By Tyrus W. Cobb

February 19, 2015

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has resulted in more than 5,500 civilian and military deaths, and mass displacement of ethnic populations. A ceasefire was signed in Minsk that has been partially observed, but is fragile and unlikely to hold. Renewed fighting between separatists– augmented by extensive Russian armaments, materiel and even troops–and ill-trained and poorly armed Ukrainian forces will likely resume soon.

The rapidly deteriorating politico-military position the Ukraine faces has generated demands that the West, specifically the U.S. and its NATO allies, do something to bolster the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian armed forces, and assist the new reform-oriented government in Kiev.

The United States and its allies face difficult questions: Should we provide lethal aid to the faltering Ukrainian armed forces in order to strengthen their capabilities to defend their territory and defeat the combined Russian and Separatist elements? If so, should those be strictly defensive weapons? Should we be providing more economic and non-military assistance?

This piece looks at the pros and cons of providing weapons and monetary/aid support to Kiev and the Ukrainian military.

The Minsk Accords and the Order of Battle in Eastern Ukraine

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany reached an accord in Minsk (also signed by the Russian Separatists) that called for the observance of a ceasefire in the combat zone, starting Feb 15. Following that, the forces were charged with the responsibility of withdrawing heavy weapons, releasing prisoners of war, and to begin working on an agreement for constitutional reform in Ukraine that would provide extensive decentralization of Kiev’s authority and more autonomy for the heavily ethnic Russian east (Donetsk basin region).

The accords will leave Russian and separatist forces largely intact in the disputed areas. Moscow has provided extensive monetary and military aid to the separatist elements, and has infiltrated sizeable combat ready elements of the Russian armed forces. The Ukrainian army is overmatched in terms of skilled soldiers, state of the art weaponry, tactics and leadership. Russia has significant advantages in geographic proximity, support by and for the insurgents, and in state of the art offensive and defensive weapons.

U.S. and NATO Options: Should we intervene? Provide more aid?

A growing chorus of voices in the West is calling for the provision of more advanced weaponry, military equipment, and monetary aid. The newly-anointed Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, has indicated that he “very much is inclined in that direction”. At the same time a number of politico-military experts strenuously oppose providing Ukraine with armaments of any type, defensive as well as offensive. They argue that doing so risks an acceleration  of the conflict in that Moscow would surely counter-escalate, and in such a manner that Ukraine would be overwhelmed quickly, and the tactical situation in the eastern regions would deteriorate even more rapidly.

Advocates of arming Ukraine base their recommendations first on the moral ground that Russia has invaded and occupied the territory of a neutral country, one whose borders it pledged to recognize in the Budapest Memorandum signed after the dissolution of the USSR. The right thing to do in this instance is to come to the aid of a beleaguered country being overpowered by the application of military force by a much stronger and voracious neighbor, bent on reclaiming lands it felt were historically Russian and with heavyily ethnic Russian populations.

These “pro-interventionists” (at least in the provision of assistance) also argue that to bow to the application of force by Moscow would only further encourage President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions, emboldening the “Tsar” to make similar demands and incursions elsewhere in Europe—and beyond. To get Russia to back down in this crisis requires Moscow to suffer heavy “costs”, and that means first and foremost supplying modern weaponry.

Most advocate only for the provision of “defensive” arms, although Moscow might not appreciate that distinction. The most prominent spokespersons for this viewpoint are former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and a number of former national security experts.

The recommendations to provide military weapons as well as aid generated a strong counter-response from a number of experts on strategic and military affairs. They point out that any provision of military aid to Kiev would be seen by Moscow as a declaration of war, and potentially spark a global escalation of Ukraine’s separatist conflict. They stress that the Ukrainian armed forces are not proficient in the employment of such weapons, which would likely be utilized erroneously or even fall into the separatist hands. They add that Kiev has had a succession of incompetent and corrupt leaderships, and that the current reform-oriented government has little chance of transitioning Ukraine into a viable and working democracy anytime soon. The nation is divided, broke and militarily weak.

Further, great powers do not react well when distant entities intervene in “their backyard”. For example, if Russia were to begin providing weaponry to Cuba or Venezuela, the U.S. would not view such interventions kindly. This conflict is, for Russia, one that involves its core strategic interests; for Europe and especially the U.S., this is not at that level. Thus escalation of the conflict by the West would certainly not force Moscow to consider withdrawal or even compromises, but would further drive the Kremlin to double the ante and increase its involvement and assistance, they stress.

