The Forever War


Many of you will recognize the title of this post The Forever War as the same title of Dexter Filkens’ best-selling book. That book became an instant classic of war reporting, and was hailed as the definitive account of America’s conflict with Islamic fundamentalism and its human costs.

Through the eyes of Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, we witnessed the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, the aftermath of the attack on New York on September 11th, and the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Filkens’ book was published eight years ago – and that war still drags on. Today, Brian Caster, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who fought in The Forever War takes Filkins’ thoughts to the next level in his piece, “Still Fighting, Dying, in the Forever War.” He point out how different this war is from all our other wars. Here is part of what he shares.

“The longest conflict in American history — from Afghanistan to Iraq, to high-value target missions throughout Africa and the Middle East — has resulted in the nation’s first sustained use of the all-volunteer military, wounding and killing more and more service members who resemble Scotty: parents, spouses, career men and women. When compared with casualties of the Vietnam War, the average age of our dead in this conflict, and the proportion who are married, have both risen 20 percent. And that trend is accelerating as the burden of the fight shifts more and more to older, highly trained counterterrorism forces. As The Times reported recently, of the 18 service members lost in combat since 2016, 12 were Special Operations troops like Scotty [Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton].”

“Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.”

You can read this important article here.

The North Korean Threat


Several weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” North Korea is one of those contingencies.

As Adam Johnson noted in the Reader’s Guide for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, “It is illegal for a citizen of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to interact with a foreigner.” In a nutshell, this helps understand why North Korea is the most isolated nation in the world and why that nation’s decision-making is often completely unfathomable. THAT is what makes North Korea so dangerous.

Juxtapose this against the widely-heralded United States “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific Region,” and you have the compelling ingredients for conflict—you don’t have to manufacture them. What North Korea does will continue to bedevil the United States—and the West for that matter—for the foreseeable future. The Hermit Kingdom remains the world’s most mysterious place. As a Center for Naval Analyses Study noted, “The Kim-Jong-un regime has not completely revealed itself to the outside world.” Not to put too fine a point on it, North Korea would likely qualify as one of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s, “Unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and North Korea. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-term enmity toward the United States (Korean War)
  • Favorable geographic position vis-à-vis South Korea
  • Leadership intentions have always been opaque
  • Economy can’t provide for population’s basic needs
  • Most closed society on the planet

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, North Korea is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • A young leader still consolidating power
  • Developing enhanced ballistic missile capability
  • Sustaining an active WMD program – and exporting WMD
  • Increasing rhetoric against the West and especially the U.S.
  • Numerous new ballistic missile tests
  • Engine tests for proposed ICBM that can reach the United States

These are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

Can Communism Rise Again?


Ask any American what happened one-hundred years ago, and it’s unlikely that they’d mention Russia’s February 1917 Revolution — the prequel to the November coup of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, an event that forever altered the history of the 20th Century and one that still casts a long shadow on today’s geopolitics.

Most think the ideas that spurred that February 2017 uprising are dead and with it what we generally call “Communism.” Or is it? Here is part of what David Priestland shares in his piece, “What’s Left of Communism?”

“China and Russia both deploy symbols of their Communist heritage to strengthen an anti-liberal nationalism; in the West, confidence in free-market capitalism has not recovered from the financial crash of 2008, and new forces of the far right and activist left vie for popularity. In America, the unexpected strength of the independent socialist Bernie Sanders in last year’s Democratic race, and in Spain, the electoral gains of the new Podemos party, led by a former Communist, are signs of some grass-roots resurgence on the left. In 2015 Britain, Marx and Engels’s 1848 classic, “The Communist Manifesto,” was a best seller. Is a Communism remodeled for the 21st century struggling to be born?”

You can read this intriguing article here

The Russia Threat


Several weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct.” This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” Russia is one of those contingencies.

If there is one nation, and one leader, who makes it a practice to “poke” at the United States, it’s Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There has been an avalanche of media reporting on the fraught relationship between Russia and the West, including this front-page piece in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “Putin and Merkel: A Rivalry of History, Distrust and Power.” You can read this compelling piece here

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and Russia. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-standing enmity against the West
  • Views the United States as the architect of containment
  • A deep, visceral desire to change the global order (zero-sum)
  • Demonstrated willingness to attack neighbors with kinetic or cyber-attacks: Georgia, Estonia, Crimea, Ukraine
  • Murders of political opponents and dissidents (Litvinenko)

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, Russia is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • Overt support for Assad’s regime in Syria
  • Hacking of U.S. election returns
  • Recent stepped-up military incursions in Ukraine
  • Stepped up military exercises around NATO’s periphery (Baltics)

Worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

America’s Future Wars


America is still at war. But increasingly, that war is fought in the shadows, using our warriors from the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to carry the fight to the enemy. It is a deadly serious war and our SOCOM men and women are carrying a hugely disproportionate share of the fighting and dying.

Since our SOCOM warriors operate primarily in the shadows and secretive missions, little is known about them. That’s why this article, “Special Operations Troops Top Casualty List as U.S. Relies More on Elite Forces,” was so revealing and enlightening. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:

“Over the last year, Special Operations troops have died in greater numbers than conventional troops — a first. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they made up only a tiny sliver of the dead. That they now fill nearly the whole casualty list shows how the Pentagon, hesitant to put conventional troops on the ground, has come to depend almost entirely on small groups of elite warriors.”

I’ve never read an article that revealed so much about what our  SOCOM warriors do to protect us. It spoke to me and I think it will speak to you.

