Violent Political Decay in Yemen: An Iranian Challenge of Saudi Regional Superiority

20120827-dust-fullFacilitating the passage of 11% of the world’s petroleum annually, the juncture of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea manifests compelling geopolitical and strategic value for global economies. With an increased naval presence in the Red Sea, the Saudi Royal family has sought to develop a backdoor for crude oil export thus minimizing Iran’s ability to manipulate oil markets with threatening rhetoric in blocking the Strait of Hormuz.

This week’s continuing revolution in Yemen represents a significant change to the political and economic landscape, which dictates the power-share and balance dynamics once centered exclusively in the Persian Gulf. Launching an offensive in February of 2014, the Houthis, a Shi’a tribe from the northwest border-region of Yemen, made significant gains by September of 2014 in securing key terrain just 10-miles north of Yemen’s capital, the El Rahaba International Airport. With the overrunning of the Yemeni presidential compound in January 2015 followed by the resignation of President Hadi, a move formally rejected by the Yemeni parliament, the country has experienced severe political decay.

In the wake of the Houthis’ offense, the Yemeni political insurgent faction known as the Southern Separatist Movement, or simply al-Harik, has also declared independence inciting violence in the streets of their self-declared capital in the city of Aden. With various factions vying for sovereignty in Yemen, questions arise regarding who stands to benefit from Yemen’s dissent into chaos.

The collapse of the Yemeni government will significantly destabilize an already volatile region. With the introduction of a Shi’a confederation in Sana’a, and al-Harik declaring independence in Aden, Saudi Arabia will be forced to address an increase of Yemeni refugees fleeing an impending ethnic conflict. Moreover, instability on Saudi Arabia’s southern border comes at a time when an ambiguous low-intensity conflict rages on their northern border between adoles_77728280_77725922cent Iraqi forces and fighters of the well-funded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A cause for concern, the rapidly degrading situation along Saudi’s Iraqi border has resulted in the refunding of a once dormant public service project erecting a fence to prohibit the flood of refugees.

In the wake of Daash leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s recent calls to attack targets inside of Saudi Arabia, the challenge to protect and defend the Kingdom, and to preserve Mecca as a religious icon for Muslims worldwide, has expounded tenfold. Requiring Saudi officials to react simultaneously to threats against both internal and external state formations, Iran single handily stands to gain from this test of Saudi’s regional superiority.


The timing of the Houthi rebellion in Yemen has been impeccable, consummating at the moment of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s death in Jeddah, amidst struggling Saudi economic markets leaving the Kingdom reeling under the pressure of state guaranteed oil subsidies, and at a critical time of escalated political violence in Iraq. Recent events in Iraq and Yemen challenging Saudi Arabia’s ability to guarantee regional stability, appeal to a Persian Gulf regional security complex argument lending significant motivation and intent to subversive Iranian security policy designed to rebuke Saudi regional superiority. Inspiring multiple security dilemmas simultaneously, a subversive Iranian offensive waged by proxy would look suspiciously similar to the current state of affairs.

Though the timing and efficiency of the Houthis’ coup indicates a calculated and decisive military action, without empirical evidence connecting the Ayatollah to destabilizing trends in Yemen, Iranian stoking of regional instability is circumstantial at best. It appears however, that after near-term security challenges are addressed, Saudi Arabia will have to negotiate with a budding Shi’a presence strategically located at the adjoining fulcrum of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. With the possibility of an Iranian backed Shi’a government in control of the southern sea-lanes allowing passage to 21,000 seafaring vessels annually, this would imply Persian influence over Saudi’s backdoor to global economic prosperity in the coming decade.

 

Captain William Allen is a US Marine currently serving as company commander of A Co. 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Marine Division. Graduating from Columbia University’s Middle East Institute with a masters in Islamic Studies, Captain Allen is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and is currently serving as the Joseph S. Nye National Security Intern at the Center for a New American Security with their Technology and National Security Program. Captain Allen’s writings can be found in the Small Wars Journal and the International Relations and Security Network at ETH Zurich. The views expressed in his writing are his alone.

 

Events 26 January 2015 – 30 January 2015

This is a roundup of events we think our readers and members might find interesting. Inclusion does not equal endorsement, all descriptions are the events’ own. Think of one we should inclcalendarude? Email Emil Maine at extrelations@cimsec.org.

