Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Juxtaposing Drone Ethics with Nazi War Trials: A Review of 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 in the archives, 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:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pakistan's New Generation of Terrorists - Council on Foreign Relations

To understand the history of Afghanistan, one must account for Afghanistan's neighbor - Pakistan. Similarly, to understand the nature of the Taliban and other threat groups that have arisen, one must understand the interplay between Afghanistan and Pakistan to include their surrounding border states, such as India. The Council on Foreign Relations has a nice backgrounder on these threat groups.

Pakistan's New Generation of Terrorists - Council on Foreign Relations

Friday, November 8, 2013

1914 and the First World War

In the coming year there will be many books published about the first World War. In many ways I think people think they have forgotten that war; however, in many ways I think people don't realize how much they have not forgotten that war since it shaped so many aspects of international relations today. One new book I'm anxious to get ahold of is Margaret MacMillan's The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. The title reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's Pulitzer Prize-Winner, The Guns of August.

The Brookings Institute, which has been doing a really neat essay series, will feature an interactive essay in December by Margaret MacMillan. Here is an interesting discussion with her regarding the early 1900s and how that period shaped today's international politics.

View more details on

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Revisiting Defense Strategies: The Applicability of Melvin Laird’s Strategy for Peace

Here it is. Check out the Small Wars Journal posting of my essay from 2011. It's a revised version of the original, Melvin Laird's Strategy for Peace: a 2011 Analysis. Students at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth have found the essay useful for some of the coursework. I hope this version will add to their academic understanding of an interesting period in our defense history. Thanks, as always to the the folks at Small Wars and thanks for keeping a great journal defense affairs. Enjoy.

Revisiting Defense Strategies: The Applicability of Melvin Laird’s Strategy for Peace

Monday, October 14, 2013

Today's Hot Topics, Yesterday's Conversations

Discussions of the world's events today sometimes seems so dire and trapped in a woeful present. Reading headlines and hearing the talking heads and even colleagues discuss current events, one might think today's trials are entirely new and wonder if this world will survive. Well, a quick glance at a series of headlines in history gives me reason to rethink that our world is progressing forward rather than backward. The New York Times has a fascinating interactive of headlines from the International Herald Tribune. Take a trip back to the late 1800s or the mid 1920s or the tumultuous 1950s and see that many of the same trials we worry about today were being worried about then: civil unrest, defense spending, rising powers, existential threats, the collapse of a moral society, etc. The front pages themselves are interesting, but the stories behind the fold reveal the conversations that took place in times we forget.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Education in America - Championing Competition or Cause for Concern

Recent reports are again sounding the alarm for the decline of American education. The LA Times highlights that American adults have low (and declining) reading proficiency. The New York Post warns that US Adults are dumber than the average human! But are they, really? How conclusive are the OECD survey results and what do their trends really mean? Surveys are terribly complicated measures of many factors. The interesting thing about them is that they are hard to draw definitive conclusions. But people attempt to because the numbers in and of themselves can appear illuminating. However, correlation does not necessarily explain causation, nor does it explain relative geopolitical outcomes, i.e. global power parity. They do offer some policy insights to be competitive. Hence, the U.S. has had a history of reforming its education system to be competitive. In terms of higher education, the United States remains the dominant world leader in research institutions by a wide margin, nearly three times the rate compared to the next dominant group – Europe. Thus, I tend to be more skeptical and less cynical about the latest round of figures from a table in a survey depicting the worrisome status of American education. Those sounding bells have been ringing since at least the turn of the 20th century.

Here are a few alternatives to further understand the complex nature of education in America and education globally. In context the surveys themselves warn against creating specific policies to address perceived deficiencies, instead offering general observations for broader strategic education initiatives. In terms of meaning, their underlying importance is hard to determine. They may offer insight into the degree of competitiveness a country takes and in what manner, such as congressional initiatives to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) competitiveness. For more understanding of the nature of global education consider the following:

PISA analysis

See also 2009 results from the same OECD program.

Lessons from PISA

Interpreting survey results - apples to apples comparison?

Interesting comparison of the American hegemony of higher education

Global education trends,%20Reisberg,%20Rumbley%20Tracking%20an%20Academic%20Revolution,%20UNESCO%202009.pdf

A bit of history. These education data statistics and their confusing meaning are nothing new. The contrast between turn of the century education reform and present day reform are startlingly similar, to include the analysis of particulars that distort general statistical averages, such as socio-economic factors related to reading. Compare the following introduction chapter to the Education paper and PISA survey analysis.

