The Quest for Water

by Gil Schwartz | November 30th, 2010 | |Subscribe

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Another milestone in humanity’s quest for water will soon be conquered! A Canadian entrepreneur, Ron Stamp, is set to sail for a fjord in Greenland and harvest massive chunks of pure iceberg.  His hope is to eventually sell the converted ice as bottled water for up to $10 per unit. Crazy? Maybe, but Mr. Stamp’s actions represent both an increasing trend of resource extraction and the creativity needed to sustain a better future.

Entrepreneurs like Mr. Stamp exhibit a valuable frontier mentality. They expand the boundaries of human activity, helping to open new geographic markets and take advantage of previously untapped resources. For centuries such entrepreneurs have been the drivers of our economic growth and prosperity.

Yet this frontier mentality is a double-edged sword when applied to scarce water resources. The world’s access to a sustainable freshwater supply is already at a tipping point. 800 million people, particularly in politically unstable Middle Eastern and North African countries, currently lack access to safe water. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live under water-stressed conditions. Unless we act quickly, we could all potentially have to pay $10 for a glass of regular tap water, let alone iceberg water. (more…)

The Truth About American Decline

by John Eden | November 29th, 2010 | |Subscribe

It is highly fashionable to assume that the United States is in a period of rapid and irreversible decline. The evidence, after all, is ubiquitous and impossible to ignore. After a band of committed extremists were able to wage an attack on domestic soil that sent shock waves through the American psyche that can still be felt today, we lashed out against the Muslim world in ways that have been counterproductive to our long-term national security interests. The global financial crisis brought America to its knees. Beholden as we are to cutting-edge financial instruments and lifestyles we cannot afford, our fiscal sanity has long played second fiddle to decidedly decadent priorities. And, lest we forget, that nebulous thing called “American culture” is receiving a surprisingly cold reception these days in much of the world.

So, if we are incapable of efficiently protecting our own national security interests, if our economic system is in tatters, and if our cultural practices and values are degrading in the eyes of the rest of the world, isn’t the thesis of decline more fact than assumption?

The answer, as it happens, depends on what one means by decline. On the one hand, our relative standing to other players on the global stage appears to be changing at a brisk pace. The economic rise of China and India both provide sound reasons to think that America must do more to maintain its standing relative to its peers. In a comparative sense, then, we are in decline relative to the newfound growth of other members of the world community. (more…)

Making America More Secure by Balancing the Books

by Brian Vogt | November 23rd, 2010 | |Subscribe

If Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Barack Obama sat down for a beer to discuss the state of our country, they would probably agree on one important conclusion: our national security is dependent on the strength of our economy. Eisenhower wrote in his 1953 National Security Strategy, “Not only the world position of the United States, but the security of the whole free world, is dependent on the avoidance of recession and on the long-term expansion of the U.S. economy.” President Obama echoed a similar theme in his 2010 National Security Strategy: “Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit.” The mushrooming national debt threatens not just our individual livelihoods but also our military, diplomatic, and economic leverage around the world.

Unfortunately, real solutions that might address the enormous challenge of our national debt are being drowned out by partisan posturing and soundbites. It’s time that Democrats and Republicans treat our national debt as a real threat to America’s long term security. Just as the two parties have come together to fight foreign foes such as Hitler or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we need similar resolve to vanquish the national debt. The choices we must make will require sacrifice. (more…)

Training for Transition in Afghanistan

by Jessie Daniels | November 23rd, 2010 | |Subscribe

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Since the Afghan war began, NATO and Afghanistan have become inextricably intertwined.  The linkage culminated at last year’s NATO summit where the 60th anniversary of the alliance sparked the assertion that Afghanistan could be the alliance’s make-or-break test of the 21st century, despite other looming challenges.

This year’s summit in Lisbon, Portugal, meanwhile, was billed as a turning point in the war and the beginning of the transition process.  This past weekend, members formally agreed to the end of combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014.  But setting a timetable is only one key component of this process; having a competent security force to hand responsibility off to is the other.  Thus, NATO’s mission to train the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) is just as integral to the endgame.

Earlier this month, the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A), which provides and better coordinates existing training of the ANA and ANP, celebrated its first anniversary.  Over the first year of the mission, there have been some notable positive outcomes, namely substantial growth in number of both the ANA and the ANP.  But there have also been some notable challenges, like corruption and illiteracy, which are hindering the effort.  All in all, a robust effort is still needed to create a viable Afghan security force.  Yet the program still needs nearly 1,000 more trainers to be able to fully complete the development of the forces. (more…)

Who wants to be an American? A lot of people.

by Alexis Collatos | November 22nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

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It’s no secret that life in Bangladesh is tough. Desperate poverty, one of the highest population densities on the world, and the possibility that the country may disappear under rising ocean waters all contribute to living conditions that are less than enviable from an outsider’s perspective. And it would seem that the Bangladeshis agree. This year, 7.67 million people from Bangladesh applied to the U.S. green card lottery, an immigration program that awards 50,000 green cards a year to foreign nationals selected simply by luck of the draw. That’s almost 5% of the country’s population, including children and the elderly.

Bangladesh was not the only country filled with would-be immigrants seeking a way to the United States. 2010 was a banner year for the green card lottery, with a record 15 million entries from around the world. Bangladesh took the lead for most applicants, followed by Nigeria with 1.47 million, Ukraine with 760,000, Ethiopia with 580,000, and Egypt with 340,000.

In short, the numbers once again represent what we sometimes forget: despite the varying perceptions of the U.S. abroad, the American Dream retains its allure- even in parts of the Middle East, a region many Americans automatically assume is uniformly inimical to the U.S.  While pundits may fret about declining American soft power around the world, the promise of a better life is one aspect of the U.S.’s reputation that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

CFR Report: Congressional Dysfunction Undermining U.S. National Security

by Taylor Jo Isenberg | November 18th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Kay King, Vice President of Washington Initiatives at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently released a report entitled Congress and National Security arguing Congress’s increasing inability to effectively address major domestic and international challenges has severe ramifications for U.S. national security.

