Tag: militarism

Agree with Heinlein’s ‘Citizens vs. Civilians’? then this US Military History is for you

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I was asked by a participating member of the H-Diplo/ISSF network to review The American Culture of War. Here is the original link to my review, but it’s off in some far corner of the internet, so I thought I’d repost it here. In brief, I found the book a pretty disturbing rehearsal of right-wing tropes about the military in a democracy, especially from an academic, and there’s no way I’d ever use it with undergrads as Routledge suggests. The underlying moral driver is the ‘chicken hawk’ principle – that those without military experience are not morally qualified to lead DoD and should otherwise defer to uniformed military. At one point the author actually says that, because the US Army ‘distrusts’ Congress, the Army should ‘guide’ Congress. Yikes. Do Americans (and the author) really need to be told civilian authority runs the other way, and that that’s in the Constitution? I find that sort of military elitism democratically terrifying and reflective of the post-9/11 militarization of America that is now the single most important reason, IMO, to end the war on terror.

I would just add the following update to the review: Both the book and review were written before Petraeus’ resignation, but it should come as no surprise that the text lionizes Petraeus. His resignation is therefore a pleasing schadenfreude for the frightening post-9/11 military hero-worship of the US right. Here we go:

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Urination Distraction


Over the past few weeks we’ve had to endure military brass and top government officials falling over themselves to condemn American GIs – first for urinating on dead Afghans, and more recently for beating a sheep. Earlier in the Iraq and Afghan wars, we’ve suffered through pious denunciations of soldiers who tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib or laughed as they targeted “dead men” with drones.

How noble the sentiment!  Criticizing ordinary servicemen who do not abide by the rules of engagement or who break the laws of war.  In fact, however, most of the official condemnation has ulterior motives.

The real purpose is not to shame or punish the soldiers, appropriate as that is.  Rather it is to advance and legitimate the war effort, with all its attendant inhumanity and cruelty.This is clearest in statements that decry the incidents for comforting the enemy and incensing civilian populations.  Such effects are indeed likely.  But those who issue this kind of condemnation are in fact suggesting that what is really wrong is not the incidents themselves, but the release of videos about them.  As long as such occurrences were kept quiet, there’d be little to complain of.

The same cover-up logic explains why the government has gone to such lengths to attack those, like Wikileaks, that release such information.  Conversely, to answer Charli’s recent question, those who send such videos to the press are certainly protesting and are hardly “fools.”  Meanwhile, those who originally took the videos and sent them to their friends are simply engaged in an age-old war custom, flaunting trophies.  And those who urinate on corpses or cheer as they blow up supposed enemies are acting like men have always acted and will always act in war. 


But there is a deeper explanation for the sanctimonious slamming of our errant troops.  Too many such incidents cut against the well-honed spin that the U.S. military is a thoroughly professional fighting force.  Even while they train soldiers to kill, military leaders must keep up the claim that our soldiers do so humanely!  Only the exceptions – the vicious, the stupid, or the exhausted – would break the rules.

In fact, urinating on corpses, torturing prisoners, and cheering deaths is predictable in any war.  Indeed, it shows that the military training necessary for most people to kill another human being is working.  No doubt it also shows a failure in training on the laws of war – but there is little doubt which of these two courses of instruction is more fundamental to our military.  Of course we should have laws of war and use them to prosecute violators.  But we should not be surprised if ordinary people placed in contexts of peril and power act brutally.  


Low-level prosecutions also divert attention from the higher-ups who are most responsible.  Of course, some at the bottom may truly be sadistic.  But for the most part, they are ordinary men and women caught up in the fury of warfare.  Much of that fervor is in fact drummed up by superiors – through public statements or tortured legal opinions.  Prosecuting a few small fry for understandable if condemnable behavior makes it less likely that those at the top, who made it all possible, will face prosecution.

