The Hudaydah Trap

For the last 14 years, the war in Yemen has taken a brutal toll on the innocent population of one of the world’s poorest countries. Though an extension of long simmering tribal conflicts, the war is in some ways a proxy battle between the Iranian-sponsored Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition of Sunni Arab states. Backed by American weaponry, intelligence, logistics, and political top cover, the Coalition has almost managed to completely surround the last Houthi stronghold in Sanaa, Yemen’s traditional capital. In what amounts to an operational siege of a fortified enclave, the port of Hudaydah is both the key to victory and the final lifeline for millions of Yemenis caught in the middle and slowly starving to death. Despite the emergence of dramatic images of malnourished children in the final stages of starvation, Yemen has raised very little public attention from the Pentagon…until last week.

Yemen Conflict
The Saudi-led Coalition has the Houthis surrounded. The fall of Hudaydah will complete the double envelopment and may end the war.

In a stunning reversal, the Secretaries of Defense and State announced that the United States would demand a ceasefire in Yemen. Communicated simultaneously, the demand came with an aggressive 30-day timeline. With Coalition forces massing for a final assault on Hudaydah, the timing of the announcement comes on the eve of what looks to be an irrevocable turning point in Washington’s favor. Some believe the curious timing makes sense given the dire humanitarian situation, but others point out that none of the warring factions are anywhere close to a negotiable position. A peace process, they suggest, is not only doomed at this point, but will likely prolong, and possibly magnify, the escalating humanitarian catastrophe. The opposing positions illustrate the intensity of the ethical dilemma Yemen presents to the world; is it better to stop the fighting or just get it over with?

Tragic Yemen

Experts among the humanitarian community say famine is a uniquely avoidable disaster but, once triggered, it cannot be easily reversed. Suffering from years of privation, currency collapse, and the world’s worst Cholera epidemic, Yemen rides the famine tripwire in every measurable way. Jeremy Konyndyk, recent Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, believes an assault on Hudaydah will plunge the fragile region into the abyss, if it’s not already there. With some justification, he thinks this realization may be the basis for Washington’s policy shift in favor of ceasefire.

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Jeremy Konyndyk, once Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, believes an assault on Hudaydah will trigger a famine in Yemen. His opinion on this matter is authoritative.

It is very easy to see the moral value of stopping the fighting to save the starving children of Yemen. However, the effectiveness of that course is as ambiguous as the political and military vagaries of the war in Yemen itself. Dave Harden, a respected diplomat that recently led US efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen (and briefly Konyndyk’s boss) takes a dim view of the prospects for peace.

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Dave Harden believes the combatants are not ready for peace.

If Mr. Harden is correct, which seems likely, it is doubtful a ceasefire will last very long or have a measurable positive impact on the conditions that lead to famine. Worse, a respite could breathe new life into a failing Houthi defense and crystallize the war into years of intractable stalemate. The resultant mortality of this outcome will eclipse anything Yemen is likely to suffer if Houthi resistance collapses quickly.

Both Sides

Hudaydah and the spiraling famine in North Yemen present a dilemma in the truest sense. Though it is impossible to calculate just how much good can come from a ceasefire, it is also impossible to know how quickly and effectively the fall of Hudaydah will put an end to the war. The answer will be lost in complex analysis of relative combat power, skill of the commanders, tactical geography, and the unknowable will to win inherent in the opposing forces. There is simply no way to determine which is the ethically superior option from the purely utilitarian standpoint of: what is the most good for the most people?

Rather than making an ethical choice, the United States is shrewdly playing both sides. Calling for a ceasefire widely expected to fail makes it easier to blame one’s opponent for the disappointing result. Though this sounds intensely cynical, it can have the practical outcome of weakening Houthi/Iranian resolve, eroding international support, and may increase their need to make concessions. Giving the Coalition thirty days to implement it, however, encourages an attempt to settle the matter. Though calling for a ceasefire is probably the only politically acceptable option in this gamble, with Coalition troops already advancing into the outskirts of the city, the Hudaydah trap has been sprung, and there is no going back. History will balance the intensity of resultant suffering against the durability and justice — if any — of the political outcome.