King points to contributing factors which have led to a decline in Congressional effectiveness, including amplified partisanship, abuse of rules and procedures, outdated committee structures, decreased expertise, and competition with domestic programs. She specifically addresses how the toxic partisan atmosphere has contributed significantly to Congress’s mixed performance on its national security responsibilities:

…the nation’s political landscape has been realigning since the 1970’s, ushering in deep partisanship, severe polarization, a combative 24/7 media, and diminished civility. Over time, this environment has given lawmakers greater incentive to advance personal and partisan agendas by any means, including the manipulation of congressional rules and procedures. It has politicized the national security arena that, while never immune to partisanship, more often than not used to bring out the “country first” instincts in lawmakers. It has also driven foreign policy and defense matters, short of crises, off the national agenda, marginalizing important issues like trade. Combining this increasingly toxic political climate with an institutional stalemate in the face of mounting global challenges and it is not surprising that Congress has struggled for years to play a consistent and constructive role as a partner to as well as check and balance on the executive branch on international issues.

King then goes on to recommend reform in five critical areas: prompt and inclusive action on budgets and legislation, timely and knowledgeable advice and consent on treaties and nominees, realistic and effective oversight, closing the expertise gap, and bolstering the congressional-executive branch partnership on national security policy.

The entire report can be found here.

Poll Finds Strong Bipartisan Public Support for New START

by Alexis Collatos | November 17th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Late yesterday, CNN released the results of a nation-wide poll gauging public support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).  The poll showed strong support for the treaty, with 73% of the public supporting ratification. Significantly, support for the treaty was not limited to one party or political affiliation, but was spread across the political spectrum and, according to CNN Polling Director Keating Holland, “majorities in all major demographic groups support the treaty.”

This public support for New START reflects the strong bipartisan backing the treaty has from top national security leaders such as the thirty signatories of PSA’s statement on New START, who include ten former Senators, four Secretaries of State, four Secretaries of Defense, and three National Security Advisors, as well as the Chair and Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission among others.

An Oasis of Hope in Gaza

by James Prince | November 16th, 2010 | |Subscribe

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From my first visit in 1993, the latter days of the first intifada, I have had difficulty describing the people and environment in the Gaza strip.  As I wrote in 2009, “[D]espair, destruction, extremism and violence are terms easily at hand, but they do not do justice to life in Gaza today.” Writing from the balcony of the Al-Mathaf (the Museum), a brand new beachfront hotel with a fantastic museum housing an archeological treasure trove documenting the history of Gaza, I still feel incapable of accurately conveying the essence or details of life in Gaza today.

Thirty minutes after seemingly beaming (as if from one planet to another on Star Trek) from the developed to the underdeveloped worlds, a prominent Gaza attorney spoke of his daily challenges: “[W]e exist as people physically segregated from the rest of the world. We do not live in a country but have two governments [the Hamas-run administration in Gaza and the PLO – led Palestinian Authority from Ramallah]. But neither administration controls our borders. As a lawyer, I have to work through Israeli administrative regulations, British Mandate laws, and directives from our two governments. And, I want an independent judiciary system with no corruption.” (more…)

Listen to our military: Ratify New START

by Kelsey Hartigan | November 5th, 2010 | |Subscribe

As one of the final priorities for the 111th Congress, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty has  the “unanimous support of the United States military” and enjoys strong, bipartisan support from our nation’s most respected national security experts.

New START is an urgent national security priority—and should be divorced from partisan bickering and the electoral process.  As Secretary Clinton reminded reporters yesterday, “When it comes to foreign policy, it is important to remember that politics stops at the water’s edge.”  Key Republicans and Democrats from the past seven administrations have strongly endorsed this treaty.   The Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense, the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, seven former heads of U.S. Strategic Command and Strategic Air Command—and countless others, all agree that the Senate must ratify New START.  The elections do not alter this support. (more…)

Travels with Nick #5: Leverage and Leadership

by Nick Dowling | November 1st, 2010 | |Subscribe

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Past midnight, our wait for a flight at  Camp Bastion, Helmand, had an eerie surreal feel.  In the passenger lounge, scores of Marines, Brits, contractors and Afghans waited in relative quiet.  Screams and dark music blared from the big flatscreen showing a grisly horror movie — a disturbing choice given the setting and the audience.   The flight was delayed because of a repatriation ceremony — a Marine’s remains were going home via C-17.  Finally, a young blond girl dressed in British fatigues cheerfully ordered us to put on helmets and flak vests for the walk to an old Afghan bus that would take us to the plane.

The wait and the flight gave me time to consider all I’d heard from the many fine professionals working to stabilize southern Afghanistan.  People mostly believed in their work and that they were making a difference at the local level.  But nobody has a good answer when we ask about the corrupt power brokers like Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK), Abdul Rahman Jan (ARJ), Gul Agha Sherzai, and Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, not to mention President Karzai himself.

These men wield immense power in Afghanistan, controlling large economic enterprises, political patronage organizations, private militia, local security forces, narcotics trade, and official government posts.  They are often protected by Karzai himself, due to their relationships or their danger to the Afghan President (or both).  They live in huge garish mansions and own dozens of firms that scoop up American aid contracts while also (allegedly) fueling corruption, intimidation, and narcotics trafficking.  They are feared and despised by much of the population, sapping the legitimacy of both GiROA (for whom they work) and ISAF (who showers them with money).  Some of them may have ties to the Taliban and collaborate when it suits their interests. (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.