PRISM Volume 7, no 4

PRISM Vol. 7, No. 4

(November 2018)

Download Full PDF  →



Former Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Denis Mercier (right) speaks at a NATO-Industry Forum in 2016.

NATO's Adaptation in an Age of Complexity

By General Denis Mercier

Successful and lasting organizations must adapt quickly, and militaries are not exempt from that requirement—even less so than their civilian counterparts, because preparing for past wars generally has dire consequences for them, and for their countries. NATO, as the hub for transatlantic and European security it has strived to be for the past 70 years, is undergoing a significant structural upheaval, as it wishes to stay relevant to contemporary threats and challenges, while putting itself in a position to keep an edge on any potential opponent in the foreseeable future.

In January this year, Afghan Special Security Forces destroy former ISIS–K fighting positions and weapon caches in Nangarhar Province. (U.S. Army/Jacob Krone)

The Fight So Far

By LTG Michael K. Nagata

Achieving significantly greater strategic success against terrorism remains within America’s grasp, but only if we are willing to be as adaptive and flexible—indeed more so—than our terrorist adversaries have proven to be. Achieving this will require us to make investments, adopt practices, and make choices we previously have not. Although the U.S. Government (USG) has frequently claimed to take a whole-of-government approach in utilizing all elements of national power to fight terrorism, our struggle against the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has demonstrated that we must strengthen our emphasis and resourcing of non-kinetic counterterrorism (CT) efforts to match the strengths that we and our allies have developed since 9/11 in kinetic efforts.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in August released a commercial GEOINT strategy update, emphasizing innovation in the face of a rapidly advancing technological landscape. The strategy meets the advancing operating environment and reflects the priority of sustaining American leadership through research, technology, and innovation outlined in the U.S. National Security Strategy. (NGA)

The Mandate to Innovate

By Ms. Christina Monaco

Delivering decision advantage to a policymaker or situational awareness to a warfighter is becoming a more competitive challenge. As geospatial and AAA technologies increase in capability and availability—both within the United States and allied GEOINT enterprise as well as for our adversaries—the complexity of that mission increases. Empowering rapid experimentation and innovation, adapting new business models (particularly those that have proven successful to the business world), and applying the breadth of the means availability to us to acquire new capabilities are ways for us to continuously replenish the nation's GEOINT advantage.

German infantryman participates in a Combined Georgian special operations force exercise for Noble Partner 18, the fourth iteration of the Georgian Armed Forces and U.S. Army Europe cooperatively-led exercise.  “Strength through partnership” was the theme for this year’s exercise, which also emphasized joint, combined planning for complex operations.

Examining Complex Forms of Conflict: Gray Zone and Hybrid Challenges

By Dr. Frank G. Hoffman

The Joint Force, and the national security community as a whole, must be ready and able to respond to numerous challenges across the full spectrum of conflict including complex operations during peacetime and war. However, this presupposes a general acceptance of a well understood taxonomy describing the elements that constitute the “continuum of conflict.” The U.S. security community lacks this taxonomy, despite its engagement in a spate of diverse conflicts around the globe from the South China Sea, to Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and beyond. Partially as a result of this conceptual challenge, we are falling behind in our readiness for the future. Understanding our future security challenges demands that we reflect and interpret the past, understand the present, and think rigorously about what lies over the horizon in order to adapt to the changing character of conflict. This requires keeping an open and informed mind about the breadth of the various modes of conflict that exist. The wars of the 21st century may take many forms. As conflict reflects a greater degree of convergence and complexity, so must our mental models and frameworks.

Two destroyed tanks in front of a mosque in Azaz, Syria. A battle between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was fought from March to July in 2012 for control over the city of Azaz, north of Aleppo, during the Syrian civil war. (Christian Triebert)

Post–Conflict Stabilization: What Can We Learn from Syria?

