100 times as many people as the travails of the F-35.
Here’s another yardstick: the all-in costs of this airplane are now estimated to be as much as $1.5 trillion, or a low-end estimate of the entire Iraq War.
The condensed version of this plane’s tragedy is that a project meant to correct some of the Pentagon’s deepest problems in designing and paying for weapons has in fact worsened and come to exemplify them. An aircraft that was intended to be inexpensive, adaptable, and reliable has become the most expensive in history, and among the hardest to keep out of the shop.
The federal official who made the project a symbol of a new, transparent, rigorously data-dependent approach to awarding contracts ended up serving time in federal prison for corruption involving projects with Boeing. (Boeing’s chief financial officer also did time in prison.)
For the record, the Pentagon and the lead contractors stoutly defend the plane and say that its teething problems will be over soon — and that anyway, it is the plane of the future, and the A-10 is an aging relic of the past. (We have posted reports here on the A-10, pro and con, so you can see whether you are convinced.)
In theory, the F-35 would show common purpose among the military services, since the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps would all get their own custom-tailored versions of the plane.
In fact, a plane designed to do many contradictory things — to be strong enough to survive Navy aircraft-carrier landings, yet light and maneuverable enough to excel as an Air Force dogfighter, and meanwhile able to take off and land straight up and down, like a helicopter, to reach marines in tight combat circumstances — has unsurprisingly done none of them as well as promised.
In theory, the F-35 was meant to knit US allies together, since other countries would buy it as their mainstay airplane and in turn would get part of the contracting business. In fact, the delays, cost overruns, and mechanical problems of the airplane have made it a contentious political issue in customer countries from Canada and Holland to Italy and Australia.
The country where the airplane has least been a public issue is the United States. In their 2012 debates, Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for supporting “green energy” projects, including Solyndra.
Neither man mentioned the F-35, and I am still looking for evidence that President Obama has talked about it in any of his speeches. In other countries, the F-35 can be cast as another annoying American intrusion. Here, it is protected by supplier contracts that have been spread as broadly as possible.
“Political engineering,” a term popularized by a young Pentagon analyst named Chuck Spinney in the 1970s, is pork-barrel politics on the grandest scale. Cost overruns sound bad if someone else is getting the extra money. They can be good if they are creating business for your company or jobs in your congressional district.
Political engineering is the art of spreading a military project to as many congressional districts as possible, and thus maximizing the number of members of Congress who feel that if they cut off funding, they’d be hurting themselves.
A $10 million parts contract in one congressional district builds one representative’s support. Two $5 million contracts in two districts are twice as good, and better all around would be three contracts at $3 million apiece. Every participant in the military-contracting process understands this logic: the prime contractors who parcel out supply deals around the country, the military’s procurement officers who divide work among contractors, the politicians who vote up or down on the results.
In the late 1980s, a coalition of so-called cheap hawks in Congress tried to cut funding for the B-2 bomber. They got nowhere after it became clear that work for the project was being carried out in 46 states and no fewer than 383 congressional districts (of 435 total). The difference between then and now is that in 1989, Northrop, the main contractor for the plane, had to release previously classified data to demonstrate how broadly the dollars were being spread.
Whatever its technical challenges, the F-35 is a triumph of political engineering, and on a global scale. For a piquant illustration of the difference that political engineering can make, consider the case of Bernie Sanders — former Socialist mayor of Burlington, current Independent senator from Vermont, possible candidate from the left in the next presidential race. In principle, he thinks the F-35 is a bad choice.
After one of the planes caught fire last summer on a runway in Florida, Sanders told a reporter that the program had been “incredibly wasteful.”
Yet Sanders, with the rest of Vermont’s mainly left-leaning political establishment, has fought hard to get an F-35 unit assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard in Burlington, and to dissuade neighborhood groups there who think the planes will be too noisy and dangerous.
“For better or worse, [the F-35] is the plane of record right now,” Sanders told a local reporter after the runway fire last year, “and it is not gonna be discarded. That’s the reality.” It’s going to be somewhere, so why not here? As Vermont goes, so goes the nation.
The next big project the Air Force is considering is the Long Range Strike Bomber, a successor to the B-1 and B-2 whose specifications include an ability to do bombing runs deep into China. (A step so wildly reckless that the US didn’t consider it even when fighting Chinese troops during the Korean War.)
By the time the plane’s full costs and capabilities become apparent, Chuck Spinney wrote last summer, the airplane, “like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable.” That is because even now its supporters are building the plane’s “social safety net by spreading the subcontracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.”
III. Chickenhawk Politics
Politicians say that national security is their first and most sacred duty, but they do not act as if this is so. The most recent defense budget passed the House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 61 to zero, with similarly one-sided debate before the vote. This is the same House of Representatives that cannot pass a long-term Highway Trust Fund bill that both parties support.
“The lionization of military officials by politicians is remarkable and dangerous,” a retired Air Force colonel named Tom Ruby, who now writes on organizational culture, told me. He and others said that this deference was one reason so little serious oversight of the military took place.
T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel who has a doctorate in modern history from Oxford, told me that instead of applying critical judgment to military programs, or even regarding national defense as any kind of sacred duty, politicians have come to view it simply as a teat. “Many on Capitol Hill see the Pentagon with admirable simplicity,” he said: “It is a way of directing tax money to selected districts. It’s part of what they were elected to do.”
In the spring of 2011, Barack Obama asked Gary Hart, the Democratic Party’s most experienced and best-connected figure on defense reform, to form a small bipartisan task force that would draft recommendations on how Obama might try to recast the Pentagon and its practices if he won a second term. Hart did so (I was part of the group, along with Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Norman R. Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin), and sent a report to Obama that fall. He never heard back. Every White House is swamped with recommendations and requests, and it responds only to those it considers most urgent — which defense reform obviously was not.
Soon thereafter, during the 2012 presidential race, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney said much about how they would spend the billion and a half dollars a day that go to military programs, except for when Romney said that if elected, he would spend a total of $1 trillion more. In their only direct exchange about military policy, during their final campaign debate, Obama said that Romney’s plans would give the services more money than they were asking for.
Romney pointed out that the Navy had fewer ships than it did before World War I. Obama shot back, “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
It was Obama’s most sarcastic and aggressive moment of any of the debates, and was also the entirety of the discussion about where those trillions would go.
