This weekend's news that forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are firing cluster munitions into built-up areas -- reported by C.J. Chivers and Bryan Denton in both the New York Times and on Chivers's blog -- has generated outrage, and it is easy to understand why.
Cluster munitions are nasty, nasty weapons. One of the reasons they are so nasty is that they rarely work as intended. The M-26, to use but one example, has an official "dud rate" of 5%, but often the dud rate is higher. What that means is that cluster munitions produce a lot of unexploded ordinance (UXO). In Afghanistan, in early 2002, the U.S. Air Force dropped cluster munitions on a position my infantry company was later asked to clear. The UXO from those cluster munitions honestly presented a bigger threat to the safety and welfare of the men in my platoon than the Taliban or al-Qaeda. You can imagine what the effect of this UXO is like in more heavily populated area. As a civilian researcher, I have seen the effect of cluster munitions used during the 2006 war in southern Lebanon, where hundreds of Lebanese civilians have been either maimed and killed by cluster munitions in the past five years. Little kids go walking through the woods, just as I once did, and pick up the shiny metal object on the ground, just as I would have done as an eight-year old. The consequences for picking up a shiny object off the ground in southern Lebanon, though, are more severe than they are in eastern Tennessee.
For these reasons, I have never understood the logic behind using cluster munitions in offensive operations -- especially in built-up areas. The U.S. military, we should all remember, used cluster munitions in the offensive on Baghdad in 2003, and several U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians were killed from the leftover UXO.
At the same time, though, I understand why the United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions -- just as I understand why the United States is not a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty on land mines. First off, cluster munitions are just that -- munitions. And any weapon or munition, depending on how it is used, can present a threat to civilians. Most of these people in Bryan's photographs, for example, were killed in nasty, gruesome ways by pretty "vanilla" weapons and munitions. (Also, we're going to rid ourselves of cluster munitions but keep massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons?)
Second, cluster munitions have their uses in combat. In defensive, conventional warfare -- such as the kind of warfare the United States and its Korean allies prepare for daily on the Korean Peninsula -- cluster munitions and land mines would be terribly useful. I certainly would not want to take either weapon system off the table for commanders there. (Plus, cluster munitions are getting smarter.)
Finally, it strikes me that most of the major powers that have signed both the CCM and the Ottawa Treaty are powers that have grown accustomed, either consciously or unconsciously, to living under the U.S. security umbrella. In the same way some of these powers have neglected to buy enough bombs for a sustained campaign in Libya and have not invested in the kinds of close air support platforms that have once again proven their use in combat, it's safe to righteously swear off both cluster munitions and land mines when you know that your security guarantor has not. That's cynical of me to think that, I know, but no more cynical than goading your allies into a war for which you know your own military is unprepared.
One last note: I know a lot of well-intentioned, decidedly non-cynical campaigners believe we should ban these weapons outright, and my mind on this subject is open to be changed. So please leave any comments or counter-arguments in the section below. If I see a particularly thoughtful counterargument -- or argument in support of my thesis -- I will post it.
Update: Aaron Ellis makes a good point here about how "unusual" weapons (like cross-bows, once upon a time) are often the ones least likely to earn approbation, while reader Andrea (no last name) has thus far crafted the most thoughtful counterargument.
Update II: The ever-cranky Welsh scrum-half @InkSptsGulliver provides a link to this article by Charli Carpenter on why some weapons get banned and others do not.
Here's the way this read in today's Washington Post:
“The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment,” said Francois Heisbourg, a military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
Here's the way this should have read in today's Washington Post:
“The Americans have the numbers of planes [because the European states neglected to buy them], and the Americans have the right equipment [because the Americans actually designed and then manufactured the right equipment],” said Francois Heisbourg, a military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
The NATO coalition over Libya appears to be paying the price for the way in which the United States has subsidized European defense budgets since the end of the Second World War and especially since the end of the Cold War. The problem with being a free rider is that if you ever decide to you need to drive someplace yourself, you realize quickly that you no longer have the means to do so. Hopefully this intervention in Libya will convince European leaders to either stop talking so tough regarding military interventions or to re-invest in truly independent military capabilities.
P.S. The United States should be happy to continue to subsidize European defense spending, of course, as long as the European states in turn subsidize U.S. health care and education.
P.P.S. That A-10 that proved so useful? It was developed in the early 1970s, Europe. So you've had almost four decades to buy a few of them for yourself.
