Archive for the ‘National and international security’ Category

Throughout most of the second half of the 20th century the U.S. national security strategy was “containment of communism”. In the first decade of the 21st century the national security strategy became “war on terrorism”. Neither is relevant now as a central organizing principle for dealing with this century’s new realities. Instead, our new strategy should be the reduction of threats.

Slowing the projected growth of military spending, at the very least, will be included in future deficit reductions. But applying arbitrary across-the-board cuts in defense, absent a clearer picture of the central purpose of our security strategy will be foolish at best and destructive at worst. Big budgets produce bad defense policies. Arbitrary budget cuts will produce even worse ones.

Principle among threat reduction measures is controlling weapons of mass destruction and the prevention of any such weapons from proliferating or falling into the hands of terrorist organizations. But there are other threats that require sustained attention as well. These include: failed and failing states; cyber-attacks; pandemics; climate destabilization; religious fundamentalism, tribalism, and ethnic nationalism; and a variety of realities characterizing this new century.

Throughout the second half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries, the U.S. relied on military superiority to respond to national and international threats. But the nature of warfare and character of conflict are changing and, as we are learning from our current long wars, military superiority as defined in the Westphalian era of the nation-state is proving less effective. Vastly shortened warning and response time, the emergence of non-state actors, and the spread of unconventional conflict now mean that traditional, large-scale military power is much less effective both as a deterrent and as a response. Much more effective will be the reduction of threats before they become immediate and difficult, if not impossible, to manage.

Rather than seeking to control international upheavals and chaos through traditional diplomatic and political means and, should those fail, resorting to overwhelming military power, we will now find it necessary to identify evil-doers before they act, break-up threatening networks, anticipate disruption, isolate violence, deny targets of opportunity, and be smarter than new agents of destruction.

In a word, our central strategy must be to drastically limit opportunities for violence before it occurs. This strategy requires undercutting the motivation of disruptive actors, restricting their opportunity to act, and shrinking the resources and capabilities of those inclined to disruption. It also means applying more sophisticated anticipatory response planning to non-military threats such as Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill.

Since the strategy of anticipation and reduction will never be absolutely perfect, military forces, especially Special Forces and targeted capabilities, must be shaped to deal with those threats that avoid or escape total confinement. But, by virtue of the reduction efforts, these will be smaller threats that can be dealt with by smaller combat units and more targeted firepower.

This new strategy turns traditional military thinking on its head. Rather than wait until threats become massive and are exercised, all resources should go into prevention of these threats from reaching large scale proportions and into keeping them within more manageable parameters, especially in a century already marked by fast-moving events.

Thus, a project begun toward the close of the Cold War, reducing nuclear and other arsenals as a means of reducing the threats they had previously represented, should now become the center-piece of a new national strategy. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Department of Defense was created as a consolidation of Cold War arms control and disarmament monitoring agencies. It is increasingly tasked with coordinating control of weapons of mass destruction. But it also supports response efforts involving Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor and other non-military threats.

Much of the confusion over the nature of security in the 21st century emerges from the absence of a peer competitor, such as the former Soviet Union, which offered a focus for our security preparations. But the idea of threat reduction, provided by an era of arms control, can and should take on new meaning in an era of more dispersed and amorphous military and non-military threats.

Lacking a central organizing principle for our security, we should take the core idea from an agency created to wind down the Cold War and broaden the principle of threat reduction into the centerpiece of a new anticipatory, pro-active national security strategy.

For about three and a half centuries wars have been fought principally between and among nation-states or countries.  Military people are paid to prepare for these wars and employ the tools and practices of traditional warfare in doing so.  Now comes the 21st century and the new threats we face are not from the governments of other countries, and they rarely represent a challenge to our survival or the balance of power in the world.  What is a traditional military to do under these circumstances?

What our Pentagon did recently was to try to fit cyber attacks into the traditional military mold.  According to the New York Times, it “plans to issue a new strategy soon declaring that a computer attack from a foreign nation can be considered an act of war that may result in a military response.”  Notice that it does not insist the attack come from a foreign government, just from a “foreign nation.”

Starting some years ago reports of hackers around the world–Russia, China, and elsewhere–penetrating our military and civilian computer systems began to flourish.  Our counter-technology usually traced these to random mischief-makers demonstrating their computer skills.  Rarely have these been traced to a foreign ministry of defense or official source.  So, our Pentagon is going to war with other nations–“a military response”–if some hacker attacks any of our computer systems?  Really?  Are they serious?