See also how education reform has been a point of domestic policy for a long time (1st chapter),d.b2I

Congressional STEM initiative

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Afghanistan’s answer to Hillary Clinton? Fawzia Koofi launches bid to be president

In spite of the many doubful challenges Afghanistan faces, this is one hopeful example of what might be possible. The standard critique of her bid is that the culture could never accept it, or at least they could not accept it now. I think we have seen in recent years that that paradigm is not entirely true in our own country. Moreover, the so-called cultural-religious hurdle she figuratively has to jump over in an ideologically based country like Afghanistan, is, I think largely mythical. There have been enough examples of other women in other countries who have led staunchly religious societies. We should not be so quick to think this could not happen in a place like Afghanistan. Rather, we should wonder if this is exactly what might motivate a paradigmatic wave of change. I would not be surprised if her support is more profound than expected. Here is the link to the NBC article:

Afghanistan’s answer to Hillary Clinton? Fawzia Koofi launches bid to be president

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Special Operations Forces in Unlit Spaces Monograph

SOF in Unlit Spaces: Understanding the World’s Dark Spots inthe Context of SOF Operational Planning is finally available through the Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth. This is my monograph that explores several things. First it takes a look at unlit spaces. I’ve talked about them before here, but this new research expounds upon the various definitions I placed on kinds of unlit spaces. I make some adjustments to commonly understood definitions such as failed states, fragile states, and ungoverned spaces. Since the term 'unlit space' is too general, it really has little meaning particularly when one is planning military operations. Furthermore, the various kinds of unlit spaces have vague meaning when one considers the context of that area’s condition.

Second, I take a look at how Special Operations Forces (SOF) should consider operational level planning for activities in those places. While it might seem trite to simply say “it depends,” planning truly does depend on the conditions that make those spaces “unlit.” Moreover, the hyper-attention being placed on unlit areas such as fragile states, ungoverned spaces, etc. overlooks the dynamics of those places and misses threat potentials elsewhere. In other words, all unlit spaces are not necessarily an existential threat; therefore, deploying SOF to unlit spaces merely because they are unlit makes little strategic sense.

Afghanistan and Somalia during two time periods, 1990s and 2000s, are the case studies I use to explore the nature of an unlit space. They reveal how SOF operational planners need to deeply understand the context of an area before considering the value of SOF activities in those places. This is especially true when one considers that SOF operate in a human domain. The human domain is full of nuanced peculiarities that do not fit neatly into typological molds. Therefore, certain kinds of SOF missions depend more heavily on knowing the context of a situation than do others.  

I hope to publish this in a journal or magazine somewhere, so I’m open to recommendations. Here is the link to the monograph:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Connecting Syria's allies and enemies - Interactive - Al Jazeera English

There is a fascinating interactive graphic that shows the military relationship between many of the actors interested in Syria. While I don't know that much about the overall situation in Syria, I do know, it's complicated. I do think the domestic rhetoric is largely ignorant of the region's history and the various narratives that are at play. In other words, people talking about what should or should not be done in Syria, don't know what they are talking about - generally. Check out this interactive to get a little better feel for the military considerations that all actors are facing.

Connecting Syria's allies and enemies - Interactive - Al Jazeera English

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Racing to Democracy

There is an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Charles Kupchan about democracy in Egypt. He does not try to make the case for or against democracy in Egypt. Instead, he raises some interesting questions about the pursuit of democracy either in Egypt or wherever. His basic point is that rushing to democracy may actually “[do] more harm than good.” We have seen in the past couple decades that one measure of democracy is the election metric. States are initially determined as democratic when they hold a successful election. That then opens the door for their acceptance into the international club of democratic states, and it grants easier access to aid. I think there are problems with that singular measure, but I can understand its political temptation. He suggests the track record of states that rush to elections is actually worse than those that incrementally become democratic.

He offers several examples, beginning with Bosnia, of states having failed in that attempt. Although I have a slight bit of reservation about his examples, he does highlight a recent liberal trend to zealously promote democracy. At the core of this hopeful democratic peace is a fundamental question of how to structure a state for democracy. Should a state democratize before it liberalizes, or should a state liberalize before it democratizes?

In the coming month or two I am going to attempt to analyze that question by looking at the constitutions of Afghanistan and Somalia. Both countries are supposedly emerging democracies. Both countries are, I think, in different conditions of liberalization relative to their democratization. Both countries have recently undergone fundamental shifts in their governing structures. However, I think the way their fundamental shifts occurred differs, and that difference may be evident in their constitutions. My hypothesis is that Afghanistan’s framework is being rushed before a foundational polity exists to fulfill that framework, similar to what Kupchan suggests. Somalia, on the other hand, may not be quite as rushed to become democratic and is therefore on a different path to establish a foundational polity that can fulfill its constitutional framework.