The Washington Post had a very good lead editorial this morning in support of very modest increases in health care premiums for veterans.
As the Center for American Progress points out in a new report, the Pentagon is spending as much on health care as on the war in Iraq.
...[R]etired personnel and their dependents, who account for the majority of costs, can reasonably be called on for more. Premiums for Tricare Prime, an HMO-like program, have not been raised since it began in 1995; the cost is $460 a year for family coverage. It’s no surprise that retirees often choose Tricare over other group insurance and are using its services at an increased rate.
Meantime, rather than clamping down on costs, Congress has gone in the opposite direction. In 2001, it gave military retirees over age 65, previously ineligible for the program, free “Tricare for Life” to supplement Medicare. It rejected proposals — first from President George W. Bush, then from President Obama — for modest increases in Tricare fees. Now, for the fiscal 2012 budget, Mr. Gates is trying again. He has proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees by a modest $60 a year, to $520, for the families of working-age retirees (those under 65). Had premiums been adjusted to reflect national increases in health-care costs, the charge would be just under $4,000. Civilian federal retirees pay about $5,000 a year for their coverage.
No sooner had I read that editorial than I received an email from a veterans group urging me to write my Congressman in support of something called "H.R. 1092: Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act."
I love veterans -- heck, I am one myself -- but the last thing this country needs is for more debt and a greater share of the tax burden to be transferred to those under the age of 40. Any veteran who resists these modest and entirely justifiable increases in their health care premiums needs a refresher course in selfless service, and any Congressman who resists these increases should be prepared to draft a bill raising our taxes to help the Department of Defense pay for them.
Col. (Ret.) John Collins spent 30 years (and three wars) as an officer in the U.S. Army and then another 25 years as a researcher for the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Known in the defense policy community as "The Warlord" for his stewardship of an email listserv that goes by the same name, he is one of the most experienced and wisest strategic thinkers in the United States. As the national defense community considers the possibility of military intervention in Libya, the Warlord's checklist of key considerations, first published by the CRS and then by Parameters, demands careful study and provides a useful framework for policy makers:
He really takes the House defense appropriations subcommittee -- and especially its chairman -- to task:
In his opening statement, Gates fervently appealed for funds requested by Gen. David Petraeus for equipment to protect troops in Afghanistan. The money has been held up because it would come from a project benefiting a major contributor to the committee chairman, Bill Young (R-Fla.).
"Mr. Chairman, our troops need this force-protection equipment, and they need it now," Gates pleaded. "Every day that goes by without this equipment, the lives of our troops are at greater risk." He urged action "today" on the funds, admonishing: "We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs or contractors." ...
Yet Gates couldn't get the lawmakers to agree to his urgent - and modest - request to shift $1.2 billion in Pentagon funds to protect soldiers' lives in Afghanistan. He asked for the money a month ago, but Young's committee hadn't acted.
Why? Because Young objects to the money being taken away from the Army's Humvee program. Never mind that the Army has more Humvees than it wants. They are manufactured by AM General - which happens to be Young's third-largest campaign contributor. Its executives have funneled him more than $80,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Gates told Young in blunt terms that his delay was putting lives at risk, but the gentleman from AM General was unmoved. "We would like to analyze with you in some detail another source of that funding," he replied, suggesting they talk more about a "helpful way to approach this."
Helpful to whom, Mr. Chairman? Your country, or your contributors?
I went searching around Rep. Young's website to see if he had posted a response, but as of this afternoon he had not. If you are at all motivated to contact Rep. Young, his office number is (202) 225-5961.
Yesterday, 165 House Republicans voted to completely de-fund USAID as part of austerity measures designed to address the U.S. budget crisis. They suggested a lot of other cuts, but you can guess what they did not suggest cutting: the budget of the Department of Defense. They suggested we zero out the budget for USAID but not make any changes to the amount we are currently spending within the Department of Defense.
The FY2011 Department of Defense budget request was $548.9 billion dollars for the base budget, which does not include the $159.3 billion dollars set aside for "overseas contingency operations" such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to give you a little perspective, the International Affairs budget we set aside for foreign and security assistance programs totaled, according to Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams, $500 billion in the three decades between FY1977 and FY2007 -- $50 billion less than the base budget for the Department of Defense for one year of operations!
But that incredible disparity is not what folks need to know about USAID. The question that last factoid should prompt in the heads of at least 165 people in Washington, DC is, "Wait a minute, why is discussion of the USAID budget included in the authoritative book on the national security budget?"
