Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twitter-Revolution, and the Limits of Retail Diplomacy

Rick Schmitt wrote about Jared Cohen'04, Stanford, who is State Department's coordinator on internet diplomacy and e-communication strategies. He explored Cohen's exploits in Congo, Russia, and pushing Twitter to better support the students in the Iranian protests. Schmitt gave a tantalizing peek at the possibilities of retail-level diplomacy, where we go around the governments and appeal directly to the people of other countries.

Obviously Cohen is someone going places. His story makes good copy. But it calls to mind Bush 2's efforts to bypass the elite opinionmakers in Europe to reach the masses, old Europe vs new.

We need a retail-level diplomatic capability. However, there is a chicken v egg problem here: Do the elites get power because they're part of the political system, or do they get into the political system because they have power? We may like to ignore the existing power structure in Iran, say, and help the masses rise up in a proletariat revolution, but that does not mean we can take the power away from elites. If anything, Iraq & Afghanistan demonstrate the peril, again, of bypassing the local power structures.

This retail-level approach is also inherently destabilizing, because it is a capability to undermine local power structures. In a bi-polar world, such a capability is ok because the other side is already nominally hostile. In a multi-polar world, we risk pushing potential allies into a hostile corner with this approach, notably Russia and China. [Not to say that there are deserving candidates to be hostile with, Myanmar & Zimbabwe coming to mind.]

Where the retail will be helpful is in failed states and proto-city-states. Sadly, the federal gov't is clueless on such non-Westphalian entities. A retail capability can help us map the local allegiances and power structures, telling us who would be a worthwhile ally and who to stay away from.

[h/t Galrahn http://www.informationdissemination.net/2010/06/reading-assignment.html]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mirage Followup: Pakistani Prospects

Anonymous questioned my analysis on the prospects of Pakistan getting the 62 Mirage 2000s from United Arab Emirates. Rumor says that UAE wants to swap the Mirages in exchange for new-built Rafaels from Dassault. I said that Pakistan is not likely to be a recipient of these planes. Anonymous disagrees, because Pakistan is the largest operator of Mirage IIIs and Vs in the world today, thus a long-term relationship with Dassault and in need of replacements. In addition, Pakistan is looking for advanced systems to arm its future JF-17s, such as RC-400 radars and MICA missiles.

Yes, Anon, Pakistan would absolutely love to have 62 Mirage 2Ks. However, as an analyst, we always need to separate wishful thinking from analysis based on facts. I will be upfront myself and admit my personal bias to see a Taiwanese Air Force strong enough to deter the PLA Nanjing military district. Even taking that into account, though, Taiwan still remains the most likely candidate for these Mirage 2Ks, eventually.

The most important factor to understand here, is the business imperative of the Dassault corporation. Dassault has been searching for an export customer for the Rafale. Without an export customer, Dassault will have to shutter the Rafale production line, at least temporarily. Having to restart the production line would raise the Rafale unit cost dramatically, further hurting its export prospects. Despite all the hype of the armed UAVs, the end of the Rafale may mean the end of high-performance fighter airplanes for Dassault [either manned or unmanned], with the attendant loss of the engineers and the craftsmen. Without the human capital, it will take Dassault a generation to rebuild its in-house capability to design and build airplanes capable of high-Angle-of-Attack maneuvers. Therefore, getting a Rafale export, and thus keeping the line warm, is synonymous with Dassault surviving in the fighter business.

Therefore, Dassault absolutely does not want to endanger its Rafale sales prospects. According to Wiki, the Rafale is in the running in India. Brazil has also supposedly chosen the Rafale. With this stock of Mirage 2Ks, Dassault may now offer the Mirages as temporary stand-ins to India and Brazil, while they waited on the Rafales.

With the business consideration, Dassault is unlikely to offer Mirages to Pakistan, at least for now. Dassault needs India's MMRCA order. A sale to Pakistan right now will shut Dassault out of the Indian market. Pakistan may get Mirages later, after MMRCA award, but by then, JF-17 production will be in full-swing in Pakistan. A Mirage 2K acqusition will be competing for funding against a more indigenous JF-17 production program. Egypt is also discussing a co-production deal with Pakistan for the JF-17s, which elevates the political importance of the JF-17 program. If JF-17 is fighting for funding against Mirage 2Ks, JF-17 will probably come out ahead. Pakistan may well buy RC-400s and MICAs, but that does not translate into Mirages.

Based on the business case, Dassault is unlikely to offer the UAE Mirages to Pakistan. Based on the timing and politics, Pakistan is unlikely to seek Mirages. Therefore, Pakistan is not a prospect for the UAE Mirages.

The Turkish Flotilla: A Non-Violent Approach

The news is abuzz over the Israeli raid, and the subsequent lethal clash, on board MV Mavi Marmara. Hindsight is 20/20, but placing soldiers and protesters on the crowded confines of a ship is a recipe for bloodshed. The protesters are sending more ships to run the blockade, and we can only expect more such semi-civilian maritime protests in other corners around the world. Therefore we need to develop an appropriate response and avoid falling into the "action" trap like the Israelis.

One approach is a more extensive use of tugboats on the open seas. It may be difficult for non-mariners and non-engineers to understand, but ships have a very poor directional control. Most ships are not designed with directional thrusters. Outside of specialized vessels such as oil rigs and tugboats, civilian ocean-going ships cannot "turn on a dime", relatively speaking. They don't need to, either, except when in ports. And there, the tugboats are almost always available to lend a hand.

Therefore, in a protest scenario like the Turkish flotilla this weekend, a tugboat is very useful. By applying leverage at the bow, a tugboat can push a ship in the desired direction, toward an Israeli port instead of a Gaza one, for example. And that's assuming that the boat cannot tie a rope on the ship. Two tugboats, one on each side of the ship, can squeeze the bow and pull the ship in the desired direction, in a limited fashion. In the worst case, the tug can push the ship toward a shoal or bar, running the ship aground and thus immobilizing it. If the shoal is in hostile territory, a marine detachment establishing a bridgehead on land is still much better than commandos securing a ship from hostile protesters.

In a less lethal confrontation as envisioned here, we can expect protesters to impede tug operations by throwing projectiles at the tug. The tug can use its firehoses to limit attacks. In addition, the tug crew can operate under shelter, limiting the effectiveness of non-explosive weapons. The onboard firefighting gear counters the threat of molotove cocktails.

Therefore, in enforcing naval blockades, navies need to include tugboats to provide the maximum range of responses in the OOTW environment.