Category Archives: national security

Could we Sleepwalk into a Big War?

What does the end of the West’s military superiority mean for great power politics, peace and stability around the world?

When explaining the need to prepare for a major war against a high-end enemy, US and European analysts usually point to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea (9). Western military moves, it is claimed, are an undesired but necessary reaction to provocations by others. But probe more deeply into the thinking of senior leaders and a different picture emerges. Running throughout this discussion is a pervasive anxiety that the world has changed in significant ways, and that the strategic advantages once possessed by the West are slipping away as other powers gain increased military and geopolitical leverage. In this new era — ‘a time of renewed great power competition’ as Carter put it — the US’s military might no longer appears as formidable as it once did, while the m

Source: Sleepwalking into a big war, by Michael T Klare (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, September 2016)

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Military Trumps Diplomacy

The thesis, “militarization of [fill-in-the-blank]” has become rampant, isn’t new. In State vs. Defense, Stephen Glain explored how the traditional functions of diplomacy have become subsumed by the military-industrial complex, with mixed outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. And writing in 2012, Franz-Stefan Gady muses that militarized diplomacy “distorts assessments of U.S. influence and obscures national interest.”

Now, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor, protege of Michèle Flournoy, and Sheryl Sandberg contrarian delves deeper into the Pentagon in How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, to explore how this is happening.

Equally illuminating is her examination of the resentment that the military has generated by expanding its role, assuming responsibility for all manner of unlikely projects. In its efforts to stamp out future generations of terrorists, the Pentagon has sponsored peace concerts in Africa, distributed soccer balls with anti-extremist slogans in Iraq, trained judges in Afghanistan — anything to shore up stability in volatile nations. It drives State Department personnel and aid workers — the people who would ordinarily be charged with such efforts — nuts.

“You’ve got these kids,” one Agency for International Development worker told her, “these 30-year-old captains who’ve spent their lives learning to drive tanks and shoot people, and they think they know how to end poverty in Afghanistan, in six months.”

Source: Review: ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’ – The New York Times

 

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Career Diplomat Undone Doing Her Job?

What happens when the India/Pakistan tensions spill onto the professional life of Robin Raphel, a career diplomat with more than 30 years of work at State, including as Assistant Secretary of State? She faced an FBI counterintelligence investigation where materials alleging her role in revealing secrets were uncovered. The case was closed in March 2016 with no charges filed, a “misunderstanding“, but the damage was done.

Support  from Hussein Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. offers insight into the fallout:

“I hope a good American diplomat will now no longer suffer because someone who disliked her leaked the story of inquiries about her prematurely, making her look like a criminal before even filing of charges. …Good thing is, the D.O.J. did the right thing.”

Her extensive career (explored in WaPo), coupled with her candid style and willingness to defend the Pakistani point-of-view left her colleagues perplexed and concerned.  Known as  a smart, articulate and highly competent diplomat, more recently Raphel served as a senior advisor to Richard Holbrook on Af-Pak.

Dan Feldman, Raphel’s last boss at SRAP, says the case shows that other agencies need to better understand diplomacy: “I wish there had been better and more coordinated knowledge about the nature and importance of diplomatic channels, and what it entails for diplomats to be effective in pursuing critical national security priorities.”The case had a “chilling effect” on other diplomats, who feared they might be next, a half-dozen State Department officials told me. But Raphel’s colleagues stood behind her, even when the investigation was still active. Beth Jones, another former assistant secretary of state, organized a legal defense fund last summer. The fund raised nearly $90,000 from 96 colleagues and friends, many of whom, recalls Jones, voiced the fear: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Source: When diplomats get punished for doing their jobs – The Washington Post

 

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Northwestern Faculty veto Karl Eikenberry for global studies institute

The newest university addition to global studies is an institute is based at Northwestern and funded by Warren Buffet with a gift of $101 million (Wow). Trustees found an ideal new director: aformer Ambassador to Afghanistan, three-star Army general who had lived in Korea (twice), China (three times), Italy, Belgium and Afghanistan. He is currently a distinguished fellow at Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, with two master’s degrees–from Standord and Harvard. So what’s the problem?

The deal, announced in November, fell through months later, after a surprising debate erupted about Eikenberry’s qualifications and his views on the value of the humanities and social sciences as elements of “soft power” in U.S. foreign policy. The dispute at the elite private university in north suburban Evanston reflected the power of faculty dissidents as a check on university administrators, as well as conflicting views on the value of military and diplomatic experience for advancement in academia.

