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Andrew Marshall, RIP 1921-2019

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Image result for andrew marshall office of net assessment

Andrew Marshall a.k.a. ” Yoda”

Famed founder of the Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall passed away today at the age of 97, having retired only in 2015 from the Pentagon job he held continuously since his appointment by President Richard Nixon in 1973. Marshall, affectionately known as “Yoda”,  was nearly the last of a generation of deeply influential of Cold War strategists who shaped American national security, a group including Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, Fritz G.A. Kraemer, James Schlesinger and Henry Kissinger.

The subject of a recent biography and the occasional academic study, the highly secretive Marshall, over the course of decades sponsored the careers of hundreds of civilian policy makers, academics and military officers, many of whom went on to hold responsible government posts, including some of the highest appointive and elected positions in the United States, the vast bulk of Marshall’s work at the Office of Net Assessment remains classified. Nevertheless, both the Soviet KGB and later China’s military leadership estimated Marshall’s contributions to American defense thinking and posture to be of paramount importance.

RAND, the think tank where Marshall had worked on questions of American nuclear strategy prior to joining the Nixon administration, released this obituary:

Andrew Marshall, RAND Researcher Who Founded Department of Defense’s ‘Internal Think-Tank,’ Dies at 97

The RAND Corporation notes with profound regret the passing of Andrew W. Marshall, 97, a RAND researcher who went on to serve for more than four decades as director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. He held the position from 1973 to 2015, retiring at age 93.

Andrew Marshall/RAND Corporation photo
After studying economics at the University of Chicago, Marshall joined RAND in 1949 when the nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, California, was barely a year old. During his 23-year affiliation with RAND, he researched Soviet military programs, nuclear targeting, organizational behavior theory and strategic-planning, among other concepts.
“Andrew Marshall was one of the nation’s most respected and far-sighted defense experts,” said Michael D. Rich, president and CEO of RAND. “He was a gifted futurist and strategist who had mentored generations of researchers, both at RAND and beyond. His influence will be felt for years to come.”
Marshall was the founding director of the Office of Net Assessment, which is referred to as the Department of Defense’s “internal think-tank.” It provides the secretary of defense with assessments of the military balance in major geographic theaters, with an emphasis on long-term trends, asymmetries, and opportunities to improve the future U.S. position in the continuing military-economic-political competition.
In 2007, the first Andrew Marshall Scholarship was awarded by the Pardee RAND Graduate School, which offers a doctorate in policy analysis and is part of RAND. The scholarship is funded by a $150,000 endowment donated by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had known Marshall for decades.
Marshall said he was honored by Rumsfeld’s generous gesture and “proud to be associated with a RAND scholarship that will help some of the best and brightest young minds prepare for a career in public service.”

Here is a tribute to Marshall by one of his students, Sinologist Andrew S. Erickson:

Honoring the Many Contributions of Andrew Marshall, An Early Supporter and Sponsor of CMSI

The New York Times obituary of Marshall:

Andrew Marshall, Pentagon’s Threat Expert, Dies at 97

….Mr. Marshall kept the distribution of his assessments extremely limited. Few people have read more than one or two of them. Even secretaries of defense were not allowed to keep copies.
The best of the assessments, according to people who have read them, compared Russian and Chinese strategies against American war plans, finding the weaknesses of the Pentagon’s approach and pushing for improvements. He urged the Pentagon to develop not single war plans but ones that would cover myriad scenarios.
Mr. Marshall began focusing on China in the mid-1990s. He was the first Pentagon official to talk about an emerging great power competition with Beijing, an idea now embraced by Pentagon leadership.
“His view was that because of the sheer size and potential economic weight” of China, it “could become a competitor over time,” General Selva said. “That proved to be a good question to ask, and that has started to play out.”
In 2009, Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary at the time, asked Mr. Marshall to write a classified strategy on China with Gen. Jim Mattis, the future defense secretary.
Mr. Marshall believed that American military planners had little understanding of what Chinese regional or global ambitions were. Deterring conflict in the future would be impossible if strategists were blind to the competition, he maintained.

