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July 2, 2020

Crafting Strategy for Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Analysis and Action

Based on the pedagogical approach of the College of International Security Affairs within the National Defense University, this article presents an analytical framework to assess and respond to irregular threats. Though terminological precision and analytical frameworks are no panacea for the malaise facing Western strategy, it is an indispensable starting point for all that must follow.

June 25, 2020

System Overload: Can China’s Military Be Distracted in a War over Taiwan?

In his 2019 New Year’s Day address, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping issued a stern warning to Taiwan: “We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures.” At the same time, he warned that force could also be used to forestall “intervention by external forces,” referring to the United States. While designed to intimidate recalcitrant Taiwan and U.S. leaders—and appeal to domestic nationalists—rather than to signal an imminent confrontation, Xi’s comments underscored the very real military threats that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses to Taiwan. As the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency notes, Taiwan has been the “primary driver” of PLA modernization for decades, spurring the development of short- and long-range ballistic missiles, amphibious and airborne units, and other capabilities targeted at Taiwan and intervening U.S. forces. Those threats have become more worrisome as the PLA conducts large-scale exercises and provocative bomber flights around the island. The PLA’s improved warfighting capabilities have contributed to China’s near-term cross–Taiwan Strait objective—deterring Taiwan independence. Understanding the costs that a war would impose on the island, few but the most die-hard Taiwan independence activists have supported overt moves toward de jure independence.

June 12, 2020

PRISM Vol. 8, No. 4 (June 2020)

As the National Security and National Defense Strategies state, the world has entered a phase of great power competition in which the United States is confronted by a rising China and a resurgent Russia. PRISM V.8,N.4 offers perspective on this competition with articles by Sir Lawrence Freedman, the Honorable Joseph Nye, and the Honorable Andrew Natsios.

June 11, 2020

Full Spectrum Dominance: Irregular Warfare and the War on Terror

One might assume that a history of America’s 21st century turn to irregular warfare would have little to offer policymakers grappling with the challenge of great power competition. In Full Spectrum Dominance: Irregular Warfare and the War on Terror however, Maria Ryan offers a meticulous account not of how the United States might organize itself for futuristic high-tech warfare or geopolitical competition, but, rather, how it came to elevate a form of warfare that many U.S. defense planners and practitioners would prefer to view through the rear-view mirror. And yet, the lessons implied by Ryan’s impressive piece of scholarship should serve as a cautionary tale not just for practitioners seeking to ensure irregular warfare remains a “core competency” of the U.S. military, but also for those managing the tradeoffs and dilemmas of the contemporary strategic environment.

June 11, 2020

Elite Incentives and Power Dynamics in Fragile States

By 2030, it is estimated that half of the world’s poor will be concentrated in fragile states. These are countries where the social contract between the government and its people is weak or absent—a breakdown which both creates a heightened risk of shocks from conflict, violence, pandemic illness, and/or natural disasters, and limits the country’s resilience to them. The increasing interlinkage between global development and state fragility, the potential cross-border nature of some of the risks, and the deeply mixed track record of successful international intervention to date, have prompted many donor organizations—including the United States—to reorient their policies and approaches to better support fragile states’ pathways to peace, stability, and resilience.

June 11, 2020

Foreign Aid in an Era of Great Power Competition

Over the past decade the international political system has evolved into a state of great power rivalry in which the United States is challenged for international leadership by a rising China and a rapidly re-arming, revanchist Russia. A new militant nationalism is spreading across the globe; democracy appears to be in retreat as aggrieved populations turn to populist authoritarianism as a remedy. This rising political and strategic competition has now crossed over into the international development space.

June 11, 2020

Perspectives for a China Strategy

When the Munich Security Conference met in February 2020, China was the most frequently mentioned country, while there was an exaggerated mood of Western decline. Yet as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown, China has both strengths and weaknesses. Its initial censorship, suppression of feedback and curtailment of international information allowed the pandemic to develop and fester. Draconian quarantine of Wuhan curtailed its spread somewhat; followed by a government propaganda campaign to attract others to the theme that China’s behavior had been benign. When the pandemic eventually subsides, however, China will be faced with the political and economic costs resulting from the exposure of both a failed public health system and an overly rigid party control system.

June 11, 2020

COVID-19: The Pandemic and its Impact on Security Policy

The world is caught up in an existential struggle. The opponent is intangible; it spares neither state nor social group and does not stop at any border. For many of us, this struggle feels like war. Indeed, with the growing use of war-like language in the fight against COVID-19, also called coronavirus, a rapidly rising number of victims, and last but not least the economic consequences which are becoming increasingly clear, we seem to be experiencing a war-like situation.

June 11, 2020

No Such Thing as a Perfect Partner: The Challenges of “By, With, and Through”

Taking a peacebuilding approach to working with local militaries and armed groups means using assistance to fragmented security sectors to increase cooperation between various formal and informal elites in a weak state. This approach places less emphasis on developing conventional military power and more emphasis on facilitating and improving relations between the different factions within the security sector and between the security sector and the civilian population. If international providers help local partners perform better at military tasks without ensuring that the forces have local legitimacy and strong accountability, progress is likely to be fleeting and could actually exacerbate civilian harm and the underlying drivers of violent conflict.

June 11, 2020

China’s Private Military and Security Companies: “Chinese Muscle” and the Reasons for U.S. Engagement

On 7 February 2019, General Thomas Waldhauser, then-Commander of United States Africa Command, stated the following during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee: “The Chinese bring the money and the Russians bring the muscle.” “Chinese money” is evident in the fact that since 2009, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner.