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A Blank Slate, Not a Blank Check

May 22nd, 2014

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Sixty words have defined the last 13 years. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Congress voted overwhelmingly to give the president broad authority to use force against those who had attacked us. But those 60 words, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, have been in effect for far longer, in more places, and invoked against more groups than anyone could have suspected in 2001. After bin Laden’s death and with the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, now it is time to revisit the AUMF.

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‘Back to the Future’ Foreign Policy

April 11th, 2014

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The 1980s are all the rage once again—from neon clothes to Robocop and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even America’s 1980s foreign policy is back in fashion amongst Neo-Cold Warriors longing to return to the Reagan era.

President Barack Obama quipped to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election that, “The 1980s called—they want their foreign policy back,” and he’s giving the military more money, even adjusted for inflation, than President Ronald Reagan ever did. But, the Neo-Cold Warriors still can’t abandon their Reagan nostalgia, especially after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which has led some to ask “Was Mitt Romney right about Russia?”

Obama’s military outspends Russian President Vladimir Putin’s by more than seven to one. Yet, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.,) rails against the president because, “For decades, defense spending made up roughly 50 percent of the federal budget. Today, it’s just 18 percent.” While ignoring the fact that defense spending hasn’t made up more than 50 percent of the federal budget since we put a man on the moon, Ryan is also concerned about the decline in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., similarly bemoans the fact that America’s defense spending falls short of the 6% percent of GDP it was under Reagan, and The Wall Street Journal claims that by this metric Obama will leave his successor a “weaker” country than he inherited.

Whether or not you think the current level of spending is sufficient, defense spending as a share of GDP measures militarization of our society, but that does not necessarily mean strength.  Applying Reagan’s magic percentage today ignores changes in our economy, the threat environment and our capabilities.

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During the Olympics, the greatest terrorism threats are outside Sochi

February 3rd, 2014

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Olympian Roberto Carcelén wouldn’t be competing in Sochi if it weren’t for his wife, Kate. She was the one who introduced him to skiing after he gave up elite surfing in Peru to move to Seattle and marry her. She convinced him that it was like surfing on frozen water.

When Carcelén skis for his native Peru on the cross-country track this month, however, Kate and their daughter will be at home. Amid reports about the possibility of terrorist attacks at the Winter Games, they decided it would be safer that way — and less stressful.

“I’m going to be up training in the mountains, while the family would be down in the city outside the Olympic rink,” Carcelén told CNN. “So that puts a lot of pressure on me as an athlete.”

The security threat during the Olympicsisn’t hypothetical. As has been widely reported, the Winter Games are being held in a country with an active insurgency capable of coordinating devastating attacks, including two suicide bombings in December. In the past seven months, Chechen terrorists have twice issued statements targeting the Olympics.But if there’s a terrorist attack during the Games, it’s far more likely to happen outside Sochi.

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To judge NSA reforms, look to the tech industry

January 21st, 2014

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In 1976, Senator Edward Kennedy first introduced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to rein in government scrutiny of Americans. That law made America’s telecommunications companies the gatekeepers of the public’s information. But back then, “Ma Bell” was still around — AT&T wasn’t broken up until 1982 — and mobile phones were a distant dream. Now, nearly 40 years and a tech revolution later, President Obama faced similar questions on how to protect the American people’s privacy.

A majority of Americans think that NSA collection has gone to far, and an even greater percentage think that the data are being used for more that just terrorism. Many don’t trust the government with their personal data. And the public should be worried — the potential for serious abuse of civil liberties is ever-present in today’s surveillance programs. The history of abuses goes back to the Nixon era, and it continued through the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping after 9/11. All of that is well-documented.

Now, people at home and abroad want reassurances that there’s real transparency and powerful checks in the system to prevent potential abuses. But they also want to be protected from terrorism.

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NSA Snooping’s Negative Impact On Business Would Have The Founding Fathers ‘Aghast’

December 20th, 2013

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James Madison would be “aghast.” That was one of the incendiary charges leveled at the National Security Agency and its mass surveillance activities by Judge Richard Leon in his December 16 opinion ordering the government to stop collecting some of the data that it’s been gathering on private citizens here and abroad.

But Thomas Jefferson might be horrified as well, because the NSA collection efforts are having a fairly profound effect on American business and its efforts to sell goods and services abroad. Jefferson, a big believer in the American “taste for navigation and commerce,” would be dismayed that our government was doing things that could hurt our competitiveness and our ability to set the terms of global trade.

