Focal Points Blog

Do Nuclear Weapons Keep India and Pakistan From Each Other’s Throats?

There are those who believe that nuclear proliferation on the part of India and Pakistan has deterred not only nuclear, but conventional war between the two hostile states. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur debate this in a new book, India, Pakistan, and the Bomb (Columbia University Press, 2010).

Ganguly falls under the heading of “nuclear optimists,” who, the authors write, “tend to stress the ultimately stable outcomes of past crises between nuclear powers.” Meanwhile, “nuclear pessimists,” such as Kapur, “focus on the potentially catastrophic processes by which the crises erupted and escalated.” Of that flashpoint of a region, Kashmir, Ganguly writes:

By the end of the 1990s India had managed to restore a modicum of order, if not law in Kashmir. Indeed it can be argued that it was the very success of India’s counterinsurgency strategy [in Kashmir] that promoted Pakistan’s [presumably frustrated -- RW] decision makers to pursue a “limited probe” in the Kargil region of Kashmir in 1999. In this war the overt possession of nuclear weapons on both sides played a critical role in preventing an escalation or an expansion of the conflict.

Others, however, believe that it was Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons that prompted it to pursue said “limited probe.” On top of that, both sides received information, however flawed, that the other was moving nuclear missiles to the border.

Further evidence of the tenuousness of nuclear peace between India and Pakistan is provided by Jason Fritz in his 2009 paper for the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Hacking Nuclear Command and Control.

India’s . . . command and control must be able to survive and continue functioning after absorbing a first (attempted decapitation) strike. To do so requires [among other things] frequent moves and relocation of these assets [which increases the] risk of a weapon being captured or misplaced. For example, falsifying the orders for transport and passing it off as a dummy warhead. [Also, launching] a nuclear retaliatory strike within a very short time . . . increases the risk of decisions being made on poor intelligence.

Furthermore . . .

The close proximity of [India and Pakistan] significantly reduces the transit time of an incoming missile, making the rush to react even greater. Further, India’s delivery systems can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads. Under heightened circumstances, a traditional missile launch could be mistaken for a nuclear strike. . . .

Additionally, India has stated that it will retain the option of using nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical attacks, thus providing another way for terrorists to provoke a nuclear response.

For the purposes of this argument, we’ve avoided the subject of Islamic extremists attempting to seize Pakistan’s nukes or, the actual subject of Fritz’s paper, terrorists hacking nuclear systems. Here’s more from Ganguly, the Little Miss Sunshine of Indian subcontinent nuclear programs.

Multiple crises subsequently wreaked havoc in Indo-Pakistani relations since their mutual acquisition of nuclear weapons. . . . But despite intense tensions, none of these crises have culminated in full-scale war. Decision makers in both countries have steadily and increasingly realized that the initiation of a major conventional conflict could . . . tempt one side to consider the use of nucelear weapons. Consequently, both sides have exhibited considerable retraint and have chosen to eschew horizontal escalation and not to violate certain tacit thresholds.

In the case of Kargil, it might be said that an optimist’s positive outcome — the avoidance of nuclear war — was achieved via a pessmists’ “process” — nuclear brinkmanship. To believe, though, that nuclear brinkmanship will continue to produce positive outcomes is truly delusional.

Aid Worker Linda Norgrove Victim of the “Entebbe Fantasy”?

Yesterday at Newshoggers, Steve Hynd wrote: “Marc Ambinder and others are now confirming the Guardian story today that a U.S. SEAL killed kidnapped aid worker Linda Norgrove when he threw a fragmentation grenade instead of a smoke one, fatally wounding her.”

A recently mustered-out special forces member of our acquaintance provided testimony to the extent — heavy fire or no — of the ineptitude involved.

A smoke grenade and a fragmentation grenade are COMPLETELY different in size, shape, and feel. Hell, they are probably designed like that to help avoid accidents like this. I don’t see how a private in a regular infantry unit could have made this mistake much less a professional soldier.

The Guardian story reveals an even more tragic element to Ms. Norgrove’s death.

A delegation of Afghan elders tasked with negotiating the freedom of British hostage Linda Norgrove was close to the mountain hut where she was being held when US special forces launched the rescue mission that resulted in her death, Afghan officials said yesterday.

“We had already arrived in the area but then the fighting started and it was hopeless, so we turned back,” said Haji Ghulam Ehsan Adil, head of the Kunar provincial council. . . . There had been “a complete lack of co-ordination” between the Afghan group’s efforts and those of Nato, he added. . . .

