Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Islamabad's Wake Up Call

Smarter policies
Islamabad Wake Up Call
Pakistani Taliban Cross the Line


Pakistan has suffered Taliban attacks in the past but the level of savagery and selection of targets has never been this severe or cruel.

            The latest attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a military school in Peshawar has far ranging implications for the government of Pakistan and in particular its military establishment. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban movement. Despite periodic offensives against them many see the ISI as going soft on the militants and they are known to have ties and support at high levels in the military. This may soon change.
            The attack and its brutality against children will likely have the same effect that the September 11th attacks in the U.S. or the Beslan massacre of school children in Russia. Pakistan is known for its anti-American sentiment among its general population but this high profile act of carnage will put the Pakistani Taliban in the position of enemy number one. How much of this grief and outrage will become a unifying force for the civilian leadership and the military is yet to be seen at this stage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has flown to the site and also declared a three day period of mourning for the victims.[1] There are reports that a teacher was burned alive in front of students and many of the students (as young as 10 years old) were beheaded.[2]
            In the coming months there will be several things to look for:
·         Will the civilian leadership take a stranger stance against the Taliban? They have spent time vacillating when it comes to direct action against the militants.[3]
·         As the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan deteriorates will the Pakistani Taliban use Afghanistan as a safe haven in the event of a massive crackdown by Pakistani forces. This would be a role reversal of the current situation with the Afghan Taliban.
·         Given the climate after this latest attack there may be human rights abuses by the Pakistani military in the event of an offensive.

[1] (Brinded, 2014)
[2] (Brinded, 2014)
[3] (ZAHRA-MALIK, 2014)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This Battle Actually Does Matter

Smarter policies
This Battle Actually Does Matter
Fighting ISIS


Despite our trouble history in Iraq the fight  against ISIS and the change in Iraqi government are crucial in ensuring the sacrifices of our involvement will not be in vain

                                 The debate over U.S. intervention against ISIS militants in Iraq is a heated debate with many valid points being made on the pro and con sides.   After beginning with a flimsy premise and close to a decade of combat it is only understandable that there would be reluctance to reengage in combat of any sort in Iraq. This overlooks one important factor. The sacrifice in blood and treasure that was invested in Iraq with be squandered if Iraq degrades into a large failed state. Whether one was for the invasion of Iraq or against it matters very little now that all the events of the past decade have transpired. Pointing the finger at who started the war, who managed/mismanaged it and who ended it will does not matter. In short, no one wanted it so the least we can do is ensure it was worth it. Two key factors make the current intervention potentially more positive in the long run.
                        First is ensuring Iraq has a functional and inclusive government. With the departure of Nuri Al Maliki this looks possible. The process of turning Iraq into a democracy that is more inclusive than what we have seen will be a long process. Sectarian divisions will not disappear overnight. But, going in the opposite direction that Maliki was taking the country was not and is not an option. When a nation is in crisis, and this is a prime example of a crisis, the hope is that the citizens will pull together for the common good. If this happens on any level it will be a vast improvement over the past several years and after that only time will tell.
                        Second is our approach to the current crisis. Regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama he is sticking to his promise to move away from unilateral intervention. This policy has come under fire from hawks in the government but a unilateral approach toward ISIS would ruin any gains to be made just as surely as doing nothing would. In the 1991 Gulf War President Bush made the decision to have Arab troops ride into Kuwait city during its liberation to put an Arab face on the war, at least in the minds of the countries providing those troops. With the current situation in Iraq the act of partnering with the Iraqis, Kurds and any other willing member state not achieves the same goal but that goal is more important this time around. By having the Iraqis and Kurds lead the fight (with advisors and air support from the U.S. and possibly other allies) the Iraqi fighting force can be rebuild and the fallout from masses of American troops in country can be avoided. There is also the benefit of repairing out tarnished image in the region. Middle Eastern nations, like any others, want a sense of dignity when it comes to their own affairs. The unilateral approach is no better than colonialism in their view and in the long run counterproductive to our foreign policy in the region. The best way to fight ISIS is to have the Iraqis do most of the fighting. Period.
                        No one can say how things will turn out. The certainties are that the fight will last years. This is an asymmetric conflict with a fanatical enemy that is well trained and able to attract recruits despite its brutality. The U.S. will take casualties on the ground. When the Obama administration speaks of “No boots on the ground” it is using double speak for “No large unit actions on the ground.”  Our casualties will come from security/support forces, advisors and Special operations troops. Anyone who things our bombs and training alone will win this conflict is either not well versed in military operations or in denial. Last, no one should expect Iraq to turn into Dubai even if all operations go well. The fight against ISIS is simply one of making the best out of a bad situation.                


