Tag Archives: National Security

Geomagnetic Storms and National Security Policy

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By Mr. James Burchill and Ms. Meghann Murphy

On June 7, 2012, the Center for Technology and National Security Policy (CTNSP) hosted an event on the Hill for the United States House Subcommittee for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Cyber-security, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies on severe solar storms and national critical infrastructure.

The event was organized by Dr. Alenka Brown, Mr. James Burchill, and Ms. Meghann Murphy, from the National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Technology and National Security Policy.
Panel participants included: Mr. Scott Pugh of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Mr. Bill Murtagh of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Colonel Daniel Edwards of the United States Air Force (USAF), and Dr. Alenka Brown of NDU.

Congressman Dan Lungren,  Chairman of the Subcommittee, wanted his subcommittee members to become educated in two areas:  1) solar storms and the impact of these storms on US critical infrastructures, and 2) the difference between a severe geomagnetic storm and an electrical magnetic pulse. The request to CTNSP was based on two October exercises that CTNSP/NWC conducted between Oct. 3 and 5, 2012.   These exercises were conducted to address the possibility of a severe solar storm, similar to the Carrington Event of 1859 (one of the largest solar storms to be recorded in US history), and the possible effects to the US national grid prompted by such a solar storm.

We know that geomagnetic storms are caused by fluctuations in the Sun’s magnetic field, and these often occur in growing frequency within an eleven year cycle known as the solar maximum. We are currently approaching its zenith. This is of concern as sufficiently large geomagnetic storms can cause numerous issues to critical infrastructure. Satellite operations and communications can be disrupted throughout the storm which can last many hours. Potentially longer term effects can be seen in the disruption of the electrical grid, e.g.,  high-voltage transformers which are critical to operation of our long distance transmission lines and large power plants.

The panelists were to educate the subcommittee members and senior professional staffers on the basics of geomagnetic storms and the effects on US critical infrastructures. The audience consisted of Congresswoman Richardson, and senior professional and junior staffers.  Chairman Lungren apologized for his absence and those of his other colleagues due to an unexpected classified briefing.

The panelists began by discussing the underlying science concerning solar storms given by Mr. William Murtagh, NOAA.  Mr. Scott Pugh, DHS, followed with an explanation of the difference between a severe solar storm and electric magnetic pulse.  He walked the audience through a severe geomagnetic storm exercise describing possibly consequences to our critical infrastructure based on a severe outage of the national electrical grid.  Dr. Alenka Brown, NDU, spoke on cascading effects should a solar storm occur, with emphasis on the population, the financial sector, and cyber.  Colonel Daniel Edwards, United States Air Force, Space Weather Group, gave a brief on how the military might engage during a solar storm event.

The outcome was a follow up future event that would provide a more in-depth analysis of severe geomagnetic storms in relationship to the US critical infrastructures to the subcommittee members. It was proposed that the National Defense University in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Defense would host the event.  In addition, a one-pager has been written and will be sent to the key panelist and Congressman Dan Lungren’s office.

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Murky Waters: Implications of a Syrian No-Fly Zone

Syrian Flag

by Dylan Maguire, Research Intern
Edited by Dr. Denise Natali, Minerva Chair

As the events in Syria continue to unfold and new accounts of atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the Syrian people are reported, calls for the international community to take decisive action will grow stronger.

At a recent panel held at the Rethink Institute in Washington, DC, an affiliate of the Turkic American Alliance, senior staff from the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies as well as the Syrian Expatriates Organization called for the imposition of a no-fly zone to create and maintain a humanitarian corridor inside Syria proper. All of us who are following the events transpiring in Syria want to encourage policy options that will stop the killing and lead to a transfer of power from the dictatorial regime to one that reflects the true aspirations of the Syrian people. However, before the legitimate use of military power can be employed in a responsible manner it is important that all of the possible consequences of such a policy are explored. Recent history provides us with two interesting case studies, Iraq and Libya. When examining these cases it is important to remember that the stated goal in Libya was Qaddafi’s departure while in Iraq it was population protection and humanitarian relief.

