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Archive | March, 2010

US-Russian START Treaty

Find a lofty ideal; use creative accounting to make it work.

Non-proliferation hawks in the Democratic Party will be happy — the United States and Russia sealed the deal on a “new” START treaty on taking steps towards nuclear disarmament.  US President Barack Obama feels strongly about the issue and wants to work towards a multilateral framework for eliminating nuclear weapons and controlling nuclear material.  In this respect, START III sounds like a great idea; except, as they say, the devil is in the details.

According to the treaty, the United States and Russia will reduce their “deployed weapons” to 1,550 over a seven-year timeframe.  Deployed weapons only, not weapons held in reserve.  In addition to deployed weapons (~ 2,200), the US also has 2,500 weapons in active and inactive stock, which are not within the treaty’s purview.   So right off the bat, the scope of START eliminates about 50% of the US’s total possible inventory.  Second, upon Russia’s insistence, each heavy bomber deployed with weapons counts as “one weapon” towards that magic number of 1,550 (although each bomber will likely possess multiple weapons).  Pretty fancy stuff.

Some very clever people help us out with the arithmetic:

The United States currently deploys approximately 2,126 strategic nuclear warheads, with a comparable number of warheads in reserve. Russia is believed to deploy approximately 2,600 strategic nuclear warheads. However, since each deployed heavy bomber will now count as only one warhead, under New START the U.S. currently deploys far fewer than 2,126 warheads (according to the best estimates we currently have 500 warheads on 60 or 113 bombers – depending on how you count; if you do the math, that already puts us at 1700-1800 warheads)! [Nukes of Hazard]

In addition to only addressing “deployed” weapons, the cap is specific to deployed strategic weapons only — ICBMs and SLBMs.  This very neatly takes the US’s 500 deployed tactical nuclear weapons (and the 600 tactical weapons in stockpile) out of the the treaty’s purview ( link).  There is also some ambiguity over whether the treaty caps US’s ambitious ballistic missile defense systems (BMDS) project — speculation is abound that it does.  However, the White House has already tried to preempt the battle it will have on its hands with this little fact-sheet.

What does START III mean to the rest of the world? Even with 1,550 nuclear weapons each, the US and Russia will be so far ahead of the third largest nuclear weapons state (France, with 300 weapons) that it is unlikely to have a direct impact on disarmament.  Of course, some countries might choose to “right size” their arsenal (as indeed France is doing), but these are not decisions inspired by START.

START III may be just the sort of thing to parade around New Delhi, coaxing it to ratify the alphabet soup of non-proliferation treaties.  This is a non-starter.  We live in a neighborhood where one power willfully flaunts the terms of the non-proliferation treaties that it is signatory to, and is increasingly belligerent in its dealings with India.  And the lesser said about our other nuclear neighbor’s non-proliferation record, the better.   Treaties such as START III can only be conceivable to lesser nuclear powers like India once minimum credible deterrence is achieved (for which there is no magic number).  Until such time, let such treaties be part of the lofty ideals of countries with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over.

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Urdunama: American Woman

What is with Pakistani politicians and US leaders of the fairer sex?  When former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz crooned a seductive bass-baritone to sweep US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice off her feet, little did he know that he was, in fact, setting a precedent.  A precedent that would soon be adopted by a President, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, who clasped the hands of one Sarah Palin on three separate occasions in a manner most warm and fuzzy.

Not to be outdone, the makhdoom scion, Shah Mehmood Qureshi locked himself in a  celestial embrace with Hillary Clinton of the likes of which this world hasn’t ever seen.  Indeed, it was the head-shake that shook the world.

Daily Ausaf columnist Sarfaraz Sayed tells you more in his March 29 piece (اردو).  Although not completely necessary, this piece is best enjoyed with a generous dose of The Guess Who’s rendition of “American Woman, ” circa 1970.

These media people are really something!  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi shared a few friendly moments, locked in a cranial embrace with Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C., and the media blew it out of proportion.  Now, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has apparently asked, so what if he and Secretary Clinton had shared a few friendly moments?  Some issues can only be tackled when two persons are thus anatomically entwined.

It’s been said that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband properly ticked off Mian Nawaz Sharif over the PML-N leader’s alleged U-turn on constitutional reforms.  A qari now demands to know who really rules Pakistan —  Britain or America?

But this is an important matter — why are Pakistani leaders always being linked to American women? Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz adopted a overtly romantic demeanor during his interaction with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  And Ms. Rice, instead of being duly enamored by the Prime Minister’s suavity, announced later on that Mr. Aziz had indulged her in unnecessary talk.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari himself, warmly grasped Sarah Palin’s hands on three occasions; although Mrs. Palin said nothing at that time, we are still trying to come to terms with why the Governer of Alaska tendered her resignation, subsequent to that interaction.

And now Hillary Clinton, the world’s most brilliant woman, nuzzling up to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister. Khuda taala har aik ko har aik se mehfooz rakhey! (God protect us all!)

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Mowing the grass

The similarities between Washington, D.C. and Wanat, Nuristan.

UK’s spokesperson for military operations in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger was at a New America Foundation sponsored event in Washington, D.C., talking about COIN operations and Operation Moshtarak in Marja.  Since the invasion in 2001, COIN operations in Afghanistan  have assumed a “clear-hold-withdraw” pattern, where coalition forces mount operations against  insurgents, maintain momentary control, and either partially or entirely withdraw over a period of time.  This withdrawal invariably creates a power vacuum, which the Taliban return to fill — resulting in another series of coalition COIN operations.  “Mowing the grass, ” The New York Times calls this.

