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Foreign Policy

Archive | Foreign Policy

Russia’s Ramping up its Military Spending

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Russian military honor guard welcomes Admiral Mike Mullen in Moscow on June 26, 2009

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Vladimir Popovkin, recently announced that Russia plans to modernize its military. Russia plans to spend roughly 19 trillion rubles ($650 billion) for the purchase of fighters and bombers, helicopters, nuclear submarines and warships.

Russian military honor guard welcomes Admiral Mike Mullen in Moscow on June 26, 2009

Procurement of new fighter planes, submarines, helicopters and warships based on Cold War designs strikes some as questionable due to the changing nature of new threats. In order to address new threats it is important to develop hardware and systems that were not originally designed to fight a superpower but are adaptive and posses different capacities and capabilities. Popovkin also announced that the Soviet era SS-18 Satan and SS-20 Saber ICBMs will be phased out in favor of an updated ballistic missile. In addressing the need to update the nation’s armed forces, President Medvedev told a gathering of Defense officials in 2009, “Last year we equipped a number of military units with new weaponry, and we will start large-scale rearmament of the Armed Forces in 2011.”

The modernization and procurement of new planes and warships follows a reorganization of Russia’s armed forces. The reform program, approved following the war with Georgia, will see significant changes to the overall structure of the Russian military. When completed the overall size of the armed forces will be 1 million men from the current level of 1.2 million. Additionally, “phantom” divisions, developed during the Cold War, consisting of generals but no actual troops, will be cut in favor of units that will be fully staffed. Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor writes, “the planned changes will slash the 355,000-strong officer corps, particularly the bloated upper ranks, by almost 150,000.”

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Mexico’s Drug Violence and American Complacency

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

Violence in Mexico reached new levels in 2010 with killings totaling 15,273. The dead included innocent bystanders, drug cartels members and police and security forces. Since 2006, according to data released by the Mexican government, 34,612 have been killed. In Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, out of a population of 1 million, 3,100 were killed in 2010. The states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero have witnessed the brunt of the violence. Despite the thousands killed in Mexico, violence is relatively low compared to its regional neighbors. According to government data, in Mexico there were 18.4 murders per 100,000, in Brazil the number is significantly higher with 25 per 100,000, in Colombia 37 per 100,000 and in El Salvador the number is even higher at 61.

The perception that Mexico is experiencing such high murder rates in comparison to its neighbors is explained by how these victims are killed and disposed of. The deaths tend to be gruesome by Western standards with victims turning up headless and in mass graves. Other methods of execution are hangings from bridges while the victims are alive or after they have been killed. In May of 2010, 55 bodies were found deep inside a silver mine in the town of Taxco and in June of 2010, six bodies were found in a cave in Cancún. Additionally, near the town of Acapulco in the state of Guerrero, over a dozen Mexican tourists were found in a mass grave. Killings in Cancún and Acapulco are putting a severe drain on the Mexican economy which is heavily dependent on tourism.

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Options for the Use of Force in Libya

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Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on operations in Libya

The U.S. balanced strategic interests with democratic values in response to the revolutions that toppled governments in several North African states. The U.S. avoided admonishing regional allies while not supporting regimes who had lost their legitimacy to rule.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on operations in Libya

Since the majority of U.S. citizens have been evacuated from Libya the U.S. has a free hand to formulate and encourage policy options that will insure that Qaddafi exits Libya soon. This exit will either be on Qaddafi’s terms or through the actions of those Libyans taking up arms against his regime. The U.S. and the international community have a number of options at their disposal. First and foremost a no-fly zone could be instituted to insure that Libyan fighter planes and attack helicopters are unable to combat the rebel groups now marching on Tripoli and other government held areas. Other options being considered are direct military actions against the regime, arming rebel groups opposed to the government and formally recognizing the rebel groups that have seized significant portions of the country. Whatever options are instituted, direct U.S. military intervention seems unlikely.

The revolution to oust Qaddafi has to be seen as a purely Libyan effort. If the U.S. were to become involved either directly or through black ops the many critics of the U.S. would use these actions to illustrate that the U.S. is an imperial power and this would delegitimize a new Libyan government. Further, the use of American troops in Libya lacks widespread support in Congress. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. John McCain clarified his earlier remarks made on another Sunday morning talk show about military options with Libya. McCain suggested, “Providing the so called provisional government…with the equipment and material they could use and the no fly zone I think could send a very strong message.” The Senator continued, “I’m not ready to use ground forces or further intervention than that.”