Most fundamentally, condemnations and prosecutions preserve and legitimate the war itself. They portray it – or at least our side’s engagement in it – as rule-bound, controlled, rational.  By making a show of censuring young men and women caught up in the awfulness of war, those in power deflect attention from the far greater awfulness and futility of the war itself – for which they are responsible.

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Friday Nerd Blogging

And this week, in problematic-representations-of-indigenous-populations-on-children’s-television, Lucasfilm brings you Nomad Droids:

Well I guess some foreign policy subtext in TV for eight-year-olds is a step up from 99.7% of what’s on American prime-time. Thanks to Clone Wars, my kid is quickly becoming fluent in such concepts as strategic depth, diversionary warfare and humanitarian mission creep. Last week he learned, for example, that real soldiers treat disaster relief as an annoying distraction from their actual job; that, though not bothering to understand what the locals need might backfire, it will mostly backfire on the locals; and crucially, that what appears to be an ecological problem might just be chalkable-uppable to mis-communications between political actors. Everything can be fixed through diplomacy.

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“Too Fat to Fight”

Mission: Readiness, a collection of retired generals, admirals and other senior military officers issued their latest report this week and the accompanying press release should draw the attention of IR scholars interested in the Copenhagen School and securitization: “Childhood Obesity Endangers National Security.” The news was particularly bad for my state:

…obesity rates among children and young adults in Kentucky are significantly higher than the national average. Weight problems have become the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to serve in the military, both in Kentucky and nationwide…

“Today, in Kentucky and across the country, otherwise excellent recruit prospects are being turned away because they are simply too overweight,” Major General [D. Allen] Youngman said.

The Louisville Courier-Journal summarized the report’s bad news for local readers:

The report says that 51 percent of young adults in Kentucky were overweight or obese in 2007-09, up from 38 percent in 1997-99. Indiana’s rates, meanwhile, rose from 37 percent in 1997-99 to 40 percent in 2007-09.

Nationally, the report found that about one in four 17- to 24-year-olds is too fat to serve in the military….

“As we look to the future, military defense will remain an important issue for our country. We are confident we’ll have the tanks and ships.…What we’re really concerned about is who will be able to join the military,” said retired Army General D. Allen Youngman of Bowling Green. “In Kentucky, we are worse off than elsewhere.”

Obviously, there are many good reasons to be concerned about childhood nutrition and obesity — particularly given high rates of childhood poverty and hunger as well. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is probably desirable policy. However, I do wonder about the need to sell the policy by framing it as a national security issue. Even a human security frame would be preferable, but that’s not likely a persuasive message in the US.

Where does US militarism end?

Given this ranking and this data, I’m expecting the new school superintendent in Louisville to be a Dean Wormer disciple.

Note: the title of this post comes from the original report issued by Mission: Readiness.

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What Would a Post-Masculinized Military Look Like?


On the road home from South Carolina I posted notice of Laura Sjoberg’s critique of militarized masculinity in her analysis of DADT-repeal discourse. Now that I’m settled in, I’ve realized it’s the comments thread on that post where the real action is and I feel compelled to throw in my two cents.

Laura’s key argument:

That the military now includes gay people and (kind of) women openly does not mean that it is some how gender-equal or gender neutral. Instead, masculinity remains the standard of good soldiering in the United States military. Celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the way it has been celebrated, I think, may obscure that point. It also obscures a long tradition in Western political systems of defining full citizenship by military participation/bravery.

Some important questions asked by commenters:

ProfPTJ:

So I wonder what a non-masculinist military would actually look like. Starfleet? Probably not. Do we have any models?… while I can easily think my way from a feminist analysis of the masculinized military to a call to replace the military and end the war system, I can’t quite think my way from that critique to an alternative military.

Dan Nexon:

I’m interested in your critical imagining of what a de-masculinized way of killing people would entail, and why that would be preferable to the kind of de-gendering of biological sex implied by allowing non-heterosexual men into the role of “masculine solider.”

