Ahoy, Galrahn

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Galrahn weighs in with a provocative analysis of the situation at sea around the Horn of Africa and declares that the USN’s approach is working precisely because it’s encouraging other counties to deploy ships and work together:

The US policy has been to do nothing and allow the development of an international response. We are witnessing the slow and sometimes painful strategic gains of this policy, and it all good for the United States. Let it develop and feel good about it, because for once we are witness to our nations maritime strategy producing our intended national goals. It is obviously very difficult to stomach in the rapid information flow of the information age, but the desired result is not the United States to manage this problem unilaterally, rather we want to solve this very difficult problem in a multinational way, and we find ourselves on the verge of our desired national objective to dealing with this problem.

OK, but I question some of the logic along the way, namely:

Not a single US flagged ship has even been approached by pirates (one might say they are intentionally avoided), and not a single US mariner has been taken hostage. After a year of what is often described as sophisticated attacks, not a single action has been taken against the US due to the threat of US response. The United States still lacks any reason to get involved against Somali piracy, and has responded appropriately by doing nothing.

Well, that probably has more to do with the pirates’ lack of opportunity than any fear they have of the US. Bear in mind that US-flagged ships constitute just a bit over 1 percent of the world’s merchant fleet. That’s right: according to the most recent statistics, Old Glory flies over just 347 of the 31,477 vessels engaged in hauling goods. That said, we clearly do have a dog in the fight, as shipping companies are beginning to point out:

Frontline Ltd., which sails five to 10 tankers of crude a month through the treacherous Gulf of Aden, said it was negotiating a change of shipping routes with some of its customers, including oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, a move that could boost costs by up to 40 percent.

In case you haven’t noticed, the economy’s a bit fragile right now. Big increases in the cost of transport won’t help.

Meanwhile, in the good-news department, both the Russians and the Saudis plan to contribute more hulls to the overwatch force, and the Germans might join in later. The Indians, meanwhile, are enjoying the prestige that comes with having shot up a pirate whose occupants were dumb enough to have fired an RPG at a frigate. As Galrahn points out, however, they’re sensing a bit of a leadership vacuum at sea.

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Like 1947, Only Tougher

The National Intelligence Council sees the entire international system, in both the economic and security realms, being revamped between now and 2025. Worth a read, just in case you thought the stakes involved in Obama’s presidency were low.

Old News

USA Today writer John Diamond is out with a book, “The CIA and the Culture of Failure,” that purportedly documents serial failures of tradecraft in the agency and a long-term politicization of its product. Folks like Jeff Stein at CQ are inclined to see this as new:

Diamond, who written about the CIA for the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, also has several news breaks in the book, including:
  • How a deliberate undermining of the CIA was critical to the neo-conservative push for the defense build-up in the 1970s and 80s, national missile defense in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • How the chance arrest by Pakistan of a suspect, Mohammed Sadeeq Odeh, in the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya tipped off bin Laden and caused al-Qaeda to change its plans for a leadership meeting, rendering the Clinton administration’s retaliatory strike an embarrassing miss.
  • How the Iraq/WMD failure, one of the most consequential in CIA history, stemmed from one of the Agency’s most notable successes. The great misjudgment prior to the Iraq invasion was the failure — by the White House, Congress, and the CIA itself — to even consider the possibility that this combined effort to disarm Iraq had, in fact, succeeded. 

None of this, alas, is any great revelation to those of us who followed the “Team B” disputes of the 1970s and have read books like Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s “Deception.” The folks in Langley couldn’t find water if they fell out of a boat.

Barnett on Missile Defense

Tom Barnett is hoping that Obama gently puts the kibosh on the whole missile-defense thing:

The planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe serves no purpose vis-a-vis Russia’s vast remaining arsenal except to provocatively suggest America is aiming to alter the continental correlation of forces — which it can’t.

In reply, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev now threatens to target those planned sites with conventional missiles, putting our newly elected leader in the position of choosing between “caving in” to Russian pressure or standing up to Russia’s idiotic threat to our equally pointless provocation.

With two wars and a global financial crisis in full swing, this is the “crisis” on which American strategists want our future president spending precious diplomatic capital?

Ah, not really. The fundamental, technical problem is that any defense will leak. Proponents believe we can live with one warhead in 100 getting through. The reality is that the one would be a morale breaker. The certainty of retaliation is what keeps things in check. And we have other things we need to do with the money, even in the defense sphere.

Sarkozy: Not So Fast

If Google’s Russian and Polish translations are to be believed, French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants both the US and Russia to cool it on the whole missile deployment/missile defense front for six months or so. In other words, let’s wait for Obama. He also wants a Euro security conference. The Poles apparently aren’t thrilled by any of this.

Russian Sub Accident (?)

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Galrahn is puzzled by the recent incident on a Russian sub that killed 20 crew and technicians:

The offending crew member is either a high ranking officer, or there is a conspiracy, there really isn’t much middle ground here. The system is designed so it can be activated locally, in the next adjacent apartment, or from a bridge central control station. There are safeguards that prevent the system from being activated except by a high ranking officer, codes that would prevent just anyone from activating the fire suppression system.

Caribbean Vacation

Galrahn isn’t too impressed by the Russians’ plan to send a small naval task force led by a Kirov-class cruiser to maneuver with the Venezuelans this November:

If the ship blows up then we’ll be interested. The other three ships include a destroyer, an oiler, and a … you guessed it, fleet tug.

And no, that’s not the cruiser in question in the photo up top. That’s an earlier Pyotr Veliky

On a more serious note, Galrahn offers his guess as to the Russians’ motives:

This development should be seen for what it is, a response to the Russia’s objections to humanitarian response and naval activity in the Black Sea. While Russia will be sure to hype it, and Hugo Chavez will be part of the over hype, it is very much a good thing because it is one of those small steps towards Russia saving face. Sometimes this type of non-escalation – media escalation stuff is necessary to bring about the normalization of relations.

Sounds about right to me.