J im Webb is a decorated Vietnam veteran, an author, a former Democratic senator, and a likely presidential candidate. Seven years ago in his book A Time to Fight, he wrote that the career military was turning into a “don’t break my rice bowl” culture, referring to an Asian phrase roughly comparable to making sure everyone gets a piece of the pie.
Webb meant that ambitious officers notice how many of their mentors and predecessors move after retirement into board positions, consultancies, or operational roles with defense contractors. (Pensions now exceed preretirement pay for some very senior officers; for instance, a four-star general or admiral with 40 years of service can receive a pension of more than $237,000 a year, even if his maximum salary on active duty was $180,000.)
Webb says it would defy human nature if knowledge of the post-service prospects did not affect the way some high-ranking officers behave while in uniform, including “protecting the rice bowl” of military budgets and cultivating connections with their predecessors and their postretirement businesses.
“There have always been some officers who went on to contracting jobs,” Webb, who grew up in an Air Force family, told me recently. “What’s new is the scale of the phenomenon, and its impact on the highest ranks of the military.”
Of course, the modern military advertises itself as a place where young people who have lacked the chance or money for higher education can develop valuable skills, plus earn GI Bill benefits for post-service studies. That’s good all around, and is part of the military’s perhaps unintended but certainly important role as an opportunity creator for undercredentialed Americans. Webb is talking about a different, potentially corrupting “prepare for your future” effect on the military’s best-trained, most influential careerists.
“It is no secret that in subtle ways, many of these top leaders begin positioning themselves for their second-career employment during their final military assignments,” Webb wrote in A Time to Fight.
The result, he said, is a “seamless interplay” of corporate and military interests “that threatens the integrity of defense procurement, of controversial personnel issues such as the huge ‘quasi-military’ structure [of contractors, like Blackwater and Halliburton] that has evolved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and inevitably of the balance within our national security process itself.”
I heard assessments like this from many of the men and women I spoke with. The harshest ones came not from people who mistrusted the military but from those who, like Webb, had devoted much of their lives to it.
A man who worked for decades overseeing Pentagon contracts told me this past summer, “The system is based on lies and self-interest, purely toward the end of keeping money moving.” What kept the system running, he said, was that “the services get their budgets, the contractors get their deals, the congressmen get jobs in their districts, and no one who’s not part of the deal bothers to find out what is going on.”
Of course it was the most revered American warrior of the 20th century, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned most urgently that business and politics would corrupt the military, and vice versa. Everyone has heard of this speech.
Not enough people have actually read it and been exposed to what would now be considered its dangerously antimilitary views. Which mainstream politician could say today, as Eisenhower said in 1961, that the military-industrial complex has a “total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [that] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government”?
Seth Moulton, a few days after his victory in last fall’s congressional race, said that the overall quality and morale of people in the military has dramatically improved since the days of a conscript force. “But it’s become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks,” he told me.
“Some of the finest officers I knew were lieutenants who knew they were getting out, so weren’t afraid to make the right decision. I know an awful lot of senior officers who are very afraid to make a tough choice because they’re worried how it will look on their fitness report.”
This may sound like a complaint about life in any big organization, but it’s something more. There’s no rival Army or Marine Corps you can switch to for a new start. There’s almost no surmounting an error or a black mark on the fitness or evaluation reports that are the basis for promotions.
Every institution has problems, and at every stage of US history, some critics have considered the US military overfunded, underprepared, too insular and self-regarding, or flawed in some other way. The difference now, I contend, is that these modern distortions all flow in one way or another from the chickenhawk basis of today’s defense strategy.
At enormous cost, both financial and human, the nation supports the world’s most powerful armed force. But because so small a sliver of the population has a direct stake in the consequences of military action, the normal democratic feedbacks do not work.
I have met serious people who claim that the military’s set-apart existence is best for its own interests, and for the nation’s. “Since the time of the Romans there have been people, mostly men but increasingly women, who have volunteered to be the Praetorian Guard,” John A. Nagl told me.
Nagl is a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar who was a combat commander in Iraq and has written two influential books about the modern military. He left the Army as a lieutenant colonel and now, in his late 40s, is the head of the Haverford prep school, near Philadelphia.
“They know what they are signing up for,” Nagl said of today’s troops. “They are proud to do it, and in exchange they expect a reasonable living, and pensions and health care if they are hurt or fall sick. The American public is completely willing to let this professional class of volunteers serve where they should, for wise purpose.
This gives the president much greater freedom of action to make decisions in the national interest, with troops who will salute sharply and do what needs to be done.”
I like and respect Nagl, but I completely disagree. As we’ve seen, public inattention to the military, born of having no direct interest in what happens to it, has allowed both strategic and institutional problems to fester.
“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”
Mike Mullen thinks that one way to reengage Americans with the military is to shrink the active-duty force, a process already under way. “The next time we go to war,” he said, “the American people should have to say yes. And that would mean that half a million people who weren’t planning to do this would have to be involved in some way. They would have to be inconvenienced. That would bring America in. America hasn’t been in these previous wars. And we are paying dearly for that.”
With their distance from the military, politicians don’t talk seriously about whether the United States is directly threatened by chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere, or is in fact safer than ever (as Christopher Preble and John Mueller, of the Cato Institute, have argued in a new book, A Dangerous World?).
The vast majority of Americans outside the military can be triply cynical in their attitude toward it. Triply? One: “honoring” the troops but not thinking about them. Two: “caring” about defense spending but really viewing it as a bipartisan stimulus program. Three: supporting a “strong” defense but assuming that the United States is so much stronger than any rival that it’s pointless to worry whether strategy, weaponry, and leadership are right.
The cultural problems arising from an arm’s-length military could be even worse. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a retired Air Force major general who now teaches at Duke law school, has thought about civic-military relations through much of his professional life.
When he was studying at the National Defense University as a young Air Force officer in the early 1990s, just after the first Gulf War, he was a co-winner of the prize for best student essay with an imagined-future work called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”
His essay’s premise was cautionary, and was based on the tension between rising adulation for the military and declining trust in most other aspects of government. The more exasperated Americans grew about economic and social problems, the more relieved they were when competent men in uniform, led by General Thomas E. T. Brutus, finally stepped in to take control.
Part of the reason for the takeover, Dunlap explained, was that the military had grown so separate from mainstream culture and currents that it viewed the rest of society as a foreign territory to occupy and administer.
