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Recommended Strategy Reading

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

A short list of recent strategy or at least strategy-related posts and articles.

Steven Metz – The Paris Attacks and the Logic of Insurgency 

Even before the smoke cleared from last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, people were struggling to make sense of them. Because the initial victims were associated with Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine known to deride Islam, attention fell on questions of free speech and whether it should be limited when religion is involved. But even if the belief that Islam is being insulted influenced the killers at a personal level, the al-Qaida strategists who claim to have directed the Charlie Hebdo attack had other goals. For them, the notion of blasphemy is useful propaganda, but their objectives are much bigger than punishing cartoonists.

In 2004, Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who went on to be a key adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and an architect of U.S. thinking about counterinsurgency, proposed an innovative perspective on what had, by that point, become known as the Global War on Terror. Islamist terrorism was, Kilcullen argued, “best understood as a global insurgency, initiated by a diffuse grouping of Islamist movements that seek to re-make Islam’s role in the world order.” This insight still applies today. To understand jihadist organizations like al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State (IS) first requires understanding the core logic of insurgency. …

John Hagel – The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 1 and The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 2 

Most strategies (strategies of terrain) tend to look from the present out to the future. Strategies of trajectory start with a view of the future and work back to the implications for action in the present.  

Here’s the paradox: strategies of trajectory become more and more essential in times of rapid change and uncertainty, while at the same time becoming more and more difficult.  But that’s exactly what makes strategies of trajectory so valuable. Most of us tend to fall back into our comfort zone and just focus on the present, leaving us vulnerable to the changes just ahead.  Only a few will venture beyond their comfort zone. Those few who craft strategies to focus action today based on an anticipated future that’s quite different from today will be in the best position to reap the rewards of a rapidly changing environment. They will stand out from the rest of us who are scrambling to respond to the latest event and, in the process, spreading our limited time and resources more and more thinly.

So, what’s required to craft these strategies of trajectory? Five elements can help to make these strategies successful:

  • Challenging

  • Shaping

  • Motivating

  • Measuring

  • Learning 

Global Guerrillas – Saudi Arabia Plunges into an Abyss 

Here why this attack is signficant.  

  • It tells us that ISIS is starting to focus on Saudi Arabia –> with good reason.  The reason is that there’s simply no other way to unite the various groups under the ISIS banner.  ISIS, like all open source movements, needs to keep moving in order to stay alive (like a shark).  Right now, ISIS has stalled.  A jihad to retake the holy sites from the corrupt regime in Riyadh can serve as a simple plausible promise that can reignite the open source war ISIS started, on a global scale.

  • The Saudis are vulnerable.  The attackers knew exactly when the general was going to be at the outpost.  This tells us that the Saudi military is rife with ISIS sympathisers and/or active members.  If so, the Saudi military may melt away when facing jihadis (or switch sides) in the same way 30,000 Iraqi troops did early last year a couple of hundred miles to the north.  

Proceedings ( VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, RADM Peter Fanta)- Distributed Lethality 

….A new emphasis on sea control derives from the simple truth that navies cannot persistently project power from water space they do not control. Nor can navies guarantee the free movement of goods in the face of a power-seeking adversary whose objective is to limit the freedom of the maritime commons within their sphere of influence. Sea control is the necessary precondition for virtually everything else the Navy does, and its provision can no longer be assumed. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that we must be prepared to counter—and ultimately defeat.

Sea control does not mean command of all the seas, all the time. Rather, it is the capability and capacity to impose localized sea control when and where it is required to enable other objectives to be met, holding it as long as is necessary to accomplish those objectives. We must begin to treat expanses of ocean the way we viewed islands during World War II—as areas to be seized for conducting follow-on power-projection operations. Additionally, we should recognize that the enemy gets a vote, and that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture are unlikely to be available when the shooting starts. The day-to-day persistence of the surface force means that it must be prepared to immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces.

The enablers for this shift to the offensive are an array of existing platforms and capabilities, planned capabilities in various stages of acquisition, and future capabilities resident in today’s promising research-and-development programs. Employing the concept of “distributed lethality,” the surface force—through innovation, emerging command-and-control concepts, and an increased ability to operate within an acceptable margin of risk—will flexibly adapt to future maritime operations, exploiting seized areas of localized sea control to generate larger combat effects.

Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations known as “hunter-killer SAGs.” It is the motive force behind offensive sea control. Both parts of the definition are critical; raising the lethality of the force but operating it the same way sub-optimizes the investment. Operating hunter-killer SAGs without a resulting increase in offensive power creates unacceptable risk.

That’s it.

