June 11, 2008
Obama's Defense PolicyBy Ed Lasky
Barack Obama's defense policy plans threaten foreign policy consequences inimical to American interests, and would pose perilous problems for some of our key allies around the world, should he assume the Presidency.
Senator Obama has made quite clear that he intends to eviscerate our most advanced defense programs. In a message to Caucus 4 Priorities, a liberal pacifist organization, (available on YouTube), the Senator called for major cuts in defense spending, for slowing or suspending the development of future combat systems, for the abolition of spending on the "weaponizing of space" ("Star Wars") and the slashing of investment in our ballistic missile defense program. More broadly he promised to support the group's policies. These include:
These savings would be spent on a variety of programs favored by Democratic special interest groups. These calls have been recently echoed by two other influential liberal groups that have called for him to cut support for defense programs
While the desire to Beat Swords into Plowshares is an age old dream rooted in the Bible, the world remains a dangerous place, particularly in an era of a resurgent Russia and China, an Iran on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, the North Korean nuclear program, the Pakistani nuclear bazaar, the weakening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and threats of worldwide terrorism. These realities seem to escape many supporters of Barack Obama and the candidate himself.
Barack Obama styles himself a foreign policy expert, yet he has again failed another history lesson (other examples can be found). His plans reveal a naïve view of how the world works and the tools of foreign policy. They do not bode well for protecting America's foreign policy interests should he become President.
By signaling his intention to unilaterally halt development of advanced defense systems he will reduce our bargaining strength against our adversaries while gaining absolutely nothing, geopolitically speaking, from them. Our defense programs are inextricably linked to our diplomacy -- a lesson that Barack Obama seems never to have learned.
Reductions in our defense programs were bargained for during the Nixon era (SALT I, SALT II) and were a prime instrument that led to détente; conversely, Jimmy Carter's apathetic attitudes toward defense spending and technology encouraged Soviet aggression throughout the world (Africa, Afghanistan). Ronald Reagan's defense buildup and the threat of developing his often-derided Star Wars program (to defend America from nuclear missiles) were deliberately designed -- we subsequently learned -- to bankrupt the Soviet Union and lead to its demise. Indeed, the Soviet leaders were so anxiety-ridden about Star Wars that it ushered in changes within their government that brought about the collapse of the Communist dictatorship and the freeing of millions of East European nations from Soviet hegemony. Star Wars was an effective weapon even before it was developed, as its mere prospect helped to bring millions their freedom.
That is the best sort of weapon: one that remains sheathed while winning victory. Nixon and Reagan offer two prominent examples of the relationship between our defense programs and our foreign policy, and how defense plans can be used to promote the foreign policy objectives of America.
How might Obama's bargaining strategy play out now? China and Russia are both massively increasing their defense budgets and adopting more aggressive policies (Russia's approach towards Georgia and Ukraine). Iran has stepped up its nuclear programs. Slashing such programs as ballistic missile defense would be an open invitation to Iran, in particular, to continue its aggressiveness. Barack Obama uses the agitprop like word "weaponizing of space" to refer to using satellites to defend our nation and our allies from nuclear missiles.
A failure to understand the ties between defense policy and diplomacy is a fundamental flaw in a potential commander-in-chief.
Beyond these considerations are there other risks to such a unilaterally slashing of our defense programs (especially the most technologically advanced systems)? Yes.
Defense sales are a key to building alliances that serve American interests. Weapons exports and licensing can often be used to help strengthen our allies and used as leverage with nations that may follow policies contrary to our interests. Nations such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Israel face threats arrayed against them that are overwhelming and that constitute existential threats. The qualitative edge that leading edge weapons provide them compensates for quantitative advantages enjoyed by their potential adversaries. In this manner, supplying advanced weapons serves as a deterrent that reduces the risk of war.
Last year, for example, Israel took advantage of technology (undoubtedly enriched by American technology transfer) that allowed it to evade Russian-supplied Syrian radar to destroy a Syrian nuclear facility (built with North Korean and Iranian help) that was close to going "hot". Senator Obama has voted against the production of cluster bombs -- advanced versions of which are supplied to Israel to deter massed attacks from infantry or terrorists (a sadly necessary tool on her arsenal given the relatively small size of her army relative to those of her enemies; a type of cluster bomb is widely used, by the way, by Israel's adversaries). Our ally also benefits from having access to American satellite and early warning systems (the "Eye in the Sky") that keep a perpetually wary eye on Iran and other enemies that surround Israel.
