08 March 2011

No-Fly Zone

With the current situation in Libya, we are seeing more and more calls for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Libya to stop the Libyan air force's attacks on protestors and anti-regime insurgents. Ostensibly, this would be to aid the insurgents in their efforts to weaken Col. Qaddafi. Doing this may, in my opinion, pose serious risks that may not be acceptable to the public in the United States and other NATO countries.

Of course, to inform this discussion, we must establish what a no-fly zone is. Salon.com just published an excellent description of a no-fly zone in a nice Reader's Digest sort of form here. Basically, a no-fly zone is to send aircraft up to patrol a piece of airspace where certain aircraft are forbidden. Additionally, this requires the defeat of any air defense assets in the no-fly zone area. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the point about the air defenses clear in a recent speech.

Since a no-fly zone is an act of war, a good model to examine it is in the way that wars are studied, using the ends, ways, means and risks model. This is a model used by any of the war colleges or in any strategy and policy class.

First, to what end would a no-fly zone be created? When examining this, we must remember what Carl von Clausewitz had to say in On War, "War is a continuation of politics through other means." With this in mind, a no-fly zone must be done with a political objective if it is to have any hope of success. The political objective of this would probably be to, as stated earlier, topple the regime of Col. Qaddafi. That is simple enough. Things will get trickier though.

Next in our analysis is the ways. The way this no-fly zone would be established is by patrolling the airspace over Libya. As stated earlier, the first thing that would have to be done is to go and destroy all of Libya's surface-to-air missile (SAM) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) assets. Depending on the type of air defense system set up by Qaddafi, there may be SAM and AAA sites inside of major cities. Additionally, there may be known air defense sites inside of rebel-held territory. Should those sites be destroyed, lest they be used against NATO aircraft in the event of Qaddafi's forces retaking the area? That is a question to be answered in the "risks" part of our analysis. Also, what are the rules of engagement for any Libyan aircraft that are spotted? Must they fire upon people on the ground to be engaged? Must they fire upon the patrolling aircraft? Can they be shot down as soon as they take off? These are difficult questions that will also be examined more in the risks.

Next in our analysis is to look at the means. This should not be a big deal. There are American naval assets all over the Mediterranean that can easily be called upon. Furthermore, there are numerous NATO member states all over Europe from which to launch patrols of any no-fly zone. Furthermore, defeating the Libyan air force would be no big deal. Based on a somewhat cursory search of Libya's air force, the heart of their air force is in the MiG-21 Fishbed, MiG-23 Flogger and the Sukhoi SU-22 Fitter. These are severely outdated aircraft that would be no match against any of NATO's fighter aircraft.

The tricky part of the equation is the risks. As we asked earlier, which ground-based air defense assets should be taken out? If any rebel-held air defenses are attacked, accidentally or on purpose, it would probably alienate the rebels. Imagine a rebel-held AAA site being taken out by an American warplane, when this site was perhaps being used by the rebels to defend against Libyan air force attacks. This might even solidify support of Qaddafi, supporting his claim that the uprisings are being done by America in order to destroy Libya. As for the rules of engagement, what happens if an aircraft that is trying to defect is shot down? This would also alienate the rebels.

On a bigger scale, a no-fly zone over Libya could be viewed as even more US and Israeli aggression in the Middle East. After what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, the people of the Arab world are probably far more likely to support even the worst dictator if they are opposed to the US. This could make our job in the Middle East even trickier.

Also, could we see a protracted situation like what happened in Iraq if it does not immediately topple Qaddafi? Is the United States willing to have aircraft patrolling Libya 24/7 for the next ten years? I would argue not.

From all of this, I would submit that we should not impose a no-fly zone over Libya. We can provide moral support, call for Qaddafi's departure, or even supply weapons and supplies to the rebels, but I do not think that the United States can afford to get into another Middle East adventure. That is all. For now.

15 February 2011

Budget, Military Spending, Etc.

We are currently faced with a budget crisis in the United States. The federal budget deficit currently stands at over $1 trillion. That's a lot of money, and it needs to be dealt with somehow. What are the solutions? The Republican leadership in the House is proposing that we slash some $100 billion from the budget this year. The budget cuts proposed by the GOP include, inter alia, cutting off all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which currently stands at approximately $422 billion, according to several websites. Most of the cuts are with programs like this, programs that account for a pretty small piece of the US budget pie.

There was also a budget plan set out by the Obama administration, which does propose certain cuts to the military (which I will get to shortly) and allows for new spending, but is supposed to cut the deficit out over the next decade. However, as Salon's Joan Walsh points out, this budget will likely never happen in anything resembling what President Obama is proposing

With all of this, there does not appear to be any realistic chance of cutting anything significant from the defense budget. The United States spent over $651 billion on the defense budget in 2009 alone. This, of course, does not include the continuing resolutions that fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other aspects of "Operation Enduring Freedom" (the War on Terror).

The United States has a defense budget that is several times larger than the next biggest spender, China. China's defense budget is about $98 billion USD, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

So, why don't we cut $100-200 billion out of the military budget? Would this significantly harm out military's readiness? I would argue not. The biggest threat to our military's ability to defend this country is the state of perpetual war that we find ourselves in. With soldiers going on 2, 3, 4 or more tours to Iraq or Afghanistan, we have troops that are tired and having serious physical and emotional health issues. Having volunteered at a crisis hotline, I have spoken to some of the people most deeply disturbed by these wars.