Perhaps these geniuses, who are totally adrift in a world where threats do not originate from foreign governments, are trying to intimidate foreign governments, including Russia and China, into policing their own hacker world.  It is a theory, but not a very plausible one.  Instead, it seems like an attempt by traditional military thinkers to fit a world of new realities into an old world of conventional warfare: “Anybody in your country does something bad to us, particularly something bad we’re not prepared to deal with, and we’ll attack you.”

If someone, in this case the Commander-in-chief and the senior civilian command, doesn’t shut down this dangerous kind of thinking soon, we’ll find ourselves in the same situation of Gulliver–tied down by armies of little Lilliputians.  There is nothing more harmful to the survival and success of a great nation than to let itself become irrelevant.

Does a Nation Have a Soul?

Author: Gary Hart

This is not a rhetorical question to which I have an answer.  I don’t know.  Most political people would laugh and say no.  But, it is worth at least a momentary thought.

It is difficult to imagine that a mass democracy of 300 million could have a soul, because we don’t know exactly what a soul is.  It is usually described with regard to individuals as a consciousness, a sense of ultimate things, a moral conscience, a compass of right and wrong, a longing for immortality.  Hard to imagine all of us Americans having a collective soul. 

But what if we did?  What if there were some Supreme Being or Divine Providence that judged nations, judged them by how they behaved morally and ethically to each other and to people in other nations.  We might be judged by our sense of justice and fairness and humanity and compassion.  Our national soul might be judged by the standard to which we hold ourselves, whether we lived up to the ideals we claim to believe in.  Jesus taught those who followed him that they would be judged not by how they treated their friends, but how they treated their enemies.

This is a subject for graduate classes in theology.  It is certainly well beyond the realm of politics.  But at the very least it intrudes on the delicate, mostly unspoken debate about security and freedom.  How much of our freedom, as individuals and as a nation, are we willing to sacrifice to feel more secure?  This question is central to all nations and to democracies particularly.  But it is also a question of how much of our soul, our proclaimed commitment to liberty and justice for all, to the noble notion that all men and women are created equal, we are willing to trade to the Mephistopheles of history to guarantee that we will be both powerful and secure.

“U.S. Do Something”

Author: Gary Hart


Discussing the tumultuous “Arab spring”, a Sunday morning commentator argued that the North African/Middle East uprisings were a great triumph for Iran and disaster for Israel and the U.S.  And, he said, the U.S. is letting it happen and “not doing a thing.”

Needless to say, he did not mention the menu of options the U.S. has to work with…for the very simple reason that it doesn’t exist.  That is to say, unless he has in mind yet a fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh military intervention.  Even the most powerful nation on earth, with far and away the most extensive military establishment, cannot dictate terms in every circumstance and certainly not in six or eight countries at a time and even more certainly not when engaged in two and a half wars already.

What is it we are supposed to do, I wonder?  Send diplomats, perhaps.  But with whom do they negotiate?  Mobs of demonstrators in huge squares?  The commentators suggested we should have stood more firmly with President Mubarak in Egypt.  Aside from issuing proclamations of support, how should we have done that?  Send troops?  Does anyone believe the Egyptian uprising was waiting for instruction from the U.S.?  And the troops we have are on multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Welcome to the 21st century, a time already characterized by the limits on American power.  People are rising up against oligarchs we have supported for decades.  Some want democracy.  Some want religious rule.  Some want their tribe or clan to rule.  Are we in a position to dictate in multiple countries who should and should not govern?  And even if we could, should we?

Among the many new realities of the 21st century are boundaries on what America can and cannot do.  This is not an argument for isolationism or retreat.  It is an argument for a realistic understanding of what we can and cannot do and should and should not do.  What we should not do is violate the principles contained in our Declaration and our Constitution, the definition of who we are and who we consider ourselves to be. 

The best outcome in this turbulent time is to hope that, by our example and our behavior, as many uprisings as possible will, as in Tiananmen Square some years ago, erect in their public squares some semblance of our Statue of Liberty as their symbol of what they hope to become.

Seal Six

Author: Gary Hart

Seal Six

In the arena of global conflict, there is good news and bad news.  The good news is reflected in the sensational success of the Seals in Pakistan.  The bad news is that there will be a lot more actions like this and they will not always be so successful.

Warfare is changing.  The nature of conflict is reverting to pre-nation-state status.  That is, the “warriors” more resemble criminals; the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms.  There are no final peace treaty ceremonies and victory celebrations.  We made a huge mistake declaring “war on terrorism” because little of our Cold War forces can be used, we are not fighting regular military forces, and there will be no final “victory”, at least until the bin Ladens of the world disappear.  But don’t hold your breath for that.

The one product of advanced warfare that was important in Abbottabad was technology: stealth helicopters, satellite surveillance, night-vision goggles, etc.  But it all got down to kicking down doors and shooting people.  More police work than regular warfare.

