What if Saudi Arabia were Poor?

What if Saudi Arabia were Poor?

America benefits from Saudi Arabia’s wealth. By virtue of being rich in oil reserves, and able to spend the proceeds from that oil however its royal family sees fit, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has great sway in the Middle East. Instances of the Kingdom’s impact include the multinational coalition it currently leads against the Shi’a Houthi regime in Yemen and its continuing power within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).Saudi Arabia’s wealth is important to those interested in US foreign policy because America is an unofficial guarantor of Saudi sovereignty, tacitly giving assurance that it will protect the Kingdom from invasion.  It is also important because the US leverages its relationship with Saudi Arabia to implement its policy in the region. From the US’ perspective, an affluent Saudi Arabia helps America get what it wants.

#Reflections on War: The Day bin Laden Died

#Reflections on War: The Day bin Laden Died

At this point it has become a cliché. Everyone knows where he or she was when JFK was shot. The same goes for 9/11. Such moments forge historic waypoints for our lives and occasion us to ask broad questions: What does it mean to be an American? What is the state of U.S. power in the world? Or, more simply, are we truly safe? Recently, I’ve been thinking back to another milestone – May 2, 2011 - the raid in Abbottabad, and killing of Osama bin Laden. It has now been six years. For most Americans, May 2 lacks the emotional power of a December 7 or September 11. This may reflect a human tendency to internalize and remember tragedy over triumph. Nevertheless, I submit that we overlooked something in our collective response to the bin Laden killing. Furthermore, the national conversation failed to address some stark questions surrounding not only Osama’s death, but also its implications for the more general application of military force. As we trudge along with what will be the longest shooting war in our nation’s history – 15 years, 5 months – my thoughts drift back to that Monday morning.

How to Build a Virtual Clausewitz

How to Build a Virtual Clausewitz

In many ways, military forces using AI on the battlefield is not new at all.  At a simplistic level, the landmine is perhaps a good starting example.  The first known record of landmines was in the 13th Century in China and they emerged in Europe somewhere between 1500 and 1600.  Most landmines are not intelligent and all and apply a binary logic of “kill” or “don’t kill.”  What landmines lack, and one of the primary reasons they are banned by most countries, is the ability to use just and discriminate force.  As far as computers have come since the British used “The Bombe” to break the Enigma code, the human mind still has an advantage in determining the just and discriminate use of force and thinking divergently about the second and third order effects resulting from the use of force.  But, according to some, that advantage may not last for long.

#Reviewing Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service

#Reviewing Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service

The new presidential administration includes more veterans in cabinet-level positions than any administration in recent memory, a point that has sparked debate among public policy experts. On one hand, Daniel Benjamin, a professor at Dartmouth College and former official at the State Department, says former military officers in civilian positions is “a matter of deep concern,” because “Generals as a rule believe in hierarchies and taking orders…Generals have one set of skills, and diplomacy is not in the top drawer of that tool kit.”[i] Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) disagrees and contends, “The United States military…produces real leaders, people who know how to solve problems and take a very structured approach in doing so.”[ii] In Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service, Charles Szypszak explores the principles and methods of military leadership and argues they are effective for public service.[iii] Szypszak’s book will be especially valuable to service members who are interested in post-military public service, from the policy-making level to service in city and county governments.

The Twilight Between Knowing and Not Knowing

The Twilight Between Knowing and Not Knowing

In late 2016 the United Nations Special Adviser for the prevention of genocide warned the international community that potential existed for ethnically fueled violence being perpetrated in South Sudan ‘to spiral into genocide’. In parallel, the #Neveragain social media campaign sought to link a perceived lack of international empathy for the plight of refugees, and increasingly restrictive border controls, with post-Second World War international commitments to never again allow genocide to occur. Indeed, even here at The Strategy Bridge there has been increased interest in seeking to understand the political calculus of mass murder and how it might explain the actions of the Islamic State. Yet for all this discussion, it appears that interested observers are actually no closer to understanding how to recognise if and why genocide is, or is not, occurring. This confusion stems from the fact that the actual recognition of genocide is inherently difficult. It is this difficulty that will be examined here, through the prism of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Whistling Past the Cyber Graveyard

