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More on R2P

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Received a tremendous amount of feedback on this topic, mostly offline, but also on twitter and on other sites. Interestingly, of the minority who are strongly disagreeing with me, they tend to have their own problems with R2P doctrine. The next installment should be up tomorrow evening. In the meantime, here are a few more posts:

Bruce Kesler at Maggie’s Farm:

R2P: Right To Protect or Right To Preen?

….Neither COIN nor R2P are strategies. Unlike COIN, however, which is a set of tactics that may be applicable in some circumstances in pursuit of strategic goals (even if those goals may be arguable), R2P doesn’t have any operational tactics. R2P is more a clarion call to action, including actions that are contrary to US laws or popular will, in pursuit of internationalist goals for global governing as defined by transnational elites.

Further, R2P is cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric that allows liberal elites to preen, displaying their caring feathers, regardless of their ignorance of the military, regardless of the cost-benefit to US national security, and regardless that it isn’t their children being sent into harm’s way.

Lastly, R2P is reactive, not prescriptive of avoiding future threats to US security as a strategy must be. Much the same coterie who want to raise R2P to dominance over US foreign and military policies are largely dismissive of severely hobbling US allies or hollowing our military.

A brutally succinct assessment. 

Kesler, a veteran of the war in Vietnam and a former foreign policy analyst, is in sync here with many veterans whose experiences have made them skeptical of basing military intervention on grandiose idealism, along with the school of foreign policy realists. On the other hand, Anti-interventionists of all political stripes and backgrounds look askance at the assurance from R2Paternalistic advocates that enshrining R2P is not risky because such military interventions will be “rare” ( myself, I’d just like to see them done competently , in line with a coherent strategy, when the potential benefits significantly outweigh the costs).

Ken White, a respected senior voice at the Small Wars Council had this to say in an extended analysis of R2P in the comments section at SWJ Blog:

…. I’ll note that those whom Zenpundit rightly says will be “fired” will not be those who do the actual Protecting nor will they be the ones who pay the costs of such abject foolishness.

The R2P theory is the tip of an iceberg wherein the State — a State? — has overarching responsibility in all things and individuals have no responsibilities for them selves, indeed, no responsibility other than to act as the State directs. That is indeed monstrous.

In her paper linked by Zenpundit, Dr. Slaughter writes: “States can only govern effectively by actively cooperating with other states and by collectively reserving the power to intervene in other states’ affairs.” The first clause is possibly correct, the second is a road to unending warfare — quite simply, humans will not long tolerate it. I suggest that if that idea is applied to individuals, then I am endowed with the ability to get together with my neighbors and we can attack another neighbor whose only crime is to behave differently than do most of us. My suspicion is that will not work on several levels.

….She also writes: “The principal advantage is that subjecting government institutions directly to international obligations could buttress clean institutions against corrupt ones and rights-respecting institutions against their more oppressive counterparts.” Admirable. My question is what standard is applied to the determination of corruption and oppressiveness? What cultural norms are to be heeded and which are to be ignored? Who makes these determinations? If it is a collective decision, what precludes either mob rule or a ‘might makes right’ led possibly quite wrong determination…

Popular support for R2P may be inverse to the degree of public scrutiny the idea receives.

New Look at SWJ Blog

Saturday, August 6th, 2011


Congrats to Dave Dilegge, Bill Nagle, Robert Haddick and Mike Few for the bold new look at Small Wars Journal, stil the best site for military and national security affairs on the web!

Users will now need to create an account or, if they are active on the Small Wars Council, there are instructions for resetting your password. Don’t get left out of the discussion.

Here is more from Dave and/or the Editors:

Welcome to SWJ 2.0

…. Site Sections

We are live now with the SWJ Blog and Journal. All posts, articles, and user comments have been migrated into our new system. You can still find feeds of recent activity on our Home page, more recent activity on the main pages of the SWJ Blog and Journal sections.

The Journal and SWJ Blog are now separate features instead of a cross-threaded stream. Search is site-wide and the home page gives a cross-site view, but the archives views within the SWJ Blog and Journal sections are section-specific. We will be evolving out publishing over the next few months to place more commentary and Op-Ed in the SWJ Blog, and the analytical and/or feature length works in the Journal.

