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Category: Occasional Papers

Aug. 12, 2020

The Micromanagement Myth and Mission Command: Making the Case for Oversight of Military Operations

This paper argues that leaders, historians, and pundits have grossly exaggerated civilian micromanagement of the U.S. military, resulting in less effective civilian and military oversight of military operations and a reduced likelihood that military operations will achieve strategic results.

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.

July 31, 2019

Five Conundrums: The United States and the Conflict in Syria

For the past 8 years, two U.S. administrations, the United Nations (UN), and numerous foreign governments have sought to end the catastrophic war in Syria and reach a negotiated political settlement to the conflict. Their efforts have repeatedly been complicated, even thwarted, by the highly contested and violent politics underlying the conflict, the sheer number of conflict actors inside and outside of Syria, and those actors’ diverse and often irreconcilable objectives.

May 20, 2019

Finding Ender: Exploring the Intersections of Creativity, Innovation, and Talent Management in the U.S. Armed Forces

Current national-level strategic documents exhort the need for creativity and innovation as a precondition of America’s continued competitive edge in the international arena. But what does that really mean in terms of personnel, processes, and culture? This paper argues that an overlooked aspect of talent management, that of cognitive diversity, must be considered when retooling military talent management systems. Going one step further, talent management models must incorporate diversity of both skill set and mindset into their calculus. Specifically, the Department of Defense (DOD) needs to recruit, retain, and utilize Servicemembers and civilians with higher than average levels of creativity and a propensity for innovative thinking. It needs “enders.”

March 25, 2019

Russian Challenges from Now into the Next Generation: A Geostrategic Primer

U.S. and Western relations with Russia remain challenged as Russia increasingly reasserts itself on the global stage. Russia remains driven by a worldview based on existential threats—real, perceived, and contrived. As a vast, 11-time zone Eurasian nation with major demographic and economic challenges, Russia faces multiple security dilemmas internally and along its vulnerable and expansive borders. Exhibiting a reactive xenophobia stemming from a long history of destructive war and invasion along most of its borders, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and perceived Western slights, Russia increasingly threatens others and lashes outward. However, time is not on Russia’s side, as it has entered into a debilitating status quo that includes unnecessary confrontation with the West, multiple unresolved military commitments, a sanctions-strained and only partially diversified economy, looming domestic tensions, and a rising China directly along its periphery. Washington still has an opportunity to carefully improve U.S.-Russia relations and regain a more stable relationship in the near term, but only if activities and initiatives are based on a firm and frank appreciation of each other’s core interests, including those of their allies and partners.

March 13, 2019

El Salvador's Recognition of the People's Republic of China: A Regional Context

In January 2016, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) abandoned an 8-year truce in its war with the Republic of China (ROC) over diplomatic recognition around the world and subsequently moved to aggressively woo traditional Taipei allies. This paper centers on the PRC’s recent successful push into Latin America, and particularly in Central America—historically a primary area of influence for the United States. Through a concerted effort—and often in exchange for promises of mega investments and financial aid—the PRC increasingly receives a warm welcome across the Latin American continent. This paper analyzes recent decisions by several countries in the Western Hemisphere in recognizing PRC and offers an in-depth assessment of El Salvador’s recent decision to break historic ties to Taiwan and embrace Beijing—a move that presents a significant strategic challenge to U.S. regional interests.

Jan. 30, 2019

A Strategic Overview of Latin America: Identifying New Convergence Centers, Forgotten Territories, and Vital Hubs for Transnational Organized Crime

This paper outlines a number of critical strategic challenges in Latin America for U.S. policymakers, which were directly identified in the December 2017 National Security Strategy. However, despite this recognition, these issues are seldom featured in policy discussions about the region.

Jan. 2, 2019

Between Russia and Iran: Room to Pursue American Interests in Syria

President Donald Trump has underscored containing Iran’s sway as a key element in establishing a “strong and lasting footprint” in Syria as the United States moves toward bringing its Soldiers home. In pursuing this key American objective, this paper recommends that Washington take advantage of the “daylight” between Russia and Iran, and that it be American policy at all levels to work to expand it. This long-existing “daylight” was underscored in 2018 by calls in Moscow for Iran to withdraw its forces from some or all of Syria, and by Putin’s positive regard at the summit in Helsinki with President Trump for Israel’s security requirements.

Oct. 17, 2018

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Environmental Sustainability

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) are deployed to create, maintain, and secure peace in countries and regions struggling with violence and war. The environmental sustainability of UNPKO mission sites is not essential to the purpose of each deployment, but good sustainability practices can benefit the mission, host nation, troop-contributing countries, and the global environment. As a major contributor to UNPKO efforts, the United States has a direct interest in improving the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of each mission. This paper identifies gaps in sustainability practices at local and organizational levels and recommends an increased focus on sustainability practices that can benefit the mission, host nation, troopcontributing countries, and the environment.

Oct. 2, 2018

China's Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era

In late 2015, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initiated reforms that have brought dramatic changes to its structure, model of warfighting, and organizational culture, including the creation of a Strategic Support Force (SSF) that centralizes most PLA space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities. The reforms come at an inflection point as the PLA seeks to pivot from land-based territorial defense to extended power projection to protect Chinese interests in the “strategic frontiers” of space, cyberspace, and the far seas. Understanding the new strategic roles of the SSF is essential to understanding how the PLA plans to fight and win informationized wars and how it will conduct information operations.