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Category: PRISM

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.

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.