Archive for the 'Hard Power' Category

Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War

The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.

What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?

This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.

Listen live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later from our iTunes page

AusTop10Read and read widely.

Building off a comment during the last Midrats by our guest, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, I took time this week to read Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper. Follow the link and give it a read, what an superior bit of work by our fellow Anglosphere brothers on the other side of the world.

As outlined in a great summary video by the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe, the White Paper is a clear eyed view of the world coming up in the next decade; a world that has dark shadows that demands a free people to have the ability to project hard power. Australia is well aware that defense spending in Asia is now above that of Europe. They are a continent sized nation blessed with resources, a high standard of living and with a thin population – surrounded by nations that are not.

I think this is just more than a paper, e should expect follow through;

Dr Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said he believed Australia is likely to join the US in conducting formal exercises.”There is a strong possibility we’ll become more involved in the South China Sea, particularly through freedom and navigation exercises alongside the Americans or other regional partner.

Professor Medcalf said the paper “reinforced the view that Australia sees the South China Sea tensions as a legitimate Australian security concern”.

The paper underscored that Australia is a US ally and Australia is building security partnerships with a range of countries in the region; it mentioned Indonesia, India and Japan in particular as countries Australia would want to build stronger security partnerships with.

“The paper highlighted that Australia’s security environment is becoming more complex and uncertain and much of this is related to Chinese power and the way China’s using that power,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

A big part of this buildup will be the Royal Australian Navy … with a bit of a bone it its teeth it seems;

Professor Mohan Malik at Honolulu’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies points out that China’s strategic thinkers are counting on the countries of the region going through three phases in response to China’s new assertiveness.

He points out that leading Chinese analysts such as Yan Xuetong, Shen Dingli and Shi Yinhong believe that regional countries will soon abandon resistance and move to accommodation of China and then, finally, reconciliation on China’s terms.

With the US presidential campaign giving the world a deeply unsettling premonition of a President Trump, it’s a key moment for other responsible powers to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law rather than the law of the jungle.

Australia, through Turnbull’s white paper, is saying that it will step up. The naval build up would not be big enough for Australia to win a standalone war against China.

But it does increase Australia’s heft, complicate the plans of any enemy, and mark Australia out as an important ally in any common defence of the Asia-Pacific peace.

On China’s current trajectory of increasingly using brute force against its neighbours, every country will have to make the hard choice to decide its stance. When the Soviet Union challenged Europe, Finland yielded its sovereignty to Moscow on vital matters while Britain stood staunchly opposed.

The real significance of last week’s defence white paper is Australia has chosen not to be a feeble Finland but to be a resolute Britain.

This resolve should encourage Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines and others in the area.

Of interest has been China’s reaction. A sample of quotes;

“China is seriously concerned about the contents in the white paper that touches upon the issue of South China Sea and is firmly opposed to the accusations against China ” said Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), at a press conference on February 25, adding that the South China Sea issue isn’t one between China and Australia, and the freedom of navigation in that region has never been and will never be affected for all countries, including Australia.

These remarks are negative and we are dissatisfied about this.”

Reading the document, you quickly determine that it does not take much to get the Chinese excited. Here are the quotes that got everyone turning their heads;

Territorial disputes between claimants in the East China and South China Seas have created uncertainty and tension in our region.

While major conflict between the United States and China is unlikely, there are a number of points of friction in the region in which differences between the United States and China could generate rising tensions. These points of friction include the East China and South China Seas, the airspace above those seas, and in the rules that govern international behaviour, particularly in the cyber and space domains.

Australia also has deep economic security interests in South East Asia. The region’s growth presents significant opportunities for Australia’s economy and prosperity. Two-way trade with ASEAN countries was worth over $100 billion in 2014. The waters of South East Asia carry the great majority of Australia’s international trade including to our three largest export markets in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Nearly two thirds of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea, including our major coal, iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports

Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes. Australia also opposes the assertion of associated territorial claims and maritime rights which are not in accordance with international law,

Australia has called on all South China Sea claimants to halt land reclamation and construction activities…

The absence of an agreed framework for managing the competing claims in the South China Sea highlights the importance of ASEAN and China agreeing to a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as soon as possible.

