April 16th, 2014
11:45 AM ET

Move from Kyrgyzstan to put (a little) space between U.S., Russian militaries

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Believe it or not, there is one country on earth that is home to both U.S. and Russian soldiers, the opposing nations stationed a mere 20 miles from each other. It's a landlocked, mountainous country, and its parliament has been known to sacrifice sheep.

We’re talking about Kyrgyzstan, where the Transit Center at Manas has been a main staging ground for American troops and supplies to move into Afghanistan since 2001. It's less than an hour's drive from Russia's Kant airbase – so close they could practically borrow cups of sugar. But you can see from the pictures in the video that this military neighborhood will soon come to an end.

The Kyrgyz parliament voted not to extend the American lease, and the U.S. has been given its eviction notice. It must vacate by July. U.S. forces are getting ready to go, packing up boxes and breaking down large tents.

Will this put some much needed space between the United States and Russian militaries? Actually, not so much. The U.S. will now use its newly outfitted Transit Center in Romania – 250 miles from Sevastopol, where there is, of course, a Russian base on the Crimean peninsula.

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Topics: Last Look • Military • Russia • United States
Time to write the rules for cyber and drone challenges
February 3rd, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Time to write the rules for cyber and drone challenges

By Des Browne and Michael Shank, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Des Browne is the former U.K. Secretary of State for Defense. Michael Shank is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The views expressed are their own.

Iran has begun implementing the Joint Plan of Action over its nuclear program. The United States and Russia are cooperating in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. And the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded late last year to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” The past few months have clearly underscored what can be achieved when the international community works together on weapons of mass destruction.

But while the response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and Iran is laudable and should now be leveraged to strengthen international law, treaties and monitoring mechanisms more broadly, the reality is that newer challenges are evolving even as the international community works to get a handle on longstanding threats. And although these threats come in a variety of forms, there are two in particular that will require the same kind of concerted effort.

The magnitude of the threat posed by the weapons of choice from the 20th century and 21st century are striking. Whether it is an armed, unmanned drone that could even carry tactical nuclear arms or be turned into a dirty bomb, or offensive cyber capabilities, consider how increasingly easy these potential weapons are to utilize, how a growing number of countries want their own capabilities in these fields, and how difficult they can be to monitor and regulate.

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Topics: Cyber • Military • Nuclear
How U.S. should respond to China's growing assertiveness
January 29th, 2014
10:53 AM ET

How U.S. should respond to China's growing assertiveness

By Robert Spalding and Adam Lowther, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Spalding is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Adam Lowther is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest. The views expressed are their own.

Earlier this month, largely unnoticed by the international media, China took a significant step toward rendering defense systems across the globe obsolete.  On January 9, China conducted a test of its first hypersonic glide vehicle, believed to be capable of traveling at 10 times the speed of sound.

The test comes at a time of growing regional concern over Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims, including the announcement in November of unilaterally declared Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea.

For those China analysts that see a more ominous future ahead, such actions are not unrelated, but instead part of a concerted effort on the part of China to return the Middle Kingdom to its former glory and displace the United States from the region. And, based on public statements and writings from a variety of Chinese government sources, China seems to believe it is reaching conventional parity with other Asian states in the region.

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Topics: China • Military
January 18th, 2014
04:44 PM ET

Robert Gates on the biggest threat to U.S. national security

Fareed speaks with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Iran, China and what his advice would be to future presidents. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

What do you think is the lesson…presidents sometimes write a letter to their successors. If you were to set out a couple of things to worry about or to be focused on, for not just the current secretary of defense but going forward, what are the things that worry you about in the way that Eisenhower wrote about the military-industrial complex? What is it that worries you about America's defense posture and foreign policy?

Well, first of all, I would say that the one piece of advice that I would give, either to a new secretary of defense or to a president is that absent an immediate threat to the United States, the use of military force should be a last resort, not a first option.  We need to be much more careful.