Whistling Past the Cyber Graveyard

It seems not a day passes that a new cyber security incident is not reported.  Whether it is the breach of email accounts at Yahoo, the networks at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or John Podesta’s digital recipe box, the revelations draw the attention of a wide variety of news organizations, and the stories each seem to approach a level of critical mass until a new story  emerges.  These incidents are all different in scope, and their targets are in the crosshairs of both criminals and hostile intelligence organizations - for motives that vary from political, to monetary, to just plain mischief.  No matter the intent of the cyber criminal, the government’s response ought to prevent escalation along the cybercrime continuum.  What Americans have seen to this point is network access and data exfiltration – or more simply said: breaking, entering, and theft.

West Africa’s Decisive Intervention: A Lesson in Strategy

West Africa’s Decisive Intervention: A Lesson in Strategy

The waning weeks of 2016 and the first month of 2017 witnessed one of the most strategically effective uses of military force in the 21st century. When long-time President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, refused to step down after being voted out of office, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sponsored a Senegalese-led intervention that forced Jammeh to leave the country.  This intervention upheld the integrity of the Gambian democratic process and allowed the victor, Adama Barrow, to assume leadership of the small West African country. The ECOWAS intervention force assembled the means to impose its will on their opponent, formulated and executed a strategy calibrated to achieve the political effects desired, and achieved all of its policy goals--all without firing a single shot.

Not Dead Yet

Not Dead Yet

Numerous voices have claimed that the day of conventional war is over. For years, these voices have predicted that “war amongst the people,” or “hybrid war,” or “gray zone operations,” or “distributed security missions,” are the new face of war. But conventional war—however it may be changing—may not be as dead as some believe. Danger is already emerging from the confluence of several unfolding trends. 

#Reviewing Doomed to Succeed: Rethinking Middle East Assumptions

#Reviewing Doomed to Succeed: Rethinking Middle East Assumptions

Assumptions form the bedrock of any strategy. The choice of ways and means to achieve a particular outcome or objective is based on the assumption that those choices will lead to an expected result. Assumption is just one of many reasons flexibility is the key to good strategy - assumptions must be continuously analyzed for their efficacy. One major assumption at the root of the United States’ strategy in the Middle East has stood the test of time: the US needs Arab oil, or the continued flow of oil out of the Middle East, therefore it must remain on good terms with its oil-exporting Arab allies. It would follow that Arab disdain for Israel suggests the US should put distance between itself and Israel in favor of better relations with its Arab allies. Dennis Ross, in Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, is rethinking this assumption and Middle East analysts, policy makers, and strategists should listen.

The Price of Payload: Light Attack for Pennies on the Pound

The Price of Payload: Light Attack for Pennies on the Pound

Whether trading speed for altitude or cost for capability, military aviation requires compromise. The current trend in United States airpower has been to acquire fewer aircraft with an emphasis on the ability to complete a wide variety of missions. Fifth generation aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 further blur the lines of traditionally distinct roles such as air superiority and strike capability. The ability to succeed in this wide variety of missions comes at a very real price.This trade off between multiple missions and operating cost has come sharply into focus as coalition forces have launched repeated airstrikes against the Islamic State. This increased operational pace comes at a time that the number of planes available to the USAF is at an all-time low. This is not just an issue of budget sequestration and maintenance, but of acquisition. The USAF acquired more aircraft in the early 1950s than it did from 1956 to 2011.[i] The repeated delays in acquisition of the F-35 has left the United States in a tenuous position with regard to airpower readiness – a shrinking number of aging planes are required to conduct more strikes in a permissive environment at a high operating cost.

