Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Death Star and Deterrence

            There’s a lot of crap going on right now, but frankly I don’t feel like talking about it. I need a fifth blog post, but I don’t want to get angry or depressed over Christmas break. So today, I’m going to be talking about Star Wars instead. *ahem*
            The Death Star was the most feared weapon in the Galaxy, yet the Empire ultimately failed in the proper application of its superweapon by ignoring its own counter-insurgency doctrine. This would have catastrophic results for the Empire, and eventually lead to the overthrow of the Palpatine regime. Although the Death Star would eventually be destroyed by a precision strike by Rebel X-Wings, the usefulness of the Death Star was essentially nullified weeks earlier by the destruction of Alderaan.

            The Death Star was the ultimate symbol of the Tarkin Doctrine, which stated that fear of the Empire’s overwhelming might would ultimately render violence unnecessary. The Death Star was meant as a tool of deterrence which would cow potentially rebellious star systems. Parking the Death Star in orbit around a planet would be enough to cow dissent, as citizens had everything to lose by fighting the Empire. However, by ignoring his own doctrine and destroying Alderaan, Tarkin nullified the effectiveness of the Death Star as a deterrent, as it then appeared to many citizens that they had nothing to lose by joining the Rebellion.

            While Senator Leia Organa was engaged in illegal pro-Rebellion activity with the knowledge and consent of high-ranking officials in the planet’s government, Alderaan was nonetheless a peaceful world with no standing military which nominally submitted to Imperial authority. By obliterating a planet of pacifists, Tarkin created a narrative opposite to that which he desired. So long as the Death Star was simply used as a deterrent, obedience to the Empire was seen as a strategy for survival by potentially rebellious worlds. However, with the destruction of a planet which posed no major threat to the Empire, joining the Rebellion seemed to many to be the only logical survival strategy, as the Empire had shown itself to be arbitrary and needlessly cruel.

            The effects of this were immediate and dramatic. Many worlds rallied to the Rebellion, and scores of highly trained military officers defected from the Empire, bolstering the Rebel ranks with much needed numbers and professional expertise. Within four years, the Rebellion was no longer a mere insurgency, but a peer competitor to the Empire. The Imperial Navy suffered a decisive defeat to the Rebel Fleet at the Battle of Endor, which would lead to the death of the Emperor and ultimately the fall of the regime. Had the Empire employed the Death Star with more restraint, it is entirely plausible that the Rebellion would not have won the Galactic Civil War. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why are Colombian Special Forces training West Africans?

Colombia has made the news in recent years for their involvement in training West African security forces. The Colombian military and national police have grown to be considered world class institutions after decades of conflict. With significant U.S. aid and military support Colombia has recently wrapped up a decades long conflict with Marxist guerrillas that at one time were poised to wrest cities from government control.

Today, Colombians are training tens of thousands of foreign police and military personnel from across Latin America and, now, West Africa. This is part of an increasing Colombian global military presence that includes the more controversial deployment of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen.

Why are Colombians training West Africans? It makes sense that Latin America’s most successful contemporary military would be relied upon to train the forces of friendly regimes in its own region but traditionally only larger global powers and states with strong overseas ties have been employed to offer security assistance cross-continentally.

Colombia is becoming a destination for high level military and security training and assistance for countries across the globe. Even Chinese personnel have been sent to Colombia to train with Colombian forces in Tolemaida, according to a Chinese colonel.

Police personnel from several West African nations have trained in Colombia for Port Security per the U.S. Department of Defense. Language from the DoD seems to indicate a growing reliance on Colombia, and to a lesser extent other Latin American partners, to participate in U.S. led capacity improving missions and security assistance efforts globally. Perhaps the U.S.’ decades of effort in support of Colombia are not only paying off in a secure, prosperous neighbor but also more concretely in the assistance of a world class, friendly military in the U.S.’ global endeavors. Colombian troops have been deployed to Afghanistan to good effect as well. If current trends continue, Colombia will become an increasingly influential global player in the field of security and counterinsurgency.

