Archive for April, 2009

  A View From The Sea-The First 100 Days

Posted by Yankee Sailor on 30Apr09.

One word of caution for readers: I attended a school where most of my classes were graded on a curve, so I don’t do grade inflation.

Overall: C As someone who tries to adhere to the admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”, I see little harm in listening more and talking to all the players on the world stage; however, implied in that admonition is forceful talk and action when required. In this light, there’s been little talk or anger of consequence on the national security front in the first 100 days, despite all that has transpired. Considering the President’s inexperience with national security issues, and the deluge of problems he’s faced, a passing grade is a praiseworthy achievement.

National Security Strategy: Incomplete , and my sense is the due date on this assignment is not far off. I suspect that Gen. Jones is laboring mightily on one, but excessive delays may send a message that global security problems are something to be reacted to and not planned for. You can’t shape the world if you don’t have any blueprints from which to work.

Maritime Strategy: B With the current strategy being relatively new and day-to-day operations continuing to align with the strategy, the working assumption is that the last order will remain in force. I have some concerns, however, that resources may continue to be short and not necessarily optimized for the strategy. Increased counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa are promising, though they remain a treatment for the symptoms rather than a cure.

Afghanistan/Pakistan: A Efforts in Af/Pak have been well played to date. Pressure is up on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Washington seems to have finally convinced Lahore that they can’t just look the other way on the problems building in their western provinces. The nation building and stabilization proposals have promise, but the execution is in doubt.

Iraq: B While the current plan differs little from the previous administration’s, I was not enthusiastic about it then, either. Right now in Iraq, to get an A one must only not screw it up or allow someone else to screw it up. Recent upticks in bombings and Sunni discontent threaten to screw it up, and there are no signs the current administration is reassessing.

The Middle East: B While the Administration has not undercut Israel’s desire that any Palestinian state recognize Israel and has voiced its support for a two-state solution, the resumption of funding for Iranian-backed Hamas and efforts to make an end run around legal limits are troubling and unlikely to produce any useful concessions. In addition, with Iran pulling most of the strings on the Palestinian side, it’s unlikely the Administration will be able to make a deal possible without taking on Iran.

North Korea/Iran: D The Administration appears to have resigned itself to Iran, and as a result, North Korea and probably Syria going nuclear. Scaling back plans for land-based missile defense only magnify the potential consequences of the failure. Lots of talk was dedicated to increasing dialogue and trying new ideas, but nothing significant has been produced—or even proposed—to date. North Korea and Iran desperately want to be recognized as being legitimate and influential, so in that context silence is assent and expanding ties is approval. The good news for the White House is, this grade is probably capped at a “B”.

China: C The Impeccable incident was a strong signal from the PRC that America is not necessarily welcome to operate in China’s desired sphere of influence. The response from Adm. Blair that the incident represented a serious problem was the right one, but it should have come from the mouth of the President. In addition, the signal that the U.S. would not publicly hold the PRC accountable over a safe issue like human rights leaves me wondering in what area the Administration would ever express criticism. In the positive column, however, the U.S. continues to press China to explain the purposes behind the rapid expansion of its naval forces and maintain an increased presence in the region to counterweight China’s growing influence. The signals are mixed and inconsistent between Defense and State, which is never good.

Russia: D In 100 days the Administration has managed to give away its best leverage against Russia—missile defense and NATO expansion—and probably send a signal that Russia has a free hand in its near abroad. Russian meddling in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have gone unacknowledged in Washington, and if Russia consummates a de facto takeover of any of these states, this grade will tip to an F.

  Russians Take Over Borders In Ossetia, Abkhazia

Posted by Yankee Sailor on 30Apr09.

Russia’s moving fast after signing security pacts with Ossetia and Abkhazia:

Russia took formal control over the de-facto borders of Georgia’s rebel regions on Thursday a week before NATO military exercises in Georgia that President Dmitry Medvedev said amounted to a challenge from the West.

Medvedev signed pacts giving Russia direct control over the borders of the tiny rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were both recognized by Moscow as independent states after a brief war between Russia and Georgia last year.

Russia has sharply criticized NATO military exercises that are due to begin on May 6 in Georgia, a crucial transit route for Caspian Sea oil and gas to Europe.

“The planned NATO exercises are provocative, no matter how hard our Western partners try to persuade us of the opposite,” Medvedev said after signing the security pacts.

“Those who are taking these decisions will carry full responsibility for any negative consequences,” he said.

And, should you have any doubt who’s driving the bus in these arrangements, note the following:

Under the security deals, Russia gets formal control over the regions’ borders for at least five years and the regions will have no jurisdiction over the Russian border guard posts [emphasis added].