Indeed.

RIP, Andrew Marshall.

A complexity consideration or two

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — that one is a many among many, and how many does that make? ]
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There are many, many distinctions that can be drawn at the group level, political, financial, religious, tribal, on the right side of the line in the diagram below — but every one of them in constituted of individuals, for each of whom the considerations on the left side would, to a greater or lesser extent, apply:

**

How is this multiplied?

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Nice words, nice indeed. Bobby Kennedy‘s words.

But did the darker aspects of “the complex compound of pure and impure impulses” — in every individual, every “tiny ripple” — get lost in the niceness of the words?

I ask because for optimists it so often does, and that’s the great weakness of positive movements. And because for the cynical, so often, no glimpse of the positive aspects can make it through their fog.

**

Consider this, for each individual:

As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions . .. There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized as rubber bands, buses; trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence…. Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads.

That’s not somebody writing about Cambridge Analytica or FaceBook — that’s Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Cancer Ward, 1968, courtesy Bruce Schneier.

I may add further one and many instances and illuminations in the comments section as I find them — you are invited to do the same..

Strategy and Prometheus Unbound

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Senior Counselor to the President and Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon has been very much in the news lately, as one might expect of a former Breitbart editor turned closest adviser to the President of the United States. Much of this has been political fare by friends and foes (ok, mostly foes). We have read debates about his ideological worldview, the exact nature of Bannon’s (and Breitbart’s)  ties to the sinister Alt-Right, his rank in the White House pecking order, Bannon’s vision of realignment of American politics, populism, ethnonationalism, executive orders, the books he reads and so on. Charles has already weighed in here but I am not delving into these things today.

Less attention, though usually also accompanied by outrage, have been stories on foreign policy and national security. Nevertheless, the media gave wide play to Bannon’s comments about potential war with China, possible civilizational partnership with Putin’s Russia and most notably, Bannon being given a permanent invitation to meetings of the Principal’s Committee of the National Security Council. Most Democrats and many national security professionals believed Bannon, as a political adviser,  had no business being seated on the NSC by historical standards. While this is true, it is not a very credible argument in light of the previous administration’s decision to make a mere campaign speechwriter with no prior experience an unusually powerful Deputy National Security Adviser.

I think the criticisms based on customary protocol arguments miss the mark by a country mile.

We are all familiar with the ancient Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus. It was Prometheus, whose name meant “forethought”, who defied the gods to give Man the gift of fire – a gift that unleashed the immense creative powers of mankind. For this affront to the gods’ authority, Prometheus was severely punished. Zeus binds Prometheus to Mount Caucasus where an eagle tears out his liver each day. A torment Prometheus endures for ages until the coming of Hercules.

Strategy in American national security is much like Prometheus. Potentially useful as a creative force, sometimes employed like the gift of fire as a useful tool in a small way, most often inert, bound immobile to the rock of policy as politics savagely tears out the liver of anyone posing a strategy that might prevent a foreign policy crisis from becoming a debacle. The truth is that the gods, or in this case the established political class, much prefer a predictable and orderly debacle under their stewardship than a messy win for America with unpredictable second and third order effects.

In fairness, most of the time, stability while accruing small losses is preferable for a global hegemonic power like the United States to disruptively embarking upon large risks to its position in order to win small gains. So long as the international system is strategically designed to sustain hegemony, occasional losses can be a cost of doing business until the system or parts of it no longer appear to be working. Or until political support wanes at home.

The objection to Bannon (aside from his politics) is that a domestic political strategist should not be involved in the NSC. David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett were not. Karl Rove wasn’t.  James Carville, Lee Atwater and innumerable other key political White House staffers never sat on the NSC. However, I don’t think Steve Bannon was invited to attend NSC Principal Committee meetings in that role. Nor was he “replacing” the DNI or CIA Director or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not “replaced” but as customary bureaucratic constraints on policy formulation they were intentionally removed.

