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Ideology vs Pragmatism: Saddam’s Advice for Cuba

Saddam speaking

By Michael C. Herrera and David Palkki
Conflict Records Research Center

Many Americans view Saddam Hussein as an ideological dictator. Emerging evidence from captured Iraqi records stored digitally at the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC), however, confirms the conclusion that Saddam was first and foremost a pragmatist. Research by notable scholars, like Amatzia Baram, highlights Saddam’s willingness to adapt his behavior and his regime to gain advantage. For example, in 1993, when Iraq felt the full effects of the international embargo, Saddam announced the opening of his Faith Campaign, which would transform Iraq’s secular state to a more Islamic state in concert with the growing religiosity among Iraqis.[i] This ability to adapt in order to preserve power was continually employed by Saddam throughout his 24-year reign as President of Iraq. One can further observe his pragmatism in a CRRC transcript of a 2001 meeting between Saddam and Ricardo Largone, President of the National Cuban Association, where they discuss Cuba’s recent economic turmoil.

From the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s until 2001, Cuba’s economy struggled. Tourism remained its primary source of income, while sugar cane production steadily decreased due to a shortage of replacement parts, fertilizers, pesticides, and petroleum, as well as an unmotivated workforce. Largone voiced these concerns during his meeting with Saddam, who urges Cuba to consider adopting a new, more capitalist, approach.

Saddam begins by first identifying the problem with Cuba’s agricultural collective system. He states that when a farmer owns his own plot of land he has a higher incentive to care for his crop. The farmer will ensure a good harvest if it feeds his chickens and cows, which, in turn, feed his family. Consequently, the sense of ownership creates a cooperative amongst his family where everyone, even a child of six years old, will work on the farm.  Saddam continues:

However, with a collective this does not happen, if a family member finds work that gives him a little extra, he takes it, as for the wife, she does not work in the fields because she has no share in the cooperative. And the farmer feeds his cow sugar cane secretly because the cow is his and the sugar cane belongs to a hundred other people, and the property is public, it is all there, but the quantity of sugar cane is not specifically known.[ii]

Saddam attributes the lack of sugar production to the theory that, because workers do not own the land, they are more likely to steal from it and less likely to work hard to increase production. He goes on to describe how, over time, the Cuban population has grown out of their initial acceptance of the socialist command economy:

At the beginning, when the Cuban revolution occurred and succeeded in 1959, the Cuban people were poor, with their dignity and nationalism stepped on. At that time if you told him he had one share out of ten, he accepted it because he had nothing else. So, he worked hard and was buoyed by the spirit of the new revolution so he was careful, enthusiastic and responsible with the country’s wealth as if it were his own, but after his stomach was full, and he was clothed, well, he started to look for a new kind of life… Now, he sees the government employee, busy with  the news of all the other employees, this one stole and this one abuses public funds and this one skipped work for a few hours because he is a party member. And he sees the occupation in movies and how the American family lives, and he sees the cars or hears about them, but he must live in his country. And if imperialism is as bad as he is told, he does not see those negatives… These generations seek a better situation and secretly, within their hearts, compare their condition and the condition of other systems that took a different road.[iii]

According to Saddam, the new era of information had led Cubans to seek a better socioeconomic situation. At this point we begin to see Saddam’s pragmatism emerge. After identifying Cuba’s problem, Saddam proposes that Cuba consider adapting to its new situation to increase production. He states, “Therefore, if you lease out the land for a high price, that is appropriate for the income, then you will see that the production will double or more.”[iv] He is proposing that Cuba move to a more capitalist system.  Much like China has done over the past few years, Saddam stresses that Cuba should rethink the communist model and slowly make an attempt to move toward owning and farming private property.

It seems as though Cuba has begun to show the same pragmatism that kept Saddam in power. In the past couple of years, Cuba has begun to allow its citizens to own small businesses, it has given farmers new profit-incentives, and even allowed for ownership of private property. Although there are still many restriction imposed by the state, Cuba has begun to take Saddam’s pragmatic approach and learned to adapt to save its ailing economy. Analysts seeking to understand the durability of dictatorial rule in Cuba, Saddam’s Iraq, and elsewhere would do well to pay attention to dictators’ pragmatic behavior, not merely their ideological expressions.

[i] Baram, Amatzia. “From Militant Secularism to Islamism: The Iraqi Ba’th Regime 1968-2003”. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/program/histroy-and-public-policy-program

[ii] All quotes from Saddam Hussein are taken from the collection at the Conflict Records Research Center, Number: SH-PDWN-D-000-507

[iii] CRRC: SH-PDWN-D-000-507

[iv] CRRC: SH-PDWN-D-000-507

Michael C. Herrera is currently finishing his bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University.  He is in the Army National Guard and is a research intern at the Conflict Records Research Center.

David Palkki is the Deputy Director of the Conflict Records Research Center and hasa recently co-authored a book titled”The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant’s Regime, 1978-2001.”


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Energy Politics and Future Prospects in Iraq – An Event Report

By Denise Natali, July 26, 2011

Executive Summary:  On June 17, 2011, The INSS Center for Strategic Research conducted a seminar on Iraq’s re-emergent energy sector and its impact on national and regional politics. The purpose was to move beyond identity politics by examining resource-based interests and new tensions and opportunities for negotiation between groups in and across Iraq’s borders. Discussions focused on Iraq’s national energy strategy as influenced by regional trends and the impact of petroleum sector development on relations between Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and provincial administrations. To what extent have these developments affected governance in Iraq? What implications do they have for U.S. policy, particularly as the U.S. military withdraws combat troops from the country?

