Tag Archives: Foreign Relations

U.S. Pushing Foreign Military Sales To Dubious Actors

It matters who the arms are sold to, and how they are being used. By this measure, U.S. arms sales have been a dismal failure.

A case in point is a $23 billion arms package for the United Arab Emirates that narrowly escaped a vote of disapproval in the Senate on Dec. 9. The deal includes 50 F-35 combat aircraft18 armed MQ-9 drones, and more than 15,000 bombs

The UAE should not be receiving U.S. weapons at this time. A primary reason for stopping arms flows to the regime is its central role in the war in Yemen, a conflict that has spawned what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Over 112,000 people have died in the war, including thousands of civilians. “


“Earlier this month, the Pentagon and the State Department did their annual briefing on U.S. arms sales. The gist of the event was that the administration was proud of its efforts to promote U.S. weapons exports during 2020, which they asserted had increased by 2.8 percent from the prior year. This flood of new arms sales was described as an “accomplishment.”

But pushing weapons worth tens of billions of dollars out the door and overseas is by no means an accomplishment. 

For the bulk of the conflict, the Emirati military and the militias it has armed, trained, and financed were the primary ground force for the Saudi/UAE-led coalition that invaded Yemen in 2015. And although the UAE withdrew the bulk of its ground forces in February, it continues to be a key player through its support for 90,000 militia members involved in the fighting.

According to reports by the Associated Press, Human Rights Watch, and the Yemeni organization Mwatana for Human Rights, the UAE and its allies have engaged in widespread torture in Yemen. And U.S. weapons supplied to the UAE have ended up in the hands of extremist militias with ties to the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well as the Houthi rebels.

The UAE has also been heavily involved in the civil war in Libya, backing the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar in his drive to overthrow the internationally recognized government there. The UAE has provided a wide array of weapons to Haftar’s forces, as well as launching drone strikes that have killed civilians and prolonged the war. All of the UAE’s activities in Libya are in blatant violation of a United Nations arms embargo.

Not only have the UAE’s actions in Yemen and Libya generated massive humanitarian suffering, but they have also made it easier for extremist and terrorist groups to operate in those countries, to the detriment of long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa. As the International Crisis Group has noted with respect to the role of the UAE and other outside actors in Libya in stoking the war there: “prolonged conflict almost certainly will strengthen armed groups, including those linked to radical Islamist organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.”

Given all of the above, the Biden administration should reverse the deals to sell fighter planes, drones, and bombs to the UAE as one of its first actions when it takes office in January.

The UAE is not the only U.S. arms recipient that should get a second look in light of its human rights record. Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the United States, has locked up thousands of political prisoners, subjecting many of them to severe torture; waged a scorched earth counter-terror campaign in the Sinai that has driven thousands of people from their homes and resulted in the killing of large numbers of civilians; and played a negative role in the region, by, for example, facilitating the UAE’s role in Libya. The United States should reduce its military aid to the Sisi regime and condition future assistance on major improvements in its human rights record.

In the Philippines, the Duterte regime has gunned down thousands of civilians and arrested thousands more without trial under the guise of its war on drugs. These actions should disqualify the Philippines from receiving weapons of any sort from the United States. Yet the United States has supplied small arms and has a deal in the works to provide attack helicopters. 

And in Nigeria, the Trump administration reversed a ban on sales of Super Tucano light aircraft to one of the most repressive regimes in the world, whose military has engaged in such widespread human rights abuses with such impunity that it has sparked investigations by the International Criminal Court.

The above-mentioned cases are just a few examples of where U.S. arms supplies have done far more harm than good. The Biden administration can and should revise U.S. arms export policies to prioritize human rights and long-term security over short-term profits and questionable military alliances. That would be an accomplishment worth bragging about.”


The Endless Fantasy of American Power

A U.S. soldier taking a break in the Pesh valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan 
Carlos Barria / Reuters


“Although the defense industry and its allies have profited from American wars, the American people have done less well. Neither Trump Nor Biden Aim to Demilitarize Foreign Policy

Protracted wars are not making Americans freer or more prosperous. They have instead saddled the nation with enormous debt and diverted attention and resources from neglected domestic priorities.”


“In this year’s presidential election campaign, candidates have largely sidestepped the role of armed force as an instrument of U.S. policy. The United States remains the world’s preeminent and most active military power, but Republicans and Democrats find other things to talk about.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, successive administrations have enthusiastically put U.S. military might to work. In the last three decades, the flag of the United States Army has accumulated 34 additional streamers—each for a discrete campaign conducted by U.S. troops. The air force and navy have also done their share, conducting more than 100,000 airstrikes in just the past two decades.

Unfortunately, this frenetic pace of military activity has seldom produced positive outcomes. As measured against their stated aims, the “long wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly failed, as have the lesser campaigns intended to impart some approximation of peace and stability to Libya, Somalia, and Syria. An equally unfavorable judgment applies to the nebulous enterprise once grandly referred to as the “global war on terrorism,” which continues with no end in sight.

And yet there seems to be little curiosity in U.S. politics today about why recent military exertions, undertaken at great cost in blood and treasure, have yielded so little in the way of durable success. It is widely conceded that “mistakes were made”—preeminent among them the Iraq war initiated in 2003. Yet within establishment circles, the larger implications of such catastrophic missteps remain unexplored. Indeed, the country’s interventionist foreign policy is largely taken for granted and the public pays scant attention. The police killing of Black people provokes outrage—and rightly so. Unsuccessful wars induce only shrugs.