The Lessons Plan Colombia Apparently Did Not Teach Us

Plan Colombia, the U.S.’ long term plan to support the Colombian government in fighting cartels and Marxist rebels, has been a wild success. In a short period the fortunes of the government in Bogota shifted dramatically. Colombian forces in the early 1990’s were losing control of major cities and many speculated that a rapid collapse of state authority, even in major urban areas and government strongholds like Bogota itself, could soon occur. By 2010 Colombian forces, bolstered by U.S. military aid and training, were steadily grinding the once powerful FARC armed columns into oblivion. This striking victory in counterinsurgency warfare was chalked up to the innovation and perseverance of the Colombian military and extensive U.S. support. Today, Colombia has signed a peace deal with the FARC from a position of decisive strength.

This comes at a time when the U.S. remains embroiled in long, tedious counterinsurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For a time, around 2012 to 2014, much was said of the potential for lessons from Plan Colombia’s successes to be translated into success in the Middle East conflicts.

Plan Colombia succeeded for a variety of reasons – the loyalty of the general populace to the central government, effective conscription measures, effective employment of light infantry/close air support combined arms operations and a massive surge in troop presence starting in the cities. Some of these factors obviously cannot be translated to the Middle East conflicts which are also different from the perspective of root causes involving religious and tribal struggles.

However, the lessons learned from the tactical successes of the Colombian military acting against the FARC do not seem to have been well translated to the Afghanistan or Iraq scenarios. Firstly, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are overshadowed by a constant and overwhelming U.S. aerial presence. Colombia managed to succeed in part by employing its vast fleet of helicopters in lightning raids against isolated FARC encampments. Colombian gunships and light attack aircraft
also contributed greatly to a constant campaign of harassment – keeping FARC columns on the move when, in the past, they had the freedom to remain in an area unpressured for rest and refitting.

It is unclear whether the U.S. air campaign in Afghanistan or Iraq is employing the same tactics which proved to be so successful in Afghanistan. Certainly, the drone campaign and deployment of advanced U.S. warplanes meets and exceeds the standards of Colombia’s own aerial harassment campaign. However, are indigenous Afghan and Iraqi forces making good use of their helicopters and special forces? Colombia’s tried and true strategy of area denial with large conventional army units combined with rapid attacks by special forces to seize or kill FARC leaders within FARC controlled territory was clearly successful. Whether Iraqi or Afghan security forces have been able to successfully employ their forces in combination is unclear.

A New Strategy for Fighting Islamic Extremism

The end of the Obama presidential administration is coming to an end, so has his part in the war on terror. How did he do? Well, I think he got B or B+ in fighting terrorists but a D on combating terrorism. Under his administration, we got rather proficient at killing terrorists. We killed them in raids; we killed them with bombs, and we killed them with drones.  We pretty much killed them and many around them in all ways possible.  But we accomplished very little in our strategic goal of stopping Islamic extremism. When we kill one another just takes his place.

So a new strategy must be adopted to address the strategic goal, defeating an ideology. In order to defeat an ideology, you must destroy the idea. Many recruits join extremist groups because they feel it is what God wants them to do. They also feel that whatever happens to them is "Inshallah," God's will. To attack this idea of its “God's will,” we must use that in conjunction with our tactical advantage. Every time we killed an extremist in a raid or by blowing him up with a drone, we must show that it was God's will that happened. We will have to bring the more moderate Muslims and Muslim countries, like the Kingdom of Jordan, where King Hussein calls these extremist outlaws, into the campaign. They have to get onboard and preach that what the extremists are doing is not right in the eyes of God and that we (the US or coalition forces) are just a tool of God's will, punishing them and the people around them for what they are doing in his name. If they are using our actions against us in propaganda to recruit, we need to do the same and more. It is God's will that they will be stopped and we must show them that.

