Friday, December 7, 2012

Hard, Soft, Smart Power: A Quick Review

In the 1780s a significant shift occurred in the way man thought about thinking. Immanuel Kant suggested that man alone possessed rational thought.[1] Thoughts were distillations of man’s own imaginations and therefore afforded man the self-determined power of reason. This led to a revolutionary change regarding who determined morality which further suggested political power could be determined not only on materially inherited strength (realism theory) but on the strength of man-made ideas (liberalism). In the 1990s a similar shift occurred. The notion of power had been fixed on tangible, outward measures of coercion, i.e. military might and the purchasing power of a state’s economy. Joseph Nye suggested instead that an alternative form of power existed in the form of attraction or soft power. His re-defining power led to entirely new ways of conceptualizing international political relations because it recognized the relevance of realism foundations of tangible strength, such as hard power, as well as liberalism foundations of ideas. Foreign policy practitioners today attempt to synthesize his two domains of hard and soft power in pragmatic “smart power” strategies.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Looking Forward: A Mild Political Observation

I attempt to minimize political commentary in this blog because I believe first it's not my place given my responsibilities, and second it distracts from objectively thinking about how our world works. However, I think our recent election is worth pausing for a moment to think about what the election means. Although Thucydides was an Athenian, he claims to have examined the Peloponnesian war objectively, with an aim to cut through the aitia,  the rhetorical causes of war, in order to expose the prophasis, the true causes. One need not look further than their own Facebook pages to see a lot of presumptions as to the aitia of the nature of both American political parties. I think many of those presumptions are not only wrong, they are irrationally misguided by distracting, thoughtless, often vitriolic criticism- to the extent of intense hatred. That hatred clouds thinking and is not a constructive discourse useful for guiding us into the future.

Given that, Thomas Friedman's opinion piece yesterday in the NYT is worth a second look because I think he, correctly, slices deeper than the aitia and may be more constructively exposing the potential prophasis of American political interests. What will be interesting to learn, as we look forward through the next administration and to the next election, is who among us will in fact, look forward. For in this leveling international community, those that do not look far enough forward, soon find they have been left behind.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Theories of Thucydides

I regard Thucydides as one of the key figures in history because he gave us work, the History of the Peloponnesian War, that truly has last for all time. Many theories derive from his work, but is he a theorist per se? More specifically, is he a military theorist? Here is a brief argument suggesting no, but yes.

                Thucydides is not a military theorist because he does not posit a particular theory regarding the military and war. He is an historian attempting a syngraphe “as a possession for all time.”[1] He clearly makes this point in the opening pages of his book. However, many theories do emerge from his retelling of the Peloponnesian War. He unveils a theory of predictive human nature.[2] That theory translates into a theory of predictive state behavior.[3] From those emerge realism theory of international relations.[4] Embedded in realism theory one finds a power theory based on interdependent relationships between capital power, military power, and strength. Using Paul Reynolds’ framework for theory analysis, Thucydides’ demonstration of realism theory and the power subset, meets the criteria of a valid theory.[5]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Agency-based Theory of War

In my recent article on e-IR, I discussed the concept of agency as a way to view international dilemmas. Using that model, here is a theoretical application of agency as a way to think about future wars. I happen to be sympathetic to Antoine Bousquet's chaoplexic notion of future war. Thus, agency is a way to slice through chaoplexity to determine driving factors of a dilemma. Note, I do not subscribe entirely to the concept of center(s) of gravity (gasp!!!!) because I don't think they exist practically as we want them to cognitively.