The Library section as it exists now is a shadow of its former relevance but a placeholder for future greatness.  We brought the old Reading List and Reference Links pages into the library are outdated and full of dead links, yet they are not completely useless so we didn’t completely destroy them. More below on future changes there.

Almost There Items

All the existing SWJ content has been migrated, but it will take us some time to get some of it out of its legacy format and into the new system.

  • The new system has much better support for guest author bylines and author archives. Over time, we’ll move the author’s byline, bio, etc. in the old content out of the article out of the body content and into the new system. We will reach out to past authors soon to provide info on how to submit any updates you want to provide.
  • The new system will support us publishing Journal Articles fully in-the-system rather than as PDF links. We hope to be doing that within a few weeks. Readers will have the option of generating print-optimized or PDF versions on-the-fly, content will be more searchable, and we’ll be able to offer full length Journal Articles via a Kindle feed. We are not sure how far back into the legacy articles we’ll update things, but we should be rid of PDFs for future articles.
  • We will continue to publish Journal Issues as a PDF.  Our new Journal Issues feature an automatic index of the month’s individual articles, plus the cover, table of contents, and download link for the PDF Journal when it exists for a given month.  The index portion is live now, and we should have the PDFs added within a week or so.  We hope to bring more features into future Journal Issues.
  • The way-back issues of the Journal (2005-2007) are only available here for now, and the articles are only in the PDF.  We will eventually get those articles into the system as individual articles and a complete issue.
  • Of course there are tons of little things that need doing for your usability and our efficiency. Kai zen, and all that.

Coming (Soon?)

As we move in and clean up in our new site, we’ll also be taking advantage of new features.  Look for these developments in the future:

  • We will have a new content section on Latin America where we integrate content published here and from all over. We have a lot of talented people signing on for the effort and we are very excited about this new feature on a hugely important topic.
  • In the next few months we will be changing the way we publish the News, moving from the blog-based Roundup to a more effective and user friendly display. We know that feature is very popular, and we’ll do you justice with it while making it something that is more sustainable for us.
  • Library 2.0 is coming. Instead of updating our dusty old flat files, we’ll be moving the Library into a system that allows for mutliple views, tagging, search, your comments and ratings, editors picks, etc.  That will be rolled out with new News section, and will continue to grow as we do.

Thanks Dave!

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

SWJ Blog has linked to Is COIN Dead. A discussion has ensued there and at SWC.

Tools vs. Strategies: Or, Why “An” Alternative to COIN is Not “THE” Alternative

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Dr. Bernard I. Finel has an important and provocative article in AFJ challenging the current operational primacy of COIN in Afghanistan and Iraq that has stirred a great deal of backchannel and listserv discussion, but not nearly enough open commentary in the blogosphere. I checked an unscientific sampling of COIN blogs and did not find much discussion of Dr. Finel’s article, except one comment at SWJ Blog by respected SWC member Ken White, who called it  a “well stated and logical essay” with a “valid premise”. Finel’s article merits greater attention and debate:

An alternative to COIN

The U.S. military is a dominant fighting force, capable of rapid global power projection and able to defeat state adversaries quickly and at relatively low cost in American lives and treasure. Unfortunately, American leaders are increasingly trying to transform this force into one optimized for counterinsurgency missions and long-term military occupations. A fundamental problem with the adoption of population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine as an organizing principle for American military operations is that it systematically fails to take advantage of the real strengths of the U.S. military.

It is true that not all political goals are achievable through the use of conventional military capabilities. However, “victory” in war is not dichotomous, and the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan – often seen as proving the necessity for COIN-capable forces as well as a commitment to nation-building – demonstrate in reality that the vast majority of goals can be accomplished through quick, decisive military operations. Not all political goals are achievable this way, but most are and those that cannot be achieved through conventional operations likely cannot be achieved by the application of even the most sophisticated counterinsurgency doctrine either.

As a consequence, I believe the U.S. should adopt a national military strategy that heavily leverages the core capability to break states and target and destroy fixed assets, iteratively if necessary. Such a strategy – which might loosely be termed “repetitive raiding” – could defeat and disrupt most potential threats the U.S. faces. While America’s adversaries may prefer to engage the U.S. using asymmetric strategies, there is no reason that the U.S. should agree to fight on these terms.