Lino Miani, CEO Navisio Global LLC

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.

 

 

 

 

 

For additional information concerning the war in Yemen please reference the following articles:

“A hint of hope for a ceasefire in Yemen.”

“Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death will shake up the war in Yemen?

 

A Tale of Two Armies: Defending NATO

During the NATO Summit in Brussels earlier this year, the President of the United States, leader of one of the founding member states of the Alliance, stunned the world when he reportedly declared – in a meeting of the heads of state and government – that the USA would “go it alone” if the Allies failed to increase defense spending. With Alliance unity considered a lynchpin of security in Europe, the mere perception of cracks in its armor could make 70 years of peace vulnerable to collapse. In response, some European Union (EU) members are reviving an old idea and seeking to reverse Europe’s reliance for its security on the United States by creating another military apparatus: the European Army. To some, the concept is a fool’s errand. It runs counter to NATO and is at odds with the EU’s purpose. More importantly, it is harmful to the relationship between Europe and the United States.

Fundamentals

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”

– Robert Schuman

In 1946, as Europe struggled to rebuild after the Second World War, a young State Department official named George Kennan wrote there could be “no permanent peaceful coexistence” with the Soviet Union. With those few words, Kennan summarized the political reality that would dominate American strategic thinking for the next 50 years. Thereafter, the looming Soviet threat forced western European nations toward greater military and economic integration and inspired support from the United States which otherwise would have retreated into its traditional isolationism. Announcing his plan for the recovery of Europe, George Marshall, then US Secretary of State, claimed the “remedy [to prevent further deterioration] lies in…restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole.” As Nicolaus Mills explains, “the genius of the Marshall Plan was that it enabled the countries of Western Europe to look upon one another not as rivals competing in a zero-sum game but as partners with a chance to gain from each other through liberalized trade and interchangeable currencies made reliable by American backing.” European security, at least in the American view, began with sound economic fundamentals.

Unfortunately, the USSR remained undeterred and continued to spread Communist influence throughout Eastern Europe. On April 4th, 1949, as a result of this seemingly uncontested expansion, twelve European nations and the United States ratified the Washington Treaty establishing NATO as a mechanism to deter and repel Soviet aggression. Accordingly, European countries began integrating their economies through a series of treaties that provided a formal construct for their collective economic interests. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), among others, fostered a cooperative international environment whereby each nation could better control its destiny. Perhaps by design, they also formed the foundations of what would become the European Union.

Senior British and French officers during NATO exercise in West Germany (1950)
Senior British and French officers during NATO exercise in West Germany (1950) Source Credit: Imperial War Museum

Concerned about the overwhelming combat power of the Red Army in 1950, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) contended “the appropriate and early rearming of Western Germany is of fundamental importance to the defense of Western Europe against the USSR.” France vehemently opposed this idea and offered an alternative. Designed to stop German rearmament, the French Plan, designed by Defense Minister René Pleven, called for a highly integrated European Army. The UK worried Pleven’s “European Defense Community” (EDC) might weaken NATO, but did not refuse the treaty outright. The American government, an early advocate for rearming Germany, questioned the logic of Pleven’s proposal. The US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, claimed the EDC was “hastily conceived without serious military advice… unrealistic and undesirable.” In the eyes of western officials, the Pleven Plan, and ultimately the EDC, would result in “duplication, confusion and divided responsibility.” Though several European nations agreed to the terms contained within the Treaty Establishing the European Defense Community on May 27, 1952, the French Parliament refused to ratify it. The EDC collapsed and the allies quickly integrated the Federal Republic of Germany into NATO, allowing West Germany to rearm under a “collective self-defense” organization. France’s concern for German rearmament subsided, and with it, the push for an army outside NATO became a great taboo of the Cold War.