With something approaching unanimity, Americans “support the troops.” Yet they refrain from inquiring too deeply into what putting the troops in harm’s way has achieved in recent decades. Deference to the military has become a rote piety of American life. In accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, for example, Joe Biden closed his remarks with an appeal to the Divine on behalf of the nation’s soldiers: “And may God protect our troops.” Yet nowhere in his 24-minute address did Biden make any reference to what U.S. troops were currently doing or why in particular they needed God’s protection. Nor did he offer any thoughts on how a Biden administration might do things differently.

Americans don’t particularly want to hear about war or the possibility of war in the present season of overlapping and mutually reinforcing crises. And Biden obliged them in the most important speech of his career. The famously garrulous politician mentioned recent U.S. wars only in passing, briefly referring to his late son, who served in Iraq, and excoriating U.S. President Donald Trump for not responding more aggressively to revelations that Russia put bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

This aversion to taking stock of recent U.S. wars is by no means unique to Biden or confined to the Democratic Party. It is a bipartisan tendency. It also inhibits a long overdue reexamination of basic national security policy.

Protracted wars are not making Americans freer or more prosperous.

Between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2016 presidential election, leaders of both political parties collaborated in trying to demonstrate the efficacy and necessity of what they habitually referred to as “American global leadership.” Embedded in that seemingly benign phrase was a grand strategy of militarized primacy. Unfortunately, the results achieved by this assertion of global leadership proved to be anything but benign, as turmoil in Afghanistan and Iraq attest. Although the defense industry and its allies have profited from American wars, the American people have done less well. Protracted wars are not making Americans freer or more prosperous. They have instead saddled the nation with enormous debt and diverted attention and resources from neglected domestic priorities.

In 2020, further occasions for bristling, militarized U.S. leadership beckon. China offers the most obvious example for hawks, with demands that the United States confront the People’s Republic growing more insistent by the day. Many in Washington appear to welcome the prospect of a Sino-American cold war. Other prospective venues for demonstrating assertive U.S. leadership include in operations against Iran, Russia, and even poor benighted Venezuela, with prominent figures in the Beltway eager to have a go at regime change in Caracas.

To cling to this paradigm of U.S. global leadership is to perpetuate the assumptions and habits defining post–Cold War U.S. national security policy—and above all the emphasis on amassing and employing military might. The United States grants itself prerogatives allowed to no other country to remain, in its own estimation, history’s “indispensable nation.” To judge by the results achieved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other recent theaters of war, this imperative will only continue to wreak havoc in the name of freedom, democracy, and humane values.


An alternative path exists. Proponents of this path, most of them anti-interventionist progressives, propose to reframe politics as global rather than merely international. That is an important distinction. A global political ethos highlights problems affecting all nations, whether strong or weak, rich or poor, as opposed to emphasizing geopolitical competition, which sees the United States preoccupied with fending off any and all challengers to its preeminence. Those shared problems are not difficult to identify. They include communicable diseases such as COVID-19, the danger of nuclear conflict, the deterioration of the global commons, and, perhaps above all, climate change.

A second Trump administration will never acknowledge the existence of this alternative path. And regrettably, a Biden administration will probably pay little more than lip service to it. Despite the Biden campaign’s nod toward climate change—a crisis but also, in Biden’s words, “an enormous opportunity”—his own record and his choice of advisers suggest an administration less interested in real change than in restoring the status quo ante Trump.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 in no small part because a considerable number of Americans had lost confidence in establishment policies that left the United States mired in what he and other critics of a militarized U.S. policy called “endless wars.” He offered himself as the fixer who would put “America first.” But he has fixed nothing—and broken a great deal more. With monumental ineptitude, Trump has inflicted massive damage on U.S. credibility while the wars he inherited continue.

Biden accepting the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in Wilmington, Delaware, August 2020 
Biden accepting the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in Wilmington, Delaware, August 2020Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Take at face value Biden’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination and it suggests that he is intent on pursuing what is in effect an “America first” agenda without resorting to that radioactive phrase. Biden presents himself as an agent of domestic renewal, promising to save “the soul of America.” He is not promising to redeem the world.

But saving the United States’ soul will require an honest reckoning with post–Cold War U.S. foreign policy and, above all, with the reckless misuse of military power that forms its abiding theme. Biden proposes as president to build a United States that is “generous and strong, selfless and humble.” Achieving this lofty goal will require more than simply repudiating Trump and all his works. It will demand an approach to statecraft that is itself generous and strong, selfless and humble, qualities that recent administrations have displayed only intermittently.

What should this kind of statecraft look like? It would emphasize multilateral collaboration rather than unilateral action. It would use force only as a last resort. It would honor treaty commitments. It would adhere to respected norms—for example, the prohibition on preventive war. It would encourage allies capable of defending themselves to do so. It would work to strengthen, rather than undermine, international institutions. It would cease to define the size of the Pentagon’s budget as the ultimate measure of national security.

Washington should cease to define the size of the Pentagon’s budget as the ultimate measure of national security.

Given his priorities, Biden’s reluctance to talk about foreign wars is understandable. Yet if his administration reverts to the militarized definition of American global leadership that for decades has been the establishment’s default position, he will find the subject difficult to avoid. That path will lead to more war, inevitably clouding Biden’s rhetorical vision of light overcoming darkness.

