Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gaming Counter insurgency: file in category "strange"

Here is a link (forwarded to the blog by Ricky Garner, the lead instructor of our Summer Survivors program) to an article in Wired about a new videogame developed by University of Texas researchers to train U.S. troops dealing in counter insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in "cultural sensitivity."

The Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)is backing UT researchers to create the game which is a "3D sim with scenarios in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops play themselves, and interact with Iraqi and Afghan civilians in replications of local villages."

The project uses cultural data provided by the military and the goal is to enter a village, learn about the social structure, identify who is influential, and then "work with the community."

You can read more about the game itself by following the link, but the game is interesting for thinking about this topic in part because there is a significant controversy over the participation of anthropologists and other academics in military efforts to collect and interpret data about the culture of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This controversy about the academic bent of current counter insurgency efforts will be something we will take a closer look at on this blog later. But it is worthwhile to note that criticism of academics and anthropologists who participate in producing knowledge that is used by the military could be useful to debaters on this topic who are interested in interrogating the relationship of our own academic relationship as debaters to the question of what sustains the knowledge base that makes militarism justifiable.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.S. Military presence in South Korea and Japan: the Toll on Women

Some affirmatives on this topic will hope to side-step the question of U.S. strategic military-economic interests and instead re-focus the question of U.S. military presence around the issue of the effect such deployments have on the regular people in the host country. One issue of great controversy is the role that the military has played in supporting and promoting prostitution in countries where there is a military base. A good affirmative approach might be to insist upon the necessity of narrowing the focus of the discussion over the advantages and disadvantages of U.S. military presence to issues of local concern, rather than questions of "grand strategy." With a claim that "the personal is international" affirmatives might try to reorient the way that judges evaluate the "impact" of U.S. military bases.

The New York Times recently documented the efforts of former sex workers to show that the South Korean and U.S. governments not only tolerated prostitution near U.S. military bases, but that they in fact coordinated and managed the sex trade for decades. "Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military," one of the women, Kim Ae-Ran said in a recent interview.

Anti-base activists have long decried the situation and point to such calculated exploitation as evidence that U.S. bases have more to do with U.S. interests than those of the countries they are alleged to protect.

This book -Sex Among Allies- by Katherine HS Moon, looks to be of interest.

No doubt, Cynthia Enloe's book - Maneuvers - will be of great help to debaters interested in this kind of advocacy. The google books overview of the book is insightful:

"Maneuvers takes readers on a global tour of the sprawling process called "militarization." With her incisive verve and moxie, eminent feminist Cynthia Enloe shows that the people who become militarized are not just the obvious ones--executives and factory floor workers who make fighter planes, land mines, and intercontinental missiles. They are also the employees of food companies, toy companies, clothing companies, film studios, stock brokerages, and advertising agencies. Militarization is never gender-neutral, Enloe claims: It is a personal and political transformation that relies on ideas about femininity and masculinity. Films that equate action with war, condoms that are designed with a camouflage pattern, fashions that celebrate brass buttons and epaulettes, tomato soup that contains pasta shaped like Star Wars weapons--all of these contribute to militaristic values that mold our culture in both war and peace."

OPCON Transfer to South Korea and Reevaluating U.S. Military Presence

Although this post is the result of some very preliminary investigation, the South Korea part of the topic looks to be a little bit tricky. There has already been a scheduled major reformulation of the U.S. military role in S. Korea. This reformulation will either make Affs strategic because they will benefit from a strong claim that many of the negative's disadvantages are non-unique, or, it will make it tough to find defensible, topical action that doesn't go too far beyond the direction of the status quo.

Currently, the U.S. has wartime Operational Control of South Korean military forces. This arrangement is part of the legacy of the Korean War (1950-1953). Peacetime control of South Korean military forces was returned to South Korea in 1994. Now, the U.S. and South Korea plan to transfer wartime OPCON (Operational Control) of South Korean troops to S. Korea in 2012. The agreement for transfer of this authority was seen to be mutually beneficial for the U.S. and South Korea because it was thought it would enable a realignment of U.S. forces for more strategic flexibility. Rather than being bound to S. Korea, U.S. forces could be recomprised as Rapid Deployment Force that would be authorized and capable of responding to a myriad of threats in the region. At the time the OPCON transfer was agreed upon, South Korean leadership supported the move because it was seen as a restoration of South Korean sovereignty. Some voices in South Korea, though, have expressed concern that 2012 is too soon and might leave South Korea vulnerable to a threat from North Korea. There has been some significant grumbling in South Korea, with calls to slow the process down. But, to date, the U.S. has indicated that OPCON transfer is still on track to happen by 2012.

