Archive for May, 2010

Is the War State and Society (WSS) approach an arm of military history or a separate discipline in its own right? The following outline of the Swedish National Defence College’s military history course suggests that  WSS is military history – an intellectual shift from the practical military history approach that one tends to associate with staff/defence colleges.

1 Warbands, citizen armies, and legions: War and society until the end of Antiquity

2 From knights to Condottieries: War and society during the Middle Ages.

3 Gun powder, soldiers, and Kings: War and society 1500-1815

4 Railroads, conscription armies, and atomic bombs: war and society after 1815

5 The ideas of war: the history of military ideas from the Renaissance to the RMA

6 A Western way of war? War and society from Antiquity to the 21th century

7 Dried bread and C-130s: the history of military logistics from Antiquity till today

8 War and society in Africa 1700-2000

9 Women, Men, and War: Warfare in a gender perspective

10 Guerilla! Insurgencies and battling insurgencies from Napoleon till today

Much obliged to a colleague at the Swedish National Defence College for the opportunity and permission to post this.


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A good overview of the questions “modern” and “professional” militaries, which have the luxury of resources and intellect to think deep about the nature of their profession, should ask, or are asking, themselves.

A general covers an Army war game

Posted By Thomas E. Ricks

The annual “Unified Quest” futures war game held recently at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was pretty impressive — and also a refreshing change from my many previous forays.

Led by the human energizer Brigadier “HR” McMaster, this forum kicked off as a Very-Different-from-the-Big-Army event by enforcing a “NO POWERPOINT” rule. (OK, they showed about five slides over four-plus days.) Army insiders recognize how fundamentally heart-stopping this notion is among any audience of generals. A four-day conversation — scary for some, I know!

Although labeled a “war game” (and based on some scarily realistic scenarios), this week was more of a graduate seminar for a fistful of Army generals and senior civilians, as well as a smattering of U.S. allies and partners. 4-star TRADOC Commander Marty Dempsey chaired all four days 00 a huge commitment that I’ve never seen made by his predecessors in earlier years.

A “powerpoint-free” setting actually encouraged a free-wheeling conversation all around the room — light colonels and civilians challenging three-and four-star generals in surprisingly frank discussions. And on the couple of occasions they flipped up a slide, all conversation rapidly shut down — quite telling. The atmospherics were surprisingly relaxed and open — and everyone seemed feisty and ready to jump into any conversation — another good sign.

The conference “deliverable” was both to spin up an Army “Operating Concept” to round out its recent overarching “Capstone Concept” and to provide Army Chief of Staff George Casey some hard-hitting recommendations that could be used to influence the shape of the Army via the 2014-2019 budget years — decisions needed by next winter. I can’t share those recommendations, but for the flavor of the discussion, here are some highlights of the conversation, on a not-for-attribution basis:

  • “We can’t see ourselves – all of us are positive illusion factories.”
  • “We are approaching a strategic transition for the United States” [that is, an era of changed strategic context, when economic dominance is no longer assured, and budgetary realities will force choices]. “We are no longer going to be operating from a position of strategic superiority.”
  • “Over-burdened terms” have proliferated and add confusion to our efforts — “what does C4ISR really mean? Does anyone really know?”
  • “Beware Heroic Assumptions in the Next World” — not all wars will be like Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s the most demanding scenario the Army could face?
  • “Tactical excellence alone does not win wars. Strategic coherence and operational excellence will be shaped by Army leaders.”
  • “Mission Command — you are trying to balance a culture of competing virtues.” Can you build a commander-centric model founded upon decentralized operations as the norm?
  • “How to use technology to enable decentralization while building trust and cohesion at the same time?” Can the science of command — technology and process — enable the art of command?
  • “We’ve power-pointed over the problem” of the Army division and corps headquarters echelons of commands and what their roles should be. The Army is more than just a collection of brigades.
  • “We need to think about blurring the distinctions between the Operating Force and the Generating Force” — it’s now gotten harmful. Gotta break down the cultural barriers between the deployed and deploying forces and the institutional Army that prepares and educates the force for the future
  • “This is when we do our Interpretive Dance of Army organizational structures.” (Cue: Show Powerpoint Spaghetti Chart) How is the Army’s Force Management model — “ARFORGEN” — impacting Leader Development?
  • “What has an overriding focus on Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) done to the Army’s operational and strategic leadership skills?” What are the second and third order effects of “modularity” — centering so much of the Army organization around the BCT?
  • Allies: Lots of concern as well as admiration. “Is the U.S. Army of the future going to be designed and built to work with allies?” “Design us in!” “The U.S. Army goes down an amazing variety of multiple rabbit holes — we just want to see where you come up!”
  • “How are we defining — and teaching — Risk?” How to inculcate a culture of initiative and risk-taking — not risk aversion? What is the message to young leaders of the recent investigations into tough combat actions?
  • “Are we thinking enough about lethality? We’re four days into this and the term has not come up!” How does the Army look at its future role in delivering lethal effects?
  • And finally — “What is the proper role of the Army in civil society? What’s the proper role of the Army officer in the republic?” Do we teach the meaning of a commission, explain the constitutional foundations of officership, and establish expectations for an apolitical officer corps? And do we reinforce this understanding throughout an officers’ career?

