Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Israel, Food Aid, and the Iranian Nuclear Program

by Micah Zenko
February 25, 2012

A damaged tank is seen in a neighbourhood in Homs, Syria, on February 23, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Stringer). A damaged tank is seen in a neighbourhood in Homs, Syria, on February 23, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Stringer).
(3PA: Ehud Eiran is a major in the Israeli Defense Forces reserves and served on Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s foreign policy team. For another of his honest and critical assessments of Israeli security policy, read “Lost Tribe.”)
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies-Schieffer Series Dialogues, “Iran: U.S. Policy Options,” February 23, 2012.

Bob Schieffer: “Let me just ask you both this question. You’re both lifetime in the military, you know what’s going on the military, you know what military people are thinking. Is there any school of thought amongst the military that we ought to take military action in Iran? That this thing poses such a danger that if we find out they have a nuclear weapon we are going to attack?”

General James E. Cartwright: “Well, that’s a difficult question to answer because if the leadership tells us to go, it doesn’t matter what we think…As a former military person, I don’t see a lot of value in going in.”

Admiral William J. Fallon: “There’s an inverse proportion to those who have experience in what really happens in wars and what happens to people with those who have an awful lot to say about it. It’s certainly not a preferred option, not anything that somebody…would wish to have happen.”

David Sanger: “I’ve never interviewed any American current or former military officials who had an opinion any different from what we’ve heard here. In fact, what many of them say is that they believe other methods, whether sanctions or covert action, would buy as much time or more time than military action.”

Fifth: as I stated at the public meeting of the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives.  Reiterating principles from Ex Parte Quirin in 1942, the Supreme Court in 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, stated that “[a] citizen, no less than an alien, can be ‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’ and ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.’”

Sixth: contrary to the view of some, targeting decisions are not appropriate for submission to a court.  In my view, they are core functions of the Executive Branch, and often require real-time decisions based on an evolving intelligence picture that only the Executive Branch may timely possess.  I agree with Judge Bates of the federal district court in Washington, who ruled in 2010 that the judicial branch of government is simply not equipped to become involved in targeting decisions.

A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China’s wealthy.

In fiscal 2011, the U.S. received 2,969 applications (each of which can cover several family members) from China for EB5 immigration, compared with just 787 two years earlier, according to the U.S. immigration agency. Chinese applications accounted for 78% of the global total in 2011.

One possibility is a naval or air operation to spur a coup against Assad. The goal would be to encourage the Syrian president’s cronies to depose him and create a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition — as a precondition for ending sanctions and the associated punitive military campaign. Our military operations could feature a naval blockade, or a limited air campaign to deprive the regime of assets that it values (such as mansions and the business interests of close Assad allies).

(3PA: This has never worked. Read this segment from Robert A. Pape’s Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War: “Over more than seventy-five years, the record of air power is replete with efforts to alter the behavior of states by attacking or threatening to attack large numbers of civilians. The incontrovertible conclusion from these campaigns is that air attack does not cause citizens to turn against their government.” [68])

The estimates show that U.S. food aid increases the duration of civil conflict, i.e. it reduces the probability that a civil conflict ends. In all three specifications, the coefficients for U.S. food aid are significant at the one-percent level. The magnitude of the estimates (marginal effects evaluated at means) suggests that a 1,000 MT increase in food aid shipments decreases the probability of the civil conflict ending in a year by between 0.48 and 0.61 percentage-points, a large effect given that the sample mean for the probability that a civil conflict ends is 0.188.

Overall, the results show that food aid increases both the onset and the duration of civil conflicts. These findings are consistent with accounts of food aid providing resources that can be used to both start civil conflicts and to prolong existing conflicts.

  • Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 257.

“After five years of avoiding the [prospective Israel] nuclear issue, [Egyptian Prime Minister Gamal Abdel] Nasser issued a series of public statements in the first half of 1966, some of them directed at the foreign audience, warning that if Israel were to proceed with the production of atomic weapons, the ‘only answer’ for the Arab states was to launch a ‘preventive war.’ ‘In that event,’ he continued, the ‘Arab countries must immediately wipe out all that enables Israel to produce an atomic bomb.’”

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