Reality check on strategic interests behind humanitarian concerns in Yemen

Barak Seener Article

(Defense News) – The US and Saudi Arabia have opposing strategic priorities in Yemen. The US has prioritized countering al-Qaida, while Saudi Arabia considers al-Qaida an equal threat to its security as Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Behind US humanitarian concerns for civilian casualties in Yemen lies another motivation: a growing inclination at least during the latter part of the Obama administration, undeclared but increasingly clear, to pivot away from Saudi Arabia in favor of its rival, Iran, which backs the Houthis. For this reason, the US has not reacted to Iran’s recent announcement that it plans to build naval bases in Syria and Yemen, which could considerably increase Iran’s support for the Houthis.

Iran, along with Hezbollah, provide money, training and ballistic missile technologies to the Houthis posing a threat to Saudi Arabia from the south, as the Houthis have overrun Saudi border guard headquarters and occupied 50 square miles of depopulated Saudi border towns. In April 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that Iran was providing military assistance to Houthi rebels. Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asiri, a military adviser to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, told me that, to date, Saudi Arabia has intercepted 36 ballistic missiles fired indiscriminately by the Houthis. As the collapse of Yemen’s government enabled al-Qaida, Houthis and other local militias to organize, Saudi Arabia’s exit from Yemen would be met by the increased presence of al-Quds fighters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, al-Qaida, Houthis and Hezbollah, all threatening regional security.

Broader Ramifications of the Conflict

Sunni-Shiite tensions in Yemen have global security and economic ramifications; tensions are affecting sailing routes of oil tankers leaving the Arabian Gulf. The Pentagon confirmed Houthi rebels in Yemen were responsible for launching cruise missiles at the US Navy destroyer Mason multiple times in October 2016. In the same month, the Houthis used advanced anti-ship missiles provided by Iran to target US, UK, and Emirati ships delivering medical aid to Aden and evacuating wounded civilians for treatment.

The increasing Iranian presence in Yemen and differing strategic priorities of the US and Saudi Arabia can adversely affect the United States’ capabilities to exert influence in the Gulf. Iran or Russia would be in a position to control the Bab el-Mandeb strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. This will most certainly occur if Iran builds a naval base along the strait, undermining the access and activities of US warships such as mine sweeping and coastal patrols. An Iranian naval base would prevent Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen and likely lead to direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This could also prevent the trade route of two-thirds of global oil from the Arabian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or Sumed Pipeline. Iran demonstrated its naval aspirations in 2009 when it conducted exercises near the Gulf of Aden and in 2011 when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood granted Iranian ships access to the Suez Canal.

New Administration Reset

The Trump administration’s rejection of the Iran deal will likely be accompanied by a greater willingness to confront Iran’s building of naval bases beyond its borders and support for Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Preemptively targeting transit points for weapons prior to reaching Houthi fighters will likely reduce civilian casualties as Saudi Arabia will be less reliant upon faulty Yemeni intelligence. Neighboring Gulf states with Yemen are likely to be pressurized to provide intelligence on overland smuggling routes to interdict weapons along porous borders with Yemen.

Article published on defensenews.com

US Must Remove Sequester

(Defense News) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China is overhauling its military to be combat ready and able to project force beyond its borders comes at a time when Russia has been increasing its military expenditure and Britain, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, is increasing military spending by $18 billion over the next decade to contend with numerous security threats that Europe faces.

A future US administration is likely to reassess the sequester as laid out by the strategic policy guidance issued by the Pentagon in 2012. This eroded the US strategy of maintaining a military capability to meet crises in all geographic locations and to fight two major conflicts around the globe simultaneously. Subsequent military cuts due to financial austerity measures led the Obama administration to be cautious to intervene anywhere.

Currently, there are numerous differentiated threats to international security posed by sub-state actors like ISIS, as well as rising states vying with the US for power such as China and the Russia. It was not smart or soft power, but the sequester rationalized the US’ reset policy with Russia.