Meanwhile, a senior western official in Kabul said it was difficult to see why the US and UK governments did not give negotiation a greater chance. “We’ve had over seventy abductions of NGO people this year, with just three or four killed. That’s a 5% chance of being killed,” he said.

Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist who was kidnapped for six days in the same part of Kunar last November, criticised the rescue bid: “When I was in captivity I called my embassy and I was very clear that I didn’t want any rescue attempt,” he said. “I understand that every politician wants to take credit for the raid on Entebbe,” he added, referring to the successful 1976 Israeli commando raid on a hijacked airliner in Uganda.

It’s bad enough when aid workers are singled out for assassination or kidnapping. But when one is killed due to a combination of human error and politicians pursuing their onw agenda, those supposedly on her side — Britain, the United States, and NATO — become as complicit in her death as her kidnappers. Worse, when a rescue that on the surface seems immeasurably more challenging — that of the Chilean miners — comes off without a hitch, it only rubs salt in the wound of Ms. Norgrove’s family and aid workers everywhere.

How Will U.S. Handle Shortage of Tritium, aka Explosive Power, for Its Nukes?

Cross-posted from the IPS blog.

In a recent report to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) in the Energy department is “unable to overcome technical challenges” to producing tritium (H3) in a commercial power reactor for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. As a result the ability to provide new supplies of this radioactive isotope used to enhance the explosive power of nuclear weapons “is in doubt.”

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and is an important part of any modern nuclear arsenal. It is why thermonuclear weapons are known as “H-bombs.” It is used in modern nuclear weapons to boost the explosive power of plutonium, which in turn, creates enough heat to cause hydrogen atoms to fuse together. This releases a tremendous amount of destructive energy, in the same process that fuels the sun and stars.

Because of its half-life of 12.3 years, tritium has to be periodically replenished in weapons. From 1954 to 1988, tritium was produced in government reactors, which were closed for safety reasons. In 1993, GAO concluded that tritium supplies from nuclear arms reductions were adequate to meet warhead needs until 2012. After that year, GAO concluded that a new tritium production capability would be needed.

In response, the Department of Energy decided in the late 1990s to produce new supplies in a commercial power reactor, using new tritium-producing burnable absorber rods (TBARs). They contain lithium-aluminate pellets lined with zirconium, and are clad into long pencil-shaped, stainless steel rods. Tritium is produced when the atoms of lithium-6 absorb neutrons in the reactor core.

However, the rods cannot fully contain the tritium, which is permeating into the reactor cooling system, approaching safety limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). To meet projected tritium requirements, additional TVA reactors may be required. NNSA has not yet coordinated this with the NRC, which must approve any such reactor changes.

A reserve stockpile of tritium has yet to be tapped and its size remains classified. Nor is it clear how much more tritium is expected to come from the pending START II arms reduction agreement with Russia, now before the U.S. Senate. Nonetheless, GAO remains concerned. “If NNSA takes longer than expected to increase tritium production, even reserve quantities may be insufficient to meet requirements for an extended period of time.”

Tritium production alternatives include building a new government production reactor or the development of linear accelerators. Both are likely to cost billions of dollars and take several years to bring on line.

However, expanding the production of tritium for nuclear weapons in commercial nuclear power plants further undermines the long-standing barrier between military and civilian nuclear energy applications — a key element of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy.

This is a situation where public debate and greater transparency by the U.S. nuclear weapons program is sorely needed.

The Passing of the State, Part 47 — It’s Not Just the Talib, Folks

It’s obvious to everyone now – except, of course, the usual Washington ‘patriots’ and lotus eaters – that the fat lady is singing in Afghanistan, and the US is down to looking for a political frame to cover its defeat and departure. As shocking as that may be to those who still believe in the absolute sovereignty and power of nation states, it’s just the most visible example of a trend US policymakers – and governments at large – refuse to acknowledge.

The ‘Other Guys’ are winning.

The simple fact is that the days of nation states fighting and winning wars is just about over. Modern wars, such as Afghanistan, are far more likely to be between states and non-state entities than between/among states. And, if we’re willing to look at it objectively, we can see that the OGs (gangs, tribes, sects and all those miscellaneous ‘post national’ groups that constitute ‘Other Guys’) have a very good chance of winning those wars.

Here’s why.

First, ‘winning’ is defined differently by OGs. Different crews have different goals and different metrics for success. It might be to seize the levers of state power. Or it might be a ‘picador’ model – just enrage, bleed, weaken and limit the options of the beast, whether for profit, payback, or so it can’t effectively interfere with you. Or a ‘Baghdad Bazaar’ model – create a ‘sinkhole’ where your crew can control a given resource, such as electricity, diesel fuel, water, security or even property rentals as a means of livelihood. While states play for power and control, OGs play for autonomy and enterprise, and their ‘profits’ include belonging, fun, prestige and group security as well as livelihood.