If Biden is serious about transforming U.S. foreign policy, he will prioritize matters that pose an immediate threat to the safety and well-being of the American people. Terrorism still poses a nagging problem and always will. Aggressive actions by adversaries such as China, Russia, and Iran serve to remind Americans of the permanence of geopolitics. But in terms of proximate danger, all of these supposed threats pale in comparison with the death toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic or the havoc caused annually by climate-enhanced storms and wildfires. None of these actual threats will yield to a military solution.

War is the nemesis that will prevent Biden from achieving what he promises to do. A first step toward building the virtuous United States he desires is to avoid needless and futile armed conflicts. That will require a radical reorienting of U.S. national security policies to prioritize the safety and well-being of the American people at home, not the pursuit of phantasmagoric foes abroad.”


Declare Social Media ‘Critical Infrastructure’

Image: “istock


“In the last five years alone, foreign disinformation campaigns targeted public health, electoral security and trust in government. 

Defining social media as critical infrastructure and providing the resources and regulatory authority that accompany that designation would provide an effective way to win key battles in the “gray zone” likely to define competition between the United States and potential adversaries in the near term.


“Twenty-eight percent of adults in the United States believe Bill Gates wants to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips into people to track them, according to a Yahoo/YouGov poll released in late May.

Russian-state media outlets RT and Sputnik promoted false information on social media platforms stating handwashing is ineffective against stopping the spread of the virus.

This misinformation and confusion regarding the virus could result in thousands more deaths from a virus having already killed more than 120,000 Americans.

These harmful and conspiratorial beliefs are spread via the proliferation of disinformation on social media by adversarial foreign actors seeking to harm U.S. national security. To fight this, policymakers and defense leaders should declare social media critical infrastructure to allow them wider latitude when stopping the spread of disinformation.

Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig at the National Endowment for Democracy recently coined the term “sharp power” to describe the use of false information and propaganda by adversarial states to penetrate the political and information environments of targeted countries. Their overarching goal is to destabilize governments and civil society organizations by influencing the countries’ citizens.

Adversaries such as Russia, China and Iran spread incorrect and misleading statements over social media using armies of fake bot accounts and troll farms. Social media platforms use recommendation algorithms that then amplify this malicious content to users, until eventually the disinformation permeates public consciousness.

While COVID-19 is the proximate threat the nation faces, foreign disinformation campaigns have targeted countless other aspects of American life. Intelligence officials have concluded Russia conducted a widespread disinformation campaign to spread radicalizing information and sow mistrust in U.S. institutions prior to the 2016 election.

Iran and China have also started using these tactics, and the 2020 election will likely see millions of posts from bot accounts operated by adversaries seeking to sow discord.

The threat is not just limited to domestic security. On June 11, Twitter removed thousands of China-backed fake accounts that were spreading false information related to the Hong Kong protests and China’s coronavirus response in order to promote sympathy with the Chinese Communist Party and antipathy toward the West. Though a majority of Americans get some of their news off of social media, efforts to combat disinformation on these platforms have run into resistance as many of them view efforts to remove disinformation as an attempt to stymie free speech.

To counter threats to public health and national security, American social media networks should be designated as critical infrastructure as the United States seeks to thwart the pandemic and protect its electoral security. The Department of Homeland Security defines critical infrastructure sectors as those whose “assets, systems and networks … are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety.”

Social media’s manipulation by malicious actors for the purposes of spreading disinformation poses a threat to all these security areas. Declaring social media critical infrastructure will emphasize the threat disinformation poses, motivating social media giants into taking meaningful steps to mitigate the spread of disinformation.

Our allies are already taking steps to combat the negative impact online disinformation has on their public consciousness. The European Commission recently took on the task of finding a way to combat disinformation related to the pandemic. On June 10, the EU outlined steps needed to successfully counter it. The plan calls for increased cooperation amongst EU member states, international partners and civil society to promote objective facts about the pandemic while dispelling false narratives promulgated by hostile foreign powers. Treating social media here as critical infrastructure could have the same effect making it an issue priority.

Treating online platforms as critical infrastructure in the fight against disinformation could also emphasize the need for public and private entities to put resources into research and development to stop disinformation, as well as allow for increased cooperation between private tech entities and the government.

For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on the Semantic Forensics project, an attempt to develop algorithms that can successfully identify disinformation, as well as where it came from and whether or not it was an intentional malicious attempt to spread false information.

The increased focus that comes from being treated as critical infrastructure will push national security leaders to increase both R&D efforts to fight disinformation and collaboration between policymakers and industry on how to develop solutions to the threat disinformation poses. Viewing social media as critical infrastructure will also allow policymakers appropriate regulatory authorities toward social media platforms as they combat disinformation.

While the relatively nascent and online nature of social media may make a critical infrastructure designation seem gratuitous, foreign disinformation campaigns have the potential to disrupt multiple aspects of homeland security. “


Cool It With the ‘America In Decline’ Talk

Image: AP/ Rich Pedroncelli


The bottom line: the notion that the United States is shrinking to a shell of its former glory or somehow withering in the face of challenges from its strategic competitors leaves out all nuance and simplifies a highly complicated world into clickbait.


“With more than 40 million Americans out of work, demonstrations rocking cities coast-to-coast, and projections for a dire economic picture this summer, you can be forgiven for believing the United States is on a rapid decline. 

The conventional wisdom now emerging is one of a distracted, bumbling, and fumbling America ceding the international playing field to strategic competitors and outright adversaries. In the words of a featured June 2 report in the New York Times: “with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20 percent and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.”

