Contingency and Red-Teaming

New one at RTJ. Fans of military history counterfactuals are in for a treat. 


Police Development as Tool of National Power

A good addendum to this post is Jason Fritz’s look at the positive role of trained and competent police in places like Egypt:

[Exum] is right in the gist of his post – if we’re invited to help these newly-democratizing nations, we should start with the police. I diverge from his position in that we shouldn’t start a training program, we should initiate a police development program (again, if invited to do so). Funding-wise, a small team of police development experts that help the Egyptians revamp their police structure, policies, and police academy curriculum would provide dividends much greater than the investment. This should be our focus in the region, not military aid, which is expensive for the USG and provides little return in stability or U.S. national objectives.

Military Assistance and Strategy

There’s a new article out in the Christian Science Monitor out on military assistance and its uncertain record. The gist of it is that assistance can have public relations blowback if regimes use US-trained militaries against their own people, strategic blowback if regimes (as they frequently do) use militaries in ways that contradict US national interests, and generally does not advance U.S. interests. To some degree, they are fair criticisms. Merely spending time in the US and being schooled in an American military system is not a guarantee that an officer will be sympathetic to US strategy or act in a manner that might undermine his home country’s own national interests.

However, the article ignores several salient points about military assistance. First, there is something to be said about basic interopability issues. Turkey, an example cited as a failure of military assistance, is a member of NATO. It makes sense to familiarize Turkish officers with American military, political, and cultural mores in order to better cooperate with them on issues of mutual importance. Second, military assistance and training is often one small part of larger diplomatic package and cannot be viewed in isolation. Its political benefits or demerits must be judged within the totality of the larger relationship. While seemingly insignificant on its own, it may be more useful as a part of a larger patchwork of ties. Finally, assistance, if properly and narrowly targeted toward certain areas of policy, may have beneficial effects on larger US interests.

Indeed, the issue simply seems to be a matter of realistic expectations. No amount of time in Fort Leavenworth would convince the Turks to open their territory to a military operation they thought would severely undermine their national security. We are also perfectly aware of what Pakistan considers its primary interests to be and should not be surprised if they redirect our assistance to developing their forces towards fighting India. But just because we expected more than what we should have does not mean that assistance cannot be a useful tool when it is properly aligned with a fruitful policy objective.

Strategy in Mexico and Libya

Blogfriends John P. Sullivan, Aaron Ellis, and Alex Olesker have new articles and blogs of note.

Sullivan has a piece at Mexidata looking at the Juarez front in the Mexican drug war that is, as usual, highly chilling.

Aaron Ellis, writing at the Tory Reform Group’s new blog, makes a very strong argument that the British government may be biting off more than it can chew in Libya.

And Alex Olesker is probably the best person to consult when Halloween rolls around.

Libya and Discrete Military Operations

Not surprisingly, the challenges of setting up a no-fly zone are a bit deeper than most would think:

“Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require bombing the north African nation’s air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned on Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing “the air defense capability first,” Mattis, the head of Central Command, told a Senate hearing. …Although [Qaddafi’s] military is badly outgunned by US and NATO aircraft, the regime has dozens of surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down allied warplanes.”

The issue is not really Libyan air defense networks–it seems that they are mostly obsolete , never entirely worked 20 years ago during Operation El Dorado Canyon, and increasingly falling into the hands of the opposition. Rather, the issue is that setting up a no-fly zone involves more than simply intercepting planes. It is a military operation against the remnants of the Libyan government designed to support the ground operations of the various factions arrayed against Qaddafi. And embarking on it may lead to other political and military commitments down the line–just look at the decade-long interregnum between the two Gulf Wars and the Northern Iraq no-fly zone. Even if the Libyan government is on its last legs, that might not be the end of the conflict.

Regional analysts warn that Qaddafi’s total centralization of power has created a vacuum that will make the conflict’s aftermath totally different from what went on in Egypt and Tunisia:

If Qaddafi’s demise only entailed the dissolution of his regime, it would be tempting to declare good riddance and hail the good fortune of the Libyan people in freeing themselves of the old regime in one blow, without having to deal with its remnants, as Tunisians and Egyptians are struggling to do. Unfortunately for Libya, the fall of the House of Qaddafi will not only put an end to his regime, but risks causing the collapse of the Libyan state. Qaddafi’s long reign did nothing to forge institutions that can ensure the continuity of the state beyond regime change. There is no well-organized bureaucracy to ensure administrative continuity. The military and security forces—the institutions of last recourse in weak states—were deliberately fragmented by Qaddafi into militias and special brigades led by his sons and counterbalanced by a large praetorian guard and various paramilitary groups.

It is understandable that the idea of a no-fly zone appeals to humanitarians because it represents a middle ground between a large-scale military intervention and what many largely see as toothless economic and diplomatic action. One of the more useful pieces of the Libya debate for analysis is the light in shines on the issue of gradations of force short of general war–and their role in post-Cold War international politics. Humanitarians share with civilian policy analysts in general a faith in what Micah Zenko calls “discrete military operations” (DMOs).

DMOs are attractive because they seemingly imply little long-term commitment, and rely on technological or purely military advantages that would appear to be devastatingly effective against grossly underpowered foes. Perhaps the classic example of this is the scene in Iron Man in which the title character blows away a dozen marauding Afghan militants without harming a single innocent, like a high-tech version of Dirty Harry.

Moral shame is often an effective tool for gaining support for DMOs. If the United States military is so vastly superior to the rest, humanitarians claim, why can’t it use a tiny fraction of its force to wipe out a pack of Sudanese janjaweed or Qaddafi militiamen? Especially when juxtaposed with media images of large-scale suffering, calls for DMOs can motivate policymakers to make rash decisions about the use of force.

The problem with DMOs, as Zenko catalogs in his book on the subject, is that the use of military force–period–is much more complex than most people imagine. Technical matters of logistics and tactics often have larger political implications. Even the technical requirements tend to be routinely under-estimated by advocates of DMOs. Moreover, DMOs tend to have an extremely mixed track record of achieving both political and military objectives.

Ultimately, technical excellence cannot substitute for sound policy and strategy. And DMOs tend to be utilized as exactly that–a substitute for a sound policy because policymakers are reluctant to get militarily involved but feel a pressure to “do something.”

Thus, formulating sound policy based on national interest, morality, and practicality is of greater concern at present than hastily establishing a no-fly zone simply to react to events.