Recommended Reading Listening and Viewing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Top Billing! SWJ  Small Wars Journal El Centro Senior Fellow Dr. Robert Bunker Wins The Elihu Root Prize

The Elihu Root Prize is an annual award by the US Army War College for the best article (or articles) published in Parameters on the topic of Strategic Landpower. The Quarterly’s Editorial Board selects nominees from a given volume year (Spring-Winter) and evaluates them based on the degree to which they enhance the understanding of any aspect of Strategic Landpower, whether within a historical or contemporary context. Any article published on any theme related to Strategic Landpower is automatically considered, but winners will be selected based on analytical depth and rigor. The prize(s) include an award certificate and honorarium, and are presented by the Commandant of the US Army War College at an annual ceremony.

Friend of ZP blog, Robert Bunker’s prize-winning article “Defeating Violent Nonstate Actors.
Parameters 43, no. 4 (Winter 2013-14): 57-65

Hearty congratulations to Dr. Bunker!

Infinity JournalJim Storr  Warfare and Strategy 

….The definition of warfare seems quite simple. In essence, it is ‘how it is done’. So, for example, much military history is the history of warfare; how wars have been fought. That could refer to war at: the national level; the theatre or campaign level; or the battlefield, tactical level. Much of the history of warfare looks very much at the mechanics of the tactical level: for example, studying trench warfare in the First World War; or the tactics of the Battle of Britain.

A separate aspect of warfare refers to how armed forces can, do or should operate. That is the non-historical part. In war, history is often our only guide to the future; so the history of warfare really should inform future practice. It could be said that the only real value of the study of the history of warfare is how it informs practice (other than as an interest in itself). Many people, mostly men, do find it intensely interesting. I do. However, to reiterate, the only real value of the study of the history of warfare is in how it informs practice. (I restrict myself largely to land warfare simply because that is what I know most about).

The definition of strategy seems more problematic. Let us take the three options above. They are intended to be broad and cover a range of areas. So, if you don’t agree that strategy is one of the above, please ask yourself whether it is close to one of them.

When defining strategy as (1) ‘the art of generals’, we open up a can of worms. Firstly, ‘art’ probably should mean ‘craft’. It probably doesn’t mean ‘art’ as opposed to ‘science’ so as to differentiate it from the technical aspects. It probably means ‘craft’ as in ‘what generals do’.

If one defines strategy as ‘the artistic or creative bit’ you run into problems. Do you, for example, imply that the creative aspects of a Brigadier General’s plan in, say, the Western Front in the First World War is strategy? Probably not. It’s probably better to consider ‘what generals do’ as an aspect of warfare, recognising that some aspects of warfare are intensely human and therefore involve creative and inspirational elements

James Joyner – Hagel’s Fate was Sealed Long Ago 

….In both instances, the qualities that got them chosen made them poor fits. In an administration that sees foreign policy as an extension of domestic policy, simply asking “What’s in the US national security interest?” isn’t enough. In case after case, the administration chose half measures that would appease the Democratic base while minimizing criticism from Republicans on the “weakness” front.  So, they announced a military surge in Afghanistan that was far less than requested by the commanding general while simultaneously announcing a premature deadline for withdrawal. They authorized military action against the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the Assad regime in Syria, and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but without any obvious consideration of the strategic consequences.

It didn’t help that Jones and Hagel were outside the inner circle of foreign policy advisors that Obama had brought with him from the campaign and the Senate. Their willingness to work across the aisle may have won them plaudits from the broader foreign policy community but it meant that they would never be trusted team players. They were constantly being sniped at by anonymous staffers in the press and were ready scapegoats for failed or unpopular policies. Meanwhile, the president has shown steadfast loyalty and infinite patience with Susan Rice and others.

Hugh White -China is trying to intimidate America 

….We explored some aspects of this issue on The Interpreter back in May, specifically in relation to China’s conduct in its maritime disputes with Japan and its Southeast Asian neighbours. I argued then that China uses these disputes specifically to weaken US regional leadership and strengthen its own by showing that America cannot or will not any longer support its friends and allies in Asia militarily as it used to do.

….But I think there may be a more specific answer: the main target of China’s sticks in the East and South China Seas is not its neighbours themselves, but Washington. It wants to convince America to step back from leadership in Asia by convincing Washington that it will have to confront China militarily to preserve its regional primacy, and that the costs and risk of doing so would be immense. It is trying to intimidate America, in other words. There is a good chance that it is working.

Friend of ZP blog and terrorism expert J.M. Berger has a new book coming out!

War on the Rocks BACK TO NIGHT RAIDS: COUNTERINSURGENCY OR COUNTERBUREAUCRACY?