Our third Strategic Defence Interest is in a stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order which supports Australia’s interests. The Indo-Pacific includes North Asia, the South China Sea and the extensive sea lines of communication in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that support Australian trade.

There are more cards to play and elections to play out over the next decade, but there is one card that will be fun to watch. The Japan card;

Australia’s submarine industry has been given a much needed boost, with confirmation in the Defence White Paper that the Government will order 12 new vessels as part of its future submarine program.

Government yet to announce who will build submarines and where Japan, Germany and France vie for contract Government pledges to keep as much work as possible in Adelaide

But the much-delayed decision on who will build the subs, and where, will not be made until the middle of the year.

Japan is seen as the front-runner to win the $50 billion contract and the Turnbull Government has pledged to keep as much work in Adelaide as it can.

Japan. That would be interesting to watch.

Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) have gained considerable attention in the press recently. After a hiatus, the U.S. Navy again began challenging China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea in 2015. This renewed effort commenced with USS LASSEN’s operation at Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands on October 27, 2015 and most recently featured USS CURTIS D. WILBUR’S operation at Triton Island in the Paracel Islands on January 30, 2016. Both occurring in the South China Sea, the latter demonstrated U.S. commitment to challenging China’s excessive claims outside the Spratly Islands as well. While these operations can contribute to a larger deterrence strategy, we should not rely on FONOPS exclusively for strategic signaling.

The U.S. Navy has maintained a formal FONOPS program globally since 1979. Specifically, this program is designed to prevent excessive claims from becoming customary international law. A nation can argue that its excessive claims are in fact legal if it can show that other states have acquiesced. Customary international law, in effect, validates the negative. If no nation challenges the claim over time, it can be judged as internationally accepted. The FONOPS program prevents this outcome by sending ships through excessively claimed areas to demonstrate positive non-acquiescence. In the operations listed above, China requires foreign warships to obtain permission before entering “adjacent waters,” so LASSEN and CURTIS D. WILBUR sailed within 12nm of Subi Reef and Triton Island without China’s permission to demonstrate non-acquiescence.

USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) patrols the waters of the Arabian Gulf as part of Carrier Task Force Five Zero (CTF-50) deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch.

USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) patrols the waters of the Arabian Gulf as part of Carrier Task Force Five Zero (CTF-50) deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch.

As a Navy, presence is the foundation of our deterrence mission, but we should be careful not to conflate FONOPS presence with comprehensive deterrence. While these operations have gained more media attention than any other regional operations, Pacific Command maintains a more persistent presence through efforts such as Pacific Presence Operations and the Continuous Bomber Program. We do gain some deterrence side-effects any time that U.S. forces are present, but leaning on FONOPS as a primary deterrence option is a strategic pitfall.

Credible deterrence is composed of three elements: capability, capacity and resolve. While not a linear relationship, an adversary’s doubt in any individual element will sharply reduce deterrence effects. The error in considering FONOPS as a deterrence operation is that policymakers will expect more effects from these transits than FONOPS can offer. This mistake is particularly evident when treating FONOPS as Flexible Deterrence Options (FDOs).

When designing a deterrence strategy against an adversary, FDOs can prove useful in controlling security dilemma effects — a phenomenon where actions intended to increase one’s own security can in fact reduce it, because those actions instill fear in the adversary, which responds with similar security improvements. FDOs help control this outcome by allowing policymakers to apply the minimum show of force necessary to achieve the desired effect. Should the adversary appear unresponsive, the intensity of FDOs can be increased like a rheostat. Of the three elements of deterrence — capability, capacity and resolve — FDOs have the largest impact on resolve. The adversary has likely already calculated the capability and capacity of opposing armed forces; employing forces through more assertive FDOs signals firm resolve.

