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Stocking Stuffers……

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

In a burst of raw self-interest – and also a little love for my blogfriends – these books make nifty gifts for any war nerd or deep thinker on your Christmas list:

The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War – Mark Safranski (Ed.)


Threats in the Age of Obama – Michael Tanji (Ed.)

Great Powers: America and the World After Bush – Thomas P.M. Barnett

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization – John Robb

Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd – Frans Osinga


The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism  by Howard Bloom

Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count  by Richard Nisbett

Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld  by Jeffrey Carr

This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang  by Samuel Logan

Full Disclosure:

In copmpliance with new Federal regulations of dubious Constitutional merit, I hearby declare ZP does not accept money for publishing reviews or any paid advertising. Courtesy review copies were extended to me by authors or publishers acting on behalf of Sam Logan, Tom Barnett and Jeff Carr. I edited the first book in this post and was a contributing author to the second one. All of the books, with the exception of Cyber Warfare have been the subject of prior reviews or posts at ZP.

Book Review: Give a Little

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World by Wendy Smith

At first glance, Give a Little, which has a theme of the transformative social effects of cumulative small charitable donations, is not the usual type of book that I review here. And in fact, I came across Give a Little in an unconventional way. Full Disclosure: I know the author slightly and met her a few times previously and for social reasons, received an invitation to the book release party, which required that I pick up the book and read it even though it was not my usual genre.

I was struck by several aspects.

First, the quality level is high ( it reminded me most of a narrowly focused Malcolm Gladwell book). Give a Little was refashioned from a more academic study with plenty of statistical data into a very readable book for a popular audience. The sense of depth carries through.

Secondly, though I’m certain that the author, Wendy Smith, who spent twenty years in the public/NGO sector wasn’t thinking in these terms, the principles behind the humanitarian programs she examines also have the potential to revolutionize foreign aid and economic development policies and breathe life into the “civilian side” of COIN.

Smith’s chapters delve into a variety of the most successful , and at times least well known, programs that have two things in common: first, they are directed at permanently improving the “human capital” or “social capital” of the recipients rather than sustaining a subsistence existence. Secondly, the programs all manage an enormous ROI for every donation due to generating powerful, downstream, “ripple effect” benefits. Cents given today translate into tens or hundreds of dollars of positive outcomes gained and negative costs avoided tomorrow

There are many worthy organizations profiled ( ex. Ounce of Prevention, Bridges to Prosperity etc.) and Smith offers the readers anecdotes that are deeply positive and uplifting narratives of individuals, families and communities transformed by the power of small donations designed to empower the people of the “bottom billion”. Mircolending and philanthropy issues are discussed, as is social investment policies but these subjects are not generally the focus of the readers of this blog.

Of this section of the blogosphere, who should read Give a Little and garner some “Aha!” moments?:

Those interested in COIN and “connecting the Gap“.

Those interested in buildingresilient communities“.

Human Terrain experts.

Those who write about foreign aid, development and humanitarian NGO’s

Advocates of public diplomacy.

Supporters of “decentralized” or “localist” strategies

Reformers who talk of Gov 2.0 and national security

The Social capitalists and unevenly distributed futurists.

The Incredible Shrinking State Department must Evolve or Die

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

A quick ‘think” post.

It is generally a bad sign for a SECSTATE so early in an administration to have to come out and deny that they have been marginalized by the White House, as Secretary Clinton felt compelld to do the other day. The denial itself serves as confirmation of the fact.

It is tempting to write this off as another example of traditional, politically-motivated, battles between White House staffers, determined to protect the authority of the POTUS over foreign policy and the bureaucracy at State.  We have seen this struggle in the past with Al Haig, Cyrus Vance, William Rogers, Cordell Hull, Robert Lansing and other SECSTATEs who sooner or later found themselves sidelined and excluded from key foreign policy decisions by the president. However, this is not just a case of Obama insiders distrusting and attempting to “box in” the Clintons as political rivals, by using other high profile players ( though that has been done to Clinton).

Nor is it just that State is grossly underfunded relative to its responsibilities by the U.S. Congress, which it most certainly is. I’m pretty critical of State but to do everything they *should* be doing, and to do the job right, requires a sizable budget increase, perhaps upwards of 50 %. This cut off the nose to spite our foreign policy face niggardliness by the legislature is not new. Go back and read the memoirs of diplomats of a century ago. They wrestled with the same budgetary penury as State has to deal with today; even during WWII when you’d have thought money would be no object, Congress stiffed diplomats in hazardous, war-zone, postings on their food allowances. The foreign service was long the preserve of wealthy, well-connected, white men because back in the day, only they could afford to live on a State Department salary.