Tallyrand:

I am quite interested in an answer to Dan’s question. I think the really fundamental point in this comment thread is whether killing can be ‘de-masculinized’. Given the problems I, PTJ, Dan and others are having imagining what on earth this would look like, it would be really helpful to have some suggestions, even if this means that you have to zoom out a little. What would a de-gendered war system look like?

Grigory Lukin:

Can you post a specific description of what a non-masculine and/or gender-free military would actually look like, how it would be different from what we have now, and how/why it would be more effective – in less than 100 words? Don’t refer to feminist IR or deconstruct history through feminist/progressive/whichever perspective – just answer the question.

Sjoberg:

I don’t entirely (yet) know the answer to your question, except to start with that it is the wrong question. Critique/deconstruction/ rethinking/reconstruction can’t start with a small portion of the war system, but the whole thing… it is not just militaries, but militarism (and by extension militaristic culture) that would need to radically change operations in order to see any real “change” in the gendering of strategic cultures….There is no simple answer.”

Hmm. Let me humbly offer one: it’s really about civil-military relations, not military culture or raison d’etre per se. A post-masculinized military, as I imagine it, would differ from the system she’s critiquing not in its ability to use violence (in other words, I don’t share Laura’s view, finally, that it would look like a ‘cross between the peace corps and a chain gang.’) And it would not merely be constituted by who is in the military or what kind of masculinity the military privileges in its soldiers (though these things matter). More significantly, one would know a post-masculinized military system by the character of the military’s relationship to the civilian world it serves. And I would argue with Sjoberg that there is further (beneficial) work to do, but also that we are heading in the right direction faster that she might acknowledge.

What exactly does that world look like?

Well, it is a world in which women and men both have the equal right to serve.

And it is a world in which hetero-normativity is not a requirement for the sort of archetype we valorize in soldiers. Women’s integration and the repeal of DADT therefore do take us in that direction.

And it is also a world in which “normal masculinity” is delinked from the attributes we associate with hyper-masculine military culture. This is happening in many places already: men’s groups, rap lyrics, third grade classrooms like my son’s, where students are taught to include everyone, to use I-statements when they have hurt feelings, bond without smack-talk, to value other cultures and the earth, and to see “bad” not in the guy but in the behavior. These things are also happening in the military.

And it is also a world in which militarism is de-linked from its historical raison d’etre “killing bad guys to protect innocent women and children on the home front.” But there are many ways to do that delinking short of letting “‘guys’ who do bad” run rampant, and these things are also happening already. Since at least the early 1990s, the US military has been intimately involved in a variety of humanitarian and stability operations worldwide, where the vulnerable being protected are “theirs” not “ours”; where the enemy are not “bad guys” so much as disease, starvation or natural disaster; where the goal is not to kill but to “peace-keep”; where the tactics involve very “feminine” traits such as listening, intercultural dialogue, and the provision of comfort; and where the “good” and “bad” “guys” (when there is killing to be done) may just as easily be children or women. All of this, for better or for worse, is already destabilizing the conventional gendered war narrative that IR feminists use as a foil.

But “de-masculinizing the military” it’s also about at least three other things that are happening, if at all, much more slowly: a) balancing the esteem we pay to military service with the esteem we pay to traditionally feminized roles such as child-rearing b) making the same effort to gender-integrate traditionally feminized roles as we do to gender-integrate traditionally masculinized roles c) changing the relationship between the military and civilian sectors in security operations to be more collaborative and less hierarchical.

Let me expound a little on each, for they constitute answers to the question about how to translate feminist insights into policy.

1) In a De-Masculinized Military System, Child and Elder-Care Would Be Understood as Important a National Service as “Fighting Bad Guys.”
A concrete way to de-link militarism from ‘national service’ in this way would be to provide a package similar to veterans’ benefits for parents who have taken time out from the paid labor force to rear children. Ann Crittenden laid out this entire agenda in her excellent book The Price of Motherhood. She also pointed out that the military already had the best child-care system in the United States ten years ago – for those who serve the military. What if non-military families were entitled to the same benefits? What if we privileged, remunerated and valorized the care and feeding of functional future citizens in the same way that we valorize soldiering? What if the US military functioned in such a way as to actually enable its personnel to effectively balance warrioring and family life?


