Author Archive

There is an almost palatable desire by the NATSEC community to focus on those things it is most comfortable with, what is easy to wargame, what good people can politely in detached manner disagree about alternative Courses of Action in public; territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Syrian Civil War, the future of NATO, a resurgent Russia.

Yes, these are comfortable subjects, but they are wrapped in the vanity of denial. For The West, they may not be the most important subject worthy of time and treasure to prepare for. It should invest more time in looking at the uncomfortable, the difficult – what is driving conflict and building pressures for the next conflict; the intersection of economics, demographics, and migration.

From pre-history to today, masses of people from Finns to Vikings to Magyars to Bantu to Nuristani have all moved to either escape conflict or the inability of their former homelands to support internal population growth at a standard of living that provided a viable and sustainable future.

People migrate from bad places to better places when they can, invade when they must – but unless the marginal cost is higher where they want to go relative to staying where they are, they will move. Some want to join, other want to take.

Arguments over a few reefs in shallow Asian waters or a few hundred square miles of steppe are not existential threats to The West, but the ongoing unassimilable masses of Middle Eastern and African migrants are.

Already destabilizing the EU project and the post-WWII center-left/right political compromise, all trends show that unless steps are taken to make Europe less attractive, the migrant crisis will build on its own momentum.

syriadeplOne great variable is the gravity that is drawing the migrants in, the open door welfare states of Northern Europe and the porous Southern European borders. Let’s put that to the side and instead look at the more easily quantifiable variable, the one easier to put facts and figures to; the source nations.

While migration figures are declining in parts of Europe, Reiner Klingholz believes now is just the calm before the storm.

The head of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development said: “The large waves of migration have yet to come. Measures such as the Turkey Agreement and the closing of the Balkan Route ensure that currently only a few people come to Europe.

“The causes of the refugee crisis, however, have not changed.” … high population growth and low economic opportunities, combing to push migrants towards Europe. … More than 25,000 migrants arrived at Italy’s borders in July alone … The huge influx is a 12 per cent increase on the same period last year, … More than 140,000 migrants are now housed in Italian shelters, a seven-fold increase on 2013, with the migrant now crisis in its third year.

He said: ”The forces that are driving more and more people from their homes – weak states, big tumults within the Islamic world, a divided international system. None of these things are likely to abate soon.”

Each source nation has its own story, but let’s look at one that has the greatest potential to destabilize. Yet to be a major migration source, but by its very size and instability as it teeters on the edge requires a lot of thought. We are talking about a nation with 3.5x the 2010 population of Syria; Egypt.

In most countries a youth bulge leads to an economic boom. But Arab autocrats regard young people as a threat—and with reason. Better educated than their parents, wired to the world and sceptical of political and religious authority, the young were at the forefront of the uprisings of 2011. They toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and alarmed the kings and presidents of many other states.

Now, with the exception of Tunisia, those countries have either slid into civil war or seen their revolutions rolled back. The lot of young Arabs is worsening: it has become harder to find a job and easier to end up in a cell. Their options are typically poverty, emigration or, for a minority, jihad.

This is creating the conditions for the next explosion. Nowhere is the poisonous mix of demographic stress, political repression and economic incompetence more worrying than in Egypt under its strongman, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Arab populations are growing exceptionally fast. Although the proportion who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total of 357m in 2010, the absolute number of young Arabs will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.

The regime is bust, sustained only by generous injections of cash from Gulf states (and, to a lesser degree, by military aid from America). Even with billions of petrodollars, Egypt’s budget and current-account deficits are gaping, at nearly 12% and 7% of GDP respectively. … Youth unemployment now stands at over 40%. … in Egypt’s broken system university graduates are more likely to be jobless than the country’s near-illiterate.

What is there to do?

Such is Egypt’s strategic importance that the world has little choice but to deal with Mr Sisi. But the West should treat him with a mixture of pragmatism, persuasion and pressure. It should stop selling Egypt expensive weapons it neither needs nor can afford, be they American F-16 jets or French Mistral helicopter-carriers. Any economic help should come with strict conditions: the currency should ultimately be allowed to float; the civil service has to be slimmed; costly and corruption-riddled subsidy schemes should be phased out. The poorest should in time be compensated through direct payments.

All this should be done gradually. Egypt is too fragile, and the Middle East too volatile, for shock therapy.

What are the odds of that happening? I’m not betting on that. The smart money isn’t that things will remain as they are from here on out. Even though it does not have some of the ethnic and sectarian challenges of some of its neighbors, better odds point towards collapse and conflict. If Egypt heads towards collapse, where will the Egyptian refugees go?