After Operation Desert Storm and the surrender of the Iraqi Army, the Kurds in the North and the Shia’s in the South revolted against Saddam’s regime. The international coalition decided to impose a no-fly zone over portions of the north and south of Iraq to prevent Saddam from using his air force to put down these rebellions. In addition to preventing Iraqi over-flight in the north, coalition ground forces also began distributing humanitarian aid among the Kurds. While Saddam was unable to use fixed-wing aircraft to suppress those in revolt, he made effective use of helicopters, artillery, and ground troops. The coalition air assets could have expanded their target options to include these ground forces, but they did not. In fact, there were almost no Iraqi planes for coalition pilots to engage as Saddam largely respected the no-fly zone knowing that his ground forces were more than capable against the lightly armed resistance. There are three lessons to be learned from this episode. First, no-fly zones are only effective against other aircraft, when ground force is used as the means of oppression, then what is called for is a no-drive zone, or in effect a conventional air campaign. Second, lightly armed resistance movements will not be able to mount decisive counter-regime operations unless they are supported by conventional air power. Third, dictators like Saddam and Assad are well aware of the capabilities of all parties involved and will play their cards as effectively as possible. They will do so by limiting their exposure to overwhelming air-power while using their conventional ground forces to demolish the local opposition.

A good example of a no-fly zone expanding into a no-drive zone is the recent NATO air campaign in Libya. The limited operation to prevent Qaddafi from using his air force against the resistance quickly turned into a conventional air campaign as Qaddafi made use of his armor and artillery to pound revolutionary cities into submission. When allied airplanes began to attack these formations Qaddafi ordered his forces to shed their uniforms and heavier equipment. They changed their dress to appear like the opposition forces in order to confuse NATO pilots. This in turn led to the need for on-the-ground coordination between Libyan revolutionary forces and NATO command and control to prevent friendly fire casualties. What had begun as a limited no-fly zone quickly morphed into NATO acting as the air force for the Libyan revolutionary forces. Again there are three main lessons that can be taken away from this case. First, in these types of operations mission creep is not a possibility but a certainty. Second, dictators like Qaddafi and Assad will not hesitate to change their ground strategies to realize the full potential of their own forces, even if that means breaking all of the recognized laws of war, such as wearing uniforms and driving marked vehicles. Finally, by wedding allied airpower to local opposition forces, western nations will be taking ownership of the conflict and all that entails. When non-combatants are unintentionally killed by allied air strikes it could potentially help to further entrench the dictator’s base, or possibly turn locals against allied forces.

In addition to the lessons that can be learned from these two cases there are other questions that must be answered before the US military engages in any operations in Syria. In the Iraq case, only certain areas of the country were protected by the no-fly zone. In Syria how will the no-fly zone and the humanitarian corridor be defined? Will the no-fly zone only protect a few of the varied ethnic communities in Syria? If coalition forces choose only to protect certain communities, this would have an effect on the domestic balance of power once Assad was ousted. How long will the no-fly zone be established for and who will pay for its upkeep and enforcement? If the Assad regime falls, will the US become responsible for the creation of a new government in Syria? By taking on these responsibilities the US would be committing itself to a new round of nation building in the Middle East.

The killing taking place in Syria at the hands of the Assad regime is unconscionable and must be recognized as such by the full international community. Yet, beginning an air campaign to limit Assad’s military capabilities could turn into a full-fledged conventional battle between allied power and the hardcore elements of the regime. Leaving aside issues concerning UN Security Council resolutions and Russian intransigence, the US must realize that in committing to a no-fly zone policy it will be in effect declaring war on Assad’s regime. If that is truly the desired policy, then a real war plan making use of the full capability of the US military must be employed. However, it appears that this is precisely what the Obama administration is seeking to avoid. Thus, it must refrain from taking actions, such as imposing a no-fly zone, which will inevitably lead it to the same place.


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Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe?

By Marie-Theres Beumler

Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe? This is certainly a relevant question; but the analysis of European perceptions of NATO must go much deeper. Essentially, the question is not about whether NATO is being taken seriously, but whether it is being accepted. Indeed, many European allies find themselves in a situation where military and defense efforts of any sort receive very low acceptance among the population. The mindset of considerable segments of society in these countries is pacifist — and the causes thereof are manifold and require the analysis of history and society. Therefore, before debating Europeans’ perspective on NATO, it is necessary to take a look at what causes this perspective.

This year marks an important milestone for the US, as it will have been 200 years since the last major war with a foreign power on US territory started in 1812. Except for the tragic events in Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the US has not experienced major hostilities on its soil since its Civil War, let alone from an external actor. This is one of the main differences between the Americans and the Europeans. The latter remember very well the consequences of invasion, war, and dictatorship on their continent, their countries and their own homes and families. These experiences certainly help to explain the pacifist spirit we are now witnessing in large parts of Europe, and they do represent a challenge to NATO and European military engagement. While the generations who witnessed the Cold War in the main still see NATO as a defender of democracy and freedom, younger generations miss this historic link. Hence, large segments of European youth oppose military efforts of all natures, and this reflects upon NATO.

