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

Drone Warriors

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Union General William Tecumesh Sherman famously said, “War is Hell.” I think few would dispute that claim.

For millennia armies have battled each other in bloody engagements. Hand-to-hand combat during the days of the Greeks and Romans wasn’t that different from that of soldiers in World Wars I and II, or even this century, with U.S. Special Operations forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – and elsewhere.

We – especially the United States – have looked to technology to keep our warriors out of harm’s way. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our use of armed unmanned aerial systems – “drones” to take out enemy combatants.

But far from being easy and “antiseptic” this missions have had often-severe consequences for the men and women he operate these drones.

This issue was perhaps addressed best in a powerful article – a New York Times Magazine cover story – entitled: “The Wounds of the Drone Warrior.” Here’s how it begins:

In the spring of 2006, Christopher Aaron started working 12-hour shifts in a windowless room at the Counterterrorism Airborne Analysis Center in Langley, Va. He sat before a wall of flat-screen monitors that beamed live, classified video feeds from drones hovering in distant war zones. On some days, Aaron discovered, little of interest appeared on the screens, either because a blanket of clouds obscured visibility or because what was visible — goats grazing on an Afghan hillside, for instance — was mundane, even serene. Other times, what unspooled before Aaron’s eyes was jarringly intimate: coffins being carried through the streets after drone strikes; a man squatting in a field to defecate after a meal (the excrement generated a heat signature that glowed on infrared); an imam speaking to a group of 15 young boys in the courtyard of his madrasa. If a Hellfire missile killed the target, it occurred to Aaron as he stared at the screen, everything the imam might have told his pupils about America’s war with their faith would be confirmed.

The infrared sensors and high-resolution cameras affixed to drones made it possible to pick up such details from an office in Virginia. But as Aaron learned, identifying who was in the cross hairs of a potential drone strike wasn’t always straightforward. The feed on the monitors could be grainy and pixelated, making it easy to mistake a civilian trudging down a road with a walking stick for an insurgent carrying a weapon. The figures on-screen often looked less like people than like faceless gray blobs. How certain could Aaron be of who they were? “On good days, when a host of environmental, human and technological factors came together, we had a strong sense that who we were looking at was the person we were looking for,” Aaron said. “On bad days, we were literally guessing.”

Want more? You can read this powerful article here

Communities

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Last month I teed up the distant horizon point of view of “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” and talked about how our world will look if the “Islands,” or “Orbits” scenarios play out in the future.

There is one more scenario that could shape our future world. This one is a bit more radical than its two cousins, but it is thought-provoking and deserves our attention.

This scenario explores the issues that arise as the enormity of future economic and governance challenges test the capacity of national governments to cope, creating space for local governments and private actors and thus questioning assumptions about the future of governance. This scenario emphasizes the trends associated with the changing nature of power and advances in information and communications technologies that are enabling a broader array of influential actors and identifies how such trends might lead to choices that create both opportunities and hurdles for future governance. The story of this scenario is told from the perspective of a future mayor of a large Canadian city in 2035, reflecting on the changes she has witnessed during the previous two decades:

As we can see from this brief description of the three scenarios, the paths each one takes us down are dramatically different. Global Trends emphasizes that there is nothing in any of these scenarios that is preordained. Rather, choices governmental leaders make today will largely determine which scenario plays out decades hence.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here

Orbits in our Future?

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Last week, I teed up the distant horizon point of view of “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” and talked about how our world will look if the “Islands,” scenario plays out in the future.

That is only one of three options. Another one is ORBITS. Here’s how that scenarios would play out and what our future would look like:

The ORBITS scenario explores a future of tensions created by competing major powers seeking their own spheres of influence while attempting to maintain stability at home. It examines how the trends of rising nationalism, changing conflict patterns, emerging disruptive technologies, and decreasing global cooperation might converge to increase the risk of interstate conflict. This scenario emphasizes policy choices that would reinforce stability and peace or exacerbate tensions. The story of this scenario is told from the perspective of a national security advisor reflecting on his assessment of the international environment in his memoirs written sometime in the future.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here:

https://www.dni.gov/files/images/globalTrends/documents/GT-Main-Report.pdf

Islands in our Future?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve teed up the distant horizon point of view of “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” as well as three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. How these scenarios, Islands, Orbits, and Communities, play out will dominate how our world will be shaped in the future.

