What to make out of Russia’s new doctrine

by Volha Charnysh | February 17th, 2010 | |Subscribe

There’s little new in Russia’s new military doctrine, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev on February 5. The document turned out to follow closely its predecessor, albeit possessing more clarity and concision. Fortunately, the role of nuclear weapons in Moscow’s security policy did not rise. Unfortunately, Russia continues to distrust NATO and resent its expansion. From the very day when the text of the doctrine appeared on the Kremlin’s official web site, the former has not been appreciated enough and the latter has been too strongly criticized.

Alarmed by Nikolai Patrushev’s divulging the plans to assign nuclear weapons to “local conflicts,” the international community sighed with relief upon reading the final document that keeps strategic weapons restricted to regional and large-scale wars.

However, instead of applauding the triumph of reason in the Russian military establishment, some hazarded guesses that the new doctrine is sane only because the true nuclear policy is concealed in “Basic principles of state policy in the area of nuclear deterrence to 2020,” a classified document approved simultaneously with the new doctrine. While the contents of the unpublished document remain secret, it hardly conceals the true contours of Russia’s nuclear policy: the point of deterrence is to make the others aware of the risks so that they refrain from aggression. (more…)

Getting History Right

by David Isenberg | February 16th, 2010 | |Subscribe

I confess that I have been fantasizing. I realize that most people have moved on from Iraq to Afghanistan. But given the enormous toll paid both by Iraqis and Americans in terms of lives and money and overall social and cultural destruction I have been trying to imagine what it would look like if the United States actually undertook a fact based investigation into the decisions by the Bush Administration to invade Iraq in 2003.

By that I don’t mean the past investigations by special commissions or congressional committees into what the intelligence community knew or didn’t know, or what pressure they were under to cherry pick information. Rather I mean an investigation into what former President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other cabinet officials knew and did, day by day, leading up to the invasion.

Fortunately, I don’t really have to imagine. Instead I can just look across the Atlantic to Great Britain. There they have been conducting an inquiry, officially launched 30 June 2009. The terms of reference of the Iraq Inquiry,  also known as the Chilcot Inquiry, after its chairman Sir John Chilcot, state:

It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.

Consider some of what has been revealed just during the past few weeks. (more…)

Repeal the ban. Our soldiers’ lives are depending on it

by Brian Vogt | February 10th, 2010 | |Subscribe

President Obama’s announcement of his intention to work with Congress and the military to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is the sort of change that should receive broad bipartisan support.  The public backs such a change.  A poll last year by the Washington Post/ABC news found that 75% of Americans supported the repeal.  The same poll found that 64% of Republicans wanted to allow homosexuals to serve openly.  This is now a mainstream opinion of both Democrats and Republicans.

President Truman’s landmark decision to integrate African-Americans into the military was particularly noteworthy because it led a transition in public opinion.  Today, public opinion has already shifted, which makes this repeal even more overdue.

Many advocates of the repeal of this policy have strong moral and human rights arguments.  Although such arguments are appealing, the stronger rationale for this repeal is simply that it will make America safer.

Even though the public is on board, there are some political leaders who still support the ban.  John McCain, who once said that he would follow the advice of the military leadership regarding the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy has changed his tune and says that now is not the right time to change the policy because we are in the midst of two wars.  House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “In the middle of two wars, and, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?” This is where McCain and Boehner get it wrong.  This is precisely the time to make such a change.  Today our forces are stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, at this time of tremendous need in the military we are kicking out brave soldiers simply because they admit openly to being gay. (more…)

Obsession with Nuclear Deterrent Doesn’t Add Up

by Matthew Rojansky | February 3rd, 2010 | |Subscribe

Volha Charnysh

Retired Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral James Lyons argued in a Washington Times opinion piece on Monday that the US should “halt our participation in the START negotiations until we bring balance back into the equation.” The equation to which Lyons refers is that of nuclear deterrence: by maintaining the ability to destroy any potential nuclear-armed adversary, the logic runs, we can ensure that none will attack the United States. Unfortunately, a focus on the conventional logic of deterrence doesn’t fit in a world where the most urgent threats to US national security are posed by terrorists and other non-state actors who are difficult to identify, much less deter.

Lyons asserts that Russia has “embarked on an aggressive modernization program to field new nuclear weapons” and seeks a “breakout” capability, allegedly so that it could quickly build and deploy new weapons after withdrawing from any new arms control treaty. China, he adds, may be emboldened if the US commits to nuclear reductions, triggering a panic among our East Asian allies. Our looming nuclear weakness, the Admiral concludes, is exacerbated by the proliferation threats of North Korea and Iran.

Each of these assertions twists reality, but even if true, none would justify withdrawing from bilateral arms control, which is essential to protecting Americans from the clear and present danger posed by proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials to those most likely to use them against us. In recent Senate testimony, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, himself a retired four-star Admiral, called the possibility of terrorists acquiring nuclear capability a “top concern,” and noted that traditional means of deterrence would likely be of “less utility” against such a threat. For that reason the President has committed to stopping proliferation at its source, by halting the spread of nuclear weapons to new states, and securing fissile materials. These efforts depend greatly on US-Russian cooperation, since our two countries possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons and material. A new agreement to replace the expired START treaty is an absolutely essential first step. (more…)

Will arming the Gulf solve the Iranian problem?

by Volha Charnysh | February 2nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

Even as it withdraws from Iraq, the United States is increasing its military presence and arming the states in the Persian Gulf. President Barack Obama has boosted arms sales, stepped up the deployment of anti-missile defenses, and upgraded defenses for the oil infrastructure in the region. This military buildup is intended to deter the Iranian “enemy”, reassure and strengthen the Arab “friends”, and pacify the trigger-happy Israelis, but will it actually bring the intended result?

US commitment to security in the region is a noble goal, and the military buildup in the Gulf seems to be of a purely defensive nature. Hopefully, the American support will reassure the Gulf states and encourage them to form a united front against Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Indeed, engaging the neighbors must be the first step for solving the Iranian problem. However, further militarizing an already volatile region and meddling into the Arab states’ regional rivalry with Tehran could instead exacerbate the situation. The fact remains that – for economic and political reasons – the Gulf states are not ready to unequivocally align themselves with the United States against Iran. And additional weapon sales are hardly going to change that. (more…)

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.