The US is likely to revert back to the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review that advanced the idea that maintaining “a core capability is central … to avoid a situation in which an aggressor in one region might be tempted to take advantage when US forces are heavily engaged elsewhere.”

It was not merely the rise of China and the eastward shift of economic power that prompted the US to pivot toward Asia, but military sequestration that led to a strategic prioritization in that region. Ironically, it was due to military sequestration that an effective pivot to Asia in the form of Asia-Pacific balancing initiatives was undermined. This undercut the operational concept of being geographically dispersed with a military presence in Australia and Southeast and East Asia and to link the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.

The US has been unable to rebalance effectively when it allocates 2,500 Marines to the region or to increase its naval presence in the Western Pacific as its Navy shrinks from 272 to around 250 ships. Due to the reduction in military expenditure, the US was forced to rationalize its failed attempt to pivot by describing its goals as “economic engagement.”

In contrast to the US, China has been annually increasing its defense spending by double digits. While Asian Pacific countries have invested in power-projection capabilities such as naval and air forces that may in the future deny the US access to the Pacific Rim, the US has focused more on post-conflict reconstruction and ground operations.

Read Full Article: Defense News

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

(Huffington Post) – The Parliamentary vote to strike ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrates that the globalised world of the 21st century does not afford us the luxury to relive an isolationist past. The US was shielded by two oceans and the UK was a distant island with foreign intervention being an arbitrary matter of moral conscience. Today’s increasingly networked reality and the erosion of borders in the Middle East causes global politics to be local and the security threats have increased at an exponential rate. Yet the question has been frequently asked about intervening in Syria was, ‘what has it got to do with us?’ Syria has led to one of the greatest refugee crisis of our time with terrorists able to conduct attacks within our shores. We have reached a stage in history where our security and strategic interests are aligned with humanitarian concerns. It is impossible and immoral to enjoy liberal democracy while abroad people are slaughtered by repressive regimes like the Assad regime or by sub-state terrorist groups like ISIS as it will come to haunt us as it did in Paris.

Targeting ISIS: A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

Fears of potential reprisals against Western targets if the US or Britain intervened in the Syrian crisis ignored the risk of terrorism due to the failure to intervene. Any environment hosting a vacuum of governance coupled with a totalitarian ideology that reinforces extreme poverty, serves to be a springboard for international terrorism, enabling the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Radicals are attracted to that environment not only from impoverished and lawless areas, but from developed states. In areas like Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they are indoctrinated with radical philosophies and receive the know-how to conduct terrorist activities when they return home to their Western states. Even if Islamists don’t travel abroad they are radicalized by the internet and social media posing a security risk. In Britain the number of attempted terror plots and suspects on the watch list has soared to the thousands since the advent of ISIS. Despite the security risks of Syrian refugees being low, it is impossible to effectively screen them.

Read Full Article: Huff Post

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Arafat’s Legacy

(Huffington Post) – The Parliamentary vote to strike ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrates that the globalised world of the 21st century does not afford us the luxury to relive an isolationist past. The US was shielded by two oceans and the UK was a distant island with foreign intervention being an arbitrary matter of moral conscience. Today’s increasingly networked reality and the erosion of borders in the Middle East causes global politics to be local and the security threats have increased at an exponential rate. Yet the question has been frequently asked about intervening in Syria was, ‘what has it got to do with us?’ Syria has led to one of the greatest refugee crisis of our time with terrorists able to conduct attacks within our shores. We have reached a stage in history where our security and strategic interests are aligned with humanitarian concerns. It is impossible and immoral to enjoy liberal democracy while abroad people are slaughtered by repressive regimes like the Assad regime or by sub-state terrorist groups like ISIS as it will come to haunt us as it did in Paris.