Unlike Syria that had a ready buffer of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan – where will they Egyptians go? Israel, Libya, Sudan? No. There is just one reliable external safety valve – the path with the best risk/reward ratio is north, to Europe.

No, history is not even close to ending. She never rests.



MatrixBluePillRedPillWhen you’ve worked on a problem for a long time and cannot make progress in a direction that is in your favor, and the harder you work the more on the problem the more difficult it becomes – then perhaps it is time to look for fresh ideas and perspectives.

There is a good chance that you have identified both the problem and the possible solution incorrectly.

In this case, let’s look at Syria and Iraq through Part 1 of an exceptional bit of work by the pseudonymous Cyrus Mahboubian over at WarOnTheRocks. The whole article deserves a thorough reading and covers both Iraq and Syria, but let’s just look at the Syria portion.

Why just Syria? Mostly because is aligns well a topic I’ve covered both here and my homeblog; outside the Kurds (who have no desire to take control of the national government), we are backing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. In a lineup of bad actors, some are less bad for strategic national interests as others, that is just a face. If you must choose – and there is always the option not to – then just make sure you pick for the right reasons. In the case of Syria, that is Assad.

Though the author does not directly address the Russians, we have also been ill-served by our kneejerk reaction that if the Russians support X, then we must oppose X. X, of course, is radical Sunni Islamism in Syria that is threatening Assad’s government. ISIS is just one of those groups – but we’ve already covered this in prior posts. Let’s get back to Mahboubian.

The best part of his article? He smashes a lot of talking points about the Shia/Sunni divide in Syria. Agree or disagree, but you have to consider his facts next time someone trots out the usual tropes;

Sunnis are heavily represented at all levels of leadership in Assad’s government. The territory it controls at this point in the war and at all points past is majority Sunni. And the Syrian armed forces are still majority Sunni. Alawites may be overrepresented in the security forces, but all that means is that they get to die more than others. It if it is an “Alawite regime,” isn’t it odd that includes and benefits so many non-Alawites?

Some American analysts have accepted the shrill claims of those who purport to represent the Sunni Arab world, such as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir. They have accepted the sectarian victimization narrative as articulated by Syrian insurgents and their spokesmen — as if these voices represented the majority of Syrian people or even most Syrian Sunnis. …The Saudis’ only appeal to other Arabs is the money they have to offer. The Syrian rebel spokesmen represent only a fraction of Syrian Sunnis. The self-appointed Iraqi Sunni leaders control neither men nor territory. The United States is listening to the wrong Sunnis. When President Obama or Gen. David Petraeus or others repeat the myths of disenfranchisement these voices propagate, they reinforce and legitimize a dangerous sectarian narrative that should instead be countered.

The alternative ideology to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whether in the Middle East, in Europe’s slums, or the former Soviet Union, is not to promote a Sunni identity — what the Bush administration pursued with its mantra of “moderate Sunni allies.” Instead, a counter-ideology should promote citizenship and secular states. This is the model that the West helped destroy in Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser died and the model it is currently destroying in Syria.

We have all seen the photos of Cairo University as it has regressed through the last few decades, as just an example. Only a trend back towards secularism in the region is in our national interest in this part of the world – if that is even possible. By joining in with the sectarian mindset – are we not just feeding the beast that is after our throat?

In Syria, a majority-Sunni military force exists. It represents the only national institution remaining in a state that does not make nearly as many sectarian distinctions as its opponents seem to think. Yes, I am talking about the Syrian armed forces. The majority of Syria’s state employees, government officials, and soldiers are Sunni, even today. The majority of the still-powerful urban capitalist class is Sunni. As someone who has been been interacting with people on every side of the civil war for its entire duration, I have learned that even some of Assad’s top security chiefs are Sunni, such as Ali Mamluk, the head of national security who supervises the other security agencies. Colonel Khaled Muhamad, a Sunni from Daraa, is in charge of securing Damascus for the feared Department 40 of the Internal Security. Deeb Zeitun, the head of state security, and Muhamad Rahmun, the head of political security, are both Sunni, as are the head of foreign intelligence, the minister of defense, senior officers in air force intelligence, the minister of interior, the head of the ruling Baath party, the majority of Baath party leaders, and the president of the parliament. The commander of the National Defense Forces (N.D.F.) in Daraa is a Sunni man of Palestinian origin. The commanders of the N.D.F. in Quneitra, Raqqa, and Aleppo are likewise Sunnis. One of the regime’s leading anti-ISIL fighters who receives support from all regime security branches is Muhana al Fayad. He leads the large Busaraya tribe between the Derezzor and Hassake areas and is also a member of parliament. Even some pilots dropping barrel bombs on insurgent-held communities are Sunni. Many heads of military intelligence branches are also Sunni.

