15 comments posted · 3 followers · following 1

582 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Thinking Strategically... · 0 replies · +1 points

On the first point, the removal of the missile shield actually makes it easier to build a coalition and, more importantly, to secure the necessary authority from the United Nations. Remember, the key players in this game are the Russians, not the Poles. The biggest obstacle to meaningful sanctions was Russian opposition. With that now softening (thanks to the rethink on missile defense) a robust sanctions regime with full diplomatic support is a real possibility.

On the broader point about the sustainability of this kind of forward posture, I think you are being unduly pessimistic. I would remind you that this is a 14.3 trillion dollar economy – three times as big as Japan – of which an easily affordable 4.7% of GDP is earmarked for defence, down by roughly a half from its Cold War peak of over 8%. So, historically, we are nowhere near over-stretch. Growth is still robust, purring along at or above trend; of the world's top twenty universities, seventeen are American; Americans win by far the largest number of Nobel prizes; Research and Development expenditure dwarfs that of her nearest competitors, and on key measures such as productivity and inward investment, America ranks at or near the top. So the fundamentals of the American economy are sound. Do Americans need to save more? Yes. Does she need to take measures to get the deficits under control? Clearly, but this is not an economy on the verge of collapse.

586 weeks ago @ The Red Rag - Brown dithers again · 0 replies · +1 points

You can imagine them in the bunker now, frantically war-gaming every possible scenario, trying to find the one killer argument that will allow him to duck out of it.

Every possible excuse, every convoluted piece of reasoning, every tortured bit of logic they'll throw at the problem until eventually they'll realise what the rest of us already know: there's no way out of it, and the longer he leaves it, the worse it looks.

586 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - thesis · 0 replies · +1 points


The general election is going to be impossible to ignore. It will dominate discussion in the next year, effectively crowding out any wider debate. And I aim to stay fully engaged in that discussion.

At the same time, I am involved in some technical debates in contemporary IR theory and the philosophy of the social sciences. Just now, for example, my research has taken me away from first-order questions about US and British foreign policy into the thicket of nineteenth century German philosophy - areas that are just not of interest to a general readership. And so rather than clutter the main blog with posts on obscure German philosophers or technical debates in the philosophy of the social sciences and risk losing readers, I felt the most sensible thing was to separate out my research from the core policy debate, leaving the main blog free for the election stuff.

That was really the thought process behind the launch of the new blog. I wasn’t aiming to make any deeper philosophical point.

586 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Holbrooke heightens co... · 0 replies · +1 points

On top of this, of course, there are the deeper structural problems in the defence establishment. By this, I mean the relationship between the defence industry, the academy and parliament. The big defence contractors do not like counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns because no big defence contracts hinge upon them. They prefer conventional threats with big budget items attached – aircraft carriers, missile defence systems, force projection capabilities – the real ‘big ticket’ stuff. In COIN operations, the emphasis is very much on manpower – both civilian and military - and so there are no lobbyists.

Where there are no lobbyists, there are no campaign funds, and where there are no campaign funds, there is no pressure from congress. And so you see defence contractors and their friends in the academy playing up the threat from China, rather than designing force packages for COIN operations. The relationship between defence contractors, the think tanks, the academy and congress is a deeply incestuous one. It is conservative and unhelpful, it skews threat analysis in favour of conventional scenarios and away from emerging threats. That is why we arrived in theatre in 2001-2003 with a force designed to fight an idealised future war against a high-tech enemy, rather than the low-tech guerrilla campaign we actually confronted. The effect is more pronounce in the US, of course, but the same dynamic is very much at work here.

Through the 1990s these pressures gradually build, slowly driving defence and diplomacy apart to the point where we end up with a military doctrine that has evolved in almost complete isolation from the diplomatic and development aspects of the new diplomacy. The end result - as you rightly point out - is a military without any coherent concept of operations and wholly unprepared for the sort of low-intensity counterinsurgency campaigns they are now being asked to fight. All of this I accept. What I do not accept is the idea that this means we are likely to lose in Afghanistan. To make this leap seems to me to go beyond the evidence. It is just too simple to say that we are configured for a type of war which does not exist and quite incapable of conducting a campaign in the manner needed for it to prevail.

Though there is truth in your premise, there is not nearly enough to support your conclusion, if for no other reason than it was ever thus. There has not been a campaign yet where we have entered theatre properly resourced and equipped for the fight. To take just two examples, we were not remotely equipped in 1939 to fight a war against the Germans. Similarly the Falklands: had we confronted a halfway competent force in the South Atlantic we would not have prevailed. None of this is to excuse or otherwise condone the catalogue of failure and mismanagement in Iraq or Afghanistan. I share your sense of outrage at what you rightly call the scandal of procurement. It is merely to set the Afghanistan campaign in a wider historical context, primarily as a way of adding some strategic depth to the debate, because it seems to me that the one thing that is missing from your analysis is any attempt to set the Afghanistan campaign in a wider strategic framework.

Every reverse is seized upon as evidence of looming defeat. There is very little attempt to build support for the mission, no statement of basic principle, no attempt to link to wider successes. You appear to have struck an increasingly despondent and desperate tone of late, and by contributing to the general sense of despair, you are in danger of introducing an element of self-fulfilling prophecy to the debate. It seems to me that the appropriate response is not to duck the challenge and absent ourselves from the fight, but rather to refine the concept. What is needed is change at the margins, not any kind of revolution in doctrine. With the new 2006 COIN manual, the basic template for operations is now in place. All that is missing are the resources to implement it. With Obama’s renewed commitment, those resources are set to come on stream and it would be a very great irony indeed if, at the moment all the elements for a determined, focused strategic effort are finally put in place, the mission suffers for lack of political resolve at home.