Recently I asked Dunlap how the real world of post-2012 America matched his imagined version.
“I think we’re on the cusp of seeing a resurgence of a phenomenon that has always been embedded in the American psyche,” he said. “That is benign antimilitarism,” which would be the other side of the reflexive pro-militarism of recent years.
“People don’t appreciate how unprecedented our situation is,” he told me. What is that situation? For the first time in the nation’s history, America has a permanent military establishment large enough to shape our dealings in the world and seriously influence our economy. Yet the Americans in that military, during what Dunlap calls the “maturing years of the volunteer force,” are few enough in number not to seem representative of the country they defend.
“It’s becoming increasingly tribal,” Dunlap says of the at-war force in our chickenhawk nation, “in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.”
People within that military tribe can feel both above and below the messy civilian reality of America. Below, in the burdens placed upon them, and the inattention to the lives, limbs, and opportunities they have lost. Above, in being able to withstand hardships that would break their hipster or slacker contemporaries.
“I think there is a strong sense in the military that it is indeed a better society than the one it serves,” Dunlap said. “And there is some rationality for that.” Anyone who has spent time with troops and their families knows what he means. Physical fitness, standards of promptness and dress, all the aspects of self-discipline that have traditionally made the military a place where misdirected youth could “straighten out,” plus the spirit of love and loyalty for comrades that is found in civilian life mainly on sports teams.
The best resolution of this tension between military and mainstream values would of course come as those who understand the military’s tribal identity apply their strengths outside the tribe. “The generation coming up, we’ve got lieutenants and majors who had been the warrior-kings in their little outposts,” Dunlap said of the young veterans of the recent long wars. “They were literally making life-or-death decisions. You can’t take that generation and say, ‘You can be seen and not heard.’â€‰”
In addition to Seth Moulton, this year’s Congress will have more than 20 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, including new Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa. The 17 who are already there, including Democratic Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth and Republican Representatives Duncan D. Hunter and Adam Kinzinger, have played an active role in veterans’ policies and in the 2013 debates about intervening in Syria.
Gabbard was strongly against it; some of the Republican veterans were for it — but all of them made arguments based on firsthand observation of what had worked and failed. Moulton told me that the main lesson he’ll apply from his four tours in Iraq is the importance of service, of whatever kind.
He said that Harvard’s famed chaplain during Moulton’s years as an undergraduate physics student, the late Peter J. Gomes, had convinced him that “it’s not enough to ‘believe’ in service. You should find a way, yourself, to serve.” Barring unimaginable changes, “service” in America will not mean a draft. But Moulton says he will look for ways “to promote a culture where more people want to serve.”
For all the differences in their emphases and conclusions, these young veterans are alike in all taking the military seriously, rather than just revering it. The vast majority of Americans will never share their experiences. But we can learn from that seriousness, and view military policy as deserving at least the attention we give to taxes or schools.
What might that mean, in specific? Here is a start. In the private report prepared for President Obama more than three years ago, Gary Hart’s working group laid out prescriptions on a range of operational practices, from the need for smaller, more agile combat units to a shift in the national command structure to a different approach toward preventing nuclear proliferation. Three of the recommendations were about the way the country as a whole should engage with its armed forces. They were:
Appoint a commission to assess the long wars. This commission should undertake a dispassionate effort to learn lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq concerning the nature of irregular, unconventional conflict, command structures, intelligence effectiveness, indigenous cultural factors, training of local forces, and effective combat unit performance. Such a commission will greatly enhance our ability to know when, where, how, and whether to launch future interventions.
Clarify the decision-making process for use of force. Such critical decisions, currently ad hoc, should instead be made in a systematic way by the appropriate authority or authorities based on the most dependable and persuasive information available and an understanding of our national interests based on 21st-century realities.
Restore the civil-military relationship. The President, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, must explain the role of the soldier to the citizen and the citizen to the soldier. The traditional civil-military relationship is frayed and ill-defined. Our military and defense structures are increasingly remote from the society they protect, and each must be brought back into harmony with the other.
Barack Obama, busy on other fronts, had no time for this. The rest of us should make time, if we hope to choose our wars more wisely, and win them.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter’s chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
Gershom Gorenberg / The American Prospect – 2015-05-30 00:37:45
The Soldier’s Story What happens when one corporal speaks out about how the occupation corrupts Israel Gershom Gorenberg / The American Prospect
(May 28, 2015) — Corporal Shachar Berrin’s commander in the Israeli army sentenced him to a week in prison. His brother emailed me to let me know so I wouldn’t be surprised when the story eventually broke in the news. Shachar’s offense, as handwritten on a disciplinary form, was participating “in a political meeting, while in uniform, in the presence of the media.”
That’s partly true: He was in uniform, and TV cameras were recording. But it wasn’t a political meeting. And judging from circumstances, the real reasons for his quick trial and sentence were the presence of right-wing activists and what he said about serving in the West Bank in daily interaction with Palestinians.
“When soldiers, when we, are conditioned and persuaded on a daily basis to subjugate and humiliate people… I think that seeps in,” he said, “and I think that when the soldiers go home, when they go inside Israelâ€¦ they bring that back with them.”
But yes, he was in uniform and knew he was on camera. So the case of Cpl. Berrin doesn’t only shine klieg lights on the apparently endless Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It also raises messy questions about how separate the military and politics should be, or can be, in an already shaky democracy.
Shachar was born in Israel to American parents, spent his early years abroad, and returned to Israel with his family when he was 11. I’m more comfortable with his first name because — full disclosure — I know his family. I’ve shared a Sabbath meal or two with his mother and his brother. He went to the same Orthodox high school in Jerusalem as my son did.
Afterward he was drafted, and assigned to a unit trained for search and rescue work in wartime. In the normal condition of quasi-peace, the unit was most recently assigned to routine security along the Jordan River in the West Bank.
Two weeks ago, he had a weekend off and went home to Jerusalem. He’d heard that a foreign television team was filming a debate in town-hall style, in English, and went straight there, still in uniform.
The program, The New Arab Debates, is usually filmed in other Middle Eastern countries. Veteran British journalist Tim Sebastian moderates; the Norwegian government pays the bills; the German network Deutsche Welle broadcasts it.
