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.”

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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

One Belt One Road

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China has embarked on a massive project called “One Belt One Road” (OBOR). There has been far more heat than light regarding this massive project.

From a national security perspective, this is China’s bid to be the world’s dominant power. While it remains to be seen whether their effort will succeed, it won’t be for lack of effort.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the One Belt One Road is a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. “Belt” refers to the overland routes, or the Silk Road Economic Belt; whereas “road” refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Until 2016, the initiative was officially known in English as the One Belt and One Road initiative but the official name was changed as the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the word “one” prone to misinterpretation. The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future” Observers, however, see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.

Want more? You can read a report by McKinsey and Company here:

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/china/chinas-one-belt-one-road-will-it-reshape-global-trade

War Without End

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As I mentioned in a post this summer, a decade ago, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkens wrote, “The Forever War.” The book was a best-seller.

Filkens explained why we were mired in the Mideast. A few years later, President Obama announced America’s “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”

Why we are still fighting is a question that continues to bedevil all of us. That’s why I was drawn to a book review of C.J. Chivers, “The Fighters.” Here’s how Robert Kaplan began his review:

  1. J. Chivers, a senior writer for The New York Times and a former Marine infantry officer, begins his new book with a description of an American weapon, equipped with GPS sensors and a guidance system, hitting “precisely the wrong place” and killing and mutilating a family of women and children on the Afghan steppe as a consequence. But Chivers’s narrative has only begun to slam you in the gut; later on, the author captures the psychological effect the errant bomb has on the Marines at the scene. Indeed, because of the way the stories and characters spool into one another with mathematical intensity, and the second-by-second in-your-face descriptions of prolonged battles from a sergeant’s eye view, “The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq” could be the most powerful indictment yet of America’s recent Middle East wars.

Chivers is interested in the chemistry between platoons and companies, not that between battalions and brigades: In other words, this is a book about the lower ranks who experience the thing itself, the gut-wrenching violence and confusion of war — history from the ground up, not from the top down, precisely what Washington elites miss. “The Fighters” constitutes an illusion-free zone, where the concrete triumphs over the abstract, where the best and most indelible of those profiled, from that vast working-class heart of the country, begin their military service in a blaze of patriotism following 9/11, and end up confused, cynical, betrayed and often disfigured or dead.

Want more? You can read the full review here

Making Waves

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Much ink has been spilled about how America and the West won the Cold War. But little has been said about how that war was won on the oceans – until now.

Arthur Herman’s review of former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s new book, “Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea. Here is how he begins:

Two major shifts in military strategy allowed the United States to win the Cold War with the Soviet Union. One was the Strategic Defense Initiative launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. It convinced Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S.S.R. couldn’t compete in a high-tech weapons race without major economic and political changes—changes that ultimately backfired and led to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The other shift, less heralded, was Sea Plan 2000, a bold new idea for reviving American sea power in the face of a Soviet bid for naval supremacy. Reagan would be the president to put the plan in motion, and his secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, would be the man to implement it.

As Mr. Lehman tells us in “Oceans Ventured,” the strategy was first conceived in Newport, R.I., roughly three years before Reagan’s election—at a June 1977 dinner with Mr. Lehman, Graham Claytor (the Navy secretary), James Woolsey (counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee) and the military-affairs author Bing West. Mr. West served as amanuensis, recording the gist of the plan on a napkin. Over time, it grew into a full-blown proposal and led, not long after, to the rebirth of the U.S. Navy’s global dominance, often summed up as “the 600-ship Navy.”

In fact, as Navy secretary Mr. Lehman never quite made it to 600 ships—594 was as far as he got. The ships that the Navy did build, however, included a new generation of warships like Aegis cruisers and destroyers with advanced antimissile systems, and Ohio-class nuclear submarines of the sort that the novelist Tom Clancy would make famous in “The Hunt for Red October” (1984). There was as well an increase in the number of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Even more important than the ships was a change in how the Navy planned to use them. Mr. Lehman’s “Command of the Seas” (1988) detailed the arduous process of expanding the Navy despite congressional opposition and a cumbersome Pentagon acquisition system. “Oceans Ventured” describes the men and events that enabled the Navy to snatch the strategic initiative from a Soviet navy determined to challenge the U.S. around the globe.

Want more? You can read it here

War Stories

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One of the most well-credentialed military writers of our generation is Thomas Ricks. Why? He is a former war correspondent and author of six military-themed books.

That’s why I gravitate to his quarterly column in the New York Times Book Review, “War Stories.”

Ricks serves up military books that are rich resources for all of us – from casual reader, the military buff, to serious historian. Here’s how he begins his latest offering:

One of the most interesting books on military affairs that I have read in some time is ARMY OF NONE: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (Norton, $27.95). Its author, Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and Pentagon official who is now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security (a think tank with which I was affiliated several years ago), provides a thoughtful overview of the mind-boggling issues associated with autonomous weapons — or, as some people call them, “killer robots.”

Unlike many authors examining the advent of autonomous weapons, Scharre doesn’t get bogged down in the question of whether they will be built. They already are here, he argues, citing the example of the Stuxnet computer bug as just such an armament. It was software inserted, almost certainly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies, into Iranian computers running that country’s nuclear enrichment program. Because the Iranian computers were “air-gapped” — that is, not connected to the global internet — once the bug was inside the Iranian system, delivered through porn-laden thumb drives, it was on its own. And it worked impressively, physically destroying a key part of the nuclear program.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Endless War?

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A decade ago, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkens wrote, “The Forever War.” The book was a best-seller.

Filkens explained why we were mired in the Mideast. A few years later, President Obama announced America’s “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”

Most assumed this was the spark that would help America disengage from the messy politics of the Mideast.

We are still there – in force. Michael O’Hanlon explains why in his piece, “Resigned to Endless War.” Here’s how he begins:

Tell me how this ends.” So said then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus to the journalist Rick Atkinson soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. As far as we can see today, the answer to Gen. Petraeus’s prescient rhetorical question appears to be that it doesn’t.

What many strategists predicted would be a generation-long struggle against Islamic extremism and sectarianism in the Middle East is now well into its second generation. It has been almost 40 years since the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; 35 years since the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon; 30 years since the formation of al Qaeda. It has been almost two decades since President George W. Bush, after the attacks of 9/11, told Congress and the nation that “Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.” The “forever war,” as the journalist Dexter Filkins called it in his 2008 book of that title, is living up to its name.

To wage these wars, there are currently some 15,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, 10,000 in Qatar, 5,000 in Iraq, 4,000 in Bahrain, 2,000 each in Syria and Kuwait, and more than 1,500 each in Djibouti and Turkey. Add to this some 10,000 sailors and Marines afloat in the region, as well as Coast Guard personnel and civilians. All told, there are more than 90,000 Americans working for U.S. Central Command, according to Centcom commander Gen. Joseph Votel. These “overseas contingency operations” cost more than $30 billion a year, on top of the $600 billion-plus core defense budget. It’s a huge, expensive effort, and there’s no end in sight.

But maybe all of this is OK. It seems that Americans have effectively reached a consensus that the status quo represents the least bad option available. To put it differently, maybe we’ve taken a page from Israel’s handbook: We no longer expect to solve problems in the broader Middle East, only to manage them, at least for the foreseeable future. As a practical matter, that means relying today not primarily on U.S. ground combat troops but on our special forces, drones, aircraft, trainers, intelligence operatives and standoff forces.

Want more? You can read the full article here