Cicero Magazine National Security Policymakers—No Experience Necessary? and What the War Classics Teach Us about Fighting Terrorists

Steven Metz - Understanding the Enemy: Inside the Mind of the Islamic State

USNI Blog -To Defeat ISIS, Hawkeyes Required

Parameters –     Understanding the Strengths and Vulnerabilites of ISIS by W. Andrew Terrill

Studies in Intelligence -Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program to Bring Nazi Scientists to America 

Michigan War Studies Review -One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare

Chicago Boyz -On Russia and Ukraine

O’Reilly Radar -Privacy is a concept, not a regime 

Presentation Zen -10 tips for improving your presentations & speeches

FOXnews - Researchers Unearth New Clues About Ancient Computer

Richochet – When Did the Left Turn into Rick Santorum? 

The AtlanticWhat the Media Gets Wrong About Israel 

The New RepublicFeminists need to Stop Spreading False Alarms about Sexism 

Mother JonesThis is the Left’s Confidential $ 100 Million Plan to win back the States

RECOMMENDED LISTENING:

The Break it Down Show Podcast – All about the Story with Jim DeFelice 

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:

The Art of Future War?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — coloring outside the lines of the challenge ]
.

http://www.desura.com/mods/dune-wars/images/new-soldier-and-infantry-units
Civ4 Dune mod, “Worm attack”, from Desura

**

I’m all in favor of the Atlantic Council‘s Art of Future War Project:

It is a moment to seek out new voices and ideas from artists who can range much farther out into the future. Artists are adept at making sense of disorder while also having the ability to introduce a compelling chaos into the status quo. In other words, they are ideally suited to exploring the future of warfare. Writers, directors and producers and other artists bring to bear observations derived from wholly different experiences in the creative world. They can ask different kinds of questions that will challenge assumptions and conventional ways of tackling some of today’s toughest national security problems. Importantly, they can also help forge connections with some of most creative people in the public and private sectors who otherwise struggle to find avenues for their best ideas.

That’s excellent, and as a poet and game designer with a keen interest in war and peace, I hope to contribute.

**

Funny, though, their first challenge looks, to my eyes, just a little bit back to the future:

The Art of Future Warfare project’s first challenge seeks journalistic written accounts akin to a front-page news story describing the outbreak of a future great-power conflict.

Why would we want to produce something “akin to a front-page news story” at a time when news stories are already more web-page than front-page, and perhaps even tweet before they’re breaking news?

In any case, the good people at Art of Future War offered some clues to those who might want to take up their challenge, and I took their encouragement seriously —

The historical creative cues included below are intended to inspire, not bound, creativity.

**

Their first clue did indeed inspire me, though not to write anything akin to a front-page news story, “between 1,500 and 2,500 words long”. The clue they gave was the Washington Times lede I’ve reproduced in the upper panel below —

SPEC DQ slomo death

while the lower panel contains the quote their clue led me to, by an associative leap of the kind artists are prone to — drawing on the vivid imagery of Peter Brook‘s play, The Mahabharata, which I had the good fortune to see in Los Angeles, a decade or three ago.

**

My own leap backwards — to an ancient and indeed originally oral epic, the Mahabharata, rather than to century-old newsprint — won’t win me the challenge, since it doesn’t answer to the rules, nor will it provide useful hints as to what war will look like a decade from now.

The sage Vyasa, who wrote the Mahabharata at the dictation of the god Ganesh, might have been able to predict the future of war — I certainly cannot.

What I can do, and hope to have done, is to suggest that the whole of human culture has a bearing on war and how we understand it.

James Aho‘s Religious Mythology and the Art of War should be on every strategist’s reading list, as should Frank Herbert‘s Dune (see gamer’s mod image at the top of this page), JAB van Buitenen‘s Bhagavadigita in the Mahabharata and Brigadier SK Malik‘s The Qur’anic Concept of War — and Akira Kurasawa‘s Kagemusha on the DVD shelf, too:

There, I have managed to contribute something useful after all.

R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

At The Bridge, Victor Allen pontificates on R2P (“Responsibility to Protect“) as if it were an established, cardinal point of international  law and not a pet theory of a few years vintage pushed by a small but politically connected clique of Western elite activists.

Strong State, Weak State:The New Sovereignty and Responsibility to Protect 

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. 

As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration.

Nor did the legal principle of non-interference in another sovereign state’s internal affairs ever mean carte blanche in diplomatic practice. States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright. They could also choose to recognize insurgents in a neighboring state as lawful belligerents or even grant them diplomatic recognition as the legitimate government.

The rest of the piece continues on in this fashion.