These critics reject the argument that failing to take decisive action against Russia in this conflict is akin to acceding to Hitler’s demands made in 1938. But Russia is not Nazi Germany, a country then on the rise with growing military and economic strength, and a unified leadership. Instead, they note, Russia today is in a downward economic spiral driven by the sanctions and rapidly falling oil prices, a country facing severe demographic and ethnic problems. This is not 1938. Finally, they add that to confront Moscow so defiantly would just push Russia closer to China, end any chance for observance of current nuclear treaties, and drive Moscow to assist nations or entities such as Al Qaeda in exporting terrorism to Europe and the U.S.

Skepticism regarding the efficacy of providing arms is warranted. Even the U.S. cannot deliver weapons fast enough or train the Ukrainian armed forces in using them to push the highly sophisticated Russian forces out of eastern Ukraine.

Toward A Unfired Western Strategy

At the present there is little agreement among Western leaders regarding what steps the allies should take to counter Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and to assist the fledging Kiev government. German Chancellor  Merkel is opposed to providing weaponry to Kiev, even defensive arms. France’s President Hollande and the U.K’s Prime Minister Cameron favor some provision of weapons, but have not been precise in their recommendations.  Here in the U.S., President Obama is said to lean towards providing economic assistance and furnishing defensive weaponry, although no specifics have been laid out.

So what can and should the U.S. do?

First, the U.S. and its European allies must continue the economic sanctions that are in place and gradually extend them to impact other members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle;

Second, America should take no military actions without the full agreement of its NATO allies, including the newest members such as the Baltic states.

Third, Washington should be a major donor to the economic assistance that Kiev immediately requires. The IMF/World Bank is already going forward with a major loan/assistance package. The U.S. should join in this effort.

Fourth, America should provide longer-term institution-building guidance and assistance, recognizing while such advice and help will not have a short term impact, it is vital to the longer term success of Ukraine.

Fifth, President Obama and NATO heads of government should encourage Ukrainian President Poroshenko to grant limited autonomy to the eastern region of the country—not independence or annexation by Russia. Poroshenko should also enunciate a vision for Ukraine that views the country eventually as an integral part of the European Community, but at the same time a nation that is prepared to work closely with its historic brethren in Moscow (not in any alliance, but to maintain close economic and cultural ties).

Finally, with respect to the key issue—the provision of armaments to Ukraine. I recommend that despite the dangers involved in providing defensive weaponry to Kiev–such as modern anti-tank and air defense radars and artillery–that Washington and its European allies do provide such weaponry to Ukraine. This is risky and may eventually prove counter-productive, but in view of Russia’s support and intervention in the eastern regions of Ukraine, necessary.

-Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb was a former Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs.

This is the final announcement for a most timely presentation on….


More proliferation or real reductions of nuclear arsenals?


Keith Hansen

Former National Intelligence Officer for

Nuclear Weapon Programs and Non-Proliferation

Thursday, February 19, 9 am, The Ramada

Keith Hansen will briefly trace the growth of offensive strategic nuclear weapon arsenals over time, with particular focus on US & Soviet/Russian balances. He will cover efforts to reduce those arsenals (SALT/START/INF, etc), which might be in jeopardy given the deteriorating relationship today between Moscow and Washington. Hansen will also look at what other nuclear states currently hold, and assess international efforts to halt the further proliferation of nuclear weapons (e.g. NPT/CTBT).

Hansen will also discuss the utility of nuclear weapons in meeting today’s threats, particularly in light of advances in conventional munitions, and the prospects for their total elimination (which Reagan endorsed).  He will address the threat of terrorist groups obtaining and employing nuclear weapons. Finally, Hansen will also explain why further proliferation is a major security concern for the US and our allies.

Keith Hansen is the former National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for nuclear weapons programs and non-proliferation at the CIA. He has over 35 years experience in security affairs with the U.S. government, including stints at State, Navy intelligence, and various arms control agencies, and five years teaching international relations at Stanford and a year at Sierra Nevada College.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

You are encouraged to RSVP by clicking HERE. You may also RSVP e-mailing Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be accepting new and renewal membership applications for the July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015 period. Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking HERE. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.

