Monday, September 07, 2015

International Security and Cooperation

General Jim MattisGreetings from the Australian National University, where  General James "Jim" Mattis (USMC Retired) is speaking on "Dealing with Threats in Tumultuous Times: International Security and Cooperation". General Mattis pointed out that the ANZUS Treaty was envisaged as providing US military assistance to Australia during the cold war, but was first invoked by Australia's PM after the September 11 attacks, with Australian forces the first to assist the USA in Afghanistan.

The general discussed Russian destabilization of Ukraine and ISIS destabilization of Syria and Iraq (although not suggesting Russian involvement in the latter). General Mattis described ISIS as the most successful terrorist group in history, with a territory the size of the UK and a social media presence seductive to young people. He cautioned against assuming ISIS could not win and urged disruption of their recruiting, as they will inspire copy-cat attacks in western countries. He suggested that th western response has been ineffective, not because ISIS have such a good strategy but because the west has a bad strategy. He pointed to Turkey, which had been willing to let ISIS attack the Syrian regime, but it now threatens Turkey itself.

General Mattis described UAE as "little Spata" for its willingness to support US operations in Afghanistan, but a coherent strategy is needed. He criticized US policy of per-announcing withdraw of troops as this aids the enemy and advocating keeping them guessing. General Mattis said allies like Australia were needed by the USA, for more than military contribution. He pointed out that he had good intelligence on a strategic level, but future operations will be more uncertain.

General Mattis noted that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is written to avoid Iran cheating. He suggested that there will be international inspectors, backed up by national intelligence organizations. While the agreement covers nuclear weapons, General Mattis noted this does not cover ballistic missiles or cyber warfare. He suggested that countries of the region will need a coordinated ballistic defense. He suggested that the US 5th Fleet will be vital to keeping sea lanes open for oil.

However, General Mattis had so suggestions to offer to counter Iranian cyber-attack. He characterized Iran as a "crazy group" rather than a country. However, it occurs to me that the USA is the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilian cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), to use a cyber-weapon against a nuclear facility (Natanz nuclear facilities) and shoot down an Iranian civilian airliner (Iran Air Flight 655). Later in answer to a question General Mattis touched on the USA's somewhat tainted image by suggesting that Australia has a role in the Middle East because it is seen to be doing good works.

General Mattis described an exercise by the 5th Fleet to counter mines in the Gulf. This was interesting in that he described how he formulated the exercise, with its military and political objectives, then expressed concern that Iranian commanders would be a destabilizing influence by acting on their own initiative.

In answer to a question about if ISIS was more than a terrorist organization (re "Blood Year:Terror and the Islamic State" by David Kilcullen) General Mattis comments was like Al-Qaeda combined with Hamas on steroids. He suggests that ISIS effect will get worse and cannot be addressed until the new US administration is in place which could form a strong enough international collation. 

Normally in the ANU strategic seminar series I would ask about cyber-warfare, but General Mattis had already addressed that so I asked about the US  pivot to Asia. The General was not positive about this, pointing out that the USA already had significant military forces in Asia and that European and Middle Eastern allies were unsettled by the implication that the USA's attention would be elsewhere. He suggested that the USA should be able to "walk and chew gum" (that is address issues in multiple regions simultaneously) but also does not have to take the military lead everywhere in the world.

On a positive note General Mattis suggested the USA should look to inspiration, rather than intimidation. He gave the example of offering educational scholarships as a way to exercise soft power. He told an anecdote of talking to a captured Iraqi insurgent who wanted to stop fighting and emigrate to the USA. The general suggested that the USA was not fighting the war of ideas in a way they would win. It occurs to me that perhaps the USA needs to dust off some lessons of WW2 and realize that the Disney Corporation is a more effective weapon than anything Boeing has.

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