Onshore warfare and offshore balancing

The use and abuse of terms such as “offshore balancing” in the ongoing conversation about the next American grand strategy is a frequent topic of discussion here. While this can easily become an exercise in military and diplomatic history pedantry, examining what exactly offshore balancing entails should be a necessary prerequisite of adopting such an approach to international politics.

One of the consistent errors of offshore balancing discussion has been the tendency to believe that it necessarily demands there be no military engagement with the world beyond dealing with great powers, and that this military engagement must necessarily not include the use of ground forces, especially outside the core areas of engagement. In the current American context, the combinations of military draw downs in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan, along with the lack of US occupation in the Horn of Africa and Libya, among other locales, and the rise of AirSea Battle as a new concept for future military efforts all give the impression of a US military that will rarely act onshore. At the same time, the so-called “pivot to Asia” and the increasing prominence of offshore balancing in grand strategic discussions all give the impression that the cumulative effect of these operational, strategic, and grand strategic changes will be a US force that rarely, if ever, gets involved in land warfare, and rarely, if ever, gets involved in warfare outside of Asia. Continue reading

Police Militarization, Professionalism, and the Balance of Persuasion and Force

By Fred Leland and Alex Olesker

“The strategic success of the Byzantine empire was of a different order than any number of tactical victories or defeats: it was a sustained ability, century after century, to generate disproportionate power from whatever military strength could be mustered, by combining it with all the arts of persuasion, guided by superior information.” ~Edward Luttwak

There has been a lot of talk recently in the wake of responses to the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its nationwide evolution on the topic of militarizing police forces. This topic has also come up in regards to police raids in their various forms throughout the country. Yet “militarization” is seldom defined and has grown to mean whatever the author doesn’t like about modern law enforcement. Often it’s about gear, but dressing in black does little to militarize an agency. Expanding tactical capabilities also do not justify the widespread outrage, as a more capable police force is, all else being equal, always preferable. Continue reading

Unemployed College Majors: Engineering vs. English

In trying to understand what drives the Occupy Wall Street protesters, certain commentators have resorted to stereotyping: casting them as unemployed youth with liberal arts degrees, disappointed that their degree in puppetry or medieval French didn’t pay off. According to this rhetoric, there’s plenty of demand for engineers and scientists, students are just too stupid or lazy to specialize in these fields. Setting aside the condescending tone, how true is this claim?

Analyzing data on unemployment by major, as featured in the Wall Street Journal, we find that it’s a half-truth, up for interpretation. In terms of unemployment rates alone, technical fields seem to have no advantage over more generalist education. Rather, while some science or engineering majors are in high demand and others face up to 15-20% unemployment, the liberal arts majors seem to occupy a happy medium around 6-7% unemployment. But if we dig a little deeper and look at expected returns in terms of wage, then the advantages of a mathematically oriented major become evident. Readers of this blog might appreciate that majoring in Military Technologies provides one of the highest returns despite a 10.9% unemployment rate. Sometimes it makes sense to take a risk and hold out for your dream job, especially when you’re specialized.

For those of you curious to see the numbers, I included the full table of data here, highlighting specific majors I refer to in the text.

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Ovens Versus Guns: Interdiction, Opportunity, and Security

Studying security even in the Frozen North, I recently sat in on a terrorism lecture by criminologist Dr. Troy Payne at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. On the subject of disrupting terrorist networks, he brought up some counter-intuitive studies and statistics on suicide in the UK.

While we assume that those who kill themselves are highly motivated, suicides in the UK dropped precipitously between 1963, when carbon monoxide (CO) was removed from public gas, and 1975, despite other factors correlated with suicide such as unemployment increasing, as did the suicide rate in the rest of Europe. Gas suicide, sticking your head into an oven like Sylvia Plath, accounted for 40% of suicides in the UK at 1963, almost the same as the decrease by the time carbon monoxide was phased out. Continue reading

Preparing for Crisis with Tactical Decision Games, After Action Reviews and Critical Question Mapping

This is a cross-post from my own site:

Followers of this blog and those I have worked with know the workshops I run utilize tactical decision games, in the form of pen and paper exercises, tabletops and force on force free play exercises involving the use of Simmunitions. Also in these workshops we stress the importance of identifying lessons learned utilizing the after action review process. These training methods all stem from creating and nurturing both the individual and organizational cognitive and physical skills necessary to observe, orient, decide and act while according with an adversary(s). In short these types of exercises build strategic and tactical thinking skills and tactical physical skills. These types of exercises build strength of character and hence confidence in our individual tactical decisions in accord with the overall strategic intent of the organization.