No, the hidden problem for the State Department is that in an age of failing, failed and fake states, diplomacy means less than it once did and accomplishes less in a greater number of places. You could replace Hillary Clinton with Talleyrand as SECSTATE and give him $ 100 billion to play with and he’d still be stuck with a collection of chaotic Gap states without effective internal governance, eroding sovereignty and multiplying non-state actors freebooting across international borders. The problem for State is the global evironment and their disinclination to adapt effectively to it as an institution. It’s foreign interlocutors frequently cannot deliver on any deals, even if they wanted to do so. When that is the reality, what role does diplomacy have in policy or strategy?

State needs to overhaul its personnel system and FSO culture to embrace the reality that interagency teamwork at the inception of policy planning is the only way the USG will be able to effectively advance its interests and nurture stability. The age of ambassadors or even mano-a-mano superpower summitry is over, even among great powers because State cannot execute policy across the DIME bureaucratic spectrum much less bring in the private sector on its own. It has neither the imagination nor the power to go it alone. For that matter, State is having enough  trouble just managing its core functions plus public diplomacy and development aid ( the last two so poorly they should be hived off immediately).

SECSTATE Clinton would like to be the Mario Andretti of Obama ‘s foreign policy but what she’s driving amounts to an Edsel. State needs an engineer to re-design it, and an advocate who can pull in the funding, not an operator or manager of the status quo. If State does not change its culture and its structures in the next decade, it is just marking time until some catastrophe results in it being retired to the historical graveyard and replaced with a new agency better suited to the conditions of the 21st century.

Disputing Global Dystopia:Phillips on “Our Dark Age Future”

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Longtime reader Isaac recently alerted me to an important article in the most recent edition of PARAMETERS. Some excerpts:

Deconstructing our Dark Age Future” by LTC. P. Michael Phillips

….This article suggests that the system of Westphalian states is not in decline, but that it never existed beyond a utopian allegory exemplifying the American experience. As such, the Dark Age thesis is really not about the decline of the sovereign state and the descent of the world into anarchy. It is instead an irrational response to the decline of American hegemony with a naïve emphasis on the power of nonstate actors to compete with nation-states. The analysis concludes that because the current paradigm paralysis places a higher value on overstated threats than opportunities, our greatest hazard is not the changing global environment we live in, but our reaction to it.

….The state as described in this article differs greatly from the ideal imagined in the Westphalian paradigm. States do not universally enjoy unrestricted sovereignty. Nor are they equal. In fact, the sovereignty of a great number of the states in the international system is merely ascriptive.27 Because these imperfect conditions have more or less existed since long before 1648, it may be more helpful to think of any observed chaos in the international system as the natural condition, rather than a decline into disorder. If the system is not melting down, are so-called nonstate actors as significant for the long-term as they appear to be for the present?

….For some observers, this so-called NSA victory over a modern state underscores their warnings of impending global chaos. But in making this declaration, they fail to appreciate the source of Hezbollah’s strength: its dependent relationship with Iran, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Syria. Hezbollah did not create out of whole cloth its impressive array of modern weapons, nor did it independently develop the tactics, techniques, and procedures to employ them. Instead, Iranian weapons completed Hezbollah’s impressive arsenal, and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps advisers created the command and control center that coordinated the militiamen’s missiles.

Read the whole thing here.

This was an interesting read for me; many points with which to agree and disagree. A few thoughts in no particular order:

I am sympathetic to Col. Phillips’ criticisms of the overly abstract and detached nature of IR in regard to the nature of international law and sovereignty. You can certainly see that “arid” and “imperialistic” attitude in many academics and NGO activists who like to present their novel theories and interpretations as “international law” when they lack any historical basis whatsoever (and are usually gamed to be highly restrictive on the authority of Western sovereign states to use force and permissive/exculpatory of the actions of Marxist/radical/Islamist terrorists or insurgents).  Much of Phillips’ condemnation of IR smacking of unreality from a practitioner’s perspective is spot on.

