Military Innovation

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Among the buzzwords circulating in the U.S. military, Innovation is likely the most common one we all have encountered over the last decade.

Countless commands have set up “innovation cells” on their staffs and have sought ways to become more innovative, often seeking best practices from industry, especially Silicon Valley.

The Department of Defense has created a Defense Innovation Board comprised of outside experts who are charged to find ways to make DoD more “innovative.”

And just a few years ago, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter created Defense Innovation Unit Experimental – DIU(X) – (now DIU) at the old Moffett Field near the heart of Silicon Valley.

All of this is good as far as it goes – but the danger is clear – by establishing innovation cells on major staffs, by having outside experts tell the DoD how to be more innovative, and by establishing a large organization to be the DoD’s innovation “place” we may be sending the wrong signal to the rest of the military and civilian professionals: Don’t worry about being innovative, we’ve assigned that task to someone else.

Former Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Scott Swift was unique among senior commanders in that he purposefully and deliberately did not establish an innovation cell on the PACFLEET staff. As he shared in his remarks at the 2018 Pacific Command Science and Technology Conference, “I want every one of my sailors to be an innovator.”

As the old saw goes, the guy (or gal) who invented the wheel was in inventor, the person who took four wheels and put them on a wagon was an innovator.

We are taken by innovations and innovators, they help define our future and then make it possible.

From Archimedes to Zeppelin, the accomplishments of great visionaries over the centuries have filled history books. More currently, from Jeff Bezos of Amazon to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, they are the objects of endless media fascination — and increasingly intense public scrutiny.

Although centuries stretch between them, experts who have studied the nature of innovators across all areas of expertise largely agree that they have important attributes in common, from innovative thinking to an ability to build trust among those who follow them to utter confidence and a stubborn devotion to their dream.

Now facing two peer competitors – China and Russia – who want to create a new world order that puts them at the forefront, the U.S. military needs every solider, sailor, airman and marine to be an innovator.

Unsung Warriors

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Much has been written – most of it reasonable, but some of it shrill – regarding women in the U.S. military.

While integration of women into the U.S. military has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, one place that has remained a male-only bastion has been Special Operations.

Or has it? Four Americans were killed by a suicide bomber in Syria in mid-January. One was U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent. She was operating with the U.S. Navy SEALs. While not “officially” a SEAL or other Special Operator, she was just as vital to the mission as her male counterparts – and just as vulnerable.

Here is how a recent New York Times article describes how Chief Petty Officer Kent served – and died.

Given who she really was, military officials had little choice in how they described Shannon Kent. They said only that she was a “cryptologic technician,” which anyone might assume meant that her most breakneck work was behind a desk.

In reality, she spent much of her professional life wearing body armor and toting an M4 rifle, a Sig Sauer pistol strapped to her thigh, on operations with Navy SEALs and other elite forces — until a suicide bombing took her life last month in northeastern Syria.

She was, in all but name, part of the military’s top-tier Special Operations forces. Officially a chief petty officer in the Navy, she actually worked closely with the nation’s most secretive intelligence outfit, the National Security Agency, to target leaders of the Islamic State.

The last few years have seen a profound shift in attitudes toward women in combat roles. Since 2016, combat jobs have been open to female service members, and they have been permitted to try out for Special Operations units. More than a dozen have completed the Army’s Ranger school, one of the most challenging in the military. Some have graduated from infantry officer courses, and even command combat units. And in November, a woman completed the Army’s grueling Special Forces Assessment and Selection course, the initial step to becoming a Green Beret.

Yet Chief Kent illustrates an unspoken truth: that for many years women have been doing military jobs as dangerous, secretive and specialized as anything men do. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

China!

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An enormous amount of ink has been spilled regarding China and especially China’s rise. I have blogged about China frequently on this site, most recently, earlier this month, here.

When I saw David Brook’s recent Op-Ed, “How China Brings Us Together,” I wasn’t prepared for his subtitle: “An existential threat for the 21st century.”

It got my attention – and it should get yours. Here’s how he begins:

I’ve always thought Americans would come together when we realized that we faced a dangerous foreign foe. And lo and behold, now we have one: China. It’s become increasingly clear that China is a grave economic, technological and intellectual threat to the United States and the world order.

And sure enough, beneath the TV bluster of daily politics, Americans are beginning to join together. Mike Pence and Elizabeth Warren can sound shockingly similar when talking about China’s economic policy. Nancy Pelosi and Republicans sound shockingly similar when they talk about Chinese human rights abuses. Conservative and liberal policy thinkers can sound shockingly similar when they start talking about how to respond to the challenge from China.

For the past few decades, China has appeared to be a net positive force in world affairs. Sure, Beijing violated trade agreements and escalated regional tensions. But the Chinese economic explosion lowered our cost of living and expanded prosperity worldwide.

But a few things have now changed. First, instead of liberalizing, the Chinese regime has become more aggressive and repressive. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Missile Defense

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There are few existential threats to the United States. At the top of most lists are ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has been pursuing an effective defense against this threat since President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative decades ago.

