Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

Hollow-StratCongress is in the process of reviewing the President’s Budget proposal for 2016. The services are in the process of defending that budget proposal by answering questions and providing briefings to Congressional Staffers and even, on occasion, to principal members. One of the fundamental questions we hear repeatedly is, “What if the Department of Defense is sourced at the fiscal limits of the Budget Control Act?” A more recent follow-on question is, “What if the fiscal monies provided are at the Budget Control Act level with supplemental funding provided via Overseas Contingency Operations funds?” The answers to both questions are fraught with long term risks that must be balanced very carefully.

Fundamentally, all four service Chiefs have gone on record saying that their service could not meet the strategic requirements of the nation – as detailed in the Defense Strategic Guidance – at any sourcing level below the President’s Budget proposal for 2016. They went further to say that the funding needs to be in the base account, vice Overseas Contingency Operations funds, to provide the stability and flexibility required for both short and long term investments. I’d like to address the imperative and basis for that concern.

Think of our Navy’s budget as a bowl of water placed atop a three legged stool. The water represents the warfighting capability of the Navy – both today and in the future. This warfighting capability is the core of our Navy’s ability to operate “where it matters – when it matters” all across the world. We’ve seen the need for this operational flexibility throughout our country’s great history – including as recently as last week when a Carrier Strike Group was quickly deployed off Yemen to prevent the sale of highly technical weapons that could result in a new, potentially catastrophic Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East. That Strike Group has been successful because it had the ability to get to its required position quickly, with the appropriate weapons and fuel to stay and fight, and it maintains the ability to win in battle with another maritime force.

The stool that provides the foundational stability for the Navy’s warfighting capability is supported by three equally critical legs. The first leg is platforms – the correct number of ships, submarines, and airplanes required today and in the future. The second leg is modernization – equipment in those ships, submarines, and airplanes that enables them to fight successfully today and years from now. The third leg is people – skilled Sailors in the right places with the right training to operate those platforms now and in the future. As long as all three of those legs are adequately funded, we maintain balanced warfighting capability and our Navy can do its job.

When the overall Navy budget is reduced, however, the strength of one (or sometimes more than one) of those legs is reduced. That would equate to shorter leg(s) of the stool in my example. To keep the warfighting capability balanced, the legs must be reduced equally. The problem that we face in doing so is this: in an uncertain budget period like we face today, there is always an imperative to continue procuring the platforms we know we need in the future even as our budget is reduced in the near term. Fundamentally this is because of the long term planning (many years and even up to a decade) required to design and build a new ship, submarine or airplane. Based on history’s lessons we are relatively sure that the budget will come back up, but the question is when? When it does come back up we must be able to quickly and adequately invest in the other two legs to continue to have the warfighting capability our country needs. This potential near term imbalance is often discussed and the term most often used is “hollow”, as in a “Hollow Force.” We work hard across the spectrum of budget decisions to ensure we don’t allow that to happen. A Hollow Force is the last thing we need or want. As a result we continually adjust, year to year, the length of the three critical legs of the stool. The undesirable alternative which results from this delicate balancing act, and which requires much greater caution on our part, is the potential for a “Hollow Strategy.”

It is worth reiterating a couple of points that don’t often arise when either our Strategy or our Budget is under review. First, our Strategy (by definition) must serve as the guide for allocating our investments in current and future capabilities. A noteworthy corollary to this point is that the Strategy must also play a substantive role in determining the overall size of the budget (i.e. ensuring we have the resources necessary to make the strategy achievable). Secondly, our Budget investments today will ultimately determine our Strategy in the future. This point is clear if we consider the case of a strategy that calls upon non-existent capabilities; such an approach is clearly doomed to failure. These points together illustrate a crucial principle underpinning all considerations of Strategy and Budget – they are interlocked. With this in mind, it has been troubling that the discussion on BCA-level funding has included little consideration of the Strategic Impacts. Rather, the debate is always about whether or not we need the BCA cuts. As discussed above, our current approach will continue causing predictable harm to our Armed Forces’ ability to execute the Strategy – and defend our nation. Success in both Strategy and Budget means that the status quo of budget conversations must change.