Experts on Iraq and the energy sector addressed these issues in two panel discussions. They stressed the importance that oil will play in Iraq but were pessimistic about Iraq’s projections of future oil production. The speakers concluded that “Iraq will not be the next Saudi Arabia anytime soon.” Alongside infrastructure constraints, unresolved political issues between groups will continue to shape prospects for the energy sector. The withdrawal of U.S. combat forces scheduled for the end of this year also is expected to negatively affect Iraqi oil production due to reduced security.

The global and regional energy context. Trends in the global energy sector underline the significance and vulnerabilities of Iraq as an oil-producing state. Over the next 25 years global energy demand is expected to rise considerably; by 2030 the world will need about 103 million barrels of oil a day. This increase is anticipated to come mainly from non-OECD countries in East Asia and the Middle East.

Growing demand will provide incentives for producers to increase supply, either by using their excess reserves or increasing production. Specifically, it may require that Saudi Arabia produce 5 million additional barrels per day (bpd) and that Iraq increase its production as well. Based on these projected trends, OPEC’s market share can increase from 41 percent today to 52 percent by 2035.

What are the prospects for Iraq’s oil sector? Iraq can play an important role in increasing world energy supplies, although the extent to which it can attain predicted output levels is highly questionable. Despite world demand and the potential of Iraqi oil production, the effects of the bid rounds and foreign investment are unlikely to be realized until the end of the decade. Iraqi oil production is likely to remain at current levels (2.25 million bpd) through at least until 2012. Although official projections call for major increases in production, according to one energy expert, if Iraq produces four million bpd of oil by 2020 it would be a “tremendous success.”

Challenges and constraints to Iraqi oil production include:

  • Political, administrative and technical bottlenecks.Conflicting incentives and expectations between international oil companies (IOCs) and the Iraqi government are likely to complicate oil production. While IOCs seek immediate production and profit, the central government aims to assure control of oil sector activities, which has resulted in lower profit margins. Iraq’s technical service contracts (TSCs), for instance, have low production minimums and per barrel prices. The Iraqi petroleum sector also remains nationalized and is highly inefficient.Additionally, oil company deployment, security, visas, and Iraqi budget approvals are painstakingly slow and require massive levels of oversight and bureaucracy. Accountability, internal auditing, inventory control, and management of revenues are other major concerns. Conflicts on spending exist between the Iraqi oil and finance ministries, as well as between the central government and local populations. Iraq’s massive limitations on water, power, and export infrastructure pose further difficulties for companies investing in Iraqi oil.
  • Unclear legal environment. Absence of a national hydrocarbons law and inconsistencies in existing laws, a zero-sum and risk-averse business mentality, and inexperience with western contracts create additional obstacles for IOCs. Contractors now want to be paid in kind, which may lead to shrinkage in the oil sector. Moreover, since the Arab Spring, Iraqi citizens are demanding more from Baghdad in terms of equitable and effective provision of goods and services. It will be more difficult for the central government in Baghdad to invest in energy projects that do not yield immediate improvements in the welfare of the citizenry.The central government and KRG will continue to sign contracts with IOCs in the hopes of pressing forward and increasing oil production and revenues. According to one panelist, “Iraq is on its way to becoming a Nigeria on steroids.” Yet there is a growing realization in Baghdad that production levels are unlikely to be met and that service agreements may have to be renegotiated. Such changes will lead to additional costs and frustrations for future investment in the oil sector.
  • Are alternative export options available?Given Iraq’s ambitious oil production plans, the large percentage that petroleum comprises of state income (90 percent) and undeveloped pipeline infrastructure, Baghdad is seeking ways to increase export capacity through its southern and northern routes. Over the past year, the central government has signed contracts with international companies to repair and upgrade its current export infrastructure, renewed pipeline agreements with Turkey, and pursued additional routes.Still, the possibility of Iraq turning to or establishing alternative export routes at this time is unlikely. Developing pipelines through Syria, despite recently signed Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) between Baghdad and Damascus in September 2010, is unrealistic given Syria’s unstable political conditions. Jordan remains an export point as demand and production increases. An export route through Saudi Arabia would require an unprecedented rapprochement with Riyadh, which does not seem likely in the near future. Additionally, the Saudi pipeline has been changed to a gas line and would need to be restructured for oil if it were to be used to export Iraqi petroleum.

An alternative route from the Kurdistan Region northward could be the most pragmatic option as it would provide more reliable access of Iraqi oil to European markets. Yet the Kirkuk-Ceyhan line is still under-utilized and Baghdad has commitments to developing its southern ports. The KRG could not unilaterally pursue such a project since it does not have the legal right to build a transnational pipeline to Turkey without Baghdad’s approval. Despite increased investment in the Kurdistan region and recognition of the KRG in a federal Iraq, the central government and regional states remain concerned about an overly autonomous Kurdish north and cross-border Kurdish nationalist influences.

Iran has little interest in a strong Iraqi oil economy that would enhance Iraqi independence and challenge its own petroleum sector. Iran may have a different set of goals, which include gaining a greater influence in the Iraqi energy market and constructing trans-Iraqi pipelines. Most participants agreed, however, that while Iran is uneasy with the idea that Iraq may be on par with Saudi Arabia in regard to OPEC quotas, Iraqis are uncomfortable with Iran’s blatant attempts to gain control of its petroleum, such as seizing an Iraqi oil well briefly last year. Iran could respond by creating trouble for Iraq through a whole host of measures, including targeting IOCs in the south.