This of course undermines any Russian assertion that the breakaway regions are independent, much less sovereign. In addition, NATO and the EU declared Russia in breach of its cease-fire agreement with Georgia over the security arrangements.

In other news, the OSCE is attempting to expand the role of observers in the region, though I’m doubtful Russia will agree:

The OSCE’s unarmed military monitoring officers in Georgia need to be deployed on both sides of the administrative boundary line, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office’s Special Representative, Ambassador Charalampos Christopoulos, said today.

In a speech to the OSCE’s Permanent Council, Christopoulos welcomed the commitment to strengthen security in the region demonstrated at a first meeting on working-level Mechanisms to deal with security-related incidents that took place last week as “a major step forward”.

“The Chairmanship is convinced that in order for the Mechanisms to become operational and efficient, we need to deploy OSCE monitors on both sides of the administrative boundary line. This is of course linked to the wider question of the OSCE presence in the region,” he said.

And finally, NATO may have sent the first message today that it intends to do more than watch when the alliance expelled two Russian diplomats for spying.

  All Locked Up And No Where To Go

Posted by Yankee Sailor on 30Apr09.

The Law of Unintended Consequences begins its dirty work :

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested on Thursday that as many as 100 detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba would end up held without trial on American soil, a scenario he acknowledged would create widespread if not unanimous opposition in Congress.

The estimate from Mr. Gates was the most specific yet from the Obama administration about how many of the 241 prisoners now at Guantanamo could not be safely released, sent to other countries or appropriately tried in American courts. In January President Obama ordered the prison closed by the end of year, but his administration is still working on what to do with the detainees.

The defense secretary said that while no final decisions had been made, discussions had started this week with the Justice Department about determining how many of the detainees at Guantánamo could not be sent to other countries or tried in courts. He did not say who that group might include, but independent experts have said that their numbers would probably include terror suspects who the military has not yet brought charges against, including detainees from Yemen and the Al Qaeda figure known as Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to brutal interrogation in secretly prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency.“What do we do with the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?” Mr. Gates said.

At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr. Gates said that he has asked for $50 million in a supplemental request to this year’s Pentagon budget in case a new cell block needs to be built quickly for the detainees. But he acknowledged that the idea of relocating Guantanamo detainees to American soil has few champions in Congress.

“I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying ‘not in my district, not in my state,’ “ Mr. Gates said. “We’ll just have to deal with that when the time comes.”

  Russia Secures Basing Agreements in Georgia

Posted by Yankee Sailor on 29Apr09.

Russia continues to consolidate its position in Abkhazia and Ossetia, the latest move being the execution of security and basing agreements.

Russia will sign pacts with Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Thursday to increase security cooperation and strengthen their de-facto frontiers, a Kremlin official said.

Russia defied Western protests and recognised the two regions as independent states last year after a brief war with Georgia that was sparked when Tbilisi tried to regain control of South Ossetia. “The signing of the agreements is a logical continuation of joint efforts by our states to form a legal basis for bilateral relations,” the Kremlin official, who spoke on condition his name was not used, said on Wednesday. The border and security agreements are expected to be complemented with another treaty, which will allow Russia to set up army and navy bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that will host up to 7,600 troops. The Kremlin official said that under the pacts, Russia will train Abkhazian and Ossetian border guards and “help in general building up the national border authorities of the two region.”

Of course, since Abkhazia and Ossetia are not recognized as sovereign by anyone but Russia, Rhode Island has a stronger footing on which to execute agreements with Moscow.

In other news, Moldova has pulled out of NATO exercises in Georgia next month, probably out of fear of irritating Moscow.

After watching things closely for the last ten days or so, it’s clear Russia has been throwing in the kitchen sink in its dispute with Georgia. The latest discover is Russia’s claim that Georgia is harboring and training Chechen terrorists :

Georgian Foreign Ministry official Zurab Kachkachishvili rejected on April 27 as a provocation Russian claims that the counterterrorism regime imposed in several districts of southeastern Chechnya last week was necessitated by the danger that Chechen militants currently based in Georgia might seek to cross the border into Chechnya to stage terrorist attacks there.

Russia’s National Counterterrorism Committee announced on April 16 the official end of the counterterror operation launched in Chechnya by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin 10 years earlier. But within days, the Russian military commandant’s office in Chechnya announced the reimposition of counterterror restrictions in the Vedeno and Itum-Kale raions of southern Chechnya. Vedeno borders on Daghestan, while Itum-Kale, to the west of Vedeno, borders on Georgia.

A spokesman for the Russian military claimed on April 21 that up to 60 militants were amassed in Itum-Kale in readiness to stage a series of terrorist acts in the north of Chechnya. He said those militants had been trained in camps on Georgian territory.

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