This time Uri Zaki of Israel’s leftwing Meretz party and settlement advocate Dani Dayan spoke for and against the proposition, “The occupation is destroying Israel.” Dayan cited a UN report, based on polling data, that rated Israel as the 11th happiest country in the world.
That’s what made Shachar feel he had to speak.
When a mike was passed to the audience, he stood and said, “I propose that what makes a country good isn’t whether a country is happy or not; it’s the ethics and morality of a country,” and went on to talk about what occupation duty does to soldiers and gave examples he’d witnessed. (Watch the show here; go to 42:55 to hear Shachar.)
Dayan went into talk-show rage mode. “I think the guy is lying,” he said, as he shouted down Sebastian. Someone there reported the incident to the army. The fact that Shachar was wearing a skullcap as well as a uniform may have amplified that anonymous person’s anger: The right assumes that Orthodox Jews are all on their side, and the local media, comfortable with cliches, usually protects that assumption. Shachar created cognitive dissonance, which can produce fury.
The next morning, Shachar got a text message ordering him to return to his base, where he was quickly tried. He didn’t contest the charge, despite the factual error about a “political meeting.” The army’s standing orders do bar a soldier from speaking publicly about political matters without permission. He’d violated the law on moral grounds and respected it by accepting his punishment.
Shachar’s assertions about the moral costs of occupation are an obvious but extremely uncomfortable truth — not just for committed rightists, but also for Israelis who’d prefer to forget about the occupation and Palestinians.
But should people in uniform be publicly involved in political debate? They are citizens, but also part of a body that has great power and that should be entirely subject to the civilian government. Imagine many uniformed officers at a party convention: You immediately feel that the relation between government and army is tilting dangerously in the wrong direction.
Shachar isn’t a general, though. He wasn’t at a convention. He was arguing a moral rather than political point, to the extent that the two can be separated. Actually, separating strategic issues from politics is equally hard — and top officers talk to reporters about those matters, on and off the record, all the time.
To further complicate matters, Facebook has erased the once-clear line between private speech and talking “in the presence of the media.” The media is now everyone.
Last summer, Shachar’s brother sent a letter to an army ombudsman about a soldier who’d posted a photo showing him with a friend holding a box of bullets labeled, “A gift for Ramadan.” One bullet sat on top, with the name “Haniyeh” — meaning Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas regime in Gaza — written on it. The ombudsman replied that the matter had been passed on to the proper authorities.
The picture is still there. It would have been reasonable to conclude that the army isn’t quick to restrict public political statements by soldiers. It seems that what Shachar said, not just the public venue, is what upset someone influential. It can’t be that Facebook is less public; Facebook is Israeli politicians’ favorite means of broadcasting their words.
And there’s another problem: What happens inside the military is an essential issue in civilian politics, especially in a country always at least a bit at war. We who are not in uniform need to know more than grand policy; we need gritty details.
For most of Israel’s history, reservists provided that information. The army had a small core of full-time soldiers. But most men in Israel served in the reserves into their 50s, each year spending a month or more in uniform and subject to emergency call-ups.
When they saw how the army managed things, they could compare it to how other organizations are managed, and when they saw Arab kids, they sometimes thought of their own children. Then they took off their uniforms and were civilians again.
Reservists set off the political upheaval after the 1973 Yom Kippur War that drove Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan from power. They knew the full cost of Meir and Dayan’s complacency and hubris before the war.
In 1978, 300 reserve officers and soldiers signed a letter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin demanding that he agree to give up land to reach peace with Egypt. That letter gave birth to the Peace Now movement.
Political scientist Yagil Levy argues that when the first Palestinian uprising erupted in 1987, Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Shomron insisted that the solution was political, not military, in part to reduce dissatisfaction among reservists. That stance paved the way, Levy writes, to the Oslo Accords.
But since the 1990s, the role of the reserves has shrunk. Fewer Israelis do reserve duty; they serve fewer days and are discharged at an earlier age. They’re less needed: A growing population provides more draftees for full-time service, while a more technological army depends less on brute numbers.
Fewer citizen-soldiers mean that fewer citizens know first- or second-hand what soldiers are doing. I’m not wishing reserve duty on anyone. But the change has made it possible for more Israelis to treat the occupation as if it were in another universe.
I don’t have a new set of rules to propose on how the public can know more about what happens in Militaryland without further politicizing the army. I do know that we Israelis need to hear about what occupation duty means.
Cpl. Shachar Berrin told us. The army’s hasty response brought him Israeli media coverage. Ironically, the people who wanted him punished for standing and speaking insured that he was better heard. Perhaps we should thank them as well as him.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Removes Cuba From Terror List Removal a Major Step Forward for US-Cuba Relations Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 29, 2015) — In a move that marks a major step forward in US-Cuba relations, the Obama Administration today removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba had been added to the list in 1982, during the Cold War.
Getting removed from the list is no easy task, and the decision underscores an ongoing administration effort to patch up relations with Cuba which have been acrimonious, to say the least, for over 50 years. The move will ease the ending of the long-standing US embargo against the nearby island nation.
President Obama has been in talks with Cuban President Raul Castro recently on such improvements in ties, and the State Department indicated earlier this week that they are â€œnarrowing differencesâ€ with Cuba on reopening their long-closed mutual embassies. They also suggested covert efforts to impose regime change in Cuba may be coming to an end.
Historically, the United States was one of Cubaâ€™s most important trading partners, and that is likely to be true again in fairly short order once the various limitations on doing business in Cuba are eased for American companies.
President Obama conceded that the long-standing US efforts to impose regime change on Cuba through isolation and economic embargo have failed, and that it was time for the US to try something else. Experts believe the new openness will oblige Cuba to make considerable reforms in the near future.
Removal from the list of state sponsors of terror was a key demand of the Cuban government for this rapprochement, and their inclusion on the list never made particular sense in the first place, beyond various administrationsâ€™ desires to include Cuba on every negative list possible.
(Apr 8, 2011) — I first learned of Keith Bolenderâ€™s book Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba when the author reached out to me after reading an article Iâ€™d written on Luis Posada Carriles in The Rag blog.