While this “U.S. is in decline” narrative is exceedingly popular today, it also happens to be inaccurate — and dangerous. If it becomes widely accepted as fact that Washington is “retreating” and leaving adversaries to “fill the vacuum,” then U.S. policymakers responsible for formulating and executing foreign policy will be increasingly susceptible to making bad policy.

We need to clear the record: discussions about the United States losing its luster, or on its way to meeting the same fate as the Roman Empire, are vastly overblown. To continue making these arguments is to wipe away all context and ignore recent history.

Much has already been written about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, perhaps the world’s most important shipping lane and an area where multiple countries have set out competing sovereignty claims. This year alone, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy has sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands and engaged in a month-long standoff with a Malaysian oil exploration ship in waters claimed by China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Beijing has become noticeably more confrontational with Taiwan, dropping the word “peaceful” from its reunification plans and reportedly preparing a military drill simulating the seizure of Taiwanese-held Pratas Island. And as Beijing´s move on Hong Kong last week shows, the Chinese Communist Party is getting bolder and asserting itself on issues it has long considered as vitally important to its national security, despite universal international condemnation. 

We are led to believe that China’s recent activity in the South China Sea is some direct product of a U.S. seemingly incapable of maintaining a global leadership role. This, however, discounts the fact that Beijing has long viewed the waterway as its exclusive domain and has in fact spent the last 25 years coercing, cajoling, and otherwise chipping away at its neighbors’ competing claims through various military maneuvers. To chalk up China’s activity in the Pacific to a lack of U.S. resolve or leadership is to overstate Washington’s ability to deter Chinese behavior in this domain. If this mistaken premise is accepted outright, it will almost certainly convince Washington that a more intensive U.S. military response would be deter future Chinese assertiveness.

It’s important to note that China has continued to improve its posture in the South and East China Seas despite an uptick in U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations and B-1 bomber flights in international airspace. 

Nor does the present narrative explain the recent spate of Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in international airspace, which are not exactly a new phenomenon either. On May 26, Russian Su-35 aircraft challenged a U.S. Navy P-8A flying in the eastern Mediterranean in what the U.S. Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional” operation. Five weeks earlier, a similar Russian aircraft intercepted another U.S. surveillance plane in the same area. The U.S. Air Force has reciprocated; on April 9, U.S. F-22s escorted two Russian maritime surveillance aircraft after they entered the Alaskan Air Identification Zone. Such encounters are likely to continuee, which is precisely why it is urgent for U.S. and Russian officials to establish far more durable channels of communication in order to deescalate the situation and ensure these types of relatively regular incidents don´t result in a miscalculation or mid-air collision. 

Over the previous week, U.S. officials have suggested Russia is making a power-play in North Africa and establishing its own strategic base in Libya. According to U.S. Africa Command, more than a dozen Russian warplanes recently flew to Eastern Libya purportedly to assist its partner in the civil war, renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield. Russian investment in Libya´s conflict, however, hasn´t exactly panned out the way the Kremlin anticipated. 

Haftar has turned out to be an unreliable, mercurial, stubborn wannabe strongman whose  with other armed, tribal factions is fueled by little more than contempt for the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli. Russian President Vladimir Putin was publicly embarrassed last December, when Haftar walked out of a Kremlin-orchestrated peace conference. Negotiations remain practically nonexistent, which suggests Russia will soon face an unenviable choice between doubling down on a war that shows no signs of abating or disengaging and looking feckless.

As for Russia´s presence in Syria, this too has become an albatross around Moscow´s neck. While Russian air support in 2015 turned the war around and saved Bashar al-Assad from death or exile, Moscow´s investment in Syria since the conflict erupted more than nine years ago has yet to translate into concrete security benefits for the Kremlin. Notwithstanding the establishment of a few Russian airbases and friendly lease terms for the warm-port in Tartus, Moscow´s so-called victory in Syria consists of nothing more than a broken country led by a government that is corrupt, largely isolated from the West, and woefully incompetent in delivering basic services. Syria´s economy is in utter shambles as a result of the war, a rash of international economic sanctions, and outright mismanagement. Assad, the man the Kremlin has backed despite significant harm to its reputation, remains intransigent on even the slightest compromise with his opponents—leading Russia itself to question whether its support of the Syrian dictator was worth the cost.  

Developing a foreign policy that meets U.S. interests requires working from accurate assessments and the world as it really is. Relying on a black-and-white view of international affairs is risky business and could very well produce policies that will truly weaken the United States.”


Vietnam And Modern Memory

A member of the CIA helps evacuees up a ladder onto an Air America helicopter on the roof of 22 Gia Long Street April 29, 1975, shortly before Saigon fell to advancing North Vietnamese troops.


Vietnam today is what we had tried to make it: a free-market consumer society. The tragedy of it is that over 58,000 Americans and some 2 million Vietnamese had to die just so that Vietnam could get there on its own timetable rather than ours.

The great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.


“Back in the mid-80s, an Army officer of my acquaintance succinctly summed up the mood of the post-Vietnam military: “It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s military,” he observed, “so long as you don’t dwell on it or refer back to it.”

He was right. He had intuited the largely unspoken, but widely understood, politically correct attitude toward our humiliating defeat. Vietnam had been an aberration, the kind of war we would never fight again. And the less said about it, the better.

Ironically, this same spirit of denial and revision has spread to American society in general in recent years. It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s America, so long as you remember that war the way President Reagan portrayed it, as a “noble crusade,” and so long as you profess utter admiration for our armed forces and unwavering support for our current crusades.