I wrote in my first book that the dirty little secret in Washington was that the biggest doves wore uniforms.  And it's because they have seen the face of war, and they have been thrown into conflicts only to have political support evaporate behind them. And so being very cautious about the use of force, I think is incredibly important.

Right now, the biggest threat to our national security as far as I'm concerned is the paralysis in Washington and the uncertainty with respect to defense programs, uncertainty about what kinds of military capabilities we're going to need in the future...

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Why China’s Gulf piracy fight matters
January 7th, 2014
08:36 AM ET

Why China’s Gulf piracy fight matters

By Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew S. Erickson is an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College. Austin M. Strange is a research associate at the China Maritime Studies Institute. The views expressed are the authors’ alone.

December 26, Chairman Mao’s birthday, is always a significant date for China. But last month’s 120th anniversary came at a time when his legacy is increasingly subject to vigorous debate among the Chinese public, media, academia and even officialdom. And it also established a new landmark in contemporary Chinese history, an unprecedented milestone in Chinese foreign policy that Mao would surely be proud of: the 5th year anniversary of China’s naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

To honor the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s contributions to maritime security off Somalia, the China Maritime Museum, located in Shanghai, opened a special exhibit that runs into March, and which features photos and actual mission mementos. Chinese media outlets continue to roll out a flurry of articles commemorating the occasion. But what is the actual significance of Chinese anti-piracy activities? And what has China accomplished there over the past five years?

First and foremost, China’s naval foray into the Gulf of Aden, beginning in 2008, is a resounding response from Beijing to threats against its overseas interests. Chinese people and economic assets continue to disperse throughout the world at record pace nearly four decades after Deng Xiaoping’s opening up reforms. As a result, nontraditional security breaches outside of China, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks (and, in this case, maritime piracy) pose growing threats to Chinese national interests.

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Topics: China • Military
Asia territorial tensions set to get worse before they get better
November 28th, 2013
07:18 PM ET

Asia territorial tensions set to get worse before they get better

By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, and an adjunct fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.

China’s more assertive posture in regional territorial disputes took a new turn at the weekend with its decision to implement an Air Defense Identification Zone. At a time when tensions in the region are already high due to a lingering territorial dispute between China and Japan, China’s action has escalated tensions in the East China Sea. Now, with Beijing apparently demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy with its neighbors, the region is forced to confront provocative and potentially destabilizing behavior.

On November 23, China’s defense ministry unilaterally announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. According to the new rules for conduct in this ADIZ, any aircraft flying into China’s ADIZ is required to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain two-way radio communication, and keep radar transponders turned on. Should a plane refuse to follow these instructions, China’s military will “adopt defensive measures.”

ADIZs are, by themselves, not controversial, acting as early-warning perimeters for self-defense. But while there are no international rules concerning their size or establishment, China’s action is provocative for two reasons. First, it may be attempting to set new rules for aircraft flying above waters considered a state’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Second, it chose to establish an ADIZ that overlaps considerably with those of both Japan and Taiwan as well as a sliver of South Korea’s. Provocatively, included in China’s ADIZ are territorial disputes it maintains with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) and with South Korea over Ieodo (Suyan Rock in Chinese).

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Topics: Asia • China • Japan • Military • United States
Time for U.S. to end drone secrecy
October 22nd, 2013
01:47 PM ET

Time for U.S. to end drone secrecy

By Mustafa Qadri, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mustafa Qadri is Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher. The views expressed are his own.

It was a sunny October afternoon last year when Mamana Bibi was blown to pieces before her grandchildren’s very eyes. The family matriarch, Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family fields in northwestern Pakistan when a remotely piloted aircraft – or “drone” – used by the United States fired a missile directly toward her, killing Mamana instantly. A second volley of missiles was fired a few minutes later, injuring some of the children who ventured out to where their grandmother had been struck.

Almost a year to the day, the Bibi family’s lives have been torn apart. In a number of in-depth interviews over the last eight months, the family recounted to me how they sold ancestral lands to pay for their injured relatives’ steep medical bills. Mamana’s grief-stricken elderly husband, a respected retired local headmaster, rarely leaves the house. Their grandchildren, including 8-year-old Nabeela, now live in constant fear of the drones, which seem ever present in the skies.