The answer is that Adams and Williams understand what every U.S. military officer and defense official from the youngest second lieutenant at Fort Benning to Bob Gates understands: the money we spend through USAID is part of our national security budget. Some money, such as the money we spent through both the defense and aid budgets in Haiti last year, we spend for mostly altruistic purposes. But the two biggest recipients of U.S. international aid through USAID are Afghanistan and Pakistan. We can have a separate debate about whether or not this money is being well spent, but we cannot have a debate as to why it is being spent: it is quite obviously being spent to advance what are seen to be the national security interests of the United States.
USAID, as an organization, no doubt wastes a lot of money. But so too, to put it mildly, does the Department of Defense. I have no doubt, in fact, that the amount of money USAID wastes in any given year amounts to a small fraction of the amount of money the Department of Defense loses through cost overruns for the F-35 alone.
The bottom line here is that the biggest defender of the USAID budget will be Bob Gates -- and any U.S. military officer who has ever served with someone from the Office of Transition Initiatives in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Sec. Gates will argue, supported by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, that while USAID has problems, the money we spend through it is just as related to U.S. national security interests as the money we wasted on the Crusader or the money we spend to put an 18-year old through basic training. To not understand that is embarassing because it means you're an elected policy-maker and still uneducated about the wars we've been fighting for almost 10 years now.
You want to spend less money on aid and development in Afghanistan? Fine, I agree with you. But get of USAID? Now you're just being ignorant.
Here's a question for the readership as we try and wrap our heads around the proposed cuts to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. (I'm not smart enough to comment on the proposed cuts to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, respectively. Go here for comments on the former.) I was surprised to read this quote from Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Greg Newbold in the Times concerning the cuts to the USMC's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle:
“We’ll just pray that we don’t have to go into harm’s way in the next 10 years."
Really? I have to confess that Lt. Gen. Newbold is one of my favorite retired general officers. I got to know him when he was serving on our board of directors and really respect his service, integrity and intellect. But the first thing I thought when reading this was, Holy cow, do we really need more forced entry capabilities?
I did the math in my head while riding on the Metro this morning and counted four brigades in the 82d Airborne, four brigades in the 101st Airborne (Air Assault), one brigade (4th) in the 25th Infantry Division (Airborne) and one brigade in Europe, the 173rd Airborne, in addition to the 75th Ranger Regiment. That's 11 brigade-sized elements capable of conducting forced entry operations in the U.S. Army alone. How many airfields are we going to need to seize? And would we have conducted as many amphibious landings in the Second World War if we had rotary-wing platforms as we do today?
My beloved U.S. Army made it through the proposed cuts in the defense budget relatively unscathed, so maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, but if I were a congressional staffer, the above is one of the questions I would be asking.
Readers, please sound off in the comments section of this post -- especially if my thinking is wrong-headed here.
Update: Some great comments here. Over the Twitter Machine, @ndubaz notes that what I am really talking about is forced entry capable brigades. He is correct. Another commenter wonders if I have lost my sanity: of course these brigades are not interchangeable, right? Again, correct. The 75th Ranger Regiment most obviously differs from the others, as does the 101st Airborne from the 82d Airborne. But I lumped all these brigades in for a reason -- the nuances in capabilities will not stand out to your average congressional staffer in the same way they will to, say, one of the many officers who have served in the 101st, the 82d and the 75th. Finally, Gulliver linked to this must-read piece by (Marines) Bob Work and Frank Hoffman. That piece, though, rests on the assumption that "Retaining the ability to project power and conduct landing operations into hostile territory remains strategically important to American global interests." Needless to say, that's an assumption that even folks to the right (or is it left?) of Andy Bacevich might contest -- especially given other capabilities within the ground forces.