Most encouraging in the week’s efforts was the obvious commitment of this part of the Army — the TRADOC leadership — to thinking about the big issues facing the Army beyond today’s fights. First and foremost was an understanding of the critical importance of the human dimension in war. Dempsey and McMaster’s red-hot focus on leader development, decentralized mission command, and a clear recognition of the unpredictability of future conflict gave me confidence. Most importantly, they understood that Job One for Army leaders in the coming lean years is: “Don’t Lose this Generation!” Keeping the Army’s uniquely talented young leaders on board is the only reliable insurance policy against an unknown future.

This group — Dempsey and McMaster foremost — “gets it.” The challenge will be whether they can “sell it” to the rest of the Army in the midst of two grinding wars — and who may well not see it the same way quite yet.

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From Saigon to Kabul: What Bernard Fall might say about Afghanistan today – Tom Ricks | The Best Defense.

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From our friends at Pacific Forum CSIS

Cool Heads Can Deter North Korea

by Leif-Eric Easley

Leif-Eric Easley [easley@fas.harvard.edu] is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University’s Department of Government, a Kelly Fellow with the Pacific Forum CSIS, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute.

When considering how South Korea will respond to the sinking of one of its naval vessels in disputed waters near North Korea, most commentaries stress the lack of military options. In contrast, Ralph Cossa [“Cheonan Incident: Choosing an Appropriate Response” PacNet #21] calls for a United Nations Security Council Resolution mandating that all North Korean submarines and torpedo-carrying boats be restricted to port. Recognizing that the chances of the UNSC passing such a resolution are slim to none, Cossa recommends the United States and South Korea sink North Korean submarines that leave port, and threaten to bomb submarine bases on the North Korean coast. If an international investigation underway into the cause of the Cheonan’s sinking indeed concludes that North Korea is responsible, it is important to focus minds on maintaining credible deterrence vis-a-vis Pyongyang. Ultimately, however, it is necessary to pursue a middle course between “turning the other cheek” and moving toward a hot war in the Yellow Sea.

South Korea, the US and other concerned countries have a long wish list for the Korean Peninsula: a democratic, human rights respecting, global trading, non-nuclear, unified Korea allied with the US and favorably oriented to both Tokyo and Beijing. However, there are serious limitations to the ability and willingness of the relevant countries to pay for the items on this list. So unification needs to be peaceful and preferably gradual. Realizing this vision requires drastically changing North Korea’s calculus or a bloodless end to the Kim regime.

How to do this? An international coalition – with as much policy coordination and UN support as possible – needs to impose costs on North Korean bad behavior and credibly promise greater costs for worse behavior. The world also needs to credibly offer benefits for improved North Korean behavior. This includes diplomatic engagement in exchange for Pyongyang reducing tensions and economic engagement in exchange for steps toward denuclearization (frustrating as it is to deal with Pyongyang’s serial cheating and efforts to front-load benefits for itself).

