Gringo Lost

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Posts Tagged ‘Diplomacy

Diplomatic Burn! U.S. responds to Iran

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Here is the diplomatic version of a backhanded bitchslap to Iran.  It’s what they get after saying they’d send their Navy to U.S. coastal waters.
“I’d simply say that given the limited size and capability of the Iranian navy they would be far better off focusing on the challenges closer to home”
– State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland
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Written by gringolost

September 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Iran

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America’s disappearing strategy

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Strategy is like magic. Both the magician and strategist use art and science to wow their audience by seemingly pulling off the implausible. It’s not the rabbit emerging from the hat that is magic, it’s the process making it happen that is magic. The same goes for strategy. So when President Obama makes “Disrupting, Dismantling, and Defeating Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World” a key component of this year’s National Security Strategy (NSS), he is missing the point. That is a goal, not a strategy.

Of course, it is intriguing that the U.S. would even feign interest in publishing its national security strategy for the entire world to see but that’s not the point. The point is no matter which document you read, whether the Quadrennial Defense Review, this year’s NSS, the NSPD (for G.W. Bush) or PPD (for Obama), there is hardly any coherent plan in any of these so-called “grand strategy” documents. All these documents get strategy wrong. They fail to recognize how strategy is more than just stating a goal; it is establishing preferences, prioritizing interests, and employing the available means in a coherent plan to achieve those interests.

Going back to the previous example, the NSS aims to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida … through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity.” These statements are hyperbole more than strategy. The U.S. should strengthen partners and secure the homeland anyway, regardless of any al Qa’ida threat.

A better strategy against al Qa’ida would recognize that the organization has morphed into an ideological program that can be adopted by self-starters who want to carry out homegrown terrorism. America’s strategy has to distinguish between what it wants to do and what it can do against these types of organizations. Fighting a global amorphous threat requires infinite reach and infinite resources. Without these, the U.S. must prioritize and seek defenses where it knows it can protect. Extending itself in distant theaters only exposes America to greater security risk.

In addition to violent extremism, there are two other areas where the NSS falls woefully short: Iran and North Korea. Admittedly, these challenges are hard. But if the U.S. wants Iran to “live up to its international responsibilities” it must recognize that Iran has different perceptions of these responsibilities. As well, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has sufficient leverage over American policy in the region that it can avoid certain amounts of coercion. The U.S. should make a sober assessment of itself to see exactly what it can coerce Iran to do. Trying to alter Iran’s behavior beyond America’s capability to do so is really just wasting time. The same goes for North Korea and the developing problems on that peninsula. The U.S. is severely handicapped in what it can make North Korea do. The U.S. must reassess its position in that region as well.

Lastly, the national security strategy should include only those things which are absolutely imperative. Needlessly adding peripheral interests complicates planning. Thus, while interests such as countering nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, and securing cyberspace are all a must. It is less true that growing America’s space capabilities, opening foreign markets to trade, or cutting carbon emissions are essential to national security. To be sure, these are all valuable goals but they do nothing but add complexity to the already difficult task. Likening it to magic, the objective of strategy is to draw in the audience with one hand while the other performs the important functions which make the trick work. By overloading America’s national security strategy it can ruin the trick.

Memo: US response to Iran’s nuclear program

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It’s the end of the semester here at The Fletcher School. With that comes finals. One of my finals was a policy options memo on how the U.S. could respond to the current Iranian nuclear issue. The memo is about 1,500 words, but I just wanted to share about 600 words that cover, what I think, are the 3 courses of action available to U.S. policy-makers. Here goes:

The Obama administration has essentially three viable courses of action in which to proceed: engagement, containment & deterrence, and rollback. These three options cannot be pursued simultaneously but exist along a continuum. These options can be augmented by supplementary inducements, both political and economic.

