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Infinity Journal’s New Issue

March 26th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

 

Our arch-Clausewitzian friends at Infinity Journal have a new issue out, featuring articles by Colin Gray, Antulio Echevarria and Spyridon Plakoudas.  A sample, from Colin Gray:

Strategy and Security

There can be little disagreement with the proposition that security is a basic human need and therefore has to be of fundamental importance to the high business of state. But it can be almost embarrassing to ask seriously what it is. If a simple and straightforward answer to the question about its nature is hard to obtain, one is right to ask sceptical questions in follow-up mode that may reveal a troublesome void in official thinking. In addition to desiring to know just what security is, and therefore also (logically) is not, we would like to know how we buy it; indeed, can we buy it? From whom or what do we buy security? Is there a usable common currency to meet security concerns? And, probably most important of all, how will we know that we have bought it successfully and therefore should judge ourselves to be sufficiently secure?

As scholars we cannot evade the elementary question, ‘how do we study security in order better to understand it’? To be blunt, what do we study with respect to security? You will discover readily enough that this basic question is not answered in the current literature and debate and you may well begin to suspect it is not answerable. This is the quite unremarkable reason why, over many years, I have refused the title of professor of Security Studies, and have resisted as best I could occasional institutional efforts to associate me with a Centre or Institute for Security Studies. The problem is not that the concept of security lacks meaning, but rather that it carries too much meaning that is thoroughly undisciplined. Alas, there is excellent reason for this unhappy condition. What we have in the concept of security is a boundary-free, not merely-‘lite’, idea. And this potent idea is overflowing with meaning to everyone, both individually and collectively. If I want to study security, what does that imply? What either does or might promote insecurity? I suggest that security is a feeling measurable by human and institutional agents on little reliable empirical basis. And even if we can agree on potentially relevant facts, it is very likely that we would disagree on what the verifiable facts mean. This is a reality disturbing to many people; frank recognition that security/insecurity is a feeling and therefore is liable to influence by personality and mood swing chemistry and consideration of circumstances, but scarcely at all reliably by empirical data.

The beginning of wisdom on security is understanding that the concept is so generously inclusive as to be boundary-free. This is both fortunate and unfortunate. It is good news because it is prudent to be inclusive regarding what we should worry about. But it is bad news because the pervasive subjectivity that reigns over and within security debate means in practice that the sponginess of the concept, together with its positive public acceptance, renders it utterly open to abuse by politicians and other would-be opinion influencers. Alas, because security is about everything that does or might worry us, as a consequence it is really about nothing usable with prudence.[i]

Particular geopolitical or other metrics of potential alarm are not hard to invent for any state, but the problem is that they will lack integrity, even when they are developed honestly. Again, what can tell you how secure you really are? Indeed, is security an either/or condition, or is it a matter of more or less? Obviously, indeed unarguably, security is an important, perhaps the most important, concept in statecraft, but it is unmanageable. Can I measure national security and show it in a graph. I may be compelled to admit that at one time, when I was much younger, and therefore more credulous, I used to attempt to do this metric miracle with regard to the strategic nuclear forces of the United States. But, some greater wisdom did come with age. [….]

Read the rest here

Jessica Stern and dancing lessons

March 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a trifle, in which life follows art as one of my favorite Vonnegut / Bokonon quotes comes to life ]
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SPEC DQ Stern Vonnegut

**

Sources:

  • UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg interviews Jessica Stern:

    Jessica Stern was a mid level National Security Council staffer when Hollywood literally came calling. Nicole Kidman portrayed a fictionalized version of her work as a nuclear security analyst in the Clinton White House in the film “The Peacemaker” (also starring George Clooney). Stern’s academic and professional life have taken some interesting turns. In the 2000s she published groundbreaking research on what motivates individuals to commit violent acts of terror, and she did so by speaking to actual terrorists. Stern recently published a new book called ISIS: State of Terror, co-authored by J.M. Berger that takes a deep dive into the historic origins of the so-called Islamic State.

    This is a great episode with fun and fascinating stories from a longtime national security wonk. Enjoy.

  • The prophet Bokonon, in Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
  • Jessica Stern, in the quote above, is describing the twists and turns which brought her via the NSC to the set of The Peacemaker. Quite a story, I recommend the interview — and the dance goes on.

    TwitterFightClub 2015, the best yet

    March 24th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — March Madness for those whose sport is what William Blake called “Mental Fight” ]
    .

    If you’re unsure what TwitterFightClub is, it’s “an annual March Madness style tournament for national security and foreign policy tweeters”, overseen by the remarkable Caitlin Fitz Gerald, creator of Clausewitz for Kids. Hayes Brown has a fuller explanation.