Nor is Kuwait likely to play a constructive role in Iraq’s oil development. On the contrary, progress on rebuilding relations has been limited since the fall of Saddam Husayn’s regime. Baghdad certainly needs Kuwaiti support to remove sanctions still in force since 1990. It also wants debt forgiveness from Kuwait and greater access to the Gulf. Yet Baghdad rejects the land and maritime borders imposed by the U.N. Basra has already indicated that the demarcation is being changed on the Kuwait border. Iraq also is displeased that Kuwait funded a Syrian irrigation project that diverted water from the Tigris River. Tensions have also reemerged over Kuwait’s building of the Mubarak port, which will rival Iraq’s efforts to enlarge its meager facilities and increase export capacity.

How has energy development influenced and been influenced by national and regional politics? Given the centrality of oil to politics in Iraq, energy development has played a key role in shaping the political landscape. Yet there also are limitations to oil’s role in resolving the country’s problems. Underlying the future of energy development are issues of national reconciliation and state structure, or where power resides in Iraq.

Specifically, while the Kurdish parties heavily favor a confederal structure where they have larger revenue distribution and control of local resources, other Arab parties are mixed regarding the issue of state structure. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party and the Sadrists favor a centralized state and Baghdad’s direct control over the oil sector. Some Arab Sunni groups, however now support confederalism as a means of increasing their influence in a federal Iraqi state.

Most Iraqis, regardless of ethnic or religious identity, want some benefit from oil or gas production in their province or region. If the KRG gets greater local control over its oil sector, southern Iraqi provinces are likely to make similar claims. For instance, Anbar is pressing to develop the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fields in its province and gain greater control over the local security situation.

  • Energy intensifies existing debates over Kurdish autonomy. For the KRG, control of oil would facilitate demands for economic independence and allow it to ignore Baghdad. The KRG not only wants to control its own oil, but also seeks to delineate borders and resolve issues of disputed territories, particularly Kirkuk. The KRG thinks that a confederal structure would check the power of the central government and give it sufficient leverage to negotiate political issues. The KRG also views confederalism as the best guarantee for its own security, at least in checking Baghdad’s potential control over regional affairs.
  • Energy creates new resource-based tensions. The unclear and competing visions of the nature of the Iraqi state – whether power should be centralized or decentralized – and the drive to increase oil revenues have influenced Baghdad’s relations with provincial administrations and the KRG. One of the tensions is over management and control of the oil sector and its revenues, enhanced by deliberately written ambiguities of the 2005 Constitution. Article 112 discusses the intent of the central government to work with regional and provincial governments. Yet it also has been used by local administrations to assert their authority over oil fields in their provinces. The Wasit provincial council, for example, attempted to shut down an oil field operation in its territory in September 2010, claiming that article 112 gave it the right to do so.Iraqi populations also are claiming a greater share of oil revenues, which has led to new resentments over perceived inequalities among provinces. Although Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution created mechanisms to give oil-producing provinces one dollar for every barrel produced, this revenue has not been distributed equally across Iraq. Basra has benefited because it has the most petroleum production, as well the fact that it is closely intertwined with Baghdad and the regime. Oil-poor provinces such as Anbar, however, have been ignored in the new Iraqi state and in its distribution of petroleum rents.In some cases in southern and central Iraq, these tensions have escalated to attacks on local leaders. As a result, governorate-level security forces are assuming greater control of well site security, which is intensifying the conflict. Al-Maliki has responded by assigning the Iraqi army to guard the oil pipelines, although this effort is unlikely to be accepted by provincial leaders who rely on their own local security forces and are pressing for regional-based security. Additionally, many of the IOCs do not trust Iraqi security forces and may take increasing responsibility for their own security by building airstrips to internalize personnel movements and using private security forces.

    While most provinces want some benefit of energy sector revenues, the KRG has been the most aggressive in demanding complete control over oil and gas production in the Kurdistan Region. Arbil has taken advantage of Baghdad’s intransience and resisted integration into an overall national structure. Since 2002 the KRG has signed 37 production sharing contracts (PSCs) and has earned over one billion dollars in signing bonuses alone. Additionally, the KRG has placed oil companies beyond the Kurdish-Arab border in the disputed territory of Kirkuk. This strategy has created new “facts on the ground” to entrench its political and economic interests.

  • Energy encourages deal-making. Weakness in the federalist structure alongside energy sector demands have encouraged deal-making between the various factions in the Iraq government. Given the budgetary problems faced by Baghdad and Arbil (Baghdad has a deficit and the KRG has not paid the IOCs), a compromise over oil payments may be possible in the near future. For instance, the Kurds and the opposition Iraqiyya Party of Ayad Allawi appear to be combining efforts on oil and gas issues by claiming the bid rounds are unconstitutional. The Kurdistan Alliance also gave the oil and gas committee chairmanship to Adnan Janabi, an Iraqiya member, who has introduced a law separating oil operating companies from the Ministry of Oil. Other pressures for a compromise could be linked to Turkish policy shifts, the KRG’s need to pay IOCs in its region, and increasing demands from some provinces in southern and central Iraq about greater decentralization.Still, Baghdad-KRG negotiations are slow and uncertain. The central government has partially paid the costs of only two oil companies in the Kurdistan Region thus far, but not their profits. The payment was not part of an officially approved or audited scheme, but rather, a secret agreement and political bargain between al-Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih. Compromise can be further deterred by revenue growth, frustration from Baghdad with Kurdish maximalist policy, territorial disputes, and U.S. policy appearing to favor the KRG.