Information Warfare isn’t Russian – It’s American as Apple Pie

Information Warfare isn’t Russian – It’s American as Apple Pie

Looking to Putin’s intelligence apparatus is not to witness the genesis of political information warfare. In fact, the United States was birthed in a stew of information, misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda projected by competing entities both internally and externally. Thus, instead of looking at the apparent success of Russian intelligence in the recent election as the perfected form of information warfare, it is worth considering colonial and revolutionary America to appreciate the historical precedent and perspective.

The Weaker Foe

The Weaker Foe

For 70 years now the United States has fielded the most powerful military forces in the world. This has led to the US military staying physically, mentally, and culturally in their comfort zone, unwilling and largely unable to think the unthinkable; in a few decades the US Army may be in the position of those armies and non-state enemies we have fought since World War II, struggling to cope with deficits in forces, materiel, technologies, and personnel. In DOD terms we may very well be the “near-peer competitor;” smaller, technologically weaker, with older and less capable systems than those against whom we are called to go to war. In strategic terms, such a future scenario is plausible, possible, and, increasingly probable.

#Reviewing The Rise of the Machines

#Reviewing The Rise of the Machines

Right away The Rise of the Machines must be declared a fantastic work, conveying an accessible history of a distant in time (yet still strikingly present) and technical scientific story. To succeed in making wave after wave of scientific innovations not only understandable, but to also place them in their intellectual, cultural, political, and strategic contexts in such a compelling manner is testament to why Rid’s book must hold high position in any technologically-focused reading list.

Strategy Mismatch in Ukraine

Strategy Mismatch in Ukraine

The U.S. military strategy for Ukraine is misaligned with the 2015 National Security Strategy. Among other things, the NSS states that the U.S. will deter future Russian aggression and leverage U.S. leadership to “mobilize collective action to address global risks.” The current military strategy employed in Ukraine does not support the NSS because it will not deter Russia from additional aggressive action and fails to prompt the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to act on matters vital to their collective security.

The Gambler: An Economic Outlook for the American Presidency

The Gambler: An Economic Outlook for the American Presidency

The primary way to frame the strategic approach and environment of the new administration as it relates to national security should be through an economic lens. In doing so, one cannot on the one hand understate an atypical governance style, yet on the other ignore the inertia of a large nation and an intertwined global economic system.

Beyond the Band of Brothers: Henry V, Moral Agency, and Obedience

Beyond the Band of Brothers: Henry V, Moral Agency, and Obedience

What level of moral agency, judgment, and responsibility do individual members of the military bear in war? In 2006 Lt Ehren Wahtada tried to selectively conscientiously object to deploying to Iraq, while in 2013 service members appeared on social media to proclaim they would not fight in a war in Syria[1] . These are only two examples that illustrate the way in which this debate is live and permeates military culture. On the academic side, Michael Walzer and Jeff McMahan (and their proxies) have been engaged in this debate for quite some time, pitting individualist accounts against the conventional view that soldiers are instruments of the State. I want to examine this debate and put forward an alternative view to those typically espoused, expanding and advancing the ethical discussion in the process.

Blitzkrieg Redux: The Coming Warbot Revolution

Blitzkrieg Redux: The Coming Warbot Revolution

German doctrine successfully integrated current technologies in aircraft, radios, and tanks into a coherent and integrated way of fighting and then applied it to great effect. The result was amplified because the Germans fought an enemy that in many cases failed to account for the possibilities enabled by the new combination of these technologies. We are now on the cusp of a similar revolution in warfare.

#Reviewing Black: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

#Reviewing Black: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

There have been a great many books published on the subjects of insurgency and counterinsurgency since the inception of the Global War on Terror (or “current, ongoing overseas contingency operations”, if you prefer); a number of these have focused on the U.S. Army’s mistakes in Vietnam or on the efforts on the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremy Black’s recent contribution, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A Global History, offers more insight; it is a comprehensive history of insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare that is not limited in scope to the efforts of Western powers.