Monthly Archives: June 2010

Damascus Meets Caracas: Syria in Latin America

By Eva Silkwood, Research Assistant, and Walter Rodriguez, Research Intern to Latin America Senior Fellow John (Jay) Cope

Should the U.S. government be concerned with Syria’s foray into Latin America?

This past weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first official visit to Venezuela, as part of a larger tour of Latin America to include Cuba, Brazil and Argentina (President Chavez had previously visited Syria in 2006 and 2009). The two presidents discussed speeding up Syrian-Venezuelan cooperation and signed trade, tourism, and energy MOUs, including plans for the construction of an oil refinery in Syria which will begin operating in 2013 with a production capacity of 145,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan crude oil. President al-Assad said that Syria is seeking “a strategic relationship with Latin America, which starts from the strategic relationship between Syria and Venezuela.”

However, this is not necessarily a new relationship – President Chavez has cultivated diplomatic ties with Syria since 2000. It should be no surprise that Syria wishes to engage more with Venezuela since a small but influential community of Muslim Arabs of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian descent lives there. However, of greater concern is the growing presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela. Ties between Iran and Venezuela in the form of weekly flights linking Caracas and Tehran via Damascus are also worrisome as some analysts have suggested the poorly regulated flights may be aiding the unrestricted flow of money and agents from Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

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Not McChrystal Clear

by Evan Munsing, Research Assistant to Senior Fellow & Director, Dr. Christopher Lamb

The sudden and unexpected fall of Stanley McChrystal occurred with such speed that most of us, like Charlie Brown missing a football, are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.
Although the ink has yet to dry on the Rolling Stone article that caused it all (it won’t hit the newsstands until Friday), another chapter in the Long War seems to have already turned and there is much speculation about what this means for the US and Afghanistan. Rather than add more speculation to the copious amounts of commentary already available on the subject, I will merely point you to a page by Peter Feaver over at Foreign Policy that offers what is probably the best explanation for how this situation came about.


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Gulf Disaster: More Than Just An Environmental Catastrophe?

by Micah J. Loudermilk & Jason A. Lyon, Assistants to Energy Chair, Dr. Richard Andres

This morning, Congress hauled in executives from the oil industry to answer questions about both BP’s response to the Gulf crisis and companies’ existing mechanisms and capabilities for combating oil spills. While the bulk of the hearing focused on existing response plans, Lamar McKay, president of BP America, noted in his prepared remarks that:

“America’s economy, security and standard of living today significantly depend upon domestic oil and gas production. Reducing our energy production, absent a concurrent reduction in consumption, would shift additional jobs and dollars offshore and place millions of additional barrels per day into tanker ships that must traverse the world’s oceans.”

While certainly not trying to downplay the magnitude of the spill, its catastrophic environmental effects, or the blundering of BP in resolving it, Mr. McKay’s words should not go unheeded. President Obama and Congress, reacting to the cries of angry Americans, have cracked down on the oil industry and placed a moratorium on all new drilling leases. While these actions are understandable, keeping in mind the above quote, it raises the important question – is the U.S. at risk of allowing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to unduly affect the future of offshore drilling and domestic energy production?

The rhetoric out of government officials has placed a heavy emphasis on energy independence and security – of which domestic production is a key component. While prudent reforms are clearly in order, at stake is not simply the ecosystem of the Gulf coast, but also the livelihoods of thousands of Americans and potentially the security of the nation.

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Africa’s Irregular Security Threats: Challenges for U.S. Engagement

“The United States has a growing strategic interest in Africa at a time when the security landscape there is dominated by a wide range of irregular, nonstate threats. Militia factions and armed gangs are ubiquitous in the conti­nent’s civil wars, fighting both for and against African governments. Other security challenges include terrorism, drug trafficking, maritime threats such as piracy in the Indian Ocean, and oil bunkering in the Gulf of Guinea. Organized criminal activities, particularly kidnapping, human smuggling and trafficking in persons, weapons smuggling, and environmental and financial crimes, are increasingly brazen and destructive. These are not isolated phenomena. Rather, they create a vicious circle: Africa’s irregular threat dynamics sustain black markets directly linked to state corruption, divert atten­tion from democratization efforts, generate or fuel civil wars, drive state collapse, and create safe havens that allow terrorists and more criminals to operate.

International consensus is growing on the best way forward. African governments and their international partners must craft more appropriately structured and better resourced security sectors to address emerging threats. This means balancing emphasis on professionalizing Africa’s military forces with an equally serious and long-term commit­ment to modernizing law enforcement, civilian intelligence, and border security agencies. It also means enhancing African governments’ legal capabilities to monitor and regulate finan­cial and commodity flows across their borders, and to prosecute those who transgress the law. National coordination and regional coopera­tion are needed to overcome “stovepiped” responses, share information, and address threats that are multidimensional and transna­tional in nature. Finally, there is agreement that much more needs to be done to address the root causes of these threats by reducing poverty, building peace in conflict-ridden societies, and curtailing the general sense of alienation many Africans feel toward their governments.

Engaging African states as reliable part­ners to confront irregular security challenges will be a complex process requiring a three-pronged strategy. First, there must be substan­tial, sustained, and continent-wide investment in capacity-building for intelligence, law enforcement, military, prosecutorial, judicial, and penal systems, not to mention their par­liamentary, media, and civil society counter­parts. Second, until such African capabilities come online and are properly utilized by polit­ical leaders, the United States and other for­eign partners will need to deploy more of their own intelligence, law enforcement, and spe­cial operations personnel to Africa to address terrorist and criminal dynamics that pose a direct and immediate threat to U.S. strategic interests. Third, further efforts are required to harden the political will of African leaders to actually deploy their maturing security sec­tor capabilities in an aggressive manner that abides by the rule of law.” Andre Le Sage, Ph.D. Strategic Forum 255, May 2010.

How can the U.S. and the international community work to build ‘political will’ amongst African leaders to implement the commitments they have made to combat these threats?

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Question Recently Posed on National Security Strategy

A recent post on the Project on National Security Reform (LinkedIn) by the Interim Director of the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) Dr. Christopher Lamb, at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) attempted to answer the following question:

“What reforms will the Obama administration need to undertake to achieve the new organizational capacity articulated by its National Security Strategy?”

Answer: It is good that the new National Security Strategy recognizes “work remains to foster coordination across departments and agencies.” In the list of challenges to coordination across departments that is identified in the NSS, perhaps the most important is “reviewing authorities and mechanisms to implement and coordinate assistance programs”—not just for assistance programs but all interagency missions. As PNSR has previously noted, none of the basic coordinating mechanisms of the national security system has been very successful. In short, there is no consistently effective model of presidentially delegated authority for integrating interagency missions. Thus one absolutely critical reform is a new, empowered integration mechanism which the president can use when circumstances demand. By the way, we are working on that issue here at the Center for Strategic Research and hope to have a useful article on the topic in the not too distant future.

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