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Archive for February, 2013

A really interesting piece from The Diplomat (available here). As the author, Rory Medcalf, argues, it provides an opportunity for Chinese and Japanese leaders to look tough on foreign and security policy issues without stoking already tense relations between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute that continues to simmer between the two East Asian countries.

Secondly, hopefully the North Korean nuclear test might finally push Japan and South Korea towards closer security cooperation, something that remains impossible given the historical baggage that continues to plague that bilateral dynamic. As a corollary, it might push both Tokyo and Seoul towards closer collaboration with the United States on missile defence technology development.

Thirdly, both China and United States might be able to look past the issues that have continued to plague their bilateral relationship, and begin to focus on commonalities between them. And thus far, both countries’ positions on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions contain some elements of commonality. This might form the basis of a better cooperative relationship between the two largest economies in the world.

I am no expert on Northeast Asian security and political dynamics, but I am sceptical about the second and third points, both of which, it seems to me, range into wishful thinking. I suspect Japanese war crimes remains a very sore point in relations between Tokyo and Seoul, and unless and until Japanese governments are prepared to own up to this past and demonstrate true contrition, I just don’t see how security cooperation between the two countries is at all possible.

As for the potential China-United States payoffs, the fact that both China and the United States are united in their respective positions on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is nothing new, it has been so for quite some time now. That being said, I suspect both China and the United States ultimately have very different geopolitical interests with regards to the entire Korean peninsula. I just don’t see the desire for better security relations between Beijing and Washington being sufficient to overcome deeper geopolitical differences.

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The following ideas come verbatim from Tom Ricks (and available here).

* In a peacetime force, which is what the Army is about to become, you preserve your seedcorn by emphasizing professional military education. What do militaries do in peacetime? Train and educate. One reason our senior leaders were better in World War II than in World War I was that during the interwar period, the military education system was rigorous and respected.

* But a year in PME cannot be permitted to be the slacker sort-of sabbatical that it has become in many places. It should be intellectually rigorous, with an intense reading load and lots of writing (and re-writing until the paper is of acceptable quality. If you are not writing clearly, you are not thinking clearly). Admission should be competitive, and available only to perhaps the top half or top third of the cohort. Grading should be serious, with no “A”s for effort. There should be class rankings, released to the class perhaps weekly. At the end of the year, class rankings from top to bottom should be made public. There probably also should be a failure rate of at least 5 percent. And all these outcomes should have consequences for the remainder of an officer’s career.

* The education should be of such quality that graduates of staff and war colleges are sought after by senior commanders. They are not today, under the “no major left behind” program. Having attended CGSC strikes me as not something that commanders are demanding.

* Teaching in PME should be a sought-after prize, not an act of voluntary career curtailment. There is a reason that Omar Bradley spent the majority of the interwar period as either a teacher or student in the military education system. One thing I did like in the powerpoint was on slide 12: “Require teaching in PME as a prerequisite for LTC and Colonel command.” This is interesting, but it wouldn’t be necessary if the smart, ambitious officers knew that teaching was a reliable route to the top.

* The emphasis in PME should be not on training but on education, on developing officers capable of critical thinking. This is essential to prepare people for the unknown.

* If you want adaptiveness in people, reward it. Others then will emulate it. Distinguish between one-time failure and incompetence. Trying and failing on occasion is an inevitable result of risk-taking. Incompetence, by contrast, stems from persistent failure — and paralyzes risk-avoidance. What you want is prudent risk-taking. Performance, good and bad, should carry consequences. Accountability will incentivize adaptiveness. Bureaucratic rules won’t.

Something really worth considering, I propose to you.

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