Gen. Messenger spoke at length about the pattern: (h/t nukesofhazardblog.com)

How exactly does one prevent merely mowing the grass?  It sounds simple enough: make sure an Afghan security force is in place to fill any potential security void upon the end of an operation.  Operations should be jointly planned and executed, all the way down to the lowest level, by both ISAF and the Afghan national forces.  Substantive partnering with Afghans will set the groundwork for a strong eventual US and NATO transition out of the country that is not conditions based, said Messenger.  Properly trained Afghan forces (ANP and ANA) gradually taking on an increasingly large percentage of operations planning and execution will allow for ISAF forces to confidently withdrawal and leave a solid security foundation.

Of course, joint operations with Afghan security forces seems theoretically sound and practically feasible.  There’s just one small problem – after spending eight years and billions of dollars, Afghan’s security forces remain staggeringly under-equipped and untrained.  The extent of the lack of operational readiness of indigenous forces is only now being understood by civilian leadership in Washington.  Mark Hosenball observes (h/t pragmatic_d):

[A]t a March 12 briefing in the White House Situation Room, President Obama asked his senior advisers if Afghan police will be ready for action by July 2011 when the scheduled draw down of American troops is supposed to begin. The answer, from Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the American officer in charge of building Afghanistan’s security forces, was not encouraging. “It’s inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren’t training the police,” Caldwell told the president and his assembled senior advisers, who included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and top military, national security, and intelligence chiefs. “We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform,” Caldwell said, according to a senior official who was in the room—and who asked for anonymity when speaking about sensitive information.

The president, said the official, looked stunned. “Eight years and we didn’t train police?” Obama said.  “It’s mind boggling.” The room went silent. [Newsweek]

This “mowing the grass” is being replicated on the field in Eastern Afghanistan as it is in Washington, D.C.  That Afghan security forces are untrained is known.  Desertion rates (25% each in the ANA and ANP ) are high and institutional corruption is pervasive.  Building a credible security forces under the circumstances is tough enough, without having to factor in shortages in available US and NATO trainers (currently numbering less than 2,000).  These are all long-standing issues which short-term, duct-tape fixes will not solve.  However, even after Mr. Obama’s major review of operations in Afghanistan in November, 2009, the same mistakes are still being committed.

If the goal is to train the 83,000 ANA and 90,000 ANP fast enough for them to be able to begin taking over from coalition forces in 2011, the US must elicit assistance from the pre-eminent military power in the region — India.  Even with Indian assistance, this is going to be a mad dash to the finish line.  For a country admired (and oftentimes disliked) for doggedly pursuing its national interests, even when they conflict with those of its allies, US reluctance in India’s involvement because of Pakistan’s “sensitivities” is inexplicable.

As things stand today, there is a 1:85 ratio of trainers to Afghan security personnel; the numbers just don’t add up.  This is a significant gap whose resolution requires a recognition of the enormity of the challenge, a change in mindset and a commitment to leave behind a stable, secure and functioning democracy in Afghanistan.

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Kayani in Washington

…remember that the man with the laundry list also has a begging bowl.

General Ashfaq Kayani will be in Washington DC for high-level talks on “cementing a long-term strategic partnership with the United States.”  And as Gen Kayani goes to Washington, a slew of articles have appeared in Pakistan’s English-language and vernacular press, virtually popping the sparkling Rooh Afzah in anticipation of benevolence manifold from the US.  Pakistan today is behaving like a giddy teenager who has already chosen the names of her kids following a two day courtship, when in fact, a game of “he loves me, he loves me not” would be more appropriate, given the history of US-Pak ties.

We have done ourselves no favors either, from over-the-top statements from Yashwant Sinha to the vague utterances of SM Krishna, perspective on the Pak COAS’s visit, America’s compulsions and India’s place in world affairs seems to have been lost.  C Raja Mohan attempts to correct that with a brilliant piece in The Indian Express:

Only a bold man will bet that the US-Pakistan relationship will now evolve into something more than the marriage of convenience it has been for decades. After all, there are little commercial or societal ties that bind the US to Pakistan and it might be difficult to sustain the US-Pakistan partnership once the current expediency passes.

Although Pakistan’s leverage in Washington today is real, Kayani might be over-estimating its value. Kayani’s American wishlist is said to have four key demands. There is no way the US can meet the entirety of Pakistan’s demands. Nor can the administration deliver on them unilaterally; some of them — like the nuclear deal — require congressional consensus as well as unanimity in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There are others that are simply not possible — force Indian concessions on Kashmir.

As it responds to the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week, Delhi’s message must be three-fold — global efforts aimed at a positive transformation of Pakistan are welcome; expanded economic and military assistance to Pakistan must be conditioned on Pindi’s commitment to dismantle its jehadi assets; India is ready to address all of Pakistan’s concerns — including Kashmir — if it gives up violent extremism as an instrument of state policy. [The Indian Express]

Certainly, there are critical foreign policy questions that India needs to answer.  Questions about the nature and limitations of this new-found “strategic” relationship with the US, our own perceptions of our place and stature in the region and our relations with Pakistan and powers such as Russia and Iran with regard to the dynamics of the AfPak situation require careful deliberation.  This needs to happen regardless of the Obama-Kayani meet.

This government needs to focus on issues over which it has control; let our neighbors continue to revel in the delusional.

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