All this means is that we have to restructure our forces into smaller, faster, quicker units, such as the Special Forces, equip them with advanced, practical technologies, and find the bad guys.  The bad guys are not warriors.  They are criminals.  They have to be dealt with as such.  They should not be glorified as warriors.  That’s what they want the world to think of them.  They are not.  They are cowards who kill innocent people.  They have to be hunted like criminals and eliminated.  They should have no sanctuary in any nation that calls itself our friend and that received money from American taxpayers.

If we have learned anything in the two Long Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it is that our overwhelming Cold War military superiority does not guarantee “victory” or success in any traditional sense.  Our leaders claim we intend to establish stable democratic governments friendly to the U.S. in tribal, sectarian nations that have had internal conflicts for centuries.  Good luck with that.  Afghanistan will finally be “free” when Afghan men care enough about their wives and daughters to protect them from barbarian mullahs.  But not before then.

Double Deja Vu

Author: Gary Hart

 If you live long enough you often see events seem to recur.  In 1979, as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory subcommittee of the Senate Environment Committee, I conducted the Senate’s investigation of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, including flying in a military helicopter over the plant when, we found out later, the reactor was critical.

The subsequent investigation and hearings led to major reforms in operations and oversight of the nation’s existing reactors.  But it all came back with the Fukushima nuclear crisis the last few days.

Even before Fukushima, and despite the emerging consensus favoring renewed attention to nuclear power as a partial solution to global warming, no new reactor construction applications have been submitted.  The problem with nuclear power is not simply one of safety.  It is one more of economics.  So long as we depend on OPEC oil supplies, OPEC can drop its prices and make multi-billion dollar plant investments uneconomic overnight.

In the spring of 1991, I was invited by the Libyan government in secret to negotiate an arrangement with the first Bush administration whereby the PanAm bombers would be turned over to us in exchange for the opening of negotiations leading toward normalization of diplomatic relations.  There were days of serious discussions in Geneva and then in Tripoli.  It came to nothing because the Bush administration turned down the offer and we had to wait several years to finally get the bombers.

While in Tripoli for three days I spent a good deal of time with an English speaking young minister.  A high official in the Italian government told me thereafter that he was “the most dangerous man in the world.”  It turned out to be Moussa Koussa, Libya’s current foreign minister who just defected to the West.

It makes one wonder what further recycling of history may occur.

More than even Afghanistan and Iraq, the profile of 21st century conflict is represented by Libya.  A civil war involving the overthrow of a dictator by indigenous forces, in a nation rich with oil, in which the oil-consuming Atlantic nations intervene militarily to prevent the dictator from slaughtering his own people.  Meanwhile, those same nations are not intervening on behalf of indigenous uprisings in Bahrain, which also has oil, and Yemen.  These latter two countries have been much more helpful to us than Libya has.

There is every indication that some Libyans rising up against Ghaddafi are also anti-American, possibly to the point of supporting terrorism.  We don’t know whether this is true in Libya or elsewhere because we had not developed intelligence on the Arab “street”.  Sound confusing?  It should. 

Conflict in this century will make 20th century nation-state wars, against imperialists, fascists, and communists, look simple by comparison.  Good guys versus bad guys.  But what principles do we use to decide on intervention where neither side threatens us, where both sides or all sides may be unpleasant guys, where one side or both sides don’t wear uniforms, and where clear moral authority is not possessed by anyone?  This new century of conflict is going to be much more grey and plaid than black and white.

It is to be hoped that we don’t simply decide to use military force by the toss of a coin.  That would be a prescription for willy-nilly arbitrariness honored by no one.  So far, the only positive development in the Libyan arena is the rare leadership shown by Britain and France.  They seem to have forced our hand.  But that is not all bad.  I have believed for quite some time that other democratic nations had to step up on peace making and peace keeping.  We can’t and shouldn’t try to do it all.  Let’s hope this new spirit of shared responsibility expands. 

Even so, we are all going to need a new set of consistent and defensible principles on when and how to intervene in the affairs of other nations.

A Great Man’s Birthday

Author: Gary Hart

This month former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev will celebrate his 80th birthday.  Few figures in the second half of the 20th century have been as pivotal as he was.

For decades to come historians will debate and deliberate over the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and how credit for both should be allocated.  The best account to date has been rendered by one of America’s most effective career diplomats, Ambassador Jack Matlock.  His book, published this year, is entitled: “Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led American Astray–and How to Return to Reality”.