FONOPS is a fairly straightforward legal program, which is why it falls short in an FDO approach. When facing excessive maritime claims, states either demonstrate non-acquiescence or not. There is no practical difference between non-acquiesce and strenuous non-acquiescence, so these operations are far less “flexible” than some might hope. This is also true when a state asserts multiple excessive claims around the same land feature. For example, if a state requires foreign-warships to obtain permission before transiting within 12nm of an illegally drawn straight baseline, two excessive claims exist: (1) the requirement for permission and (2) an illegally drawn straight baseline. Transiting within 12nm of the straight baseline without permission demonstrates non-acquiescence against the first, but unless the straight baseline is crossed, that state can show acquiescence to the second. Reserving the second as a way to “escalate” in an FDO approach is a fool’s errand. Just as there is no practical difference between non-acquiesce and strenuous non-acquiescence, there is similarly no difference between acquiescence and reserved non-acquiescence. Altogether, you can neither non-acquiesce more nor acquiesce less.

Given these limitations, FONOPS still play an important role in strategically signaling allies and partners. In the case of the South China Sea, the United States seeks to prevent Beijing from coercing smaller regional powers into accepting its excessive claims. Thomas Schelling famously observed, “There is a difference between taking something and making someone give it to you.” To be sure, China has taken the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal, but the larger strategic victory for China would be making these smaller powers accept de facto Chinese control over the South China Sea. Beijing can set the conditions for this outcome if it effectively conveys to regional neighbors that resisting Chinese excessive claims is pointless. Asserting these claims, and backing them with overwhelming and credible force such that smaller states cannot oppose them, will secure de facto control. If the U.S. Navy is not there demonstrating non-acquiescence, these states will likely be coerced into acquiescing.

This effect highlights the strategic importance of FONOPS in the South China Sea. FONOPS cannot deter China from reclaiming islands and militarizing them into bases, but these operations play an important role in signaling smaller regional states. U.S. Navy demonstrations of non-acquiescence assuage fears in these states that they are alone in opposing China’s excessive claims, assuring these governments that international rule of law takes precedence over China’s strategic aspirations. While FONOPS is not a deterrence program, these operations allay concerns that Chinese control over the South China Sea is a fait accompli.



A Munich Moment

February 2016


Yesterday, Richard Fontaine over at WarOnTheRocks provided one of the better summaries I have read about what was floating around in the ether at this year’s Munich Security Conference.

As a result of the discussions, a mood of frustration, even somberness, settled on the Munich participants this year. There have been difficult conferences before: in 2003, during the white-hot transatlantic fight over the looming war in Iraq, and in 2007, when Vladimir Putin denounced a “unipolar” world and previewed a more aggressive and anti-Western Russian line. Perhaps Munich 2017 will be sunnier and more hopeful, with many of this year’s challenges having faded into mere annoyances. Yet there is a good chance that many of the problems that so bedeviled the transatlantic partners this past weekend will remain on the crowded agenda for time to come.

A good chance? Yes, a very good chance.

He had five major take-aways:

1. Russian confidence.
2. European disarray.
3. Pleas for U.S. leadership.
4. Sense of American irrelevance.
5. Little hope for Syrian peace.

I’ll let you read his full post for how he outlines the five, but I think his five are about spot on – mostly because it is what has been groaning out of Europe all year.

You can batch these in to three groupings, though all five are interrelated, but not in the way most people think. We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now let’s stick in order.

Russian confidence and European disarray: For the entire period I wore the uniform and now over a half a decade since my retirements, people who respect history have been warning the Europeans and Canada that they need to take national defense seriously. In recent history, there have been those who thought they could move the needle from within, only to lash out once their turn on the rowing bench was done (Gen. Craddock, USA and SECDEF Gates just two examples).

Some of the cry had been out of a proper sense of fairness and shared sacrifice, but others like myself did it out of affection knowing that my nation was only an election or two away from the American public not willing to defend those who won’t defend themselves.