The likely question debates about S. Korea on this topic will revolve around will be how much reduction in U.S. military presence is too much? Would a reduction in forces seem like a total abandonment of security commitments to South Korea, when the peninsula is still adjusting to the proposed OPCON transfer? Or, has a reduction in U.S. presence already been accounted for by South (and North) Korea and will, in actuality, be of little diplomatic consequence.

Affirmatives may try to claim that OPCON transfer is only a first step toward the establishment of a Rapid Deployment Force and that a true draw down in forces is necessary to solidify a change in the role of troops currently in South Korea. From there, they may attempt to claim an array of advantages based on an effective regional RDF. These advantages will be torn from the pages of the Quadrennial Defense Review and its outline of the emerging U.S. security concerns.

For more information, check out the following:

"Seoul seeks extended U.S. protection." February 4, 2010. Lee Jong-Heon. UPI Asia.

"Taking Defense Into Our Own Hands." February 12, 2010. Joong Ang Daily.

"It's not the right time to discuss OPCON transfer." June, 22, 2009. Bruce Klingner. Heritage Foundation.

"Upgrading the South Korea-U.S. Alliance." March 4, 2009. Lee Jae Young. UPI Asia

Friday, February 12, 2010

America's Secret Afghan Prisons

So, the Afghanistan portion of this topic alone is pretty gigantic. Potential affirmatives range from scaling back U.S. counter-insurgency missions and counter-narcotics forces, to affirmatives that deal with the entire range of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. One area that will, no doubt, receive some attention from debaters is the U.S. military and police presence dedicated to maintaining detention facilities in Afghanistan. This will likely include a discussion of the infamous Bagram Theater Internment Facility ( aka "Obama's Guantanamo") at Bagram Air Force base as well as the 9 or so FDS's (Field Detention Facilities) that have cropped up since the criticism of detention camps at Bagram AFB first hit the scene.

The allegations of torture and murder at these facilities are shocking. See full accounts here and here. An excerpt from Anand Gopal's article in the Feb. 10 issue of The Nation follows:

Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites are deemed innocuous and never sent to Bagram. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home thirteen days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. American forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation. It took him ten more days to find his way home.

Others taken to these sites seem to have disappeared entirely. In the hardscrabble villages of the Pashtun south, where rumors grow more abundantly than the most bountiful crop, locals whisper tales of people who were captured and executed. Most have no evidence. But occasionally a body turns up. Such was the case at a detention site on a US military base in Helmand Province, where in 2003 a US military coroner wrote in the autopsy report of a detainee who died in US custody (later made available through the Freedom of Information Act): "Death caused by the multiple blunt force injuries to the lower torso and legs complicated by rhabdomyolysis (release of toxic byproducts into the system due to destruction of muscle). Manner of death is homicide."

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, US forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained--plastic cuffs binding their hands--were found more than a mile from the largest US base in the area. A US military spokesman denies any involvement in the deaths and declines to comment on the details of the raid. Local Afghan officials and tribal elders steadfastly maintain that the two were killed while in US custody. American authorities released four other villagers in subsequent days. The fate of the three remaining captives is unknown.

Of course, engaging the question of detention facilities raises the related question of counter-insurgency operations altogether. What role do Special Forces play in stabilizing or destabilizing Afghanistan, how can the U.S. military deal with "high value" suspects, and a whole host of other complicated questions. Negative ground in this area will likely require some kind of counterplan that works to stabilize Afghanistan in another way and/or counterplans that reform the detention process rather than closing any facilities.

For more on Afghan (and Iraq) detention facilities see the following
* "Obama's Secret Prisons in Afghanistan Endanger Us All." Johann Hari, The Independent. Feb. 12, 2010.

* "Closing GITMO is Just the Beginning." Max Fisher, The Atlantic. Feb. 1, 2010.
* "US. and Allies Must Detain Afghan Prisoners." Max Boot. The Washington Post. Dec. 29, 2009.
* Winning in Afghanistan: Creating Effective Afghan Security Forces. Anthony Cordesman, David Kasten, Adam Mausner. 2009.
* "The Afghan Detention Dilemma." Scott Horton. Harpers. Dec. 29, 2009.
* "Tribe and Prejudice: America's New Hope in Afghanistan." Joshua Foust. The National. Feb. 11, 2010.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quadrennial Defense Review 2010

The Dept. of Defense has just released its Quadrennial Defense Review.

The QDR is a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities. The QDR sets a long-term course for DoD and is no doubt a document of fundamental importance for gaining an understanding of the 2010-2011 topic. With Afghanistan and Iraq in the topic, the QDR's re-evaluation of the 2006 QDR, and it's prioritization of the capability to fight and win two conventional wars simultaneously, is a big deal. To what consequence would reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq or Afghanistan lead, in terms of long term defense priorities as laid out in the QDR? That is a question many debates on the topic will be asked to resolve.