Colleagues: Am forwarding a very thoughtful op ed by my colleague, Jack David, a semi-retired New York City investment banker and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Bush 43 administration. Jack makes a persuasive case for taking the “fight to the Islamists” here. Over the years I have disagreed with Jack as often as I agree, and I do have some differences here, but overall his arguments are worth considering, and implementing.


Real Clear Politics, January 28, 2015

It’s Time for U.S. to Take the Fight to Islamists

By Jack David

A headline from last weekend screamed that the murder of an ISIS hostage from Japan, like the beheadings of Westerners carried out by the group last year, was “unforgiveable.” Two weeks earlier, political leaders around the world expressed their outrage at Islamist terrorists’ assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, and the related murders carried out in a Jewish-owned delicatessen in that city. But mere declarations of the unacceptability of these heinous acts in the name of Islam are not enough. Until policies are stepped up and action is taken to eradicate Islamist terrorism, such statements should be received with skepticism. Until the United States moves against Islamist terrorism – by itself and with the cooperation of allies – it will only get worse.

There are practical steps that American political leaders can take to defeat the Islamists – policy choices that have been available for some time. All entail costs, and all carry risks. But the costs and risks must be borne if the United States is to secure itself and its interests from this growing danger.

First, our political leaders must name the perpetrators of these beheadings, bombings, and sundry acts of terror. The perpetrators are “Islamist terrorists”-not “terrorists,” not “militants,” not “lone wolves.”  U.S. leaders, starting with President Barack Obama, need to acknowledge this explicitly. The terrorists do not disguise the fact that they are committing these assassinations, murders, and bombings in the name of Allah. On the contrary, they loudly proclaim it with every act of mayhem in which they engage. American leaders have no standing to deny that they are who they say they are. American leaders must use language that identifies the enemy: Islamist terrorists and jihadists.

Second, and related to the first step, is that U.S. policymakers must accept the direct connection between Islam and most of the terrorism we have been experiencing. There are plenty of passages in the Koran and other Muslim tracts that advocate or justify killing Jews and Christians who refuse to submit.  Anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, deemed to have insulted Islam according to various rules of Islamic jurisprudence, might be flogged, imprisoned or executed. Unlike Jews and Christians, who have addressed arguably comparable biblical language, Islam has not rejected bloodthirsty religious doctrine as a relic of the past. On the contrary, in a significant part of the Muslim world, Islamists find justification in this language. The rest of Islam remains ambivalent about Islamist terrorism – at least this is indicated by Muslim leaders’ inaction toward the Islamists among them and by surveys of Muslims. Islam itself must decide to renounce such violence, as a matter of Islamic doctrine, and to demand tolerance of religious beliefs and practices outside Islam. Until it does, U.S. leaders should not characterize Islam as “a religion of peace.”

Third, U.S. political leaders should do what they can to support those Muslims in the United States and abroad, who urge their mullahs to modernize Islamic religious doctrine by renouncing words and interpretations of words that justify hatred of non-Muslims. President Abdel Fattah al Sisi of Egypt has bravely asked his country’s mullahs to do just that. He and other Muslim leaders who support the introduction of tolerance into Islamic doctrine deserve Western support. It would be wise to seek al Sisi’s counsel on what forms of support would help.

Fourth, the U.S. should withdraw its support, including military aid, from any country or entity (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization) that directly or indirectly supports Islamist terrorism. The U.S. should require that any country receiving U.S. support adopt and enforce laws prohibiting Islamist terrorism and support for it, whether at home or abroad. Failure to enact and enforce laws prohibiting its citizens from financing or otherwise assisting Islamist terrorism should disqualify a country from U.S. aid. A country that refuses to vigorously combat Islamist terrorism undermines a U.S.-led war on terror. Identifying and outlawing the terrorists is a first and essential step in the effort to defeat them.

Fifth, any country that supports, directly or indirectly, school curricula or media that preach or condone hatred or violence against people who identify themselves as Christians, Jews or followers of any other religion should be disqualified from U.S. aid. Most of today’s Islamists were indoctrinated in the schools of Muslim countries. The United States knows this but has looked the other way. Confronting it now may entail political costs. But continuing to tolerate the extremist curricula of schools in Saudi Arabia and in Saudi-financed schools around the world entails costs as well. The Imams at those schools, and the lessons they impart, continue to develop the Islamist terrorists with whom we are presently at war.

