Thursday, November 17, 2016

Remembering Melvin Laird



We’ve been away for a handful of weeks, but don’t worry…

Melvin Laird died this week after quite a long life in service. Have you heard of Melvin Laird? If not, here is a nice little piece to introduce you to the subtly influential Secretary of Defense in the 1970s. If you were to ask yourself, who was an influential leader in the defense institution, you might think of someone like Donald Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara, or George Marshall. I think there is a reasonable case to be made that the obscure Melvin Laird has had more of a lasting impact on today’s defense architecture than any of the others mentioned.

Part of the question of today’s national defense rests on answering the question, what is the proper role of the U.S. security apparatus in international system? Laird attempted to shape that question by offering a restructuring framework to reset defense by leaning on partner capacities while shoring up the fundamental basis of military power.  Coming out of the throes of Vietnam, and an economy under a lot pressure from the consequence of national security strategies, Laird was forced to juggle fiscal retraction with a looming existential threat: USSR. What is fascinating to me is the notion of context. We are familiar with today’s context because we are experiencing it first-hand. I think there is real utility going back to previous periods and thinking…for a moment…what was that context?


Friday, October 7, 2016

Domain Battles Battling Domains

If you need about two hours of time to fill this weekend, then I would encourage you to take a look at a video from this past week’s AUSA 2016 conference. Specifically, the Army rolled out their new warfighting approach — multi-domain battle. Rather than give you a weekend reading, instead, here is a weekend watching. It is long — about 2 hours. Most of those two hours are consumed by each of the service and coalition representatives giving their impression of multi-domain matters. If you do not have two hours to spare, at least watch the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller’s comments. I think he nails it in terms of recognizing how our frame of reference viewing warfare has to change to adapt to current and potential challenges. He captures the essence of future fight challenges saying “We have not had to fight to get to the fight” (about 1:14 into discussion).

In other words, there is a real risk in our defense force having been conditioned to fight against a foe who is resilient, yet minimally equipped and trained. We have been fighting an adversary trained an equipped with rudimentary doctrine and materiel. Were we to face a more seriously trained and equipped adversary, like that of a state competitor, we would be facing an altogether different military challenge. Consequently, our paradigm of thinking about waging warfare must shift from anecdotal frames of reference from Iraq and Afghanistan to forcible entry operations of 1940s and 1950s. That is an entirely different contextual experience than our force is accustomed to. It is an entirely different contextual experience than our country is familiar with

In addition to the AUSA panel discussion, I would encourage spending some time this weekend thinking about the following scene setting contexts. Maybe next week I will share a lengthy reading of some historical context. Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia. It is a useful case study to look at how a focus on one way of warfare overlooks environmental considerations, specifically the human factor. Sometimes the enemy does not fight the way we want or expect. And, the popular motivations are not as nominal as one might initially think them to be. Anyway, enjoy the weekend.

AUSA Panel Discussion on Multi-domain Battle

Under Secretary Navy Janine Davidson abridged thoughts

Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson comments on futility of A2/AD terminology

For some counterpoints about multi-domain warfare and where the Joint force might be heading see

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ontology of What Is or Is Not or Is this Week


What should we talk about? There is a lot going on in the world this week, which means there is not much going on in the world this week. Let’s see…so-called big report out from The Atlantic Council about the Future of the Army — yawn. You can read it, but I will forewarn you, it says a lot without saying a lot. It is a disappointing read if you are looking for some halfway decent analysis of actual challenges facing the future Army force. Let me sum up the report, which corresponds with other similar analyses: do more/further/faster.

What about the UN? What is going on with our nations, united in New York? Well, there is the President’s final address — blah blah blah. I may surprise some about my political perspective, but that withstanding, this was the standard trope: do more/together/forever.

Syria? Too complicated. Or rather, complex. Complicated and complex. Complexly complicated. Complexicated. Unsolvable…for now.

There was an interesting tussle between Pakistan and India. Now, there is an opportunity to look at the consequence of antagonistic nuclear powers and the risk of a troubled nuclear state losing control of its arsenal to extreme organizations. What could this mean for the region: do more/against each other/thanks big brother (U.S.).

Colombia and the FARC? Nah.

U.S.-Russia relations? We’ve seen this before. Watch Rocky IV. “I must brrrake you.” “Dragooooo!”

The U.S. election? Definitely no.

Refugees? We should talk about it, but we won’t.

How about this, then? Let us look at what is, or rather, what is not about this last week. Unless, what is not is conceived of as not, and therefore is conceived and therefore actually is. Thus, what was not this week, actually was because we conceived it as so— as not — and by conceiving it as not it actually was. More likely, though, what was, was simply not what it was. For more on this ontological argument — what is — enjoy this important piece of philosophy: http://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/. St. Anselm gives us much to think about when there is much to think about or when we have not much to think about. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Who are You Going to Call? Pentagon? or State?

I have to admit, this recommended reading is a bit like reading a phone book. It is dry. However, much like the phone book, the more you read into it, the more you will discover...So that's where the Templeton's live...Look, there's our address!...Are there that many auto dealers in town?...Where do I go to give plasma? On that note, where does one find the inner details of foreign policy? In authorities.
An interesting Congressional Research Service report looks into some of the authorities that DoD has allowing them to provide resources for a wide range of security assistance or security cooperation activities. The August CRS report, DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues, looks at the variety of authorities the Department of Defense has acquired to conduct security assistance, or in DoD terms, security cooperation activities. This is an important topic because at the heart of it is a very contentious debate about the fundamental nature of U.S. foreign policy. Who defines foreign policy? The president? The State Department? The Department of Defense? Angelina Jolie? Since 2001, there has been a perceived shift, at least in dollars, toward the DoD's ability to do activities traditionally left up to other agencies, namely the DoS. There are a number of reasons why that is so, and we can look more at them later.
Nevertheless, a serious political and academic debate centers on this idea of proponency. Who is the proponent for managing foreign policy? Is that not a designated State responsibility? They would say it is; however, they are not funded in the same manner and with the same capabilities and with the same forcible authorities given to DoD. Therefore, DoD has found itself at the forefront of shaping foreign policy rather than just providing a set of tools with which State or others could shape policy.
This is one of the key cautions mentioned in a fantastic new book by Rosa Brook. If you have not bought your copy of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, I really encourage you to. She challenges the underpinnings of our current bureaucracy and its tendency to press the “easy button” with DoD. One of the questions she implies is, along what kind of trajectory might a foreign policy that relies heavily – or too heavily – on the military, head? Anyway, regarding security assistance or security cooperation, here is a good analysis of authorities that have been given to the DoD. I would encourage reading carefully through the appendix too. The appendix lists many of those authorities. Trust me; they are quite interesting…like discovering there are actually piano tuners in town – several of them.