Chuck Hagel, Senator-turned-Professor (Credit: Washington Post)
Five incumbent senators retired during the 2008 election cycle—all of them Republicans. Of this group, none has remained more engaged on policy issues, especially national security, than Chuck Hagel. The two-termer from Nebraska currently co-chairs the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and sits on the Secretary of Defense’s Policy Board.
In a recent interview with Bellum, conducted on March 18, the Senator-turned-Georgetown professor addressed a wide range of issues, from the nature of American power to the future of US domestic politics.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ remark that the intervention in Libya was not about the “vital national interest” of the United States will likely resurface repeatedly as the conflict continues. Note, however, that Gates defended the intervention as still being in our non-vital interest:
It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about. The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake.
This raises an interesting question: what are “vital national interests” for the US, according to Gates? For that, we turn to the public record for examples of when he has used the term and its variants:
- U.S. CENTCOM Gulf States Chiefs of Defense Conference (June 23, 2009): “American administrations led by both parties, going back some six decades, have regarded the stability of the Gulf Region as a vital national interest for the United States.”
- Press Briefing (September 17, 2009): “The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career. The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues.”
- Statement on Afghanistan to the Senate Armed Services Committee (December 2, 2009): “A stable security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan – one that is sustainable over the long term by their governments – is vital to our national security.”
- Remarks on New START to the Senate Armed Services Committee (June 17, 2010): “America’s nuclear arsenal remains a vital pillar of our national security, deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners.”
- Statement on the National Space Policy (June 28, 2010): “Our continued presence in space is vital to our national security. Space-based capabilities are critical to our military’s ability to navigate accurately, strike precisely, and gather battle space awareness efficiently.
- Press Briefing (October 8, 2010): “Minister Kim and I reaffirmed that the United States-Republic of Korea (ROK) strategic partnership remains vital to the interests of both our nations.”
Robert Gates made waves earlier this month when he criticized “loose talk” concerning military options in Libya. He’s not the first 21st-century Pentagon official to use the term in this manner.
Donald Rumsfeld on January 27, 2002, at Guantanamo Bay:
[t]here’s a lot of loose talk about prisoner of war versus detainee. One of the most important aspects of the Geneva Convention is the distinction between lawful combatants and unlawful combatants. It is a terribly dangerous thing from the standpoint of our military and the military of other countries if we blur the distinction between lawful combatants and unlawful combatants.
UN Security Council Resolution 1973 primarily called for two things: the creation of a no-fly zone and the protection of civilians. The US has just handed over responsibility for the no-fly zone to NATO, while the broader mission of using “all necessary measures” to protect civilians remains outside the Alliance’s purview. Turkey and Germany want no part of this second mission, of course, so it looks like the same US planes and ships will now report to two different commanders — one US and one NATO, but both Americans — depending on exactly what they are doing at each minute. They may also operate under two separate rules of engagement. Does this make any sense?
Our readers likely need no introduction to Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, and most recently the author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. He joins us today for Q&A on a range of topics, including the turmoil in the Middle East, the future of the US military, and the nature of power in Washington, DC.
What do the democratic revolutions in the Middle East mean for the Indian Ocean?
The impending war in Libya — assuming it’s not all talk — is a war that requires an Arab League front (and probably financial support) atop a NATO/EU effort with as yet undefined backing from the United States. In short, this is a war designed by politicians and finance ministers. On the finance issue, look no further than the five powers that abstained: Russia, Brazil, China, India, and Germany. While the abstentions of the BRICs are interesting, Germany is the key card here: voting to abstain means the German wallet likely stays shut.
The UN Security Council’s decision today to authorize military force in Libya raises a mysterious question: why now? Last week, supporters of a no-fly zone could not muster a majority in favor of such a resolution, even as rebel victory — to some analysts — seemed certain. The noose, we were told, was tightening. Fast forward to this evening and Qaddafi’s forces have made surprising gains into rebel territory. The facts on the ground have gotten worse, not better, for the rebels and now, all of a sudden, there is a majority on the Council in favor of the no-fly zone. How, exactly, did this happen?
Details are still coming in and we don’t want to speculate at this point, but it appears the combined European fleet off the coast of Libya — comprising vessels from France, Italy, and Britain — is roughly equal to the size of the US fleet assisting off the coast of Japan. From The Australian:
Britain has two frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, already in the Mediterranean with French and Italian ships making a combined international force of about a dozen vessels.
And according to the Wall Street Journal:
The United Nations has authorized military force against the Qaddafi regime. Details of potential strikes by NATO forces — possibly in conjunction with Arab air power — will be forthcoming, as will be a full analysis of the UN Security Council resolution itself. In the meantime, let’s consider how the vote went down. The 10 “yes” votes included:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- United States
There were no votes against. There were five abstentions:
Germany earlier voiced its refusal to deploy troops to Libya, which is interesting since no one was really asking them to send in the Afrika Korps. The other abstentions, however, are even more interesting because they comprise the entire grouping of nations known as the BRICs. These countries are invariably described as rising “great powers.” What does their collective abstention say about their view of their own role within the international system? Are they responsible stakeholders wisely urging caution in the face of pressure to just “do something” about Qaddafi or are they staying in the background when they should be at least somewhere close to the front?
Obama and Medvedev (Image: Getty Images)
The World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Canadian Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA have sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. These ecumenical organizations represent over 400—some very influential—Christian churches. And among other things, it appears that they want a reassessment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) deployments.