What are the outstanding issues in negotiating a national hydrocarbons law? The debate over control of natural resources and revenue-sharing has had important implications for Baghdad-KRG relations. While the KRG wants petroleum to be managed and negotiated locally with limited revenues transferred to the central government, Baghdad seeks greater control of the energy sector and distribution of its finances. Similarly, the KRG has emphasized that it wants to limit the central government’s role in revenue-sharing. These differences have played out in the failure to ratify a national hydrocarbons law and revenue-sharing law.

  • Legitimacy and Nature of Production Sharing. One of the key issues between the KRG and Baghdad is the legitimacy of the PSCs signed by the KRG Ministry of Natural Resources. Recognition of the Kurdish contracts will partially depend upon which faction wins out in the central government. The “common sense” faction, led by Adnan Janabi, could allow for negotiation and recognition of the PSCs. Janabi believes that making a deal with the Kurds will help put him in a position of power and assist Ayad Allawi in becoming Prime Minister. Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs, Hussein al-Shahristani and al-Maliki represent the “non-common sense” faction that is trying to preserve centralization. They pose the strongest challenge to the KRG and recognition of the PSCs in their current form.Even if the Janabi faction prevails, Kurdish contracts and payment mechanisms would be subject to a large host of processes, accounting procedures, and audits by different Iraqi ministries and agencies. Baghdad also could recognize the PSCs but structure them like the TSCs used in southern and central Iraq. Negotiation also depends upon the KRG, which has been unwilling to open its oil and financial records to Baghdad or use its own revenues to pay IOC profits.

Whether or not a national hydrocarbons law is essential to Iraqi petroleum production is questionable. While it would allow large companies to expand beyond their current boundaries by clarifying complex responsibility and timing issues, an oil law ultimately is not necessary to resolve the larger Baghdad-KRG dispute about the structure and nature of power in the Iraqi state.

What effect will U.S. military withdrawal in Iraq have on the country’s oil production? The U.S. withdrawal is expected to have a negative impact on Iraqi oil sector development by contributing to delays in production and exportation and removing an important source of logistics, intelligence, and security for the Iraqi government and IOCs.

The absence of the U.S. military also will increase the transaction costs of doing business in Iraq. Increased security risks could diminish interest in the next bidding round since fields are smaller and in riskier areas. It may also give greater access to Chinese and Korean national oil companies, which have invested in Iraq’s oil sector and are generally interested in new wells, alongside increased economic and technical cooperation. The Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) currently is developing the Halfaya oil field and has partnered with British Petroleum (BP) to develop the super-giant Rumaila oil field. The Chinese National Offshore Corporation (CNOOC) is leading the development of the 2.5 billion barrel Missan oil field in southern Iraq.

Still, participants agreed that the U.S. could play an important indirect role in influencing Iraqi energy production in the following ways:

  • Building-up staff capabilities.According to one energy expert and former U.S. diplomat, the U.S. could build up staff capability in the Iraq oil ministry and national oil company. These efforts could include developing collaboration between actors, streamlining procurement in large bureaucracies and energy systems, and encouraging Iraqis, who tend to feel they were once good technocrats and do not need help to become successful, to update their skills and knowledge of the energy sector. Increasing diplomatic focus on keeping the country stable will also help move it forward.The most successful model for Iraq could be one in which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund provide assistance to the ministries. This third party model would provide the unique expertise that is needed without direct American involvement.
  • Revisit U.S.-KRG relations. A U.S.-KRG alliance was vital to realize immediate political objectives after the 2003 war and is important to assuring regional stability. Yet now that these objectives have been realized, at least in part, some thought the United States may need to revisit its approach and policy toward the KRG. Washington should send a message to the KRG that it will continue to protect the Kurds, although not unconditionally in light of growing KRG authoritarianism and disinterest in opening financial records to Baghdad. The United States should also stop acting as a safety net for the Kurds, which is breeding resentment among Arab Iraqis and could impede future negotiations between Baghdad and Arbil.

Known unknowns. There are several unknowns in Iraq’s energy future that the U.S. needs to consider, including the Sunni Arab response to the U.S. departure and stability of the country. Shi’a areas have had fourth-round oil development contracts; however, all gas development remains in Sunni Arab and mixed areas. It is uncertain how this aspect of energy development will unfold.

The Sadr movement’s response to the withdrawal or ongoing presence of U.S. troops could also jeopardize oil production and force new political alliances that are less welcoming to IOCs and the privatization of the oil sector. The nature of these alliances is uncertain, and one that can reformulate the energy sector potential. A final uncertainty is the future of democracy in Iraq as its leaders pursue rapid oil development. Will the federal system in its current form be sustained and if not, what type of state and political system will emerge? How would political changes affect economic development and wealth distribution? Who will benefit?


