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?
A long, long time ago, before I became a professor and even before I went to graduate school for my doctorate, I worked for a few years in the defense community. I was a Defense Analyst for the Strategic Assessment Center of Science Applications International Corporation (unfortunately, the SAC no longer exists), which was a small organization that dealt with issues of future war. We did much of our work for the Office of Net Assessment of the Defense Department under recently-retired Andrew Marshall. Our job, simply said, was to help DoD think about what war would look like 25 years or so down the line: What technologies might be around? How might those technologies change the way the US fights? How might potential adversaries respond? One of the weapon systems with which the office was particularly interested in was hypersonic projectiles. But, as this was in the mid- to late-1990s, most of what we were doing was mere speculation.
The future has arrived. Or is at least getting closer.
For some smart commentary on what’s going down in
the Ukraine and how (not) to cover it, I point you to former Duck Dan Nexon on his personal blog (*and also cross-posted below). Dan knows a thing or two about the region having served in the Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia regional office in the Office of the Secretary Defense as a CFR International Affairs Fellow in 2009-2010.
Here, Dan bemoaned the coverage in the WaPo of the Ukraine crisis by one Scott Wilson. Wilson lambasted the Obama administration’s strategy in
the Ukraine writing that: Continue reading
(Note: This post is cross-posted at the Columbia University Press Authors’ Blog)
Over the last couple of years, the US military has begun to employ FETs (Female Engagement Teams) in Afghanistan, characterizing their purpose as “to engage the female populace” of the country. The mission of these groups of female soldiers seems to be divided between victim services, trust building, influence seeking, and intelligence gathering. Many feminist scholars (e.g., Keally McBride and Annick T. R. Wibben) have expressed their deep concerns about both the effectiveness of FETs and the ideas about sex, gender, and warfare that their deployments suggest the US military holds.
My recent book, Gendering Global Conflict, is not about FETs specifically, but it does provide insight into this (and hopefully a number of other) problems of sex, gender, and war. It argues that, in order to understand fully how something like an FET became possible, we have to be able to see gender subordination and war-fighing as mutually constituted. Understanding that, it argues, provides insight into a number of other policy choices and theoretical assumptions in the security sector that might initially appear paradoxical when approached from a feminist perspective. The rest of this post discusses that with regard to FETs.