The article, â€œThe Puppies That Got Away,â€ was based on an interview with a woman who almost became a victim, along with three children she was caring for, in one of the hotels Posadaâ€™s thugs bombed in 1997. The title came from the coded message used by one of Posadaâ€™s hired killers in an earlier bombing that destroyed a passenger plane in flight, killing all aboard. The telephone message was â€œA bus with 73 dogs went over a cliff and all perished.â€
Bolender thought I might be interested in his book, an oral history, like mine, taken from many of the survivors of the 50-plus years of terrorism against Cuba waged by the United States and Cubaâ€™s former ruling class.
I thought it would be helpful if people who are always hearing and reading about the â€œrepression of dissidentsâ€ in Cuba and jump to their defense could also hear the other side: what happened to the thousands of people whose lives were affected by the actions of terrorists from inside and outside the country. I thought it would put a human face on the statistics regarding the material and human damage caused by counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries who are euphemistically called â€œdissidentsâ€ or â€œanti-Castro militants.â€
Voices From the Other Side does this. But it also does a great deal more.
As expected, the first chapter gives an overview of the multiple forms of terrorism carried out against Cuba in what Bolender calls â€œthe unknown war.â€
He talks about â€œthe bombs have that destroyed department stores, hotel lobbies, theatres, famous restaurants and bars — peopleâ€™s lives.â€ He talks about the first airline bombing in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and also reminds readers of â€œthe explosion aboard a ship in Havana Harbor, killing and injuring hundreds.â€ He tells readers about the 1960s attacks on defenseless rural villages and homes, of â€œteenagers tortured and murdered for teaching farmers to read and write.â€
He reminds us of the biological terrorism (the dengue fever epidemic) â€œthat caused the deaths of more than 100 children.â€ And he adds new elements for those of us used to thinking of terrorism solely as shooting and bombing by referring to the â€œpsychological horror that drove thousands of parents to willingly send their children to an unknown fate in a foreign countryâ€ (Operation Peter Pan).
This kind of overview has been done before by authors such as Jane Franklin. What Bolender adds here is the lifelong effect terrorist activities have had on the survivors — those left with hearing loss, stitched-up wounds and such, but, even worse, lifelong emotional scars. Survivors who tell of being nervous and jumpy 20, 30 or more years after being in a room where a bomb went off.
And the other kinds of â€œsurvivorsâ€: mothers and fathers who for decades mourn the needless deaths of their children; siblings and children of those who were cut up, castrated and lynched by â€œanti-Castro militants,â€ or went screaming to their fiery deaths in an airplane that was already in pieces before it crashed into the sea.
I want these stories to be in the hands of those well-meaning people who ask, â€œWhy does the Castro government repress dissidents?â€ I want these people to understand what terrorists have done that makes Cubans today so unable to give them the free rein they demand to carry out their actions.
Bolender explains in the very beginning:
Since the earliest days of the revolution, Cuba has been fighting its own war on terrorism. The victims have been overwhelmingly innocent civilians. The accused have been primarily Cuban-American counter-revolutionaries — many allegedly trained, financed and supported by various American government agencies.
And he explains that throughout the island of Cuba â€œit is hard not to find someone who doesnâ€™t have a story to tell of a relative or friend who has been a victim of terrorism. The personal toll has been calculated at 3,478 dead and 2,099 injured.â€ This, of course, is something few on the outside realize, and he talks about why we donâ€™t hear or read about it, about the political/ideological justification for so much cruelty.
But he also talks about the real reasons — acknowledged by numerous US administrations — for US-backed and -financed terrorist acts against the island, information that is every bit as important as the humanization of the victims.
Preceded by a well-researched and evocative introduction by Noam Chomsky dealing with the history of and reasons for US policy toward this upstart island nation that would dare to remain outside the grasp of US hegemony, Bolender goes on to give readers a better understanding of Washingtonâ€™s Machiavellian policies toward Cuba.
He starts off simply, with the well-known fact that â€œ[s]ince the earliest days of Fidelâ€™s victory, America has obsessed over this relatively insignificant third-world country, determined to eliminate the radically different social-economic orderâ€ that Castroâ€™s revolution brought about. He describes the various excuses Washington has used since the earliest days of the Republic to justify its attempts to maintain dominance over the island nation.
â€œAmerica at various times has portrayed Cuba as a helpless woman, a defenceless baby, a child in need of direction, an incompetent freedom fighter, an ignorant farmer, an ignoble ingrate, an ill-bred revolutionary, a viral communistâ€ during the two centuries of the Monroe Doctrine. This history in and of itself is useful for those not already familiar with it.
Where the history gets more interesting is when this researcher uses quotes from US leaders to show both why and how Washington attempted to get rid of Fidelâ€™s revolution:
Richard Nixon, who, Bolender notes, â€œwas one of the first to promote the theme of preventing the revolution from infecting others,â€ commented in 1962 on the need to â€œeradicate this cancer in our own hemisphere.â€ Nixonâ€™s comment reminded me of an explanation offered years ago by a Cuban-American friend of mine, Tony Llanso: â€œThe Cuban Revolution is like crab grass growing in your back yard. You have to pick crab grass because it spreads.â€
But it was one particular â€œhowâ€ that I found intriguing. Bolender shows the vicious cycle of increasing repressive measures by the US as Cuba increased its reforms on behalf of the poor majority of its citizens. This quickly — and intentionally — escalated to terrorism on the part of the United States against its tiny but audacious neighbor. And here Bolender is worth quoting at length:
As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out. In partial response to the terror and other hostilities, the revolution became increasingly radicalized.
From the start, policy makers knew terrorism would put a strain politically and economically on the nascent Cuban government, forcing it to use precious resources to protect itself and its citizens. It was to be part of the overarching strategy of making things so bad that the Cubans might rise up and overthrow their government. Terrorism was the dirty piece of the scheme, along with the economic embargo, international isolation and unrelenting approbation.
American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism. These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics.|
And as most of us have seen, this has been a very successful tactic. Bolender goes on:
CIA officials admitted early on in the war of terrorism that the goal was not the military defeat of Fidel Castro, but to force the regime into applying increased amount of civil restrictions, with the resultant pressures on the Cuban public. This was outlined in a May 1961 agency report stating the objective was to â€œplan, implement and sustain a program of covert actions designed to exploit the economic, political and psychological vulnerabilities of the Castro regime.
