Tag: grand strategy

Big Goals and Small Adversaries: Why Grand Strategy Matters

The United States is closing in on the 18th anniversary of its first wartime death in Afghanistan, that of CIA operative Mike Spann, providing a melancholy opportunity to emphasize the role of grand strategy as a policymaking tool. To this end, I ask why the United States has done relatively poorly in so many of its so-called small wars, wars against much weaker adversaries. Its poor record is surprising because the United States has done so well in its major wars, including the world wars, the Korean War, and the Cold War.

Some of the United States’ smaller wars have gone as planned. The invasion of Grenada and replacement of its leftist government in 1983 was quick. The attack on Panama to replace President Noriega in 1989-1990 was also relatively short and low cost for the United States. Some small wars (small from the great power perspective, of course) have not turned out quite as planned, but have also not escalated significantly either vertically or horizontally, or in costs. These include the humanitarian military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Why should Iraq and Afghanistan still drag on, then, when the United States and its allies are fighting weak non-state actors whose ideologies hold little appeal? Why did the U.S. intervention against insurgents in Vietnam last 21 years? Why did its intervention against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Movement, which started out stealing and buying its weapons from the Salvadoran military in the Salvadoran civil war, last 13 years?

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Civil(ian) Military Integration & The Coming Problem for International Law

In late May, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) released a white paper on China’s Military Strategy. This public release is the first of its kind, and it has received relatively little attention in the broader media.   While much of the strategy is of no big surprise (broad and sweeping claims to reunification of Taiwan with mainland China, China’s rights to territorial integrity, self-defense of “China’s reefs and islands,” a nod to “provocative actions” by some of its “offshore neighbors” (read Japan)), there was one part of the strategy that calls for a little more scrutiny: civil-military integration (CMI).

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The Mythical Liberal Order: A Reply and Response

Naazneen Barma, one of the authors of the “Mythical Liberal Order,” responded to my post of last week with a reply to my critique. With her permission, I’m posting her message here and my response. Readers, we’d love for you to weigh in with your views.

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Is the Weakness of the Liberal Order Overblown?

Last week, Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, and Steven Weber offered “The Mythical Liberal Order,” a provocative update to their earlier article on the world without the West. They sought to puncture certain mythologies about the strength of the liberal order, that it never was a strong as defenders thought: its decline is much exaggerated since there was not much to begin with. Moreover, they seek to offer more convincing and significant evidence that non-Western countries are “routing around” the West through currency swaps and discussion of a new multilateral bank and other actions.

Both that article and their earlier one are part of a liberal order pessimism that captures the current zeitgeist but may look dated in a few years. I’d put in that category Charlie Kupchan’s book No One’s World, Ian Bremmer’s G-Zero world in Every Nation for Itself, and perhaps Kishore Mahbubani’s new book The Great Convergenceif his past writings are any indication [though the first chapter is surprisingly supportive of making the current global order better].

While there is a lot about this piece I like, especially the focus on problem-solving through “coalitions of the relevant,” I wonder if Barma, Ratner, and Weber are underestimating the resilience of the liberal order and created a straw man version of  it as well. Continue reading

Beyond Reading the Tea Leaves: Using Data to Understand Partisanship and Foreign Policy

My frequent collaborator Jon Monten and I have a guest post on the new Chicago Council on Global Affairs blog Running Numbers. As our readers likely know, the Chicago Council runs periodic surveys about public attitudes towards foreign affairs and has historically run a number of important surveys of elite opinion. I’m cross-posting our piece here.

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It’s a trap. No, really, IT’S A TRAP.

Change you can believe in. Or is it a trap?

So our little geekfest-in-a-teacup has provoked, among other things, some additional contributions by members of The Duck focusing on additional ways that the Empire’s command structure and Imperial strategy towards the Rebel Alliance doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Imperial troops are feckless, letting the rebels escape on occasions when they should have been able to stop them easily. Opportunities to wipe out the rebels are missed through various kinds of incompetence, tactical or bureaucratic or otherwise. The Empire as a whole is riddled with inconsistencies and incoherences, clashes between divisions, competing goals, unclear budgeting priorities. And so on.

To all of that I say, along with my main Mon Calamari, Admiral Akbar: IT’S A TRAP. Really. The whole damn thing is a trap, not just specific instances of deception like the one that his most famous exclamation seems to refer to. Yes, it’s a trap that the shield generator is still working and the Death Star is operational when the rebel fleet jumps into the Endor system, but more to the point, the entire interstellar-galactic-political situation is a giant trap for the unwary, and by “the unwary” here I mean not just the various denizens of the Star Wars universe who are focusing on the wrong thing if they think that the main game in town is Empire-vs.Rebel Alliance, but also and perhaps even more profoundly the analysts who keep mistakenly treating anything that the Empire does as animated by the strategic goal of securing political rule and defeating insurgents. All of that is a sideshow, because the actual story here has nothing do with political rule; the contest is and always has been Sith vs. Jedi, which is more of a theological contest despite what misguided strategic analysts who don’t respect the conditional autonomy of constitutive ideas might think about it.

So, let’s review a little basic Star Wars history (and I am going to give the grade-school textbook version here, not the C-canon version). Once upon a time there were Sith engaged in an epic battle with Jedi, but the Jedi prevailed, set up their Temple on Coruscant, and proceeded to be the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy for a thousand generations, including their cooperation with the Old Republic. The Jedi order is based on the notion that the Force has two aspects, the Dark and the Light, and that only the Light has merit: they are, pretty directly, Manichaean dualists. Meanwhile the Sith bided their time, adopting the Rule Of Two — always two there are, a master and an apprentice, no more, no less — and managed to survive in the shadows, waiting. Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, after killing his master Darth Plageous, becomes basically the single most powerful Sith Lord ever, with a command of the Dark Side of the Force to make anyone quail in terror. But even this isn’t enough against an entire galaxy that thinks of the Jedi Order as a good thing, so he launches a cunning plan to utterly destroy the Jedi by corrupting the Jedi Order (getting them involved in the Clone Wars as generals) and then turning the galaxy against them (declaring them traitors, blaming the war on them) and then killing off most of them (issuing Order 66, Vader’s rampage in the Temple). Vader then proceeds to hunt down and destroy the rest of the Jedi that he can find, and only misses Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda because they go into deep-cover hiding and lie very low for almost two decades.

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The Force is strong with this one

Episode I: Spencer Ackerman over at  Danger Room posts this analysis of the Battle of Hoth.

Episode II: 90 e-mails and twelve hours later, this symposium goes up on the Danger Room website including a contribution by our own Dan Nexon. Unfortunately, not all of us involved in the furious e-mail thread made the cut or the deadline, so not all of our replies were posted. Which brings us to:

Episode III: my piece, sadly not included in the Danger Room symposium. Below the fold.

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Podcast No. 19: Interview with Daniel Drezner

DreznerFP2The nineteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Daniel Drezner of Tufts University. Professor Drezner ruminates on, among other things his intellectual and educational background, his experiences as an academic blogger.

As was the case with last week’s episode, this podcast is a bit more “bare bones” than usual. I didn’t put in introductory remarks; I have not produced an m4a version at this time. The file located here is the mp3 version. Explanation: I am still a bit pressed for time right now. Also, I am very, very tired.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast [note: see earlier remarks about the m4a version of this podcast]. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future.

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