23-27 JANUARY 2006 - VISIT TO WASHINGTON D.C. AND SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA [DEFENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE]
1. The Defence and Security Committee visited Washington DC and San Diego California on 23-27 January. In Washington the committee met with government officials, non-governmental experts and members of Congress. Led by Chairman Joel Hefley (United States) the 35 members of the Committee also travelled to San Diego where they visited several naval bases in the region and the Marine Corps Training Centre.
2. The meetings in Washington focused on a number of key topics. The state of the Transatlantic relationship and the US administration's plans for the upcoming NATO Summit, the current crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan all featured prominently. In addition, the Committee received some briefings on security issues in the Asia Pacific region and how they might impact on the Transatlantic relationship in the near future.
3. In general the Committee found that the Transatlantic partnership is continuing to improve, but serious issues loom that could raise significant differences. In particular, the current consensus over Iran could fail in the face of Iranian intransigence, and the reluctance of some members of the Alliance to commit to the mission in Afghanistan could become a growing source of tension.
4. The Committee met with Dan Fata, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy, and Kurt Volker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs. Both emphasized the greatly improved state of Transatlantic relations in the past several years. Mr Volker noted that there is good cooperation and consensus on issues as diverse as policy toward Belarus, the Balkan region and the Caucasus. Mr Fata emphasized that none of the security issues on the current NATO agenda can be addressed without strong European participation.
5. They also pointed to potential issues that the US would like to raise at the upcoming NATO Summit. The general view in the current administration is that the Summit should address issues that will help NATO better face the ongoing challenges rather that further expansion of the Alliance. In part this involves putting NATO back in the center of strategic planning. But strengthening NATO activities beyond Europe will require that we continue the transition to expeditionary forces, and develop better coordination with other international organizations in stabilization and reconstruction missions. Mr. Fata and Mr. Volker also noted that there is some discussion in the administration of the United States contributing ground forces to the NATO Response Force (NRF) in addition to key enablers such as airlift. Both also addressed the issue of expanding common funding for operations in a way that would ease the burden on smaller countries without undermining the principle of national responsibility.
6. Phil Gordon, Director of the Center for the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institute, acknowledged the improved relationship but pointed to issues that could threaten the current positive atmosphere. In particular he noted the situation in Iran and the Israeli-Arab dispute as issues that could quickly sour the relationship. Although there is agreement now on how to approach Iran, that could change if all diplomatic options are exhausted in the near future. The prospect of Hamas in control of the Palestinian Authority could also open a substantial rift in European and American approaches to managing the Israeli-Arab conflict. Finally, Afghanistan could become an issue that fractures the Alliance. If European members refuse to commit forces, or do so only with highly restrictive rules of engagement, some in the United States will question the relevance of the Alliance for tackling current security problems. In sum, although the current state of the Transatlantic alliance is certainly better than a few years ago, we could easily see that progress erased if we are not cautious in how we approach current challenges.
7. The committee also met with Simon Serfaty, Julianne Smith and David Scruggs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Mr. Serfaty noted that 2005 was a good year for the Transatlantic alliance and it featured an increasing recognition that weakening the relationship does not help anyone. 2006, however, will be a challenging year for NATO and the Transatlantic relationship. He defined the current situation with Iran as a "slow moving Cuban missile crisis" and stated that the military option must remain on the table as it is the only thing that keeps the negotiation process relevant. He also noted that after much fumbling the US has a viable strategy in Iraq and that some in Europe should be more supportive of the current direction. Mr. Serfaty also discussed the increasing importance of the EU for the US and noted that the US engagement with Europe is now less bi-lateral and more oriented toward the EU. This is good for the EU, but the fragmented nature of Europe is weakening its ability to play a role. The EU is experiencing a crisis of institutional relevance and there is a need to renew the idea of a united Europe.
8. Ms. Smith and Mr. Scruggs focused on the recent CSIS report on European defence integration. Their report recommended several paths forward for Europe as it attempts to improve its defence capabilities without significant increases in defence spending. In particular they identified role specialization, pooling of assets and changes in the distribution of current defence budgets. They found that specialization can be effective, but coordination is critical to avoid situations where a specialized unit is overused. Pooling of assets should begin small with just two participants and then expand to additional participants. In addition, pooling will work best with less politically sensitive assets such as maintenance and food and water supplies. Defence budgets should shift funds from personnel to research and development. They recommend reducing personnel expenditures to no more than 40 percent of the defence budget and increasing research and development to 25 percent.
9. Jeffrey Nadaner, Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Defence for Stability Operations briefed the committee on the Department of Defence's evolving approach to stabilization operations. He noted that such operations are becoming increasingly prevalent and absorb a considerable amount of resources when combined with humanitarian relief operations in Pakistan and the Indian Ocean area. How well stabilization operations are conducted may in fact determine whether we have more or less failed states and the attendant problems to cope with in the future.