————————————————–

Upcoming CIMSEC Events

26 February - Washington, DC - “CIMSEC 2014 Conference: Engaging Our Analysts on the Issues” –  5:00-7:30pm, more details soon.

————————————————————————————-

26 January 2015 – 30 January 2015 Events of Interest

26 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Rumi Forum – Where is Turkey Headed? Culture Battles in Turkey with Rainer Hermann

26-28 January 2015 – Genoa, IT – Surface Warship - “Surface Warships 2015 Conference”

27 January 2015 – Washington, DC – CSBA – Maritime Competition in a Mature Precision-Strike Regime

27 January 2015 – Washington, DC – US Institute of Peace – After Peshawar: Domestic Security in Pakistan

28 January 2015 – San Diego, CA – theATHENA project and SSC Pacific Grassroots S&T - Learn Warfighting Needs Workshop 

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – National Archives - Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal 

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – CNAS - “The Third U.S. Offset Strategy and its Implications for Partners and Allies” 

28 January 2015 – Canberra, Australia – ANU - Is the ‘Islamic State’ vanquishable?” 

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – The Heritage Foundation - Department in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities Facing SecDef Nominee Ashton Carter

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Center on Global Interests – Russia 2015: Economic Outlook

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Wilson Center – Australia and the Bomb

28 January 2015 – Washington, DC – US Institute of Peace – Global Security and Gender – A Forum with Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström” 

29 January 2015 – Washington, DC – The Heritage Foundation - A New Foreign Policy Agenda: Looking Toward 2016 Co-hosted by The Project for the Common Defense

29 January 2015 – Washington, DC – CSIS – Asia Pacific Forecast 2015

29 January 2015 – Washington, DC – New America Foundation – Interrogation in the 21st Century

29 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Brookings – Cambodia and the International Community: Trials in Reconstruction and Foreign Assistance

29 January 2015 – Honolulu, HI – COMPACFLT Innovation Center – ‘Fix’ The Fleet Innovation Discussion

29 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Project for Study of the 21st Century + YPFP – Avoiding Disaster in a New Era of Superpower Tension

30 January 2015 – New York, NY – Carnegie Council – “Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe” ft George Friedman, Stratfor

30 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Atlantic Council – Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East

30 January 2015 – Washington, DC – Institute of World Politics – Spies and Intelligence: The American Revolution and Contemporary Parallels

31 January 2015 – Washington, DC – GWU – Shrouded Promise: A Simulation of Sino-African Relations in the Heart of Africa

————————————————————————————-

Long-range Events

03 February 2015 – New Delhi, India – National Maritime Foundation – “Maritime Cooperation in the Northern Bay of Bengal

04 February 2015 – Washington, DC – Amphibious Warship Industrial Base – U.S. Navy Amphibious Warship Forum

10-12 February 2015 – San Diego, CA – USNI/AFCEA – “West Conference”

12-13 February 2015 – Gaithersburg, MD – Global City Teams Challenge – “Tech Jam”

12 February 2015 – London, UK – IISS – “Launch of the Military Balance 2014″

23 February – April 2015 – Online – Harvard/EdX – “Free Online Course: Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy and the Press

4-6 March 2015 – Kiel, Germany – Future Ocean – “Ocean Sustainability Science Symposium”

12 March 2015 – Washington, DC – Jamestown Foundation – “Fifth Annual China Defense and Security Conference”

30 March-01 April – Canberra, Australia – ASPI – “Australia’s Future Surface Fleet Conference

17-18 April 2015 – Portsmouth, UK – National Museum of the Royal Navy – “Statesmen & Seapower”

13-17 May 2015 – Monterey, CA – North American Society for Oceanic History – “Pacific – The Peaceful Ocean?”

29-30 May 2015 – Providence, RI – North American Society for Oceanic History – “50th Anniversary Gaspee Days Maritime History / Maritime Studies Symposium”

9-11 July 2015 – Canberra, Australia – Australian National University – “SDSC Conference 2015: Pacific War” (Paper Proposals Due 15 Jan)

23-26 September 2015 – Giardnini Naxos, Sicily – EISA – “Pan European Conference on Maritime Security” (Paper Proposals Due 15 Jan)

10-11 Oct 2015 – Philadelphia, PA – Temple – “U.S. Bases and the Construction of Hegemony”

Members’ Roundup Part 11

Welcome back to another edition of the Member Roundup. For those readers who have recently joined CIMSEC, or have just started reading the NextWar blog, this series seeks to promote the works that CIMSECians have published or been involved in on other sites. These include blog posts, journal articles, interviews and podcasts.