All may not quite be what many believe in Syria and Iraq.

Poor data feeds bad advice. Bad advice informs bad policy. Bad policy brings about bad results.

I look forward to Part-2.



3375151904The American people have lost their belief in and desire to participate in the soft-empire concepts of the last decade and a half.

During the Bush the Younger Administration, there was a lot of blood, treasure, and professional reputations invested in nation building; a right of center interventionist idea repackaged from the previous century as a quasi-modernized move to make the Middle East safe for democracy. To be sure there were other reasons wrapped in with it – but in soft focus the promoted vision was nation building as a way to bring a more peaceful world from the Hindu Kush to the Atlas Mountains.

After eight years of that, we moved to a new era with its most modern roots set in the experiences of Rwanda and sub-Saharan Africa; the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) of the left of center interventionist world view. Though mostly lost in the septic byproduct from the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, the proponents of R2P are still in positions of power and have yet to disavow this line of thinking. The last significant appearances of it were in the 2011 and 2013 attempts in the UN to intervene in Syria’s civil war.

As concepts in the soft-empire of a humanitarian, well-meaning bent, they have one thing in common; they both rely on the application of military power to effect changes in national governments to better meet the perceived desires of nation-building and R2P’s proponents. Call it soft-empire or neo-imperialism, but that is what it represents when you boil it down.

They share another goal; woven inside both of them are a desire to create conditions and influence people in such a way to decrease the threat of terrorism against our nation and its allies. Has it worked? That is subject to debate. What isn’t subject to as much debate is that the American electorate does not seem to be willing to support either.

Is there another way? Is there an approach that works to mitigating the threat from terrorist organizations in ungoverned spaces or failed countries? There is. It doesn’t involve forward deploying tens to hundreds of thousands of people. It does not involve occupying foreign territory (at least long term). It doesn’t involve attempting to force a system of government on a hostile host.

What it does require is a hard, cold, realist view of the world and human nature. It requires a willingness to be clear and unblinking in the use of force. Not generalized violence – but specific, harsh, and unflinching.

The nation that is having success against terrorism is much smaller, but the threat its survival is greater. We cannot adopt their strategy in full as our requirements are different – but is there something to learn?

Right now, our greatest terror threat is the Islamic State, AKA ISIS, ISIL, etc. We say that we want to destroy it, but we seem to be trying to do it on the cheap with a lot of aspiration and hope in others – not quite a successful formula for success, historically.

If we do not want to fight harder with more blood and treasure, can we help guide the tides of history a bit in our favor by looking around at success others have had with fewer resources?

Let’s look at what a nation even more hated by its enemies than ours is doing; Israel.

Via Graham Allison at The National Interest;

The insistence on the “destruction” of ISIS has become such a reflexive linchpin of America’s counterterrorism project that few pause to consider its strategic merit. But the nation with arguably the most experience and success combatting terrorism has considered it—and found it wanting.
…the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has rejected the option of taking the fight directly to ISIS. Instead, faced with an operational threat that could mean the death of hundreds of Israelis at any moment, it has embraced a strategy that has not even been on the U.S. policy menu. Adopting a page from the playbook the United States used to defeat revolutionary Soviet-led communism in the Cold War, Israel is preventing ISIS attacks through a strategy of patient, vigilant deterrence. Obviously, the United States cannot simply adopt the Israeli approach whole cloth. It operates in a different security environment than the Jewish state, which faces a multiplicity of terrorist threats on its borders. But there are important lessons that America can learn to enhance its national security.
…As Cold War strategists learned, making this work in practice is demanding. To be effective, deterrence requires three Cs: clarity, capability and credibility. Specifically, this means clarity about the red line that cannot be crossed, communicated in language the adversary understands; capability to impose costs that greatly exceed the benefits; and credibility about the willingness to do so. Failures occur when the deterrer falls short on any one of the three Cs. So, if I draw a red line, you cross it, and I respond with words rather than the decisive punishment threatened, I fail the third C. Whatever excuse I give for not executing my threat, and however earnest my claim that next time will be different, the blunt fact is that adversaries will find my threats less credible.

If that were not enough, as the great nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling taught us, successful deterrence requires more than just a threat. The flip side of the deterrence coin is an equivalent promise: if you refrain from the prohibited action, I will withhold the threatened punishment. If, for whatever reason, I decide to administer the specified punishment even though you have complied with my demands, I spend that coin—and can no longer use that threat to deter you.
…The American counterterrorism debate has largely ignored Israeli calculus. Washington is generally averse to learning from others, and Israel’s security establishment, until recently, was reticent about revealing its thinking. That changed last August when, for the first time in the IDF’s history, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot published an unclassified version of the IDF defense doctrine. But because the document appeared only in Hebrew, it has remained largely unknown in the American strategic community. To make it accessible, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs recently posted an English translation of the document.

