From “The Farm” to FarmVille

"We believe Bin Laden has been hiding in the central mansion"

In an experiment on crowdsourcing intelligence, Applied Research Associates, Inc hopes to see if it can build better intelligence collectors and analysts than the CIA allegedly produces on “The Farm”, its  rumored field academy for clandestine officers, with a tool that bears more resemblance to Facebook’s popular social networking game FarmVille.  ARA recently launched the Aggregative Contingent Estimation System (ACES), a website funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) where users can vote on future social, political, scientific, economic, and military developments similar to an online poll, with the results then aggregated into predictions and probabilities. IARPA hopes to use ACES to test the value of crowdsourcing for national intelligence.

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Maritime realism and the geopolitics of the “Middle Sea”

Robert Kaplan has a new piece out in Foreign Policy today about the South China Sea, the West Pacific generally, and the return of naval power and realist thought to the center stage of international politics. It’s a worth a read if only because Kaplan is unfortunately one of the few public intellectual types who has attempted to engage the question of maritime power. The crux of the argument is that the 21st century’s geopolitical stage will be much more maritime than continental, as was the case in the past, and one in which the US must increasingly submit to the exigencies of a realist few of great power politics. I broadly agree with these two sentiments. The devil, and the critical takeaways, however, are in the details.

East Asia, or more precisely the Western Pacific, which is quickly becoming the world’s new center of naval activity, presages a fundamentally different dynamic. It will likely produce relatively few moral dilemmas of the kind we have been used to in the 20th and early 21st centuries, with the remote possibility of land warfare on the Korean Peninsula as the striking exception. The Western Pacific will return military affairs to the narrow realm of defense experts. This is not merely because we are dealing with a naval realm, in which civilians are not present. It is also because of the nature of the states themselves in East Asia, which, like China, may be strongly authoritarian but in most cases are not tyrannical or deeply inhumane.

There is an important relationship here between geography, military technology and capability, and international morality, that I have attempted to address in previous posts. To summarize simply, the arbiter of the moral and normative activity within a state rests with its governing political power. The arbiter of power control is, in Wylie’s phrase, the “man on the scene with the gun.” The ability of an offshore state to put men on the scene with guns is power projection. The ability to project power is dependent on maritime-aerial superiority, which for an offshore power is fundamentally naval superiority.

However, Kaplan has perhaps an unduly sanitized and rationalized vision of naval warfare means for the broader political context. While the naval realm is more purely military, since humans are creature of the land, not the sea. Yet naval power has always been a combination of civilian – especially commercial – and military power. Mahan acknowledged as much in his triad of sea power as the combination of not just fleets, but friendly ports and maritime commerce.  This inter-linking is obvious today. The growth of the Chinese shipbuilding industry has played a vital role in advocating for the expansion of the PLAN, and Chinese attempts to extend influence beyond the South China Sea into the Indian are coming as civilian ports such as Gwadar and Hambantoa, whose militarization is a possibility but not an inevitability. I’ll speak more of this unheeded connection between the domestic and naval sphere later. Continue reading

To the Brink

Two observations, centuries and disciplines apart. The first observation comes from Carl von Clausewitz as channelled by Michael Howard and Peter Paret:

Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter.

The second observation comes from investor Benjamin Graham:

In the short-term, the stock market behaves like a voting machine –but in the long-term, it acts like a weighing machine.

Some common threads between these two observations:

  1. Moral forces, a product of willpower, are more a matter of voting machines than weighing machines.
  2. In the short-term, as voting machines, moral forces are the decisive force in war.
  3. In the long-term, as weighing machines, physical forces are the decisive force in war.
  4. Strategy is attrition, the exhaustion of the enemy through moral and physical blows that cast enough votes against him to cumulatively weigh against him.
  5. Moral force can cast a decisive vote if a war can be kept short.
  6. If a war is prolonged, the weight of physical force will be decisive.

One reason why war remains intrinsic to the human condition is the lack of a clear-cut way to tell how far each side in a political dispute can go and will go to resolve the dispute in their favor. This quandary arises from two further problems, one fairly obvious and one less so. The first problem the obvious possibility that one side will fail to gauge how far the other side can go and will go. The second problem is the less obvious possibility that the other side will fail to gauge how far it can and will go.

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Achieving Outcomes on the Street with Integrity, Building Loyalty and Mutual Trust

“If your boss demands loyalty, give him integrity. But if he demands integrity, give him loyalty.” ~COL JOHN BOYD

As I see it, anyone in a leadership position assumes the responsibility of TRUST. I know that’s a pretty BOLD statement. But I feel it is true and stand by it. Trust is what organizations are all about. Trust must be created and nurture by leaders through developing people within an organization. As a leader you have a responsibility for the people that work with you and under your charge. Yes, the leader must get the job done. Getting the job done entails people executing initiative. People are willing take initiative when they trust those in their charge.

At the tactical level is where most problems law enforcement deals with normally dominate the outcomes, therefore, the attributes of skill, morale, discipline, unit cohesion influenced by leadership come into play. Skill must be an individual attribute, but it is officers working together solving problems however big or small a team or unit, that really matters. What counts then is not personal skill but the skill effectively applied by the team as a whole and that depends on competent leaders who know how to influence those in their charge. This is done through creating and nurturing a culture of mutual trust bound by integrity that leads to loyal “doers” on the street.

