A November 2008 Defense Department study of trends in national and international security was intended “to spark discussions … about the nature of the future security environment.” But the study (pdf), called the Joint Operating Environment 2008 (JOE 2008), has also triggered several unintended international reactions.
Last December, South Korean officials complained that JOE 2008 included North Korea in a list of nuclear weapons states. The U.S. Joint Forces Command felt obliged to issue a news release disavowing that statement in the report.
“The statement regarding North Korea does not reflect official U.S. government policy regarding the status of North Korea. The U.S. government has long said that we will never accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” the Joint Forces Command declared.
Then it turned out that Mexico was unhappy with the JOE’s discussion of that country’s potential vulnerability to criminal gangs and drug cartels, including the statement that “an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”
“The Mexican ambassador has asked to see me and we hope to link up very soon,” said Gen. James Mattis of Joint Forces Command on February 12. Mexico’s concerns about JOE 2008 were reported in “Mattis Plans Meeting with Mexican Ambassador over Controversy” by Fawzia Sheikh in Inside the Pentagon, February 19, 2009.
Perhaps as a result of such unwanted attention, JOE 2008 has been quietly removed from some Defense Department web sites like this one, which says the document is “currently unavailable.”
Hopefully, the Defense Department will not conclude that it must neuter its public statements or that it should move its security policy studies behind closed doors in order to avoid criticism or hurt feelings. Instead, DoD and its counterparts abroad might come to appreciate that questionable, challenging and even erroneous statements can be openly discussed without doing any real harm to anyone.
Update: JOE 2008 also drew the attention of Israeli observers. See U.S. Army document describes Israel as ‘a nuclear power’ by Amir Oren, Haaretz, March 8, 2009:
In a rare breach of official American adherence to Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity, the U.S. military is terming Israel “a nuclear power” on a par with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, all of which have declared their nuclear weapon status, and ahead of “nuclear threshold powers” Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and the “emerging” Iran.
The reference to Israel as a nuclear power is contained in a document published late last year by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), the Norfolk, Virginia-based headquarters in charge of preparing American forces for their military missions worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Israel’s nuclear program is rarely, if ever, explicitly mentioned in public, unclassified U.S. official documents….
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