Read it all, and to add a little more depth to your understanding of the Israeli position, I would recommend Adarsh Aravind’s article over at Foreign Policy News;

The percentage of Israelis killed due to terrorist activities is higher than in any other democracy in the world. …The primary goal of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy is to destabilize the terror groups and prevent them from jeopardizing its national security (and) to prevent terrorists from influencing the national agenda and preserve the psychological resilience of the civilian population. … Over these years, Israel has learned that unlike conventional warfare, terrorism is a tenacious phenomenon and a decisive victory over it is uneasy. When one boulevard of attack is blocked, the terrorist will find another one.

We have not reached Western Europe’s regular terrorist attack rhythm yet, but we have had more in the last few years than before. If we as a nation no longer wish to fight them “over there,” then we should look at what we can do to stop having too much to fight them here. Looking at Israel’s Strategic, Operational, and Tactical successes will be helpful.

It also will require the Political level to do its job. That, ultimately, will be the most difficult part, as without that – nothing else will work.



Sea-Shepherd-logo-800x433One of my favorite naval stories is that of the impressive but meaningless deployment of the raider CSS SHENANDOAH as told so well in John Baldwin’s book, Last Flag Down.

A non-state actor (the CSA not a recognized nation) builds and deploys a warship with one goal in mind – destroying the commerce of another. Her best work was done against USA whalers in the Pacific.

Though the comparisons are imperfect, the SHENANDOAH came to mind when I got a view of that small but efficient ramming bow on Sea Shepard’s purpose built anti-whaling ship, OCEAN WARRIOR, that was launched this summer.

As Sea Shepard has a history of ramming – it is not too much to look at that reinforced bow and wonder how much extra hardening there is.

Construction on Ocean Warrior, which is scheduled for completion in September, has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery in the United Kingdom and the Svenska PostkodLotteriet in Sweden, who together granted €8.3 million to Sea Shepherd for the project.

While Sea Shepherd remains tight-lipped about exactly what the Ocean Warrior’s first at-sea mission will be, the organisation has assured its supporters the ship will be put to immediate use to defend, conserve and protect oceans and precious marine wildlife.

“Thanks to the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Svenska PostkodLotteriet, the addition of the Ocean Warrior to the Sea Shepherd Fleet has made us stronger, faster, and better able to prevail on the seas. We are counting down the days until the launch of the ship, on what will inevitably be a bad day for poachers, and a great day for the oceans,” said Geert Vons, Director of Sea Shepherd Netherlands.

That is the engineering and money side of the house – but something that we really have not seen fleshed out well is the legal side of the house if Sea Shepard’s “Neptune’s Navy” decides to continue to push the envelope to be the judge, jury and executioner at sea.

Historically, ramming is as much a weapon as a main gun. OCEAN WARRIOR is built for speed and a bit more that I am sure will be revealed in good time. Ramming? Who knows – but what have we seen before from them? What else would they do to stop what they want to stop? I would not expect this organization to become less aggressive.

Non-state actor vigilantism at sea vs. outlaw fishermen? With a couple of USCG ships in its fleet? When does reality show meets well-meaning advocacy tip over to quasi war at sea?

What is the proper response?
sea-shepherd-ocean-warrior



Posted by CDRSalamander in Piracy | 44 Comments
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96a65e5a81119e6eddb280d61f9cf1f0When was the last time you thought about not just nuclear weapons, but nuclear power? Not just the engineering aspects, but the political, sociological, and hidden strategic risk of nuclear power?

It is funny how a topic can keep coming in to your scan after being in the background for so long. The last few weeks, the Navy and the Atom kept breaking above the ambient noise.

First was something I first wrote about 30-yrs ago as an undergrad. The topic of the paper, which I received a very disappointing B- on if I recall correctly (NB: when your POLYSCI professor rants against militarism and you are NROTC, avoid military topics on papers) was New Zealand deciding they were going to ask, and we were going to tell, or we could shove off.

We shoved off.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced during a joint news conference with Biden in Auckland that New Zealand had invited the U.S. to send a ship to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary later this year. Biden, who is visiting New Zealand as part of a tour of the Pacific, said he had gladly accepted the offer.

“It will be yet another expression, another expression of our close and cooperative relationship between both of our countries that we’ve worked together so hard to strengthen,” Biden said.