The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) has ten core missions that the services must be able to execute to fulfill the overarching “DSG Strategy.” As the Navy’s total obligational authority reduces we continue to strive to be able to meet all ten missions. The truth is that base budget reductions below the level articulated in the President’s budget request – lead to an inability for the services to execute the DSG as written. This a slippery slope on which we need to be careful. We can’t ‘balance the stool’ (so to speak) during lean fiscal years and expect to have the capability that our strategic direction requires. This scenario illustrates how concerns over the National Debt can drive us, eventually, to a Hollow Strategy. Within the services we largely control how we spend the money Congress appropriates us. I believe the lessons we learned in the last three decades have taught us we cannot allow a Hollow Force to be the result of those investment decisions. When we consider the possibility of a Hollow Strategy, however, the services exercise much less direct control to avoid it because our strategic direction is provided from above. We do not want a “Hollow Strategy” and need to remain vigilant that we don’t inadvertently create one as we move forward. The specter of a Hollow Strategy looms ever closer, however, as we continue the conversations about Budget Control Act-level funding or even the related scenario in which some portion of the budget is provided in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. Absent a revised Defense Strategy, which accounts for funding which would be reasonably available in the base budget, the only real solution to this quandary is budget funding at the level in the President’s Budget request for 2016.



Strategy is not for amateurs*

Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy’s Proper Role in it:

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.

Please join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page here.

*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions



Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based out of Djibouti is playing the long game with the nations of east Africa, our allies, governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned parties to not only help build a better future for the nations in that corner of the continent, but to ensure the security of the American homeland.

Our guest to discuss their role and more will be Major General Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., United States Army – Commander CJTF-HOA.

Due to scheduling issues, the interview with MG Grigsby was recorded earlier.

Listen “live’ or download the show later by clicking here. Or pick the show up from our iTunes page here.



World War I – “the war to end all wars” – was roaring along 100 years ago. As part of noting that, please join us on 25 January 15 at 5pm (EST) for Midrats Episode 264: The American Military in WWI

Well inside an officer’s career arch, we saw the American Navy move from the Great White Fleet, The Spanish American War to the age of the Dreadnought. Our Army, from ad-hoc volunteer units to a professional army going head-to-head with the finest professional army on the planet.

How did our military and our Navy build up to WWI, and how did that experience inform the evolution of our national defense infrastructure?

Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. John T. Kuehn , the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer flying both land-based and carrier-based aircraft. He has taught a variety of subjects, including military history, at CGSC since 2000. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011. His latest book, due out from Praeger just in time for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or for later listening you can find us at iTunes here



Please join us at 5pm EST, U.S., on Sunday, 11 January 2015, for Midrats Episode 262: The fight against malaria with RADM Tim Ziemer, USN (Ret.)

Recently, when one hears of disease and Africa, if you only listened to the media, then what would come to mind would be Ebola.

That is not the real challenge in Africa. There is a disease that not only kills, it impedes economic growth, interferes with good governance, and as a result is just another catalyst to conflict there and in South Asia.

To give a better understanding of the ongoing impact of malaria and the fight against it, our guest will be Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, USN (Ret.)

Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer was appointed in June 2006 to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The PMI strategy is targeted to achieve Africa-wide impact by halving the burden of malaria in 70 percent of at-risk populations in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 450 million people, thereby removing malaria as a major public health problem and promoting economic growth and development throughout the region.

PMI is a collaborative U.S. Government effort, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the Department of State, the White House, and others. As coordinator, Rear Admiral Ziemer reports to the USAID administrator and has direct authority over both PMI and USAID malaria programs.

Join us live at 5pm on the 11th (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page here. The iTunes page may require you to open the show inventory in iTunes itself.



This Sunday join us for our 5th Anniversary Show. No guests, no agendas – just us talking about what 2014 had to teach us, and looking towards what 2015 may have in store for everyone in the national security arena. This is a great time if you ever wanted to call in to ask either one of us a question on a topic you wish we would address … or just to say “hi.” Just be warned, we might ask you a question back. It’s what we do.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or find us later on iTunes.

5pm EST. 4 Jan 14.



Okay, kids, here’s America’s newest fun game: “Name that 2015 Hotspot!”

The challenge is to pick 15 places which have the potential to become hell holes for their residents and which will involve the presence of U.S. military forces before the dust clears. Name a place and give a quick reason. The fact that a place is already a disaster does not exclude putting it on this list, but you do have to state why you think it will continue to be a troubled area. You can add places in the comments or send me an email and I’ll tack them on the list. It is perfectly okay to challenge things on the list. In fact, it is encouraged. Got more than 15? That’s okay, I had to use 15 to make it work with the year.