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Britain’s Defence Policy under David Cameron

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British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Source: 10 Downing Street

The SDSR, “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,” was released by the David Cameron government in October of 2010. Despite calls for deep cuts to the military budget, British defence policy under David Cameron mirrors the policy directions taken by his predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Source: 10 Downing Street

For example, the U.K. will continue to have an operational military presence in Afghanistan and the Balkans and a non-operational presence in Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Germany and Northern Ireland. The parliamentary elections last year were essentially a mandate on Labour’s handling of the economy. The general campaign theme of the Conservative Party was the U.K.’s dire economic circumstances and the need for difficult spending cuts to confront the U.K.’s massive debt burden and return the U.K. to fiscal solvency. As leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron posted on his WebCameron blog at the beginning of 2010, “I defy anyone to look at our plans and call them timid – because the truth is they cannot be timid if we’re to confront and defeat these problems.”

The cuts proposed by David Cameron, reflect his pragmatic approach and his acknowledgment that in order for the U.K. to stay competitive and respond to threats from external and internal actors, defence spending had to be addressed in a responsible manner. Britain’s Treasury establishes the fiscal problems facing the U.K., “Last year, the Government borrowed one pound in every four that it spent; and the interest payments on the nation’s public debt each year are more than the Government spends on schools in England.” Further, the U.K. owes £43 billion in interest on its debt.

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Libya at a Tipping Point

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Libyan rebel fighters with a captured government tank. Photo: Nasser Nouri

The unrest in Libya is reminiscent of China and Romania in 1989. While the Chinese central government held onto power Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime ended with Ceaușescu and his wife being placed against a wall and executed. The very same fate seemingly awaits Qaddafi.

Libyan rebel fighters with a captured government tank. Photo: Nasser Nouri

While regimes have fallen in Egypt and Tunisia and the government in Bahrain could either fall or remain in power Libya has reached a tipping point. Former British Foreign Secretary Lord Owen has ominously warned that reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s actions against Kurds and Shiites during his rule, Qaddafi, Lord Owen warned, “We know this is a person who could unleash either chemical or biological weapons - which he possibly still has - and certainly will not hesitate to use his air force on peaceful protests. It would be impossible for us to sit by if he did unleash his air force.”

With the development that Col. Qaddafi has hired African mercenaries to kill wantonly on the streets of Tripoli he has relegated his regime to the trash bin of history. Even if Qaddafi survives this unrest his rule for the foreseeable future will be tenuous at best. His UN delegation has quit in disgust, various ministers and government officials have resigned and his hold over the country is slipping.

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Obama’s Revamped Nuclear Strategy

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Pete Souza/White House
Pete Souza/White House

Pete Souza/White House

For the first time in decades, since the early days of the Cold War, the United States has issued a new set of policy guidelines regarding the use of nuclear weapons that differs significantly from past efforts. President Obama clearly lays out when, how and under what circumstances nuclear weapons would be used. The nuclear strategy would eliminate previous ambiguity that has existed for decades, and which many of his predecessors had failed to or wished not to address.

In laying out his new strategy, Obama said, “Today, my Administration is taking a significant step forward by fulfilling another pledge that I made in Prague—to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and focus on reducing the nuclear dangers of the 21st century, while sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for the United States and our allies and partners as long as nuclear weapons exist.”

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U.S. Cancels European Missile Defense

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Admiral Michael Mullen with Defense Secretary Robert Gates briefing the press

After lengthy consultations with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama has decided to cancel the anti-ballistic missile system that his predecessor, President Bush, planned for deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Admiral Michael Mullen with Defense Secretary Robert Gates briefing the press

Mr. Obama plans to develop and employ a new and more versatile system based on an assessment of the true nature of the Iranian threat. Compared to the old system that relied exclusively on a land based system, the new system “will feature deployments of increasingly-capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors, primarily upgraded versions of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against the growing ballistic missile threat from Iran.”

Under the Bush administration, missile defense was viewed as a vital component of American and its European allies long-term defense needs. The mission of the missile shield plan was to protect Europe from attack by Iran. In principle, however, it could be used in the event of an attack from any number of other states, like China and Russia, which are still viewed with concern.

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Obama’s Efforts to Reform Military Spending

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Pete Souza/White House
Pete Souza/White House

Pete Souza/White House

Speaking before a national Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Monday in Phoenix, Arizona, President Obama had sharp words for members of Congress: “If Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it.” Obama’s warning comes after the House approved in late July by a vote of 400-30 a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill, as the Pentagon executes an obstacle-laden withdrawal from Iraq while shifting U.S. military might to Afghanistan. Obama’s reasons for moderating the defense budget are many.

To name a few, record levels of government spending to combat the financial crisis and stimulate the recession economy has diminished the government’s stores of financial flexibility, stores which it must ration ever more scrupulously to achieve the Obama administration’s ambitious agenda – a public healthcare option, alternative energy entrepreneurship, and an expanded diplomatic corps.

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