No U.S. warships have been allowed to visit the country since the 1980s, when New Zealand introduced its nuclear-free policy. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand’s default position has long been to ban them from its waters. But as military relations have improved between the two countries in recent years, speculation had grown that New Zealand would allow the U.S. to participate in its anniversary celebration.

“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters.

Key still needs to formally sign off on the ship visit. The prime minister said he did not yet know what type of vessel the U.S. was planning to send, but said it would still need to comply with New Zealand law, which requires that he be satisfied that any ship entering the country’s waters has no nuclear capabilities.

PEO LCS, call your office. Great liberty. Congrats to whoever goes.

That little move got my attention, and as I pondered one 30-yr old topic, look what else came through the mists of time;

The Russian Navy is preparing a contract with the nation’s largest shipbuilder for eight new nuclear-powered missile cruisers.

According to local media, United Shipbuilding Corporation Deputy President Igor Ponomarev says the contract is currently under review. The construction of the first vessel is expected to commence in early 2018.

The new missile cruisers will be designed by the Severnoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and are expected to have a deadweight of 17,500 tons, a length of 200 meters (650 feet0 and to be equipped with more than 200 missiles including a version of the S-500, the newest and most lethal Russian missile system.

That is about 80% of a Kirov Battle Cruiser and, if they move forward with what will unquestionably be an very expensive warship, it will be interesting to see deployed.

The Russians have been modernizing the smaller units its fleet in the last few years with quite a bit of success, and this would be a step in modernizing their blue water fleet. Interesting concept, not unlike the one they had for the Kirov;

“Nuclear-powered cruisers are autonomous and well-armed. They can face various challenges in any part of the world ocean. The Russian Navy has not placed orders for vessels of this class since 1989. The decision to build several ships means that Russia pursues geopolitical interests to maintain its presence in remote parts of the world.”

Things come in threes, and after reading the bit about the newest Russian aspirations, I thought of one of my more dystopian conversations as of late that involved nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This doesn’t go boom, or glow all that much at all – but compared to dirty bombs or nuclear war – this is more likely to occur.

In your mind, picture all the CVN we have. Now picture all the SSN/BN we have as well. Add to that how many port visits they make globally each year. Put that to one side.

Recall the reaction to the rather insignificant release of radioactivity at Three Mile Island, and the reaction to very significant nuclear releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In between these data points are a lot of possibilities. Put those to the other side.

Put this in the center. Though the Russians (nee Soviets) have had a few significant nuclear accidents, we have not. The Russians have a different press and social culture than the West, so impact is different. What would the impact be here of either a nuclear accident (unlikely) or some kind of release – however small – following a terrorist attack against one of our nuclear powered ships (unlikely, but not hard to outline)?

The American people and our friends are comfortable with our nuclear ships because they are used to them. They are comfortable because we have had such a superb safety record for decades. Our nuclear designs are the best in the world and everything comes second to safety.

All that being said, all human institutions and creations are flawed. None are perfect. It would be one thing to have a nuclear armed ship sunk in combat on the open seas with miles of water between it and the nearest person; but what about the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Norfolk? Groton? Yokosuka?

No one could claim this as a black swan; this is a pink flamingo. Exotic, but well known.

What would the domestic and international response be following an incident where even a small amount of radioactive leakage occurred, especially if it followed an attack while tied up to the pier or moored close ashore upwind from a city of over a million souls?

When does nuclear power become “that?” What would be the tipping point?



CnwQTWyWYAAEbiPFrom our seats in North America, the best response to the upheaval in Turkey over the last week is to be calm up front, but task a little extra work in the back office behind the door.

Political chaos and recovering from successful and unsuccessful coups are not unheard of in Turkey. While there are some aspects of the Erdogan government that are less than ideal compared to previous governments, there are good reasons to not buy in to some of the more excited reactions to Erdogan’s response to the coup. At this stage of the game, excessive concern about USA/NATO’s nuclear weapons stored there, NATO status, or the Islamist vs. Kemalist nature of the government should not be top of mind.

Military uprisings, regardless of outcome, never have clean endings or result in gentlemanly treatment of the losing side by the winning side. As such, patience is in order to give the Turks a chance to find their balance again. We should give them time.

The next few months will tell the story, but let’s look at the Most Likely vs. Most Dangerous COA, and some of the Planning Assumptions we are working with.

Hope isn’t a plan, but with the right Assumptions, you can write a plan around it. Let’s be optimists and run with COA-Hope as Most Likely.

Good thing for everyone, I don’t have to make that up – Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret) has a must read looking forward on what steps we should take with Turkey post-coup. Though I non-concur with his 3rd point, he outlines a solid step forward.