2) In a De-Masculinized Military System, Policy-Makers Would Gender-Integrate Feminine/Civilian Roles as Aggressively as They Gender-Integrate Masculine/Military Ones.
A way to delink militarism from hetero-normative masculinity is by delinking its binary opposite (‘child-rearing’) from hetero-normative femininity. You do this by making the benefits and obligations of rearing children or caring for elders gender neutral as well. Those parenting benefits? They need to apply to fathers as well as mothers and, if the Sweden experienceis any indication, men need to be required to actually take them if they father children. We can work to change the perception that men who seek positions as nurses or childcare workers or kindergarten teachers must be less than manly. We need to raise our sons to think of “real man-hood” in terms of fathering as well as soldiering or fighting fires, and we need to make sure they have the skills to succeed at these tasks, which is the only way their sisters will be fully free to participate on equal footing in national or military service. And now that gays have the right to serve openly in the military, perhaps we can move on to acknowledging they are fit to raise children as well.

3) A De-Masculinized Military System Would Emphasize Collaborative Relations Between the Military and the Civilian Sectors, Rather than Protecter/Protectee Relations. This too is already happening, but not necessarily in ways to destabilize militarized masculinity. What we see happening, as Colonel Matthew Moten has aptly described, are armed “civilian” contractors displacing uniformed troops in stability operations, exhibiting a renegade form of warrior masculinity delinked from the just war ethic of those socialized into military culture; and military personnel encroaching upon civilian political authority. What we need to see: increasing engagement by weapons-bearers with “civil society” groups, particularly women’s groups, who often have not only the contextual knowledge to detect threats and mobilize social capital but are frequently overlooked in stability ops because they are not perceived to have the expertise necessary to work with the military. (In fact, people in care-giving roles, historically mothers, have precisely what the military is realizing it needs most: socio-cultural intelligence. Cynthia Cockburn has great examples of this in her chapter on reconstruction in Bosnia in this book. Also see this.)

In short, at least in theory, it is in the equalizing of responsibility for “security” between weapons-bearing and non-weapons-bearing sectors, between protector and protected, that policymakers can begin to de-gender that militarized narrative and make militaries work better for human beings rather than primarily for the state.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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The Ugly Underside of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is official now, signed by the President and a celebration of what is, by most accounts, an incredibly productive lame-duck Congressional session. It is certainly, in my mind, high time that this both on-face ridiculous and insidiously discriminatory policy make its way out of United States law and military practice. It is also, in my mind, just plain stupid the ways in which the United States does not recognize people it perceives to be homosexual as full citizens of the state; the repeal of one of them is a sign that maybe that will be (if slowly) changing.

So why am I, as a feminist and a queer theorist, not throwing a party for the repeal of this terrible policy? Is it because I just like to be contrary?

That too, but there’s more to it. In celebrating the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the (important and well-deserved) removal of obstacles to gay people serving in the military, there’s a lot of entrenchment of (masculinist) militarism as a standard for citizenship. In Derrick Bell’s words, militarization has made exactly the concession to deconstructing sex/gender hierarchies that it needs to to maintain its dominance in United States political culture, no less, and no more.

Since I don’t know how to link to tweets, I’ll copy a couple of Obama’s:

“We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot and believes all are created equal. Those are the ideals we upheld today. #DADT”

“By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will patriotic Americans be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.”