Second, the ‘evolution of lethality’ means states no longer have a monopoly on violence, nor exclusive access to/control of deadly technologies. It’s open source and anybody can play. Today, the great levelers are small arms and IEDs which, as Mexico and dozens of other examples demonstrate, allow OGs to resist and even defeat state forces to assume local control. As reverse engineering, ‘fab labs’ and 3D printers proliferate. However, OGs will be able to field state of the art weapon systems, including highly effective man-portable anti-air and anti-armor missiles. With that kind of ordnance, conventional military units offer OGs a target rich environment.

Strategy and tactics have developed and distributed, too. Anyone, almost anywhere, can now go online and download training materials from the US Army and a plethora of other players. From Sun Tzu to small unit tactics, mortar gunnery and weapon-specific guides, everything you ever wanted to know about warfare is accessible and free.

Third, the ‘porosity’ of globalization means there are lots of boundaries, seams, edges and overlaps where OGs can live, hide and thrive. One consistent characteristic of successful OGs is access to safe havens for respite and refit. Think Cambodia for the North Vietnamese, Venezuela for the FARC and Pakistan for the Taliban. Those boundaries and seams also provide access to resources, and markets for OG entrepreneurs.

Fourth, a growing percentage of the global population – in developing and industrialized regions – has legitimate grievances that, left unresolved, provide sympathy, support and recruits for OGs. Just as Mao spoke of guerillas swimming in the sea of the people, OGs survive and thrive among a population that resents the state – whether for acts of omission or commission. As life gets worse for the majority of the planet’s inhabitants – and even more important, their hopes for a better future fade – OG habitat expands.

Fifth, ROI is on the side of the OGs. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to be the opposition than the state. Credible estimates suggest that pulling off the 9-11 attacks cost Al Qaeda somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000. Contrast that with the fact that the US has spent on the order of $3 trillion since that time with its various reactions, and you start to see the advantages of the OG approach.

Or consider the near meltdown of the Washington, DC area a few years ago when the sniper was doing his thing. One lunatic, with nothing more than a confused kid for a companion, a beater Chevy and a Bushmaster XM-15 currently available online for $1,250, virtually shut down the area. Contrast that investment, plus a couple dozen rounds fired, with 10 dead and millions of dollars lost through averted economic activity and direct intervention / mediation costs.

Now imagine what might have happened if the sniper had intention beyond pathology and was part of a capable network. That kind of return on investment is easily available to OGs, and nation states cannot begin to respond in a cost-effective way.

Sixth, traditional state methods of suppression are both inefficient and insufficient. You can’t fight ideas and information flows with firepower. Success in a complex social system comes from strong identity, networking and relationships, which states are increasingly unable to provide. And while states actually have to redress issues to prevail, OGs only have to relentlessly point them out and exploit them. Most critically, states have to win. OGs only have to not lose.

In this volatile environment, stability and success – within and among states – can only come from forging ‘mutually assured security’. Nation states must move beyond their legacy thinking derived from colonial roots and Cold War paranoia, and begin to build mutually beneficial relationships that foster genuine security, equity, justice and well-being for all.

If not, they’re headed for the dust bin of history – sooner rather than later.

When It Comes to Terrorism, History Reveals U.S. Is Second to None

Until he was killed in 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq, was implicated in the death of thousands. Back in 2003, he engineered the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Iraq that killed, among others, the UN Secretary-General’s special Iraqi envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello (immortalized by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Powers in her 2008 book Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World).

Zarqawi was likely responsible for the 2004 beheadings of American civilians Nicholas Berg and Olin Eugene Armstrong. Worst of all, also in 2004, he is considered to be the driving force behind the attacks on the Shia shrines in Karbala and Baghdad that killed at least 180 and kicked sectarian violence in Iraq into high gear.

We in the West tend to think nobody does terrorism like al Qaeda, as well as Middle-Easterners in general, such as the Taliban. But terrorism is not only an opportunistic infection, but an equal-opportuntunity one. In other words, the United States, too, has suffered outbreaks.

Setting the ravages of the CIA aside for the moment, we need only go back to the U.S. Civil War. In fact, let’s get a one-year jump on its 150th anniversary by dredging up its ugliest side and weigh how it stacks up against al-Qaeda.