Friday, August 22, 2014

Defeat via Ally

smarter policies
Defeat via Ally
How Strategy is Made Pointless


Working with allies can sometimes be the worst strategy

                                In the current state of foreign affairs many experts, pundits and policy makers have touted various strategies to deal with areas of crisis around the globe. Some of them are plausible, others are laughable but all tend to ignore a crucial factor that can enhance or, more often than not, undermine the best of strategic plans. Our allies, for better or worse, determine how successful our strategies are. This is not a call for unilateral action. Unilateral action is of limited use and often causes more problems than it solves. This is a statement about the hazards of expedient or bad statemenship.
                        The recent report of Shia Militias executing Sunni worshipers in Iraq is a symptom of Maliki’s sectarian based decision making. The situation has made it difficult for the new Iraqi government to implement reconciliation policies that would help the country move out of the morass of violence and strife it is now wading through. Iraq is only the most recent in a long line of allies that have fostered the defeat of U.S. strategy. From South Vietnam to Nicaragua bad leadership by allied nations has made the best strategies pointless. The most costly and heartbreaking allied relationship has to be that of the U.S. and Pakistan, and in particular their relationship to the war in Afghanistan.
                        Afghanistan can be looked at as a war where the U.S. beat the Taliban and lost to the Pakistani ISI. That is a brutal assessment that will not be found in many publications. Pakistan is the perfect example of the bad ally syndrome that is little more than a political Catch-22. They are too well strategically placed and nuclear armed to abandon. Yet, they are working against our national security interest while taking cash handouts.  While Pakistan is the most blatant example of this problem it has and does exist any many international relationships the U.S. has forged. It is a hazard that for the most part is an unavoidable part of geopolitics. But, unlike dealing with one’s family where you do not get to choose who you are related to, the arena of geopolitics does provide the option to pick and choose.

                        The end result of not evaluating our allies’ policies and intentions over the past decade is a tendency to blame, the intelligence services and the Pentagon for failure that stem more from bad policies and association than bad strategy.  The threats have increased and we are still saddled with allied leaders that are doing more harm than good when it comes to our national security objectives. A bad allied government is almost worse than dealing with a failed state in that they can invoke sovereignty (as the Pakistanis do in the tribal areas) to cover their own efforts. Until this false friendship situation can be mitigated (it can’t be helped in some cases) we will have uphill battles and many defeats in the future.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Matter of Investment

Smarter Policies
A Matter of Investment
Moscow’s Elite Forces and Ukraine


An examination of Moscow’s commitment of elite forces in Ukraine and what the Kremlin’s endgame may or may not be.

            In the world of intelligence what sounds outrageous may in fact be true. This may be the case with Ukrainian claims of subversive operations being conducted by the GRU in the country’s east. In the west such claims can be written off but one must take into account that there are Ukrainians who served in the GRU during the Soviet era and therefore the knowledge of how they operate and what their mission is something the Ukrainians know about first hand.
            One mission of GRU Spetznaz (Special Forces) is to penetrate deep behind enemy lines, in uniform or civilian clothing, and to secure or destroy strategic targets prior to an invasion by conventional/ follow on forces. The seizure of key buildings and communications sites bears all the hallmarks of a GRU operation. The fact that the follow on forces are massed on the other side of the border lends more credence to the Ukrainian accusations. It is also probably that the FSB has a hand in fomenting unrest in the region. The recent distribution of pamphlets urging Jews to register could be a black operation in support of the Kremlin’s accusation that fascists have taken over Ukraine.
            On a tactical level these pieces fit neatly into a pre-invasion puzzle but what is Moscow’s end game? Putin’s recent speech using the phrase “Novorossiya” and his desire to protect ethnic Russians “anywhere” does not bode well. Prior post in Smarter Policies downplayed alarmist sentiment but as time goes by the alarmist may have the last laugh.