In the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there is a quote (repeated in several press conferences this week) from a GI when asked if they “cared” if someone was gay in their unit. The GI said: “We have a gay guy. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”

They did, however, care that he was masculine. Like women, gay people can now be full participants in the US military (well, okay, more than women, for gay men, since there are not combat restrictions on gay men). But, like women, they will continue to participate in a military that has not changed its standards of what counts as good soldiering because it has become inclusive of a broader range of faces, bodies, and lifestyles. That the military now includes gay people and (kind of) women openly does not mean that it is some how gender-equal or gender neutral. Instead, masculinity remains the standard of good soldiering in the United States military. A woman soldier, then, is a woman who can make it as a man; a gay male soldier is a gay man who can make it as a straight man. Each must portray characteristics of a dominant, hegemonic, heterosexual masculinity in training and in combat. For example, in a recent release on the Marine Corps website honoring soldiers’ heroism, a soldier is praised for reminding observers of Rambo on the battlefield. In this context, (heterosexist) militarized masculinity is a group of behaviors and norms; the more people permitted to emulate it, the less we notice it remains the standard. While the US military of the 21st century is, in many ways, “not your father’s military,” it remains heavily masculinist in its values, performances, and practices. Celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the way it has been celebrated, I think, may obscure that point.

It also obscures a long tradition in Western political systems of defining full citizenship by military participation/bravery. Most of those political systems have (formal or informal) rules counting people as full citizens when and only when they are eligible to engage in military service, and hold military experience as a key political factor. While those times may too be changing, they have not entirely changed – the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell(again, though wonderful) affects many fewer lives than adding sexual preference as a protected class under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (for a short explanation, see this or even settling this (silly, ridiculous) “gay marriage” debate once and for all. So why Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell first? Because the military is still a symbol of full citizenship in the (patriarchal, patriotic) state, and our gendered nationalisms remain the discourses through which we talk about, think about, and see life in the United States.

Would I have voted for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were I in the Senate? Absolutely. Every day of the week. But I would have done it advocating that we critically rethink the gendered nature of and gendered hierarchies within the (theory and) practices of the United States and its military/ies.

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The Latest on U.S. Militarism

In my U.S. Foreign Policy class this semester, students read the latest book from historian Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008). As in his prior work, Bacevich is critical of the apparent militarism in American foreign policy. Primarily, he argues that the U.S. is too willing to use military force as an instrument of policy and that the American people and its leaders overestimate the effectiveness of military power.

Arguably, another indicator of American militarism is its willingness to place former top military leaders into security policy posts that could well be topped by civilians. Already, the top military brass is very influential on U.S. foreign policy in their roles as military leaders. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Generals Petraeus and McChrystal have made all the key U.S. decisions bout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most recently, for example, Barack Obama has selected retired Major General Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration. Why should TSA be headed by a former general?By the way, Harding started a company that apparently overbilled the government millions of dollars for “interrogation” work in Iraq, so his nomination might not be assured.

Independent of that potential scandal, why should former military officials also currently serve in other top security posts? The former generals and admirals may well be qualified, but the U.S. assures greater civilian control of security policy if it keeps these positions in civilian hands. Yet, the Director of National Intelligence is former Admiral Dennis Blair. The current National Security Advisor is retired Marine General James Jones.

The practice of placing former military leaders into security positions in U.S. foreign policy is not unique to the Obama administration.

On my personal blog, I often wrote posts highlighting the fact that many former military leaders opposed the U.S. war in Iraq. Thus, I don’t mean to argue that all these leaders are dangerous hawks that threaten American democracy. Nor was I previously trying to argue that military opinion should trump the ideas pursued by civilian policymakers. Indeed, in those years, President Bush often said that he listened to his active Generals in regard to Iraq, so “the military’s” views were presumably heard (as if “the military” singular existed).

In this particular instance, I’m worried about the lack of civilian input on security policy issues. I’m in favor of listening to the views of people with military experience, but I also think that diverse perspectives should play a prominent role.

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The Hurt Locker

When I heard that the “Hurt Locker,” a drama set in the midst of the Iraq War, was nominated for several Oscars, I was intrigued. Americans have not shown much interest as a people in either of the current official wars and even less interest in documentaries about and dramas set in these conflicts. My initial hunch was that this film, was selected to balance out “Avatar”, the narrative of which clearly questions militarism and imperialism (while also reveling in astounding levels of mindless violence). So I assumed that “The Hurt Locker” would make a conservative counter-argument which justified the necessity of this war of choice. After finally seeing it, I was stunned that this film was nominated for any awards.

