Friday, April 27, 2007

Another SIde of the Global Warming Issue - The Generals and Admirals Weigh In

I recognize that some time has passed since my last blog, but I don’t try to do this on a daily basis and some times my topic requires a bit of study before I write about it. My previous blog on the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire’s use of intelligence services and clandestine operatives called to mind some lessons from my contacts with the intelligence community during my career at the Department of State, some of which came to mind in connection with this new report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.”

The Center for Naval Analysis, often known simply as CNA, recently released this report, which can be accessed and downloaded at , was prepared by a panel of 11 distinguished retired Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps generals and admirals. Their purpose in this report was to examine the issue of climate change “through the lens of our military experience as warfighters, planners, and leaders.” This is a straightforward statement reflecting a basic aspect of military analysis often overlooked by those outside of the Department of Defense and the uniformed services.

Military analysts, such as those working with intelligence information at the Pentagon, for example, almost always focus upon military and related capabilities rather than on intentions when assessing possible threats by other states and by non-state players. During the long years of the Cold War, this reflected the hard truth that capabilities could be assessed in great part by simply counting the other side's warships, airplanes, tanks, submarines, and missiles etc. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, a focus solely upon capabilities that ignores intentions can result in erroneous and sometimes almost farcical conclusions. (An Army paratroop officer I knew at the Navy War College in the mid-1980s had conceived the notion that the Soviet Union was going to use all of its then-recently expanded airborne/parachute/airmobile assets to launch the simultaneous seizure of the microchip manufacturing centers in Japan and Singapore and thus deprive the United States, its friends, and its allies of these essential commodities. He was un-persuaded by the argument that such an operation flew completely in the face of decades of Soviet military operations and practices – not to mention centuries of Russian operations – and was completely inconsistent with the then-global geo-political situation – i.e. he ignored the issue of intentions because of his fascination at the capabilities.)

This does not mean that I believe that our retired generals and admirals have fallen into this trap in their analysis of the threat of climate change. It does mean that the reader should bear in mind that this analysis will in many ways likewise focus upon capabilities – especially the capabilities that are likely to be needed by the United States and its friends and allies if/when confronted by the identified possible outcomes and effects of global warming. And because these are capabilities that cannot be acquired overnight but must be acquired, developed, and built up over months and years of work and of Congressional budget cycles – their report is going to present a lot of worst case analysis. They have to present such worst cases if we are to be prepared for the worst – and especially if they have concluded that we are dangerously far right now from being prepared for the worst possible cases. Our experience with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath do not offer much assurance and not enough has been done to correct the identifiable errors in our response to that disaster.

But the worst cases contemplated in this study are not just those of natural disasters linked to or resulting from climate change, also considered are the potential consequences of those disasters for humanity and the possible behavior of affected states and/or their populations. Again, the analysis reflects an assessment of potential capabilities because intentions in such projections are even more difficult to determine than they are today in the war on terror. Do read their report carefully, examine their recommendations, and decide what you think about their recommendations and what we should be doing. There is a relevant though now crusty epigram that I learned while working with the military – the Five (or if you prefer, Six) Ps - Prior Planning Prevents Piss-poor Performance. Without this study and the numerous others examining the challenges of climate change, we would be unable to make any plans at all.

"Intelligences sees how to. Wisdom sees when to."
Gwen Ross

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Byzantine Model for a Byzantine Conflict?

With the distractions of the ongoing war in Iraq, the related political war in Washington, and the recent but now faded worry over a potential war between Iran and the UK and/or the United States, perhaps a quick reminder of that other war is in order. I am referring to the war on terror, the war that began on 11 September 2001 with the horrendous images from New York City and Washington.

This is the war that was brought to us not by any country or government but by a group of radical Islamic fundamentalists. This is the war that we pursued when we entered Afghanistan and brought down the Taliban regime that had given shelter, aid, comfort, and support to that movement. And it was the war that we neglected when the decision was made to enter Iraq and bring down the regime of Sadam Hussein.

Although we may have neglected this conflict, at least in terms of it demanding any of the public’s attention, it has not gone away. It is not a war that is fought or will be fought with major force deployments, unlike the conflict in Iraq. It may at times be raised to the levels seen in Afghanistan at the time of the destruction of the Taliban regime, but normally this will be the war of the shadows first referred to in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is likely that this conflict will only emerge into public view when Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates or allies makes a successful attack. It is almost as likely that our own successes will not so emerge and will remain unheralded. That raises, in fact, the likelihood that this war will remain out of the headlines until another successful attack occurs.

In the shadows where this war is fought, our immediate need is information, the essentials of who, what, where, when, how, and why. One presumes that we are using every technical/technological means at our disposal to gather the desired information, while also confronting the difficult challenge of improving our human intelligence effort against this most difficult of targets. However, the shortage of people who speak the various forms of Arabic and other languages spoken by Al Qaeda operatives and their allies does limit our ability to make the fullest possible use of the information that we might be gathering.

Our striking power consists primarily of the special operations units of the Armed Forces but also whatever other forces that can be called upon by the U.S. and by its Allies. At the pointy-end (an old-fashioned phrase dating from the era of the bayonet), that striking power might look like one of the night-vision goggle wearing warriors in armored vests and full kit that we are accustomed to seeing on the television news or on those cable channels that specialize in programs on military affairs and technology. It might also look like a missile or other smart weapon homing in on a target from out of the heavens – if that blow is even seen before it lands.

There can be no doubt that Al Qaeda, its allies, friends, and even rivals have been hurt by our efforts since 9/11. They have suffered losses in trained personnel and they have lost the base and training facilities they once enjoyed in Afghanistan. Communications within Al Qaeda and within the terrorist world in general are more difficult due to the loss of those facilities and bases but also because they are trying to keep us from reading their mail or even knowing who is communicating with whom. They also want to deny us the ability to read any communications that might come into our hands – other than those taped messages that are intended both for us and for their sympathizers, supporters, and allies. However, this is a patient, determined, and inventive opponent. They are willing to launch operations at whatever targets they can reach, meaning so far those beyond the continental United States, while still working at again reaching out and touching the number one enemy again in a dramatic and probably unexpected fashion, and they are willing to wait for their opportunities and are determined to stay in this struggle for the long haul.

To the best of my recollection, the best historical example of such a prolonged conflict and possibly one of the best, i.e. most effective, practioners of such a war in the shadows were the Byzantines – the Eastern Roman Empire with its capitol in what is today Istanbul. Their abilities for conducting this type of war and the way in which they did it are reportedly reflected today in our usage of the very word ‘Byzantine’ to refer to any intricate exercise in scheming and intrigue. Frankly, I do not know as much about their efforts in this regard as I would like to so I am off to find out more about it. Any suggestions for reading material on the subject would be welcomed and I will be happy to share any recommendations with the permission of the suggestor.

"Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action." Johann von Goethe