The roundup usually consists of articles and blog posts. This edition will be the first to feature a podcast with CIMSECians as panel members. Scott Cheney-Peters and Mira Rapp-Hooper (CSIS) were joined by Bryan McGrath of the Hudson Institute’s Centre for American Seapower, as well as RADM Mike Devitt (retd.) from CNA. The discussion ranged from maritime boundary and territorial disputes to the balance of seapower in Asia. You can stream and/or download the podcast here.

The Center for a New American Security’s Bavevich Fellow, Jacob Stokes, co-authored a policy brief titled ‘Slow Thaw: Testing Possibilities for Cooperation with Iran After a Nuclear Deal.’ The policy brief explores sources of disagreement and continued obstacles to cooperation, despite progress being made in the nuclear area. An analysis of possible areas of cooperation is presented, particularly within maritime security and the stability of Afghanistan. Finally, the paper provides a set of recommendations on how to maintain a positive relationship moving forward. You can access it via CNAS.

A flight of Aggressor F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons fly in formation. The jets are assigned to the 64th and 65th Aggressor squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base.
A flight of Aggressor F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons fly in formation. The jets are assigned to the 64th and 65th Aggressor squadrons at Nellis Air Force Base.

Over at The Daily Beast, freelance Defense reporter (and CIMSECian) Dave Majumdar reports that the U.S. Air Force are considering hiring military contractors in order to train their fighter pilots. There are some mixed opinions within the military in pursuing this type of training support. Certainly, those who have a background or interest in training and simulation will find this an interesting read.

Additionally, in a roundup of his own Dave assesses the top 4 weapons in the U.S. arsenal that should be retired. These include the Classic or “legacy” F-18 Hornets (A, B, C & D), as well as the M16 and M4 family of rifles. For a dissenting opinion on the M4 family of rifles, you might find this post over at War is Boring an interesting counter to Dave’s argument.

Finally, Zachary Keck from The National Interest returns with four posts for this week’s roundup. The first is his analysis of the top  5 U.S. Weapons of War Iran should fear. The second is a report that Russia’s Nuclear forces conduct surprise drill. Alliances are not perfect; here is Keck’s analysis of the 5 Most Precarious U.S. Allies of all time. Finally, the truth is revealed on how China purchased the Liaoning, its first aircraft carrier.

An officer maintains lookout on China's aircraft carrier, Liaoning, during initial sea trials.
An officer maintains lookout on China’s aircraft carrier, Liaoning, during initial sea trials.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

 

Charting a Closer Course: Obama’s Trip to India

When President Obama next week attends India’s Republic Day festivities, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the country’s constitution, he’ll be the first U.S. President invited as the guest of honor and treated to a spectacle rife with symbolism. In addition to floats, bands, and regiments parading along the Rajpath on everything from mounted camel to motorcyle representing the diversity of India, the President will also witness a ceremonial flyover of a P-8I maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) in formation with two MiG-29K fighter jets (pending security concerns). This flight is symbolic in its own right for several reasons.

A Maritime Renewal

On the face of it, the flyover celebrates the induction of both aircraft into the Indian Navy. But their inclusion, the only other time than the display of Harriers in 1984 that naval aviation has taken part in the flyover, also highlights India’s renewed emphasis on bolstering its status a maritime power. India’s confidence in its naval service was shaken in the wake of a spate of nearly a dozen terrible accidents over a roughly the past year-and-a-half, resulting in the loss of more than 20 lives and significant damage to several vessels.

2nd_Boeing_P8IDespite adopting a “Look East” policy in 1991, India has in large part to this day viewed its strategic choices through the prism of its contentious relations with its neighbor to the northwest, Pakistan, promoting its air and ground forces at the expense of its naval. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared in November that he would follow through on the previous policy’s promise by setting out to actually “Act East,” observers are beginning to see signs of action. Modi has boosted ties with Vietnam and Japan, including inviting the latter to return last summer for its U.S.-India naval exercise Malabar and last week agreed to further strengthen US-India-Japan trilateral ties, although the effective result of this sentiment is unclear at this point. Early this year India may have also (but denies having) played a role in reversing China’s influence in Sri Lanka, seen as a key node in China’s Maritime Silk Road concept and playing host to Chinese submarine port calls to India’s displeasure, through aiding the surprise defeat of President Rajapaksa.