    **

    Okay, let’s get real. As Kelsey Atherton noted:

    That caught my attention, so I went to hannah draper‘s twitter feed and got a rapid education on religious freedom in Turkey, in staccato 140-character bursts:

    When it comes to the Orthodox communities of Turkey (as there are a few), religious freedom is the right to train and their own clergy. It’s the right to provide religious education as they see fit for their communities, and it’s the right to equal protections before the law. For the Greek Orthodox community, one of the biggest concerns is Halki Seminary, a theological school in Ist that’s been closed for decades. For the Syriac Orthodox community, it’s finding enough space in Istanbul for their community of tens of thousands to worship. For the Armenian Apostolic community, it’s property restitution to address expropriated properties in decades past. For the Jewish community in Turkey, it’s protecting the safety and history of their centuries-long presence in Anatolia and Istanbul.

    Deep breath.

    For the Baha’i community, it’s legal recognition of their faith and protection of their holy sites, especially in Edirne. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s the right to conscientious objection and to perform civil instead of compulsory military service. For Alevis, it’s the right for their houses of worship, cem evleri, to be recognized as such. For Protestants, it’s the right to open and operate houses of worship. And lest you think we only care about minorities, religious freedom for Sunnis in Turkey – by far the largest religious group – matters too. For Sunnis, it’s the right to wear the headscarf or not, as each individual sees fit. It’s the right to worship as they deem appropriate. For atheists, it’s the right NOT to worship and not to face discrimination for that choice.

    You can read more about what works and what needs more work in Turkey in the International Religious Freedom report. I wrote two or three of those during my time in Turkey. Writing annual reports like this are the basics of a political officer’s work.

    If that wasn’t enough, these two tweets alone would have won my vote:

    Ms Draper went on to tweet extensively about Ambassador Chris Stevens and Benghazi — keen insight with the personal touch:

    Ambassador Stevens was a legend. Everyone knew him and his big, goofy smile. Everyone called him Chris, or “Krees,” depending on the accent. And damn, was it fun working for him. We may not have had regular cell service or food that passed the bar of tolerable, but he made it fun. The man was a brilliant diplomat – not formal or stodgy, not forceful, but warm, engaging, funny, and knowledgeable. Everyone felt they could be honest with him and that he would be honest in return.

    We went to meetings with anyone and everyone. Mahmoud Jibril. Abdulhakim Belhaj. Mohammad Sawan. Ali Tarhouni. Ali Zeidan. Some random religiously conservative guy who sat up until 3 AM with us one night, drinking coffee and talking about E. German philosophy. …in Arabic. With me and the Ambassador translating for our visitors from Washington. Believe me, I was not prepared to discuss Eastern Bloc philosophy in Arabic with a former LIFG member. But hey, that’s how Chris rolled.

    — which drew this appreciative comment:

    **

    But hey, TwitterFightClub is also fun — because not only does it educate you and suggest a bunch of twitter-feeds you should probably follow year-round, it also brings a concentrated and brilliant dose of those irrelevant images which become a glut when unleashed 24/7/365 across all channels of communication.

    I get mine for the year here, and allow myself to forego “fun pix” the rest of the time:

    and:

    And those were just from one of Rebecca Johnson‘s fans…

    **

    Back to serious. Today’s find and follow for me is Ivan Plis, who also tweets up a storm:

    We had a good number of #TFC15 tweets about religion & policy yesterday and today. Allow me to expand on that… USG has several offices on religion. State has a religious freedom office with Ambassador-at-Large, plus “religion & global affairs.” And outside State, there’s a commission — @USCIRF — with its own global religious freedom mandate, management style and tone.

    @draperha explained yesterday why religious freedom is a US interest abroad. The fun part’s seeing the different elements interact. I’ve met a lot of foreign affairs folks in DC, and outside the religion silos they tend to be less religious than the general public. When I worked these issues on the Hill, we saw secular Jews, New Religious Movements, every Muslim & Christian flavor, and much more.

    I learned 2 key points: 1) religious freedom benefits everyone, and 2) those who ignore religion in their field do so at their peril. As someone whose church is politically nervy (Orthodoxy in Russia) I’ve realized seeking state privilege hurts long-run legitimacy. In other words, big groups (e.g. Orthodox) look bad when they act threatened by smaller ones (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc).

    One last thing: the “persecution-industrial complex” is real, and insidious. It feeds cynicism and spoils good will. People can have disagreements about US policy on religious minorities abroad, but don’t manipulate vulnerable groups to your benefit. And there are ways to talk about religion, and religious actors, without violating the 1st Amendment or being played for a fool. Back to my earlier point: NatSec and foreign policy analysts must then do more to hear religious voices. Most agree that religion plays an undervalued role in security and geopolitics. Weighing it has to be part of the solution too.

    Amen, brother.

    Or in secular, #TFC terms: that gets my vote.