For sheer cruelty, perhaps nothing in the Civil War matches the war between two states — Kansas and Missouri — in the War Between the States. Kicked off when John Brown attacked slave-holding Missouri, it reached a climax when the South’s William Quantrill led his guerillas in an attack on Lawrence, Kansas forgotten by many today. About 200 homes and businesses were destroyed and 150 killed, many shot up-close and personal.

Quantrill soon bowed out of the action (though he was later killed by Union troops). Carrying on, though, were some of his lieutenants, among them Bill Anderson, who gained notoriety for his raid on Centralia, Kansas and subsequent attack on the North Missouri Railroad, after which he ordered the execution of 24 Union soldiers. In Blag Flag: Guerilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865, Thomas Goodrich (Indiana University Press, 1995) describes the fate of another, larger Union force that surrendered to Anderson and his men. Think of Anderson like this: he trumped Quantrill in savagery as Zaraqawi did bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Goodrich quotes a surviving captive who Anderson was holding in hopes of exchanging for his men who were held prisoner by the Union.

“Surrendered, as we did at Centralia, with assurances of humane treatment. . . . No sooner was this accomplished than Hell was suddenly transferred to earth. . . . Men’s heads were severed from their lifeless bodies, exchanged . . . exchanged to bodies . . . stuck upon their carbine points, tied to their saddle bows, or sat grinning at each other from the tops of fence stakes and stumps around the scene.”

Nor were such atrocities enough to prevent Confederate General Sterling Price from enlisting Anderson and his men in the effort to drive Union forces from Missouri.

As we can see from incidents such as these, not to mention the, uh, cavalier way in which American forces have regarded the lives of Iraqi civilians, those we currently label terrorists have no monopoly on barbarism. Worse, when it comes to institutional, policy-driven savagery, considering that the forces it set in motion have resulted in the killing of as many as 1,500,000 Iraqis, the United States currently brooks no competition.

U.S. May Rue the Day It Won Viktor Bout Tug of War With Russia

Viktor BoutAfter spending more than two years in a Southeast Asian prison cell, international arms-trafficker and so-called “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout faces imminent extradition to the United States. Last Tuesday, Thailand’s Criminal Court dismissed charges of money laundering and fraud leveled against the infamous “Lord of War” in Bangkok, all but clearing the way for his eventual hand-off to American authorities. Prosecutors here eagerly await his arrival, where they plan to try Bout for conspiracy to kill Americans, and a handful of other terrorism-related charges.

Bout has become something of a flashpoint in US-Russian affairs of late. While Washington has made the arms dealer’s extradition to US soil a matter of priority, Moscow has just as vehemently demanded his release. Bout, a former Soviet air force officer with deep ties to Moscow, is widely believed to possess intimate knowledge of Russian military intelligence, secrets that might be revealed during trial. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled the importance Moscow places on Bout’s future by publicly announcing his personal commitment to securing the arms dealer’s return to Russia, a vow that to this point has been brushed aside by US authorities. But Vladimir Kozin, a high-ranking member of the Russian foreign ministry, has underscored the Russian position, warning that American hopes of a “reset” with Moscow will simply not take place if Bout lands in the States.

Yet any fears Moscow may harbor could prove negligible when compared with the anxiety being experienced in certain quarters of Washington’s Beltway. As it turns out, Bout’s extensive resume includes dealings not only with international bogeymen like Charles Taylor, the Taliban, and Colombia’s narcotrafficking FARC, but also with the United Nations and George W. Bush. This inconvenient fact could provoke conflict between federal lawyers intent on bringing Bout to justice and a Pentagon determined to protect its own.

In the grand scheme of international arms dealing, Bout is a bit player. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan notes, “the global arms trade is a $60 billion yearly enterprise,” the great majority of which is controlled licitly by states. Businessmen like Bout are nothing more than “shadowy actors that play on the margins.” Hugh Griffiths, a small-arms expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, concurs, adding that he’s a dime-a-dozen actor on the international stage. “There are thirty to forty other individuals just like Viktor Bout.”

Yet the media attention devoted to Bout’s case is not without merit. Beyond the cinematic quality of Bout’s personal story, the trafficker’s case offers insight into the poorly understood intersections between nation-states and criminal markets. The fact that Bout enjoys personal ties both with leaders in the Global South as well as superpower political elites in the North demonstrates the tightness with which formal actors in the global arena are bound to organized crime.

