The United States Got What It Asked For: Oh, the Horror!

by David Isenberg | May 25th, 2010 | |Subscribe

I am reminded of the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for as you might just get it” regarding the recent news about the breakthrough in the long running deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, Thanks to an agreement brokered by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Iran has agreed to send the bulk of its nuclear material to Turkey as part of an exchange meant to ease international concerns about Iran’s aims and provide fuel for an ailing medical reactor.

The essential details are that after a final agreement is signed between Iran and the Vienna group, Iran’s nuclear fuel will be shipped to Turkey under the supervision of Iran and the IAEA. Iran we will send 1,200 kilograms [2,640 pounds] of 3.5% enriched uranium to Turkey to be exchanged for 120 kilograms [264 pounds] of 20% enriched uranium from the Vienna group to replace the nearly exhausted fuel of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) that makes medical isotopes. This represents more than half of the 2065 kg of LEU that Iran had produced as of February according to the IAEA, and it greatly reduces Iran’s capability to produce enough fissile material for a bomb. The Vienna group refers to Russia, France, the U.S. and the IAEA.

But Iran would not suspend sensitive atomic activities which the West suspects are aimed at making bombs, including work to enrich uranium to a level of 20 percent it launched in February.

“Iran expressed its readiness to deposit its LEU within one month. On the basis of the same agreement the Vienna Group should deliver 120 kg fuel required for Tehran research reactor in no later than one year,” a joint declaration said. (more…)

Russia-NATO Missile Defense Cooperation

by Volha Charnysh | May 24th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Floated on both sides of the Atlantic by high officials for at least a decade, the idea of joint Russia-NATO ballistic missile defenses remains controversial and far-fetched. Experts say going beyond a limited exchange of early warning data to genuine cooperation would require resolving numerous military, diplomatic and technical issues and take another decade, during which the NATO-Russian rapport could wither. Just last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the “daring” proposal to establish a joint NATO-Russia short-range missile defense system would become “mainstream” – when “Russia starts to feel the effects of proliferation.” How big are the obstacles to a genuine Russia-NATO missile defense cooperation and is overcoming them worth the trouble?

The most obvious issue with bringing the idea into reality is of technical nature: the incompatibility of NATO and Russian radar and interceptor components complicates intelligence sharing and requires a considerable number of technical adjustments on both sides. However, the main obstacle to building a joint missile defense shield and, more broadly, to moving the NATO-Russia relationship to a new level is their mutual mistrust. Even when the nuts and bolts of integrating the NATO and Russian systems are resolved, collaboration is impossible while the NATO and Russian lists of threats include each other.

Hastings Ismay, the first secretary-general of NATO, famously said, “NATO is created to keep Russia out, Germany down and Americans in.” While the situation has changed considerably with the end of the Cold War, Russia still feels left out. Even though it does not aspire to become a member of the alliance — as it did for a brief period under Boris Yeltsin — Moscow wants NATO to take heed of its interests. The alliance, on the other hand, is wary of giving Russia a veto over its decisions. (more…)

The red corvette of international affairs

by Brian Vogt | May 21st, 2010 | |Subscribe

Imagine you have just acquired a new car – a flashy red Corvette.  Hopefully you would change the oil regularly and do preventive maintenance that doesn’t cost that much.  Or if you were shortsighted and had money to burn you could just skip that upkeep and several years down the road be faced with a huge bill for an engine overhaul.  The United States’ relationship with the rest of the world is a bit like that Corvette.  We can spend a relatively small amount of money on preventive maintenance and upkeep now or we can pay much more later when disaster strikes.  The preventive maintenance I’m referring to is the civilian side of our international engagement.

Today the United States is engaged in two wars and faces tremendous challenges around the world.  Polls have indicated that the US reputation in the world has improved since the election of Barack Obama.  However, the leadership of a popular and charismatic President is not sufficient to rebuild the bridges of trust and support that are critical in addressing terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation, and global poverty.  The United States must match its rhetoric with concrete actions.  Unfortunately, the President’s recent request to Congress to devote adequate resources to non-military international engagement has met with resistance in the Senate budget committee.

In his 2011 budget, the President requested $573.8 billion for military expenditures (excluding war funding).  For non-military expenditures which include all diplomatic activities and international aid, the President has requested $58.8 billion.  The Senate budget committee approved the full military request yet decreased the non-military expenditures by $4 billion.  The decision to underfund the international affairs budget is short sighted and should be reconsidered.

For years diplomatic and international aid activities have been targets for cuts.  Citizens question why we should be spending money overseas when we have such critical issues here at home – unemployment, health care, education, a crumbling infrastructure, and poverty.  Yet, when examined as a component of the overall federal budget, this request comprises a mere 1.4 percent.  There has been growing bipartisan consensus that for too long we have relied too much on military power in lieu of other smart power tools.  Without a doubt, we must maintain a strong and effective military force.  Yet, even Secretary of Defense Gates has suggested that our country would be well-served by placing more emphasis on non-military engagement around the world.  He said,

“As I have said for the last two years, I believe that the challenges confronting our nation cannot be dealt with by military means alone. They require instead whole-of-government approaches – but that can only be done if the State Department is given resources befitting the scope of its mission across the globe.”

(more…)

As Bangkok Burns, Thailand’s Conflict Between the Red Shirts and the Abhisit Government Deepens

by Alexis Collatos | May 19th, 2010 | |Subscribe

The Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep, roughly translates as “city of angels.” Rarely has this moniker seemed more of a misnomer than the past week, with its climatic battle between the Red Shirt protesters encamped in downtown Bangkok and the Thai government.