The attitude and perception of young Europeans towards NATO is one of the most important determinants of NATO’s future. In Germany, maybe the most important example, military-related efforts gain very low acceptance and virtually no approval among broad segments of society[1], maybe most notably among youth. The German contribution to the ISAF-mission in Afghanistan is as unpopular as was last year’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya[2]. Nor is this a recent development. Moreover, Germans do not only oppose deployment itself or military action in the name of NATO. Considerable segments of the German populace simply do not see much need for defense or even a military. This is due to numerous factors, all of which need to be addressed if change is desired.

For over almost seventy years now, Germany has prospered in stability, an exceptionally peaceful and comfortable period. Younger generations did not experience the Cold War, much less World War II, and the only threat they might be able to identify is a vague notion of “global terror.” This attitude goes hand-in-hand with a lack of information and engagement. In contrast to the Cold War period, security studies are today practically non-existent in Germany, and debates about matters of international security concentrate on topics outside the EU, such as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, or on issues not immediately related to military engagement, such as cyber security.

At the same time, the very notion of “terrorism” bears a different connotation for most Europeans than it does in America, one that is closer to separatist movements of political struggles. It is hard to find a newspaper doing the simple math of when Iranian missiles might in the future be able to reach Munich or Rome, following a time when they could reach Tel-Aviv. With this being a striking scenario, the so-called “Arab Spring” and particularly the consequent questioning of seemingly settled notions of “stability” should have rung some bells. As Europe is ill- prepared to deal with the penetration of its borders, there is no telling how the member states might react to more serious threats to security if the occasion arises, perhaps of a nature not currently envisioned. Individual member states might have to step up their defense efforts in the long run, and this will only be possible if the mindset of the population supports this.

In the mind of Germans, asymmetric warfare is a theoretical concept that most people, even in the media and academia, rarely seem to bother investigating. Equally, when proposals are made for a unified European Defense Force, reactions vary between disbelief and lack of interest. The notion that “democracy is being defended at the Hindu Kush” is immensely unpopular; and media coverage which focuses on occasional failures of individual NATO soldiers in Afghanistan instead of on the slow but constant progress there adds to this phenomenon.

As public opinion often boils down to political opportunism, the population’s perception and understanding of the military and defense influences the defense policies of many European countries. As mentioned before, historical awareness goes deep and adds to the lack of military commitment. While NATO is subject neither to widespread public discussion nor widespread interest, German concerns go deeper. A wish for security and protection certainly exists. But there is little awareness of potential externally based threats and certainly no willingness to compromise on democratic ideals in return for unspecified security guarantees. And unwillingness to compromise democratic values is, that needs to be said, a good thing.

If NATO wants to win over the people’s “hearts and minds” in Germany and in Europe more generally, it needs to reform its structure and goals to bring them more into accord with today’s security environment. Awareness and outreach are an essential part of this effort, but they are not enough. The European people require well-argued and plausible answers before supporting military efforts. It is NATO’s task to deliver on the latter, and this requires building all members’ awareness of the evolving strategic environment as well as of the alliance’s future perspectives. And while security challenges are constantly evolving and changing, NATO should consider greater adaptation to these developments.

With its new Strategic Concept, NATO has already accelerated a “functional” evolution that is moving the Alliance from focusing on traditional and military-centric threats to addressing emerging and asymmetrical challenges. Geographically, as Operation Unified Protector has shown, the time has come for NATO to pay greater attention to the Middle East and North Africa, in an attempt to monitor and assist political developments there and to monitor possible sources of instability in the future. Further, deeper cooperation with Russia based on mutual understanding would certainly be a valuable goal for NATO, especially with regards to European energy security.

NATO has certainly proved to be of immense value in the past, and it can continue to do so in the future. The question now is whether NATO will be ready to deal with future threats and whether it will, together with the leaders of the member states, act to build the populace’s support that will be critical when the time comes.

Marie-Theres Beumler  is a research intern at the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS). 


[1] www. Faz. de, Allensbach-Umfrage, 26.05.2010

[2] www.abendzeitung-muenchen.de, 5.10.2011; 26.05.2010

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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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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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