I think Steve Bannon – whose prior professional efforts at a high level were all about creating and articulating a vision – is really the Trump administration’s grand strategist.

And he’s unbound.

 

 

Thucydides Roundtable, Addendum: Steve Bannon’s interest in the Peloponnesian War

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — tying our colloquium on Thucydides to current White House events ]
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Well, I’ve been majorly out of it since the Thucydides roundtable started, and am only slowly getting back into the swing of things, but I’d like to bookend my initial roundtable comment with a closing observation, this one concerning Steve Bannon and his interest in the history of warfare. The quote that follows is from the Armchair General‘s column, Steve Bannon’s Long Love Affair With War, in today’s Daily Beast:

You can also find Bannon’s affection for military and strategic ruthlessness in what he reads. According to two of Bannon’s former friends from his West Coast days, two of his favorite books are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the hugely influential ancient Chinese text on military strategy, and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The latter tells the story of a holy war to establish dharma.

Sun Tzu, check. Bhagavad Gita, double check. Dharma! Indeed!

**

The article continues:

Julia Jones, Bannon’s longtime Hollywood writing partner and former close friend, recalls seeing him excitedly flipping through both books, and talking about them lovingly and often. She would frequently see various “books all over [Steve’s place] about battles and things,” among his clutter of possessions and interests. (Late last year, Jones — who identifies as a “Bernie Sanders liberal” — had a falling out with Bannon due to his work on the Trump presidential campaign, a role that she said absolutely “disgusted” her.)

“Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war — it’s almost poetry to him,” Jones told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome… every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”

Almost poetry.

And back to dharma:

Jones said that Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma — he felt very strongly about dharma… one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.”

I suppose I should write a follow-up about dharma and the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where Krishna instructed Arjuna in the dharma appropriate to a warrior.

And so to our roundtable topic — the Peloponnesian War:

She also noted his “obsession” with the military victories and epic battles of the Roman Empire’s Marcus Aurelius and Julius Caesar. But a personal favorite of Bannon’s was the subject of the Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta.

“He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story,” Jones said. “The password on his [desktop] computer at his office at American Vantage Media in Santa Monica was ‘Sparta,’ in fact.”

This is the mindset of Trump’s top White House aide who just earned himself a seat at the table on the National Security Council.

**

You’d like a more direct Bannon Thucydides connection? The topic is smaller than Bannon’s role at the NSC — the “war” between Breitbart and Fox — but Thucydides is front and center. In a Breitbart piece from August 2016, Fox Faces Its Uncertain Future: The Minor Murdochs Take Command, Steve Bannon writes:

Here at Breitbart News, we see ourselves as a small yet up-and-coming competitor to Fox. Yes, you read that right, Breitbart is on the rise, and Fox is in decline. Even the MSM has noticed the changing of the guard; here’s the Washington Post headline from January: “How Breitbart has become a dominant voice in conservative media,” reinforced by Politico just this morning. In this modern-day version of the epic Peloponnesian War, the incumbent Athenians might as well know that the Spartans are coming for them, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it; indeed, more Spartans are joining us every day. As Thucydides would warn them, if the leaders of Fox choose to pipe Mickey Mouse aboard and give him command on the bridge, well, that will only accelerate Fox’s fall.

See also: Titus in Space (Paris Review, November 2016)

New Article up at Divergent Options

Monday, January 16th, 2017

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

I have a piece up at Divergent Options, a new national security site that aims to provoke thought regarding foreign policy with a concise template that distills the essence of foreign policy problems and provides but does not recommend options. As DO describes it:

What We Do:  In 1,000 words or less, Divergent Options provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that describe a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Who We Communicate To:  Our intended audience is National Security Practitioners worldwide.  We keep our articles short and to the point because we know that Practitioners have a limited amount of time and are likely reading our content on a digital device during a commute, a lunch break, or in-between meetings

My post is an effort to reconnect Syrian policy, widely regarded as a disaster by most foreign policy pundits, back to a coherent grand strategy.

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy 

[…]

Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Read the rest here.


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