The Lord of War’s story is itself incredible, bearing all the hallmarks of a Hollywood action flick. Originally hailing from Tajikistan, Bout established himself early within the Soviet military as an aircraft pilot and skilled linguist. He was deployed frequently to Africa during the 1980s as a translator, experiences that laid the groundwork for his dealings on the continent a decade later, feeding arms to rival factions battling for natural resources and state power. Bout emerged from the wreckage of Soviet collapse well-connected and eager to make money. Der Spiegel charts the early years in its extensive six-part investigation into the Bout affair:

Unused aircraft stood idle on the tarmac at the waning superpower’s airports, and unsold weapons were piled high in the country’s weapons factories. The enterprising Bout purchased—with the help of military intelligence, some claim—three old Antonov cargo planes for the ridiculously low price of $40,000 apiece…There was no shortage of pilots…during those months of turmoil [and] Bout was clever enough to register his fleet, which soon grew to four dozen aircraft, in obscure countries…like Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic.

Soon, Bout was running everything from guns to flowers, and even UN peacekeepers, to spots as far-flung as Somalia, Congo, Colombia, Iran and North Korea. In return, Bout received cash and, at least in his dealings with Charles Taylor, looted diamonds from Sierra Leone.

But his high-flying adventures through the world’s top shelf warzones took an unexpected turn following 9/11. As Washington allowed its attention to wander from Afghanistan to the Middle East, the US government began subcontracting Bout to supply its war effort in Iraq. According to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, authors of Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible, Bout was awarded $60 million in American contracts between 2003 and 2004, flying over 1,000 missions to the Middle East on behalf of the US government. Der Spiegel reports that:

To this day, it remains unclear whether the collaboration [between Washington and Bout] was the result of sloppy work on the part of US officials or whether Washington knew who was the owner of Irbis air…It is clear, however, that Bout’s aircraft were subcontracted to the US Air Mobility Command, as well as to defense contractor KBR, a company owned by the Halliburton conglomerate [of which] then-US Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO…until 2000.

Whatever the truth, Bout was cut off from American funding in 2005, and busted by DEA agents posing as FARC guerillas two years later in Thailand. Why the sudden change of heart? “Bout was caught because he pissed off the Americans” by selling weapons to the Taliban, small arms expert Michael Ashkenazi told Deutsche Welle, “not because anyone thought he was a bad guy. Everyone knew he was a bad guy, but suddenly he stepped on the wrong toes.”

The Bush administration’s willingness to enrich a man who actively undermined American security will surely complicate proceedings once Bout lands in an American courthouse. It’s interesting to note that American prosecutors have thus far refused to expand their charges against Bout beyond his alleged dealings with the FARC. Some observers point out that evidence establishing Bout’s international exploits is flimsy, and thus the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been forced to pursue a narrow line of inquiry. But the indictment also raises questions about what, if any, pressure the Pentagon has put on the DOJ to prevent embarrassing revelations of its own complicity with the globe-trotting salesman. Brian Johnston-Thomas, a former UN arms trafficking expert, believes American authorities will take pains to prevent Bout from letting slip his connections to the United States government. “It’s unlikely that his defense team will be able to bring into evidence that he has on occasion been of assistance both to the Pentagon and to other NATO countries.”

Regardless of whether specific individuals from the former or current presidential administrations are implicated in the “Merchant of Death” affair, Bout’s appearance in the United States will offer hopeful possibilities for public deliberation. The wheels of a UN-sponsored international arms trade agreement have been slowly churning since 2008, and are set to produce a complete treaty by 2012. While the terms of negotiation will likely focus on big-ticket weapons production, the Bout case offers Washington the chance to focus on small-time dealers who nevertheless wield gigantic influence in world affairs. Particularly, if the United States is serious about combating the Viktor Bouts of the world, it must reckon with what, exactly, it’s willing to do in the name of fighting terror and—perhaps more importantly—with whom.

Michael Busch, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, teaches international relations at the City College of New York and serves as research associate at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. He is currently working on a doctorate in political science at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Under Obama, Intelligence Community Still Subject to Pressure

George Slam Dunk TenetAs we all know, in making the case for the Iraq War, the Bush administration pressured the U.S. intelligence community to massage intelligence to its own ends. Vice-President Cheney’s people were notorious for showing up at CIA headquarters to lean on Langley. Highlights include former CIA director George Tenet’s declaration that WMD evidence was a “slam dunk” and the Niger yellowcake debacle. Apparently, though, Bush & Co. was not the only administration capable of showing more concern with political implications than national security.

At Huffington Post, Kristen Breitweiser, the courageous 9/11 widow who helped prompt the creation of the 9/11 Commission, draws our attention to a section of Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars that has been overshadowed by his revelations over Afghanistan decision-making. She explains that she “once spent a large amount of time fighting for the release of information related to the 9/11 attacks. One document, in particular, was a primary focus — the August 4, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB).”

You remember Condoleezza Rice’s moment of glory in 2004 when she was forced to read the PDB’s title to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike In the United States.” Ms. Breitweiser continues.

