To Change the World?
I’ve followed Phil Arena and Thomas Oatley’s back and forth on Dani Rodrik’s op-ed with some interest. The question of human agency, and how much scholarship allows us to change the world are topics that are perennial in academia and I can think of few better online figures to discuss the implications of political economy and rational choice than Arena and Oatley. So what about...
Strategic Theory Monday Twofer
I’m up in Infinity Journal looking at how to possibly reformulate American grand strategy. A lot of strong cuts here, especially recommend David Betz and Lukas Milevski’s pieces. Betz gets at a theme that I am exploring in my doctoral research: the power of connectivity and technology. The Journal of Military Operations is out, with Justin Kelly finally solving the problem of...
Complexity, Clausewitz, and Military Theory
One of the joys of being a PhD student is that you, at some point in time, rethink some of your deeply held beliefs. As my interest in complexity and chaos deepens, one of the things I’ve been forced to rethink is my dismissive attitude towards the role of complexity theory in war studies. As Sean Lawson noted, systems theory since has had a long (and troubled) relationship with military...
Capsule Review: "The Practice of Strategy"
Wanted to make RS readers aware of this great edited compilation. There is a diverse array of historical work on the formation and practice of strategy in a variety of historical contexts. My favorite chapter is Jeremy Black’s take on British strategy in the “long 18th century”—I was pleasantly surprised how many stereotypes about 18th century war were demolished in so...
The Real Sources of American Militarism
In my blogs and Tweets, I have generally pooh-poohed the idea that mil-style gear equates to police militarization or that domestic use of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles is a harbinger of Predator strikes on Main Street. In general, we can criticize the human cost and mistakes of poor national security decisions without raising the specter of 1984. Poor counterterrorism decisions abroad does...
Blog Update: Logics of Transformation
I’ve decided to rename and redesign my long-dormant personal blog and use it as a notebook for reflecting on my ongoing doctoral studies in international relations. You can read the “About” page here, which explains the refashioned blog’s overall purpose. My first entry on “long data” and social science can be read here. Rethinking Security will continue to be...
Context and Blind Spots
Perhaps one of the most deeply frustrating things for me as an analyst of security and strategy is the tendency of observers to ignore contextual factors when denouncing recurring military or strategic trends that they presume to be modern and endogenous to the organizations and actors they critique. My friend Dan Trombly is very skilled at conjuring up history to look at the deep roots of these...
Strategy and Experience
Can America’s poor strategic performance in the wars be reduced to aspects of personality? The question is relevant to those considering sources of strategic competence and is not as silly as it might seem. But first, some myths must be dispensed with. I have seen a lot of critiques of this article (including factual: former Line of Departure blogger Carl Prine noted in a conversation with...
The State Problem In National Security Policy
I’ve been reading the Global Trends 2030 report in between my Comparative Politics exam (earlier today) and my International Relations Theory exam (due tomorrow night) and something didn’t seem quite right. I do want to do less planned/more off-the-cuff writing and less overly planned blog posts. This is a good opportunity. Consider this less a specific argument than a series of...
Bringing Strategy Back Into IR?
Infinity Journal recently released a brief that notes that war, strategy, and policy are not well-taught in IR courses: “[M]ost IR courses talk around war, as if it were ancillary, something avoidable, an aberration — so long as war isn’t studied, it isn’t a threat. Unfortunately, most IR degrees do not offer the student a full appreciation for how strategy works or how war extends the...
This post isn’t about unmanned aerial systems, cyber threats, or other tech issues but I think the opening paragraph summarizes what drives a lot of my own interests in those areas. Last week I wrote about a pattern I’ve been seeing, one for which I wanted to create a new term. I’m still working on the terminology issue, but the pattern is basically this: 1) A new technology highlights...
Strategy is a field riven with selection bias. Academic audiences are more interested in cases of great strategists/strategies rather than those that failed absymally. Thankfully Infinity Journal is seeking to remedy this problem with a special edition on Strategic Misfortunes. Why is this useful? As A.E. Stahl points out in the introduction, we can learn to avoid strategic misfortunes by studying...
OPSEC, Limited Force, and "Black Hawk Down"
No comments, but Clayton Chun’s look at the Battle of Mogadishu has some recurring themes for the observer of post-Cold War US discrete military operations. First, tactical rigidity and poor operational security: Surprise was a key element for success in the TFR raids. Unfortunately, the location of TFR, at the airport, allowed many Somali contractors and observers to witness activities...