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Topics: Military • Pakistan
Americans have had enough conflict
September 27th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Americans have had enough conflict

By Matt Hoh, Michael Shank & Danny L. Davis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Hoh served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and on State Department teams in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy. Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Daniel L. Davis is an Army Lieutenant-colonel. The views expressed are their own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government or military.

Diplomacy appears to be winning out, for now at least, in the debate over how the United States should respond to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on its own people. The last minute halting of the march toward a military strike will no doubt have been a relief to many members of Congress and their constituents. But is this only a temporary reprieve from action?

Most Americans would surely agree that the United States should only pursue military action where vital U.S. interests are at stake. But even a cursory look at America’s actual use of force over the decade-plus since the September 11, 2001 attacks suggests that these impulses are being ignored.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, ultimately deploying hundreds of thousands of ground troops to fight counterinsurgencies. The U.S. also deployed air and missile power against Libya in 2011, and the government has acknowledged utilizing lethal drone strikes in a number of countries including Yemen, Somalia, and of course Pakistan.

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Topics: Conflict • Military • United States
All or nothing in Syria
August 29th, 2013
01:46 PM ET

All or nothing in Syria

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The expected military strike in Syria fits well into the end of summer schedule. If we are to believe that the missile salvo will commence before the weekend, and we take carefully orchestrated leaks to be true, the boys will likely be back by Sunday.

Squeezed neatly between the British parliament's debate on intervention (they are no longer a superpower, but they still do government accountability best) and Labor Day, a long weekend of targeting allows the political and diplomatic fallout to evaporate in time for President Obama and his European allies, David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, to travel to Russia for the G-20. No spoiling the photo-op. What a relief that must be.

Still, such a well scheduled war leaves the basic terms of our discussion unchanged and unresolved.

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Topics: Military • Syria
All U.S. can do is punish Syria
August 28th, 2013
10:05 AM ET

All U.S. can do is punish Syria

By Dina Esfandiary, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dina Esfandiary is a research associate on the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The views expressed are her own.

The red line has now been crossed in Syria, and calls for intervention have intensified. Yet as things stand today, the United States has little or no hope of making a decisive impact on the course of the war. If President Obama wants to maintain credibility by responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s forces while minimizing U.S. involvement, he should make sure any intervention is couched in simple terms: anyone using or proliferating weapons of mass destruction will be punished.

The al-Assad regime has shown tremendous resilience during more than two years of fighting. Defeating them while securing Syria’s chemical weapons will not be possible without a significant ground presence, something currently not on the table.

Yet the war cannot be won from the air. Airstrikes are an attractive option, but unless they are in combination with ground forces they wouldn’t be decisive. They would have to take place on too great a scale to cripple the al-Assad regime – the casualties would be too daunting, and the commitment too heavy for this to be an option today.

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Topics: Military • Syria • United States
Understanding America’s AirSea Battle concept
August 27th, 2013
11:26 AM ET

Understanding America’s AirSea Battle concept

By Joseph Singh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Joseph Singh is a research assistant at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) North America. The views expressed are his own.

Amid emerging chaos in Egypt, daily bloodshed in Syria and uncertainty over how Iran’s new president will handle nuclear negotiations with the West, the increasingly complex security environment in the Middle East has complicated U.S. efforts to undertake the fabled pivot to Asia. At the same time, fiscal woes dictate that the Pentagon prepare to do more with less, even in an environment where U.S. adversaries are finding increasingly cheap means of challenging the conventional instruments of American power projection.

These realities make it all the more perplexing that many defense analysts have dubbed the Pentagon’s new operational concept – called “AirSea Battle” – a plan to fight a war with China. In fact, AirSea Battle may very well be more about the Middle East than the Pacific.

According to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a publicly released report by the U.S. Defense Department analyzing military objectives and potential threats, AirSea Battle seeks to “address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains – air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace – to counter growing challenges to U.S. freedom of action.” To be sure, these challenges to U.S. freedom of action are certainly most pronounced in China. But they’re present in the Middle East, too.