It is neither expected nor argued that the successful execution of this covert program will in itself result in the overthrow of the Castro regime,â€ only to accelerate the â€œmoral and physical disintegration of the Castro government.â€ The CIA acknowledged that in response to the terrorist acts the government would be â€œstepping up internal security controls and defense capabilities.â€
It was not projected the acts of terror would directly result in Castroâ€™s downfall, (although that was a policy aim) but only to promote the sense of vulnerability among the [populace] and compel the government into increasingly radical steps in order to ensure national security.
Bolenderâ€™s book constantly uses direct US sources for his analysis that the terrorism and other aggressive measures against Cuba were designed, at least in part, to force the Cuban government into a â€œstate of siege mentalityâ€ that would simultaneously alienate part of the Cuban population, weaken liberal support abroad and serve as an easy target for most US attempts to demonize the Cuban government.
â€œFormer [CIA] Director Richard Helms,â€ Bolender tells us, â€œconfirmed American strategy when he testified before the United States Senate in 1978; â€˜We had task forces that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy.â€™ â€
Most of us whoâ€™ve followed Cuba closely have long known the US government did those things. What is more interesting is the â€œwhy.â€
American experts were hoping the terrorist war would drive the Cuban government to increasingly restrictive security measures; implicit in this was to prove how incapable the regime leaders were. These terrorist acts would not be publicized, recognized nor acknowledged outside of Cuba, so national security policies were portrayed as paranoia, totalitarian and evidence of the repressiveness of Fidelâ€™s regime. To this day the unknown war remains that way. â€¦
Here Bolender delves into the psychological warfare aspect of US policy — and its effects: â€œIn the early years Cuban officials faced the problem where they couldnâ€™t tell which citizens supported the revolution, and which were inclined to assist the terrorist organizations or to commit terrorist acts. Everyone was treated as a potential threat.
“The consequence, besides the enormous amount of economic resources diverted to combat this war [â€¦] is a society that in the majority has accepted certain civil restrictions in order to ensure domestic security. It is the way the Cuban government has tried to identify the terrorists and to keep its citizens protected. It is the way the government has fought its war on terror.â€
Bolender reiterates that while the focus of his book is on the victims and their stories, he also wants to show â€œhow these acts of terror changed the psyche of the young revolutionary government, struggling to maintain itself in the face of the destructive actions of its former citizens, directed and financed by the most powerful nation in the world.
Traumatized by these acts, this small island nation took drastic steps in the face of constant acts of violence. Those reactions to the terrorists, and the measures taken to protect the Cuban people, continue to influence national government policies to this day, and have greatly shaped how Cuba is perceived to the outside world. It is the price that has been paid by a society under siege for almost 50 years. A siege in part the result of the hundreds of acts of terrorism.â€
His analysis goes on to explain that â€œ[t]he key element of Cuban policy against terrorism has been the need of unity for the sake of security, manifesting in a demand for social and political conformity.
The consequence has been extensive surveillance systems, arrests for political crimes, a low tolerance for organized criticism or public displays of opposition, suppression of dissidents seen to have accepted material or financial aid from the United States, cases of institutionalized pettiness, travel restrictions, a state controlled press and the rejection of a more pluralistic society.â€
And weâ€™ve all seen the effectiveness of the tactic that forced Cuba into this position — itâ€™s a â€œdamned if you do, damned if you donâ€™tâ€ situation. The tight control the Cuban government has adopted as a means of survival, Bolender tells us, does in fact destroy much of its liberal support abroad.
The Canadian author still has hope, however. â€œThe termination of American hostility, including the absolute guarantee of the end to any further terrorist attacks from counter-revolutionary exile organizations,â€ he believes, could â€œoffer the Cuban government the chance to breathe, to manoeuvre without a knife at its throat, as Fidel Castro once remarked, and to attempt to develop Cuban society that was hoped for.â€
Put in this context, Bolenderâ€™s book achieves far more than the important goal of putting a human face on the victims of terrorist acts and an understanding of why so many of the Cuban people hate the traitors within their midst who work hand in glove with those from Washington, Miami and New Jersey who fund and carry out these actions. It gives us a new understanding of the psychological warfare the US has been carrying out parallel to its economic and military war.
This is a book that should be in every library and on every progressive bookshelf. I urge people to buy it, read it, pass it on to others.
I mean you must take living so seriously that, â€¨even when you are seventy, you must plant olive trees, â€¨not because you think they will be left to your children, â€¨because you don’t believe in death although you are afraid of it â€¨because, I mean, life weighs heavier.
— Nazim Hikmet, “On Living”
(May 27, 2015) — So much for President Obama’s commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world.
With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference’s consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe, shaking the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Why the sabotage? Well, for one thing, the draft text had the temerity to call for the convening of a conference within six months to prepare the way for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone. It called for all parties to the NPT Review — read especially the United States — to fulfill previous Review Conferences’ promises to begin the process of creating the zone.
Though it doesn’t currently garner much media coverage, the danger of nuclear war is anything but an innocuous abstraction. Each of the nuclear powers is currently modernizing its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. (US plans call for spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years for these nuclear weapons.) With NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders, and Russia’s responses in Ukraine and across Europe, we have entered a new era of confrontation between nuclear superpowers, which between them possess more than 90 percent of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons — weapons that have been exercised in posturing during the Ukraine war.
The situation isn’t much better in Asia and the Pacific. China’s second-leading official newspaper, Global Times, said in a May 25 editorial that “war was inevitable” between China and the United States unless Washington stopped demanding that Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in a disputed waterway (the South China/Western Philippine Sea).
Those islands may be designed to host naval bases for China’s nuclear-armed submarines, in order to overcome the possibility of the US and Japan blockading China’s mainland ports. Plus, at a time when the US is deepening its military alliances and deploying first-strike-related “missile defenses” along China’s periphery, China has begun installing multiple warheads on its nuclear missiles.
Further afield, recent scientific studies tell us that even a “small” nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could lead to global famine and the deaths of 2 billion people. We must also take into account the staggering record of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations — and what that record portends for our future on this planet.
Given these global tensions, along with the nuclear powers’ resistance to engaging in “good faith” negotiations for the complete elimination of the P5’s (1) nuclear arsenals as required by Article VI of the 45-year-old Nonproliferation Treaty, hopes for this year’s NPT Review Conference were not high. T
he nuclear powers had boycotted the United Nations’ Open Ended Working Group, failed to fulfill more than 1.5 of the 13 steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, and the US had insulted the majority of the world’s nations during the UN High Level Meeting on Disarmament when it warned them to leave fulfillment of the 64 action items to Washington. In addition, Moscow sneeringly boasted that under China’s leadership they were nearing completion of a glossary of terms.
