In the Tank: Kenya Can’t Fight Al-Shabab by Itself

This week’s best research and commentary on the latest in national security and foreign policy issues from top think tanks around the world. By Kedar Pavgi

Welcome to “In the Tank,” Defense One’s weekly think tank roundup. Every week, we’ll present the latest research and commentary published by think tanks from around the world on defense, national security, foreign policy, technology, and management. If you’d like to submit your latest research, email Kedar Pavgi at

Kenya Can’t Fight Al-Shabab by Itself
Mwangi Kimenyi
Brookings Institution

Major powers – including African nations - need to provide Kenya significant military support if the battle against the al-Shabab terrorist group is to succeed, argues Mwangi Kimenyi. This past week, Kenya’s security forces finally secured the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after a 4-day siege, but the incident is yet another example of the country’s struggle to defeat the terrorists. The international community may support Kenya’s fight in name, but in practice they have been far more reluctant to get involved in what they see as a localized threat. “With limited international support to deal with the threats posed by al-Shabab, the country is left with few options but to reallocate resources from other priorities in order to focus on extinguishing the group,” Kimenyi writes..

Iran Wants Nuclear Weapons Because Its Conventional Military Is Weak
Anthony Cordesman

The reason Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is often overlooked, argues Anthony Cordesman. The Iranians need them to bolster their fledgling conventional military forces. Currently, Iran’s missile systems lack accuracy, and its conventional forces are large but aren’t equipped with modern air defense and sea technology. “Far from being the ‘hegemon’ of the Gulf, it comes close to being its largest military museum in the area that really counts: the sustained ability to fight a major conflict against the United States, Arab Gulf, and British, and French power projection forces,” Cordesman writes. However, a nuclear warhead would completely change the equation, and make the Iranian military a serious threat for regional stability. Though there was a slight warming of relations at the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, both sides will need to pursue a pragmatic approach starting with areas of common strategic interest, like a peaceful Afghanistan and stable oil prices before negotiations over nuclear weapons can take place. “Grim as history may sometimes be, history shows that some efforts at rational bargaining do succeed and how much the end result can serve the common interest,” Cordesman said.

How to Save $50 Billion on Defense
Defense Advisory Committee
Stimson Center

The Defense Department can significantly cut the number of civilian and military personnel while still maintaining enough power to combat threats, the Stimson Center’s Defense Advisory Committee recommends in this report. The authors of the report, which includes four former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offers 27 ways the Pentagon could meet the mandatory $52 billion of sequestration cuts, including agency consolidation, cutting back on weapons programs and reforming the military’s health and retirement system. “We believe the administration and Congress should recognize budgetary realities and make the tough choices now that are necessary to adjust the nation’s defense posture in a rational manner,” the panel said. “To paraphrase Sen. Mark Warner, if one must lose weight, it is far preferable to go on a diet than to cut off a leg.”

Obama’s Weakness Towards Syria is North Korea’s Gain
Bruce Klingner
Heritage Foundation

President Obama’s reluctance to attack Syria for its use of chemical weapons will only embolden North Korea to pursue weapons of mass destruction, argues Bruce Klingner. “Pyongyang will conclude that President Obama’s bold rhetoric, including that directed against North Korea, was unlikely to be backed with significant military action," he says. Klingner writes that the United States and South Korea have been previously reluctant to take on North Korea after major attacks, including after the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010. Sequestration will only further convince the North Korean regime of a declining U.S. defense establishment unwilling to commit the resources to ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons threat. Obama’s decision to let Congress decide whether to use military force against Syria will “reverberate long after the dust from the initial attack has settled,” Klingner said.