That said, while definitely fuzzy and spottily adhered to in practice international law is not entirely “illusory”, nor is it a byproduct of 20th century Wilsonian American exceptionalism as Phillips argued. Perhaps Hugo Grotius rings a bell? Or Alberico Gentili? Or the long history of admirality courts? Like common law or an unwritten tribal code, international law has evolved over a very long period of time and does exert some constraint upon the behavior of sovereigns. Statesmen and diplomats think about policy in terms of the impression it will make on other sovereigns, and international law is one of the yardsticks they contemplate.  Admittedly, at times the constraint of international law is quite feeble but in other contexts it is strong. An American military officer, who can see firsthand the effect of creeping JAG lawyerism on command decisions on the battlefield ( in my view, greatly excessive and harmful ) and in the drafting of byzantine ROE, should know better than to make such a silly statement.

Phillips main argument is about the direction of international relations and non-state actors and he comes down firmly on the supremacy of states, at least the Great Powers and regional power states enacting an age-old realpolitik. Non-state actors are an overhyped and trendy threat and really amount to a continuation of traditional proxy warfare, where powers harass each other by subsidizing barbarian “raiders”; Phillips makes much use of Hezbollah as a modern example. Juxtaposed against the more extreme claims of the 4GW school or of Martin van Creveld, Phillips criticism looks reasonable because it is easy to make an empirical case that falsifies the absolutist claim that all states everywhere are in decline or that war is endemic.  They are not and war is not.

Matched against the real world however, Phillips’ argument suffers. In terms of sovereignty and legitimacy, the globe is a ball of swiss cheese – in what Thomas P.M. Barnett terms “the Gap” there are deep holes in Africa, Asia and even Latin America where states could be but are not. Somalia has not had a state since 1991. The Congo is a vast swath of warlordism and democide on a scale of millions (!). The Lebanese government is the de facto junior partner in Lebanon to the Hezbollah militia. Mexico next door is increasingly militarizing its law enforcement apparatus toward full-blown counterterrorism and COIN because of the erosion of state authority vs. the anarchy being spread by the narco-cartels. Are sovereign states more stable and authoritative than fifty years ago? Some are. Many are not. Others are relatively fragile potemkin villages. This is why 4GW theory, while historically flawed, retains analytical strategic resonance – in some regions of the world, the premises of 4GW apply very well. Better in fact, than the traditional schools of thought.

Again, Phillips has written an interesting and thought-provoking article with salient ideas. My problem rests more with the length to which he takes some of his assertions. Phillips swings the pendulum a little too far in the opposite direction where a synthesis would serve better.


Dr. Charli Carpenter at The Duck of Minerva, weighs in on Phillips with  Westphalian Illusions.

Barnett in the House!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Dr. Barnett made an important appearance today to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on the future of the U.S. Navy and the global strategic environment it faces:

Tom’s testimony today

I appear before the subcommittee today to provide my professional analysis of the current global security environment and future conflict trends, concentrating on how accurately–in my opinion–America’s naval services address both in their strategic vision and force-structure planning.  As has been the case throughout my two decades of working for, and with, the Department of Navy, current procurement plans portend a “train wreck” between desired fleet size and likely future budget levels dedicated to shipbuilding.  I am neither surprised nor dismayed by this current mismatch, for it reflects the inherent tension between the Department’s continuing desire to maintain some suitable portion of its legacy force and its more recent impulse toward adapting itself to the far more prosaic tasks of integrating globalization’s “frontier areas”–as I like to call them–as part of our nation’s decades-long effort to play bodyguard to the global economy’s advance, as well as defeat its enemies in the “long war against violent extremism” following 9/11.  Right now, this tension is mirrored throughout the Defense Department as a whole:  between what Secretary Gates has defined as the “next-war-itis” crowd (primarily Air Force and Navy) and those left with the ever-growing burdens of the long war–namely, the Army and Marines. 

….As someone who helped write the Department of Navy’s white paper, …From the Sea, in the early 1990s and has spent the last decade arguing that America’s grand strategy should center on fostering globalization’s advance, I greatly welcome the Department’s 2007 Maritime Strategic Concept that stated: 

    United State seapower will be globally postured to secure our homeland and citizens from direct attack and to advance our interests around the world.  As our security and prosperity are inextricably linked with those of others, U.S. maritime forces will be deployed to protect and sustain the peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance. 