Additionally, the increased investments India has made of late in the sea services are starting to bear fruit, as evidenced by more than just the new aircraft. The sea trials begun in December of India’s first indigenous nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the commissioning of its first indigenous guided-missile destroyer in August, and the construction underway of its first indigenous aircraft carrier also demonstrate – despite schedule slippages – the increased priority in funding the sea services are receiving. On New Year’s Day, India received another confidence boost, reporting that its coast guard succeeded in intercepting a fishing boat operated by terrorists before they were able to execute another “Mumbai-style attack.”

Opportunities

1280px-Mikoyan_MiG-29K_of_the_Indian_NavyHowever there is another view of the symbology of the flyover. It will not be lost on most observers that the MiG is of Russian origin, and the P-8 hails from the United States. As such, the flight represents the choice for India between its traditional weapon supplier, Russia, and new options. These alternatives include India itself, as it looks to produce as much domestically as it can, at times in partnerships with those willing to share technologically advanced designs, but also those with whom it would like to cement friendships. In the Indo-Pacific such as Japan, which is attempting to finalize a deal over US-2 amphibious aircraft.

This presents the United States with several opportunities. During his trip President Obama is expected to renew a defense cooperation framework with India for another 10 years. But this is more or less the continuation of the status quo. At the same time, India is seeking suppliers of drones, and is likely to get the RQ-11 Raven, but would be well suited for sale of larger drones for maritime surveillance or as strike aircraft. Further, India is reportedly weighing the benefits of nuclear propulsion for its second indigenous carrier.

Both drones and nuclear propulsion are fields in which the United States excels, yet selling either carries risks. The sale of armed and larger drones, which U.S. export controls currently restrict, would if nothing else pique other partners already turned down from purchases. If lax safety standards led to an accident aboard a nuclear vessel, public opinion could call into question the U.S. Navy’s use of it. But the bigger risks are those of missed opportunity, the opportunity not only for business, but for binding ties between two maritime powers with much to gain through increased cooperation.

 

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.

Sea Control 66: Unmanned Naval Vessels

seacontrol2Alexander Clarke (Phoenix Think Tank), Scott Cheney-Peters (CIMSEC), and Douglas Clarke (Naval Architect) discuss the future of manned, unmanned, and optimally manned naval vessels and the practical considerations of the latter categories’ expansion at sea…

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 66 – The Brits Discuss Drones

Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and rate five stars!

Experimenting With Multinational Mothership Ops

The following was reported by the German navy blog Marine Forum:

“8 January, PIRACY– Anti-Piracy Forces: Sweden is preparing for another mission (M-04) in support of EU operation “Atalanta”, this time working jointly with the Netherlands navy … COMBAT BOAT 90 fast interceptor craft, helicopters and 70 personnel to embark on Netherlands Navy dock landing ship JOHAN DE WITT.”

As you may recall, I have advocated using WPCs supported by a mother ship to supplement the larger cutters for distant drug interdiction operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard has has done cooperative counter drug operations with the Dutch Navy in the past. Early last year, the Netherlands OPV Zeeland embarked both a CG LEDET and a CG helo det.

Perhaps we could run a test using the Johan de Witt or her sister ship Rotterdam to try out the mothership concept. Their crew size is similar to that of the National Security Cutters (less than that of the Hamilton class), but they have berthing for hundreds more. They have aviation facilities for up to six helicopters. They can handle boats from both davits and a well deck. They have excellent Command and Control facilities.

“The ships have a complete Class II hospital, including an operating theater and intensive care facilities. A surgical team can be stationed on board.” 

That could make them welcome in a lot of ports.

L 801 Johan de Witt Uploaded by Oxyman
L 801 Johan de Witt Uploaded by Oxyman

Would the Dutch be interested? The Dutch Navy has already demonstrated its commitment to counter-drug trafficking. They have used these ships several times for counter-piracy. Counter-drug operations are not that much different, and piracy seems to be in decline. When it was being finished, there were reports that the Dutch wanted to sell the Johan de Witt. Operating off Latin America might be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate both this class and the Netherlands’ ship building expertise in an international market.

What might the experimental effort include? In addition to the mothership, perhaps three MH-65s, add a mix of Webber class WPCs, WPBs, Response Boat Mediums (RB-M), and Navy Riverine Command Boats (the U.S. Navy version of the Combatboat 90).