Dr. Denise Natali is the Minerva Chair at the Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. She may be contacted at (202) 685-2249 or denise.natali@ndu.edu. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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US Military’s First Comprehensive Operational Energy Strategy Released

By Richard Andres, PhD; Christine Zaino, Research Assistant;
Kevin Ostlie, Research Assistant

Energy and Environmental Security Policy Program


For the first time, the Department of Defense (DoD) has published a comprehensive strategy for operational energy. Energy for the Warfighter: Operational Energy Strategy, published by the newly established Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs (ASD(OEPP)), was released last month. Initial reactions to the document were mixed: some welcomed the inaugural strategy, while others felt it lacked specific goals and performance measures. The criticisms, however, are misplaced. The strategy is an important and appropriate first step to improving and unifying DoD energy policy. The new strategy sets the stage for OEPP, mandated by Congress in 2009, to harmonize operational energy policy under an ASD-level office and allows greater opportunities for the military to act as a leader and first mover in the advancement of energy efficiency endeavors and technologies.

The Operational Energy Strategy (OES) focuses on operational energy use – “energy used by military forces in execution of their day-to-day missions.” This focus on operations rather than domestic installations is important because the Services—with the notable exception of the Marine Corps—have often placed greater emphasis on installations than operations.  The OES, on the other hand, attempts to “guide the Department of Defense in how to better use energy resources to support the Department’s operational needs and the Nation’s strategic energy security goals.” As the strategy points out, it is important that DoD align its energy policy with its core mission to ensure American security. Suboptimal energy use in the field contributes to vulnerabilities – more than 3000 military personnel were casualties of attacks on supply lines in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007. The volatility of energy prices and global competition for scarce energy resources like petroleum also underscores the need to reduce energy consumption. Operational energy took up 75% of all U.S. military energy used in 2009, making it a crucially important focus in energy planning.

Beyond increasing the Department’s focus on operations, the new strategy also plays an important role in helping to coordinate action across the Services. As the leader and underwriter of global security across “the five domains” – air, land, sea, space and cyberspace – the U.S. military relies on energy to achieve its core mission. Before the creation of OEPP, each branch of the military had established energy visions that were compatible, but rarely synchronized. The OES builds on existing approaches by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps but is unique in that it provides direction across the Department.

In terms of its content, the new Strategy lists “3 Principle Ways” to improve DoD energy policy. These include: “More Fight, Less Fuel,” which addresses reducing energy demand; “More Options, Less Risk,” which focuses on diversifying energy sources; and “More Capability, Less Cost,” which emphasizes that future planning on “force structure, posture and strategy” should be done with energy in mind. These are all compatible with the key points of the military’s energy vision. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all focus on using energy more effectively in order to serve their national security mission by increasing efficiency and curtailing use when possible to reduce demand, securing access to energy supplies including the development of alternative sources, and looking to the future – “serv[ing] as a model to the nation,” being “resilient to any potential energy future,” inspiring “cultural change,” and “instilling a warrior ethos” that values energy as a weapon of war, respectively.

While the OES has been criticized as too vague, the document should be understood as the first piece in the overall energy plan. As the OEPP’s inaugural strategy issuance, it lays the groundwork necessary for future undertakings of the office. For the past few years, the Services have frequently replicated each other’s work and failed to field promising new technologies—often simply due to a lack of coordination between Services and between domestic institutions and warfighters.  Among other things, the OES will help to optimize energy initiatives across the Services by lowering the chances of duplication of efforts and by highlighting and filling in the gaps that have resulted from stovepiped programs. In addition to providing an overarching direction for DoD energy projects, merging these efforts under the responsibility of OEPP will provide a level of transparency in energy policy that has not been prevalent in DoD culture. The new strategy is a step toward treating energy with the same respect that is given to other tools of war. New energy initiatives across the Services and in the civilian world can be better leveraged under a coordinated energy strategy. Successes like the Marine Corps’ SPACES technology (backpack-portable solar power units that can recharge batteries, lightening a soldier’s load by 10 pounds or more, and reducing the need to resupply) and promising advances like the Navy’s 50/50 bio-fuel/JP-8 blend jet fuels are more likely to be shared and diffused throughout the Department under a unified strategy.

It will be important to see how OEPP builds upon the foundational Operational Energy Strategy with its forthcoming implementation plan. Intended to be released 90 days following the OES, the implementation plan is slated to contain a set of goals with performance measurements and timetables. The OES indicates that the two documents should move forward together to create both short-term and long-term visions for operational energy, while establishing a viable roadmap containing the concrete goals and processes necessary to drive operational energy to the more efficient, diversified, and less costly institution conceptualized by the OES. Hopefully the implementation plan will address the criticisms voiced about the vagueness of the strategy.

The emphasis on long-term goals in the OES is a signal from OEPP that new ways of thinking about energy won’t be institutionalized overnight. The framework presented in the strategy is designed to be incorporated into training and curricula at the senior-level service schools so energy considerations become one of the routine factors of everyday decisions, evidenced under the third theme, which aims to include energy considerations in all future planning and training. General David Petraeus emphasized this approach when he issued a memorandum to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan that encouraged commanders to be mindful of routine energy consumption and ordered them to make “energy-informed” decisions in order to prevent energy consumption from limiting combat capabilities. The OES encourages this kind of attitude from high-level commanders across all Services and operations.

Although it was released months after its initial due date, the timing of the OES’s release may in fact be advantageous. One of the pressing issues facing new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is how to reduce the budget without reducing the capability and effectiveness of the U.S. military. Both Congress and President Obama have requested that DoD reduce expenditure both immediately and in the long-term, putting Panetta in a challenging situation. Finding more efficient, long-term energy solutions could become a significant factor in the budget equation. Given his energy conscious stances, Panetta is likely to make energy savings a high priority.