586 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Holbrooke heightens co... · 1 reply · +1 points

Richard, while I remain a very great admirer of yours, I do worry about your increasingly strident tone on all matters Afghanistan.

As you well know, the military is designed for a range of contingencies. The key, as always, is to get the balance right - between force projection and force protection, between heavily armoured mechanised brigades and lightly armoured mobile formations, between the ability to generate violence on the battlefield and peacekeeping and conflict resolution capabilities. As always, the difficulty of resolving these ambiguities is compounded by the pressure on resources. And it is right to say that, in our attempt to develop and maintain some sort of capability across the full range of civil, diplomatic and military tasks - effectively to be all things to all men - we end up falling between too many stools.

In part, this reflects strategic confusion about our role in the world, confusion that has lasted since the end of the Soviet threat. Indeed, that is why some defence analysts yearn for a return to what they regard as the ‘clarity’ of the Cold War. Throughout the 1990s, as we groped around for a new strategic concept, so this confusion worked its way through the bureaucracy and into the design and procurement process. It is important to realise just how much of a shock the end of the Cold War was. Effectively, we are still transitioning out of our Cold War posture. The first phase of that transition - roughly from 1991 to 1998 - consisted in the main of cost reductions and so we see a reduction in overall capability, without any real restructuring. At this stage, we are only dimly aware of the type of threats the new strategic environment is likely to throw up and so force posture is still designed around the need to confront conventional military force. Only with our experience in Bosnia in the mid-1990s do we begin to get a sense of the type of threats that are likely to emerge. And so it is not until the 1998 SDR that we begin to see a real move towards a more flexible force structure and a different blend of elements although - even then - this document was still very much better at identifying problems than providing solutions.

At the same time, the procurement and design process generates its own set of imperatives. Absent an overarching strategic concept, these begin to dominate. The relationship between strategy and procurement becomes inverted and you end up with a design and procurement driven process. The requirement of interoperability is one such imperative and the MOD allowed itself to be seduced by it into embracing the Pentagon’s new ‘future war’ concept. For years, talk in the MOD has centred around ‘effects-based’ warfare, the new network-centric or ‘network-enabled’ capability and the sole focus has been on the kinetic phase of operations. Now, while in an important sense this is wholly appropriate, in a deeper sense it still reflects a failure to develop a fully integrated strategic concept. Though ideal for the kinetic phase of operations, the ‘future war’ concept is next to useless when applied to the stabilisation and reconstruction phase.

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587 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Holbrooke heightens co... · 1 reply · +1 points

wmanosh, thanks for your comments.

First, ‘behaviour’ is the English spelling. Second, I lay out the reasons why the doctrine is flawed in the very next paragraph. The problem is that realists from Walt’s generation still seem to regard management of the international system as simply a matter of arranging balancing coalitions. Their core theoretical commitment is to a picture of the world that no longer exists. They bring a set of Cold War arguments about the logic of inter-state competition and rivalry to the debate that have simply outlived their usefulness. States you can balance using the full array of conventional military assets. The kind of millennial challenge we are facing in the Greater Middle East requires an altogether different set of capabilities.

Success there means building up state capacity, bringing some measure of effective and accountable governance to the region and reinforcing the integrity of the state, and the old realism is just not equipped to deal with this set of challenges. So we need to move beyond the old diplomacy, beyond power balancing, to a new paradigm and a new set of concepts. That was really the point I was making. We can no longer content ourselves with upholding a precarious balance because none of the elements for a classical balancing strategy are in place.

587 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - beyond ethics: putting... · 0 replies · +1 points

The diplomatic outreach in the Cairo speech is very different from the sort of free-floating moralism we find in Maddox. Unlike her, Obama never loses sight of the national security dimension of the argument.

In Maddox, the argument for women's rights is cut completely adrift from any overarching conception of the national interest. With Obama, the opposite is true; he makes the national interest argument the very centre and basis of his appeal.

588 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Holbrooke heightens co... · 0 replies · +1 points

James, feel free to post the link to your article.

588 weeks ago @ Heresy Corner - Sarah Palin - You are ... · 0 replies · +1 points

The right wing US blogosphere is a special place; a wondrous, magical place, full of real through-the-looking-glass stuff.

I try to spend as much time there as possible. It livens up boring Sunday evenings no end.

589 weeks ago @ POLITICS | by scott - Holbrooke heightens co... · 1 reply · +1 points

I disagree James.

I think the whole ‘graveyard of empires’ argument rests on a set of really rather lazy historical analogies. We bring a different set of capabilities and a different set of objectives to the mission in Afghanistan than either the Soviets in the 1980s or the British in the nineteenth century.

A multi-billion dollar, multinational interagency effort is in no way comparable to a small nineteenth century British expeditionary force. It just makes no sense to compare the two. Similarly, the Soviets were fought to a grim and bloody stalemate in Afghanistan not by the Afghans, but by a force fully armed and trained by the West. America alone is estimated to have financed the Mujahedeen to the tune of a massive $6bn in the 1980s. There is no comparable support for the Taliban today. Iran is paying around on the edges of the conflict, but the flow of arms and money to the Taliban today bears no comparison to that supplied by America and its allies in the 1980s.

And that is without even going in to the aid and development effort. It barely needs saying that there was no comparable diplomatic or development track to the Soviet effort. The new strategic concept is just an altogether different beast from anything that has gone before it and so those who remain sceptical need to find a better set of arguments in my opinion. The historical analogies just don't stand up.