Thursday, April 30, marked the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon — and the end of our Vietnam misadventure. The Vietnam War I remember, and later studied, was anything but a “noble crusade.” It was a profoundly existential experience. Survival was the only moral touchstone, and getting through to our rotation tour dates the only goal we cared about. All the Marines I knew “in country” were profoundly skeptical of the official rationales for why we were there and increasingly embittered by the reluctance of the South Vietnamese to fight their own war.

My fellow Vietnam veterans seem to have forgotten how traumatized we were about all this. We have been co-opted, bought off with belated handshakes and glib expressions of gratitude. We have forgotten what really occasioned all the bitterness and fueled the post-traumatic stress of our generation.

It wasn’t that the country failed to welcome us home or to honor our service with parades. It was the discovery that our leaders had lied to us about the nature and the necessity of the war and that the conduct of the war put the lie to the ideals and values in which we had all been raised to believe.

Would that we all knew then what we know now. Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a nationalist. Early on, he had appealed to us to help dissuade France from reclaiming its former colony at the end of World War II. But we needed France’s help in blocking communist expansion in Europe, and the ensuing Cold War clouded our judgment. We feared falling dominoes. By 1950, we were mired in Korea and bankrolling France’s Indochina War. With the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, we took over. We sent in intelligence operatives to subvert the Geneva Accords, especially the plebiscite that would have reunited North and South Vietnam under whichever government the majority chose. Having defeated the French, Ho Chi Minh was the hands-down favorite to win. The South Vietnamese president we had installed, Ngo Dinh Diem, was almost as alien to his own people as we were. Ho Chi Minh had cornered the market on Vietnamese nationalism, and out in the countryside, most of the people seemed to want no part of what we were selling.

What’s worse, once we had taken over in our own right, we began to take that indifference personally. Contrary to popular belief, we weren’t forced to fight with one hand tied behind our back. We unleashed a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II. We declared free-fire zones. We defoliated large areas with Agent Orange. We made liberal use of close-air support and indirect fire weapons with little regard for the so-called “collateral damage” such weapons inevitably inflict.

Racists that we were, we dehumanized the Vietnamese as “gooks” and “slopes.” Unable to distinguish friend from foe, we viewed them all as potential threats. Hence, the worst atrocity of the war — the My Lai Massacre. Hell hath no fury like a country scorned, especially one that considers itself to be exceptional and eminently deserving of admiration and emulation.

This is not to say that, because we were wrong, the other side was wholly righteous. They resorted to terror. They mistreated our POWs. They were hardly magnanimous in victory. But the irony is that we seem to have won after all.

So how then should those of us who served in Vietnam feel about participating in such an unnecessary and misguided war? While so many of our contemporaries sat in self-indulgent safety and comfort, we put ourselves on the line. Some of us went in believing. Others suspended judgment or even went against our better judgment. But the great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.”


Edward Palm


A native of New Castle, Delaware, Edward Palm served as an enlisted Marine with the Combined Action Program in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Returning to the Marine Corps in later life, Palm served as the Marine Officer Instructor with the NROTC unit at University of California, Berkeley and taught English at the Naval Academy before retiring as a major in 1993. His civilian academic career included appointments as a tenured professor and college dean. He now lives in Forest, Virginia. Contact Ed Palm at majorpalm@gmail.com

GAO Finds Foreign Ownership In Government Contract Awards



Foreign-owned contractors have received Defense Department contracts for which they are ineligible due to opaque ownership structures that have gone unnoticed by contracting officers.

Such awards have led to leaks of sensitive information to foreign-owned companies and the acquisition of defective parts, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.


“The Department of Defense (DOD) faces several types of financial and nonfinancial fraud and national security risks posed by contractors with opaque ownership. These risks, identified through GAO’s review of 32 adjudicated cases, include price inflation through multiple companies owned by the same entity to falsely create the appearance of competition, contractors receiving contracts they were not eligible to receive, and a foreign manufacturer receiving sensitive information or producing faulty equipment through a U.S.-based company.

DOD has taken some steps that could address some risks related to contractor ownership in the procurement process but has not yet assessed these risks across the department. DOD, in coordination with other agencies, revised the Federal Acquisition Regulation in 2014 to require contractors to self-report some ownership information. DOD has taken steps to identify and use ownership information—for example, as part of its supply-chain risk analysis when acquiring critical components. DOD has also begun a department-wide fraud risk management program, but it has neither assessed risks of contractor ownership across the department nor identified risks posed by contractor ownership as a specific area for assessment. Assessing risks arising from contractor ownership would allow DOD to take a strategic approach to identifying and managing these risks, make informed decisions on how to best use its resources, and evaluate its existing control activities to ensure they effectively respond to these risks.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD generally accounts for about two-thirds of federal contracting activity. Some companies doing business with DOD may have an opaque ownership structure that conceals other entities or individuals who own, control, or financially benefit from the company. Opaque ownership could be used to facilitate fraud and other unlawful activity.

The House Armed Services Committee report on the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 included a provision for GAO to examine the risks posed by contractors with opaque ownership and DOD’s processes for identifying ownership. This report identifies types of fraud and other risks that opaque contractor ownership poses to DOD in the procurement process and assesses whether DOD has taken steps to address those risks. GAO reviewed applicable laws and regulations and interviewed DOD officials, including procurement staff and criminal investigators. GAO researched cases from 2012–2018 where contractors may have concealed or failed to disclose ownership information. GAO compared DOD’s efforts to leading practices in GAO’s Fraud Risk Framework. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in September 2019. Information that DOD deemed sensitive involving ongoing investigations and certain internal controls and vulnerabilities has been omitted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD assess risks related to contractor ownership as part of DOD’s ongoing efforts to assess fraud risk. DOD should use this information to inform other types of risk assessments, including national security concerns. DOD concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

For more information, contact Seto J. Bagdoyan at (202) 512-6722 or bagdoyans@gao.gov.”