I would argue that the film is certainly racist/orientalist in the way in which the Iraqi population is portrayed. Iraqis are depicted as either villainous or as an undifferentiated mass of passive spectators and victims. There are no images of Iraqi women which do not depict them either wailing or otherwise “hysterical”. The English speaking Iraqi men, all of whom have bit parts, are completely emasculated. The American soldiers are generally depicted as brave (if insanely reckless in a cowboy fashion) and highly competent.

The one chance that the writer and director had to stage a dialog between the protagonist and an Iraqi professor is completely squandered as the professor’s “hysterical” wife throws the protagonist-intruder out of her home. Perhaps I should be thankful that the writer and director did not choose to try to speak for “the other.”

There is the requisite paternal engagement with an Iraqi child. However, the child apparently is indistinguishable to the protagonist from all of the other masses of poor Iraqi children who chase and throw rocks at military vehicles.

The film may not be quite as aggressively racist as “Blackhawk Down,” “300,” or “Zulu,” the defining films in terms of racist war genre, but it is certainly a contender. There are thankfully no scenes in which a brown or black horde attacks an outnumbered group of mainly white heroes. In terms of the anti-Arab content, the film is not as bad as “True Lies” or any of the worst Hollywood films in the anti-semitic/anti-Arab genre, mainly because it does not really engage “the other” at all… so none of the more complex racist tropes are brought forth. Nevertheless, the film does continue the long tradition documented in Reel Bad Arabs.

It will be argued that the film is true to the perspective of the main characters. The film shows how narrowly focused the life of the average soldier is. Of course, we do not get a portrayal of the level of boredom that often accompanies military duty. War is depicted as an exciting adventure, particularly in contrast to the bland challenges of raising a child and maintaining a household. So I question its realism. In showing us how soldiers view Iraqis and the Iraq War, it also gives the audience permission to see Iraqis (and by extension the Middle East) in the same uncritical way.

Does any of this matter, particularly in a forum where we discuss international relations? I think it does. War films become a part of a nation’s memory and they have the potential to spark debate and dialog about the causes of war which shapes policy. Moreover, war films are often central to the cult of militarism. The “Hurt Locker” does nothing to interrogate the causes, meaning, or consequences of war, it dehumanizes the people living under occupation. As such it merely serves as propaganda for the war machine. Perhaps there should be a separate Oscar for this genre.

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Silent coup?

Back in September, I blogged about the new Northern Command, which oversees deployment of an Army Brigade Combat Team inside the US — putting active American troops on the homeland for the first time since 1878 (other than during national emergency).

The recent post was a somewhat paranoid followup to one I wrote on July 4, 2007, about NSPD 51. That White House security directive asserts presidential leadership of government during catastrophic emergency. By the standards of the directive, the US arguably had two such emergencies during the Bush years (9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). Potentially, it creates a broad threat to ordinary democratic rule.

Apparently, even some Bush administration officials are worried about these moves — and others. Thomas A. Schweich’s op-ed in the December 21 Washington Post warned of a “silent military coup” against the US government. Schweich recently served as Bush’s ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement affairs, so he had a front row seat to the disturbing trends he outlines.

So, what specifically worries Schweich?

In addition to the NorthCom deployment, Schweich points to Defense undermining State Department training efforts in Afghanistan, the military tribunals in Guantanamo, militarized anti-drug efforts in Latin America, and increased military involvement in domestic surveillance. He’s very worried about the placement of military officials at the top of intelligence agencies. Schweich notes Barack Obama’s risky choice for National Security Advisor, retired 4 star general James Jones. Behind the scenes, notes ambassador Schweich, the military has effectively vetoed numerous foreign policy choices and shaped enormous budget choices. He is almost offended that Defense gets billions of dollars to accomplish what other agencies are asked to do for mere tens of millions.