The three scenarios—”Islands,” “Orbits,” and “Communities“—explore how critical trends and choices might intersect to create different paths to the future. These scenarios postulate alternative responses to near-term volatility—at the national (Islands), regional (Orbits), and sub-state and transnational (Communities) levels. The names of the three Global Trends: Paradox of Progress scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities are intriguing and bear a bit of explanation.

Here’s a look at ISLANDS, and how it might play out: This scenario investigates the issues surrounding a restructuring of the global economy that leads to long periods of slow or no growth, challenging the assumption that traditional models of economic prosperity and expanding globalization will continue in the future. The scenario emphasizes the difficulties for governance in meeting future societal demands for economic and physical security as popular pushback to globalization increases, emerging technologies transform work and trade, and political instability grows. This scenario underscores the choices governments will face in adjusting to changing economic and technological conditions that might lead some to turn inward, reduce support for multilateral cooperation, and adopt protectionist policies and others to find ways to leverage new sources of economic growth and productivity. The story of this scenario is told from the perspective of an economist reflecting on the twenty years since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here

Islands, or Orbits, or Communities

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Last week, I teed up the distant horizon point of view of “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” as well as three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. How these scenarios, Islands, Orbits, and Communities, play out will dominate how our world will be shaped in the future.

“Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” sets up its analysis by describes the factors that will lead to one or the other of the three suggested scenarios. Those factors include: dynamics within countries, dynamics between countries, and long-term, short-term tradeoffs. It is easy to see how the interplay between these broad categories can result in completely divergent scenarios.

The three scenarios—”Islands,” “Orbits,” and “Communities“—explore how critical trends and choices might intersect to create different paths to the future. These scenarios postulate alternative responses to near-term volatility—at the national (Islands), regional (Orbits), and sub-state and transnational (Communities) levels. The names of the three Global Trends: Paradox of Progress scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities are intriguing and bear a bit of explanation.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here:

https://www.dni.gov/files/images/globalTrends/documents/GT-Main-Report.pdf

 

AI and National Security

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One of the most controversial issues at the nexus of technology and national security is concerns regarding the “militarization” of artificial intelligence – AI.

While this has been an issue for some time, it recently grabbed banner headlines regarding the issue of Google’s support for a Pentagon initiative called “Project Maven.”

The company’s relationship with the Defense Department since it won a share of the contract for the Maven program, which uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes, has touched off an existential crisis, according to emails and documents reviewed by The Times as well as interviews with about a dozen current and former Google employees.

Google, hoping to head off a rebellion by employees upset that the technology they were working on could be used for lethal purposes, will not renew a contract with the Pentagon for artificial intelligence work when a current deal expires next year.

But it is not unusual for Silicon Valley’s big companies to have deep military ties. And the internal dissent over Maven stands in contrast to Google’s biggest competitors for selling cloud-computing services — Amazon.com and Microsoft — which have aggressively pursued Pentagon contracts without pushback from their employees.

Expect this issue to remain controversial as the U.S. military faces increasingly capable foes and as AI and machine learning offer ways to help our warfighters prevail.

You can read these two articles here and here

Looking over the Horizon

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared some details about the National Intelligence Community’s capstone publication, “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” Just to recap, this publications provides a unique window – and valuable insights – into the typically secretive world of our U.S. intelligence agencies.

In this post, we’ll look at a more distant horizon and examine three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. Scenarios are important, because attempting to “predict” the future, that is, calling out a definite end-state, is fraught with danger and we ought to be wary of anyone who claims to be able to do so. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

For precisely this reason, the National Intelligence Council team that put together Global Trends: Paradox of Progress made no point-solution prediction regarding the future. Rather, they offered three scenarios to help readers imagine how different choices and developments could play out in very different ways over the next several decades. This report suggests that the more distant future will be shaped by which of three different scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities plays out.

In the introduction to the scenarios section of Global Trends, the NIC team paused to explain why the use of scenarios is helpful to peer into the future. Here is what they said:

Thinking about the future beyond the next five years involves so many contingencies that it is helpful to consider how selected trends, choices, and uncertainties might play out over multiple pathways—as told through a set of short stories, commonly known as scenarios. While no single scenario can describe the entirety of future global developments, scenarios can portray how the foremost issues and trends might characterize the future, much like the terms “Cold War” and “Gilded Age” defined the dominant themes of past eras.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here