Rather than merely focusing on whatever line-up of rogue powers constitutes today’s most pressing security threats, the Department’s strategic concept locates it operational center of gravity amidst the most pervasive and persistently revolutionary dynamics associated with globalization’s advance around the planet, for it is primarily in those frontier-like regions currently experiencing heightened levels of integration with the global economy (increasingly as the result of Asian economic activity, not Western) that we locate virtually all of the mass violence and instability in the system.   

Moreover, this strategic bias toward globalization’s Gap regions (e.g., a continuous posturing of “credible combat power” in the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean) and SysAdmin-style operations there makes eminent sense in a time horizon likely to witness the disappearance of the three major-war scenarios that currently justify our nation’s continued funding of our Leviathan force–namely, China-Taiwan, Iran, and North Korea.  First, the Taiwan scenario increasingly bleeds plausibility as that island state seeks a peace treaty with the mainland and proceeds in its course of economic integration with China.  Second, as Iran moves ever closer to achieving an A-to-Z nuclear weapon capability, America finds itself effectively deterred from major war with that regime (even as Israel will likely make a show–largely futile–of delaying this achievement through conventional strikes sometime in the next 12 months).  Meanwhile, the six-party talks on North Korea have effectively demystified any potential great-power war scenarios stemming from that regime’s eventual collapse, as America now focuses largely on the question of “loose nukes” and China fears only that Pyongyang’s political demise might reflect badly on continued “communist” rule in Beijing–hardly the makings of World War III. 

Read the rest here.

Tom has probably made the heads of many senior admirals explode today. Though, it must be said, this is unlikely to be the first time that has happened and everything Dr. Barnett said this morning was perfectly consistent with what he’s been saying and writing for years, as he made clear in his statement. It’s more where he was saying it and to whom. Coming down so hard in Congressional testimony in favor of expanding the Navy’s capacity at littoral operations at the expense of capital ship building and submarines is waving a red flag at the “Big War” crowd while executing a taunting, end-zone dance.

Ok, I exaggerated that last part, but from the text, Tom gave a very strong signal to the Committee as to where the Navy should be headed in coming years.


Evidently, Tom also caused the heads of committee members to explode as well. Galrahn was there at the hearing and had this anecdote:

My favorite moment was during Thomas Barnett’s opening statement, which I thought was really good. Dr. Barnett said something along the lines of “I want allies with million man armies and I want them to be ready to kill people,” which is strategically exactly right.

Well, what the audio and video won’t show is the reaction by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D), who looked to me like she was about to either feint or have a heart attack when Barnett said that. It was a priceless moment of facial expressions as she struggled to cope with the idea he was expressing. Honestly, I’m still laughing writing about it here. It was only afterward I was reminded that she is co-sponsor in the creation of a new government organization.

The Department of Peace.

Good. The whole concept of a Department of Peace amounts to institutionalizing antiwar activists on the Federal payroll to try and obstruct foreign policy and erode national security for the benefit of unfriendly and undemocratic foreign states. If Bashir Assad and Hugo Chavez want foreign agents to lobby Congress, they can hire K Street lawyers like everyone else; we don’t need to have U.S. taxpayers footing the bill to promote far Left political causes.

Tom also weighed in on his blog on the experience:

Questions from members are extremely specific to their pet causes. I considered that exchange largely to be a showy waste of time.

Only sparks: I raise issue of Navy needing to accept more tactical risk if they want to influence events ashore more, referencing LCS. I get a small lecture about “sons and daughters” from Taylor. I refrain from mentioning my family members now in Iraq, considering that a counter-grandstanding move better avoided.

Instead, I counter with logic of Army-Marine COIN: you accept more risk when you get closer in–plain and simple. The Navy has already perfected its force structure in terms of largely rendering itself casualty-free and irrelevant to the long war, so it’s just a question of “whose sons and daughters” bear the brunt.

Taylor thanks me for a response he clearly had no expectation of triggering.

Then Thompson, who panders a grace bordering on the sublime (decrying costs in aggregate but praising individual systems and platforms), gets pissed when I downplay the intell capture argument offered by Seawolf sub proponents (Oh, to need $2.2B stealthy platforms to spy off Syria’s coast! His example, not mine). He laments that it’s too bad that the American public can’t truly know how value such collection is! This is the classic insider put down: If only you knew the secrets I know! Then you’d not dare to question my porkish logic!


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