Sixth, U.S. policy should be to use its own military force, and to support other countries using military force to eliminate Islamist terrorists and shut down their havens and training grounds. This too will entail costs. It requires military resources that we have lost because of budget cuts or other funding shortfalls, as well as restoring funds for training essential to preparedness for combating terror. We cannot afford a policy of “no boots on the ground” in this war on Islamist terrorism. We need a larger defense budget.

Seventh, our policy must be that any person engaging in or providing support to an Islamist terrorist operation killing Americans should be hunted down and killed or punished as appropriate – whatever the cost. No more Benghazis, no more beheadings will be accepted. It does make a difference.

Eighth, where useful intelligence may be acquired that could save lives, Islamist terrorists should be captured and interrogated, not killed. The acquisition of human intelligence should be elevated as a priority. Congress and the president should pass legislation providing whatever authority may be necessary to do this. New authorities should be written to protect U.S. military and intelligence personnel responsible for performing any such national service.

We and the rest of the world have reaped the bitter fruits of looking the other way while many Muslims are educated and trained to become Islamist terrorists. Islamist extremists have made war on Jews, Christians, and anyone else who doesn’t share their faith and way of life. Our policies must begin to reflect this reality. We are in a war for survival. Continuing to pretend otherwise is what’s unacceptable.

Jack David, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for combating weapons of mass destruction and negotiations policy from 2004 to 2006. Article reprinted with permission of the author.

We would welcome an opinion piece arguing against David’s position (please send as an attached doc, not in an email)

Colleagues: We received a number of commentaries relating to policies/measures that should be taken in response to the Paris bombings and the surge in terrorism globally. Those policy recommendations were all written by folks who have served in law enforcement or been involved with counter-terrorism activities.

We asked Dr. Richard Siegel, emeritus professor from UNR, to provide another perspective, one that focuses more on the need to adhere to policies that protect our civil liberties while effectively countering terrorism. Here is his perspective:




  • By Richard Siegel

Those committed to civil liberties as a preeminent set of values recognize that they lose ground after each major terrorist attack. Yet our main points are made well by human rights organizations and even by President Obama.   The State of the Union speech placed some emphasis on the right to privacy even if the president`s willingness to make a major shift from the wholesale collection of American`s electronic records seems very unlikely.

The best argument for civil liberties in this sphere centers on the centrality of core American values to our vital soft power. Rejection of torture is something the U.S. accepted both in federal statutes and as a rectifier of the global Convention against Torture. The willingness of our government to condone torture under the rubric of enhanced interrogation methods is a lasting wound to the reputation of the United States.  We committed ourselves to no use of torture.  And the human rights conventions that the U.S. ratified require the investigation and prosecution of those responsible based on the usual standards of due process.   Further, our courts must be available to adjudicate claims of individuals who are harmed by certain counterterrorism measures although they have no relation to terrorism.  But the National Security Doctrine prevents most cases of violations of rights through counterterrorism to be blocked from court review at any level.

Each kind of watering down of the basic constitutional rights of Americans involves different considerations. Yes, the Constitution, and our international human rights obligations, should not be seen as a suicide pact.

But the standard of using the least restrictive measures necessary is reasonable.  This applies to interrogation and mass surveillance.  Conservatives apply that standard to most areas of regulation. Civil libertarians understand that they have allies on the right, especially the conservative libertarian right, in relation to the effects of counterterrorism methods on basic civil liberties.

Civil libertarians also strongly agree that those who would seriously erode the Bill of Rights for unproven and arguably unnecessary programs are playing a game that extremists want us to play.   Detention of Moslems and others without due process, and the collateral damage from some drone strikes (and other military measures) are among many counterterrorism measures that feed extremism and may well weaken our overall posture.

If respect for human rights and basic American liberties does not secure the readers’ support, the consequences of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo should.  We can be, and often are, our own worst enemy, especially when we fail to prevent and challenge American violations of rights and excesses that cannot be justified.

Dr. Rich Siegel, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and author of books and articles on International Human Rights and civil liberties,  UNR 

My Reflections on President Obama’s Visit to India

Atul V. Minocha

                                                      Professor at Hult International Business School                                                                                                             Partner & Consultant at Chief Outsiders                                                                  Founder at CrazEconomics

As I write this, President Obama is on the last leg of his 3-day visit to India.  At Ty Cobb’s request I am penning down my thoughts and observations on this historic visit – the first time a US president attended India’s Republic Day parade as its chief guest, and the first time a US president has visited India twice.  I must confess, I have been glued to my computer and iPad, watching the proceedings “live”!