Worse, the near-complete failure of this year’s Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the seminal treaty, leaving the world without even a minimal agreement about how to reduce, let along eliminate, the risk of nuclear annihilation.
In the months leading to the Review Conference, many diplomats and analysts feared that the failure of the United States to co-convene the Middle East Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone conference in 2012 could lead to the failure of the Review Conference and the dangers that could follow.
Efforts to create the zone, which would include Iran, Israel and the Arab states, date to the deal that indefinitely extended the NPT in 1995 — and which was reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.
The US failure to bring Israel to the table led a growing number of the world’s nations to question whether US commitments are worth the paper they are written on, with the UN high representative for disarmament affairs wondering who could have reasonably expected the US to deliver Israel in a presidential election year.
Unfortunately, the critics were right. The US could not be taken at its diplomatic word. And in her speech in the closing session of the Review Conference, Rose Gottemoeller asserted that previous commitments to convene the Middle East zone conference had now expired.
Just as the US has repeatedly run interference for Israel as it disregards the UN Security Council resolutions that ended the 1967 war and persists with its illegal colonization, our government once again “had Israel’s back” in that country’s campaign to remain the Middle East’s sole nuclear power. Rather than accept its military ally Egypt’s demand that the Middle East nuclear weapons and WMD conference be held within 180 days of the Review Conference, the US scuttled that conference.
The contradictions are, of course, rife. The US warns that “all options are on the table” in relation to Iran’s nuclear “threat” — a position recently reiterated by President Obama in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic — while protecting Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
A Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-WMD-free zone would remove any threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, yet there is growing talk in the Arab world about a need to “match” Iran’s civilian nuclear program. We must also recognize that if Israel lives in a “dangerous neighborhood,” as its leaders have frequently claimed, so do Iran and the Arab states.
One doesn’t have to endorse Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship to agree with the Egyptian ambassador’s statement in the closing session of the Review Conference that, “By blocking consensus, we are depriving the world, but especially the Middle East, of even one chance of a better future, away from the horrors and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.”
Functionally, in blocking the final document, the US also may have been doing heavy diplomatic lifting for Russia, China, France and Britain, each of which opposed many of the specifics in the draft consensus statement.
If the US hadn’t blocked the statement to protect Israel, might others P5 nations or their allies have prevented consensus? That’s unknown, but there is no doubt that as the head of Russia’s delegation put it, it was a “shame that such an opportunity for dialogue had turned out to be missed, perhaps for a long time to come.” I put those words in italics to emphasize just how significant the failure of the Review Conference is. Much — including nuclear war — can happen in a “long time.”
As the saying goes, it is darkest before the dawn. Of necessity, we look for silver linings that illuminate life-affirming paths.
The first of these sources of hope is the growing divide between the vast majority of non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers. By the time the Review Conference ended, more than 100 governments had signed the Humanitarian Pledge initiated by Austria and growing from three international conferences on the human consequences of nuclear war, the last of which engaged 158 states.
The pledge, which is a long way from a treaty, commits its signers “to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, states, international organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.”
The challenge, of course, is to build from this nonbinding statement to the diplomatic and popular pressure necessary to force the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI NPT commitments and the related International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons.
A second source of hope grows from the international mobilization that brought thousands of activists to New York on the eve of the NPT Review, along with its Global Peace Wave of events in more than 50 countries.
In addition to its street protest and the 8 million petition signatures calling for nuclear weapons abolition that were delivered to the president of the Review Conference and the UN high commissioner for disarmament affairs, the Peace and Planet network took important steps toward shattering movement silos.
Recognizing the limitations of single-issue movements and taking power analyses seriously, it has begun building alliances with peace, justice and environmental organizations to build more issue-integrated, and thus broader and more powerful, movements.
These types of coalitional movements are capable of actually challenging the deeply entrenched systems that serve as the foundations of policies — including but not limited to nuclear weapons — that reinforce the power, profits and influence of the privileged few.
Here again, we have to navigate contradictions. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is an urgent imperative, but building the integrated movements needed to achieve it will require patience, wisdom and time.
In the United States, this means building trust and making common cause with climate change activists, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with Move the Money campaigns, and certainly with those working for a just Israel-Palestine peace and an end to Washington’s endless Middle East wars.
The anti-nuclear movement’s next steps will be seen at the US Social Forum in Philadelphia this June, with commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in August and global wave actions in the run up to September’s International Peace Day and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
It’s no accident that the vast majority of the US threats to initiate nuclear war have been made during wars and crises in the global South. As this century moves forward, the majority of the world’s nations will no longer accept a discriminatory hierarchy of nuclear terror.
1. The P5 are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which is a nuclear weapons state: the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.
Joseph Gerson is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s peace and economic justice program and co-convener of Peace and Planet .
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
After the NPT Joseph Gerson
As I trust many of you know, the Review Conference failed to agree on a consensus document last Friday night, leading to the failure of the conference. With the nuclear powers opposing many of the provisions of the draft declaration, it is an open question whether or not consensus could have been reached.
But it was the US refusal to agree to a conference to prepare the ground for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone that took the conference down. It should be remembered that in 1995 the NPT was indefinitely extended on the condition that there be movement toward such a nuclear-free zone, a commitment reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.
Despite the Review Conferenceâ€™s failures we can build on the growing divide between the non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers, and the progress that we made in building a broader and deeper issue-integrated movement.
Peace & Planet will continue our movement building on the basis of the proposal adopted during the Abolition 2000 annual general meeting in early May. Next up is a workshop at the US Social Forum in Philadelphia and building our movement from 70th anniversary events to the International Day of Peace and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in September.
For your information youâ€™ll find an article from Unfold Zero â€œThe NPT Phoenix â€“ Success from the ashes of failureâ€ below.
For a nuclear-free, peaceful, just and sustainable world,
The NPT Phoenix â€“ Success from the Ashes of Failure? Nuclear disarmament initiatives may survive the failure of the 2015 NPT Review Conference
United Nations forums could move them forward.
