Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sen. Kaine's Efforts to Rewrite the 1973 War Powers Resolution

          Today I attended "Reforming the 1973 War Powers Resolution" featuring Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) at the CSIS here in Washington, DC.

What I took away from Sen. Kaine’s remarks:

There is certainly a need to establish an “accepted norm” – “How does a nation make a national commitment to use its forces?”

Sen. Kaine is working on creating a new War Powers Resolution that does the following:

1) Define “war”

2) Define what it means for the President to “consult with Congress”

3) Establish a mandatory voting requirement – Congress must vote YES before troops are committed abroad

The bill is in the VERY early stages, but here’s where they’re at so far:

1) “war” is defined as “7+ days of committed kinetic action abroad”

2) In order for the President to “consult with Congress” – The bill will create a “consulting committee” that is regularly briefed by the President. If this consulting committee is briefed, the standard has been met.

3) This was vague.

My thoughts:

Item 1 Needs a troop number so as to facilitate committing Special Forces teams abroad without congressional approval.

Item 2 The “consulting committee” sounds like a reasonable idea – a formalized flow of information.

Item 3 Needs to be the teeth of the bill. In order for this bill to really disallow an executive from unilaterally committing the nation to war, there needs to be a clear deterrent built in. Perhaps Item 3 could even map out the impeachment process if a certain number of troops are committed abroad for too long.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Mitigating Religious Conflict in Nigeria”

          Today I attended the “Mitigating Religious Conflict in Nigeria” event at the CSIS here in Washington, DC.

Two Main Takeaways:

1) There is a difference of opinion between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as to the extent of religious freedom currently enjoyed by Nigerians. Today’s speakers were from USCIRF. Very knowledgeable, articulate people.

U.S. DoS – violence demarcated by ethic, political, etc. lines
USCIRF – people are being killed because of their religion

USCIRF experts say that what is left out of the DoS analysis is the opinion on the ground in Nigeria, that people understand they’re being killed “as Muslims” or “as Christians”.

My thoughts: I found the USCIRF report very credible.

2) But for high level corruption within the Nigerian government, there would not be the religious violence that exists in the country today.

My question: “Can you talk about the nature of the corruption that stymies internal policing? Is it in the form of bribes, extortion, etc?”

They said $billions get lost, cops don’t get paid, and then cops get bribed to look the other way. Vertical integration graft.

My thoughts: This means internal policing is a systemic problem, not very easily solved. USCIRF’s recommendations to the USG are aimed at leveraging US power in Nigeria – we want religious intolerance to become taboo. Again, I find the USCIRF strategy very credible.


Dr. Zuhdi Jasser Vice Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 

Tiffany Lynch Senior Policy Analyst, USCIRF

Monday, May 12, 2014

Brief History of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs)

          Today I attended "Regionalism in a Globalized World" at the CSIS here in Washington, DC. Below I've transcribed from the report the history of RTAs:

          Regional trade agreements have been forged for centuries. The first modern-day regional trade agreements were launched in the late-1950’s. But it is since the 1990s that RTAs have spread wildfire-like around the world. The wave started with the formation of sub-regional pacts, such as Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) forged in 1991 between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay; the consolidation of the European Union, including the launch of the Single Market in 1993, and deepening the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) throughout the 1990s, and, perhaps most notably, the 1994 formation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the United States, Canada and Mexico.
          Bloc formation was followed by prolific bilateralism. The EU forged numerous FTAs with Eastern European to-be EU members, while the United States negotiated FTAs with Chile and Central America, and Latin American countries signed agreements with each other. The RTA wave subsequently engulfed Asia. The latest RTAs are transcontinental, with such partners as United States and Morocco, Mexico and Japan, and Chile and the European Union having formed bilateral agreements, among numerous others.
          Up until the 1990s reticent to form preferential agreements, the United States has become one of the most prolific integrators, signing 14 agreements in little over a decade with partners in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East, and currently pursuing the rather ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with several Pacific Rim nations. Other particularly keen integrators include Mexico, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Canada, and the European Union.
          Not only have integration schemes mushroomed; their content has become more complex and encompassing. Most agreements go beyond market access in goods to address trade in services and so-called behind-the-border issues, such as investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and government procurement, and e-commerce. RTAs come in many flavors, but they also have clustered into distinct “families”, particularly around key trading nations such as the United States, European Union, and Singapore. US agreements and the many agreements tailored after them in the Americas are particularly encompassing, as are EU’s agreements. Some sub-regional from macroeconomic cooperation to labor mobility and coordination of members’ positions in multilateral trade negotiations.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Geopolitical Issues re Targeted Killings


