German Minister of Defense Dr. Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg inspects the troops of Panzerpionierbataillon 701 (Source: bundeswehr.de at Flickr)
The news that Germany’s Defense Minister has proposed a major restructuring to the country’s military is both a surprise and not very surprising. The surprise is not so much the suggestion that the Bundeswehr close some bases or cut force levels, but that the proposal includes the ending of conscription. In the long run, this move will likely be in the best interests of the Bundeswehr, bringing it into line with many of its major allies who have had professional armed forces since the 1970s (the U.S.) and earlier (the 1960s in the the case of the UK). Given the outcry the introduction of conscription in West Germany initially caused, it’s likely that the government will be able to end it, although there is opposition.
Perils of PowerPoint (Source: NY Times)
I usually don’t rely on breitbart.com, but the original source at UPI seems to no longer exist. I’m also going to post with little commentary, since this piece might need some reflection time (as well as time to see the official and unofficial responses). I will say that I’ve heard the PowerPoint problem elsewhere, and this report does not suggest the problem is getting any better.
An Afghan private security operative receives instruction from a British trainer. (Source: American Public Media)
Last week I wrote about the July 2011 cut-off date for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and I tried to emphasize that the intention was always for the start of that process by that date, rather than its conclusion. But again, perception sometimes trumps reality, especially when those troops are supporting your government. At about the same time I was writing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was announcing that his government would no longer tolerate private security operations within Afghanistan (with the exception of internal security for NGOs and other private groups).
Gen. Myers (right) in January 2003. (Defense.gov)
One of the most striking aspects of the military is how its retired members find ways to remain active and abreast of contemporary developments. Veterans from past wars are brought in to serve in organizations like the Defense Policy Board; others find work as commentators at various media outlets, writing op-eds and wading into the fray on television in an effort to influence public opinion. And so when I had the pleasure earlier this summer of interviewing General Richard Myers, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 to 2005, my very first question to him was: How do you see your role as a retired Air Force general?
What does "begin" mean? (Source: CSMonitor)
With Gen. David Petraeus taking over direct command of operations in Afghanistan after President Obama’s dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, there was a lot of talk about what changes in strategy there might be. Yet while there have been some tactical changes in the rules of engagement and other aspects, the fact that McChrystal was largely operating from Petraeus’ playbook has meant that strategy has seen more continuity than change. This past week, though, Petraeus has raised questions about larger strategic goals, especially regarding a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, culminating in a series of interviews he gave with several large media outlets, including NBC’s Meet the Press and the New York Times and Washington Post. What has raised some eyebrows are comments that Petraeus made that suggested he was preparing to ask President Obama to delay the start of troops withdrawals expected to come after July 2011. Such a request, according to some analysts, would constitute a significant sign of failure on the part of the current counterinsurgency strategy, and possibly even a broken promise to Obama on Petraeus’ part.
The blogosphere is abuzz with Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest article in The Atlantic, entitled “The Point of No Return.” The link from the homepage is more direct: “Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, why—and what it means.” Let’s all take a deep breath.
Consider the title: “the point of no return.” Israeli officials have used this ambiguous term since at least as early as January 2005 to describe the point by which Iran could produce a nuclear bomb. The problem is their estimate of this date keeps getting pushed back: first it was before 2006, then sometime between 2007-2009, then before the end of 2008, then by early 2010. Similar predictions were made in 2006, 2007, and 2008 that the US would bomb Iran before President Bush left office. Now, the fact that these forecasts proved inaccurate does not by itself invalidate Goldberg’s piece, but it certainly warrants a skeptical outlook.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced significant belt-tightening measures yesterday in hopes of saving the department from externally imposed cuts that could undermine needed resources and capabilities. “My greatest fear is that in economic tough times, people will see the defense budget as the place to solve the nation’s deficit problems, the place to find money for other parts of the government,” Gates said.
Numerous news accounts this morning outline the planned cuts, which are summarized as follows (for a full list, see the slides released on DoD Efficiency Decisions):
Admiral William Fallon (Source: Time)
In an interview earlier this year, William Fallon–the retired four-star admiral who formerly headed CENTCOM and PACOM–told Bellum that “there is no easy answer” when it comes to the problem of trimming the US defense budget. The critical question, Adm. Fallon told us, is: “What are the missions?”
The two main theaters of operations are, obviously, Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US Navy has played a less visible role than the other services–the Army and Marines, in particular–for understandable reasons. Nonetheless, naval tactical air units have delivered a “significant amount of support” to ground operations, Adm. Fallon pointed out.
Since pledging to move toward a “world without nuclear weapons” at Prague in April 2009, President Obama has taken a series of steps intended to strengthen the global arms control agenda and nonproliferation regime. The administration reduced the doctrinal role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy in its Nuclear Posture Review, hosted a Nuclear Security Summit attended by 47 countries, and inked the New START pact with Russia.
"When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation." -- Alexander Hamilton
The Treasury Department expanded its Iranian blacklist Tuesday, adding 21 new firms it says are owned or controlled by the Iranian government. The list is designed to surgically target those figureheads and companies financing illicit activities – most specifically the nuclear program. (Note: The list names companies based internationally as well as Iran-based; interestingly, Tuesday’s list reveals Germany as a focal point of the latest investigation, with nearly half of the newest designees – 9 of the 21 – as Germany-based firms, primarily out of Dusseldorf.)