By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.
U.S. President Barack Obama is seriously considering the possibility of removing every U.S. soldier from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. This news is significant, but hardly surprising.
After all, ever since he took office, Obama has appeared uncomfortable about long-term troop commitments. He has frequently sparred with military commanders who want more troops and time than he’s willing to provide. Obama’s reluctance was crystallized by, ironically, the troop surge of 2009. Even as he authorized the dispatch of 30,000 more troops, he ordered that they begin to withdraw just 18 months later.
Given this unease, Obama will need strong assurances that leaving a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014 would serve a necessary purpose. Increasingly, it appears this wouldn’t be the case. This suggests Obama could well choose the zero troop option. It would be the right decision.
What should the U.S. and its allies make of China’s rise? What military challenges does it pose? And what kind of shape is America’s military anyway in to respond to changing realities in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere?
U.S. Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-Va), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and co-chair of the China Caucus, will be taking GPS readers’ questions on these and other issues. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
By Guy Anderson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Guy Anderson is Chief Industry Analyst (A&D) for IHS Jane’s. This piece is based on data taken from IHS Jane’s latest study, ‘The Balance of Trade.’ The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Defense cuts expected to be announced by the British government on Wednesday will be only the latest example of how the West is sowing the seed of its own decline in global defense markets, as cuts force industry to export more of the blueprints of its expertise.
True, industry doesn’t really have any choice. But the explosion in exports is still leading Western countries to pile into export markets, devouring each other as they fuel the rise of Asia. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear that in the long term, ongoing defense cuts are putting at risk not just the future job prospects and global influence of the United Kingdom, but also those of European defense and the United States, too.
For a start, these cuts will erode the long term technological advantages that Western countries traditionally hold. Export today is about selling the blueprints of expertise rather than just finding buyers for the finished product – the days of simply selling equipment are gone. Traditionally, countries maintain an edge because government investments encourage research and development, something that has declined sharply in Western markets in recent years.
By James Holmes, Special to CNN
From the mouths of students comes wisdom. Of Imperial Japan and its depredations, a former student wisecracks: before there was Pokémon, there was Hegemon. This jest should be the watchword for Japanese diplomacy as Tokyo explains its move to a more offensive-seeming military strategy, and its acquisition of more offensive-looking weaponry, to Asian peoples mindful of its imperial forerunner's transgressions. What Japan appears to be doing – amassing the wherewithal to strike back at missile launchers and other enemy sites after riding out an initial assault – makes eminent operational and tactical sense. Convincing foreign audiences of that will be the hard part.
The image republican Japan projects of itself – one of a strictly defensive great power, intent only on keeping what now belongs to it – is something that demands constant upkeep. This is the bequest, and the burden, of the past for contemporary Japan. It will take a convincing, long-term, oft-repeated message to banish lingering memories of Hegemon from discussion of Japanese foreign policy and strategy.
The problem before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his lieutenants is that debates over the offensive or defensive character of a nation's strategy take place on multiple levels. What seems commonsensical on one level may prove controversial or even self-defeating on another.
By Adam Lowther, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Adam Lowther is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC and author of Deterrence. The views expressed are his own.
Congress, at least in the eyes of its critics, may not seem able to get very much done these days. But a House of Representatives subcommittee got at least one thing right last week when it voted to block the Defense Department from closing domestic U.S. military bases and installations.
The vote comes against the backdrop of sequestration – the forced budget cuts in Washington – and suggestions from Department of Defense officials that a new round of base closures is necessary. But Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should not yield to the growing chorus calling for another round of realignment to follow the five previous rounds that took place between 1988 and 2005 and that saw the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps absorb 97 major base closures as part of the post-Cold War military drawdown. Yes, we should take a hard look at the budget numbers. But those pushing for closures are missing the true value of these bases.
By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
The release of China’s biennial defense white paper has been getting some press for its revelations about the People’s Liberation Army’s force structure. Chinese media outlet Xinhua, for example, reported that “the Chinese government on Tuesday declassified the designations of all 18 combined corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as the latest step to increase transparency of its armed forces.”