It’s an interesting piece that probably went unnoticed during the holidays.

I should also note that other conservatives, including Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, worry about militarism in America.

Bill Clinton’s White House effectively outsourced a number of key decisions to the Pentagon — rejection of the ICC, the land mine ban and CTBT, for example. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s administration can reclaim civilian governance of foreign policy.

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Global Strike Task Force

Just about anyone who follows American foreign policy understands the predictable early U.S. responses to a global crisis. The Navy is asked to dispatch vessels into nearby seas — thereby signaling American interests, power and resolve. Or so the thinking goes.

These deployments are certainly cheaper than direct involvement in a crisis and rarely lead to any kind of active (hostile) U.S. military operations.

Since 2001, however, the U.S. has developed a Global Strike Task Force (GSTF) that seems to offer a fundamentally new approach to handling crisis. USAF General John Jumper (then the commander, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base) wrote the following in Aerospace Power Journal in 2001:

GSTF is a rapid-reaction, leading-edge, power- projection concept that will deliver massive around-the-clock firepower. It will mass effects early, from longer ranges, and with more precision than our current capabilities and methods of employment; it will give adversaries pause to quit and virtually guarantee air dominance for our CINCs [Commanders in Chief].

GSTF is typically described as “transformational,” which echoes former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s attempts to “transform” the military. Incidentally, Rumfeld’s transformation included moving many military capabilities east, as he saw future hotspots in Asia rather than Europe. Robert Kaplan explains more in his July/August 2008 Atlantic article on “What Rumsfeld Got Right.”

What does GSTF mean in practice?

Here’s a hint: Kaplan says Rumsfeld’s transformation of the military “would help the United States react in expeditionary style to unforeseen emergencies.”

The US Joint Forces Command website somewhat colorfully describes the mission:

At the start of operations, GSTF will…“kick down the door” into denied battlespace.

GlobalSecurity.org has a somewhat longer description of GSTF operations — and goals:

The task force leads with F-22 stealth fighters to clear a path, taking out enemy aircraft and advanced anti-aircraft missile launchers. B-2 stealth bombers follow to destroy assets that threaten U.S. deployments: Scud missile launchers, chemical-weapon bunkers, air and shore defenses, for example. Sea- and air-launched cruise missiles help that effort….

The shock effect of this B-2/F-22 “one-two” punch will be unprecedented. In the first 24 hours of Desert Storm, after six months of buildup, the US launched 1,223 strike sorties, hitting 203 targets. Stealth assets accounted for 40 sorties and 61 targets. With GSTF, four B-2s and 48 F-22s carrying miniature munitions can strike 380 targets in only 52 sorties….

Precision strikes against an enemy’s crucial war-fighting assets in the opening days of a conflict “give him an excuse to quit.”

If the enemy doesn’t take that opportunity, kicking down the door opens the way for the rest of America’s warfighting team.

Back in the early 1980s, defense analysts, especially on the left, used to worry that American creation of a “Rapid Deployment Force” — ostensibly designed to deter Soviet intervention into the Persian Gulf — was dangerous because it would increase the likelihood that the US would use armed troops in crisis situations.

This was still the Vietnam hangover period after all. Historian Andrew Bacevich has said that RDF set “in motion the militarization of US policy that has continued ever since.” Even more traditional defense analysts often preferred a Naval-based force.

In any event, there’s surprisingly little criticism of the GSTF, despite the obvious implications. Oh sure, if one discusses a specific scenario — like Iran — then critics are quick to point out that “the United States is now a first-strike nation.”

