By Alan W. Dowd 

A Price on His Head

The Washington Times reports that the United States is spending $7 million a year to protect Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other key Colombian officials. The program, which began in 2002, is an indication of how important Uribe is to Washington’s efforts in the war-torn South American country.  

Thanks in part to US protection, Uribe has already escaped four separate assassination attempts. One of those attacks occurred during his inauguration in August 2002, when rebel forces fired rocket-propelled grenades at the presidential compound. Twenty-one civilians were killed in the attack.  

It’s not difficult to understand why the drug lords want Uribe dead, or why Washington wants him alive: For years, the Colombian government lacked either the will or the resources to slug it out with the drug-financed insurgents, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. In the 1990s, some Colombian leaders even tried to appease the FARC by ceding vast swaths of Colombian territory to the rebels. But in Uribe, the FARC has found a tenacious adversary. Indeed, in an interview with the Miami Herald, Uribe called on other South American leaders to amend the continent-wide defense treaty so that it can be invoked to fight internal threats, such as transnational drug cartels, not just external threats.

According to the State Department, Uribe is not the only foreign leader who has received such close personal attention from Washington: The United States provided security to Haiti’s former leader Jean Bertrand Aristide in the mid-1990s, and US forces continue to protect Afghanistan’s interim president Hamid Karzai. In fact, they literally saved his life during an attempted coup in September 2002.  

Global Reach

In what sounds more like a science-fiction novel than a government procurement order, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking defense contractors to develop plans for an aircraft capable of taking off from a conventional military runway in the continental United States and “striking anywhere on earth in less than two hours.”  

As envisioned by Air Force planners, the super-fast space plane would be reusable, hypersonic, and capable of carrying a 12,000-pound payload beyond the earth’s outer atmosphere and to the edge of space, where the plane’s guided but un-powered weaponry would break away and begin to fall toward their targets. “This capability,” the DARPA invitation explains, “would free the US military from reliance on forward basing [and] enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilizing or threatening actions.”  

The program is known as FALCON, shorthand for “Force Application and Launch from CONUS.” DARPA wants a combat-ready system by the year 2025. In the interim, DARPA hopes to use the long-range, free-fall weapons technology in conjunction with rocket technology to provide US forces with a “global strike capability” from the continental US by 2010. 

Postwar Postmortem

The first of what promises to be many postwar postmortems has been released by the US Air Force, and it paints a revealing picture of the Iraq war.  

Titled “Operation Iraqi Freedom-By the Numbers,” the report found that a whopping 466,985 coalition personnel were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with the US Army accounting for half of that number. Just over 1800 warplanes were used in the campaign, with the US Air Force accounting for most of the planes (863). However, at 250, more F/A-18 Hornets participated in the war than any other aircraft. The Hornet is flown by the Navy and Marine Corps and some allied air forces. Aircraft from Canada, Australia and Britain also participated in the three-week campaign.  

The coalition air armada flew a combined 41,404 sorties (not including helicopter sorties) and dropped 31.8 million leaflets. In marked contrast from Operation Desert Storm, almost 70 percent of the weapons launched by the US-led coalition during Operation Iraqi Freedom were guided rather than unguided.  

For its part, Iraq launched 19 surface-to-surface rockets and some 1660 SAMs during the war. 

Russia Withers Away

According to a trio of researchers from RAND, a nonprofit research institute with offices in California, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Russia is slowing dying. By the middle of this century, the transcontinental, multi-ethnic empire built by the czars will be populated by fewer than 100 million people—down from 145 million today. The findings were published in a recent issue of The Atlantic Monthly.  

In fact, in the past decade alone, Russia’s population has fallen from 148 million to 145 million—“an absolute decline greater than that in any other nation.” Worse yet, the researchers found that the mortality rate among Russian men between 15 and 24 “nearly doubled in the 1990s and is now almost three times that for young American men.” Likewise, immigration has fallen from 1.2 million to just 185,000.  

The researchers note that Russia’s population woes will make it increasingly difficult for the government to maintain border security and internal stability. That could invite foreign interference, internal power struggles or the rise of terrorist elements, as we have seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and other failed states. With thousands of nuclear warheads spread across its landscape, a dying and unstable Russia poses more than just a threat to its neighbors—it poses a serious long-term challenge for the United States.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.