Cutting military spending is not going to make China suddenly decide to to send an invasion fleet to storm Long Beach. The United States military will still have superior weapons systems and a better army with a $500-600 billion dollar budget, all the while starting to get us out from under the control of China who owns much of our debt.

If our military would pull back some and cut spending on worthless weapons programs, we could easily solve the fiscal crisis that we find ourselves in. Rather than cut spending on domestic programs like public broadcasting or home heating assistance, why don't we cut what our country needs the least? That is all.

16 January 2011

Same-Sex Marriage

One of the most contentious issues of our day is on the issue of same-sex marriage. On one hand, there are those who wish to see such a thing banned outright, even proposing to have a constitutional amendment to forever forbid such an institution, arguing that "traditional" marriage should be kept as is. On the other hand, there are those who see marriage as an issue of basic equality among people. I personally fall into this camp. Let's explore this issue a little bit.

What are the essential arguments against same-sex marriage? As stated earlier, the protection of a "traditional" institution seems to be of paramount concern. Furthermore, one could say that the primary purpose of marriage is to propagate children. Finally, it is often argued that the majority of Americans are in fact opposed to same-sex marriage, and therefore the United States should ban it in accordance with the will of the majority. Every one of these arguments have major flaws, and I will explain why.

As for the "traditional" marriage argument: what is traditional? Does traditional marriage mean that marriage is to exist as it did 50 years ago? 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Traditional in which culture? American? European? Chinese? Middle Eastern? What does traditional mean? Marriage, and indeed all human institutions have constantly evolved with human thought. Traditionally, slavery has existed in the Americas, but it no longer does. Why is that? It is fundamentally wrong to deny human beings basic rights. I don't particularly want to compare the denial of gay rights to an institution as abhorrent as slavery, but it does illustrate a point. Human thought changes based on notions of equality and freedom.

Indeed, the institution of marriage itself has evolved. Until 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in some US states, including my home state of Virginia. Under Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, it was illegal for people of different races to wed. However in 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) that this law violated the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution which says that "No state shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In the Court's decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

This case clearly established that even marriage is an evolving institution, and that discrimination does not belong. The last sentence of Chief Justice Warren's quote is the most important. Indeed, many of the legal arguments against same-sex marriage can be seen in this case. There is really no reason to say that homosexuality can be constitutionally treated any differently from race under the 14th Amendment.

Next, the argument that marriage is intended to propagate children is a false one. While it is true that most marriages produce children, they do not have to. Indeed, many heterosexual couples are themselves incapable of producing children. Should heterosexual couples be compelled to take fertility tests in order to get married? If marriage is exclusively for child production, then that is what we need.

Finally, the majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. That may be true, but why is that relevant when talking about an issue of basic rights? Is it possible that an opinion poll taken of the people of Topeka, Kansas in 1954 at the time of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) might have revealed that the majority were opposed to school integration? It may well have. The judiciary is an undemocratic institution for a reason. They exist in a world that is separate from James Madison's "passions of the majority" in order to protect the rights of the minority. While the majority is an important idea in our society, it is not the be all and end all. When the majority violates the minority's basic rights, it is up to the courts to step in.

When considering the question of same-sex marriage, ask yourself whether banning same sex marriage meets even the loose standard of judicial scrutiny know as Rational Basis Review. Rational Basis Review, as established by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Carolene Products Company, 304 U.S. 144 (1938) says that an act of government must be rationally related to a legitimate state interest. How does banning same-sex marriage rationally related to any legitimate state interest? Think about it.

That is all, for now.

20 October 2010

Not Feeling Creative Today

Well, I'm not feeling particularly creative today, so I shall leave you with this bit of comic relief:

05 July 2010


Anyone who has been paying any attention to the news lately has become aware of the arrest of 11 individuals, 10 in the US and one in Cyprus, over allegations that they were acting as sort of Russian sleeper agents. What is remarkable about this news coverage is the surprise and outrage expressed by the American media. Somehow people are surprised that they would spy on us, as is illustrated by this story from NPR this morning. Why?

According to this story, the United States caught Ben-ami Kadish, a US citizen, for allegedly acting as an agent for Israel in 2008. In this case, it was nuclear secrets, information about a modified F-15 fighter jet and the Patriot missile system. Where was the outrage in the news media back in 2008? Where was the sensationalism about some sort of betrayal by Israel, one of our closest allies?

Of course, it goes without saying that countries spy on each other. They don't have to be enemies to do it, either. Anyone who has taken a basic IR (International Relations) class is familiar with the concept of Realism. Realism argues that states act as autonomous units that do not interact with each other. Every state attempts to one-up the others, and act only out of purely rational self-interest. While this is not practically true as a pure theory, and instead we see mixtures of that and Liberalism, that Realist streak seems to exist in all countries. In the spy world, there are no allies. Everyone wants to build a capability over everyone else.

As for the media, it seems that we have a very obedient media in the United States. When it comes to those that our government deems good, then the media is not to ask questions about it. However, when the US says that they are the bad guys, our media follows suit. The US media has become little more than a propaganda arm for the US government and her interests. This is not a liberal vs. conservative argument. MSNBC does it. Fox News does it. CNN, CBS, ABC, etc. They all do it. More to come on that soon. That is all, for now.