More Nukes? Really?

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The world in 2019 is a volatile place, and the news is full of reports of conflicts around the globe.

Little of that reporting involves nuclear weapons – and there hasn’t been a nuclear weapon fired in anger since 1945. That is a very good thing.

But just because the issue of nuclear arsenals is out of the news, we shouldn’t ignore it. That’s why I think that Bret Stephens recent op-ed is important for all Americans to read. Here’s how he begins:

“In the capitals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, there is a clear lack of confidence in the United States’ reliability as a military ally.”

Sound familiar? It’s from a report in The Times dated October 7, 1979. Donald Trump isn’t the first American president about whom U.S. allies took a decidedly skeptical view.

Back then, the question was whether, and how, Jimmy Carter would respond to the Soviet Union’s deployment of the SS-20, a medium-range nuclear missile that threatened military installations in Western Europe and against which the Atlantic alliance had no equivalent. Later that year, Carter agreed that the U.S. would deploy hundreds of intermediate-range Pershing II and cruise missiles to Europe in response, a policy the Reagan administration completed in the early 1980s.

The history is worth remembering now that the U.S. has formally exited the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty, following many years of cheating by Russia and failed diplomatic efforts to bring it into compliance. Moscow has secretly fielded an estimated 100 ground-launched cruise missiles “designed to target critical European military and economic infrastructure, and thereby be in position to coerce NATO allies,” according to Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence. Russia is also believed to be violating the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

You can read the full article here

Tiananmen Square Remembered

Last month, we marked the 30th anniversary of China’s crackdown on student protestors in Tiananmen Square.

Much ink has been spilled about this event, but less has been written about how that day shaped China today. Orville Schell’s excellent article begins by noting:

“In the spring of 1989, a democratic future for China seemed possible. Then came Tiananmen. The U.S.-China relationship still hasn’t recovered.” He goes on to say:

China was indeed experiencing a springtime. At last, its halting tradition of democratic activism and cosmopolitan aspiration seemed on the verge of triumphing over the rival traditions of imperial rule and Leninism. Here was definitive proof that ideas of freedom were not just a foreign import or imposition. For the first time since 1949, one could suddenly imagine a China that was both more democratic and more fully integrated into the outside world.

But the moment didn’t last, as we know in marking this week’s melancholy 30th anniversary. Whatever the power of China’s long-suppressed democratic hopes, they could not withstand the ideological determination and brutal might of the Chinese Communist Party. The crushing of the Tiananmen protest movement was a shock not just to all those intoxicated, idealistic Chinese demonstrators but also to Westerners like myself who believed that, with our help, China was starting to find its way to being a more modern and open society.

The tragedy of that possibly misplaced faith weighs especially heavily today. Under President Xi Jinping, a newly assertive authoritarian China now strikes many in the U.S. not just as a disappointment but as a threat. In retrospect, through the ups and downs of decades of diplomatic engagement and growing economic connection, the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 now appears to be the moment when the regime most fully revealed the fundamental principles that now guide Mr. Xi and a rising China.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Artificial Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the most beneficial technological development of the 21st century.  However, it is undoubtedly the most hyped technological development of the past two decades.  This hype has raised expectations for results and, unfortunately, has clouded public understanding of the true nature of AI and its limitations as well as potential.

The highest level U.S. security documents demonstrate a recognition of the power of AI to support U.S. national objectives.

The National Security Strategy notes: “New advances in computing, autonomy, and manufacturing are already transforming the way we fight…From self-driving cars to autonomous weapons, the field of [AI], in particular, is progressing rapidly.”

The National Defense Strategy puts it this way: “The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…New technologies include artificial intelligence [and] autonomy.”

The U.S. Navy knows it needs AI, but would be well-served if it articulates these needs better so it can harness this critical technology.

I addressed this subject in my recent U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, The Navy Needs AI, It Just Isn’t Certain Why.”  Want more? You can read the full article here

Iraq Misadventure

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Volumes have been written about America’s misadventure in Iraq. Those books vary in quality as well as readability.

I recently read one that was insightful and made me think. My interest was stirred by a book review of Michael Mazarr’s new book, “Leap of Faith.”