The release of the U.S. military’s first comprehensive Operational Energy Strategy will prove a valuable first step to increasing mission effectiveness in both the short and long terms. The forthcoming implementation plan is likely to do more. At the end of the day, what is most critical is that the new OEPP office acts as a coordinating force with and between the services that focuses on minimizing duplication, facilitating diffusion of new technology and techniques to the joint warfighting community and institutionalizing the Services’ successes.  All of this requires a light touch and an emphasis on the long game and the new strategy takes precisely this approach.

Dr. Richard B. Andres is Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College and Chair of the Energy & Environmental Security Policy Program at National Defense University.

Christine Zaino is a Research Assistant with the Energy & Environmental Security Policy Program at National Defense University. She is currently pursuing her MA in International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.

Kevin Ostlie is a Research Assistant with the Energy & Environmental Security Policy Program at National Defense University. He is currently pursuing his MA in Public Policy, concentrating in International Security and Economic Policy, at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.


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Licensed To Be Killed: The Hidden Cost of War

By Frances Nobes, MA – Research Assistant, Kings College, England.

Contractors have been a constant feature in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both behind the scenes and in headline news. Just mentioning the name Blackwater brings to mind Vin Diesel look-alikes with aviator sunglasses and M-4s. However, these are not the only players on the contracting stage, nor are they an accurate representation of most contractors.

The use of contractors alongside military forces has never been more prolific than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War, the United States employed contractors at a ratio of one contractor per 55 military personnel. In Iraq that statistic is 1:1, and in Afghanistan it is 1.43:1. According to congressional research service (CRS) reports, there are approximately 27,000 contract personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq providing private security alone, which represents 17% of the Department of Defense’s total contractor workforce of 160,000.

At the height of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, contractor numbers exceeded the military footprint on the ground. The variety of tasks which these contractors fulfill ranges from armed convoy escort, war-gaming, field training Iraqi and Afghan  troops and maintaining sophisticated weapons systems, to truck driving, catering and sanitation services.

Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have been covered by the media, but it is often their scandals and incompetence that are reported. The tales of contractors killing innocent bystanders, terrorizing the local population and even the shooting of the Iraqi Vice-President’s bodyguard in a drunken brawl are well known. However, the number of contractors who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan has been widely ignored. Perhaps the most memorable report regarding the death of contractors is the image of four Blackwater contractors whose bodies, after being burnt and dismembered, were hanged from a bridge in Fallujah, in 2004. Since this shocking incident, little has been reported regarding the overall number of casualties suffered by contracting firms.

By 2005, private military companies (i.e. those contractors providing direct military assistance to armed forces) had suffered an estimated 175 deaths and 900 wounded in Iraq, which was more than any single U.S. Army division and more than all the other coalition forces combined at that time. It was calculated that in the first two quarters of 2010 alone, contractor deaths represented 53% of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, between January and September 2010, more contractors died than U.S. soldiers.

Yet despite these shocking statistics, these figures are barely mentioned in media reports discussing the human cost of war. CRS calculated that in Afghanistan, private security company employees are 2.75 times more likely to be killed in action than uniformed personnel. This statistic rises to 8 times more likely to be killed if one considers private security contractors who provide mobile security services to DOD in Afghanistan. This statistic is both startling and practically unknown beyond the academic and research community.

Perhaps even more stunning than the figures themselves is the lack of certainty which surrounds them. The number of contractors who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is largely underestimated. Many of these figures do not accurately reflect the number of people killed or injured, but only those which have resulted in insurance claims. Furthermore, these figures do not include subcontractors – i.e. local country nationals or third country nationals hired by contractors to conduct objectives within contracts. The U.S. Department of Defense has little to no transparency in this regard, and if these casualties were taken into account, the figures would be considerably higher than those stated here.

Unsurprisingly, private contractor firms are anxious not to disclose the number of employees who have been injured or killed on the job, and thus gathering reliable and accurate data is difficult at best. Furthermore, Peter Singer, author of the work Corporate Warriors, claims that the precise number of casualties is unavailable as “the Pentagon does not track nonmilitary casualties.”

As more members of the armed forces are killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public awareness of their sacrifice increases. Soldiers are honored in death and praised for their bravery and selflessness, as they should be. Contractors, however, have no such ceremony attached to their demise.

All of this leads to one conclusion, contractor casualties are being ignored by the public and, more disturbingly, by the government. Which leaves us with one final, haunting question: at what point did it become acceptable for a country, which spreads the doctrine of democracy and freedom, to lose interest in who is dying for those rights?


Frances is a Research Assistant with the Center for Strategic Research at INSS, and also working as an intelligence analyst at the Sicuro Group. She is currently finishing her Masters in Intelligence and International Security at King’s College London. Her thesis is on the use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also holds a Masters with Honors in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews. She has previously worked for the Governor of Maryland, at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, and on the SAILS project.


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What Drives Iran?

By Judith Yaphe, PhD


For the United States, any consideration of Persian Gulf security must begin with Iran: its ambitions, perceptions, and behavior. For many in the West, Winston Churchill’s famous quip about the Soviet Union—being a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma—could apply equally well to Iran given its complex, opaque, and often turbulent politics. And yet the key to understanding Iran is to figure out what it sees when it looks in the mirror. What are the fundamental influences that shape Iran’s view of its role in the world?