Early Wednesday morning, the Thai army made a final push on the protesters’ camp in downtown Bangkok, rolling through barricades in armored vehicles and prompting two prominent protest leaders, Jatuporn Prompan and Nattawut Saikua, to surrender to the Bangkok police on charges of terrorism. At least five people died in the operation, adding to the previous six days’ toll of 38 dead. While Prompan and Saikua asked protesters to surrender, saying “we cannot resist against these savages anymore,” some die-hard elements chose not to, turning instead to rioting, looting and continued street battles in defiance of the government’s 8pm curfew.  One of the more extremist protest leaders, Arisman Pongruengrong, managed to escape government forces. Protesters set fire to around thirty buildings, including the Thai Stock exchange; CentralWorld, one of Bangkok’s biggest and ritziest malls; two banks, a television station, and a movie theater.

While the height of the organized protest is now over, replaced by rioting, the situation is far from resolved. Bangkok is still nowhere close to calm, and guerrilla-style attacks and looting by more militant members of the Red Shirt movement who have so far escaped arrest will likely continue for another few days.

More important, however, are the long-term effects the violence and events of the past month will have on Thailand’s fragile political situation. The activities of both sides of the conflict have entrenched the positions and grievances of each party, and a peaceful and speedy resolution of the country’s difficulties is looking farther away than ever.

(more…)

Obama and Karzai: The Odd Couple

by David Isenberg | May 11th, 2010 | |Subscribe

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington yesterday for a visit let’s look at Afghanistan. If Presidents Obama and Karzai were a couple they might well be seeing a marriage counselor. There has been much baggage between them in recent months. As diplomats might say, their relationship has been strained; what one might call tough love. Indeed, so much so that President Obama has instructed his national security team to treat Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more public respect. President Obama should remember the old military saying that respect can’t be ordered, only earned.

Just last month Karzai said in a meeting with Afghan lawmakers that he would consider joining the Taliban. Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said some of Karzai’s comments were “troubling” and the White House would re-evaluate whether his trip to Washington would be constructive. Subsequently Karzai denied that he ever made the comments.

Officially, of course, things are getting better. According to the latest Congressionally mandated Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,  released April 28, stability  in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline, and most Afghans believe that despite increased violence, security actually has improved since this time last year.  (more…)

Gates Confronts Ike’s Wisdom About the Clearly Necessary and the Comfortably Desirable

by Dr. Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman | May 7th, 2010 | |Subscribe

The United States today finds itself spending more on defense than it has since General Dwight D. Eisenhower left occupied Germany, even after adjusting for inflation.  The $693 billion we will spend on the Pentagon this year more than doubles what we spent in 2002.  Neither the threat of Korean dominoes falling to Red China, of humbling loss of credibility in Vietnam, or of arms racing toward the Cold War finish line has pushed us to spend more than we have fighting Osama bin Laden and his network of ideologically and financially bankrupt cronies.

Tomorrow Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will speak in the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas to address issues of political will and the defense budget. His choice of location invokes Eisenhower’s farewell address, including his pointed warning to the country against relentless spending in pursuit of unattainable, perfect security.

Gates’ decision to step into Eisenhower’s shadow represents a glimmer of hope that our country will submit to this counsel.  Regrettably, however, present circumstances far overshadow that hope.

In the past we had a clearer view of our priorities. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs had a way of imposing priorities during the Cold War.  Today, the Pentagon is all over the map, literally and figuratively. (more…)

Dubious Decisions on Drilling: Why Obama Should Reconsider Offshore Drilling in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

by Alexis Collatos | May 5th, 2010 | |Subscribe

With the oil slick from Deepwater Horizon lapping at the shores of Louisiana, all sorts of doubts about the wisdom of offshore drilling are suddenly gushing up to the surface. Environmentalists and liberals long against offshore drilling are latching on to the disaster as hard proof that the potential costs of offshore drilling outweigh any possible benefits. In his recent op-ed for the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote, “President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.” Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Florida, agreed, saying that “Drilling too close to the coast poses too great a risk to the economy and the environment of Florida and other coastal states.” Even Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has decided not to allow additional offshore drilling in California in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Obviously, many of these reactions have more to do with politics and popularity than a sustained analysis of the costs and benefits of offshore drilling. But as my colleague John Prandato recently wrote, this is true for almost every aspect of the offshore drilling debate, which tends to be highly political rather than pragmatic in nature. (more…)

Is election year bipartisanship possible?

by Brian Vogt | May 4th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Bipartisanship is tough in an election year.  Each candidate up for election is seeking ways to differentiate him/herself from the opposition.  Particularly in primary battles, compromise is often punished.  A few examples come to mind recently of election years politics getting in the way of bipartisan compromises.  Candidates from both parties have let the politics of the moment derail sensible policy.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is one Democrat who comes to mind.  After financial regulatory reform, there are two important major legislative priorities that have a chance to getting bipartisan support in this Congress – immigration reform and climate change/energy security.  The one Republican who has been willing to stick his neck out on both of these initiatives is Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  Graham has worked with Senator Schumer (D-NY) on immigration reform and Senator Kerry (D-MA) on climate change.  They had both come up with sensible compromises that had a chance of getting bipartisan support.  It wasn’t going to be easy in an election year on either of these issues, but it was a start.  The challenge for the Democrats was to maintain Graham’s support on both issues and hope to pick up some more Republicans who were willing to put aside partisan differences.  Then came Harry Reid. (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.