Welcome to October 2010, where . . . Obama’s Wars . . . details an incident of the Obama administration and their handling of one particular PDB. . . . According to Woodward, the PDB said: “At least 20 al Qaeda converts with American, Canadian, or European passports were being trained in Pakistani safe havens to return to their homelands to commit high-profile acts of terrorism.” Woodward goes on to state [then Director of National Intelligence] Dennis Blair “thought the reports were alarming and credible enough that the President should be alerted.”

And then Woodward adds this alarming vignette about former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: “Rahm Emanuel summoned Blair to his office after the al Qaeda report had been briefed. ‘Why’d you put that in the PDB?’ [Emanuel] asked. . . . “You’re just trying to put this on us, so it’s not your fault.”

To which Blair responds, according to Woodward, “No, no. I’m trying to tell you. I’m the President’s intelligence officer and I’m worried about this, and I think I owe it to him — and you — to tell him.”

Perhaps solace can be derived from Emanuel’s exit from the White House. Harkening back to the Bush administration, many remain unaware that it continued to lean on the intelligence community to soften its assessments during its conduct of the war as well. In his book Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures From Baghdad to the Pentagon (Ballantine Books, 2008), A.J. Rossmiller places the reader right smack in the middle of an intelligence community, in his case the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency as an analyst, trying to function under that kind of pressure. Random excerpts follow.

A process that inhibits analysts’ ability to do their job correctly, and that hurts the ability of decision makers to see and act on accurate, unadulterated assessments, is crippling to the safety and security of Americans and to a capable and effective foreign policy. [My superior] didn’t like the “too pessimistic” material we produced, so he created his own briefing team from scratch, grossly narrowing the perspectives he received . . . Every single time I heard “That’s too pessimistic,” it was a reminder that agreement with the majority . . . was more important than . . . accuracy.

When people asked me, as they often did, whether I was glad I went to Iraq, I usually said that I thought I had done more good than harm. . . . But as the weeks and months progressed, I continued to ask myself if . . . my presence was helping validate the broken system. The individual ideologies and the desire to please (or fear of aggravating) superiors in the chain of command were insidious forces, and they were not only perpetuating the errors of the past, but in fact reinforcing them.

As I was trying to decide whether to leave. . . . I felt somewhat freed [of concern over my] career prospects, so I was increasingly taking on more controversial issues. I tried to write about civil war indicators, but the paper was killed. . . . Then I wrote a comprehensive assessment of increased Shia dissatisfaction with the United States; after weeks of work that, too, was shelved, and I was told that the ruling Shia would “come around.” . . . Good thing civil war and conflict with Shia leadership never became problems.

Finally . . .

I’d worked much of my life to get a job like the one I had just quit . . . . and I desperately wanted to work for my country. But not like this. Not providing cover for a morally and strategically bankrupt set of leaders, and not as part of a system that was inverting its vital purpose by fitting analysis to policy instead of the other way around.

As with the Emanuel-Blair incident, we can never hear enough of these cautionary tales to guard against intelligence analysis ever becoming warped in the wholesale fashion it was during the Bush years.

How Green Grows My War Economy

“America is addicted to oil.” It’s been more than five years since George W. Bush made this bizarre declaration. For a president who opposed virtually every piece of legislation to curb the use of fossil fuels, it was, shall we say, ironic. And even more so in light of the Iraq War, which may or may not have been about oil, but which certainly consumed huge amounts of it. In 2006, when Bush made this argument that the nation’s dependence on oil posed a threat to its security, the Pentagon consumed 320,000 barrels of oil a day, making this one department of the US government a bigger guzzler of oil than all but 35 countries in the world. Here was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

With the war in Afghanistan and the upkeep of America’s vast military apparatus around the world, the Pentagon continues to be the government’s biggest consumer of oil. In addition to contributing to the nation’s long-term security threat, this situation poses a more immediate danger. Oil, the lifeblood of modern war, has become a target on the battlefield. Nowhere is this more evident than along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where dozens of US convoys carrying fuel have been exploded by insurgents. These attacks are just the latest examples of a vicious circle in which oil begets war and war begets oil.

If asked to offer a solution to this seemingly intractable problem, a Martian looking down on planet Earth might recommend a drastic reduction in the nation’s military ventures, thus tackling the oil problem by tackling the war problem. But the self-identified guardians of US national security would surely label such advice dangerous and naïve. Instead, the Pentagon has offered its own solution to the problem, one that will allow it to keep its wars but lose its oil. Last week, The New York Times and others reported that the military is, to use the proverbial phrase of our day, going green. This transformation will involve changes across the spectrum, from powering assault vessels and aircraft with algae and other biofuels to using solar panels and efficient light bulbs on military bases.