If things in the background would trend in a way we would like, these initial steps would go a long way of firming up that path. Even better, if there was a slight drift away from where NATO and the USA would like to see Turkey go, such actions might help the better minds in that star-crossed nation nudge things back in the correct direction.

In summary, here are his four points;

First, we need to stand firmly on the side of the Turkish civilian government.

Second, we should send our senior military officials to Ankara to hear from their counterparts about the situation while congratulating Turkey’s leadership on doing the right thing and helping stop the coup.

A third smart move by the United States would be to increase cooperation in intelligence sharing and targeting against Kurdish radical terrorist groups.

Fourth, and finally, the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions.

We, NATO, and Turkey should be so lucky to have this as an entering argument, but we need to do the responsible thing and look at our assumptions.

We are assuming that Erdogan will not go in the direction he was already heading – a more Islamist Turkey. That is assuming against the trend.

Moderation usually requires peace. If we are assuming that Turkey’s part of the world will become more peaceful, then that is assuming against the trend too.

We could go on, but let’s just stick with those two assumptions being invalid; Turkey more Islamist, a move enhanced by insecurity and internal strife. Those will not create effects on the ground that are in line with what NATO sees itself as in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. That needs a Branch Plan. One variation of that Branch Plan could have a few Decisive Points that lead someplace I’m not sure how we would deal with.

1. NATO membership revoked or best case, as Greece did in the 1970s, Turkey leaves NATO’s military command.
2. In line with #1, NATO nuclear weapons need to removed to a more secure location.

In an ideal world, #2 should happen well before #1 and should really be a stand along plan, but history on occasion moves faster than we like, and not in an ideal order. Though we are far from #1 and #2 today, it doesn’t take all that many more cards pulled from the deck and we could find ourselves close. As the SECSTATE said recently;

Turkey could fall foul of Nato’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.

The US “will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice,” he said, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld”.

That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack if it leads down the path where we need to look at #1 and #2. Those nukes are housed on an airbase in the suburbs of a city of 1.7 million.

The fact that we should even be concerned with this begs the question; besides bureaucratic inertia, why in 2016 do we need a bunch of nuclear gravity bombs stored only 125 miles as the Hornet flies from the Syrian border?

That, perhaps, is another post for another day. In any event, we live in interesting times. Though I think our world will be closer to Most Likely COA-Hope as outlined by Stavridis, it is probably prudent to have a few plans on the shelf to deviate from if some variation of the Most Dangerous COA peeks above the horizon.

On a personal note, like Admiral Stavridis, I served for four years with NATO and developed some great working relationships with good men, officers and NCOs . Once this went down, in particular I thought of a Turkish Air Force officer, now close to Colonel, who I enjoyed working with immensely. He, his wife and children were right out of central casting of what we would see as an almost ideal American military family. Hope they are on the right side of things. I once thought he and those like him were the future of Turkey, now – not so much, and that is sad.



Social-Media-Marketing-StrategyNot since having to give training in the early 1990s to people about the proper protocol involved with “Reply” vs “Reply All,” “cc” vs “bcc,” or explaining to a Chief of Staff that email do not have Date Time Groups, have I been more perplexed by a DoD movement involving internet based communications than what came out at the end of June. This time it is Social Media and politics.

Open up the 29JUN2016 MEMORANDUM from OSD at this link (do I need to explain that you should ‘right-click’ and then select ‘open in new tab’ – I’m not sure if I do anymore) and take some time to read it over. If you’re in a hurry, then trust me on the pull quotes below – you’ll get the point.

Let’s back up a bit. Since I was a wee-pup, we all knew the Hatch Act restrictions well. Nice, comfortable, and a warm fuzzy blanket ease to it:

DoD personnel are prohibited from engaging with potential candidates and their authorized representatives on any matter related to their official duties under any circumstances.

All DoD personnel should also be aware of existing limitations on participation in partisan political activity, which is regulated by the Hatch Act and implementing regulations and departmental policies for DoD civilian employees and by DoD Directive 1344.10 for military members.

Military Members

The primary guidance concerning political activity for military members is found in DoD Directive 1344.10 [Guidance for Military Personnel]. Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. Active duty members may, however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform.

In general, all federal employees may use social media and email and comply with the Hatch Act if they remember the following guidelines:

(1) Do not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace.
• Federal employees are “on duty” when they are in a pay status, other than paid leave, or are representing the government in an official capacity.
• Federal employees are considered “on duty” during telecommuting hours.
(2) Do not engage in political activity in an official capacity at any time.
(3) Do not solicit or receive political contributions at any time.

“Political activity” refers to any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group (collectively referred to as “partisan groups”), or candidate in a partisan race.

No one of substance has ever thought this unfair or hard to understand. Solid stuff.