Recently, the Pentagon unveiled its new Missile Defense Strategy, the first in many years. Here’s how a recent New York Times article explained it. It begins:

President Trump vowed on Thursday to reinvigorate and reinvent American missile defenses in a speech that recalled Cold War-era visions of nuclear adversaries — though he never once mentioned Russia or China, the two great-power threats to the United States.

While the president infused the new missile efforts with his ambitions for a Space Force, the actual plans released by the Pentagon were far more incremental. As a political matter, Mr. Trump’s speech seemed designed to play well with his base, a tough-sounding call to a new generation of arms that evoked Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” missile defense program.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place,” Mr. Trump said.

“Our strategy is grounded in one overriding objective: to detect and destroy every type of missile attack against any American target, whether before or after launch,” he said. “When it comes to defending America, we will not take any chances. We will only take action. There is no substitute for American military might.” Want more? You can read the full article here

Arms Race

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If you had any doubt that the United States is in an arms race with China, a recent Sunday New York Times article (front page, above the fold) should dash any doubts.

Here’s how the piece, “In 5G Race With China, U.S. Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei,” begins:

Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister, arrived in Washington last week for a whirlwind of meetings facing a critical question: Should Britain risk its relationship with Beijing and agree to the Trump administration’s request to ban Huawei, China’s leading telecommunications producer, from building its next-generation computer and phone networks?

Britain is not the only American ally feeling the heat. In Poland, officials are also under pressure from the United States to bar Huawei from building its fifth generation, or 5G, network. Trump officials suggested that future deployments of American troops — including the prospect of a permanent base labeled “Fort Trump” — could hinge on Poland’s decision.

And a delegation of American officials showed up last spring in Germany, where most of Europe’s giant fiber-optic lines connect and Huawei wants to build the switches that make the system hum. Their message: Any economic benefit of using cheaper Chinese telecom equipment is outweighed by the security threat to the NATO alliance.

Over the past year, the United States has embarked on a stealthy, occasionally threatening, global campaign to prevent Huawei and other Chinese firms from participating in the most dramatic remaking of the plumbing that controls the internet since it sputtered into being, in pieces, 35 years ago. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Maritime Nation

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There is little argument that America is a maritime nation. It has been one since its founding, and with the exception of a few isolationist periods in our history, the U.S. Navy has been on the forefront and not only ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States and its citizens, but of supporting the world’s global order.

That is way policymakers, statesmen, military leaders and many others have anxiously awaited the U.S. Navy’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0,” as substantial update of the original “Design” issued to years ago. Reading this short document provides a clear window on how the U.S. Navy does its job. Here’s how it begins:

On the eve of the 20th century, the United States emerged from the Civil War and laid the foundation to become a global power, but its course to continued prosperity was unclear. Navy Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan helped to chart that course, arguing that American growth required access to overseas markets, which in turn required a preeminent navy to protect that access. America became a nation with global interests, and the seas were the path to new frontiers.

The essence of Mahan’s vision still pertains: America’s interests lie beyond our own shores. What was true in the late 19th century holds true today – America’s success depends on our creativity, our entrepreneurism, and our access and relationships abroad. In an increasingly globalized world, America’s success is even more reliant on the U.S. Navy.

Want more? You can read the full document here

National Defense Strategy

Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy

The United States faces a wide-array of threats today, from peer competitors like China and Russia seeking to shape the world to their needs and upset the global international order, to rogue nations like North Korea and Iran that are increasingly unstable and who want to take on America as a convenient foe, to the threat of global terrorism, represented most prominently by ISIS.

That is why the Department of Defense publishes a National Defense Strategy that addresses the ends, ways and means the nation will use to ensure the security and prosperity in a dangerous world. While past strategies could be faulted for being too long, complex, and dense, this document is pithy and on point. Here is how it begins:

The Department of Defense’s enduring mission is to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation. Should deterrence fail, the Joint Force is prepared to win. Reinforcing America’s traditional tools of diplomacy, the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.

Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military

advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.

 

Want more? You can read the short document here

World’s Policeman?

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Most Americans feel somewhere deep in their gut that it is futile for the United States to try to be world’s policeman – but many of us have trouble articulating why that is a bad thing.

A review of Stephan Walt’s new book, “The Hell of Good Intentions” helped me understand just how badly we stumble when we try to be everything to everybody. Here’s an excerpt:

Like Edmund Burke, who warned, “I dread our own power and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded,” Walt views America’s recurrent bouts of missionary zeal with consternation. Others, like the foreign policy writer Robert Kagan, may fret about an encroaching jungle invading the gardens of the West; Walt’s attitude is to forget about trying to trim it back. As a longstanding member of the realist school of foreign policy, which has traditionally subordinated considerations about human rights and morality to a balance of power, Walt might be expected to wax enthusiastic about Donald Trump, who has espoused a “principled realism” and condemned the foreign policy establishment. Walt, however, exhibits as much disdain for Trump’s bellicosity as he does for the liberal internationalists that he indicts here. Walt’s book offers a valuable contribution to the mounting debate about America’s purpose. But his diagnosis of America’s debilities is more persuasive than his prescriptions to remedy them.