While it is difficult to applaud the PLA for declassifying information that was already common knowledge (see, for example, the sinodefence.com page on army organization, last updated four years ago), more transparency is certainly better than less. Still, the American focus on Chinese transparency is misplaced. Of course, the Pentagon would like to see its Chinese counterpart be more candid about PLA capabilities and investments; to the extent the United States can coax China towards such candor, it should do so. But disclosures like those in the Chinese white paper do little to address the underlying problem in the U.S.-China relationship: a dearth of strategic trust.
As speculation grows that a North Korean missile test could be imminent, discussion has turned to the question of whether the United States should shoot down any missile fired, even if it appears heading into the ocean.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer speaks with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on the latest developments and why China is key to resolving the current tensions.
What do you make of Senator John McCain and some others who say if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it – even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point?
I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama’s has been.
President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.
By James Hardy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: James Hardy is Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. The views expressed are his own.
North Korea's announcement via state TV that it was preparing to target Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States – and had readied its “rocket and long-range artillery” forces for the purpose – has inspired a cacophony of speculation across the globe.
But the fact is that despite the bombast, and unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed.
Even if North Korea did have the capability and chose to use it, the likelihood of an overwhelming U.S. military counterattack would render any such attack self-defeating for Kim Jong Un’s regime. Indeed, as Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman tweeted a few weeks ago, any such move would amount to "North Korea basically telling the world it would like to be made into a parking lot.”
By Scott Harold, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Harold is an associate political scientist for the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are his own.
China has once again announced a major expansion in its defense spending, leaving outside observers to again debate what this all could mean. Unfortunately, the planned 10.7 percent increase for 2013 posed more questions than it answered: Is it a sign of a more assertive China that wants to pursue regional dominance? Is it an indication of a country seeking to redress long-term weaknesses in its military? Or is it a sign of a domestic leadership that can’t say no to the military at a time of political transition?
The fact is that it’s a bit of all of these.
In absolute terms, the official Chinese defense budget is slated to rise from approximately $106.4 billion in 2012 to $119 billion this year. (The White House, meanwhile, proposed a $553 billion budget for the U.S. Defense department in fiscal 2012). This means that, after subtracting out expected inflationary costs, the People’s Liberation Army will have approximately $12 billion more in budget this year than last.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
The forced budget cuts, known in Washington as sequestration, are now in force in the United States and $85 billion in spending cuts are in the process of being implemented, with about half of them coming out of Washington’s spending on international engagement. The impact on America’s capacity for global leadership will not be felt overnight. But these reductions in defense spending, anti-terrorism activities, foreign aid and the budget for the State Department will shrink the U.S. footprint around the world, with consequences for the projection of both U.S. hard and soft power.
In the wake of the sequester, the questions now heard outside the United States include “what does this say about Americans’ willingness to pay for future global commitments?” “How much of this austerity is driven by Tea Party sentiments and influence?” And, most broadly, “are American fiscal rectitude and isolationism converging?”
The answers are not clear cut – in part because it’s possible that the Obama administration and Congress will rejigger the terms of the spending cuts in the months ahead.
By Bill French, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bill French is a research associate at the National Security Network, a non-profit foreign policy organization based in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As the March 1 deadline for forced budget cuts looms, the congressional debate over the Pentagon budget is tightly focused on the consequences of sudden and across the board spending reductions. The problem with this narrow focus on the so-called sequestration debate is that it appears lawmakers are poised to make decisions on the future of the U.S. military and national security mostly on the basis of raw numbers.
This is a dangerous game. Instead, Congress should take a more balanced approach that also uses a strategy-driven view of what priorities should guide defense spending. Until lawmakers take this step, it will be impossible for them to responsibly address what level of resources the Pentagon requires and how it can assist in reducing the deficit.
By Kathi Lynn Austin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kathi Lynn Austin is a former U.N. weapons inspector and executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project, an NGO that investigates and documents major arms traffickers. The views expressed are her own.
Viktor Bout, the poster boy for international arms trafficking, is back in the news.
Last week, Bout’s legal defense team submitted an appellate brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. It claims Bout was wrongly convicted of five counts to commit conspiracy and terrorism. It asks for his 25-year prison sentence to be overturned, based on a list of complaints he has repeated before.
So what’s the news here?
Ironically, Bout’s appeal helps us better understand specific weaknesses in the U.S. approach for containing the world’s worst arms traffickers – those that intentionally enable terrorists, perpetrators of atrocity and U.N. sanctions-busting.