    **

    You can follow along at #TFC2015 on Twitter, and vote on today’s round — quick — here.

    On air conditioning, Bin Laden Sr, Lee Kuan Yew

    March 23rd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — who thinks of meditation as an air conditioning technique ]
    .

    No proof of anyrthing — just a little food for thought from this morning’s flow:

    SPEC DQ air conditioning

    Sources:

  • Matt Damon, in Syriana, 2005
  • Lee Kuan Yew, 1923-2015, may he rest in peace, interviewed in NPQ, 2010
  • For whom the bell Dengs, it Dengs for Lee

    March 23rd, 2015

    [rang by Lynn C. Rees]

    Elite mouthpiece Charlie Rose once asked former Singapore Prime Minister Lee “Harry” Kuan Yew which of the many, many, many, many world leaders he’d met in his long, long, long, long career he most admired. Lee chose Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Chinese Communist Party Deng Syauping. Lee especially admired Deng for his world-historic “adaptability”.

    Flashback: 1978. Deng makes Deng’s first state visit to Singapore. Deng is flummoxed by Singapore’s prosperity (Deng’s briefings were inadequate). Deng asks Lee how Lee made Singapore prosperous. Lee tells Deng how Singapore climbed the food chain: First, attract foreign direct investment with cheap labor. Second, become subcontractors. Second, became contractors. Third, become competitors. Fourth, learn as you go. Veteran Marxist Deng muses aloud: Singapore’s created an egalitarian society using capitalism. Lee happily seconds Deng’s thought. Deng flies back to China. Deng applies the Lee model to China. Everyone lives happily ever after.

    Appian records:

    10. It is said that at one of their meetings in the gymnasium Scipio and Hannibal had a conversation on the subject of generalship, in the presence of a number of bystanders, and that Scipio asked Hannibal whom he considered the greatest general, to which the latter replied, “Alexander of Macedonia.”
    To this Scipio assented since he also yielded the first place to Alexander. Then he asked Hannibal whom he placed next, and he replied, “Pyrrhus of Epirus,” because he considered boldness the first qualification of a general; “for it would not be possible,” he said, “to find two kings more enterprising than these.”

    Scipio was rather nettled by this, but nevertheless he asked Hannibal to whom he would give the third place, expecting that at least the third would be assigned to him; but Hannibal replied, “To myself; for when I was a young man I conquered Spain and crossed the Alps with an army, the first after Hercules. I invaded Italy and struck terror into all of you, laid waste 400 of your towns, and often put your city in extreme peril, all this time receiving neither money nor reinforcements from Carthage.”

    As Scipio saw that he was likely to prolong his self-laudation he said, laughing, “Where would you place yourself, Hannibal, if you had not been defeated by me?” Hannibal, now perceiving his jealousy, replied, “In that case I should have put myself before Alexander.” Thus Hannibal continued his self-laudation, but flattered Scipio in a delicate manner by suggesting that he had conquered one who was the superior of Alexander.

    Like the great Carthaginian (as framed in Appian’s fable) but with greater circumspection, Lee gives Lee a hearty backslap for the ages here by promoting Deng to virtual Leeness, making Deng almost a Lee Kuan Yew, Jr. Deng is great for”adaptibility”. Translation: Deng is great for “adaptibility” because he adapted by following Lee, who’s also great for “adaptibility”. Deng is great because Lee is great. While Deng did great things, Lee claims, also circumspectly, a greater priority: Lee’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

    There is merit here. If Lee’s memory was as accurate as it was convenient, Lee was one of the most significant figures of the twentieth century. Deng Syauping stepped out of the way of one fifth of humanity’s rise from absolute poverty to genteel poverty. For that, Deng is one of the most adequate leaders of the twentieth century. If Lee helped Deng rise to adequacy, he deserves his adequate share of significance.

    Lee is a frequent candidate for great authoritarian of the late twentieth century, the sort of man that, if they could be produced on demand, would euthanize democracy. That great authoritarians are not produced on demand continues to be a problem. Lee proved resiliently traditional in his attempts to solve the problem: Placeholder minion. Check. Dynastic succession. Check.

    Whether history gives Lee as hearty a backslap as Lee (through Deng) gave Lee will depend upon whether Lee’s great authoritarianism continues to be great authoritarianism without its great authoritarian. Cárdenas’perfect dictatorshipendured 54 years. Stalin’s dead cat bounce reached 1991. Mau’s dead cat bounce carried a Deng, a Jyang, a Hu, and now a Syi. And those cabals had some component of rotation of elites built in. Lee’s die is cast with old school hereditary monarchy. His dynastic successor has an heir and two spares (three spares if Singapore doesn’t follow Salic Law). Time will tell if Lee Kuan Yew wins the genetic lottery now that he’s no longer around to play retired emperor.


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