The coverage of this announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. The story in The New York Times quoted military spokespeople and officials who outlined all the strategic and economic advantages of the initiative. Writing for Slate, Fred Kaplan suggested that this development “could lower the entire nation’s energy costs.” And Jon Stewart had a bit in which he suggested that this was a progressive initiative, which conservatives would oppose, if they were actually consistent with their principles.

These responses aren’t surprising. Greening, we all know, is good pr for any organization. Then, there is the more specific association of innovation in the military with innovation and economic uplift for America writ large. When we get excited about greening the military, we think of how military initiatives such as the interstate highway system, NASA, and early computers, ultimately benefitted the country and the economy as a whole.

Before we pop the recycled cork and let the organic champagne flow, let’s take a moment to consider the problems with this position. First, there is no assurance that the promise of a significantly greener military will actually be realized. This isn’t the first time the Defense Department announced a green initiative. As with most organizations that promise to become green, the results of these past initiatives have been much more modest than their advertisements. Second, as The New York Times reports, “Because the military has moved into renewable energy so rapidly, much of the technology currently being used is commercially available or has been adapted for the battlefield from readily available civilian models.” So far, at least, the military is not really innovating green technology so much as consuming it.

Many progressives, including myself, would support the government using its buying power to invest in green energy. It’s unfortunate that such initiatives only gain broad support in the context of war spending. America, it seems, is addicted not just to oil or even to war, but also, to the war economy. This is an addiction that we could break, if only we stopped using war to solve all of our problems.

Backed-up NATO Vehicles Stood in Mute Testimony to Futility of Afghanistan War

Torkham NATO ConvoyAfter a 10-day blockade, the Torkham border crossing to Afghanistan in the Khyber Pass was reopened by Pakistan. It had, of course, been closed after a U.S. helicopter gunship mistakenly killed three Pakistani troops in a raid for which U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson apologized and called a “tragic accident.”

Washington must have breathed a sigh of relief not only because it can resume its operation, but because the situation had become embarrassing. At IPS News Gareth Porter had painted this picture on Friday: “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday that 6,500 NATO vehicles are backed up along the entire 1,500 km route from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass.”

The convoys rolling again is, in fact, an oopportunity missed. Porter also noted that the halt in NATO convoys had momentarily “brought an end to the unilateral attacks in Pakistan pushed by Gen. David Petraeus and forced Washington to make a new accommodation.” Furthermore, it might have made it “impossible for Petraeus to make the argument in the future that the United States can succeed in Afghanistan, given the refusal of Pakistan to budge on the issue.” [Emphasis added.]

You’ve heard the vaguely Eastern expression “Within crisis lies opportunity.” In this case, within chagrin would have lied opportunity. In its refusal to uncategorically go after insurgents within its borders (which it engages less as if they were a threat than a chance to hone the fighting skills of both its army and the Taliban), Pakistan might seem to be an endless source of headeaches to Washington.

But, if, along with refusing to commit itself wholeheartedly to eliminating the Palistani Taliban, Pakistan had kept the border closed, the case could have been made that Pakistan not only seeks no help with its internal security but in shoring up Afghanistan as a bulwark against India. The United States could then have begun in earnest to back away from the crime scene that has become Afghanistan.

Did U.S. Support for Brutal Honduran Coup Encourage Ecuador Coup?

Correa EcuadorA police riot over an austerity bill, or a failed attempt to oust leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa from office? In the aftermath of the Sept. 30 attack on Correa by police in Quito, it is looking more and more like this was an orchestrated coup. And while there is no evidence that the U.S. was directly involved, the Obama administration’s strong support for the current Honduran government may well have encouraged the plotters to expect similar treatment by Washington.

The police attack on Correa was co-coordinated with similar takeovers in several other cities, the seizure of Ecuador’s two largest airports by army troops, and the occupation of the National Assembly. In the end the Ecuadorian Army supported the President, freed him from the police hospital where he was being held, and whisked him to safety, but only after a firefight killed one soldier and a student who had turned out to support Correa. The President’s car was struck by five bullets. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, eight people died and 274 were wounded in incidents nationwide.

Suspicion has fallen on former president and army colonel Lucio Gutierrez, who led a 2000 coup and has called for Correa’s ouster. Gutierrez currently lives in Brazil and denies any link to the attempted coup. Correa also charges that Gutierrez’s brother Gilmar, a member of the National Assembly, supported the coup.