Mazarr’s subtitle, “Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy,” likely tells you where his book is headed, but here is more from the review:

The operative word in the title of “Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy” is the last one: tragedy. Drawing on extensive interviews with unnamed “senior officials” as well as recently declassified documents, Michael J. Mazarr attributes the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 to good intentions gone awry. Here is an example of “America’s worthy global ambitions” that went “terribly wrong.”

The Iraq war was not a tragedy. It was more like a crime, compounded by the stupefying incompetence of those who embarked upon a patently illegal preventive war out of a sense of panic induced by the events of 9/11. An impulse to lash out overwhelmed any inclination to deliberate, with decisions made in a “hothouse atmosphere of fear and vulnerability.” Those to whom President George W. Bush turned for advice had become essentially unhinged. Iraq presented an inviting opportunity to vent their wrath.

The handful of officials who shaped policy after 9/11, writes Mazarr, a political scientist currently with RAND, were “not evil or pernicious human beings.” Instead, Mazarr credits them with acting in response to a “moralistic sense of doing the right thing.” Viewed from that perspective, “the Iraq war decision was grounded in sacred values,” even if the evil and pernicious consequences of that decision continue to mount.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Richard Holbrooke

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Volumes have been written about the Cold War, America’s involvement in Vietnam, and other issues that have led to what has generally been called, “The End of the American Century.”

But much of this has focused on the history and not the participants. Until now. Walter Isaacson’s review of “Our Man” a new book by George Packer focuses on a man at the center of it, American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, one of the most iconoclastic statesman of the last half-century. Here is how he begins:

Richard Holbrooke was a large man with gargantuan appetites — for food and women and movies and acclaim and, above all, diplomatic and undiplomatic maneuvering — appetites that struggled to feed an outsize ego that was matched only by his insecurities. As the last great freewheeling diplomat of the American Century, Holbrooke, with his turbocharged zeal and laughable lack of self-awareness, earned fervent admirers and fevered enemies, including a few longstanding colleagues who fell passionately and paradoxically into both camps. In fact, Holbrooke himself was caught in this duality of being his own most fervent admirer and worst enemy (although when someone once commented that he was his own worst enemy, a national security adviser he had worked with snapped, “not as long as I’m around”).

Want more? You can read it here

High-Tech Weapons

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Earlier this year, I posted blogs regarding the new directions for U.S. National Security embodied in publications such as the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. Each of these publications notes that the U.S. military must adopt high-technology to ensure the U.S. can deal with increasingly capable peer competitors.

The era of United States technological dominance has ended. Indeed, in many areas, including military technology, this gap has narrowed to parity or near-parity, and potential adversaries have all-but erased what was once the U.S. military’s trump card—superior technology. Nations such as Russia and China, as well as countries to which these nations proliferate weapons, are deploying advanced weapons that demonstrate many of the same technological strengths that have traditionally provided the high-tech basis for U.S. advantage.

One of the most promising emerging military technologies is directed-energy weapons. The U.S. military already uses many directed-energy systems such as laser range finders and targeting systems are deployed on tanks, helicopters, tactical fighters and sniper rifles. These laser systems provide both swifter engagements and greatly enhanced precision by shortening of the sensor-to-shooter cycle.

Now, directed-energy weapons are poised to shorten––often dramatically––the shooter-to-target cycle. Directed-energy weapons provide a means for instantaneous target engagement, with extremely high accuracy and at long ranges.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

The Future is Unmanned

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One of the most rapidly growing areas of innovative technology adoption involves unmanned systems. The U.S. military’s use of these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—is not only changing the face of modern warfare, but is also altering the process of decision-making in combat operations. These systems are evolving rapidly to deliver enhanced capability to the warfighter and seemed poised to deliver the next “revolution in military affairs.” However, there are increasing concerns regarding the degree of autonomy these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—should have.

I addressed this issue in an article in the professional journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Here is how I began:

While unmanned systems increasingly impact all aspects of life, it is their use as military assets that has garnered the most attention, and with that attention, growing concern.

The Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) vision for unmanned systems (UxS) is to integrate them into the joint force for a number of reasons, but especially to reduce the risk to human life, to deliver persistent surveillance over areas of interest, and to provide options to warfighters that derive from the technologies’ ability to operate autonomously. The most recent DoD “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap” noted, “DoD envisions unmanned systems seamlessly op­erating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.”

I’ve attached the full article here

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