Caryl, C. (2014, April 21). Novorossiya is Back From the Dead. Retrieved from Foreign Policy: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/04/17/novorossiya_is_back_from_the_dead_putin_russia_ukraine
Shishkin, P. M. (2014, April 21). Ukraine Accuses Kremlin Agents of Coordinating Separatist Unrest. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/news/article_email/SB10001424052702304279904579513873878428430-lMyQjAxMTA0MDIwMDEyNDAyWj?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=*Situation%20Report&utm_campaign=SITREP%20APRIL%2021%202014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Scorpion Philosophy

Smarter polices
Scorpion Philosophy
Low Cost Does Not Mean Low Capability


An examination of U.S. Philosophy of Combat Aircraft and associated costs

            Bigger, faster and louder, are words that America loves and applies to all things from food portions, cars and entertainment.  America is a country that prides itself on giant breakthroughs in industry and technology.  Every new invention does not have to be from the ground up. What the aerospace defense industry needs to look at is adaptability, and versatility. This is prudent from an operational and economic standpoint. This is not to say the technological gains should not be sought after but that they should not impeded the procurement of new systems.
            Examining Soviet/Russian philosophy towards combat aircraft is one way to move forward and remain dominant. Russia’s history of being invaded pushed their weapon’s makers to use practical weapons that could be built in large numbers and used by a conscript force. The most famous of these weapons is the AK-47. When it comes to aircraft the thinking was the same. All Russian military aircraft are built with worst case scenarios in mind. The landing gear is always designed to be rugged to allow operations from unimproved or dirt strips. The Mig-29 went so far as to have special doors on its intakes to enable it, a high performance fighter, to operate in areas where foreign object ingestion would destroy other aircraft.
            Another philosophy, which is more relevant, now than ever, is to find a platform that works, then expand upon it. This can be either through new specialized versions or derivatives based on a previous platform. Sukhoi has demonstrated this with an entire family of aircraft based on the Su-27. Naval variants, thrust vectoring and strike/bomber aircraft (Su-34) are all adaptation of a platform that was viable and versatile. More to the point these aircraft are still relevant in today’s combat environment. The U.S. is trying to have a degree of versatility with the F-35, a new ground up design, and billions of dollars have been spent on an aircraft that is good at many things but not lacks excellence in any one area. The U.S. has tried to find aircraft for all branches of service in order to cut the cost of having specialized aircraft of different types.
            The U.S. would benefit from taking the Russian path but using off the shelf or proven systems with new technology. The A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) took that approach and the result was a classic warplane that proved its worth. The Textron Scorpion  was developed as a low cost easy to produce and maintain aircraft. It is marketed for COIN, ISR and FAC roles. While not a frontline fighter, the philosophy behind it and its affordability should be adapted towards major weapons platforms.
            The production lines for the F-15 Eagle and the F/A-18 Hornet are still going. Taking the Russian doctrine of making new variants or new aircraft based on these proven platforms is a wise option. In addition to being a wise avenue to explore it would also save jobs and as the newer aircraft are created it may create more jobs in the long run. The technology to keep these airframes relevant is here and waiting twenty years for another new ground breaking aircraft is costly and unwise. This is especially true as new challenges arise faster than new aircraft can be produced. Boeing attempted this with the F-15S Silent Eagle. Stealth technology was applied to a proven frame. With more study and input the project might have succeeded.  

One overriding concern of the military and the aerospace manufacturers is an obsession with true stealth. True stealth itself is a misleading phrase, in that no aircraft is truly invisible to radar. What this obsession with stealth does is drive up costs for aircraft that will only need to have a reduced RCS to improve survival. Even the F-22 has retains the capability to carry un-stealthy external stores once air dominance has been achieved in a theater. In essence, this turns it into another fighter, but with a larger price tag.
In order for this shift in production to be effective strategies and tactics would have to change as well. A mix of UCAV’s for ISR and SEAD mission and manned aircraft would be a prudent choice. Even among manned aircraft there should be the high tech stealthy aircraft suck as the F-22 Raptor that would achieve air dominance in theater and other aircraft to operate in the environment after air dominance has been achieved. (See Smarter Policies “Steel on Target” http://smarterpolicies.blogspot.com/2011/01/steel-on-target.html)
There will always be a need for completely new aircraft to fit special niches. The U.S. Marin Corps has unique requirements one of which is V/STOL. The AV-8B Harriers are long overdue for replacement. The F-35 is an expensive choice and may not be the best fit. In the meantime, the other forces would benefit from a different train of thought.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Putin's Free Reign