10-25-11 Tabletop Exercise 004

“Autonomy, mastery and purpose” as Daniel Pink states, are the pillars to opening up insights, innovative thinking, and creative solutions to problems to effectively run organizations. These individual abilities are developed through robust interaction with others, others from your field or profession, as well as others from a vast array of disciplines. The cross disciplinary effect and insight gained form stepping outside your current way of thinking is very powerful. The problems we seek to solve and the rate at which they are solved increases by creating and nurturing individual thinkers and doers who are willing to collaborate with others while seeking solutions. This, all in an effort to learn, unlearn and relearn, hone and adapt our procedures and methods so we tackle problems in the most adaptive and effective ways. Continue reading

Two Tweets, Two Podcasts, and the Man Behind the Curtain

Dropping the man behind the curtain
Dropping the man behind the curtain

Cyber warrior Samuel Liles tweets:

Some guy named Andy Marshall keeps coming up in my life. I’m still not sure why.

Followed by:

Every time I hit a new concept scratched on the bottom is “Andy Marshall was here”

The Pritzker Military Library recently recorded two podcasts, one with Karl Marlantes on What it’s Like to go to War, the other with Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb on Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.

The Kalbs cover how American defeat in Vietnam shaped presidential decisions about war and peace. During their presentation, the elder Kalb, a thirty year veteran of the Washington media-political complex, commented that policymaking, especially in diplomacy and defense, changes very little from president to president. Obama, age three at the time of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and age thirteen when the last helicopter took off from Saigon, is as wound up in Vietnam as Obama appointees like the late Richard Holbrooke, a Foreign Service Officer in Vietnam from 1962-1969. Obama’s foreign policy, to the chagrin of the naifs that voted him in, is the continuation of his predecessor’s second term with an admixture of the rhetoric of love and a Nobel Peace Prize.

Marlantes discusses war and its spiritual impact on those that fight it in the light of his own experience as a young Marine officer serving in Vietnam and the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered decades afterward. At the end of his presentation, Marlantes decries the all-volunteer military with two anecdotes from his book tours:

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Narratives and False Narratives

“Kind hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.” -Carl Von Clausewitz, On War

Micah Zenko, a distinguished scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations wrote and tweeted, about the demise of Qaddafi as being an apt conclusion to a false narrative. Considering the nature of today’s conflicts and more importantly the way they have to be marketed to the public it’s hardly a surprise that this double-dealing is becoming the norm. While it’s easy to take the liberal/egalitarian approach to slam the powers that be for this deception (not that I’m accusing Zenko of doing such); is it really that simple? Can society honestly deny that a level of willful ignorance is at play here?

The first Gulf War was, by all accounts a historical anomaly, the sort of event that could only have occurred in those exact circumstances and with those exact objectives. Yet it seems that this highly improbable confluence of events has defined the public’s perception of warfare in the post-Cold War era. In this age of liberal, humanitarian idealism, warfare must be conducted within the context of what educated, morally virtuous societies are prepared to accept. They must be swift, decisive, and the first priority must be to render the opposing armed force incapable of waging war; while actually ending as few lives as possible. Essentially society expects the opposing military be castrated, rather than annihilated. Because after all, to the educated lay person, of sound moral mind but lacking any understanding of the depth of depravity that has throughout history been fundamental to the conduct of warfare; death and destruction should be limited as much as possible. The first Gulf War was a master stroke, society was fed a steady diet of video and photographic evidence that America’s technologically superior military forces hadn’t really killed people so much as they’d destroyed hundreds of cars, trucks, tanks, aircraft, guns, and buildings. Focusing almost entirely on inanimate objects, the tools that made evil acts possible, society believed that by removing the means we could remove the will to kill and destroy. News media showed thousands of clips and photos of destroyed equipment but comparatively little in the way of charred, mutilated corpses, the human element required to make use of such tools for evil purposes. Instead what was shown was droves of surrendering soldiers, surrendering en masse, as though contrite and seeking to repent; a narrative that fit perfectly with the Jewdeo-Christian values of liberal democratic societies in the west.

Politically speaking it was a near perfect war. In all the hubbub about why it was right or wrong, from a strategic/political/social perspective the reason why this conflict was effective and politically expedient lies primarily with the limited aims. By adhering to the Powell Doctrine, America kept her aims limited, she didn’t get lured into all out invasion of Iraq, which would have escalated the conflict from one of limited aims towards one of more total aims. Wars fought for more total objectives have throughout history been far more arduous, costly, bloody, and unseemly. Because the ultimate aim is not just to force a minor concession from ones opponent, but to remove the opponent and his sovereign political regime, said power must be prepared for a potentially long, ugly fight in which tough decisions are made, many lives are lost and the full gruesome nature of war is exposed to the world.

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