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Category: PRISM Articles

Oct. 21, 2020

Is China Expansionist?

The Chinese soldier who pushed the Indian Colonel Santosh Babu (who tragically died) and thereby triggered the violent clash between Chinese and Indian soldiers in mid-June 2020 should be court-martialed. Both sides suffered casualties, the worst since 1975. This one push by one Chinese soldier has set back China-India relations severely, undermining all the good work that had been done over several years by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Equally importantly, it has reinforced a growing belief, especially in the western world, that as China’s economy becomes stronger and stronger, China will abandon its “peaceful rise” and behave as a militarily expansionist power. This could well happen. It would be naive to believe otherwise. However, a deep study of Chinese history and culture would also show that the continuation of a peaceful rise is equally plausible.

Oct. 21, 2020

An Interview with General Joseph Votel, USA (Ret)

First and foremost, we have largely blunted the platform that was used to attack our country on 9/11, and our military operations there have ensured that the area cannot be used as a location from which to attack our citizens or our homeland. We certainly have accomplished that. I think we have also provided the opportunity for the Afghan people to move forward in their own way; to exercise self-rule, for example. It has certainly been a very difficult path and it will continue to be as we move forward. It is not an easy situation, but I think we have provided the opportunity for them to become a more stable part of the Central Asian scene, and hopefully not be a platform from which terrorist organizations or other elements of instability can continue to impact the people of Afghanistan or others in the region.

Oct. 21, 2020

Exercise of Power

I first met Secretary Gates in the summer of 2006, when he was President of Texas A&M and had been invited to the Pentagon to meet with my boss, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. I was a newly selected 3-star Vice Admiral, and knew all about him, of course, as a career CIA officer who went on to lead the Agency before retiring and heading into academe, first as Dean of the Bush School and then as President at Texas A&M. When he came into my small office outside the vast Secretary of Defense office, I started to usher him in immediately, but he spent several minutes asking me about myself, how long I had been with Secretary Rumsfeld, where I had been before my current job. It was friendly and engaging conversation, but you could feel that spymaster’s gaze sizing you up and filing the conversation away. I thought to myself, I would like to work for him someday—never considering it would happen. I sure wasn’t going to get out of the Navy and move to Texas.

Oct. 21, 2020

The Return of the Russian Leviathan

Sergei Medvedev, Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, is a fox; a thoroughly modern, or perhaps I should say, post-modern fox. Isaiah Berlin would understand. The British historian of ideas wrote a paradigmatic essay on Russian literature, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” in which he contrasted Tolstoy the fox, with Dostoevsky the hedgehog. As Berlin explained, the hedgehog knows one big thing, but the fox knows many things.

Oct. 21, 2020

The Dragons and the Snakes

Every few years David Kilcullen publishes an insightful book that inspires new thinking in the U.S. armed forces and becomes a standard reference for all manner of strategies, operational plans, and concepts. The Australian anthropologist, former army officer, and conflict zone observer has a unique talent for capturing global dynamics in warfare and explaining them to a wide audience. In 2009, it was The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. In 2013, it was Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. His newest, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, repeats the feat in a timely book for the re-emerging multipolar world.

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

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.