Monthly Archives: August 2015

Military Cooperation the Arab World

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are leading an initiative to create a joint Arab Defense Force, comprised of approximately 40,000 soldiers, several elite units, and supporting aircraft and surface vessels. The new force, originally discussed ahead of an Arab League Summit in March, would likely be used in place of Nato and Western-led initiatives to counter the Islamic State, to support Saudi-led operations in Yemen, and would provide a counterbalance to growing Iranian influence in the region. The force might also be used to respond to calls from Arab states for support in addressing the growing threat posed by Islamic militants, such as the call issued last week by the Libyan government.

What do you think? Will regional defense forces provide a useful replacement for the deployment of American forces abroad? Does this development highlight a shift in the global role of the United States? Would such a shift be positive or negative? Why?

Climate Change and National Security

A new report by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggests that rising sea levels resulting from global climate change may present a greater threat to the world’s cities that previously thought. According to the report, rising global ocean levels resulting from thermal expansion and the melting of land-based ice could displace millions of people globally.

While several US states—including Florida and Wisconsin—have been prohibited from discussing or even using the phrase “climate change,” the Pentagon earlier this year described climate change as an “urgent and growing threat” to national security. Multiple analyses by the Department of Defense have concluded that global climate change could aggravate existing global tensions and exacerbate domestic political instability in countries around the world.

What do you think? Should climate change be framed as a national security issue? Why? What are the implications—both positive and negative—of thinking about climate change as a security rather than as strictly an environmental issue?

Addressing Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

High-ranking security representatives from the governments of North and South Korea met yesterday, attempting to walk-back a two week period of escalating tensions. The meetings came at the request of the North Korean government, just a day after it threatened “total war” with South Korea. Observers suggest that the North Korean regime may be becoming increasingly unstable, and some fear that war remains a strong possibility between the two states.

What do you think? Is war between North Korea and South Korea likely? What, if anything, might be done to prevent direct military conflict between the two countries? And given historical US support for South Korea and Chinese support for North Korea, what global implications might increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula have?

Preventing Torture and the Responsibility to Protect

New and graphic video released by Syrian dissidents shows massive torture regime allegedly orchestrated by Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. The Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a group of Syrian Americans campaigning for a more interventionist US policy to address what they describe as a genocide being perpetrated by the Syrian regime, says the video highlights the need for a more aggressive international response.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, ratified by 158 countries including the United States and Syria, defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimating or coercing him or a third person, for for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or pother person acting in an official capacity.” States are expected to take measures to prevent torture in territories under their jurisdiction, including investigating accusations of torture. More broadly, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a still-contested principle in international human rights law, would suggest that the United States and other parties have a responsibility for intervening to prevent gross human rights violations around the world.

What do you think? What responsibility does the international community have to prevent acts of torture in Syria and elsewhere? What limits, if any, exist on that responsibility? Would you support intervention in Syria to protect human rights and prevent torture? Why?

Will Congress Reject the Iranian Nuclear Deal?

Lawmakers in Congress are taking sides for an upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear deal. The political process was set up last April, when an alliance of Republican and Democratic Senators passed bipartisan legislation requiring any executive agreement reached between the United States and Iran to come to Congress for review. Usually, executive agreements are not subject to Congressional review or approval. But in this case, Congress need not approve the agreement, but may decide to reject it.

The approach has created some interesting political dynamics. While the United Nations and most American allies–with the notable exception of Israel–have welcomed the agreement as a powerful step forward that places real limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Congressional Republicans have argued that the agreement does too little to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons while simultaneously granting too much relief to the Iranian government.

Because of the way the review legislation was structured, President Obama need only secure one-third of Congress voting to approve the new agreement. Remember that Congress must pass legislation to reject the agreement. If the vote falls strictly along party lines, Congress will pass such legislation, which President Obama could veto. Without strong support from Congressional Democrats, the Republican Congress would be unable to override President Obama’s veto. President Obama’s strategy thus appears to focus on maintaining the support of moderate Democrats, many of whom have already said they will back the President. Already, most key leaders have expressed support for the President, with the notable exception of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has said he will vote to reject the agreement. This announcement sparked a response from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a noted foreign policy export.