China, Russia And South Korean Firms Ranked Within 2019 Top 100 World Defense Companies

Image: Business Korea.com


“The additions have caused a reshuffling of positions relative to last year’s Top 100, but the absence of Chinese enterprises had painted an incomplete picture of the structure of the global defense sector. https://people.defensenews.com/top-100/

Some planners and analysts may scoff at the inclusion of Chinese firms, or for that matter enterprises of other countries that don’t have markets open to U.S. and European firms. But this raises the first of three lessons that can be learned from the Top 100: Pay attention to China.


“The U.S. Defense Department and other defense ministries have been paying a lot of attention to China for more than a decade, and contractors have undeniably benefited from spending to counter China’s emerging defense capabilities.

The data listed in the Top 100 for eight Chinese enterprises raises a host of questions: Are these firms profitable? How much do they spend on research and development? What are management incentives and goals? How do these firms benefit from commercial enterprises that are often part of their business portfolios?

A recent McKinsey & Company study observed that the largest 100 Chinese firms in all sectors generated approximately 18 percent of sales internationally, compared to 44 percent for U.S. firms in the broad S&P 500 market index.

The same relationship may hold for China’s defense contractors. China’s major defense export customers have tended to be relatively small in number — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar and some African states.

There are harbingers of change, however, with a Chinese firm selected in 2013 to supply Turkey with an air defense system (the deal fell through) and more recent UAV and ballistic missile sales as well as local development for Saudi Arabia. It’s likely that companies listed in the Top 100 will see more Chinese enterprises in global markets in the years to come.

The second lesson from the Defense News rankings is that it’s difficult for contractors to make significant moves on organic sales growth alone. Lockheed Martin has been the No. 1 ranked company since 2003; Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and BAE Systems have been ranked between No. 2 and No. 6.

There are two possible exceptions to this rule, however, in SpaceX and General Atomics, neither of which appear on the Top 100. There’s been a general dearth of new entrants in defense that have reached scale. Big moves in relative position have typically resulted from divestitures, or mergers and acquisitions .

For contractors that are on the list, this leads to a third lesson: The things you can’t see may kill you, or at least trip up your well-laid plans.

SpaceX is possibly an anomaly, as there are not that many billionaires with very different business models and goals targeting specific defense segments. But defense customers will continue to demand new and innovative products and services, and the number of potential competitors is far greater than those listed in the Top 100. The threats here may come from smaller firms that can rapidly scale up in new market segments — such as space, cyber or artificial intelligence — or protracted forays by large commercial technology firms into markets dominated by traditional contractors.

There are other companies not listed in the Top 100 that will play impactful roles in defense market segments. The initial public offering of Parsons raises its profile in defense. Kaman’s plan to sell its distribution business and concentrate on engineered products is another change, and the agreement between AeroVironment and Kratos announced in 2019 is another factor to weigh.”


Japan And Australia – A Security Alliance Independent of the U.S.

Image: DAVID MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


The countries would act as cornerstones in a future regional security alliance that could include European and Asian partners, but not depend on U.S. support.

Concerns about the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the region is catalyzing action on a tighter defense partnership.


“Despite their locations on opposite ends of the Pacific, Australia and Japan share many concerns: the safety of their shipping via sea lanes, the increased pressure put on them by China’s rise in power and a complicated alliance with the United States. As Washington’s reliability and effectiveness as an ally diminish, it’s logical that a more robust relationship between Australia and Japan would extend beyond the economic realm into the security sphere. To that end, Australia and Japan have been working to develop a security structure independent of their alliance with the United States intended to eventually bring in additional allies, both Asian and European.

Australian-Japanese Relations

The long diplomatic relationship between Japan and Australia began under Japan’s Tokugawa government in 1854. After the countries’ military confrontation during World War II, a strong trade relationship bloomed. Today, the foundations are being set for an Indo-Pacific security structure with both nations as its cornerstones. 

In June 1976, Japan and Australia signed the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, laying out their bilateral relations for the first time since World War II ended. Their relationship, especially in the economic realm, has increased in scope and complexity ever since. Australia is now Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner — and its top supplier of energy and mineral resources. The two countries signed the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2015, and Australia lists Japan as its second-largest trading partner. Together they organized the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership when President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the original Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in 2016.

On the security front, their relationship is deepening as well. The “2+2” talks involving Japanese and Australian defense and foreign ministers started in 2010. Out of those came the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), calling for increased bilateral military cooperation. That agreement would allow access to each other’s territory by their respective military personnel. As reported in The Diplomat on April 10, a major sticking point remains rules over capital punishment for military personnel. Japan allows soldiers to be executed, but Australia does not. Negotiations over that point continue, however. Interestingly, the RAA allows provisions for additional allies to be brought on board at a later date.

A Loss of Trust in the United States

In a July 2018 essay titled “With Trump at large, Australia needs a Plan B for defense,” Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a traditional booster of the U.S.-Australian alliance, argued for measures boosting Australian security. While the piece made clear that the Australian defense relationship with the United States should continue, it said that the country should increase defense spending, consider security ties with Japan, develop nuclear submarines and add to its military ranks.