If North Korea was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan, it is likely that Pyongyang sought revenge for previous altercations in the Yellow Sea in such a way that would not trigger serious escalation or leave clear fingerprints at the scene of the attack. Pyongyang is probably not looking to fight a war (that it would almost surely lose), but is very unlikely to obey an international order to keep its submarines in port and is almost certain to respond militarily to an attack. In fact, the Kim regime – seeking internal unity for dynastic succession – may be strengthened by such a fight.

Considering its own interests and the interaction with North Korea, Seoul’s objective is to maintain deterrence while avoiding serious escalation. To be clear, it may not be possible to deter North Korean bluster, missile tests or even another nuclear test. The point is to deter a North Korean attack. Doing nothing in response to the sinking of the Cheonan could undermine such deterrence and allow Pyongyang to believe it can push the envelope further. But doing too much could invite the very attacks that Seoul wants to deter.

While sinking a North Korean submarine would be a proportionate response to the sinking of the Cheonan, doing so in textbook fashion would be difficult. Bombing a base on North Korea’s west coast would not be proportionate, and the situation could quickly get out of hand. Recognizing this, it is unlikely Seoul will adopt a military retaliation strategy. Such a course would not have domestic political support or be helpful for the South Korean economy. Likewise, Washington has other concerns it prefers to focus on rather than escalate matters with Pyongyang. A more likely and effective strategy for Seoul to respond to the Cheonan incident could involve the following military, economic, and diplomatic components.

First, there are important military measures short of a counter-attack. South Korea can upgrade its submarine and anti-sub capabilities, enhance readiness and improve the sophistication of its patrols. This would reduce the chances of another Cheonan incident and increase the likelihood that North Korean forces would suffer if a similar attack was attempted. Seoul could redouble efforts to show no daylight between it and Washington on alliance issues such as the transfer of operational control, base realignment, and a civilian nuclear power agreement. US forces in the region could be subtly reinforced, as Washington has done in the past, to send a cautionary signal to Pyongyang. And Seoul could reach out to Tokyo on naval cooperation. Nothing sends quite the same signal to Pyongyang as increased security coordination between South Korea and Japan.

Second, there remain ways of punishing North Korea economically. Data for March 2010 suggests that trade between South and North Korea increased nearly 90 percent compared with the same period last year. There are clearly trade benefits for Pyongyang that Seoul could threaten to take away. More importantly, if the Cheonan investigation produces compelling evidence, Seoul can take the high road in rallying international support for strengthening UN economic sanctions against North Korea. South Korea can also make clear it will not tolerate North Korea’s violations of contracts in the joint North-South projects at the Mt. Kumgang resort and the Kaesong industrial complex. Doing so would further deprive the Kim regime of cash until it returns to compliance.

Third, South Korea could leverage the Cheonan incident for greater support from China. Seoul might call on Beijing to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, make its aid to North Korea more conditional, and emphasize to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during his trip to China that North-South relations must improve. If six-party denuclearization talks are not soon revived, China could host five-party talks to draw up an East Asia security mechanism that would include maritime security. It is unlikely that Beijing will explicitly agree to these suggestions. But it would be difficult for China to offer nothing in response to calls for post-Cheonan cooperation. Beijing has a keen interest in restraining North Korea from wrecking the neighborhood and cares about building China’s image as a responsible stakeholder. If North Korea is found culpable in sinking the Cheonan, Beijing shielding and supporting Pyongyang under the circumstances would not inspire international trust in China.

Seoul may develop a strategy combining elements of these measures plus others. The point is there are meaningful options between the maximal strategies of “turning the other cheek” and departing from the Armistice Agreement to teach North Korea a lesson. It is also important to observe how these policies interact with a dynamic political-economic situation inside North Korea. Depending on Pyongyang’s words and deeds and the allies’ preparation for contingencies, if the North Korean regime reaches the edge of the precipice, South Korea and the US might offer it a hand of assistance or nudge it over the edge. One thing is for certain: Seoul and Washington should not let Pyongyang drag the rest of us down with them.

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