Scribbles in My Notebook…


Apr 8, 2009

I have a mental queue of about 3 or 5 post that I’ve been meaning to get up in the past couple of days, but the demands of a new baby in the house are leaving me sleep deprived and somehow unable to find time to construct the posts I want to write (go figure…). So, in lieu of that, a couple of scribbles from my mental notebook that merit your attention and our discussion.

–SecDef Gates unveiled his defense budget. This could be one the most significant policy undertakings of the Obama administration and lead to some real, meaningful reforms with profound consequences on both domestic and international politics. This issue is being covered quite well elsewhere, so I will only give a couple of quick points that I hope you keep in mind.

Stop talking about this as budget cuts. Its not. It still represents an overall increase in US defense spending. Rather, its a reallocation of funds and priorities, away from some things and toward other things.

This shows how backasswards defense policy is. The vehicle for a major reorientation of defense policy is the budget. Not a policy document, not a strategic review, but procurement. Procurement and budgets drive defense policy more than ‘policy’ does, in that going to war with the military you have, not the one you want is the product of weapons requirements from 20 years ago. The F-22, the fighter jet at the center of all this, originated with a set of requirements in the late 1980’s during the cold war. Sure, they’ve updated and reaffirmed a new set of requirements to keep the plane alive. But, current AF strategy and policy discussions surrounding this plane are still captive to budget cycles from a decade ago.

I like the go-for-broke strategy that Gates is employing, as it makes it more likely, I think, to overcome Congressional opposition to any weapons system cuts. He’s shown with his comments that he’s ready to take on the defense spending as jobs argument head on.

Check out this story on how closely the US is studying Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah and how that discussion is serving as a proxy for the larger debate on the future shape of the US military.

–Obama was in Europe, had a major NATO summit, and called for nuclear disarmament. Foolish critics called him naive. Reagan also wanted disarmament, he offered to give up all our nuclear weapons if the Soviets would do the same. Obama’s going to try again to get the CTBT ratified. I think these are important steps. Proliferation is one of those global, multilateral problems that no one country can address alone. Reaching any nuclear deal ultimately runs into the fundamental bargain of the NPT that leaves some states nuclear and others not. That bargain requires the nuclear states to work towards disarmament. Obama’s call for nuclear arms reduction gives him major cred in seeking further arms control agreements with new and potential nuclear powers, as he can now claim with some credibility that he is interested in matching the disarmament that he is asking others to undertake.

–North Korea launched a missile / satellite that failed miserably, crashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The interesting question, I think, is how this impacts their credibility–they continually threaten war, testing, and proliferation, but then continually fail when they try to make good. And yet, within the DPRK, this is a reaffirmation of North Korean resistance and US surrender. To the rest of the world, well, I don’t think it helps North Korea make any friends.

Obama invoked the UNSC, which was nice, but (predictably?), no one could agree on anything. Russia and China were not happy with the test, but it seems there’s a difference between not liking the test and allowing the SC to sanction a state for violation of a resolution. We shall see how much more fun this makes Stephen Bosworth’s job.

–Pirates take a US cargo ship. Charli has that covered, but as I mentioned to a couple of students we’re working with on a Pirate project this summer, Now things might start to get interesting. Which is to say, we’ll see if the US changes its tune at all when US interests / persons / items are at risk.

–Opening day for baseball, lets go Cleveland!!!


+ posts

Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.