International law legalities re killing people in other countries

Opinions of the international community – both our allies and non-allies – re Targeted Killings

Do Targeted Killings create more terrorists than they neutralize?

Drone proliferation

Hypothetical Situations:

Ideal Targeted Killing:

Three bad guys alone in desert, cannot arrest them, must kill immediately or else be exposed to immanent threat

Nightmare Scenario re Targeted Killing:

Peaceful families sitting at cafes in Yemen concerned bombs will fall on them at any moment

Thursday, May 8, 2014

CSIS Event: "Sustaining the U.S. Lead in DoD Unmanned Systems"

Today I attended the Sustaining the U.S. Lead in DoD Unmanned Systems event at the CSIS here in Washington, DC.

What I learned re Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA’s):

• Re War on Terror - RPA’s concentrated over Afghanistan and Iraq, now spread out more
• Can switch theaters very quickly – just need to reboot and brief the men
• Current status much like aircraft after WWI – used initially for surveillance and then moved into combat/commercial sectors
• U.S. Navy behind Air Force by about a decade
• U.S. Navy working to integrate RPA’s into systems whereas the Air Force has a separate fleet of RPA’s
• Collaboration is good among the services
• U.S. Marine Corps interested in ground drones, Navy interested in submerged vehicles

My analysis:

• All 4 panelists very excited about this technology, can probably speak for the military as a whole.
• Noticeable lack of emphasis on geopolitical ramifications of RPA’s
• No mention of proliferation issues


Panel 1: Service Perspective in FY15 and Beyond
Colonel Kenneth Callahan, USAF
Director, Air Force RPA Capabilities Division
Captain Chris Corgnati, USN
Deputy Director, ISR Capabilities, OPNAV N2/N6
Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Lapoint, USA
Unmanned Aerial Systems Chief, HQDA G3/5/7
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hixson, USMC
Unmanned Ground Systems CIO, HQMC CD&I
Moderated by:
Colonel Ethan Griffin
U.S. Air Force Fellow, CSIS

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Flying Balalaika Brothers - Old Piece

Since Spring 2012 I've worked as a manager for Musical Connections. Here's a piece I wrote on their behalf a while back.

          The Flying Balalaika Brothers are comprised of Soviet-trained musicians who emigrated to the United States in the early 1990's and have since settled in Texas. When a voice from a Texas crowd yelled out, "This sounds like zombie music!", Sergey and Zhenya realized they had an opportunity to incorporate humor into their sound because it seemed so foreign to Texas audiences.

          Sergey Vashchenko has a Masters degree in Orchestral Conducting, Teaching, and Balalaika Performance from the Mussorgsky Ural State Conservatory in Sverdlovsk, Russia and was a contender for Grammy Awards in the World Music Category in 2003 and 2008. His partner, Zhenya Kolykhanov, graduated from the Tchaikovsky Music College in Vologda, Russia in 1984.

          Sergey and Zhenya have brought this formal training and talent with them to Austin, Texas where they have created a non profit organization called Musical Connections and a band called The Flying Balalaika Brothers. The entities enjoy a symbiotic relationship - the non profit provides financial support for educational workshops Sergey and Zhenya conduct at area schools while the band personifies the nonprofit.

          A new CD called Op Op Romale, loosely translated as "Hey Hey Gypsy people", represents two years of studio work . The album incorporates humor into a mix of Russian, Romani-Gypsy, and American music. Although the lyrics are sung predominantly in English, four of the sixteen tracks are written entirely in Russian.