Observations on Embassy Attacks
The above picture depicts a man waving the flag of declared enemies of the United States over US government property on the anniversary of September 11. Some reflections on what the incident tells us about strategy and policy follows. My friend Dan will have a more complete analysis in the morning. First, Mark Ambinder notes the following: At the same time, we live in a world where American...
"End of War?"
I have a new piece at Infinity Journal tackling the question of whether or not we will see the end of war as we know it.
The Problems of Iliberal Peace
David Ucko has a typically sound piece on Sri Lanka and the political implications of its counterinsurgency campaign a couple years on. However, I am dubious about the emerging idea of the “illiberal peace” as identified by David Lewis and others. Ucko correctly diagnoses the ways in which the Sri Lankan government has resisted the West, and I am not quibbling with his analysis....
The Real "Culture of Defeat"
At the Atlantic, Michael Vlahos described the video game Modern Warfare 3 as a harbinger of a growing “culture of defeat” fit more for a warrior culture in love with the spectacle of apocalyptic battle than a liberal democracy: Hence MW3 is no parable of “The Long War” where U.S. soldiers fight for freedom and democracy among the outcast margins of civilization. Instead...
Tactics, Strategy, and Afghanistan
Douglas Ollivant has a must-read over at Battleland on Little America: It is an open question whether there is sufficient human capital in Afghanistan to accomplish the reforms that United States policy calls for—particularly given the demand for educated Afghans as a) military translators, b) diplomatic translators, c) drivers/translators for contractors, whether private military or...
At Saturday at Abu M, I completed my trilogy of posts on existential threats.
On COIN and Colin Gray
I have a guest post at Tom Ricks’ Best Defense speaking up in defense of Colin S. Gray’s work on strategy and irregular war. Unfortunately, I somehow subconsciously managed to mangle both the date of the battle of Cambrai AND the spelling of a certain Canadian military platform. That being said, this is an issue that is unlikely to go away and I think that Dr. Gray has produced some...
MS-13 and Snake Plissken
At the CTC Sentinel, John P. Sullivan and I explore the potentials for Zeta/MS-13 alignment. I have two posts at Abu M looking at post-Cold War conceptions of risk. Part one here, part two here.
GPS, Narcos, Rick Ross
At Abu M, I looked at how GPS use in the military underlies deeper tech trends. At USNI News, I looked at the “Narco Navy.”
Sovereignty, Cyberpunk, and Strategy
From the last half-week, a roundup of posts. Today, I took a look at sovereignty, strategy, and history at Abu M. Yesterday, Alex Olesker and I examined what cyberpunk got right about cyber ops at CTOVision. On June 5, I looked at victory, control, and strategy at Abu M.
Tribes, Cyberspace, and Operational Onshore War
A new post at Abu M on operational capabilities for onshore warfare. New post at CTOVision on Flame’s implications for power analysis in cyberspace.
Cyberpunk and Espionage
Two new hits at CTOVision on science fiction’s impact on our understanding of cyberspace and the automation of espionage.
Plausible Technological Threat Scenarios
Over the weekend, I read Steve Clemons’ blog “What Happens When They Get Drones?” Given my previous blogging on tech diffusion, I obviously agree that drone technology and countermeasures will spread (they are, in fact, already spreading). Clemons asks a provocative question, but one that may be cause for me to qualify my post on military diffusion. The question that President...
Cyber War and Peace and Political Weapons
On Friday at Abu M, I took on the Stuxnet disclosure. Today, I examined the dynamics of political weapons.
J.C. Wylie on Cyber Warfare
An exploration at Information Dissemination.
Facebook, Cyber Arms Races, and Virtual War
A roundup of my latest: At Abu Muqawama, I look at why predictions of “virtual war” ignore strategic history. I’ve posted at CTOVision on Facebook’s IT concepts. I took on the bizarre concept of “cyber arms races” at CTOVision. I analyzed the importance of cyber history at the CTOVision.
