Goodbye to 2009: The year in review

by David Isenberg | December 22nd, 2009 | |Subscribe

This is my last post for 2009 I thought I would write about Afghanistan but on second thought I will, no doubt, be doing that quite a lot during 2010. Thanks to the Obama Administration’s surge strategy Afghanistan will, from a blogging viewpoint, be the gift that keeps on giving.

So, as we contemplate whether 2010 will be better or worse let’s take a moment to consider 2009. In the spirit of Dave Barry’s classic annual year in review column let’s acknowledge, albeit with some poetic license commentary by moi, a few of the significant events that made, however briefly, the headlines.

Although it started on Dec. 28 2008 the month of January saw massive Israeli air strikes and a ground force invasion of the Gaza Strip. Heavy fighting took place in Gaza City between the Israeli forces and Hamas. At least 1300 Palestinians were killed. On Jan. 17 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, declaring that Israel has achieved the goals it set when launching the military operation. On Jan. 21 Israel completes its troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Also that month President Barack Obama signed executive orders closing the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year; closing the CIA’s secret prisons; requiring a review of military trials for terror suspects; and requiring all interrogations to follow the non-coercive methods specified in the Army Field Manual.

Of course, nobody knew back then that the camp would end up in Illinois. One can only hope that the inmates are not too acclimated to the Caribbean climate to adjust to a midwest winter.

On Jan 27 Hama declared that it previously was just kidding and broke the ceasefire by attacking an Israeli frontier patrol. Israel immediately responded that it lacks a sense of humor and renewed its air strikes on the Gaza Strip border with Egypt.

On Feb. 3 Iran launched its first domestically built satellite into orbit. Iran stated that the satellite is meant for research and telecommunications purposes, but Western states express concern that the technology could be used in the development of ballistic missiles. The U.S. intelligence community, estimating that Iran will show the same swift progress with its missiles that it did with its nuclear program, predicted the next flight will be in 2040.

On Feb. 6, renewing their classic rivalry, a British and a French nuclear submarine collided in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Political leaders from both countries sighed in relief that it was merely submarines and not their respective football fans that collided. (more…)

Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons for sale

by Volha Charnysh | September 14th, 2009 | |Subscribe


To succeed, a state should specialize in products in which it has a comparative advantage, according to economist David Ricardo. Ricardo focused on tangible goods traded in the international market. However, states also possess another, by no means less marketable characteristic – reputation. A cause of many conflicts and wars, international standing is a commodity by itself because it can be turned into commercial advantage. The importance of reputation goes beyond attracting potential investors and trade partners. Studies show that concerns over reputation can ensure a state’s compliance with treaties and international norms, including the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

No state can thrive on international standing alone. However, reputation can reinforce or undermine the value of other marketable commodities and even influence the state’s export decisions. While comparative advantage in manufacturing arms offers a great source of export income, selling wrong arms into wrong hands can tarnish a state’s international reputation and offset its profits with resulting sanctions and embargos.

What can North Korea export, given its lack in valuable resources and technological expertise? North Korea’s highest-valued commodities include armaments as well as minerals, metallurgical products, and textiles. Its main customers are South Korea and China. (more…)

U.S. Military Spending: Too Much Bipartisanship

by David Isenberg | October 6th, 2008 | |Subscribe

One might think that the current crisis roiling the American economy might be an opportunity for Senators Obama and McCain to spell out their differences on one important issue; U.S. military spending.

Consider the fact that on September 24th, during the fight over the Wall Street bail out, the House of Representatives passed, bill passed by a vote of 392-39, a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without any public protest or meaningful press comment. This show there is unlikely to be any significant pressure to cut military or related national security spending.

Instead, Senators Obama and McCain seem to be reading off the same page. That is the kind of bipartisanship we do no need. The time is long past for someone to stand up and say the obvious; that both military and associated “national security” spending is out of control and continually getting more outrageous.

The latter category includes nuclear weapons spending at the Energy department, plus the State department, as well as Veterans Affairs, and the intelligence agencies. All together that totals exceeds a trillion dollars annually.

Let’s stipulate that there are multiple factors which impact U.S. military spending. And yes, while the financial crisis will increase pressure to reduce military spending, other countervailing political factors will ensure that there likely will be no significant reduction.

Why is this? The primary reason is that the United States is at war, even if is an undeclared one and one which the country is largely disengaged and removed from. And no politician dares cutting military spending for fear of being accused being ‘soft on defense” or not “supporting the troops.”

Unlike the situation at the end of the 1980s and early 19980s there is nothing comparable to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, which drove significant reduction in U.S. military spending.

Today the situation is reversed. The United States is fighting the “long war” (formerly known at the global war on terror) and politically both the incumbent administration and the opposition party are reluctant to cut military spending at such a time.

Sadly, there is nothing in the campaign platforms of either Sen. John McCain or Barrack Obama to suggest that they would significantly reduce military spending.

In fact McCain says the United States must enlarge the size of its armed forces. That alone will guarantee that operation and support costs, traditionally one of the highest categories of U.S. military spending will stay high.

Likewise Sen. Obama supports plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marines by 27,000 troops.


Dogs of War: Blackwater as Wal-Mart

by David Isenberg | August 22nd, 2008 | |Subscribe

Say whatever you want about Blackwater Worldwide – and hardly a day goes by when something isn’t being said about it—it does not put all its eggs in one basket. Long before the company’s recent announcement that it would seek to de-emphasize its personal security work in the future, it had created a diversified corporate structure. To use military terminology, it is a combined arms operation.

While most attention is focused on Blackwater Security Consulting, the unit that provides contractors for work in Iraq and elsewhere, there is far more to it than that. Blackwater has long sought to be a one-stop shopping center, a sort of Wal-Mart for all the U.S. government’s military outsourcing needs, and a review of its business units shows it has gone a long way toward meeting that goal. (more…)

Let’s give a shout out to the real WMDs

by David Isenberg | October 4th, 2007 | |Subscribe

At least once a year attention momentarily turns to arms sales issues. That is when the Congressional Research Service releases its annual report, “Conventional Arms Sales to Developing Nations” by its venerable and meticulous analyst Richard F. Grimmett The most recent edition, covering the years 1996 through 2006 was released last week.

At last, we’re number one; something that at least some people in America can cheer about. USA, USA, USA! Hush while I recite some statistics:

In 2006, the United States led in arms transfer agreements worldwide, making agreements valued at $16.9 billion (41.9% of all such agreements),up from $13.5 billion in 2005. 

In 2006, the United States ranked first in the value of all arms deliveries
worldwide, making $14 billion in such deliveries or 51.9%.  This is the eighth year in a row that the United States has led in global arms deliveries.

Lest you think that this is just a one time thing consider this:

Recently, from 2003-2006, the United States and Russia have dominated the arms market in the developing world, with the United States ranking first for 3 out of 4 years in the value of arms transfer agreements, with Russia ranking second for 3 out of these same four years.  From 2003-2006, the United States made $34.1 billion in arms transfer agreements with developing nations, in constant 2006 dollars, 32.4% of all such agreements. 

Of course, these statistics deal only with the legal, big league (tanks, planes, missiles et cetera) relatively open and transparent arms trade; the one where buyers and sellers mingle at tony saloons at prestigious arms shows in London, Paris, United Arab Emirates, Russia and many other parts of the world. Many of these weapons never see service in actual war. They just are part of the continuing “modernization” of militaries worldwide; not much different from buying a new car. (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.