In March 2019, Hiroyuki Akita, a writer and editor for the Nikkei Asian Review, referenced Jennings’ call in his article advocating that Japan form a security alliance that includes not only Australia but also France, England and even Belgium. Like Jennings, he stressed the importance of maintaining the current treaty with the United States but noted that it was “not inconceivable” that the alliance could unravel.

Reading the Writing on the Wall

Japan is currently involved in the Talisman Sabre war games organized by Australia. Although its participation in this exercise was set for some time, in June, Tokyo dramatically scaled up its security forces’ planned participation. Japanese warships and amphibious troops will be joining the war games for the first time.

This is an obvious sign Japan is taking security ties with Australia more seriously, but the Japanese government has been laying the groundwork for that relationship for some time. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been developing a legal framework to allow for the transfer of military assets between the two. In its annual paper published February 2019 regarding permits for the transfer of military equipment to foreign lands, the ministry not only details the issuance of permits for military equipment and technology to Australia but also calls for a stronger overall security relationship. The ministry had been working on this project since October 2014, the paper indicated. The Japanese government is not only diplomatically but institutionally setting the course for a military relationship with Australia.

Canberra is actively encouraging the Australian public to support deeper ties with Japan. Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne in January 2019 publicly supported Japan’s increased defense spending despite worries articulated about the implications for the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. In July, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Australian media that he regretted not being able to secure a contract with Japanese developers in 2016 to help develop Australia’s new class of submarine. Tokyo had coveted the contract, which ultimately was awarded to French developers in 2015. Those and an increasing number of other public comments by Australian leaders concerning their country’s relationship with Japan show a growing willingness on their part to accept a new security framework with Japan as a cornerstone.

A Long-Term Trend Accelerates

A tighter security relationship between Japan and Australia has been developing since the conclusion of the Economic Partnership Talks in 2014. Talks between the Australian and Japanese defense ministers began in May 2010 at the 2+2 negotiations. The countries’ prime ministers released the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2007, the first such declaration outside of their relationship with the United States. Both Australia and Japan have eyed one another as a strategic partner now for 12 years and have been acting accordingly.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement did not spring from a void, but rather is a product of years of relationship-building between two Pacific middle powers with much at stake: the stability and security of the Indo-Pacific region in face of a rising China and a declining and increasingly unreliable United States.

Doubts about U.S. direction have deepened in both countries, especially so in the wake of the Group of 20 summit in June. The repercussions of Trump’s musings about ending the U.S. security pact with Japan and of his visit to the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone and embrace of leader Kim Jong Un have yet to fully play out. But it’s certain that decision-makers in Japan and Australia alike could read the president’s actions in the context of the standing Pacific security framework as discouraging. 

Japan and Australia have begun work on a Pan-Asian, Indo-Pacific security structure that would include Western Europe but not the United States. Though this structure does not currently exist, the framework of what it would take to build it does. Both countries still wish to maintain security ties with the United States, and publicly state so. However, given their uncertainty about the direction that the current White House will take, neither side appears comfortable with the status quo. As a result, both countries will continue to move forward with alternative means to guarantee their security in the Pacific.”



Global Arms Trade Experiencing Greatest Boom Since Cold War




“The revolving door between public officials and defense contractors has long distorted U.S. foreign policy to serve war profiteers at the expense of the public interest and basic humanitarian norms.

From U.S. weaponry ending up in the hands of ISIS, to supplying arms fueling civil conflict and therefore contributing to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, the lack of oversight on arms deals has enabled human rights atrocities.”


“In their most recent report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed a 44 percent increase in arms sales from 2002 to 2017. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter by far, holding 34 percent of total market share — a 58 percent lead on Russia, its closest competitor. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. arms sales to foreign governments increased 33 percent, in part due to the Trump administration’s diminished legal restraints on supplying foreign militias.

The Project on Government Oversight released a detailed analysis of the defense sector, revealing 645 instances of federal employees working for the 20 largest Pentagon contractors in fiscal year 2016, the latest year with complete data. Of the 645 instances of former public servants transitioning to work for private defense corporations, 90 percent were hired to work as lobbyists, where they seek to influence public policy to benefit their private employers.

After the resignation of Gen. James Mattis, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan filled the post as interim head of the Defense Department.

Shanahan spent three decades working for Boeing — a blatant conflict of interest for the person responsible for overseeing federal contracts with private defense contractors. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, called Shanahan “a living, breathing product of the military-industrial complex,” and asserted that “this revolving door keeps the national security elite very small, and very wealthy, and increasing its wealth as it goes up the chain.”

One egregious example of that revolving door is Heather Wilson, who has been secretary of the Air Force since 2017. In 2015, Lockheed Martin paid a $4.7 million settlement to the Department of Justice after the revelation it had used taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists for a $2.4 billion contract.

One of the lobbyists was former New Mexico Representative Wilson, ranked as one of the “most corrupt members of Congress” by the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Wilson was later confirmed as Air Force secretary in the Senate by a 76-22 vote.

Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army, worked as vice president of government relations for Raytheon before joining the Administration in 2017. The Hill recognized Esper as one of Washington’s most powerful corporate lobbyists in 2015 and 2016, where he fought to influence acquisition policy and other areas of defense bills. Esper’s undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, is a former Lockheed executive.

The State Department’s updated Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Policy Implementation Plan was released in November 2018 and detailed loosened restrictions on the sale of drones and other weapons, new financing options for countries who can’t afford U.S. weaponry, and aims to put pressure on diplomats to put arms deals at the forefront of their mission. Rachel Stohl, an arms trade expert with the Stimson Center, described the updated policy, saying, “If you read between the lines, it could be a green light for the U.S. to sell more with less restraint.”