The States Parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty failed spectacularly to reach agreement on a final conference document on 22 May after four weeks of negotiations at the United Nations in New York. The failure masks the fact that some real gains were made during the course of the negotiations. This included a number of proposals in the draft final document that appeared to have found agreement by the NPT Parties. If acted upon, these proposals might be able to produce a phoenix from the ashes of the failed conference.
The conference collapsed on the Middle East issue. The United States, UK, Canada and possibly some others could not accept a call for the United Nations to convene a conference in March 2016 on establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Their objection arose because it has not yet been possible to secure agreement by Israel to participate in such a conference. According to the UN guidelines on establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, they should be arrived at freely by the States in the region.
UN Security Council Meets
With Phoenix Mural Behind
On the other hand, the establishment of such a zone was a core part of the agreement in 1995 to extend the NPT indefinitely, and was a vital part of the agreements of the 2000 and 2010 NPT Review Conferences. Progress on this issue is important to all States Parties to the NPT, and especially to the Arab countries and Iran.
They perceive Israelâ€™s undeclared nuclear weapons program as threatening their security and undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Indeed, the Arab countries and Iran are required to accept NPT verification and compliance measures as non-nuclear States, while Israel â€“ a State believed to be nuclear armed — is exempt from these. This is seen as a double standard and discriminatory.
The collapse of the NPT Review Conference over the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) issue is, therefore, very serious. However, it has not appeared to derail the warming relationship between Iran and the six power countries (Chiba, France, Germany, Russia, UK and the US) which have succeeded in an interim agreement on the control and verification of Iranâ€™s nuclear energy program.
Indeed, when the US and UK announced on May 22 their unwillingness to support a 2016 conference on a Middle East NWFZ, Iran did not immediately condemn these countries for their double standards. Instead, Iran called for a suspension of the NPT Review conference to allow further negotiations to try to reach a compromise. Although unsuccessful, this sign of good faith from Iran bodes well for the continued negotiations with the six powers, who aim to reach a final deal with Iran.
The proposal to hold a UN conference on a Middle East NWFZ in 2016 regardless of whether Israel will join is not necessarily dead. It could be taken up by the UN General Assembly, a forum, which unlike the NPT, does not always operate by consensus.
However, to move ahead without agreement of Israel and without the support of all NPT Parties could weaken the conference, turning it into a grandstanding event, and possibly reducing further the likelihood of Israel joining any process to establish such a zone.
There were a number of other developments at the NPT Review Conference that could make a breakthrough in multilateral negotiations for global nuclear disarmament. Such negotiations have been blocked in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) for nearly 20 years.
The developments include the increased support for the Austria Pledge (now re-named the Humanitarian Pledge), a shift in focus from the CD to the United Nations as a whole to advance nuclear disarmament initiatives, and a general agreement (paragraph 154 (19) of the NPT draft outcome document) to establish a UN Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament.
The Humanitarian Pledge, announced by Austria at the end of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014, includes a commitment to â€˜close the legal gapâ€™ to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. During the course of the NPT review Conference the number of countries endorsing the pledge increased from 65 to over 100.
This elevates the political commitment to nuclear disarmament by those States signing. It also provides flexibility on the options for the legal gap to be filled, in order to ensure a critical mass and maximum effectiveness on which-ever legal instrument or instruments are negotiated.
Austria, along with members of the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa), emphasized that the pledge is not a specific call for a ban treaty (that could be negotiated without waiting for the nuclear-armed States).
Rather, the NAC submitted a working paper outlining a range of options. These include a nuclear weapons convention (i.e. a treaty which includes all nuclear-armed States), a framework agreement, a ban treaty (as an interim measure), or a hybrid arrangement including a range of measures.
Another group of countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine) submitted a proposal for the pursuit of a range of â€˜building blocksâ€™ toward a nuclear weapon free world.
UNIDIR and the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) advanced ideas in this proposal further in a research paper on Effective Measures: Builders and Blockers.
A key point in the paper is that ‘States have different roles to play to complete the nuclear disarmament puzzle’ and can therefore focus on different ‘building blocks’ in a complementary fashion.
Previous NPT Review Conferences have tasked the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate nuclear disarmament steps and/or a comprehensive agreement on nuclear disarmament. However, the CD which operates by consensus has been blocked from undertaking any such negotiations for nearly 20 years.
At the 2015 NPT review Conference there was a shift towards advancing nuclear disarmament in the full range of UN disarmament bodies. This was promoted by a number of groups including the Nordic Five (see recommendation 15 of the working paper of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), and was included in the draft final outcome document.
Indeed, there was a call in the document for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to re-establish an Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) to develop effective measures (legal and other) for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Civil society groups including the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and UNFOLD ZERO, promoted the re-establishment of an OEWG at the NPT Conference, and will now focus on getting this agreed at the UNGA in October.
If such a body is established by the UNGA, it could provide a forum to discuss the options outlined by the NAC and Building Blocks groups, find common ground between them and pave the way for actual negotiations.
Cuba has proposed that such negotiations should aim to draft a comprehensive nuclear abolition treaty (nuclear weapons convention) ready for adoption at the UN High Level Conference, which will be held no later than 2018. Ireland, in its concluding statement at the NPT Review Conference, indicated that, regardless of the NPT Conference outcome, the New Agenda Coalition would continue developing the options outlined in their working papers.
Nuclear disarmament initiatives are also moving ahead in other UN bodies. The Marshall Islands has launched a case against the nuclear armed States in the International Court of Justice on implementation of their nuclear disarmament obligation. Marshall Islands, which was very active in the 2015 NPT Review Conference, is calling on the Court to instruct the nuclear weapon States to initiate multilateral negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention within one year of the courtâ€™s judgement.
UNFOLD ZERO was also promoting other UN-based nuclear disarmament initiatives at the NPT Review Conference, including a proposal for the UN Security Council and UNGA to affirm the illegality of the targeting of populated areas with nuclear weapons.
The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on September 26 will provide a good opportunity to build public awareness, elevate the nuclear disarmament issue up the political ladder and publicise these initiatives at the United Nations.
Other civil society coalitions involved in the NPT Review Conference are joining UNFOLD ZERO to focus on September 26 and the United Nations as a key opportunity to take forward nuclear abolition proposals. These include Peace and Planet and Global Wave, which presented a nuclear abolition petition signed by over 7 million people to the Conference, organized a huge rally and march in New York and inspiring actions in more than 50 other countries.
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