The European Army Reemerges

2018 NATO Summit
2018 NATO Summit Source Credit: Express.co.uk

Contemporary politics and a shaky transatlantic relationship are the rationales behind the European Army’s recent resurgence. US President Trump’s demand for NATO allies to pay their “fair share and meet their financial obligations” enflames Europe’s desire to extricate itself from the US-dominated security relationship. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, expressed this sentiment in a 2015 interview saying, “A joint EU army would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries… such an army would also help us to form common foreign and security policies and allow Europe to take on responsibility in the world… a common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values.”

It is therefore unsurprising the EU began developing a joint military investment strategy exclusive of NATO and the United States in November 2017. Under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) agreement, EU members agreed to leverage their combined economies of scale while not explicitly adhering to NATO’s defense spending goal of two-percent gross domestic product (GDP). Responding to US concerns that an increase in EU defense spending could distract from NATO activities, the European Council President, Donald Tusk, warned the United States to “appreciate [its] allies, after all [it doesn’t] have that many.” The rhetorical back-and-forth between western nations continues to drive the United States and its European allies farther apart and provides fodder for some to demand a robust, Europe-only, military apparatus. In late August, French President Emmanuel Macron verbalized this idea, telling European ambassadors “Europe [could] no longer entrust its security to the United States alone. It’s up to us to guarantee our security.”

A Tale Not Worth Retelling

Overt discussion of an extra-NATO military organization is no longer the great taboo it was during the Cold War, but the European Army generates more questions than it answers. The stated aim of the European Union was to end “the frequent and bloody wars between neighbors” by creating a common economic and financial market for European nations. It was never intended to compete with NATO as a provider of multi-lateral military power. The logic the UK used to protest the EDC in the 1950s is still applicable today; that a vote for the European Army dilutes NATO’s resources, degrades its unity of effort, and convolutes the EU’s purpose. With over 70 years of experience working through common funding, command-and-control, training, standardization, doctrine, and capability development, NATO remains the gold standard of collective defense. By contrast, Europe has not developed protocols for controlling the European Army, resolving conflicts between member states, or even disputes between those member states and the EU itself.

European leaders should recognize the dangers of moving forward with their own military unless their long-term goal is to mitigate US influence over European military spending. Perhaps goaded by spite for the current US Administration, Europe is on the brink of a major strategic error. In this tale of two armies, an untested and unfunded European Army is not only a poor substitute for NATO, but it is also a threat to the viability of the Alliance and the security of Europe.


Major Steve “SWAP” Nolan is a US Air Force Weapons Officer, C17 Instructor Pilot, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS) graduate, and is currently serving as the Director of Operations for the 21st Airlift Squadron, California. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management and three Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Operations Management with a focus on Air Mobility Logistics, and Military Strategy. Steve recently published an article discussing how the US Air Force can improve its talent management practices and is currently working on another article based on his SAASS thesis: Triggers, Traps, and Mackinder’s Maps – The Russian Bear, NATO, and the Near Abroad.

Maduro Drones On

Wearing full regalia to mark the 81st anniversary of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard on August 4th, President Nicolas Maduro became the world’s most prominent target of a drone strike. The scene was typical of the farcical government theater Venezuelans have grown accustomed to over the last 19 years since Maduro’s charismatic mentor, Hugo Chavez was elected President. The small explosion occurred while Maduro was addressing a massive assembly of soldiers, firefighters, and police; seven of whom were wounded when two drones approached and dropped their ordnance near the procession.

In a speech the following day, Maduro blamed the attack on the former President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, a claim Santos bluntly repudiated. Though Maduro is accustomed to droning on against foreign interference, those claiming credit for the attack, a previously unknown group called “Soldiers of Flannel”, identify themselves as patriotic Venezuelans. They blame Maduro’s incompetence for the exploding economic crisis that is pushing millions of Venezuelans into desperation. Though some would like to write off the incident as a parochial Latin American squabble, the drone-delivery of explosives is a growing global security threat that simply cannot be ignored.

The "Soldiers of Flannel" claimed credit for the drones that attacked Nicolas Maduro.
The “Soldiers of Flannel” claimed credit for the drones that attacked Nicolas Maduro.