Last year’s coup in Honduras that ousted Manuel Zelaya has cast a shadow across the region, raising up the ghosts of a previous era when military takeovers routinely toppled governments in Latin America, including those in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. According to The Guardian, Correa said in the aftermath of the Honduran coup, “We have intelligence reports that say after Zelaya, I’m next.”

After Zelaya was ousted, the coup-led government of Roberto Micheletti organized elections—boycotted by most the population—and put Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo into power. Most countries in the region refuse to recognize the Lobo government, including the region’s major players, Brazil and Argentina.

In spite of the fact that the Lobo government has overseen a wave of terror directed at journalists, trade unionists, gays and lesbians, and opposition activists, Washington is pushing hard for countries to end Honduras’s regional isolation and its suspension from the Organization of American States (OAS).

“Now is the time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the OAS.

But most countries are wary of anything that might give the appearance of endorsing a government brought in via a coup. There is also concern about the ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras. Reporters Without Borders has labeled Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for journalists—eight have been murdered in the past year—and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all condemned the ongoing reign of terror directed at members of the Honduran opposition, the National Front of Popular Resistance.

While most nations in the region are reluctant to bed down with the Honduran government, the U.S. has opened the military aid spigot, donating $812,000 worth of heavy trucks to the Honduran Army. In the meantime, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is handing out $75 million for development projects, and $20 million for the “Merida” security program.

“Washington’s support for the coup government in Honduras over the past year has encouraged and increased the likelihood of rightwing coups against democratic left governments in the region,” writes The Guardian’s Latin American correspondent Mark Weisbrot. “This attempt in Ecuador has failed, but there will likely be more threats in the months and years ahead.”

Two obvious candidates are Bolivia and Paraguay. In the case of the former, organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—both of which gave active support to organizations behind the Honduran coup—are active.

In Honduras, NED and USAID helped finance the Peace and Democracy Movement and the Civil Democratic Union, both dominated by the country’s tiny elite, and which strongly supported the coup. Many of the Honduran Army’s officers, including coup leaders Gen. Vasquez Velasquez and Gen. Prince Suazo, have been trained by the U.S. Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former “School for the Americas” that has trained coup makers and human rights violators from throughout Latin America.

According to !Presente!, a publication critical of the School for the Americas, the commander of the police barracks where Ecuadoran President Correa was attacked, Col Manuel Rivadeneira Tello, is a graduate of the school’s combat arms training course.

Bolivian President Evo Morales recently threatened to expel USAID for its role in financing opposition separatist groups based in the country’s wealthy eastern provinces. Along with the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD)—an organization long associated with the Central Intelligence Agency—USAID and NED have underwritten separatist media and organizations based in the wealthy province of Santa Cruz, where most of the country’s natural gas deposits lie.

The possibility of Eastern Bolivia declaring independence is very real and, if it happens, U.S. organizations will have played a major role in encouraging it.

In May of this year, Fernando Lugo, the progressive president of Paraguay, reported to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meeting in Buenos Aires that he had evidence of a coup aimed at overthrowing his government. Lugo had a closed-door meeting with the UNASUR members, following which UNASUR reaffirmed its full support for the Paraguayan government.

Paraguay is one of the poorest and most unequal countries on the continent, and it was long dominated by a military dictatorship. Lugo, who took office in August 2008 for a five-year term, put together a coalition that broke the 60-year stranglehold the conservative Colorado Party had over the country.

Lugo has weathered some personal scandals—he is a former Catholic Bishop who fathered a number of children—and is currently suffering from lymphoma. He is locked in a battle with his more conservative vice-president, Federico Franco, and at loggerheads with a fractious congress that has made getting legislation through a trial. Those are the kind of difficulties that might well encourage Paraguay’s rightwing military and the Coloradoans to consider a coup, particularly if they think that Washington will eventually take a position similar to the one it took on Honduras.

Of course not all coups are successful these days. An outpour of popular support for Hugo Chavez reversed the 2001 Venezuela coup, and Correa’s 67 percent positive rating—he has doubled healthcare spending, increased social services, and stiffed a phony $3.2 billion foreign debt—certainly played a role in spiking the Ecuador coup.

But U.S. organizations like NED and AIFLD, active throughout the hemisphere, were closely associated with the Venezuelan coup makers.

The Obama Administration promised a new deal in Latin America and a break from the policies of the Bush Administration. Instead it has beefed up its military presence in Colombia, sharpened its attacks on Venezuela, refused to back away from its blockade of Cuba, and played footsie with the Honduran government.

If countries in the region are paranoid, maybe they have reasons for it.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches from the Edge.

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