To be sure, there has always been some tension between U.S. high-tech industries and our national security. In the 90s, the rules were fairly primitive, such as limitations on exports of high-performance computing designed to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. Those restrictions were quickly rendered outdated by Moore’s Law, but had they remained they would have prevented the exports of game consoles like Xbox.

Since then, increased globalization and the rise of terrorist organizations operating in the shadows and across national boundaries have complicated both the security and economic issues. The current debate about Edward Snowden’s intelligence revelations may seem like an unlikely place to see that tension emerge, but beyond the discussions of civil liberties and counterterrorism, it is becoming clear that the post-9/11 surveillance apparatus may be at cross-purposes with our high-tech economic growth.

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Is China Building a Trojan Horse into NATO Through Turkey?

November 4th, 2013

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The People’s Republic of China may be building a new Trojan horse in the modern lands of ancient Troy — but this time it seems the mission is to penetrate not a walled city, but NATO’s security architecture.

Turkey currently is negotiating a contract with China’s missile builders, the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC), which beat competing bids from Raytheon/Lockheed Martin and a few other foreign firms. While it seems Turkey is saving money on the deal — the Chinese bid to sell the FD-2000 surface-to-air missile system came in at $3.44 billion, while the other bids were around $4 billion — Ankara’s behavior suggests it believes it can have its security cake and eat it too.

It’s unclear what is the Turkish word for chutzpah, but Turkey already has a missile defense system defending it in NATO’s Raytheon-built Patriot system, courtesy of Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Ankara requested it last year. As part of the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment, other countries have already picked up half of the tab of Turkish missile defense needs. This is because Ankara took advantage of the interoperable missile defense systems among NATO’s 28-country alliance. The civil war in neighboring Syria legitimately threatened Turkey and its allies quickly answered the call.

The Turks know full well that if events ever go south — say, if Syria or Iran devolve into a shooting war that sucks them in– NATO will back them in a military conflict. If Turkey was serious about missile defense, it would have bought the American Patriot system that has a proven track record and avoided wasting money on an inferior Chinese program. It’s like buying a motorcycle when you really need an SUV. Instead, Turkey might be cutting itself off from the alliance if they now try to deploy the Chinese technology. And allowing Beijing spies into NATO’s backyard seems to be a secondary concern for the Turks.

Of course, the Turkish government has been well-informed of the many pitfalls of purchasing this Chinese system. For example, President Barack Obama twice told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an that there will be major interoperability issues between the Chinese and NATO systems. Despite a top Turkish Defense Ministry official brushing these problems aside,

China’s system is copied heavily from the Russian model, so its technical architecture is completely different than the Western model. And just as China’s cartridges won’t fit into NATO’s rifles, Turkey will have to perform major technical surgery to synchronize the NATO and Chinese systems, reconfiguring sensors and radars to be able to operate on both systems. This of course, will cost a lot of money and may not work in the end.

Even if it’s technically possible, other NATO countries will balk at having a highly-advanced, potentially adversarial structure integrated into their top-secret missile system. According to one defense analyst, “[NATO] member nations will refuse any cooperation with Turkey for the integration of the Chinese system into the alliance’s assets deployed in Turkey.”  As another British defense analyst told the Financial Times, “This type of arrangement, which requires the transfer of design information, is not feasible for American military firms.” And not just Chinese technology, but Chinese cyber, military and missile personnel will theoretically be working next to NATO resources, providing Beijing an intelligence foothold in these critical national security fields.

It remains unclear whether Turkey’s strategy for missile defense buys extends to other parts of the defense acquisition process, for there are ramifications with working with a sanctioned Chinese company that, since 2006, has been banned from working with American firms. U.S. companies now might think twice about selling Turkey fighter aircraft like F-16s or F-35s, or advanced radar systems, because Chinese technology will compromise their systems. It might even be illegal for U.S. corporations to work with Turkish businesses once the deal is complete.

All in all, Turkey might be thinking they worked out a great arrangement because it saved money and forged a deal with a growing economic powerhouse. But this will affect U.S. national security almost as much as Turkey’s because we too have interests in the region and in the cohesiveness of the NATO alliance. Every American and allied policymaker who interacts with his or her Turkish counterparts should underscore this fact.

The contract isn’t signed in stone; Erdo?an hinted that the deal may still be in play. Let’s hope the Turkish president has a change of heart; recall the Trojan War ended rather poorly for King Priam and his people because of a fatal, stupid, self-inflicted wound. Let’s hope Turkey’s modern-day leaders reflect upon the folly of the ancient Anatolians and remember to beware Chinese defense corporations bearing gifts.

This piece was originally published via Defense One.