Harry C. Blaney III

Revealed on Monday February 24th was the defense budget for FY 2015, and the headlines were about the cuts to manpower mostly in the army. Yet, the most important questions of what ought to be our major objectives, an examination of the global security landscape, and finally, the right tools to employ has been given too little attention. Continue reading

America’s Role in Making Peace in the Middle East

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel walks with Saudi Arabia's Prince Fahd bin Abdullah, deputy defense ministerLast week at a Carnegie Endowment meeting, a wise retired career Ambassador Edward P Djerejian discussed the Baker Institute at Rice University report, “Re-Engaging the Israelis and Palestinians: Why An American Role In Initiating Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Is Necessary and How It Can Be Accomplished.” It was an insightful and thought out perspective and it was contrary to those in Washington and elsewhere who have argued against American peace efforts.  We have often argued here for a more engaged American diplomatic stance for a long time.

The question asked at the meeting was whether President Obama was fully engaged in a true full court press on Middle East peace. The response was that he had “internalized” the issue and his schedule and that of his two key national security people, namely Secretaries Kerry and Hagel were fully engaged.

Hagel is heading this weekend for the Middle East with stops in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East peace process and Iran as well as arm sales will be key topics. Kerry has already been in the region as well as Obama’s trip to Israel in which he made a major speech giving his perspective in honest and, at moments, direct terms, reaching out to the Israeli public to argue that peace is better than war for Israel. 

Interestingly Amb. Djerejian mentioned in his talk the documentary file “Gatekeepers” (which we have previously mentioned at RNS) in which Israeli top former security agency officials both noted the increasing security dangers to that nation and the disastrous policies followed by Israel given the reality of the regional landscape.

Against this background, news reports are reporting that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in talking with the BBC, said that Israel is ready to strike Iran unilaterally if it is the only option to stop the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons. This was said against a background that Iran officials have threatened Israel and indicated they may enrich uranium to a 50% level, which has no legitimate peaceful use, but moves further towards weapons grade.

These developments only emphasize again the need for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this critical issue, rather than starting an all out war that would be a catastrophe for all. Often those who argue for “war” do not talk about the resulting likely aftermath for citizens and society on all sides.  The sound of “war drums” seems to increase on all sides as both Iran and Israel sound stupid and hysteric giving warnings and threats.

In the United States, the Congress that cowardly defeated a common sense and needed gun limiting legislation voted, on the other hand, for a belligerent stance towards dealing with the Iranian issue and indirectly a blow to seeking a regional Middle East peace construct.  On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed unanimously to legislation to go to the Senate floor affirming U.S. support for Israel in the event that Israel has to unilaterally take military action against Tehran. The bipartisan language emphasized the shared danger that Iran represents to both the U.S. and Israel, it pledged “diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”  Administration officials tried to underline that the resolution expressed support for unilateral Israeli action, rather than a commitment for U.S. action. This leaves us with a measure of ambiguity and of asking if both Israel’s and American’s vital security interests will be compromised by perceptions and mindless actions, which will create a regional tinderbox for all.

My view is that a war on Iran will serve those who do not want a Middle East peace as the results of a unilateral strike by Israel without firm indications of imminent major danger from an Iranian existing nuclear weapon capability. Such an action in the mind of some who do not accept the “Two State” road map see such action as vitiating any hope of a large Middle East peace compact and only causing horrific conflict against Israel.

The best answer remains the diplomatic path and many with considerable experience in this region rightly argue that a major and direct U.S. presidential involvement and engagement is needed. Along with this is a major effort to seek to calm the drumbeats for war with Iran, a reinforcement of negotiations, and if needed, serious “sticks and carrots” to move towards an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.

The world is a glowingly dangerous place, no time for silly threats and dangerous nuclear weapons development, and least of all mindless strategies aiming at conflict rather than avoiding it.

Click Here for Baker Institute at Rice University’s report, “Re-Engaging the Israelis and Palestinians: Why An American Role In Initiating Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Is Necessary and How It Can Be Accomplished.”

Nuclear Madness: Korea and Iran and “Tipping Point”

Headlines are everywhere, pundits shouting “danger” and editorial writers highlighting dangers, yet few have provided any clear action or policies that look productive in changing the trajectory of the madness of North Korea. Their only hope seems to be that this is just another round of “bluster” on the part of the inexperienced “New Leader’ Kim Jong-Un.

Members of Congress mostly Republicans like Peter King have said that they did not regard the North Korean statement as an “empty threat.”  Defense Secretary Hagel also said they were taking seriously the threatening statements of North Korea. The U.S. military has “on station” in the Korean region both two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, among the most advanced in American inventory.

North Korea in response said that US action had “entered the reckless phase of actual war.” With each day the harsh war rhetoric seems to get higher and higher rather than diminish.

Recent developments in the region include that the U.S. Navy has deployed the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer normally based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans on their part have announced they will reconstruct an old and dismantled nuclear reactor, which could be used to produce more weapons grade fissile material….the news was that the plant could produce enough material for one bomb a year.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, said the U.S. would “unequivocally” defend itself and allies from North Korean attacks.  In addition, they spurned the regime’s claims that Washington was upping tensions.

The question of the day is what allied strategy is likely to result in a calming of the tensions, and in particular seek ways to “contain” and mitigate the North Korean nuclear capability.  One strategy or option is to work the diplomatic tract via the multilateral existing path, which includes China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.  The hope would be after the “bluster” from the North there might be some modus vivendi or formula that would return to a more rational calculation on the part of North Korea. This could be a long-term effort.

Yet, the country with the most leverage over North Korea is China. China denies that it has much leverage, yet it also has the greatest stake should kinetic warfare break out between the two Koreas. For China, it would be a major disaster, which it must want to prevent as they see that a “real war” would destroy the “buffer” between it and American and South Korean forces and fighting, once started, no nation might have any power to stop it.

Also, it raises questions about the rationality of the North Korean leadership since the idea of “restraint” seems not now to be in their vocabulary.   China also is the main source of food and other supplies to the North and it has an intelligence presence in the North and thus is likely to have a better understanding of the situation in Pyongyang. Thus the path to a solution may run through Beijing.

This is a time for visits to Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, and perhaps even Russia by both Secretaries Hagel and Kerry. Perhaps also a “third tract” high level peace mission with official blessing might also be a useful instrument to employ, but it would have to have the backing of China and implicit North Korean agreement.

All of this is taking place when we are already focused on another “nuclear crisis” namely of the Iranian nuclear efforts and there is evidence that both North Korea and Iran have been helping each other to develop a strategic nuclear capability, which if continued would be a turning point in strategic security around the world.  Thus a strong effort to address these questions needs to be on the table when there is a substantive negotiation between Iran and the Group of 5 plus 1. Here the spread of critical nuclear technology is a “must” solution item for those seeking a more secure and stable strategic balance. A rethinking of the “sanctions” issue against North Korea and Iran may be needed if diplomatic outreach fails.