COINage 2: Electric Boogaloo
I recognize my last missive, scribbled in a bit of haste, might have seemed a bit opaque. I was in a bout of intense frustration and simply wanted to get something out before I returned to analyzing the intricacies of the G.O.O.D. Music vs. YCMB beef, (big hint: I’m rooting for Pusha-T—any rapper in the game who compares himself to Ric Flair gets my vote). But since Carl Prine has...
Don’t even bother reading Elizabeth Bumiller’s article on the counterinsurgency debate. It’s stuck in the same bizarre post-Surge time loop all mainstream articles on COIN are. Instead, let’s go through some basic pointers. My own views on this have evolved significantly over the years due to reading and simple observation of the debate and its operational and strategic...
Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part III of III)
The last of Rei Tang’s posts on foreign policy decisionmaking in the Obama administration. As always, guest posters express only their own opinions. As Third Way’s Mieke Eoyang said, “As a general principle, if people think someone is checking their work, they are more careful… Small groups can fall victim to group-think.” Thus far, the president’s advisers have helped him...
Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part II of III)
The second of Rei Tang’s series on foreign policy decisonmaking in the Obama administration. As always, guest posters express only their own opinions. Every president needs fixers—people who come from places where it almost looks like nepotism, who have unimpeachable loyalty, who understand politics, and are quick studies of policy. It looks slimy sometimes. Harry Hopkins for Franklin...
In a perfect world, “smart power” would mean the synchronized use of...– This quote in comments from Vitesse et Puissance at the bottom of an article on “Ink Spots of Success” is all you need to know about the ‘smart power’ meme.
Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part I of III)
Rei Tang, a Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) alum, brings his historical and organizational expertise to bear in analyzing foreign policy decisionmaking and the Obama administration. Part one of three. As always, guest posters express only their own opinions. “Maximize the President’s optionality.” Spoken in bureaucratese, this is what Thomas Donilon wanted to do as he took over the...
European (Old) New Security
Some reflections on John Mackinlay’s latest piece at Abu M.
AE at ID
Now blogging at Information Dissemination. Thanks so much to Galrahn for enabling this opportunity. I have followed ID for a while and hope to start blogging tomorrow on naval, strategic, and technological subjects.
Guest Post: Digital Hearts and Pixel Minds
I’m pleased to introduce Kelsey D. Atherton, who I have shouted-out in the past for his interesting work on simulating covert action. Here Kelsey examines commercial gaming on nation-building and conquest. As always, guest posters express only their own opinions. Have it at, Kelsey! It’s strange that modern knowledge in nation-building seems to be so consistently mediocre, given that...
Drones, Drones, Drones
Yes, this is a 3,000 word Dan Trombly post on drones. And it is awesome. Read it now.
Sullivan and Bunker on Gangs
Want all of Robert Bunker and John P. Sullivan’s gangs, cartels, and strategy writings in one place? Your prayers have been answered: Concerns over the changing nature of gangs and cartels and their relationships to states in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has resulted in the emergence of a scholarly body of work focused on their national security threat potentials. This body of...
Cyber History at the Atlantic Council
My take on a wonderful event on cyber history last week at CTOVision.
Complex Attacks and C2
At Abu M, featuring shout-outs to my writing partner John P. Sullivan, LASD pioneer Sid Heal, and an excellent CTC Sentinel article.
Doing It Wrong
On aggregate military spending and its perils at Abu Muqawama.
CvC Doesn't Play Well in Peoria
Some reflections on civ-mil relations and symbolic politics at AbuM.
On Information Power
At Abu Muquwama.
The Persian Gulf's NATO?
Caidid quotes a tweet of mine (a first! maybe I should improve my punctuation on Twitter) on the generally ill-advised idea of making the current rumblings of a closer GCC-type structure into something approaching NATO in Europe, with US involvement. But I think Steve Saideman put it better than me: How does the concept translate without breaking? Well, that depends on what we mean by NATO: a...
Lawyers and Toasters
First, I take a look at nontraditional cyber threats at CTOVision. Second, I take a look at limiting terminological escalation at Abu Muqawuma.
The Political Economy of Operational Art
My first blog for the new Abu Muqawama, riffing on a few themes I’ve touched on before about the relationship of American operational art to history.
Opt-Out? No Way!
I have a short blog at CTOVision examining the problem of “opting out” of social media, and in turn information security.
Examining the Mumbai Model
I have a piece in Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel on the future of the “Mumbai model.”