The advanced capabilities of the Arrow antiballistic missile that could protect America, our European allies, and Israel from Iranian nuclear attack, are precisely due to the type of programs that Barack Obama promises to halt. Recent news reports indicate that Israel might be able to receive the newest jet fighter in the American fleet-the F-22 Raptor that utilizes advanced stealth technology that would allow it to fly an undetectable route to Iran -- a legitimate goal given Iran's pledge to destroy Israel and its designation as the number one terror-supporting nation in the world (with sway over Hezb'allah and Hamas). Yet Senator Obama appears to have that program on the chopping block, too.
These plans to slash the development of leading edge defense technology are very hard to square with Senator Obama's recent campaign pledge before a pro-Israel crowd to maintain Israel's "qualitative edge" in the region. Former Israeli Ambassador to America Danny Ayalon has noted that Barack Obama's pledge is suspect. He wrote:
Ambassador Ayalon presaged concerns expressed about Senator Obama's advisers, particularly Samantha Power, who advocated the ending of all military aid to Israel; chief military adviser and campaign co-chair "Tony" McPeak, who places the blame on Israel for problems in the region ; and his nuclear adviser Joseph Cirincione who seeks to strip Israel of its rumored nuclear deterrent (the threat which helped save Israel in the 1973 War) .
This contradiction is not an anomaly. One day Barack Obama can dismiss Iran as a threat; the next day, before a different crowd, he can call it a grave danger. He promises to maintain the qualitative military edge that our ally enjoys over its potential adversaries, but then endorsing policies and making promises to gut the very programs that ensure that edge. We all may as well get used to the phrase "there you go again".
Access to advanced American defense equipment is also a big carrot to influence foreign governments that are not close allies, as well. Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979. A cold peace has existed, with its ups and downs. But a key lever that has been used to influence Egyptian behavior has been arm sales. Indeed, disappointment with the quality and technological sophistication of some of the Soviet weapons led the Egyptians to seek American arms. Similar arms deals have been made with numerous Arab nations that have helped them resist Iranian (and before that Iraqi) hegemony. Our access to a naval base in Bahrain is key to projecting American power in the region. AWACS planes sold to Saudi Arabia were later employed in the successful effort to force Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
A little-appreciated fringe benefit behind the sales of advanced equipment is not just the personal alliances that may develop but also a dependency relationship that develops between those nations and America. As these nations convert their arsenals to American equipment (as opposed to Russian or Chinese equipment -- they prefer top of the line, advanced equipment, the kind President Obama would slash), it gives America leverage should potential war break out in the region. Wars use up equipment, spare parts, ammunition at a rapid clip.* If nations such as Egypt (whose forces have converted from Russian to American weapons) go to war, America can facilitate peace by threatening to hold up resupply efforts. We see a civilian application of this dynamic with Iranian airlines: their fleets were to a great extent American-made. Our supply of spare parts was a lever that had been used up to 2006. . The dependency of Egypt on US military supplies makes war less likely between that nation and Israel.
Should America step back from developing these leading defense technologies, Russia and China would step forward to supply these nations.** They would enjoy foreign policy benefits that would otherwise have accrued to America. As we have seen regarding their sales to Syria and Iran, their foreign policies serve their interests and not America's interests.
While this may not go down well with Barack Obama's leftist pals in Hyde Park and with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr. (in Barack Obama's words, his "sounding board", "moral compass" and "confidant"), defense programs and related sales are inextricably intertwined in the real world with our foreign policy objectives. These programs help to secure America and our allies from hostile forces; help to cement alliances; and help to preserve a Pax Americana (the qualitative edge that derive from advanced defense technology serve as a deterrence to violence and to war) that is key to international order.
They are a vital tool in our foreign policy toolkit. Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked upon America as an "arsenal of democracy".
Will we remain so after President Obama goes to work on our defense programs?
Barack Obama's failure to appreciate the importance of defense research and development in serving American foreign policy goals and understand the implications of his plans are yet another reason to have qualms regarding his readiness to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
* Indeed, had America not had a vast inventory to draw upon, she would not have been able to supply Israel with weapons as it faced destruction in 1973. A massive airlift ordered by Richard Nixon saved Israel. Barack Obama defense plans would clearly not include any such "buffer".
** A pause in such programs would set back America's efforts to maintain our technological superiority in the future to meet risks.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.