The Russians are confident as they have seen the Europeans’ failure to rise to the occasion after the slow but steady American decoupling from Europe. The Russians are confident because they perceive that they are winning. They respect strength and have contempt for weakness. The only stiffening of spines they have seen recently have been from the Poles and a little more concern from the Americans – but for the balance of Europe? No.

In the diplomatic and informational domains, they have probed with success. In economics, they are the weakest – but with what they respect the most, their military efforts continue to be a plus from them from the eastern borders of Ukraine, Crimea, and even to the point that the once great Royal Navy cannot even defend its coastal waters;

Britain had to rely on the US, Canada, France and Germany aircraft to protect its territorial waters more than 20 times last year, with the Royal Navy’s reliance on its Nato allies far greater than previously thought.

Defence experts say Russian submarine activity off Britain is returning toward Cold War levels.

Pleas for U.S. leadership & sense of American irrelevance: for almost all of living memory, the Western European nations have lived and prospered under the American military umbrella and have become too used to not carrying their load. Ukraine, Syria, and the migrant crisis is an order of magnitude greater European issue than North American. America isn’t irrelevant, it is just that in elections over the past eight years, the American people have decided that they no longer wish to unequally take on the West’s burdens, to only then be pilloried, insulted, and blamed for the effort. America decided that we will help others who help themselves – so Europe will have to re-learn how to keep their own house in order and we’ll help where we can, if it is in our national interest. Selfish and irresponsible? Not really, just traditional statecraft.

This mood is from both sides of the political spectrum in the USA as well. Where there was once a bi-partisan consensus for American to lead in all significant European security issues – that consensus is long gone. There is now a bi-partisan consensus for just the opposite.

The numbers back up the general vibe. As derived from the CIA factbook, let’s review the top-line numbers.


Until these numbers come more in line, there is only so much any elected American official can do to convince the American people that, once again, the American must do what the Europeans can, but won’t.

Now let’s shift to the last – little hope for Syrian peace: define “peace.” Is peace a frozen conflict? No. If nothing else, we have proven that over time. Why is Western Europe at peace right now? Simple. There was a sound military and political defeat of fascism in Western Europe. There were boundaries made and then for the most part there was massive and merciless ethnic cleansing that created relatively ethnically homogeneous nations inside agreed borders. Where there is conflict today is where in places like eastern Estonia, eastern Ukraine, and spots of bother in the Balkans where significant minority groups were left. That is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Syria and northern Iraq is the Balkans of the Arab World. If militant Sunni Islam is your greatest enemy, then you have one option in the Game of Thrones-ish war going on now in Syria; let Assad win and play the strongman over a subjugated people, come to some accommodation with the Kurds, and move to destroy ISIS with the Russians before Turkey gets involved. There is really no other realistic option. If we will not back the Russian play, if we cannot offer a better way to end the conflict, then we should just get out of the way. At other earlier points in time, there were perhaps other more attractive options, but 1QCY16, this is where we are.

There are a lot of places where people seemed to believe because we should do something, we will/can do something. To get from “should” to “will/can” there has to be a critical bridging function known as leadership from the POLMIL level.

Shifting to the original failure in the Arab Spring, the Libyan theater of operations; listen to the following from our friend Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

The clock is ticking for Western powers to intervene militarily against ISIS in Libya — and Canada has a responsibility to join a potential mission there, says NATO’s former supreme allied commander.

“If we’re going to have an impact in Libya, now is the time to get involved, over the next six months,” retired U.S. navy admiral James Stavridis said on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“We have to act before the Islamic State becomes even stronger … otherwise we’re going to have another massively failed state on the periphery of Europe.”

Is he correct? Is this something the international community “should” do? Yes and of course. What is missing then?

Let’s go back to the fundamentals. Is there a popular will in Europe to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, and British forces and money? No. Is there a popular will in North America to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with Canadian and USA forces and money? No.

Is there leadership in place at the levers of power in Europe and North America that has the desire to bring the popular will to a national will to take action? No.