smarter policies
Putin’s Free Reign
How Ukraine May Hand Itself Over


Exploring Russian Subversion and Ukrainian inexperience in the ongoing crisis

            On the Russian side of the crisis there are signs of subversion but, like everything else, the motivation is unclear. With the Russian propaganda machine in high gear and the troops still massed at the border anything is possible and the Russian like it that way. Any aggressor would. One possibility that has begun circulating is that the subversion is an economically viable way of wreaking havoc on Ukraine as punishment for the ouster of Yanukovich. This has several benefits. First of all the tactic is politically safe. Covert operations are deniable even when everyone knows they are going on. Economically they cost less than rolling in armored division. Second, if things get out of hand or escalate to civil war Russian can then claim the moral high ground with an intervention. Never mind the fact that the eastern areas happen to be mineral rich and an industrial hub. It is clear Moscow has its hand in the unrest what is unclear is how savvy the Ukrainians are when it comes to countering the professionals.


Groll, E. (2014, April 8). Passport . Retrieved from Foreign Policy: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/04/08/far_right_nationalists_brawl_with_communists_in_ukrainian_parliament
Ignatius, D. (2014, April 8). Putin steals the CIA’s playbook on anti-Soviet covert operations. Retrieved from Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-putin-steals-from-the-cias-playbook-with-anti-soviet-covert-operations/2014/04/08/2fd4f73a-bf57-11e3-b195-dd0c1174052c_story.html?wprss=rss_opinions
Le Vine, S. (2014, April 8). Putin isn’t invading Ukraine—he’s sabotaging it. Retrieved from Quartz: http://qz.com/196404/putin-isnt-invading-ukraine-hes-sabotaging-it/

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ukraine Secession Issues

SMarter policies
Ukraine Secession Issues
The Crisis Part II

James E. Mason

An examination of the unrest in Eastern Ukraine

            As the news cycle has shifted away from Ukraine the situation in the eastern part of the country has turned for the worse. The crisis is not over and warrants renewed attention. Earlier post explored the possibility that the actions in Crimea were simply damage control for an unwanted situation. The sloppiness of Moscow’s excuses, the denial that its troops were involved and the hasty one sided referendum all indicated a slapped together plan to rescue prime real estate.  The current situation where pro-Russia protesters have seized power presents new problem and new questions surrounding the events.
            A simple explanation for the events that have unfolded is that they are simply a product of Moscow’s bellicose propaganda machine and nothing more. Unlike the “Pro-Russian” activists in Crimea, these groups appear to be actual citizens and not soldiers without insignia. IF this is a homegrown call for union with Russia it presents problems for Putin. First, there is the policy of protecting ethnic Russian regardless of where they are. If this is an actual policy or one of convenience, not following up on it would be   politically catastrophic.  Second, the situation creates a stalemate between the Ukrainian authorities and the secessionists. In a tense standoff like this national security is in the hands of a few locals and therefore neither government can have complete control over events. This is national/international situation that can erupt simply through the whims or mood swings of average citizens.
            The possibility that these protests are FSB inspired is worth exploring. What purpose would they serve? First of all there would be the element of control. Unlike the scenario above, having the protests inspired and controlled by the FSB/Moscow the likelihood of things getting out of control decreases. Second, is the promotion of the Kremlin’s political line.  From the start the Russian have been painting Ukraine as a dangerous place for ethnic Russian and that Russia would be there as a protector. It is interesting that none of these take overs happened until the situation in Crimea was settled for the most part. It is also important to remember that the Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, a major story a week and a half ago, are still there. It would be unwise to predict exactly what that implies but their presence in addition to the current unrest and Moscow’s vow to protect Russian everywhere proves to be an interesting mix.
             The Ukrainian issue is not over. What will happen is still unknown but the balance of power is in Moocow’s favor. How they will handle that advantage and what they hope to gain from any actions are questions that need to be answered. The taking over of government buildings and the declaration of a republic is not a light act to undertake. Time will tell how it plays out.


Ratnam, G. (2014, April 7). Hagel Says U.S. Mulls Adding Brigade to Counter Russia . Retrieved from Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-04/hagel-says-u-s-mulls-adding-brigade-to-counter-russia.html
Rosenberg, S. (2014, April 7). Ukraine crisis: Protesters declare Donetsk 'republic'. Retrieved from BBC World News: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26919928
Services, A. J. (2014, April 7). Pro-Russian separatists proclaim independent republic in eastern Ukraine. Retrieved from Al Jazeera: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/7/ukraine-crimea-russianseparatistsseizebuilding.html