Agency-based Theory of War for Complex Conflict
                The arrangement of men into societies is a natural social phenomenon. Aristotle, for instance, argues that the city-state is an arrangement "that exists by nature."[1] Whereas atoms seek other atoms for an equal distribution of energy, men seek other men for a similarly equal distribution of tranquility. Augustine defines the ordered distribution of man's tranquility (human society) as four circles. The first is man's house. The second is the city. The third is the world, and the fourth is heaven.[2] Something or someone guides each circle which also bears the responsibility, as Aristotle contends, to maintain order within the scope of their circle.[3] The ordering of society from household to the world, establishes an ordering of rule. These strata form the environment through which man engages with other men (Figure 1).[4] The rule of man, therefore, seeks to achieve a kind of harmony with what Augustine deems a, "well-ordered concord of civic obedience and civic rule."[5] Agency arises out of man’s ability to rule and express one’s will onto another and is the foundation of violent tensions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Agency and International Relations

The concept of agency in international relations is an interesting one that I think might hold clues as to how we might look at international politics and conflict in the future. The good folks at e-IR, which is a great source for interesting and emerging thought, published my essay on agency and international relations. Check it out at:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Theory and Practice: An Interpretation of Kant

            Hans J. Morgenthau defines realism in terms of principles. Those principles are the framework through which he attempts to makes sense of international relations. They are his theory. Theory, he says, “must be judged…by its purpose: to bring order and meaning to a mass of phenomena that without it would remain disconnected and unintelligible.”[1] In that sense, theory is a framework with which to examine the unknown with the known.[2] One might wonder if theory informs practice. Kant suggests it does.[3] The following three examples, a practical, a particular, and a philosophical, demonstrate how theory does influence practice. Edgar Schein’s change model shows how organizations progress. A particular illustration demonstrates how the lack of a theory prevents progress when uncertainty strikes. Machiavelli shows how, philosophically, uncertainty necessitates practical theoretical principles.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Review of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem

My previous essay regarding Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, is now published through the good folks at e-International Relations. Here is the link the revised essay. The original is still posted below, but I appreciate the efforts they did to clean it up. The version on e-IR is a little tighter and it juxtaposes today's argument related to the ethics of drone prosecution of terrorists with trials of Nazi war criminals. Check it out:
Original essay:
                Israel hung Adolf Eichmann on May 31, 1962 after convicting him for his role as a Nazi official during the Holocaust.[1] He was a mid-level Nazi officer, responsible for organizing Jewish emigration out of German held territory and for Jewish deportation to concentration and extermination camps. Israel captured Eichmann, who was hiding in Argentina, in 1960 and deported him to Jerusalem where they tried and hung him. Hannah Arendt, covered his trial for The New Yorker compiling her essays into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem A Report on the Banality of Evil.[2] Her book is not only a representation of Eichmann the man; it is a representation of the “show trial David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, had in mind when he decided to have Eichmann kidnaped in Argentina...”[3] Her sarcastic criticism of the trial contrasts problems with the preservation of the institution of law with the necessary adjudication of Eichmann’s death, a moral imperative for the newly formed Jewish state.  Arendt argues that the “irregularities and abnormalities of the trial [overshadowed] the central moral, political, and even legal problems that the trial inevitably posed.”[4] Yet, she recognizes that the facts of the case warrant Eichmann’s death not only for legal restitution but for Israel’s credibility as “’the State of the Jews.’”[5]

Friday, July 6, 2012

New Blog Address

For the handful who follow this blog, I updated the web address recently. You can continue to follow the blog at the original address or you can use the new address: I hope to have some new stuff up in the coming weeks. I'm considering another review of a book I recently read that deals with international ethical and legal dilemmas: Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. If there is any remote interest in the book, I'll post my review. Thanks as always for visiting.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Philosophical View of Theory and Practice

Any theory exists with a measure of uncertainty. It has to because a theory attempts to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown. When the known and unknown are connected to time, then things known exist in the present moment, and things unknown exist outside the present moment, either in the past or in the future. This is in part why Kant criticizes Mendelssohn because Mendelssohn’s proclamation makes no sense if man lives in perpetuity uncertain about each new day. How then could one live unknowing the next day were it not for some concept that the next day will contain elements similar to the present one but with new exceptions? Those new exceptions do not yet exist, but man can be certain that they will. Therefore, he must prepare for those exceptions in so much as he understands the present ones, which are no longer exceptions but rules. Applying the rule one understands today in the context of tomorrow means one must have some faith that the rule will still work tomorrow. Understanding that tomorrow will not be precisely like today based on present knowledge that today is not precisely like yesterday, ought to guide one’s thoughts toward a framework to deal with the unknown. That framework is the rule by which man presently lives, hopeful of its usefulness in the future. Yet that usefulness will never come to fruition until it is tried. Therefore, the hope we have for tomorrow exists within a framework of tried rules we know today. In that sense, theory matters because it forms the basis for how to deal with uncertainty in practice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wars, Guns, and Votes - A Review of Paul Collier