  • Engagement has been “Plan A” for this administration. Whether in a multilateral framework or bilateral talks, negotiations with Iran have been shrouded with threats of punitive economic action. To compel Iran to put its nuclear program on the negotiating table will likely require harsher sanctions on the regime. However, it will be tremendously difficult to gain international support for what essentially would be a near-boycott of Iran.
    • The downside to engaging Iran with the threat of economic sanctions is the policy’s risk of hardening disapproval against the U.S. in the region. Further, the success of this policy is inextricably linked to our ability to gain an international coalition to impose such sanctions.
  • Connected to engagement is the “Plan B” option of what the U.S. could do to oppose an Iran with nuclear weapons. Here, U.S. policy would be one of containment and deterrence against the regime. This option becomes enacted whence the failure of engagement. To maximize the utility of containment and deterrence, the U.S. will need to form multinational strategic partnerships and explicitly convey these partnerships to Iran.
    • Necessarily, the U.S. would have to extend its nuclear umbrella to allies, deterring Iran based on our second-strike capabilities. As with engagement, containment will require increased international cooperation to isolate Iran.
  • The rollback option will emphasize less engagement, although engagement can be a tool to gauge Iranian intentions. Rollback will begin with increasingly stringent sanctions; then it will be followed by preventative strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The rollback policy will require significant calibration to signal our resolve against Iran. Necessarily, regime change will be seen as an escalation of this policy. By gradually escalating the use of force, the U.S. could dissuade Iran sufficiently to cease its nuclear activities.
    • The risks posed by this option are great. The American image abroad will suffer should another attempt at regime change occur. Additionally, there is the risk that escalation could draw the U.S. into a larger war with Iran. Further, it will be difficult to predict the behavior of an Iran that has been directly attacked by the U.S.
  • Supplementary inducements include the repeal of current sanctions against Iran. Additionally, political concessions to Iran will have to be made. The U.S. will most likely have to back Iran’s ascent to greater regional leadership.
    • As an supplement, inducements are most likely to succeed with the rollback option. However, this combination still holds the most risks to American interests. Inducements coupled with engagement could produce positive results, but the “Plan B” containment and deterrence option must remain as a safety mechanism.

Recommendation: Engagement coupled with political and economic inducements should be this administration’s priority. However, this policy should be prefaced with explicit statements that any and all available means will be employed to contain and deter Iran if engagement does not work. Although this strategy may strengthen Ahmadinejad’s hold on power, it offers the best chance of de-nuclearizing the country without having to resort to force.

The waning power of India

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In international relations, power can be measured in absolute or relative terms.  When it comes to economic power, a country is mostly likely said to be better off if its economic power increases in absolute terms.  But, when it comes to diplomatic power, a country is more concerned with its relative power vis-à-vis others.

That’s why this article by Brahma Chellaney in Forbes’ Magazine, “Behind the Sri Lankan Bloodbath,” sheds interesting light on the state of India’s power in South Asia.  Because while India may be one of the strongest regional actors in terms of trade, population and military might – it is still struggling to assert itself in the diplomatic arena.

Even the small island-state Sri Lanka, which is proximate to India in many ways, does not operate as a client or as India’s sole beneficiary, instead pledging allegiance to other states (especially China and Pakistan) in return for counterinsurgency support against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As Chellaney notes, Sri Lanka “practiced adroit but duplicitous diplomacy” which often contradicted India’s interest but was in-line with Sri Lanka’s sovereign interest:

[Sri Lanka] assured India it would approach other arms suppliers only if New Delhi couldn’t provide a particular weapon system it needed. Yet it quietly began buying arms from China and Pakistan without even letting India know. In doing so, Colombo mocked Indian appeals that it rely for its legitimate defense needs on India, the main regional power. It was only by turning to India’s adversaries for weapons, training and other aid that Colombo pulled off a startling military triumph. In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India’s traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

Accordingly Chellaney reports, “India’s waning leverage over Sri Lanka” manifested itself in how “it has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan.”  As an example, Chellaney uses the billion-dollar seaport being built by Beijing in Sri Lanka’s southeast as a symbol of China’s strategic challenge to India.

In a broader sense, India’s inability to exert diplomatic leverage over other powers becomes apparent with the global influence China has compared to India despite their approximate similarities in demographics, military capability and economic strength.  India’s waning regional influence is exemplified by the Sri Lanka case.

Now, what are the reasons for India’s lackluster ability to project diplomatic power?  In regards to Sri Lanka, Chellaney believes India’s foreign policy suffered because it was not driven by “resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power.”  Additionally, I would add that India’s foreign policy is hindered by domestic and border concerns that often receive paramount attention.  And India’s “meandering” approach can be explained by its inability to overcome these critical constraints at home. ♦

Are we working at cross purposes in South Asia?

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On most accounts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India this past week was a diplomatic success.  She addressed India as it is – a burgeoning global power that deserves our attention.  And although her trip didn’t result in much headway on global warming it did move forward a civilian nuclear power partnership, a defense deal that includes “end-use monitoring”, and the start of a procurement contract which may help US companies sell India up to 126 multi-role fighter aircraft.

Yet South Asia’s diplomatic challenges still abound.  I think there are legitimate concerns that an increased US-India defense partnership may distract Pakistan from its internal counterinsurgency fight by shifting focus back to their conventional India threat; which, in turn, could hinder US goals for the Af-Pak theatre.

Additionally, the visit did little to push forward Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation goals, such as a reinvigoration of the NPT and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Written by gringolost

July 22, 2009 at 4:35 pm