There are two dimensions along which we can take measure of this visit.  One, we can assess it for its symbolism and what it achieved here in the US as well as in India.  And two, we can take stock of the key substantive issues that were on the table before and during this visit.

In my opinion, both of these dimensions are equally important.

On the symbolic front, this was a huge success in both India and the US.  Based on what I read in the Indian press and my direct conversations with family and friends in India, Michelle and Barack Obama struck the right notes in the minds and psyche of Indians at large.  They felt honored and proud at the same time.

The importance and success of symbolism was perhaps best summed up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he went off-script at the joint press conference and remarked (in Hindi), that “chemistry is more important than commas and full-stops on paper” in any relationship between nations.  Breaking protocol, PM Modi received the president at the airport.  Add a few spontaneous bear hugs, and this newfound but genuine and warm connection between the two leaders was obvious.

President Obama, from his side, made note of the significance of chai pe charcha (loosely translated as “discussion over tea”) during which PM Modi personally made and served tea to the president.  Later, at the state dinner, President Obama did not hesitate to make some warm and affectionate remarks about the prime minister that only close friends would feel comfortable making.

On substantive issues, at first glance, there seem to be some unfinished business.  But that is perhaps more a matter of unfettered expectations than reality.  After all, in democracies, leaders can only propose and negotiate ideas.  Actual acceptance and implementation is dependent on support of the majority of representatives of the people, including those in opposition.  And that takes time.

Let’s examine the four key issues that were on the table.

Nuclear Reactors:  The much-touted nuclear “deal” struck between PM Singh and President Bush (predecessors of Modi and Obama, respectively) in 2008 was stuck in neutral due to some key details around “traceability of materials” and “liability” in case of an accident.  US has now withdrawn its demands and has accepted that India will only need to conform to IAEA safeguards already in place.  On the liability front, in an ironic twist not uncommon in functioning democracies, PM Modi was put in a position to work around legislation that was brought about by his own party when they were in opposition.  Partnership between public sector insurance companies in India and the government of India will create a satisfactory level of insurance pool to address this potential liability.  For all intents and purposes, it’s game on for American nuclear energy suppliers.

Defense related trade:  It has been an oddity that as world’s largest international arms buyer, India’s defense related trade with the world’s largest international arms supplier, the United States, has not been of greater significance.  Until now, that is.  The fact that much of the defense equipment including missiles, tanks and fighter jets paraded before its esteemed chief guest from the United States came from Russia, France and the United Kingdom was likely not lost on president Obama or anyone else watching the parade.  As a result, US and India have now agreed to “co-development and co-production” of Raven mini-drones, C-130 transport aircraft, mobile hybrid power plants, and Uniform Integrated Protective Ensembles that guard against chemical and biological warfare.  All this will make the US India’s largest defense supplier.

Climate Change:  Coming at the heels of a landmark deal between China and the US, there was some expectation of something similar to emerge during this visit.  It did not.  For one, India’s contribution to global pollution is only about 1/5th that of China’s.  Second, India has always maintained its need to focus on economic development and growth and has been justifiably reluctant to sign up for anything that might hamstring its growth ambitions.  That said, both leaders were wise to discuss “clean energy, energy security, and climate change” as a package and an appropriate MoU was signed.  US has also agreed to help India achieve its goal of 100 GW of solar power by 2022.

Regional Security:  Somewhat surprisingly, “Pakistan” and “China” were not mentioned in any public forum or official statements during the visit.  In my view, that speaks to the maturity of the leaders and the relationship the two are forging between the nations.  Clearly, India has set its mind well above the usual neighborly bickering and squabbles that have been observed before, during and after such visits in the past.  That said, it is interesting to note that leading Pakistani and Chinese papers are still dismissive of the significance of this visit with an unmistakable flavor of sour grapes.

In closing, I want to comment on what some in the US media have dubbed as “the end of India’s non-alignment”.  In my opinion, India has never confused its “non-aligned” stance with “isolationism” or “with-us/against-us dichotomy”.  Instead, it has always tried to reach out to all nations that were able and willing to deal with India on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.  Just to put this in perspective, President Obama’s historic and significant second visit to India was preceded by equally heralded visits by Prime Minister Abe, President Xi Jinping and President Putin – all occurring within the last 6 months.

Atul Minocha, born in India, is currently living in Nevada.