I welcome any thoughts on the matter regarding my initial hypothesis or the potentials for democracy in either country. What I am interested in seeing are the similarities and differences in each constitution and how their particularities might or might not work to establish a democratic state.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Fungibility of Drone Statecraft

I wish to pose a simple question. Is the argument to use drones as means of statecraft for sovereign protection a fungible one? If so, how then does that fungibility coincide with international laws? If not, how then does drone statecraft supercede state sovereignty?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

More on the Human Doman

Here's a practical discussion of the human domain from a good friend. As these discussions discover what it means and what the implications are for the military, I think it's important to think of the domain as not only something to win, such as the land or air spaces, but as something in which mutual winning takes place. Josh's point about understanding relationships is critical then. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Rise of Big Data

The Rise of Big Data: Everyone knows that the Internet has changed how businesses operate, governments function, and people live. But a new, less visible technological trend is proving just as transformative: big data.

This recent essay in Foreign Affairs is one of the most thought-provoking essaysI have read in a long time. It is worth reading and re-reading because beyond the technical innovations the authors present are some serious implications for international and domestic political interactions. While, I don't know that this essay is necessarily a game changer in terms of the way one thinks about political philosophies, I do think it is of the scale Samuel Huntington's, Clash of Civilizations essay (and book) was in 1993. This essay demonstrates, what I think, is a fundamental difference between naysayers of technology and those that embrace its globalizing transformation: that man's telos is nowhere near.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hypothetical Somalia Scenario Planning

I was messing around with some scenario planning. Here is a scenario for humanitarian intervention. It is purely hypothetical, but the point of it is to display possibilities using a more systematic methodology rather than just guessing. It is embedded below as a PDF.

Somalia Scenario Planning Humanitarian Intervention

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Human Domain

I have talked about the military's Joint Operational Access Concept before. The JOAC identifies several domains in which different components of the military operate. Land, air, sea, even cyber and outer space are examples of domains. There is an interesting discussion taking place in certain defense circles about an additional domain, the human domain. I've been working on a monograph for a few months about Special Operations Forces operating in the world's "unlit spaces." The paper is an expansion of my previous post about the same subject; however, this upcoming monograph addresses the idea of this human domain. Essentially, I make the case that unlit spaces, as a phenomenon are more nuanced than they appear from space and that their implication for policy and defense decisions is more a matter of the distinct human factors in that space than the mere fact that it is unlit. This becomes especially true when one considers the kinds of Special Operations missions that deal with close interactions with people. The ability, then, to gain access to people presents all kinds of challenges related to both accessing them and to anti-access measures places may take to prevent influencing the human domain. I think the idea of the human domain has very interesting implications for Special Operations and  for the military as a whole. The idea of domains in general is really interesting, especially as the military moves closer to cross-domain synergy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Homegrown al-Qaeda

A really fascinating study was released by the Henry Jackson Society that examines the profile of al-Qaeda related offenders charged and convicted in the United States. The study, Al-Qaeda in the United States, by Robin Simcox and Emily Dyer, concludes that the majority of al-Qaeda offenses against the United States originated from the United States. The sample set only looks at U.S. charged and convicted, so I do not think it is entirely representative of all terrorists associated with al-Qaeda. The study, makes a point of clarifying the sample set and distinguishing between what it defines as al-Qaeda related and what other studies have loosely defined as either terrorist or al-Qaeda affiliated. One of the things that strikes me about the study, is that the profile of an al-Qaeda related individual is not exactly the profile one might think. This study points out that they are well educated, relatively young, in many cases converts to Islam, and most, interestingly, are U.S. born.

Another thing that strikes me as interesting is that the institution of law works in some fashion to address security threats. This certainly draws further attention on the legal ramifications of international drone strikes against terrorist subjects without due process. The subjects of this study were charged and/or convicted in U.S. courts, indicating at least some legitimacy and effectiveness of the institution of law. Recognizing that so-called terrorists are being convicted in the U.S. court system raises questions about a national security strategy that potentially supersedes domestic and international laws by categorizing threats under a different legal framework.

Furthermore, the study raises questions about perceived threats and real threats. The perceived threat is that terrorists, in this study's case al-Qaeda related terrorists, exist in some impoverished, lawless land, and are perpetrated by individuals with little to no access to modernity. While, there is an element of the terrorist threat dynamic that includes those areas and those individuals, this study suggests that perception is a myth. The account of direct threats to the U.S. homeland may actually be otherwise, hence we should be prudent about where we turn our attention and to whom.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Drones, Foreign Policy, and Operational Art.

