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Category: PRISM Articles

March 19, 2021

The Military in the Time of COVID-19: Versatile, Vulnerable, and Vindicating

Since the eruption of the world’s latest pandemic, COVID-19 in December 2019, militaries throughout the world have taken on a variety of unfamiliar domestic tasks—an arena which is usually reserved for internal security forces. In Peru the military called upon 16,000 reservists to help fight the pandemic—an exceptional move that did not even occur during the fight against the rebel group Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s. The Italian military found itself driving truckloads of deceased COVID-19 victims to mortuaries, provoking questions about possible post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). In Spain, the military has also drawn international attention, not only for its assistance in imposing national lockdowns, but moreover for the revealing uniforms, with deep v-neck shirts and leather suspenders. This prompted both comments from mainly female writers, reflecting on the physical attraction of the male soldiers, and a deeper and more critical discussion on the role of the Spanish military during the civil war and the succeeding dictatorship.

March 19, 2021

Natural Hazards and National Security: The COVID-19 Lessons

Natural hazards can have serious implications for national security. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how first-order challenges are created for our national security planners, not least maintaining SSBN and SSN submarine crew and air crew rosters during quarantine restrictions, as well as keeping forces operationally effective while establishing social distancing in supply, repair and support facilities, gyms, and mess halls. We must also expect our adversaries to try to exploit the dislocation such events cause to further their own agendas.

Oct. 21, 2020

China’s Strategic Objectives in a Post-COVID-19 World

On 1 October 2019, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) celebrated its 70th birthday, thus marking another important landmark of modern China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In commemorating the event, the Chinese government held a grand military parade with some 15,000 troops, more than 160 aircraft, and 580 active weapon systems during the event, including the latest generation nuclear missile systems such as the Dongfeng-41 mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. As the South China Morning Post reported, citing one insider, “the parade, which aims to showcase President Xi’s achievement in military modernization and reforms in both hardware and software will carry a lot of political meaning.” Given ongoing social protests in Hong Kong and problems in western societies at that time (such as Brexit talks in the UK and political opposition to President Trump in the United States) the contrast could not have been more stark: A powerful and prosperous China celebrates its international success while many western societies fail and flounder amidst their own domestic problems.

Oct. 21, 2020

The Essence of the Strategic Competition with China

U.S. national security strategy and defense policy have come to focus on China as the primary emphasis in the “strategic competition” outlined by recent U.S. strategy documents. Outside government, an avalanche of recent reports and essays lays out the China challenge in sometimes fervent terms, depicting an ideologically threatening revisionist state with malign intentions. As the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf put it recently, “Across-the-board rivalry with China is becoming an organizing principle of U.S. economic, foreign and security policies.

Oct. 21, 2020

Rediscovering a Strategic Purpose for NATO

Watford is at first sight an unlikely place for a gathering of world leaders. This nondescript suburb to the north of London found itself briefly in the media spotlight one chilly afternoon in December 2019. Boris Johnson had taken time out from his election campaign just before polling day to host a meeting of NATO leaders. It was intended to be a signal of allied unity in the 70th anniversary year of the 1949 Washington Treaty.

Oct. 21, 2020

The Evolution of Authoritarian Digital Influence: Grappling with the New Normal

As the world contends with the wide-ranging ramifications of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has been simultaneously beset by the global information crisis, which mimics the shape of the pandemic itself in its viral effects across huge segments of the global population.

Oct. 21, 2020

Quantum Computing’s Cyber-Threat to National Security

Quantum computing has the potential to bring tremendous advancements to science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and many other disciplines. The practical application will empower a stronger defense against future pandemics similar to COVID-19, not only in the acceleration of the development of vaccines and treatments, but also in optimizing currently unsolvable logistics problems such as how to deliver and route vaccines. In computer science, the “traveling salesman problem” shows it is impractical to find the optimal shortest path to visit cities once the list grows to even a few dozen. This same challenge in delivering vaccines to rural areas during a pandemic is exactly the type of problem that quantum computing will be well suited to solve.

Oct. 21, 2020

No Competition Without Presence: Should the U.S. Leave Africa?

American blood and treasure should be prioritized to secure U.S. national interests. The United States military is not the world’s police force, and where others can share the burden, the United States should add only its unique capabilities. But defending U.S. interests extends even into faraway lands, including Africa. While Africa may never be a top national security concern for the United States, a convergence of gains by state and nonstate actors alike there affect U.S. security and economic interests globally. Yet the Pentagon’s recent effort to rebalance its resources against great power competitors—especially China and Russia—after almost two decades of counterterrorism dominance places the commitment of U.S. military resources to Africa in question. Drawing down too far militarily in Africa risks losing influence on the continent to those very same state actors, erasing hard–fought counterterrorism gains, and compromising U.S. global interests.

Oct. 21, 2020

International Competition to Provide Security Force Assistance in Africa: Civil-Military Relations Matter

Western states increasingly tackle the problem of state fragility in Africa through the delivery of security force assistance (SFA). What is SFA and why does it matter?  Broadly speaking, SFA is a term used to describe the provision of military aid, advisors, and resources to a fragile state, so that the armed forces of that state can provide security in support of stability. SFA typically consists of the deployment of small numbers of military advisors and resources to a fragile or weak state to build effective armed forces. However, such efforts are often overly technical and rarely address the political and institutional problems that create insecurity and the fragmented security organizations of that state (e.g. police, military, intelligence, etc.). Worse, in some cases, such SFA has only created the veneer of military effectiveness, known as the Fabergé Egg army problem; an expensively built military, but easily broken by insurgents.

Oct. 21, 2020

Don’t Trust Anyone: The ABCs of Building Resilient Telecommunications Networks

The January issue of Prism carried an article titled “The Worst Possible Day”1 that included a discussion of the implications for the United States of banning Chinese company Huawei from networks that the United States and its allies rely on for national security-related communications. A supporter of the ban, the author, Thomas Donahue, emphasized the critical importance of using equipment from trusted sources in U.S. telecom infrastructure and that of its allies. He argued that the consequences of not doing so could be catastrophic when the United States needs to project power, or convincingly threaten the use of force, such as during a military conflict. The article concluded that the United States needs to seriously consider how to assure the use of trusted alternatives to Huawei equipment, whether by supporting the development of a U.S.-based manufacturer or consortium, or spending tens of billions of dollars to acquire either or both the manufacturers Nokia and Ericsson, or investing significantly in the two Nordic firms.