Bolivarian Devolution

Though Saturday’s drama may seem remote to those outside Latin America, Venezuela is in the midst of an exploding humanitarian disaster. This is not hyperbole. Some 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the hyperinflation and scarcity that has plagued their economy since 2014. Conditions are at the point that international humanitarian actors supporting affected Venezuelans in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and elsewhere claim newborns in Syria have lower mortality rates than those in Venezuela. Once the richest nationality in Latin America, Venezuelans both at home and abroad suffer from malnutrition, crime, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking as the crisis — and their desperation — intensifies. Meanwhile, the Maduro regime increasingly relies on repression and violence to maintain control. A patronage system guarantees military and police loyalty but is coming under escalating stress from an inflation rate that may exceed 1 million percent by the end of the year.

At these rates, it is difficult to imagine Maduro will be able to sustain this system, particularly in the face of the rapid collapse of oil exports. For years, the state oil company, PDVSA, funded the socialist economy set up by Hugo Chavez; but as PDVSA demands for control of production grew to pay the rising costs of Chavismo, international oil companies began to cut their losses. Beginning with the American firms, the oil majors shut down their Venezuelan operations, taking their expertise and equipment with them and leaving a lasting impact on the economy, currency, and security of the country. Something will have to give in order for conditions to improve and Saturday’s drone strike suggests the security situation will further deteriorate long before the economy stabilizes.

Drones On Target

Saturday’s attack on Maduro, though of little significance in real terms, marks the first notable proliferation of non-state, drone-delivered explosives outside the Middle East. Though the attacked wounded seven members of the Bolivarian National Guard, Maduro was unhurt and he and the generals surrounding him responded stoically enough to preserve their machismo. What alarms security officials around the world about the incident however, is there is no real way to defend against this rapidly proliferating technology.

Drone technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last five years. Improvements in battery capability enabled this leap, driving down costs and giving smaller drones more range and power. Though state militaries were the early drivers of drone technology, they focused their research and development efforts on larger platforms that somewhat replicated capabilities of manned aircraft. Private hobbyists and commercial interests such as Amazon pushed demand for smaller devices and drove innovation faster than militaries were capable of doing. Not surprisingly, the commercial utility of drones as a delivery device has military implications as Mr. Maduro discovered on Saturday.

Maduro's security detail reacts to safeguard him from additional detonations.
Maduro’s security detail reacts to safeguard him from additional detonations.

Keeping up with technological advancement is not the only policy challenge drones represent. In most parts of the world, airspace is only regulated above 3000 feet above ground level (AGL). Below that level, there are very few regulations and almost no laws governing air traffic. Even in those instances where governments made steps to address this gap, enforcement remains an administrative and technical headache. There are very few requirements for registration or licensing, and that’s just the start. On the extreme end of the spectrum, traditional defenses against air attack, specifically fighter aircraft and surface to air missiles, are almost completely ineffective below 3000 feet AGL. This is especially true in urban environments. Though one of the drones that attacked Maduro was reportedly shot down by an alert sniper, it crashed with its deadly payload into a nearby apartment building, setting fire to the structure and forcing an evacuation. The incident highlights that even effective defenses may cause unintended harm.

Technological solutions are no more promising. Countermeasures range from systems that jam guidance inputs, to others that launch netting to capture drones, to trained birds of prey. Clearly the defense sector is struggling to establish a workable industry standard. Detection is a different problem that has more obvious solutions but integrating them with countermeasures and backing that up with effective legislation and enforcement is the biggest challenge of all. If there is a silver lining associated with the dramatic attack on Nicolas Maduro, it is that his misfortune may actually raise enough alarm at a high enough level to make a difference. When it comes to drone defense, the Soldiers of Flannel said it best: “…it’s only a question of time.”


Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.

Thanks to Kirby Sanford for consulting on flight rules and airspace control measures. Kirby is the author of Bolivarian Devolution and Paraguay: Voting Away Freedom on The Affiliate Network.

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