What do you think? Should Congress reject the proposed agreement on Iran’s nuclear program? If so, what alternative strategy would you suggest for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

A Coming Currency War?

The Chinese government yesterday announced it would move to devalue its currency, the yuan.  The move is seen both as a necessary step in moving towards decentralizing China’s heavily-regulated economy and as a short-term effort to boost the nation’s economy. By devaluing its currency, China will make exports less expensive in foreign currency terms, while simultaneously making its imports more expensive in local terms. The move had immediate international repercussions, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 200 points on the news. In the longer term, the move may also force the US Federal Reserve to push back its plan to increase interest rates in the United States.

Countries regularly attempt to manage currency values, usually within a relatively narrow band of values. By increasing the supply of currency in the market, or by reducing interest rates, governments can put negative pressure on the value of their national currencies. In doing so, they make exports from the country less expensive in global terms, thereby providing an economic stimulus. However, some observers fear that the move by China may spark similar moves by other countries, leading to a competitive devaluation and a currency war, thereby threatening global economic growth.

What do you think? What impact will the move have on China? What impact will it have on the global economy? Should China continue with its devaluation? Why?

Commemorating 70 Years Since Hiroshima

The Japanese government is marking the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. On August 5, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 150,000 people. Three days later, it dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 50,000 people. A week later, Japan would unconditionally surrender, marking the end of World War II.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb has been hotly debated since 1945. Critics of the decision contend that the use of such devastating weapons against a largely civilian population, constituting a war crime under international law. Defenders of the decision argue that the decision brought the war to a speedier close, saving countless lives and shortening the conflict by years.

What do you think? Was the US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? If you were advising President Roosevelt at the time, what would you have counseled? Why?

Are Lone-Wolf Terror Attacks Preventable?

A key leader in Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) released video yesterday celebrating the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the attack on the “Draw Mohammed” Contest in Texas, and the Chattanooga shooting in the United States. The video also calls for new lone-wolf attacks against targets in the United States. The video features Abu al-Miqdad al Kindi, who escaped custody from a prison in Yemen, has become a key leader and spokesperson in AQAP. On the same day, Ibrahim al-Asiri, AQAP’s chief bomb maker, released a statement via AQAP’s Twitter account echoing the call for additional strikes against the United States.

The ability of organizations like al Qaeda and the Islamic State to radicalize followers in the West to carry out individual, decentralized attacks represents a significant threat. And American security officials have long fretted about the danger posed by lone-wolf attacks. Unlike more complex operations like those of September 11, lone-wolf attacks are significantly cheaper to carry out and less likely to be exposed. While lacking the large-scale impact of more complex operations, lone-wolf attacks nevertheless generate the publicity and state of fear that is the goal of the terrorist groups.

What do you think? Are lone-wolf terror attacks preventable? What should the United States and other countries threatened by such attacks do to help prevent them?

Spy Games

A British investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a fugitive Russian secret agent who had been granted asylum in the United Kingdom, concluded that the Russian government was likely responsible for Litvinenko’s death. The report confirmed earlier findings by medical investigators who concluded that Litvinenko died after consuming a lethal dose of Polonium 210, a radioactive substance that caused acute radiation poisoning and led to his death. Investigators believe that two Russian agents likely introduced the substance into Litvinenko’s tea at a meeting in October 2006. The agents have refused to cooperate with British authorities and have been extended diplomatic protection by Russian authorities.

While Litvinenko’s widow greeted the news with gratitude, it is not clear what options the British government may choose to pursue in response to the findings. Russia is already subject to economic sanctions as a result of their involvement in Ukraine, and European Union officials are hesitant to expand those sanctions for fear that they may adversely affect the EU economy.

What do you think? How might the British government respond to developments in the Litvinenko case?