Source: How Northwestern faculty derailed retired general’s global studies job – Chicago Tribune

Reasons behind the petition and faculty intransigence appear to arise from his lacking a Ph.D.  It may also stem from perceived faculty view that “the Unviersity’s core mission of independent research and teaching becomes identified with U.S. military and foreign.”  policy. More on the controversy, explained by North by Northwestern.

 

Debating Killer Robots at the UN

Let’s debate killer robots. (Or should we? Who is for them anyway?) Not the ICRC or Amnesty International. See the Red Cross statement from the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, held a few weeks ago at the UN in Geneva:

The ICRC has called on States to set limits on autonomy in weapon systems to ensure they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and within the bounds of what is acceptable under the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

Apparently, more than 80 national representatives agreed, echoing groups such as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots:

In the end, they emerged with a recommendation: The key U.N. body that sets norms for weapons of war should put killer robots on its agenda.

Source: Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle : All Tech Considered : NPR

Not the strongest stuff you could hope for (e.g., treaty law or even a declaration or draft programme of action) but it is a step in the direction toward action. But in reality, it is harder to draw the line than some think, especially where the bottom line is that humans have to decide how to use the technology.

Although some argue that “autonomous weapons are coming and can save lives” as long as they are used ethically and within legal norms, Denise Garcia disagrees, writing in Foreign Affairs that

“Washington should…work to prohibit machines capable of killing on their own. Killer robots might seem like an unreasonable idea, but they could become an unacceptable reality.”

 

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Another Take on Obama’s Worldview

We are still talking about what past U.S. Presidents meant to national interests and strategy and how their decisions shaped the world (or failed to do so). Consider this new take on Eisenhower or Nixon or Wilson. And so, we will still be talking about the Obama Presidency for a long time. He told Doris Kearns Godwin that he “didn’t want to be Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce”. He seems to be reshuffling the deck, rethinking the game–even dissing the Special Relationship. So what will be Obama’s legacy?

If you want to read the latest  round of journalism-to-maybe-become-history longform, head over to Jeffery Goldberg’s lengthy piece in The Atlantic.

But if you want a shorter take, Max Fischer does a nice job on Vox. He breaks down the notion of Obama as a “Hobbesian optimist” and someone who sees long-term historical thinking as a key part of U.S. strategic interests–contrary to a foreign policy establishment that is focused on quick wins, especially by use of military power:

This spoke to how Obama sees challenges as well as opportunities: as a matter of encouraging that global progress toward peace and prosperity, while also acknowledging how dangerous it can be when that progress stalls or reverses. But it sees the latter as the exception rather than the norm.

Source: The best articulation yet of how President Obama sees the world – Vox

His critics may be status quo. His critics are certainly inflamed. They may even be right.

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Reading for Realism

And now this from (realist) thinker Stephen M. Walt, identifying a major gap in how we look at the world–the lack of a smart realist writing in the opinion pages of the three top U.S. newspapers. (Realism being a major field of international relations theory.)

At the New York Times, the list of columnists regularly writing on foreign affairs includes one neoconservative (David Brooks) and several well-known liberal internationalists (Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, and Roger Cohen). Ross Douthat is a more traditional conservative, but he rarely writes on foreign affairs and is certainly not a realist. Despite certain differences among them, all of these writers are eloquent defenders of U.S. interventionism all around the globe for all sorts of reasons. The Washington Post employs four hard-line neoconservatives—editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and Jackson Diehl–and used to feature William Kristol as well. Its regular columnists also include former Bush administration speechwriters Marc Thiessen and Michael Gerson and far-right blogger Jennifer Rubin, along with the more centrist  David Ignatius and the increasingly bellicose Richard Cohen. Needless to say, none of these writers is a realist and all of them strongly support an activist U.S. foreign policy. As James Carden and Jacob Heilbrunn observed in The National Interest last year, Hiatt has in effect “turned the paper into a megaphone for unrepentant warrior intellectuals,” and now leads “the most reckless editorial page in America.”