A glaring example of the arms industry’s influence on State Department policy is demonstrated by a September 20, 2018, report from The Wall Street Journal. According to the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was convinced to continue support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen for the sake of a $2 billion arms deal with U.S.-based defense contractor Raytheon. The State Department’s legislative affairs staff, who influenced Pompeo’s decision, is led by Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner, a former Raytheon lobbyist.

Recent developments by the Administration have clarified the nature of the relationship between defense contractors and the federal government, but it would be erroneous to place the majority of the blame on him for the greater trend in global arms sales. Under President Barack Obama, arms exports doubled compared to President George W. Bush, reaching more than $200 billion in total approved deals (approved deals don’t represent actualized contracts, as deals can take years to be ordered and completed). The rapid increase in exports was part of a broader strategy to replace U.S. soldiers with surrogates in allied countries, as well as to placate allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — countries incensed by the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Despite brokering more arms deals than any administration since World War II, President Obama did enforce holds on arms exports to some countries deemed guilty of human rights abuses, including Bahrain, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. All of these holds were lifted shortly after the Trump administration took power.

The Administration’s priorities on arms sales were further demonstrated after the CIA confirmed Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in ordering the savage execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. resisting calls to punish the Saudi prince on the grounds that punitive action would jeopardize lucrative arms deals with the kingdom. The claims vastly overstated the amount of jobs and money to be lost if the U.S. withdrew support for Saudi military adventurism.

Research from Brown University shows domestic investment in education and health care creates more than twice as many jobs as military spending. Arguments that we have to provide Saudi Arabia or the UAE with bombs that land on school buseshospitals and weddings in order to preserve jobs is unconscionable and demonstrates a warped sense of priorities. We don’t have to contribute to what a United Nations Children’s Fund official has labeled a “war on children” to maintain what accumulates to a total of less than 0.5 percent of U.S. jobs. We can invest in productive sectors of the economy like renewable energy and create jobs that truly serve our society.

A real debate on the arms trade is nearly absent from public conversation because the industry can only thrive in secrecy and duplicity. Consider former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s final move as a public official, in which he snuck a provision to curtail debate on Saudi support in Yemen into the U.S. farm bill in December.

Fortunately, Ryan’s manipulative tactics would fail to prevent the House from finally passing a resolution to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen on February 13. Trump has indicated the Yemen resolution will be his first veto, as it represents a major check to executive power and a direct rebuke to his arms export-based style of diplomacy.

After pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, defense companies enjoyed an immediate boost to their stock. This is because demand in the arms trade surges alongside geopolitical instability. Heightened volatility encourages higher arms sales, and the dissemination of weapons to despotic regimes increases volatility, creating a vicious cycle further entrenched by a revolving door of defense contractors who influence public policy to benefit private weapons manufacturers.

In his famous farewell speech, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the U.S. public of this exact predicament, what he called the “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower’s warning remains prescient nearly 60 years later, as the failure to regulate the defense sector has led the U.S. to arm its enemies, enable humanitarian crises and desecrate its values. While the historic House resolution to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen is proof we can take concrete action to confront the military industrial complex, greater public awareness is needed to transform U.S. foreign policy in a profound manner. Just as President Eisenhower suggested, it is time for an alert and knowledgeable citizenry to challenge the reasoning behind the U.S.’s endless wars and fight for a more peaceful future.”

America Sold $55.6 Billion In Weapons Abroad in FY 18 — A 33 Percent Jump


Foreign Arms Sales 2018


“Included in that total are $3.52 billion for cases funded by the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program; $4.42 billion for cases funded under Defense Department authorities; and $47.71 billion funded through pure FMS cases, per the State Department.”

“The U.S. inked $55.6 billion in foreign military sales during fiscal year 2018, easily smashing past the previous year’s total — and the Pentagon’s point man for security cooperation expects more in the future.

“This is a 33 percent increase over last year and I’m very optimistic that this positive trajectory will continue,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, during a speech at the AUSA conference. “Our partners know a good thing when they see one.”

In FY17, the U.S. sold $41.93 billion in FMS deals, and the Pentagon has not been shy about hyping the final dollar total for this year. In July, Hooper said the department had already inked $46.9 billion in deals, and a Pentagon report released last year said that the U.S. had inked $54.45 billion through the end of August.

Sales totals are volatile year over year, depending on what partner nations seek to buy. In FY16, sales totaled $33.6 billion, while FY15 totaled just more than $47 billion and FY14 totaled $34.2 billion.

While this year’s total still falls short of FY12’s all-time record, there is reason for Hooper to be optimistic this is not a one-time boost.

In FY18 the State Department cleared roughly $70 billion in potential FMS deals, spread over 70 individual requests. Those are not hard dollars, but rather a listing of the potential agreements that the State Department has ok’d; if Congress does not object, those potential deals then go into negotiations. Among those requests are a Saudi request for THAAD ($15 billion) and a Polish request for Patriot PAC-3 batteries ($10.5 billion), either one of which would give a massive boost for a potential FY19 total if completed on time.

In addition, the Trump administration has made pushing foreign weapon sales a key part of its economic growth strategy, pushing out a new conventional arms transfer policy to make it easier to sell defense articles abroad.

And Hooper is not alone in his optimism. Speaking to reporters in September, Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said, “I would anticipate — I am an optimist and a realist — that next year’s numbers will be higher than this year’s numbers.”