You can read this intriguing article here.

The China Threat


Two weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct.” This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” China is one of those contingencies.

China’s economic rise over the last several decades has been breathtaking, and has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But China’s newfound economic prosperity has also enabled that nation to build a highly capable military. China has strong regional ambitions and is using its military to achieve them.

One thing we should ask is this: Since the “4+1 construct” was announced in the fall of 2015, identifying China as a nation we needed to be concerned about and be prepared to deal with from a military perspective, how have things been going? Are our relations with China getting better or worse?

First, there are longstanding issues between the United States and China. Among the most prominent:

  • China’s self-declared “Century of Humiliation” at the hands of the West
  • China’s economic boom that is fueling a rapid military buildup
  • A strong belief that the United States is trying to “encircle” China
  • Regional ambitions that are enhanced and enabled by military capabilities

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, China is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • Chinas aggressive actions toward smaller neighbors, some of them U.S. allies
  • China’s relentless military buildup on South China Sea islands, rocks and reefs
  • China’s demonstrated intent to flout international law, ignoring the Hague ruling
  • China’s deployment of a PLAN aircraft carrier to the South China Sea
  • China’s strong, negative, reaction to SECDEF Mattis on the Senkaku Islands
  • The recent seizure of U.S. UUV in international waters of the South China Sea
  • The new administration has denounced China’s maritime bullying

Worrisome signs from a nation that will soon eclipse our economy. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

Artificial Intelligence


Artificial intelligence, AI, has dominated the news in recent years – and it should. The promise offered by AI in the commercial sector, think, for example, of driverless cars, is revolutionizing our thinking about how much AI can make our lives better.

That said, one of the most controversial aspects of AI is its use in military weapons. Here is how an article entitled, “Morals and the Machine,” in The Economist addressed the issue of AI in military unmanned systems this way:

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.

As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas. Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driverless car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic?

Such questions have led to the emergence of the field of “machine ethics,” which aims to give machines the ability to make such choices appropriately—in other words—to tell right from wrong. More collaboration is required between engineers, ethicists, lawyers and policymakers, all of whom would draw up very different types of rules if they were left to their own devices.

Until recently, the United States had the dominant position in AI, especially AI used for military purposes. That is no longer the case. Here is the way a recent New York Times article entitled, “China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter,” began:

“Robert O. Work, the veteran defense official retained as deputy secretary by President Trump, calls them his “A.I. dudes.” The breezy moniker belies their serious task: The dudes have been a kitchen cabinet of sorts, and have advised Mr. Work as he has sought to reshape warfare by bringing artificial intelligence to the battlefield.

“Last spring, he asked, ‘O.K., you guys are the smartest guys in A.I., right?’”

“No, the dudes told him, ‘the smartest guys are at Facebook and Google,’ Mr. Work recalled in an interview.”

“Now, increasingly, they’re also in China. The United States no longer has a strategic monopoly on the technology, which is widely seen as the key factor in the next generation of warfare.”

Read this intriguing article here

National Security Threats


Reading the daily headlines offers only a piecemeal understanding of the threats to U.S. National security. Said another way, there is far more heat than light. We’ll try to light a candle.

As a result of globalization and the proliferation of new technology, the United States is facing challenges on a global scale.  At the 2015 Reagan National Defense Forum, Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, outlined the “4+1 construct. This new way of looking at threats to our nations focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.”

The “contingencies” include, China and Russia, the high end threats, and Iran and North Korea, lower end threats but with great instability. The “condition” is the long-term fight against global terrorism.

This is a completely new way that the United States looks at these threats to our national security. For several generations, the Cold War and a fight against the Soviet Union dominated our national security calculus. While there were other threats the United States had to deal with, they were all viewed as “lesser included subsets” of the Soviet threat. In other words, if we had the doctrine, people and equipment to take on the Soviets, we could deal with these lesser threats.

That is no longer the case, and that is why the new “4+1” construct is so important. We face dramatically different strategic, operational and tactical challenges from the “four contingencies and one condition.” And in the year-plus since this construct was announced, these threats have taken on worrisome changes – all for the worse.

Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about each of these threats to our national security.

America and the World


Few writers have helped readers make sense of geography better than Robert Kaplan. In over a dozen books, such as the best-selling The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan has made geography make sense and tied it to history. He’s done it again in Earning the Rockies. Here is part of what Jonathan Rauch shared in his review in The New York Times.

For all the turbulent change swirling about us now, America was and remains the product of an exceptional geography. North America has more miles of navigable inland waterways than much of the rest of the world combined. Better still, its rivers run diagonally rather than (as in Russia) north and south, forming an ideal network for internal communication and trade. Moreover, America’s continental span and rich resource base shield it from external threat and dependency. Thus the United States is uniquely blessed by geography to form and sustain a cohesive continental union. Union is not the same as unity, but it’s a good start.

America’s geographical and hydrological blessings ramify not only inward but also outward. “The United States is not a normal country: Its geographic bounty gave it the possibility of becoming a world power, and with that power it has developed longstanding obligations, which, on account of its continued economic and social dynamism relative to other powers, it keeps,” Kaplan writes. “We are,” he says (his italics), “fated to lead.” For a host of reasons, ranging from geography to culture, no other country can play the same role.

Read this intriguing article here.

Taking on the Threat


Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

For years, the U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD was secondary to many other systems. Today, the U.S. Navy is “in the van” as we describe in our article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.