10. Mr Nadaner outlined a three-track process for transforming how the Department of Defense improves its conduct of stabilization operations. The first track is an internal process within DOD to build the proper level of training for such operations. The second track seeks to build better cooperation with the other agencies of the United States government. In particular, the goal is to build a civilian expeditionary capability that can be called on with relatively short notice. The third track seeks to build better links with non-governmental organizations, international organizations and the private sector. Within this track the DOD will spend approximately 1 billion dollars over the next five years to train peacekeeping troops from around the world to lessen the shortage of international peacekeeping forces.
11. Richard Olson, Director for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department discussed current stabilization and reconstruction operations in Iraq. He noted that the current strategy contains political, economic and security tracks. He states that efforts to include the Sunni minority have led to higher participation in politics and is isolating the insurgency from its base in the Sunni population. On a economic level, Iraq is recovering from the degradation of the past 20 years when the country fell from a level of GDP close to that of Spain to one on par with Angola by the last years of Saddam Hussein's rule. Much of the 21 billion dollars in US development assistance is going to infrastructure projects but there is an increasing emphasis on promoting economic reforms that will help continue the development of private enterprise in Iraq. He also noted that alleviating the debt burden is an important factor for the international community to address. On a security level, he noted that Iraqi forces are reaching the level of training where they can take on more and more operations with less support from coalition forces. He also suggested that the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) model currently being used in Afghanistan could be spread across Iraq as well.
12. Patrick Moon, Director of the office on Afghanistan at the State Department, discussed developments there. The security situation continues to show progress. There is no serious threat to the government although sporadic violence hinders development efforts. He noted the popular disgust with the emerging Taliban and Al Qaida tactic of suicide bombings. Mr. Moon also cited improved border control as an important aspect of the training program for Afghan security forces. The US will spend 800 million dollars on training programs, vehicles and communications for the Afghan National Police.
13. Mr. Moon also expressed his pleasure at the increased NATO role in Afghanistan and noted that the US plans to place two more of its PRTs under ISAF command in the near future. The US will still remain the largest foreign presence in the country and 14 of the 23 PRTs will remain under the US-led coalition command.
14. A key part of the stabilization of Afghanistan is countering the prevalence of narcotics production and its corrosive effects on the country. Richard Douglas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter-narcotics spoke to the current strategy. He acknowledged the centrality of the issue and stated that any effort to stabilize the country will fail without a successful counter-narcotics program. Narcotics are a source of financial support for the Taliban and other extremist groups, and they threaten to undermine the society. The US plays a supporting role for the Government of Afghanistan assisting in transportation, information collection, and training. The US efforts are also increasingly focused on border control assistance. Mr. Douglas stated that we must be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances, but also noted that we in the Western developed countries must do more to limit demand for narcotics.
15. Some members of the committee questioned Mr. Douglas' generally positive assessment and noted that is was very different from other briefings they had received on the subject. Others asked why a more proactive stance could not be taken to burn more poppy fields. Some questioned the reliability of the police and if they actually destroyed the drugs that they seized in raids.
16. Several experts who met with the committee focused on the current crisis over Iran's attempts to build nuclear weapons. Henry Sokolski, Director of the Non-Proliferation Education Center emphasized the seriousness of Iranian activities and outlined a plan for action. He noted that Iran has the plans, personnel and knowledge to build nuclear weapons, sophisticated missiles to deliver them, and has repeatedly stated its intention to destroy Israel. The combination is extremely dangerous, but even more so if the broader implications of Iran's development of nuclear weapons are considered. Other countries in the region would likely build nuclear programs and the resulting web of states with nuclear weapons would allow more chances for mistakes with horrific consequences.
17. Mr Sokolski addressed the common wisdom that there is nothing to be done about Iran's nuclear weapons program because the diplomatic track has failed and the military options are poor. But he stated that many of the assumptions that this resignation is built on are not true. He noted that the military forces needed to address the threat are primarily naval and air forces, neither of which are particularly stretched with current deployments. He noted that 80 percent of Iran's oil travels through the Straits of Hormuz and the Iran imports 40 percent of its gasoline. He outlined a plan for how the Straits of Hormuz could be bypassed by connecting several existing pipelines in the Arabian peninsula for a relatively minor cost. In short, he argued that there were several ways to put serious pressure on Iran that might force the leadership to reconsider their plans.
18. Many of the committee members were very concerned about the situation with Iran and asked Mr Sokolski how we allowed Iran to get this far. He stated that the problem has been in how the international community has interpreted the rules of Non-Proliferation Treaty. Our loose interpretation allows many countries to go right to the edge of developing nuclear weapons while claiming to be working on purely peaceful applications. Other questions focused on what Europe could do to reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mr Sokolski emphasized that the most important thing to focus on is changing the character of the regime and help propel it toward more liberal governance. This can be affected by cultural exchanges, entertainment, internet access and the free flow of information that could push the disaffected majority of Iran to finally overthrow the repressive theocracy currently in power.