In addition to its counter-drug objectives, the deployment might be seen as a partnership station effort, training as well as working with the locals, and if there should be a natural disaster while they are in the area, it would be a ready-made Coast Guard response.

 

This post can be found in its original form on Chuck Hill’s Coast Guard Blog

Members’ Roundup Part 10

Welcome back to another edition of the Members’ Roundup. There is an array of contributors featured in this week’s post. Topics range from exoskeletons in the Navy to assessing China’s nuclear arsenal. To kick off proceedings Natalie Sambhi, an analyst for the Australian Strategic Policy Insitute, has her own roundup of sorts called ‘ASPI suggests’ and provides a quick review of recent foreign policy and military developments.

With 2015 just beginning it is prudent that plans set in motion several years prior are reviewed and readjusted. The Center for Strategic & International Studies recently published a report on how the Administration and Congress can work together to sustain engagement with Asia. CIMSECian, Mira Rapp-Hooper, co-authors a chapter explaining how to adequately resource the Defense aspect the ‘pivot’.

Of concern is the People’s Republic of China’s growing military power, of which its nuclear arsenal is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Kyle Mizokami writes whilst the nuclear force is modernising it is still relatively modest compared to other nuclear powerhouses, such as Russia and the United States. Kyle explores the history of Chinese nuclear pursuits and analyses some of the weapons in the nuclear arsenal in a post for The National Interest.

BNS Sao Paulo, the flagship of the Brazilian Navy
BNS Sao Paulo, the flagship of the Brazilian Navy

Over at Offiziere Canada-based CIMSECian, Paul Pryce, analyses recent developments of the Brazilian Navy. He argues that the label of a ‘green water’ navy was accurate in decades past but modernisation plans, however, suggest that it is well on its way to earning the ‘blue water’ title. You can access his article here.

Manpower issues will continue to be of concern for all military planners and leadership at all levels remains important during times of transition. Over at War on the rocksJimmy Drennan provides some thoughts on how to best provide leadership for personnel during ‘super deployments’ – deployments that are 9 months or longer.

Bringing the focus back to our Coast Guard colleagues, Chuck Hill continues to inform us of developments within the constabulary side  of the maritime domain. With recent debate of the LCS’ development, Chuck asks whether the Coast Guard should rethink how it designates its vessels. For the unmanned systems advocates out there, Chuck tells us that the US Customs and Border Protection Agency’s unmanned air systems program has failed to live up to expectations. You can access that post here and further discussion on the topic here.

Lockheed Martin created the FORTIS exoskeleton, which can boost worker productivity up to 27 times.
Lockheed Martin created the FORTIS exoskeleton, which can boost worker productivity up to 27 times.

Defence industry has been developing high-tech robotic suits to enhance the capability of the average soldier. There are, however, unrealised potential for ‘exosuits’ or ‘exoskeletons’  exists within HADR and shipborne operations. The Center for a New American Security has recently published a report titled ‘Between Iron Man and Aqua Man’ and was co-authored by our very own Scott Cheney-Peters. This report will certainly open one’s eyes to other applications for the emerging technology beyond its use in combat. You can also see further discussion on the topic in Scott’s post at War on the rocks.

Continuing in the same vein as his ‘Feast of Salami and Cabbage’ article in late 2014, Scott Cheney-Peters, provides clarification to the legal jargon used within maritime disputes. For those without a background in the maritime realm or an understanding of international law this article will provide a layman’s guide to those terms being used by those in the field. This post is the first instalment in a partnership with The National Interest and you can access it here.

Finally, it would not be a CIMSEC roundup without the ‘Pacific Realist’ featuring in the post. Zachary Keck returns with four contributions this week. The first is reporting that the DPRK wants to acquire Russian fighter aircraft. The second post is Keck’s roundup of the top 5 weapons in the US arsenal that Russia should fear. The third reports that there is good evidence to suggest that the DPRK will continue to test nuclear weapons. In the final contribution, Keck summarises the various insights offered during a panel discussion on national security in the changing media landscape. You can access that article here.

One of the 'Top 5': Ohio-class submarine USS Michigan (SSBN 727) prepares to dry dock, 2002.
One of the ‘Top 5′: Ohio-class submarine USS Michigan (SSBN 727) prepares to dry dock, 2002.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

 

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas. Home of the NextWar Blog