By Mr. Michael Ratney

Trying to draw lessons, even initial ones, from the U.S. experience in Syria is daunting, but the bottom line is that any conflict setting—and any effort to design a program of stabilization—brings a unique set of peculiarities that may not resemble conflicts in which we have been involved in the past. The Syria experience, where there is no central government with which the United States and others in the international community can partner with and empower, is an excellent example, and suggests a need for careful analysis of the specific circumstances of settings in which the United States may find itself operating in order to develop stabilization doctrine and tools that are suited not only to the last conflict, but to the next one.

An aerial view of the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in 2013, as seen from a helicopter carrying the U.S. Secretary of State and Jordanian Foreign Minister. (Department of State)

Learning and Innovation: Jordan at the "Crossroads of Armageddon"

By Ms. Beth E. Cole

A recurring feature of the past few decades is the presence of the nation’s three principal national security institutions (the 3Ds)—Department of State (DOS), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Department of Defense (DOD)—operating in complex environments abroad marked by conflict, crisis, and state fragility. This paradigm, dubbed the “new normal” by many, begs a few questions. What are we learning from these critical missions undertaken in pursuit of national security? Are we adjusting our strategies to maximize the prospects for prevention of conflict based on that learning? Is innovation occurring that enables us to work better together to address challenges in these environments? Of keen interest is what the 3D did to address the unique challenges in Jordan, and how. Understanding both the “what” and the “how” might reveal if we are learning and innovating.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations against a target in 2017. (U.S. Navy/Ford Williams)

The Machine Beneath: Implications of Artificial Intelligence in Strategic Decisionmaking

By Lt Col Matthew Price, LTC Stephen Walker, CDR Will Wiley

Despite the risks posed by the adaptation of AI to military affairs, the United States must seek to be at the forefront of this technology. It is unthinkable that America will cede this new territory to our competitors, such as China and Russia, who are aggressively pursuing it. Even if the United States decided to opt out of this arms race, it would have little effect, as the technologies described in this paper are inherently dual use, and the private sector around the globe will pursue them with abandon. Ethicists, weapon engineers, and military leaders are already hard at work on the challenges associated with designing and deploying battlefield lethal autonomous weapons systems. With this article, the authors hope to begin a new conversation, highlighting and differentiating the risks posed by employing strategic AI in military decisionmaking, particularly as the pace of warfare accelerates.

A Marine amphibious assault vehicle hits the beach through the Namsos fjord in March 2016 to support NATO allies and partners during the final training of Exercise Cold Response 16. The cold-weather training integrated air, land, and sea capabilities of 13 nations and more than 15,000 troops to improve capacity to coordinate and respond to threats as a team.

High North and High Stakes: The Svalbard Archipelago Could be the Epicenter of Rising Tension in the Arctic

By LtCol Michael Zimmerman, USMC

500 nautical miles north of the city of Tromsø, off of the northern cape of Norway, lies the Svalbard Archipelago; a collection of islands nearly one fourth the size of continental Norway with a unique history and an even more unique status under international law. Since its official discovery in the mid-1500s Svalbard has generally been an area of peace and cooperation due in large part to its location on the fringes of civilization. However, Svalbard’s tranquility has been punctuated by periods of competition and conflict when profitable resources are at stake. From whaling in the 1700s, coal in the late 1800s, and fishing in the present, profit from natural resources has been a consistent driver of instability in the area. Outside of resource-driven tension, the island chain spent most of its pre–20th century existence as a de facto “no man’s land” or global commons, ungoverned by any one nation.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in partnership with Discovery Communications, Vulcan Productions, and the file “Racing Extinction” projects images of wildlife on the DOS Washington DC façade to raise awareness of and spur action on the global threat of wildlife trafficking. (State Department)

Wildlife and Drug Trafficking, Terrorism, and Human Security

By Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown

Analysis of the wildlife-trafficking-militancy-nexus are often shrouded in unproven assumptions and myths. Crucially, they divert attention from several uncomfortable truths with profound policy implications: First is that the nexus of militancy in wildlife trafficking constitutes only a sliver of the global wildlife trade and countering it will not resolve the global poaching crisis. Second, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency forces, even recipients of international assistance, also poach and smuggle wildlife and use anti-poaching and counterterrorism efforts as covers for displacement of local populations and land grabbing. Third, corruption among government officials, agencies, and rangers has far more profound effects on the extent of poaching and wildlife trafficking. And finally, local communities are often willing participants in the global illegal wildlife trade.

