Archive for January, 2012


Does the US need a Grand Strategy

January 30, 2012

No, it does not, argues Harry Kazianis  at The Diplomat.

Although I agree with Kazianis on some of his points (in particular, on the Obama administration’s mostly deft geostrategic pivoting toward the Indian and Western Pacific oceans), I have to disagree with his conclusion that US security needs are too complex for a grand strategy (and, also, that previous editions of grand strategy were ever as simplistic as the bumper sticker slogans to which he reduces them).

In my opinion, there is no question that the US needs a grand strategy.  I believe that US grand strategy has always been in the service of two American ideals:  Liberty and Prosperity, which mutually reinforce one another.  I also believe that the levels of Liberty and Prosperity which the US has enjoyed for the past 2 centuries are a direct result of the cyclical 500 year old, Western dominated World Economic System.  That system requires a powerful leader (hegemon) in order to maintain its stability.  For most of the past five centuries, those hegemons have been (in succession) the Dutch, the British and the Americans.  Each, in turn, has maintained internally the wold’s most open political and economic systems as well as the world’s predominant naval power.    And, each has been challenged by large, powerful land-based powers that presented relatively more closed political and economic orders.  In order for the World System to keep operating – to keep providing Prosperity and protecting Liberty – the US must either remain hegemon or work to enable a similarly open successor.    I do not see a successor on the near horizon (although I do believe that India can assume that role in the future), so the US must commit to maintaining global hegemony in the face of the challenge presented by China.

That, in my opinion, should be the foundation of US grand strategy.  To “put it on a post it note,” as Kazianis dismissively requests, it is this:  Recognize and maintain the existence and the essential qualities  of the World System.  Everything in support of that are just questions of operations and tactics.


BP projects North American energy self-sufficiency by 2030

January 25, 2012

BP has published its second version of Energy Outlook 2030.  It presents a very favorable global energy picture over the next few decades – despite a continued reliance on fossil fuels.  While BP does foresee a growing use of renewable resources, the biggest changes in the future energy outlook are (1) increasing efficiencies in energy use and (2) the massive reserves of unconventional resources that new technology has made economically feasible.  At first glance, this might seem to be a repudiation of the very rationale for this blog – the singular importance of energy as a geopolitical driver over the next quarter century.  However, I contend that is quite the opposite.  It is likely that only the US and Canada among developed and rapidly developing nations will enjoy security of supply (an argument that I have been making since before I began this blog), and that security combined with the relative insecurity of other nations will allow the United States to use both its resources and its growing geostrategic military reach to maintain its lead position on the world stage for the foreseeable future.

However, there is a glaring omission in BP’s projections:  there is little attention paid to the impact of growing (even if decelerating)  fossil fuel use on global warming.   However, it is my belief that growing supply could very well outstrip growing demand over this time frame, which would cause prices to fall.  That would leave room for carbon taxes, the revenues from which should be diverted to mitigation efforts.   The latter will be a hard sell – there are entrenched interests on both sides that will fight it (from the right, carbon taxes are anathema while forces on the green left are hostile to a  geo-engineering approach), but as water seeks its own level, so, too, do obvious policy choices.


Terror as geostrategic lever

January 24, 2012

Geopolitically, Pakistan is hemmed in between Iran to its west and India to its east.  In India, it has what it believes to be a mortal enemy with which it has been at various levels of war since independence; in Iran, it has a rival for leadership in the Islamic world.   Pakistani leaders would like their nation to be the center of a pan-Islamic quasi-Caliphate to balance the growing power of India.  To that end, it’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence has built what some call “an empire of terror” throughout the nations of Central Asia.  ISI has a in every pie, with the dual goals of thwarting other Islamic nations for leadership (Iran and, increasingly, Turkey) plus building a deterrent for India.  Window on the Heartland has recently posted an overview of Pakistan’s use of terror as a geostrategic lever:

Pakistan has always desired to expand its influence in Afghanistan and beyond. Central Asia is seen as an area of natural expansion for the country. Islamabad’s objectives in the region are determined by its geopolitical imperative: to turn itself into the leader of an Islamic bloc stretching from the Black Sea to China able to counter India’s influence and become an autonomous actor on the international scene. In this context, the destabilizing efforts carried out by the ISI through support to terrorist groups in Central Asia since the early 90s have been aimed at creating the right conditions so that the Pakistani leadership could gradually take over from of other major powers such as Russia, China and the United States.

Read the whole thing.

The ISI has built what is in essence a model for a low-tech, asymmetric analog to the integrated defense network centered on complex weapons systems that the US is building.


US geostrategic reach and capabilities are growing, not shrinking

January 23, 2012

Daniel Drezner wrote this past weekend that “predictions about the death of American hegemony may have been greatly exaggerated.”     Drezner points out that, among other things, the preponderance of US military power vis a vis China is even greater today than it was 20 years ago.  And, with older weapons systems being phased out and newer, more advanced ones coming on line, that disparity is about to grow even greater.  Key to that, and a primary threat to any Chinese designs on challenging US hegemony, is the F-35 Joint Strike Figher.