Targeting ISIS: A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

Fears of potential reprisals against Western targets if the US or Britain intervened in the Syrian crisis ignored the risk of terrorism due to the failure to intervene. Any environment hosting a vacuum of governance coupled with a totalitarian ideology that reinforces extreme poverty, serves to be a springboard for international terrorism, enabling the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Radicals are attracted to that environment not only from impoverished and lawless areas, but from developed states. In areas like Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they are indoctrinated with radical philosophies and receive the know-how to conduct terrorist activities when they return home to their Western states. Even if Islamists don’t travel abroad they are radicalized by the internet and social media posing a security risk. In Britain the number of attempted terror plots and suspects on the watch list has soared to the thousands since the advent of ISIS. Despite the security risks of Syrian refugees being low, it is impossible to effectively screen them.

Read Full Article: Huff Post

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

As U.N. falters, Syria’s conflict threatens regional stability

(CNN) – It would be a mistake to write off threats of war against Syria from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as mere bluster, assuming that Turkey will maintain the status quo in valuing its relationship with the United States on one hand, while resisting Iran’s hegemonic ambitions on the other.

The recent cross-border confrontation could ignite regional convulsions as Turkey is sucked into Syria, leading to belated actions on the part of the international community.

The Assad regime knows its time is limited as the rate of military and intelligence officers defecting to Jordan and Turkey increases in momentum. Rebel attacks are inching closer to the heart of the Assad regime, such as the recent attack on the Syrian air force intelligence compound in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. This contributes to the regime’s recklessness in firing upon Turkey with impunity.

Ankara may also be emboldened by the fact that Iran, a key Assad ally, could be limited in its ability to intervene due to its economic woes at home. This week its currency – the rial – plummeted in value due to a combination of sanctions and Tehran’s own mismanagement of the economy. Turkey has less to lose by responding to Syrian aggression – this rationale is supported by recent reports that Iran has withdrawn from Syria 275 members from a special operations unit attached to its elite Quds Force.

Read Full Article: CNN

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Reflections on U.S. policy, international affairs and the limitations of the Bush administration

Strategic Intelligentia

(The Henry Jackson Society) – In a candid conversation with Barak M. Seener, Richard Perle offers insightful observations and analyses ranging from the current administration’s recent departure from neo-conservatism, the failings of the Presidential bureaucracy, and the fundamentally flawed strategy pursued by the U.S. in Iraq. Perle delves into the principles of neo-conservatism and addresses the misconceptions surrounding it. He asserts that the promotion of alternative energy is central to national security. Perle goes on to construct an argument for the continued use of interventionism as a legitimate and justifiable policy option. He also delineates the threat of U.S. military primacy and the steps necessary to sustain it. Finally, he discusses his perception of the inevitable failure of any Israeli- Palestinian peace negotiations which ignore the aims of Palestinians, and considers the possibility of militarily engaging Iran and North Korea.

B.M.S. Do you not find it problematic that the Neo- Conservative movement was short-sighted in the fact that they promoted a coherent philosophy which stated that there exists a nexus between autocratic states which lack human rights and their attempt to provide logistical and financial support to terrorist groups around the world? These same regimes threaten international security by their promotion of nuclear proliferation which may find their way into sub-state actors. On the other hand, they did not conduct a rigorous quantitative study as to how the current troop capacity would be able to achieve the grand aims of macro-democratization in the region.

R.P. I would, firstly, like to say that there does not exist a Neo Conservative’Movement’.Neo-Conservatismisaninclination and what does exist is a group of like-minded individuals that share the same inclination on a number, but by no means all, issues. The people who advanced the need to promote democratization as a doctrine did not have in mind military force to facilitate this. To associate support for regime-change with the advocacy of military force is a common misconception. Amongst the many of articles I have written, testimony I’ve given to Congress, television appearance and the like, I have never advocated the use of force as the way to achieve the development of democratic institutions. Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz have argued against the use of military force to achieve this end. Thus, there was no Neo- Conservative focus on the Revolution in Military Affairs in connection with the advancement of democratic institutions. They simply did not consider force. Rather, they saw the necessity in creating institutions such as the National
Endowment for Democracy which would offer political and moral support for subjugated people seeking democracy. Portugal under Salazar or Franco under Spain, as well as Serbia under Milosevic, were all democratized primarily through political action.

Read Full Article: The Henry Jackson Society

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.