Philippine flag flown in war torn Marawi. Published in PRISM w/ permission from iStock. Photo ID: 899073932

Sending in the Cavalry: The Growing Militarization of Counterterrorism in Southeast Asia

By Dr. See Seng Tan

Philippines, which lasted from May to October 2017, constitutes a watershed moment in the evolution of the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia. Pro–Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants threatened to turn Marawi into “the Mosul of Southeast Asia,” with their astounding ability to operate large groups capable of controlling territory and exposing the inadequacy of the region’s security services. Although member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had pondered the question of possible participation by their armed forces in counterterrorism well before the Battle, it is undeniable that Marawi has become the catalyst behind the regional drive to militarize counterterrorism efforts in Southeast Asia. Cooperative frameworks furnished by ASEAN have since taken on added significance, especially the defense-oriented arrangements that bring together the defense establishments and armed forces of the ASEAN countries as well as those of external powers including China, India, Japan, and the United States. The growing militarization of counterterrorism efforts will neither be easy nor straightforward, given longstanding regional sensitivities and the potentially diversive ramifications that excessive securitization could have for democratic life within ASEAN countries.


General John R. Allen, USMC (ret.)

Interview with General John R. Allen, USMC (ret.)

Reviewed by Mr. Michael Miklaucic

The mission was not just about al-Qaeda. We had two objectives; to destroy al-Qaeda, and to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban, which would have created the cycle all over again. The day I took command in Afghanistan (on July 18, 2011) I initiated an immediate campaign review which started with my review of the political objectives, which were the elimination and control of the potential for the resurgence of al-Qaeda, and to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghanistan government.

Book Reviews

On Grand Strategy (Book Review)

Reviewed by Dr. James MacDougall

With an historian’s keen eye for detail and nuance, John Lewis Gaddis surveys a variety of case studies from the Peloponnesian War to World War II in his new book On Grand Strategy, identifying in the process several general precepts that may help guide modern-day grand strategists. The book is not, however, a how-to guide for formulating grand strategy or conducting statecraft. It is rather more an examination of select strategic leaders and the ways in which they pursued priority objectives; some successfully, some not so. In focusing on individual leaders and not states, Gaddis’ approach to the topic echoes the view of Machiavelli whom he quotes from The Prince identifying the fundamental importance of the “knowledge of the actions of great men, learned by me from long experience with modern things and continuous reading of ancient ones.”1 The book adds meaningfully to the growing literature on grand strategy, particularly as regards strategic leadership and its historical context.—as reviewed by James MacDougall

Peace Works: America's Unifying Role in a Turbulent World (Book Review)

Reviewed by Ambassador Lawrence E. Butler

Peace Works is two things: an impassioned argument on why the United States should involve itself in conflict prevention, management and peace-making; and an important contribution to the practitioner’s tool box for dealing with conflict situations. Ambassador Barton’s first-person description of efforts in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti, and Syria merits study for use in responding to future humanitarian tragedies. While Peace Works has two obvious weaknesses—a political partisan bias and a predilection for humanitarian intervention, even when by his own guidelines, we should not—the book should be required reading for conflict management practitioners (diplomats, development experts, NGOs, the military—especially components most likely to be confronted with stabilization tasks) and Congressional staff.

Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Book Review)

Reviewed by Dr. Joseph Collins

Building Militaries in Fragile States, is a superb addition to the literature on security assistance and state transformation. Its value lies in its expert, practitioner-scholar viewpoint, and its focus on results and the critical variables that produce them. It is commonplace for both scholars and policy wonks to bemoan the gap between policy and scholarship. Dr. Karlin has done yeoman’s work to reduce that gap on this important subject.