19. Michael Rubin, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of Middle East Quarterly, discussed recent developments in Iran and Iraq based on his recent travels and considerable experience in both countries.
20. He noted several important trends in Iraq. First, there is an increasing level of compromise and tolerance in the country and a willingness to work out difficult issues through the political process. This is a new development and it is reflected in the behavior of Iraqi citizens. More than a million refugees have returned to the country in the past three years, and Iraqis are investing in real estate and new businesses. All of this reflects increased confidence in the future of the country.
21. Mr Rubin noted that the vast majority of Iranians do not support the theocratic regime. But after years of repression and disappointment, most Iranians have simply given up and are apathetic about the political process. He was concerned that Iran's nuclear ambitions are ideological and not something that can be bargained away in a diplomatic process. Nuclear weapons could be key to the current regime staying in power. Beyond this there is a real threat that President Ahmadinejad means what he says. He represents a messianic vision of Islam that believes a new era will be brought into existence when the Twelfth Iman reappears, and that his reappearance can be ushered in by cataclysmic violence.
22. The questions from the committee members focused on the prospects for improved relations with Iran and stability in Iraq. Mr Rubin noted that ethnic divisions in Iraq are heavily emphasized in the western press, but that is not the entire story. The cleavages cut across ethnic and sectarian lines and the most significant factor may be the sense of abandonment that many Iraqis felt after 1991. They need consistent reassurance that the West will not abandon them yet again.
23. James Mulvenon, Deputy Director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis (CIRA), briefed the committee on the development of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the potential security challenge that it represents to regional stability. The PLA has gone through major improvements since the 1990s. China has moved on from simply buying Russian equipment to manufacturing a considerable amount of sophisticated items. Much of their effort is concentrated on missile technology, aircraft and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. In addition, the military budget has more than doubled over the past decade to approximately 45 billion dollars.
24. China's military modernization is aimed at preventing US assistance to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese push to take the island. Its recent acquisitions make it capable of covering the entire area of Taiwan with surface to air missiles, and causing serious damage to any US naval force entering the Taiwan Strait. In Mr. Mulvenon's view, China has a political strategy for unification with Taiwan and military pressure plays an important role, although he noted that other analysts take the position that China has a plan for reunification that relies on military force. Either way, the development of China's military capabilities poses new challenges for the US in the region. At a strategic level, China development of a road-mobile solid fuel intercontinental missile gives it a genuine second-strike capability that it had not possessed before.
25. At the same time, Taiwan has become steadily less committed to its own defense and defense spending has fallen by 55 percent since the 1990s. In large part this is the product of a split in Taiwanese domestic politics between those born in China and those born in Taiwan. For most of the post-WWII period, Taiwan was controlled by Chinese born elites who repressed the current ruling party composed mainly of native-born Taiwanese. For obvious reasons, those repressed by the military until recently are reluctant to give it additional funding.
26. The US is altering its strategy to confront China's efforts to deny it access to Taiwan. Part of that involves reconfiguring the alliance with Japan and South Korea to be less narrowly focused on the Korean Peninsula. The US is also increasing the size of its base in Guam, well outside the reach of China's current capabilities.
27. Some questioned why Taiwan is so important. Mr. Mulvenon noted that it is a reasonable question given the huge disparity in size between Taiwan and China, but the issue comes down to one of international credibility. If the US were to abandon Taiwan to be absorbed into China by force, it would seriously weaken the perception of the US as reliable ally. This could have resounding effects on regional stability in the Pacific and elsewhere.
28. Other questions focused on the Japanese response to the changing security environment in the Western Pacific. Mr. Mulvenon noted that Japan is aggressively pursuing Chinese reconnaissance ships in waters in and around Japan's territorial waters and that its alliance with the US is very important to its security. If, for example, the credibility of US commitments in the region was weakened, nuclear proliferation in Japan and Korea would not be out of the question.
29. The issue of technology transfer and the EU arms embargo was also raised. Mr. Mulvenon stated that the real issue was less weapons systems than sophisticated commercial navigation and communications equipment that the PLA can use to improve its targeting systems and C4ISR systems. Concerns over China's acquisition of sophisticated components that can be used to strengthen its ability to militarily dominate the region will drive US technology transfer policy toward Europe and elsewhere.
30. The committee visited several US Navy and Marine Corps facilities. Among the highlights was a visit to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, the site that trains all new male recruits for the Marine Corps. During the intense three-month training period, recruits are trained in a variety of basic skills and the committee observed hand-to-hand combat and other exercises. The failure rate is low and the vast majority of recruits complete their training and go on to serve in the Marine Corps. The volunteers come from a range of backgrounds and there is no shortage of recruits.
31. The committee also toured two guided missile cruisers, a naval air wing and was briefed about the evolving role of the navy in the Pacific. Five of the twelve aircraft carriers are based in the Pacific at San Diego, Washington and in Japan. The Navy is moving to a surge capacity strategy that will be able to bring six carrier battle groups to bear on a situation within 30 days, with an additional two carriers within 90 days.