The first, clearly, is Iranian nationalism. It is a means of unifying society while assuring territorial integrity and political power. The second is Islam, which is the country’s source of faith and ethical code. The third is Persia as the basis of its historical identity and cultural pride. Taken together, these factors and the aspirations they embody—to secure Iran’s territorial and political integrity while gaining acceptance of the regime’s legitimacy and the country’s status in international relationships more generally—are deeply rooted in Iranian society. But there is also a fourth, latter-day imperative that wields great influence over Iranian attitudes: the quest for strategic self-sufficiency.

Everywhere they look, Iran’s leaders see their country encircled by real and potential enemies—by Iraq, which used chemical weapons and missiles against Iran in their 8-year war; by the Gulf Arab states, which financed the Iraq War, host the U.S. military presence, and are seen as repressing their Shia communities; by Pakistan, which is occasionally involved in hostile skirmishes with Iran on their common border and has encouraged anti-Iranian activity in Afghanistan; and by Central Asia, once pro-Soviet, now a source of economic opportunity, sectarian risk, and host to U.S. military forces. Above all, the United States, a virtual neighbor since the occupation of Iraq in April 2003, and Israel are viewed as enemies: both threaten Iran’s nuclear achievements and deplore its efforts to derail any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians or Israel and Syria. Washington, in particular, is seen as keen to keep the Persian Gulf as its militarized zone, maintain pro-U.S. regimes in Baghdad and Kabul, and marginalize Iran.

Iran’s leaders—whether moderate Persian nationalists or conservative Islamists—view the world with a mix of confidence and trepidation. Regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum, they most likely share a common view of the threats to the homeland and the measures necessary to protect Iranian interests. This consensus also includes a strong, underlying sense that they may well have to fight alone, again—just as they did from 1980 to 1988—and that Iran must be able absolutely to defend itself without assistance. Thus, Tehran aspires to independence and self-sufficiency in both strategic and operational terms. It believes that it must build its own military industries, reconstitute a modern military force, and have minimal reliance upon foreign suppliers. It also seeks to acquire nuclear technology and, eventually, the wherewithal to produce nuclear weapons, probably as a cost-effective way to compensate for military weakness and relative strategic isolation.

The predicament that all this poses for Iran’s neighbors and the larger international community is not only how military self-sufficiency is defined by Tehran, but also how this self-sufficiency impulse plays into an already strong sense of Iranian exceptionalism—specifically, that the country is endowed with the natural right and historic destiny to dominate the greater Middle East as well as to lead the world’s Muslims.

Iran’s ambitions to be the preeminent power in its neighborhood are longstanding. The quest for regional hegemony began under the shahs and has been continued by the clerics of the Islamic Republic. Iranian foreign policy has always been designed to protect a nation and an empire that were long coveted by more powerful neighbors—Ottoman Turkey and tsarist Russia—and divided into spheres of influence by the great powers of the 20th century—the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. Viewed through this historical prism, these ambitions have little to do with exporting its Islamic revolution or expanding its borders, although occasional reminders to the Gulf Arabs of the Shia and Persian-origin communities within their borders prompt those Sunni Arab–led states to recall their vulnerability.

Iran assumes it is by right the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East region. It has the largest population, largest land mass, largest military, and oldest culture and civilization. It believes it is the economic engine of the region and the most innovative in application of science and technology. In the Iranian worldview, that “region” is more than the Gulf or Central Asia. It extends from Afghanistan through the Gulf, Iraq, Turkey, and the greater Middle East (especially anything affecting Syria, Lebanon, Palestinians, and Israel). As the preeminent power, Tehran expects to be consulted on all issues affecting the region, in much the same sense that Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad interpreted his and Syria’s role. Iran believes that all the roads to a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq, to a peace settlement in the Arab-Israeli context, and to stability in the Gulf run through Tehran. Without Iran, according to this view, the country’s leaders believe, there can be no peace, no resolution of conflict, and no “justice.”

Iran wants to expand its influence and authority in the region, but it is not interested in territorial expansion. Rather, it seeks to build its clout through a policy of aggressive outreach short of war—by building and backing support networks throughout the region; providing political support and economic assistance to key actors; bolstering trade and commercial ties with neighboring countries; and signing security and defense agreements. In implementing its policies, Iran operates on two intertwined principles that underwrite its ability to build networks of surrogates, intimidate opponents and critics, influence governments, and make foreign policy: the first of these is plausible deniability, and the second is deliberate ambiguity.

This post is an excerpt from Strategic Forum No. 237, “Challenges to Persian Gulf Security: How Should the United States Respond?”

The document in its entirety may be found here.

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Phoenix: High Value Target Teams in Historical Perspective

By Fletcher Schoen, Research Associate, Center for Strategic Research


High value target teams, special operations, AfghanistanMost people know the United States uses special operations forces or other government agencies to target terrorists and insurgent leaders, but they may not know how hard this is to do right. While researching the Phoenix program from the Vietnam War, I could not help but compare it to the high value target teams that helped turn around the war in Iraq.

A new study from the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University (“Secret Weapon: High-value Target Teams as an Organizational Innovation,”) explains how interagency high value target teams decimated enemy leadership by fully integrating all-source intelligence collection with swift operations, and then integrated those operations with the broader counterinsurgency effort. This success was not easily achieved, however. It required much trial and error by innovative leaders over a period of years. Their accomplishment seems all the more remarkable when compared to the Phoenix Program used in Vietnam. The fight against the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) was conducted under the most unified civil-military command structure ever devised by the U.S. government. Even so, the anti-VCI effort did not achieve the seamless and effective operations and strategic impact of the high value target teams in Iraq.