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Old School realism and the problem of society

The ongoing debate between Dan Drezner and Anne-Marie Slaughter, two of the online US foreign policy community’s leading lights, is an excellent one. Not only is there an attempt to present foreign policy differences which do matter, but are not often enough fleshed out, but it gives me a chance to bore you all with a pedantic discussion of the intellectual history of international relations. Now, granted, one aspect of this discussion has been the problem of strawman explanations of IR theory, so I’ll try not to stray too far from my lane and talk about realism, rather than IR theory generally.

Here’s the part of Slaughter’s piece that I first found problematic:

Of course, Kissinger and his adherents know that many other important actors and forces exist in international relations — as a descriptive matter. But the whole point of realism, as every first year IR student knows, is that structural realism (the school that holds as its bible Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War) says that international relations analysts can treat the world as if it were composed only of states pursuing their power-based interests. It’s a model that does not conform to observed reality but that focuses on the long-term structural forces that ultimately determine the course of events once the ephemera of what we seem to see is swept away. It is that reductionism (although rarely as stark as Waltz’s particular brand) that makes realism so appealing as usable technology for foreign policy analysts and decision-makers.

There is a going assumption that realism is overly concerned with states and does not think that non-state groups or threats really matter. This might hold up for Waltz, who is infamous for being a “black box” theorist of international relations, who treats states as billiard balls. This is not entirely fair to Waltz, but structural realism in general does have a problem with over-determining state actions from the basic international condition of anarchy [1]. Waltz cares about states because states, in the time periods he examines, are the primary bearers of power. Power, not the state, is likely the more long-standing differentiation between the liberal/idealist and realist schools of international affairs. Realists generally care more about who has power, and particularly coercive power, because in the realist view, it is the power to control – not to collaborate, connect, or convince – which is the final arbiter and source of other forms of  socio-political-economic behavior.

For most of the history of thinkers identified with realism, the state did not exist, nor did the conception of the state as a unitary actor. Thucydides, long identified as one of the fathers of Western realism, was not a Waltzian structural realist in the slightest. As most early realists did, he cited the origins of political behavior in irrational and rational drives, which originate in the hearts and minds of men. There were no states in Thucydides’s day, but city-states, empires, and various other forms of political organization which did not survive to the present day. Thus one had to be quite conscious not just of particular parties and factions, but even individuals, who, in a polis such as Athens could completely upturn the designs of the Athenian state. In his description of the varying governments and systems of organization at play, Thuycdides actually shows a keen awareness of how regime types and the social composition can influence international politics, but only insofar as it involves the exercise of power. The exchange of goods, culture, and ideas matters far less to him. Slaughter does offhand mention that an Avian flu could kill far more than a war and be more likely. Interestingly enough, the plague of Athens does play an important role in Thucydides’s history:

And the great licentiousness, which also in other kinds was used in the city, began at first from this disease. For that which a man before would dissemble and not acknowledge to be done for voluptuousness, he durst now do freely, seeing before his eyes such quick revolution, of the rich dying and men worth nothing inheriting their estates. Insomuch as they justified a speedy fruition of their goods even for their pleasure, as men that thought they held their lives but by the day. As for pains, no man was forward in any action of honour to take any because they thought it uncertain whether they should die or not before they achieved it. But what any man knew to be delightful and to be profitable to pleasure, that was made both profitable and honourable. Neither the fear of the gods nor laws of men awed any man, not the former because they concluded it was alike to worship or not worship from seeing that alike they all perished, nor the latter because no man expected that lives would last till he received punishment of his crimes by judgment. But they thought there was now over their heads some far greater judgment decreed against them before which fell, they thought to enjoy some little part of their lives.

Here we have an assessment of a non-state threat’s impact on social class, the religious practices of average men and their role in the “great licentiousness” which comes to characterize Athenian behavior. When Thucydides speaks of the “fear of the gods” and “laws of men” no longer striking any fear, one can already anticipate the Athenian speech to the Melians and the capricious aggression that marked the Sicilian expedition, and, ultimately, the fall of Athens itself. There is no contradiction between the muddying of international and domestic, state and citizenship because polis, in addition to referring to both the “unit” of politics, also referred to the body of the citizens itself. Continue reading

Trial of a Thousand Years, World Order and Islamism—a review

Trial of a Thousand Years, World Order and Islamism, by Charles Hill

Ambassador Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies, Literature, Statecraft, and World Order was the best book I read in 2010, so I had high expectations for this volume and was not disappointed. Ambassador Hill provides a 35,000-foot view of the relationships between the West and Islam in history focusing on the subtitle of his earlier work in the form of “world order.”

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A Counterterrorism Net Assessment: Bin Laden’s Legacy

I have an unpublished paper (one of a growing pile that I’m trying to sort through) on the need for the use of net assessment techniques for the global war on terror. Although net assessment (as practiced by the titular office) is difficult to really sum up, it can best be understood as evaluating a long-term competition (different from a war–more like, say, something comparable to the US vs. Soviet Union) by tallying up all of the Blue (our side) and Red (the enemy) data in one place for an comprehensive diagnostic picture of what the competition looked like.

A diagnostic assessment shows who is ahead in the competition, where the important “markets” are, and where competitors ought to be best positioning themselves to be more competitive than theirs adversaries. Sometimes net assessments are also local in nature–such as exploring the impact of one weapon on the competition or just looking at one military competition (such as the military use of space as a competition itself).

To my knowledge, this method–borne out of the late Cold War–has never been used in counterterrorism. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s new book provides a framework for how it can be responsibly done, free of the politicization that is endemic to the post-9/11 CT debate but yet without pulling any punches. Continue reading