Source: What Would a Realist World Have Looked Like? | Foreign Policy

So who should they hire? Walt helpfully provides human resources with this list (and I’d add him to the list, as well):

Paul Pillar, Chas Freeman Jr., Robert Blackwill, Steve Clemons, Michael Desch, Steve Chapman, John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, Andrew Bacevich, or Daniel Larison

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Booklist | Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ 

Vytautas The Great War Museum Kaunas, Lithuania

Could the Great War have been avoided? Ian Kershaw’s new book offers an explanation:

Kershaw argues that World War I could have been forestalled if Vienna had acted with speed to punish Serbia for its complicity in the murder of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it had the Kaiser’s reckless blank check for punishment, but as Kershaw puts it, the Austrian Empire “knew only two speeds, slow and dead stop.” By the time Vienna sent its ultimatum to Belgrade, three weeks after the assassination, Russia, with France in tow, had encouraged the Serbs to be more bloody-minded. More bloody-minded, in my own judgment, than justified.

Kershaw identifies a second missed opportunity to avert mass slaughter. He writes that even as Russia started to mobilize in the summer of 1914 — much before Germany — “a firm British declaration of neutrality . . . might even at a late hour have prevented general war. But Grey’s disastrous hesitation meant that the room for diplomatic initiatives vanished.” Pretty well every history nods to the poetic prescience of Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, in the foreboding he expressed on Aug. 3. Standing by his big window overlooking Horse Guards Parade, he watched the gas lights being lit in the street below and said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” They were, though Grey lived to see Europe, with the lights on, begin to fumble its irresolute way to World War II.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story

Source: Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ – The New York Times

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A Walk in the Woods: A Lesson on Informal Negotiations

A few years ago when the New START Treaty was initially underway, a play was staged in an encore performance on the Hill.  This story that explores the heart of a successful negotiation during a time of Cold War tensions is apropos for our current milieu.

The Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier award-Winning 1988 play, “A Walk in the Woods” by Less Blessing, tells the story of an accidental negotiation on a medium-range nuclear arms agreement by the US representative Paul Nitze and USSR diplomat Yuli Kvitsinsky. In 2010 it was re-staged at the American Ensemble Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Is the book better than the movie, er, the transcript better than the play? This lengthy interview explains:

At the time of your famous “walk in the woods,” the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe had stalled. At the time, many people around the world, especially in Europe, believed that the U.S. wasn’t really interested in negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviets. Source: Paul Nitze Interview — Academy of Achievement

Nitze, the namesake of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, was also involved in the 1986 arms summit in Reykjavik. He was perceived as an intellectual leader of the hawks by Democrats and seen by others in the Reagan administration as too much of a dove.

A BYU Kennedy Center reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Reykjavik is scheduled tonight on campus in Provo as part of our International Education Week 2015 celebration.

 

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War and Humanity

In thinking about the attacks in Paris and Beirut–among other places, we can express anger, revenge, or frustration. We can also redouble ourselves onto the weightier questions. What motivates Daesh to organize and carry out these attacks? What is their perspective? And even better: What does it mean to be human?

Primo Levi stands as an important figure: Holocaust survivor and writer who has been widely read across Italy. His works are used across disciplines to teach Jewish and Holocaust studies, and warrants a refresh as we think about the nature of evil:

Toward the end of If This Is a Man (whose very title, Se questo è un uomo, offers the conditional clause of a question that remains open), Levi befriends Jean, an Alsatian student who serves as errand boy in the Auschwitz chemical unit on which Levi toils. Hoping to teach his French-speaking friend some Italian, Levi recites from memory, and imperfectly, a passage from Dante’s Commedia, from Canto XXVI of The Inferno. Ulysses, who is, like Levi and Jean, suffering the torments of hell, explains how he roused his fellow mariners to undertake the transgressive journey that would damn them all:

“Consider well the seed that gave you birth:/ you were not made to live your lives as brutes,/ but to be followers of worth and knowledge.”

As he recites those lines, amid the misery and horror of a human abattoir, Levi himself is moved, he explains, “as if I, too, were hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am.” He would survive to be a follower of worth and knowledge.

Source: Primo Levi’s Invaluable Voice, in Full – The Chronicle of Higher Education

He lived with the brutality of Auschwitz, with shame and inner turmoil., believing that “people have a responsibility to each other as well as to other living things”. In a Paris Review interview, Levi reflected on his writing and life, demonstrating himself as a master of the “understated”:

Remember, when there is war, the first thing is shoes, and second is eating. Because if you have shoes, then you can run and steal. But you must have shoes. Yes, I told him, well you are right, but there is not war any more. And he told me, Guerra es siempre. There is always war.

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