Three major problems marred the effort:

1) The Intelligence Agencies did not Work Together.

After February 1967, intelligence coordination functions took place under the auspices of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support command (CORDS). CORDS and the CIA funded and staffed the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation (ICEX) program, which was renamed Phoenix in 1968. Phoenix and its Vietnamese counterpart program, “Phun Hoang,” drew on existing intelligence assets to staff centers at the province and district levels that were supposed to unify collection, exploitation, and operations. However the CIA lacked sufficient staff to place advisors at the district level. It fell upon CORDS to staff the district Phoenix centers with over 700 advisors, mostly military intelligence lieutenants. The lack of CIA expertise meant that these advisors had their hands full learning how to run intelligence operations. What really handicapped these new centers, however, was the unwillingness of intelligence agencies, especially South Vietnamese intelligence agencies, to share information.

2) Intelligence and Operations Were Separate.

The Phoenix program was further handicapped by its lack of operational capability. ICEX/Phoenix centers were supposed to generate intelligence for direct action assets but had no authority over those assets. For instance, the CIA retained control of their anti-VCI forces (PRUs: Provincial Reconnaissance Units), which collected their own intelligence and moved to kill or capture the targeted Viet Cong. Although PRUs were limited by their small number, which never surpassed 5,000 men countrywide, they were considered one of the most effective of the anti-VCI elements. Other units like the National Police Special Units, American special operations forces, conventional forces, and the regional militias were also part of the anti-VCI campaign. But these elements had different priorities and differing levels of buy-in to the Phoenix program and therefore were not always available or willing to give priority to anti-VCI operations.

3) Phoenix and PRUs were not used strategically.

The greatest failing of the anti-VCI programs was that they were not coordinated into a coherent strategy. Simply killing or capturing Viet Cong cadres would not produce strategic benefits unless such operations were coordinated with other military, political and informational initiatives. Because of the way Phoenix was conceived and organized, most operations were conducted without the reinforcing effects of other CORDS programs or conventional action. In fact, PRU activities often went on without the knowledge of the district CORDS/Phoenix advisors who were the ones supposed to be coordinating the anti-VCI efforts in the area. The impact of VCI neutralizations was bound to be local and temporary—even harmful to the other pacification objectives within district or province—unless it was coordinated within a larger strategy.

The HVTs in Iraq faced the same organizational obstacles to success, but overcame them. HVT’s bridged the operations and coordination gap that had existed between the Phoenix program and the direct action forces in Vietnam. Their leaders blended the operational and intelligence capabilities of many agencies and units together for a holistic multi-organizational approach that was able to effectively “find-fix-finish-exploit and analyze” enemy leadership networks. Then, and again, after much experimentation, the HVTs began coordinating their local efforts with the resident conventional force commanders who were working with other U.S. and local government agencies to pacify the population. Even more importantly, and unlike the PRU’s of Vietnam, the new leadership team of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus recognized that HVTs operations could be a powerful strategic tool if they were tightly controlled and integrated into the larger counterinsurgency effort. When this happened, HVTs became a strategic asset rather than just a highly effective tactical tool.

If this subject interests you, I highly commend the new NDU study to your attention, as well as a good RAND study: “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Vietnam and Iraq were vastly different conflicts but the lessons learned from comparing efforts in the two wars to target enemy leadership networks are instructive. The HVT experience in Iraq should be established as a best practice in counterinsurgency and juxtaposed with the Vietnam experience to illustrate why best practices matter. I can only hope that somewhere in the upper echelons of the U.S. government senior leaders are paying close attention to this “lesson observed” so that it actually becomes a “lesson learned.”

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Is It Time to Talk about Democracy Again?

 By Scott P. Cullinane, Center for Strategic Research

Two women after having voted.

Photo courtesy of Defense.mil

After 9/11 the United States support for democracy became a center piece of the counter-narrative strategy against Al-Qaeda and despotic regimes. 

However, because of differing definitions of democracy between the US and other countries the strategy went off track.  The US’s “Freedom Agenda” expressed the belief that citizens of pluralistic and democratic nations do not support terrorism or seek out Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

The US maintained that if people around the world were given the chance to vote they would pick leaders who were responsible, and who would uphold democratic ideals.   This precept was undercut by the 2006 Palestinian legislative election that was won by HAMAS. The election preceded the violent takeover of the Gaza strip in 2007 by HAMAS.  Due to the extremist and anti-Semitic nature of HAMAS, the US condemned the election results. This action made America look hypocritical and diminished the credibility of the freedom narrative.

Despite “elections” being held in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, American leaders have become wary of talking about freedom and democracy as they once did.   This is unfortunate because democracy is the foundation of America’s narrative and should not be abandoned. 

In Burma (Myanmar) the military junta is using so-called democracy to reinforce their power; Turkey just underwent a major debate about the nature of their democracy.  In many countries democracy is an immediate and vital political topic and America should not abrogate its leadership in this area. 

What America does need to do is to rephrase and better explain what is meant by “democracy.”   When American’s say “democracy”, they don’t just mean voting – they mean the freedoms and responsibilities that come with democracy.  They mean the involvement of interrelated and indispensable institutions, such as a free press, and a culture where the franchise is extended to all groups. Many nations and cultures misunderstand the connotations that are implied within the American lexicon.  

America would do better to articulate these points in its diplomatic and military engagements. If America can better explain this, our narrative of freedom would gain the traction and credibility it deserves.

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