This kind of breezy overselling of R2P, given the exceptionally slender diplomatic reeds on which it is based, is a cornerstone of R2P advocacy, usually for ill-considered or astrategic interventions motivated by “do something!”

Recommended Reading

Monday, January 20th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, by “zen“]

Top Billing! Pete Turner  Afghan Polling and what it Really Means 

One last thing about the DoS and it’s polling. My personal experience working near the DoS folks is they lack the ability to know what the “people” think. They usually make decisions in a vacuum and tend to disregard the people they are seeking to serve.

This is a critical statement, but I’ve seen on any number of occasions large scale decisions, assessments and plans being worked without the presence of an Afghan. The “Accountability Ladder” of DoS is culturally ignorant and often times offensive, even dangerous, to the people the DoS seeks to help.

Second, Glevum Associates. How do I say this succinctly? I don’t trust anything they produce. My direct experience with Glevum has shown a serious lack of credible information being collected by this organization. One example should suffice…We requested a survey for the district I was researching. Keep in mind, I had previous experiences with Glevum in Iraq that made me reluctant to use their data. This time, when we received our data, I laughed. Glevum Associates had managed to survey more people than the reported population of the district. Again, they found more people than actually exist in this district. 

The Orthosphere –  Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read 

….Increasingly students tell me that they “can’t understand” the reading.  If they referred to Plato’s Symposium, the confession would be easy to interpret.  Abstract argument, syllogisms, and the refutation of syllogisms pose difficulties for inexperienced readers.  However, the texts that students tell me they “can’t understand” are The Odyssey or a novel by Hawthorne or Melville or a short story by Ray Bradbury.  In the case of The Odyssey, I assign Palmer’s WWI-era prose translation, so as not to traumatize the readership by confronting it with narrative in verse.  Students are telling me that they can’t understand stories, where one thing happens which leads to another and so forth.  Students give voice to a different, a radical species of incomprehension that bodes ill for the culture, the society, and the polity that they will constitute.  Their bafflement harbingers the age of post-literacy.

….The post-literate subject somewhat resembles the oral subject: His world is a purely personal world; he is ego-centered and yet his ego is a strictly limited one in correspondence with his limited intellectual horizon; he does not precisely lack objective standards, but he tends to resent and therefore to reject them as infringements on his libido.  Like the oral subject, the post-literate subject communicates through what Ong calls the verbo-motor activity of gestures, body-language, and face-making.  He is demonstrative and body-centered.  Like the oral subject, the post-literate subject thinks not for himself butwith the group. Like any tribesman or clansman, the post-literate subject is quick to be “offended.” His is not E. R. Dodd’s “guilt culture,” that product of the higher, scriptural religions; his is, rather, Dodd’s “shame culture,” the default ethos of pre-literate societies.

On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.  Post-literacy is therefore also, to borrow a phrase from Oswald Spengler, history-less.

Hat tip to James Bennett 

Oil Review Middle-East  (Christopher Gunson) – US shale revolution poses no threat to Middle East market 

Many commentators have speculated that this will create a new geopolitical balance, one that will weaken the traditional oil and gas producers of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. But the impact of the shale revolution on the global oil and gas supply chain is misunderstood.

The role of Middle East oil exporters in the global economy remains secure and the direct impact of US shale on the global market is commonly overestimated.

Crude oil comes in different density grades (heavy or light) and with different levels of sulfur. Shale oil is light with little sulfur, yet many US refineries are designed to accommodate heavy sulfur-rich crudes, typically imported from Canada, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. These refineries cannot be easily recalibrated to refine light sweet shale crude oil, which means that heavy high-sulfur crude oil will continue to be imported into the US oil refining and petrochemical supply chain.

Arabian crude oil share predominately exported eastward to Japan, China, and Korea. This supply chain will remain unchanged. Simply put, US shale oil cannot easily offset traditional Arabian oil supplies to Asia — the oil requires different refining capabilities and there is geographic logic in the existing supply chain. The immediate impact of US shale oil production is to reduce imports of light oil from producers such as Nigeria.

 War on the Rocks (Adam Elkus) – The Odd Sheikh Out: A Complex Problem 

Small Wars Journal – California-Raised Kids vs. Mexico’s Violent Cartel and Recent Santa Muerte Spiritual Conflict Trends 

 Global Guerrillas- Bossnapping 

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross – Interpreting al Qaida 

Science News – Thinking hard weighs heavy on the Brain 

The Volokh Conspiracy – Ninth Circuit to Hear Challenge to Obamacare’s “Platonic Guardians” January 28 

Venkatesh Rao -Consent of the Surveiled 

Slightly East of New – Can America Win Wars? and Boyd Conference in San Diego 

That’s it!


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