If you have not read Paul Collier’s Wars,Guns, and Votes, I encourage you to read it. It complements his previous book TheBottom Billion by expanding on the aspect of democracy as it relates, in large part, to those bottom billion countries and to those countries coming out of conflict situations. We have good examples to watch today: Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, maybe Syria in the not too distant future. While I have issues with the universality of Collier’s arguments, as they apply to countries not necessarily in the bottom billion, I tend to favor his analysis that new democracy influences new violence.  
            One of the summary theses Paul Collier suggests is that, "Democracy…does not seem to enhance the prospects of internal peace." In fact, Collier suggests that the contrary is more so the case with the introduction of democracy, that states are more likely to experience conflict, initially, rather than experience peace. At first glance, his notion seems to fly in the face of the pursuit of democracy and the good that democracy should represent. However, from a purely technical analysis, Collier's point bears truth in many cases. In fact, the United States suffered a rather long period of internal fiscal, political, and social conflict lasting several decades even producing a civil war. Arguably, some of those political and social conflicts have even extended well into the 20th century.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Unlit Spaces - Draft Concept

When I read an interesting article by Karen Parish about "unlit spaces," I decided I needed to get a better handle on what these so-called "unlit spaces" are. Many terms are used to describe areas of the world that present certain challenges. These buzzwords in someways are useful, but in may ways they are marketing terms that I think have a tendency to over-generalize the characteristics of states and places. They are convenient, but I do not think they depict the correct picture when used in a broad sense to describe a wide range of places. This draft is an attempt to both consolidate some of the terms and re-define them with, what I believe, are simplified and useful definitions. This framework is meant to be a tool for analysis when determining where to apply strategic means and for determining why, strategically, those means need to be applied for an end. Since I am still working on it, please feel free to offer any objections, opinions, and otherwise constructive comments to further refine the concept. This particular framework is designed around a DOD and particularly a USSOCOM interest; however, I think the foundation of the framework is adaptable to any strategic analysis.

Also, since I haven't fully figured out how to work the blog features, please let me know if you cannot access the document.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Analyzing Unlit Spaces

As mentioned in my previous post, accessibility is an emerging concept that DOD and other agencies will deal with. Of particular interest to many are the so-called "unlit spaces." In an effort to clarify several terms that I think get misused or misinterpreted, I've been working on a framework to analyze the so-called areas where we think problems may emerge. It's not a 100% solution to what I've been thinking about, and I may be publishing an article that discusses it further. In the mean time, I'd be interested in thoughts on the validity, usefulness and any other practical aspect of this tool. I've been messing with the blog settings, so let me know if it doesn't show up correctly.

Framework for Unlit Spaces Analysis

Friday, March 9, 2012

Where is DOD Going?

Have you ever had one of those mornings when you wake up and your brain is just firing on all synapses? I am having one of those days today. I met with a future Special Operations commander yesterday, and we had a great conversation about a variety of topic areas. It got me thinking about a bunch of things related to some of the recent national strategy documents and the direction of our military engagements. There is a very good document out there called the Joint Operational Access Concept that attempts to define emerging threat areas and considers how the joint force might gain access to those areas of interest. Interestingly, this document and other recent national strategy and DOD strategy documents either imply or explicitly call for greater uses for Special Operations Forces. Particularly, within the persistent engagement strategy, it seems SOF is being pegged to fulfill that role.