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Topics: Asia • Middle East • Military
No, don't cut military aid to Egypt
August 12th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

No, don't cut military aid to Egypt

By Khairi Abaza, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are his own.

The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last month left the United States with a dilemma – should it continue to offer aid to Egypt as normal, or should it cut off the about $1.2 billion a year that goes to the military in protest at what is widely seen outside Egypt as a coup?

Certainly, there are have been loud calls from many within the policy community to do the latter, most notably Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who reportedly said last month: “We have to suspend aid to Egyptian military because the military has overturned the vote of the people.”

McCain appears to have softened his position, suggesting instead last week that the U.S. should consider cutting off aid if “they go ahead and crack down in a violent way.” Regardless, the idea is clear: halting assistance would pressure the Egyptian military into handing control of the government back to a civilian administration as quickly as possible.

But such a policy would not be without consequences for the United States. After all, this episode has pushed Egypt to find new allies – and to diversify its sources of armaments and military training.

The reality is that the Egyptian military has not only been a source of stability for the United States in an otherwise turbulent Middle East, but it has also been a cash cow. Currently, the Egyptian military relies on U.S. military equipment, training and services. This reliance means that Egypt is essentially a client of the U.S. military complex, and aid money is in fact re-injected back into the U.S. economy. Cutting off these armaments and services means that these funds will be diverted to Russian, Chinese, or French coffers.

More from CNN: Morsi holds key to Egypt's future

An end to the current relationship would also clearly mean less leverage for the United States, and the diversity that Egypt’s army is currently seeking would mean that no single country could have the type of leverage the United States has over Egypt. The country’s military would be even harder to influence, and given its current power over the country, this is clearly a dangerous prospect.

But an end to the current relationship would also have a direct and deleterious impact on American interests more broadly. An end to aid would threaten the durability of Egypt’s critical peace treaty with Israel, not to mention the current agreement that guarantees the safe and reliable passage of U.S. military ships and equipment through the Suez Canal.

An end to U.S. assistance would also throw into doubt Egypt’s dependability in times of crisis. The U.S. has engaged in countless military exercises with Egypt to prepare for multiple scenarios, and it would be a tremendous (and costly) shame if the U.S. walks away from such an investment.

And U.S. assistance to Egypt also serves as an important nonproliferation tool. It has enabled Washington to maintain a modicum of control over the arm race in the region, a point that is even more important as Iran continues a path that could ultimately see it acquire a nuclear weapon. Should Tehran cross this threshold, Egypt will almost certainly wish to go nuclear as well since it views Iran as a regional threat. With diminished leverage, the U.S. would be effectively powerless to prevent this “nuclear cascade.”

To be sure, the end of U.S. assistance would be inconvenient for Egypt. But it would not be fatal for its military or political system. The army’s commander, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, knows that Egypt would survive without it.  That’s why he continues to highlight Egypt’s two centuries-old struggle for national sovereignty and free will – a theme that Egyptians appreciate.

Al-Sisi also knows that this would not be the first time Egypt has switched military alliances. After the 1952 military coup, President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a Western ally until the West refused to fund his High Dam project. He subsequently turned to Moscow for help and became a Soviet ally. Washington was not able to bring Egypt back into the Western fold until 1978, leaving a period during which Nasser’s populism was a source of instability for the region, underscored by the wars of 1956, 1967, 1973 and Egypt’s war of attrition with Israel.

The toppling of Morsi will remain a source of controversy for years to come.  But whether it was a coup, a revolution, or a coup-volution matters little now.  What is important is that the United States maintains its crucial relationship with Egypt to safeguard the safety and security of the Middle East for years to come. U.S. threats to cut aid only encourage Egypt’s military leaders to seek new allies – allies that will almost certainly prove to be American adversaries in the future. And quite likely not friends of Egyptian democracy, either.

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Topics: Egypt • Military • United States
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