Welp … looks like someone just discovered social media and didn’t sit through the full brief:

…active duty military members and further restricted civilian employees are prohibited from participating in partisan political activity. Therefore, while these employees may “follow” “friend” or “like” a political party or candidate running for partisan office, they may not post links to, “share” or “re-tweet” comments or tweets from the Facebook page or twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Such activity is deemed to constitute participation in political activities.

No direct links of “likes” to partisan sites (akin to distribution of literature)

…while off duty and away from the workplace, a further restricted employee may post on social media his opinion about a Presidential candidate, “share” a friend’s endorsement of a political party, or “like” a candidate’s Facebook page. However, the employee may not “share” a post from a campaign Facebook page, “retweet” a message from a political party, or “like” a post that requests contributions for a candidate.

Where to start?

First of all, OSD does realize that there is a lot more to social media besides Facebook and Twitter, correct? What about Snapchat, Yik Yak, Instagram, LinkedIn, Periscope, and others? Am I being pedantic? Well, that is my nature, but no, I don’t think so in this case. What this tells me is that those who wrote this really are not creatures of social media at all.

Let’s get away from that for a moment and look at the substance. Where we are is that the CO of Naval Base Swampy can park his 1997 Yugo in his designated parking space with his “LaRiva-Puryear 2016” bumpersticker, but Seaman Timmy can’t share a story about his hometown posted by the “Hoefling-Schulin 2016” on its Facebook page after their campaign bus broke down there?

Really? If he does this after hours, while on leave, via a medium where both the sender and receiver agree on both ends to see each other’s posts, he is in trouble as if he stood on stage in uniform and introduced a candidate?

Interesting republic we have become.

I would offer that this goes way too far. It also begs the question on who are the Facebook and Twitter police? Who is going to decide who is going to be held to account and who is not? What are the rack-and-stack criteria for deciding whose complaints are worth running after and whose isn’t?

This policy is both too specific, too vague, and is not in the spirit of the Hatch Act. It should be withdrawn and refined. If we are to err, let’s do that in line with allowing Shipmates a space to share their ideas with their friends, on their own time, in their preferred manner. The Hatch Act was clear and as such, was easy to follow and enforce. This? Not even close.



philosophy_03When the path towards progress in a field becomes muddied, the best response may be to step away from all the technical specifics that make up day-to-day practice and begin pulling up the floorboards. In other words, rather than continuing to push on the science, it may be best to ask about the unspoken philosophies supporting that research effort.

What could an article by Adam Frank at NPR, unrelated to anything involved directly to national defense, have to tell us about how we look to build the fleet for mid-century? Actually, quite a lot.

One of the underpinnings of the critique of many of the flawed program decisions of the last few decades has been that smart people were excited about the possibility of new ideas and technology so much that they fell in love with them. As such, they were unable to accept the cold, hard truth of what real world experience, data, and facts showed them about the object of their affections.

With each passing iteration their hopes and desires became more unmoored from the reality that was making a shadow on the ramp or displacing water pierside.

Is this situation just our problem, or a common part of the human condition when people have too much faith in the theories that they become emotionally invested in? Well, no it’s not unique to us; we may share a crisis of consciousness with the world of physics that is best explained by another discipline, philosophy.

In a book trying to rewire some of the philosophical foundations that inform physics, physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Roberto Unger published a book in 2014, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. Frank pulls out some observations that need to be reviewed.

…our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain…it all adds up to muddied waters and something some researchers see as a “crisis in physics.” …the lack of empirical data has led the field astray.

Think about our approach to LCS at the start from assumptions related to NLOS, manning, mission modules, along with what we saw with DDG-1000, ACS and other programs. Does this hit home?

“Science is corrupted when it abandons the discipline of empirical validation or dis-confirmation. It is also weakened when it mistakes its assumptions for facts and its ready-made philosophy for the way things are.”

This ground is well plowed, but here is where it gets interesting. Good people in hard jobs sometimes make mistakes, but why?

Is the answer to be found in the realm of philosophy? Is our debate between transformationalism and anti-transformationalism just our theater in a larger intellectual conflict? Is the same conflict to be found not just in programmatics, but also in different approaches to future strategy?

One of the more memorable quotes from Alvin Toffler is, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The quote speaks towards the necessity of adaptability, and intellectual humility in knowing when one is wrong regardless of the amount of intellectual effort put into developing a concept.

Before there is any empirical validation of models developed to explain reality, all there is, are concepts. Concepts governed by rules of logic, which can get ahead of themselves in many instances, and become more about validating a logic-based ontology rather than ensuring understanding of anything outside of that rule-based reality. Cosmology over the last decade or so has begun to exemplify this circumstance, and in many ways, so too has the Navy.