The folks over at Small Wars Journal ran a recent article of mine dealing with operational art in World War II. It goes along with a previous post I made here a few weeks ago about operational art. The article does not have too much to do with international relations; however, I think there is an interesting shift occurring with regard to realism ideals of self-preservation and the means to preserve one's self. Specifically, I am referring to the recent debates and actions related to drone warfare. My initial thoughts on the subject force me to think about the rule of law and the manner in which the U.S. is choosing to uphold the idea of rule-of-law. The right to due process, which is a cornerstone of our legal system, seems stretched when we prosecute subjects under the guise of terrorism. While I have not researched legal precedent for this sort of withholding of due process, I think there are historical cases of a similar nature - I just cannot recall what they are. I would need to crack open the law books briefly. Nevertheless, the legal arguments for and against remind me of the ongoing legal arguments for and against detainees held in suspect of terrorist activity, namely those at Guantanamo. The legal precedent for due process, in those cases has already been established warranting,  I think, a much more comprehensive debate about what constitutes terrorist activity, to what extent are extremist ideals (those counter to our paradigmatic norm) criminal or an act of war, and under which legal framework to we afford potential suspects rights? Even in war, enemies have rights. Therefore, although the Small Wars article deals mostly with the structure of warfare objectives, I wonder if today, operational art might entail a further blending of foreign policy objectives with military means.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Pentagon’s New Map: Misinterpreting Disconnectedness is Dangerous – A Guest Post by Andrew Rohrer

I have the unique opportunity to share a really interesting essay by Andrew Rohrer. He has taken a thoughtful and critical look at Thomas Barnett's "The Pentagon's New Map," which was quite influential to military planners and strategist after its publication in 2005. Andrew provides a thoughtful analysis of a few of Barnett's central themes, namely the need for the U.S. to pursue an aggressive foreign policy strategy to maintain U.S. primacy in global security through the use of military force. Arguably, Barnett's views influenced the strategic and operational thinking of senior military leaders to include Bush administration officials prior to a critical re-consideration of U.S. geo-strategic and military aims in Iraq, and Afghanistan in particular, and the war on terror in general. We have since seen an adjustment from a hard power pursuit of shaping a global liberal democratic environment to a more balanced one of "smart power." Andrew is a U.S. Army officer involved in the development of Army strategy and a graduate of the Basic Strategic Art Program at the U.S. Army War College. These insightful thoughts are his and do not represent the broader views of either the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon’s New Map: Misinterpreting Disconnectedness is Dangerous by Andrew Rohrer

During the Cold War the United States faced a well-defined competitor, the Soviet Union, inside of a well-defined world order. With nearly every nation of the world organized into two spheres of influence, the United States led one sphere in a strategy of containing the ideological and existential threat posed by the Soviets. Utilizing diplomacy to “formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of the sort of world we would like to see,” the United States led an alliance of interested nations to contain the Communist states led by the Soviet Union.[1] Though the Cold War was prone to spasms of conflict on its periphery, both sides pursued the use of non-violent political discourse as opposed to open warfare that could tip an unstable regime of deterrence into complete nuclear ruin.

With the end of the Cold War, a significant discussion both academic and political, focused on not only how to restructure the American foreign policy apparatus, but also what to restructure it address. The al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars and stabilization operations in Afghanistan and Iraq added urgency to the discussion. The international order was now understood to be quite different from the one of the Cold War­—there no longer existed neatly ordered competitive spheres, and concern about violent non-state actors began to rise. In this milieu, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a political scientist and Soviet expert, wrote a short article in 2003 to propose a theory for how the United States should address the new international order—“disconnectedness equals danger.”[2] In other words, the places in the world to which globalization does not reach become the incubators of movements and groups that threaten the globalizing states. He posited that the international order had shifted from the two spheres of influence, marked by ideology, into two categories of states–the Core and the Non-Integrating Gap, or simply the Gap.[3] Respectively, the states placed in each category were those that were connected to the growing globalized economy and those that were not.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assessing Operational Art: An Army Planning Primer

There is this thing called operational art, and supposedly military commanders and their staffs do it.  What is it though? And, how does it fit into the philosophical and practical realm of war fighting? Here are some thoughts to consider how this planning doctrine relates to the way military planners and commanders engage in the art of war.

            There are things we can know, and there are, currently, things we cannot know.[1] The fact that we can even know such a truism is a function of the cognitive interplay between predictability and unpredictability. In other words, we really can know that we can know things, and we really can know that we cannot know things.[2] One attempts the former through theory; they discover the latter through the experience of history. Doctrines capture knowledge of the two. In war, a commander’s genius is the missing link between the theoretical and the historical.[3] Current U.S. Army doctrine capitalizes on this rarity by emphasizing the role of commanders in the planning process.[4] Thus, in war, applying a construct for predictability to control certain uncertainty through the imagination of knowledge and experience is an intangible genius made tangible by operational art.[5]