As such, as much as the theory is sound in early 2016 – as sound as the theory of the invasion of Iraq was in 2003 – will there be any such action in Libya or Syria? No.

As a result, what should one do? Think and plan for consequence management. Wargame Most Likely and Most Dangerous COA and then clearly identify Decision Points for Branch Plans. Do it twice; once with pro-active leaders, one with passive/dithering leaders. If that has not already been done, then we will just have to make it up as we go along when, as our politicians like to say on occasions, we find out about events on the news.

This is the world that was asked for at the end of the last decade, especially in Western Europe. It is what we have. Tomorrow will have to do the best it can with its inheritance.

Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”

How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”

With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.

Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.

Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.

She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick up the later from our iTunes page here.

Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 17 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 315: “Where Next for our Ground Forces?” with Paul Scharre:

With a decade and a half of ongoing ground combat under our belt, what are the hard-won lessons we need to keep, and what should be left behind? Looking forward, what are the challenges our ground forces need to make sure they are prepared to meet?

From growing conventional strength from nations who desire to challenge our nation’s global position, to the unending requirements for Counter Insurgency excellence, what is the balance?

Our guest to discuss this and more will be Paul Scharre, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Army Ranger with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can download a copy of his CNAS report, “Uncertain Ground: Emerging Challenges in Land Warfare,” from the CNAS site here.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later, by clicking here. Or you will find the show later at our iTunes pages here

 MC3 B. Siens

UPDATED: Correct time for the show is 5pm EST.

Please join us at 5:00pm on 3 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 313: Fleet Architecture and Strategic Efficiency with Barney Rubel discussing

How do you balance cost, risk, peacetime habits and wartime requirements in designing and using the world’s largest Navy?

MC2 Aidan P. Campbell

How do we maximize the most the utility of our platforms now, and create a future fleet best suited for what is coming up?

“Sea Control Ship” (1972 design)

Our guest for the full hour to discuss will be Barney Rubel, CAPT, USN (Ret.).

Robert C. “Barney” Rubel is a retired naval officer. From 2006 to 2014, he was Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College. Prior to assuming this position, he was Chairman of the Wargaming Department. A thirty-year Navy veteran, he received his commission through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Illinois. He subsequently became a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet. He commanded Strike Fighter Squadron 131 and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

Listen live or pick the show up later by clicking here or by visiting our iTunes page here.

2000px-Emblem_of_the_Военно-Морской_Флот_Российской_Федерации.svgWhat should be on every navalist’s “Top-5” list for 2015 should be the re-awakening of the Russian Navy to the international stage.

It has been building for awhile, but it took Syria to have it break above the ambient noise for many.

Some of the best writing has been of the curious and interested variety with a raised eyebrow or two, but unfortunately, some in the general press has been a bit alarmist. Though I don’t blame him for the title, David Axe’s article at the DailyBeast, U.S. Fears Grow of a ‘Newly Awakened’ Russian Navy, is a more benign example of the type;

A new report from the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch paints a sobering picture of Putin’s increasingly aggressive fleet—and its deadly international shows of force.

For the first time in 24 years, the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch has published an unclassified report warning against a rapidly rearming and increasingly aggressive Russian fleet.

And while the report—which the Navy intends for public consumption—has been years in the making, recent events have underscored just how serious its findings are. It’s becoming clearer by the day that, with the strong backing of President Vladimir Putin, the Russian navy is making a serious effort to challenge the world’s preeminent maritime power—the United States.

David makes some good use of folks from the USNI cadre, Norman Polmar and David Wertheim, and the tone of the article is mostly calm – but the choice of the headline is important.

Though much of us in the national security chattering class have always kept an eye on Russia, a large segment has not. They have been focused on the Long War and not much else besides a glance across the Pacific. For them, a returning Russia to the international stage in force has upset their table and is messing with their preconceived notions of what this century should be about.

No reason, at least from the maritime side of the house, to “fear.” Be curious, be watchful, but really nothing to fear. One thing we should do is to continue to watch, write, and discuss where Russia is going. By doing so, the conversation will keep people informed.