This essay argues the U.S. can largely defeat threats using conventional capabilities, and that what encourages a desire to engage in long-drawn-out asymmetric conflicts is not the elimination of threats, but rather the unattainable goal of trying to prevent threats from emerging in the future.

Read the rest here.

First, I have some sympathy with Finel’s position that COIN operations generally do not maximize the utility of America’s military comparative advantages and extended nation-building via COIN is a costly investment. Dr. Finel is correct here. I’m certain even David Kilcullen would agree with Finel that America trying to do heavy footprint, pop-centric COIN everywhere and anywhere is unwise and too expensive. We need to sync our military might with our political will as well as our wallet.

Secondly, I have no problem with punitive expeditions, or what Finel euphemistically calls “repetitive raiding”. Such “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!” tinged operations are as old as warfare itself and a state’s demonstrated willingness to carry them out serves a useful deterrent purpose. William Lind has been advocating a combination of punitive expeditions and containment/isolation for years in his writings on 4GW. This is an option we should definitely consider first in a cost-benefit fashion prior to committing sizable deployments of troops to a long-term nation building adventure.

That said, exchanging one operatiuonal emphasis (COIN) for another (punitive expeditions) does not change our strategic situation much, it just represents a different kind of hammer, a mallet instead of a ball peen. Under Finel’s prospective doctrine, the US military will be greenlighted to fight only the wars it likes best because some foes are more targetable than others, resembling a drunkard looking for his car keys under a street lamp because that is where the light is good. If we can just convince all of our enemies to oblige us by becoming states with flags, armies and capitols, then I’d say junk COIN.

Unfortunately, they won’t and the days when only states can cause damage are long past. A well-trained, paramilitary, insurgency can wreck one hell of a lot of damage, especially when it is striking first with the element of surprise. This is why, even in the state-centric days of the Cold War, that the Soviet Union invested heavily in SPETSNAZ, OSNAZ and various GRU sleeper units to wreck havoc behind NATO lines with terrorism, assassination and sabotage in the run up to WWIII. The Soviets expected at least major tactical, if not strategic, results from such units.

Operational tools are not strategies. This was my prior complaint about COIN being oversold in Afghanistan and punitive expeditions likewise do not fit every geopolitical situation and work best with particular circumstances. The fact is, where we have a real national interest in friendly states with legitimate governments beating back insurgents, COIN is a better choice. Many problems will require a response that is altogether different from either. The enemy, when there is an enemy, has to be dealt with as they are and not as we’d really like them to be in our ten year procurement schedule. We have to select the tools that best fit operational conditions, our policy objectives and our resources.

Strategy must conform to reality and not the reverse.

The US Army Embraces “Crowdsourcing”

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

At SWJ Blog.

The Army wants your comments on its new Capstone Concept

by Robert Haddick
Brigadier General H.R. McMaster has sent to Small Wars Journal the latest draft of Army Capstone Concept version 2.7. McMaster leads a team at TRADOC that is charged with revising the Capstone Concept, which provides fundamental guidance to the Army’s doctrine and training efforts.

By December, McMaster and his team will complete their work on the Capstone Concept. Between now and then, he wants to hear from you. So please open this file, read it, and provide your comments, either here or at the Capstone Concept comment thread at Small Wars Council. McMaster and his team will read these comments and use them to improve this important document.

(You will note that the Capstone Concept draft we received is marked “For Official Use Only.” I assure you that we received this document openly from the Army and for the purposes explained above. McMaster and his colleagues at TRADOC want Small Wars Journal‘s readers to help them improve the Capstone Concept.)

Ok. Mil/intel/strategy/national security/COIN bloggers. We’ve been blogging on the “future of warfare” for five or six or more years. Some of us have also written books and journal articles, spoken at conferences and done op-eds. Along the way, there has been periodic lamentation (i.e. whining) that the powers that be don’t “get it” and no one pays attention anyway. Well HR McMaster is asking for  input on shaping official military policy. A “put up or shut up” moment for the bloggers.

I’m in! Who else is joining the party?

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