Contest ends whenever I say it does but no later than 6 January 2015. No prizes are to be awarded. Credit will be given to the most brilliant suggestions unless I steal them.

Here are 5 I came up with to get you started:

1) Nigeria: Potentially one of the richer countries in the world due to its mineral wealth, it suffers from incredible corruption and a nearly complete inability to get its house in order. Criminal gangs, tribal rifts, Boko Haram, pollution, grinding poverty, kidnap for ransom schemes are some of the issues. Just might turn into an even more failed state if it can’t get its eastern area under control.

2) Cuba: As the former Soviet empire proved, there ain’t no such thing as a “little freedom” for the oppressed masses. The Castro brothers have to die sometime, why not in 2015? With the right support from expatriate Cubans the place appears ready to – um- explode? Cuba seems to have lost all its old Commie sponsors. What will the U.S. do if China decides to help out 90 miles off the Florida coast?

3) Venezuela: Can you say failing state? A dysfunctional economy and an oppressive regime riddled with factionalism even in the army. There are opposition groups. Could get really messy, especially if oil prices stay down.

4) Russia: Putin needs a war to keep his power. Oil prices and the embargo (weak as it is) are killing the Russian economy. Somewhere in the Rodina there must be a crowd of reformers who really want to toss off the corrupt oligarchs and their man in Moscow. I guess the questions are whether Putin’s internal police are good enough to stifle freedom and whether the Russians who want to fix things can get any support among Russia’s youth.

5) South China Sea: The nasty Dragon covets all that water and the power it would bring. Bullying, lawfare and playing good China/Bad China games are in the Dragon’s bag of tools. The little Hobbit lands surrounding the South China Sea look to their east for support. Will/Can the U.S. and its allies help the Hobbits or do more dancing to push this problem off on the administration elected in 2016?

I am also going to put this up at my home blog EagleSpeak



Please join us on 21 Dec 14 at 5pm (EST) for Midrats Episode 259: The Islamic State – rise and world view, with Craig Whiteside

The Islamic State, ISIL/ISIS/Daesh – whatever people may call them – are not a flash in the pan. Not quite insurgency, not quiet terrorist organization, not quite nation state – what they are is a presence that has resilience, trans-national support, and has a long range plan.

What is their background, how have they evolved, and how do they view the world?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Craig Whiteside, LTC USA (Ret.), Associate Professor of Theater Security Decision Making for the Naval War College Monterey at the Naval Postgraduate School. Craig came to the War College from Washington State University, where he was a PhD student in Political Science and taught American Government and National Security Affairs. Prior to returning to school, Professor Whiteside was a career infantry officer in the U.S. Army with service in the airborne infantry. He is an Iraq war veteran and served with the Geronimos of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry in Iskandariyah as the battalion executive officer during 2006-7. He finished his military service as the Professor of Military Science at Washington State. Professor Whiteside is currently working on his dissertation investigating the political worldview of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or find this episode, along with its predecessors at our iTunes page here.



UPDATE: Well, someone unwrapped the gift early so here’s a modified plan:

As we near Christmas,it is a season of surprises – and Midrats presents Episode 258: COIN, Cyber, and Lawfare: the continuity of war in to 2015 on 14 Dec 14 at 5pm:

With the coming of the new year, some things have not changes and the old challenges are still with us; most waxing – only a few waning.

This Sunday we have returning guest Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., Major General, USAF (Ret.), Professor of the Practice of
Law, and Executive Director, Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University.

We will cover the board spectrum of the evolution of Counter Insurgency, warfare in the cyber domain, and the ever-present impact of law on the conduct of war.

General Dunlap’s teaching and scholarly writing focus on national security, international law, civil-military relations, cyberwar, airpower, counter-insurgency, military justice, and ethical issues related to the practice of national security law.

Tune in at 5pm (EST) and find out. You can find the show here (live or unwrap it later). Or pick up the show later from our iTunes page here



Please join us on Sunday, 16 November 2014 at 5pm (EST, US) for Midrats Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War:

13 years into the long war, what have we learned, relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?

Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, where are we now, and where are we going?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be returning guest John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using his most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.

Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later at out iTunes page here, where you can also find the archive of all our previous shows.



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