Ambassador Matlock was our ambassador in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era and participated in every summit President Reagan had with the Soviet leader.  He saw both men about as close as they could be seen.  He wrote his book after neo-conservatives in the George W. Bush administration argued for war in Iraq and the use of military force as a principal instrument of diplomacy.  He makes a powerful case, based on the Reagan-Gorbachev experience, that this is folly.

Ambassador Matlock admires President Reagan and thinks his change of course on Russia and the Soviet Union to have been critical.  But he also says that this alone did not end the Cold War.  He believes and so documents that Mikhail Gorbachev took dramatic, unprecedented steps within the Soviet structure and toward the U.S. that made the end of the Cold War possible…and paid for those steps with exile.

Only history, accurately told, can finally render praise and blame.  For myself, I have sent President Gorbachev, a friend since 1986, best wishes for a happy birthday…and warmest thanks for his courage.

Fiction in Foreign Policy

Author: Gary Hart

The 21st century is wasting no time in letting the U.S. know we don’t run things anymore, in case there is anyone left who thought we did.  From Tunisia to Oman everyday people are rising up, in almost every case against governments with whom we were friendly or whom, in the case of Egypt, we heavily supported financially.

These lessons work both ways.  We are about to get a really profound lesson from a government we have opposed for fifty years–Cuba.  Future students of American history will be scratching their heads about this case for decades to come.  Our embargo and refusal to normalize diplomatic relations has nothing to do with communism.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, with China since Nixon, and with Vietnam despite our bitter war there.

No, Cuba was pure politics.  Though it started out to be a measure of an administration’s resistance to Castro’s politics, it very soon became a straight-jacket whereby first-generation Cuban-Americans wielded inordinate political power over both parties and constructed a veto over rational, mature diplomacy.

That is about to end.  And wouldn’t you know it is ending because of…oil.  In an important report a few days ago, the Center for Democracy in the Americas ( documented major oil exploration and production plans off Cuba’s northwest coast in the Gulf of Mexico.  Guess who is helping develop this major project.  China.  It is building a state of the art drilling rig, according to Italian design and paid for by the Spanish state oil company (welcome to globalization), which will then be towed 10,000 miles to Cuban territorial waters. 

Because of our Neanderthal policy toward Cuba, the U.S. will neither profit from the production nor will it be in a position to apply its post-BP experience to make the exploration environmentally safe–though it is 50 miles from Florida’s coastline.  This is both sad and embarrassing. 

Second generation Cuban-Americans are finally beginning to change their community’s attitudes and make it clear they no longer are interested in holding the mighty U.S.’s foreign policy toward a tiny nearby country hostage to their parents’ anger.

Everyday people in North Africa and the Middle East are taking control of their own destiny, largely without our help.  Maybe this new generation of Cuban-Americans will do the same to straighten out one of the U.S.’s strangest foreign policy detours in its history.

Even so, why does it always have to be about oil?

So said Winston Churchill who then added the punch line: “…except for all the others.”  An accompanying American colloquialism is: “If you like laws or sausages, never watch either one being made.”  Any doubts about either of these observations should be erased by current developments in both the Middle East and in Madison, Wisconsin.

A lot of people in the Middle East are rising up to overthrow autocratic governments and in some cases, as in Libya, sacrificing their lives to do so.  Whether what follows in the several upheavals underway comes to resemble democracy of any hue remains to be seen.  Struggles for power have begun, struggles involving the military, religious factions, entrenched wealth, and the lifeblood of much of the region–oil.

There are lessons to be learned meanwhile about the limits of power, in this case American power.  Were we as powerful as some believe, both here and elsewhere, we would play a dominant role in the outcome of these struggles.  No doubt we have interests.  Sadly, oil from the Persian Gulf, and militarily the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain.  Except for trying to identify the winners, and encouraging them to be democrats, however, there is little we can do to shape the outcomes.

Meanwhile, in Washington and Madison, and soon in many other State capitols around the country we are seeing democracy in action with street demonstrations that don’t look all that much different from Cairo and other cities.  Democracy is easy when the economic pie is growing.  It begins to creak and crack, however, when the pie is shrinking.

The struggle here is whether we will return to a pre-New Deal America with many fewer ladders of opportunity, safety nets for the poor and elderly, and regulatory protections for consumers, workers, and the environment.  That is really what this endless political struggle in American regarding the size and role of government is about.  There is some evidence to support the theory that the unstated purpose behind so-called “supply side” tax cuts was to create such huge deficits that the domestic role of government would have to return to the age of Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.  Two endless wars have not helped in this regard.

Hold on to your seats.  For we are entering a period when we will find out how strong American democracy really is…and what our values really are.  When the tea party gets the kind of government it claims to want, few Americans are going to like it.  But then, of course, we will have to start our struggle for justice and fairness all over again.