Dr. Robbin Laird writing at US Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings details how, by combining the F-35 with existing (and developing) Aegis technology, the US is building a global, mobile defense network that will far outmatch anything any competitor can field:

Originally designed as a Cold War tool to bolster fleet defense against a challenging Soviet Navy, the Aegis program has since the 1970s evolved and morphed. Among the factors that have exponentially increased the core program’s capabilities, the software and microelectronics revolution has played a major role. Targeting precision, C4ISR, and missile technologies have all developed, and today Aegis is a key element in global missile defense. Of central relevance not only to the program but to global security, Aegis coupled with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will provide unprecedented modular flexibility at sea for U.S. command authority and our allies as they shape responses to inevitable future crises.

. . .

South Korea illustrates how multiple basing in the F-35 age can work. That nation, in its ongoing defense against North Korea, has defensive systems against missiles and a good army. In the F-35 era, defense and offense are transformed into strategic mobility. Now, instead of investing in static systems able to do nothing other than await invasion, South Korea has flexible forces that can operate in national defense, participate regionally, and contribute to a global reserve capability. Aegis at-sea systems are a key element of sea-based defensive capability that has been provided with strategic mobility.

Add the F-35Bs to the South Korean military, and now you can disperse force, complicate any North Korean attack, and add this capability to the country’s mobile naval force that currently is being rolled out. Deterrence of China is also enhanced, because mobility of operations from South Korea makes China’s thinking more difficult. For one thing, there is no single line of attack on U.S. forces. If the Chinese should target Guam, we would now have multiple bases from the sea and land from which the 360-degree-enabled F-35s coupled with Aegis and other systems would provide a troubling situation for our enemy, who would not be guaranteed success with a large-area single strike.

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis program is an important contributor to shaping the foundation for such a global system. Because all current Aegis navies are potential candidates for the F-35, with the deployment of the Joint Strike Fighter will come important sensor capabilities around the world. We have the opportunity to create an integrated air-sea sensor net for deployed fleets that provides, in turn, a growing ability to shape missile-defense forces and protective cover for global-presence forces.

These F-35-Aegis offense and defense bubbles can be networked throughout the Pacific to enhance the capacity of individual nations. They represent a prime example of how one country’s assets can contribute to the reach others, together establishing a scalable capability for a honeycombed force.

Overall, the enterprise lays a foundation for a global capability in sea-based missile defenses and for protecting deployed forces as well as projecting force. Power such as this is increasingly central to the freedom of action necessary for the worldwide operation of the U.S. military and our coalition partners.

The F-35 is not without its problems – the naval variant will be delayed for an indefinite period because of a design error that renders it functionally useless – but the lead that the US maintains over the entire world in terms of military technology will remain wide for the foreseeable future.



Islamic Feminism

January 20, 2012

The rise of female leaders in the Islamist movement strikes many westerners as oxymoronic.  In a new paper published in Politics and Religion, Arizona State University professors Jeffry Halverson and Amy Way analyze the contradictions between feminism on the one hand and Islamism on the other.  They then use a case study method focusing on two female leaders from the Islamist movement.    The study “reveals the existence of ‘Islamist feminism,’ distinguished from broader secular-oriented Islamic feminism, as a logical, albeit unique, extension, and expression of Muslim anti-colonial discourse rooted in the intellectual currents of twentieth century independence movements that still resonate today.”

This fascinating paper raises many questions.  Perhaps feminism was never really a Western discourse to begin with – at its core, feminism is thoroughly rooted in anti-colonialism, and the Western brand is a deformed and maladjusted version of true feminism (as one of the case study subjects argues).

Read the whole thing.


Canada to sell Alberta oil to Asia

January 20, 2012

In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian officials have responded by announcing their determination to sell the products of the oil sands to Asia and, in particular, to China.  It was easy to see this one coming – the alternate (and more environmentally risky) route has already been mapped out.

In the past, I wrote that Obama would be able to campaign in 2012 on his foreign policy successes, but this one decision undercuts that entire theme.  His GOP opponent, whomever that turns out to be, can easily cast the Keystone XL decision as one that hurts the US and aids our greatest challenger (China) in one fell swoop.


US incoherence on energy policy

January 18, 2012

It is very hard to call these two reports anything but incoherent.  First, the President’s jobs council recommends an “all-in” policy on energy to include expanded drilling, development of unconventional resources, and new pipelines and refineries (although it does not specifically mention Keystone XL).

Next, early reports indicate that the State Department is going to reject the Keystone pipeline.  This is a foolish policy decision for many reasons which we have detailed before, but it is utterly incoherent when juxtaposed with the pronouncement from the jobs council the day before.  To paraphrase a favorite line of US liberals, it appears that the left hand doesn’t know what the far left hand is doing.