According to Walt, the dominant narrative after the conclusion of the Cold War was that history was on America’s side, even, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a famous 1989 essay in The National Interest, that so-called history had ended and all that remained was economic materialism. Globalization would lead to what Karl Marx had called in the Communist Manifesto a “universal interdependence” among nations; warfare would become a thing of the past. America’s mission was to push other states to protect human rights and to help them transition to democracy.

In Walt’s view, “despite minor differences, both liberal and neoconservative proponents of liberal hegemony assumed that the United States could pursue this ambitious global strategy without triggering serious opposition.” But the very steps that America took to enhance its security, Walt suggests, ended up undermining it. He reminds us, for instance, that George F. Kennan warned in 1999 that NATO expansion eastward was a “tragic mistake” that would, sooner or later, ignite Russian nationalism. Under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Russia became a revanchist power that launched cyber-attacks on the Baltic States, seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine and interfered in the 2016 American presidential election. In Walt’s telling, “the energetic pursuit of liberal hegemony was mostly a failure. … By 2017, in fact, democracy was in retreat in many places and under considerable strain in the United States itself.”

Want more? You can read more here

A New World Order

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Who will determine the future of civilization as we know it? Many in the United States have become accustomed to this country being responsible for those decisions. But that is changing.

Last week I reported on China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Most recognize this as an initiative designed to lift hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens out of poverty.

Others look at it as a move by China to become the world’s dominant power. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be.

But others worry that the United States may be purposefully and deliberately stepping aside and making room – ample room – for China to step in. Here is how Kori Schake puts it:

Decades from now, we may look back at the first weeks of June 2018 as a turning point in world history: the end of the liberal order.

At a summit in Canada, the president of the United States rejected associating the country with “the rules-based international order” that America had built after World War II, and threatened the country’s closest allies with a trade war. He insulted the Canadian prime minister, and then, just a few days later, lavished praise on Kim Jong-un, the world’s most repressive dictator. Without consulting America’s allies in the region, he even reiterated his desire to withdraw American troops from South Korea.

Such reckless disregard for the security concerns of America’s allies, hostility to mutually beneficial trade and willful isolation of the United States is unprecedented. Yet this is the foreign policy of the Trump administration. Quite explicitly, the leader of the free world wants to destroy the alliances, trading relationships and international institutions that have characterized the American-led order for 70 years.

The administration’s alternative vision for the international order is a bare-knuckled assertion of unilateral power that some call America First; more colorfully, a White House official characterized it to The Atlantic as the “We’re America, Bitch” doctrine. This aggressive disregard for the interests of like-minded countries, indifference to democracy and human rights and cultivation of dictators is the new world Mr. Trump is creating. He and his closest advisers would pull down the liberal order, with America at its helm, that remains the best guarantor of world peace humanity has ever known. We are entering a new, terrifying era.

Want more? You can read it here

Silicon Valley and Saudi Arabia

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Few countries have dominated the international news more recently than Saudi Arabia. While there are conflicting reports regarding who ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that fact that he was murdered by fellow countrymen is beyond dispute. At issue for the United States is its long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia.

But the issues surrounding Khashoggi’s murder have brought to light another, heretofore hidden, issue – the relationship between Silicon Valley and Saudi Arabia.

That’s why I was fascinated by a recent piece regarding this relationship. Here is how it began:

Somewhere in the United States, someone is getting into an Uber en route to a WeWork co-working space. Their dog is with a walker whom they hired through the app Wag. They will eat a lunch delivered by DoorDash, while participating in several chat conversations on Slack. And, for all of it, they have an unlikely benefactor to thank: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Long before the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished, the kingdom has sought influence in the West — perhaps intended, in part, to make us forget what it is. A medieval theocracy that still beheads by sword, doubling as a modern nation with malls (including a planned mall offering indoor skiing), Saudi Arabia has been called “an ISIS that made it.” Remarkably, the country has avoided pariah status in the United States thanks to our thirst for oil, Riyadh’s carefully cultivated ties with Washington, its big arms purchases, and the two countries’ shared interest in counterterrorism. But lately the Saudis have been growing their circle of American enablers, pouring billions into Silicon Valley technology companies.

While an earlier generation of Saudi leaders, like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, invested billions of dollars in blue-chip companies in the United States, the kingdom’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has shifted Saudi Arabia’s investment attention from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has become one of Silicon Valley’s biggest swinging checkbooks, working mostly through a $100 billion fund raised by SoftBank (a Japanese company), which has swashbuckled its way through the technology industry, often taking multibillion-dollar stakes in promising companies. The Public Investment Fund put $45 billion into SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, and Bloomberg recently reported that the Saudi fund would invest another $45 billion into SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

SoftBank, with the help of that Saudi money, is now said to be the largest shareholder in Uber. It has also put significant money into a long list of start-ups that includes Wag, DoorDash, WeWork, Plenty, Cruise, Katerra, Nvidia and Slack. As the world fills up car tanks with gas and climate change worsens, Saudi Arabia reaps enormous profits — and some of that money shows up in the bank accounts of fast-growing companies that love to talk about “making the world a better place.”

Want more? You can read the full article here