The Economist once called it "enlightened mountain Republicanism." For whatever reason, Tennesseans have long looked to retired Sen. Howard Baker (McCallie '43), a moderate Republican who forged compromise across the aisles until retiring from the Senate to be Reagan's chief of staff after Iran Contra, as the model for how senators should behave. When Republican senators have lurched too far to the populist right, as Sen. Bill Frist did during the Terry Schiavo mess, their approval ratings have plummeted. The same explains why the once admired former Sen. Al Gore lost the state of Tennessee in 2000 after he was perceived to have lurched too far to the left in the 1990s. Regardless, Sen. Lamar Alexander reminded me yesterday why I supported him in his last campaign, and Sen. Bob Corker (Chattanooga City High School '70) locked up my support for his next election campaign. It would have been all too easy for my two Republican senators to have been petulant drama queens about the New START treaty, but instead here is what Sen. Alexander said yesterday:
And here is Sen. Corker:
It almost makes up for Basil Marceaux:
I wrote earlier that this blog is not the go-to place for analysis on what last night's election results mean for defense policy, but it then occurred to me that my office is right next to that of Richard Fontaine, who until last year served as Sen. John McCain's principal advisor on defense and foreign policy issues. I walked approximately two meters from my desk and asked Rich what we should expect from the new Congress. His response:
My take on what the Republican takeover of the House means for U.S. defense policy: not a dramatic shift. Secretary Gates has pushed for real increases in the defense budget throughout the Obama years, and while he is not the sole determiner of that budget within the administration (see OMB, among others), you can expect him to work with Republicans in the House to build support for it. Some of the Republican leadership will support defense expenditures above the president’s request; incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon said this morning that “one percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation’s homeland.” That’s not the only part of the budget story, however, as the wave of new Republicans includes a number of fiscal conservatives who will push for across the board cuts, including in defense. Look for a fight on that front, which I’d expect the Republican leadership to win. You’ll probably also see the Republicans push for full – or greater – funding of some of their key priorities, such as missile defense.
The Republican majority will support keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but this can’t really be a determining factor. I’ve read news articles asserting that Republicans will “pressure” Obama not to withdraw troops. That may be, but there is no way they can force the President to keep troops in the field if he wants to withdraw them. During the debate over withdrawal from Iraq, the Democratic majority in the Congress couldn’t force President Bush to withdraw troops, which is easier to do as a legislative matter.
Finally, I’d note that there is an issue still on the table before the new Congress is seated. The National Defense Authorization Act has passed the Congress every year for more than four decades. It has run aground this year and whether it passes between now and December 31 is uncertain, to say the least.
Look for greater implications in other foreign policy spheres: trade, development assistance, etc. But not for great drama on the defense front.
Rich made me promise that I would not use "No Drama, Obama" as the title of this post. Too obvious, he felt.
Update: Rep. McKeon released a pretty unsurprising statement today with which I have only one big gripe. Rep. McKeon says he wants a defense budget "not weighed down by the current majority’s social agenda items." That's a pretty obvious dig at the administration's attempt to end the ban on gays in the military. But if Rep. McKeon supports the current Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, he should say so in less coded terms. Because the current policy also reflects a social agenda (in this case, a social agenda now out of step with the American people). In fact, everything about the defense budget reflects a social agenda: what kind of military we have and how we fund it says a lot about Americans as a society -- our norms, our values, our priorities.
Cutting defense spending is the only reliable way to stifle Washington's impulse to send U.S. troops on ill-considered missions around the globe.
Woah, really? That's the only reliable way? What about raising taxes to pay for those ill-considered missions? Would that not have a similar effect? It seems like we have a lot of literature on the subject of war and taxation, and a long history of imposing special taxes to fund conflicts. I'm not locked into one option over the other, but I would be interested in hearing from Chris or one of his policy ninjas at Cato why raising taxes doesn't have the same effect on the U.S. appetite for overseas engagements as cutting spending.
Update: I would have been more interested in making a bag of popcorn and watching Chris's head explode when he read this. Because deploying military force into a landlocked African country to pursue a guerrilla organization's leadership sounds like one of those things that could not possibly go wrong. I mean, that's basically one of those in-and-out kind of things, right? I have much respect for Kenneth Roth and his great organization, but he is literally suggesting the United States be the world's policeman here, dropping into African jungles and arresting people wanted by the ICC. Goodness gracious, this is the worst I idea I have read in some time. #AQ3
Update II: Chris writes in:
Suffice it to say, I don't want to starve the military of funds just to make a point. And I always say, always, that cutting force structure without cutting missions is the worst possible solution, because that would impose horrible (additional) burdens on the troops.
But... giving the Pentagon whatever it asks for (plus 2 pct, thanks Congress) hasn't produced security. It has enabled Washington policymakers to muck around in places that would best be avoided. Recall Albright to Powell: "What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always taking about if we can’t use it?"
I'll make you a deal. Let's cut back to where we were at 9/11 (once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, of course), and then let's see if the politicians can resist their interventionist impulses. If they do, we can cut more.