Perhaps Rob Farley’s critique of the air force as an institution gets closest to the problem I’m describing:

Moreover, the presence of the Air Force in the high councils of war and peace tends to provide presidents with predictions of quick and easy military victories. Advocates of airpower have been making such cases since the run-up to World War II. Though these prophecies have been proven false time and again, they nevertheless remain attractive to civilian leaders who fear public disillusionment with casualties, and who wish to go to war while resisting the dangers of full military involvement. Airpower advocates offer military power on the cheap; the wars they lay out entail few casualties and many spectacular successes.

Bluntly, America’s global strike air capability might be used prematurely in virtually any crisis scenario. Rumsfeld’s transformation has essentially made striking first part of US military doctrine.

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Eggheads Requested

I wonder what readers of the Duck (and my co-bloggers) think about the DoD’s “Minerva” social science initiative. Short story is, the Pentagon plans to fund $8 million worth of social science research through the National Science Foundation this year. The NSF program solicitation is to be found here.

Today, the Washington Post reported that one “Network of Concerned Anthropologists” has expressed concern with the initiative:

“The Pentagon’s Minerva Research Initiative, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and warriors, will fund social science research deemed crucial to national security. Initial proposals were due July 25, and the first grants are expected to be awarded by year’s end. But the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, which includes professors from American and George Mason universities, said dependence on Pentagon funding could make universities an ‘instrument rather than a critic of war-making.’

American Anthropological Association has issued similar concerns.

I think this position is bunk. The fact that the DoD is asking certain questions in a certain way and will be interested in the findings does not mean the DoD controls the research or that the science is compromised. It doesn’t mean that social scientists will be militarized or are unable to be critical of policies based on certain empirical fallacies. It does mean that those who want the money will have to demonstrate the relevance of their research designs to the kinds of questions the DoD wants answered, but that’s no different from any other NSF RFP. What it also means (significantly) is that the DoD at least wants to send the signal that it is actually prepared to consider the results. In light of recent history, I think this is a great leap forward.

Then again, perhaps I am just in favor because I want some of the money.

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Ruminations from Yasukuni

While I was in Japan last week interviewing government officials about their “human security” foreign policy agenda, I visited the Yasukuni shrine. Readers may be aware that this memorial to modern-era Japanese war dead has been controversial in the region: victims of Japan’s imperial wars see it as a salute to war criminals, and the opposition in Japan considers any national monument to militarism a violation of the post-war constitution.

A Chinese documentary film about Yasukuni was released over the weekend in Tokyo amid stringent opposition from nationalists.

Most of the controversy focuses on the shrine itself, but I found Yushukan Museum much more disquieting. Although my guidebook told me that the shrine honors Japanese soldiers and civilians who died defending the Japanese empire, I found the museum focused on soldiers to the exclusion of civilians. Among the lauded artifacts is a steam locomotive from the Thai-Burma “Death Railway,” built by Allied prisoners of war. And told through the lens of Japanese nationalism, the history of Japan’s imperial wars looks rather different. For exampe, here is how the siege of Nanking is described:


Yet not all of the warrior imagery seemed propagandistic. I found myself contemplating a bronze statue near the entrance to the museum.

This is not an image of self-serving militarism, but of just warriorhood: the young man with the sword is assisting an injured elder, and sheltering a mother with children; he is showing the younger boy how to behave correctly with a weapon.

One might argue that such representations have some place in an international society that places value on the protection of human life from the worst of what armies do.

At any rate, pure pacifism must be a hard sell in a society whose members still recall fighting in the last of Japan’s great wars. My brother and I noticed old Japanese men reading the placards with great solemnity.

For them – perhaps even for a younger generation inured to the horrors of battle, such memory-keeping is vital.

What struck me most tooling aroud Tokyo beyond the shrine was how quickly the Japanese remade themselves as a society after World War II, forsaking their former militarism. Today, the emphasis in Japanese culture is on courtesy and “cuteness” or kawaii. (For a scholarly treatment of kawaii, see Anne Allison’s work in Postcolonial Studies.)

It is as if Yushukan contains all those feelings that have been so self-consciously excised from the rest of society. Perhaps, in that sense, it plays a role of some value despite the arguments of its critics.

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