Mostly, people only fear the unknown. That is where we come in – let’s study and write about Russia more. Some of us miss her anyway, and who knows – maybe she can give us some ideas we can use to improve our own navy.

3344532-9319612342-DavidThe USA can’t do it all in WESTPAC, and we shouldn’t do it all. When it comes to regional security, the USA does have comparative advantage compared to some of our friends and allies, specifically economic power, and technology.

They have comparative advantages in geographic location and manpower. If we can combine our advantages in to the right package, there is more then enough there to give China pause in her expansionist ambitions.

Over at The National Interest, Jerry Hendrix is thinking about this and thinking right;

There is a Goliath menacing the western Pacific. China’s construction of three huge artificial islands with obvious military capacity in the South China Sea has already destabilized the security equilibrium in the region. Given the rising tensions and outright challenges to the established international security order in the western Pacific, it is time for the United States to align its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program with its Pivot to Asia initiative, in order to strengthen the region’s Davids.

Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Singapore have been increasingly united in their resistance towards Chinese aggression, but their unity, though powerful symbolically and legally compelling, can go only so far in the face of China’s rapidly expanding military capacity and capabilities. They will need new platforms adept at complicating China’s territorial designs and integrating with allies, partners and neighbors.


Jerry covers the math well further in the article, but when reading it, I kept coming back to the title, If China’s Goliath Threatens Asia, Then Arm David.

That got me thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’s TED Talk, The Unheard Story of David and Goliath. As with many things in the Bible, it isn’t quite what you think it is at first glance;

So David, in that story, is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger. Now why do we call David an underdog? Well, we call him an underdog because he’s a kid, a little kid, and Goliath is this big, strong giant. We also call him an underdog because Goliath is an experienced warrior, and David is just a shepherd. But most importantly, we call him an underdog because all he has is — it’s that Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armor and a sword and a javelin and a spear, and all David has is this sling.

Well, let’s start there with the phrase “All David has is this sling,” because that’s the first mistake that we make. In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There’s cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There’s heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there’s artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That’s what David has, and it’s important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot. It’s not this, right? It’s not a child’s toy. It’s in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he’s turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it’s going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That’s substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it’s roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun. This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers — experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up — and he’s not 200 yards away from Goliath, he’s quite close to Goliath — when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another.

So what’s Goliath? He’s heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he’s going to be fighting another heavy infantryman. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the key phrase is “Come to me.” Come up to me because we’re going to fight, hand to hand, like this. Saul has the same expectation. David says, “I want to fight Goliath,” and Saul tries to give him his armor, because Saul is thinking, “Oh, when you say ‘fight Goliath,’ you mean ‘fight him in hand-to-hand combat,’ infantry on infantry.”

But David has absolutely no expectation. He’s not going to fight him that way.

So the Israelites up on the mountain ridge looking down on him thought he was this extraordinarily powerful foe. What they didn’t understand was that the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness.

And there is, I think, in that, a very important lesson for all of us. Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.

Let’s stick with this angle on David vs. Goliath.

If we want to help our Davids, how do we do that? By using each partner’s comparative advantage, and acknowledging critical vulnerabilities as well – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We should make sure we keep our Davids light, mobile, efficient and deadly. If we do that, who knows, perhaps we too can stand in the distance and watch them fight and win for themselves.

Please join us on Sunday, 6 Dec 2015 at 5pm EST (US) for Midrats Episode 309: Law and the Long War:

When a nation of laws goes to war, their laws go with them.

In a decade and a half of fighting terrorism, the laws that define our actions overseas and at home have morphed as the threat and strategy for dealing with it has.

From fighting ISIS, operating with and in failed states, dealing with the expanding “refugee crisis,” to keeping the balance between security and safety – what has the legal shop been up to?

Our guest for the full hour is 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.

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.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here.

You can also find the show later by visiting our iTunes page here.

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