“Some researchers now see popular ideas like string theory and the multiverse as highly suspect. These physicists feel our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain with the extra “hidden” dimensions of string theory and the unobservable other universes of the multiverse.”

Lots of thought and work have gone into defining what is known, how something can be known, and what the best paths towards certainty in knowledge are. Among many others, there are two camps of thought; Empiricists and Rationalists. The debate between the two regards how we can be certain in what we know. In contemporary Cosmology, Rationalism is holding sway, in that the validity of math alone is enough to establish knowledge. However, Empiricists are earnestly pushing back.

Theoretical physicists are inherently Rationalists aided by a powerful ally in mathematics. They can model the universe in equations based on axioms and other equations that have been empirically validated. However, the physics isn’t based on reasoning alone, experimental physicists work to develop experiments that test theoretical work done by other physicists, towards validating, falsifying, and refining theories.

From this a question arises; how far can one extrapolate from the empirically proven before the certainty of empirical observation can no longer faithfully add verification that reasoning lacks? Many argue today that theoretical physics has ventured to a point that rationality is being relied upon far too much, with validation being derived not from observation of phenomena, but from abstract models of how it is thought reality to be.

To put the question another way: When is it right to give up on using reason alone to understand something? In a more military sense, when does a strategy or policy created with a Rationalist approach need to be replaced by the Empirical experience of those implementing the strategy or policy?

The military has its own Empiricists and Rationalists. From a structural sense, the design of the chain of command makes certain ranks empiricist and others rationalist. Any practitioner of the naval service will repeatedly experience their best-laid plans needing to be revised over, and over again. The most humble person aboard ship is the watch bill coordinator—who are constantly called to the quarterdeck, having to one-line and revise the list of names standing watches. Reality is swift, fast and unforgiving with random medical appointments, those unbeknownst on leave, and numerous other reasons that prevent watchstanding. Simply put, Empiricism beats a Sailor into perfecting their ability to lead.

The Rationalists in the military develop after years of toiling under the empirical kludge, developing the ability to think abstractly about what must be accomplished to ensure victory and train the next generation of service member.

If Empiricism is painful, then Rationalism is seductive. Understanding the system we operate can lead to confining decisions within what has been established, regardless of being proven. For Cosmologists, it can be the elegance of math, the beauty within equations that leads them to confining their inquiry within what is beautiful. For the Navy, it is maybe not beauty that confines inquiry, but it is something similar, and something that results in hubris at its worst.

A recent article by the Navy Times cites that the experience with the Littoral Combat Ship has informed an examination of the Navy’s rating system, resulting in a decision to breakdown the barriers that define a rating.

With the Littoral Combat Ship having only proven itself in need of refining into something more like a Frigate, we can see where the military is taking more of a rationalist approach than empirical. Rather than un-learning, the Navy is building on unproven theories. It has chosen to not unlearn methodologies so recently developed. It’s time to demonstrate how we’ve pulled-up floor boards, and taken a hard look at our recent history to ensure we’ve actually proven, falsified, and know what decisions we are making.

This post was co-written with CTR1(IW/SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III.



Why do nations historically have blue water navies? In broad terms, the primary driver is economics. From Vikings looking for new lands and plunder, to Columbus’s search for a more efficient way to spices of the East, to the mercantilist reliance of a global free flow of goods at market prices to support the hard empire of Britain, to the same for the soft empire of the United States – nations put to sea in force to support economic requirements at home.

Of course, other reasons from pride to habit soon latch on to a growing fleet – but look at the core driver. Every nation must do what it can to survive – and a strong economy keeps living standards improving and bellies fed. China is no different. When you see the historical record of Chinese internal strife derived from economic turmoil and uncertainty, the force to protect her gains from global trade becomes even clearer.

A datapoint today for you to ponder. Thanks to a point from our friends Claude Berube and Chris Rawley over at StrategyBridge, there is a great tool out there from Sea Around Us for those interested in the undertold but globally critical economic resource that are global fisheries. Follow the link and play around a bit – but here are the graphics that tell a deeper story;

China’s catch in 1990.

China90

China’s catch data in 2010.

China10

If you want to know why China is building a blue water navy, perhaps some of the reason is China specific as we have discussed before, from national pride to regional control – but a larger part is simply the same reason all naval powers have shown up on the scene; their economic interests require one.



skull-piramidRobert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.

National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.

With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.

That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.

That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.

Ponder the nature of man;

… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.

Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?

So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …

Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,

is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”

If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?

The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?

People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.

The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.

Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.

The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.

What is next then?

Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.

We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.

I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?

Hat tip Jack.



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