From the DOD perspective, what that means is determining with whom DOD maintains persistent engagement. For many years we have heard about failing and failed states. There is also an interest in so called “unlit” spaces as characterized by the NASA Earthlights image. So, what I have been thinking about is what do we really mean by these “unlit” spaces and what are the DOD and potentially SOF implications for them? I think before DOD moves forward reaching out to a broad, quite frankly gigantic swath of earth, they should define what falls into the “unlit” category. There is plenty of research out there regarding failed states and the like, but I do not know how much consideration has been made to match capabilities with specific definitions of potentially “unlit” spaces. Doing so might re-frame the type of military outfit used to address persistent engagement in those places. That is what I’ll be looking at in the coming weeks – somewhat coalescing those definitions and examining their potential implication for DOD.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Disputing Robert Kaplan's Essay "The Coming Anarchy"

In 1994, journalist Robert D. Kaplan predicted a world, "in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real 'strategic' danger."[i] His essay published in The Atlantic Monthly identified that the scarcity of resources was the primary driving force behind an impending anarchy. Kaplan's prediction was dire. It was also definitive in tone. Kaplan did not parse words when he suggested the world would follow a similarly demising path that West Africa had been following.[ii]Fortunately his predictions failed with time. Consequently, in 2011, Kaplan revised his predictions suggesting that now the future of conflict rests in the South China Sea.[iii] The problem with Kaplan's anarchy prediction is that he generalizes a wide global outcome based on narrow anecdotal cases in point. In doing so his diagnosis fails to address opportunities in innovation, advances in technology, and an international system capable of self-correcting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

British Military Decline During the Interwar Years

History is a very difficult subject for me. I don't know why, but I have always had trouble grasping events in time. Here is an attempt to examine the British military and their decline as a world military leader between 1919-1939. The thing to note about their decline is the naivete through which they viewed military power in general in relation to other nations. Contrast their lens then with our lens today as we relieve our military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and replace them with diplomatic intentions. I have only slightly edited it, so there may be some technical grammatical errors still.

          By 1919 the body politic in Britain lacked the stomach to endure the physical cost of another Great War. They also could no longer financially afford it. This aversion transcended social attitudes to political and military policies to the extent that the British government definitively forecasted a ten year period in which, "the British Empire will not be engaged in any great war…and that no Expeditionary Force is required for this purpose."[1] Through the 1920s and 1930s, protecting British fiscal interests outweighed protecting potential security interests. Consequently Britain's weakened will for security translated into policy constraints limiting revolutionary technological advances which compelled the nation's leaders to withdraw into a protective posture of traditionalism and isolationism that resisted relevant change. Specifically Britain implemented broad reductions in defense, followed protectionist policies that ignored the European situation, and she stagnated in terms of doctrine development as a result of hopeful assumptions.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Real Reason for Peace: The Lily Voelkel Foundation

Afghanistan remains unstable after over a decade of intervention. Pakistan is on the edge of another coup. Iran continues to test the will of the west to enforce a nuclear standard. Israel challenges the resolve of the Middle East and the West simultaneously. China's perceived strength grows unchecked and questionably confirmed. The continent of Africa struggles with persistent conflict from within. The EU seems fractured. Hugo Chavez and Venezuela keep knocking at the Western hemisphere's door. The Arab spring has elapsed through seasons and continues into another spring. These and many other matters demonstrate there is a lot going on in the world. 

But, from time to time we need to step away from the world and just come home. I was moved by this story from a friend whose inspiration, enthusiasm, and hopefully positive outlook on life is a model actually worth following.  I encourage you to stop for a moment and learn about Lily. Then you may understand why there is so much to take advantage of each day.

Welcome to Lily Voelkel Foundation | Lily Voelkel Foundation

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Afghanistan Questions

Here are a few questions I have been thinking about lately after some discussions about Afghanistan and the area.

Is there a major generational gap between the Afghan society that remembers pre-1979 Afghanistan and the current version of Afghanistan? To what extent is the gap reshaping the culture into a new Afghanistan?

What are we really saying when we say we want to fight the Taliban? Are we focusing too much on a literal individual, or do we really mean the disruptive radical ideology? What happens if the "Taliban" turn moderate in terms of their use of violence to promote their ideology?

To what extent is the Muslim Brotherhood courting the Taliban to moderate their (Taliban) extreme perception? Is there any relation at all? If so, should we then be worried about a more moderated Taliban?

To what extent will successful bottom-up village level initiatives modify the overall Afghan governance architecture?

How ripe is Pakistan for another military coup?