This new strategy will take time, years maybe. But it has been years already, and we are nowhere close to winning this war.

Trump and Torture

“Waterboarding,” “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” and “Torture” are all words popping up in the headlines these days. Donald Trump has made several controversial statements about bringing back the use these, or perhaps, much worse. But can he bring them back? If President-elect Trump does, he will have to overcome some significant obstacles, such as Federal law, domestic and international pressures, and possible mutiny of high-ranking military and intelligence officers. So should the question be, should he bring them back?

Can the use of these techniques be justified? Yes, I think one could use Just War Theory to defend using them. But then again you can almost justify anything using the Just War Theory. Also, I think America could get an exception to policy in that who we are fighting (Islamic extremists) don't play by the rules set out in the Geneva conventions, since they are beheading captives and setting them on fire. Let the lawyers work it out. I do understand the argument that we need to take a high road on this, but really, we have been taking the high road for a while now, and we are no closer to achieving the strategic victory of defeating Islamic extremism.
I also know that there is the argument that torture and violence do not work. But I have three counter arguments on why torture may work. The first is longevity. Torture has been around a long time, and if it has been so ineffective, then it would have died out the way that alchemy (turning different base materials into gold) died out. It just did not work. But there must have been situations throughout history where the use of torture did work to get what was sought. Another argument is if torture is not effective then why does the US government spend so much money trying to teach its military and intelligence personnel how to avoid capture and resist exploitation? But the last, and I think the most compelling argument, is that violence, or the threat of violence, and coercion work to promote compliance is domestic abuse and bullying situations. Both of these issues are taken very seriously and the violence has been determined to have substantially controlling effects.
I am not advocating the wholesale use of torture, and it will not work in the majority of cases but maybe President-elect Trump is onto something with bringing back enhanced interrogation techniques to move forward in this never ending war, if it saves one American life.

Obama's Retaliation

President Obama has declared that the United States will retaliate against Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election "in a time and place of our choosing." Yet what the president plans on doing remains an open question. Here, I list some possible actions and the pros and cons of each.

Broad Sanctions

The president could place harsher sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its cyberattacks against the United States. Crippling sanctions could decrease Putin's popularity at home and ability to influence events abroad.

+Relatively uncontroversial

-Sanctions have mixed record in altering state behavior
-Could increase anti-Western sentiment in Russia

Targeted Sanctions 

The president could increase sanctions on Putin and his inner circle, making them pay a personal price for their actions.

+Relatively uncontroversial
+Does not harm innocent Russians

-Putin has $81 billion. I don't think he cares if his vodka gets more expensive.


The president could ask the NSA to acquire damning information about Putin and the United Russia party and leak it on the internet through a Wikileaks-like frontgroup

+Equivalent to Russian action

Panama Papers demonstrated ability of leaks to damage Putin regime is minimal.

No-Fly Zone

The president could make the Russians pay a price on their overseas ambitions by shooting down their planes in Syria.

+Indisputable evidence of resolve
+Might save civilians
+US wants Assad gone anyway
+Demonstrates potential for kinetic response to cyberattacks

-Might further destabilize Middle East
-Probably requires attacking SAMs and airfields, might escalate from there.
-Some losses inevitable
-Russia or other powers could acquire, reverse engineer technology from downed US aircraft

Large Scale Cyberattacks 

The president could a massive cyberattack against Russia, causing massive damage to its infrastructure and economy.

+Sets clear retaliation threshold & precedent for future cyberwars
+Potential for immense damage
+Potential deterrent for future cyberattacks against US.

-Russian retaliation could cause immense damage to US infrastructure, economy
-Potential to escalate to shooting war

Targeted Cyberattacks

The president could order cyberattacks against individuals in the Russian regime with the goal of financially ruining them, obliterating billions of dollars of wealth overnight.

+Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys

-Russian retaliation could lead to broader cyberwar

World War III 

The president could invoke Article 5 and the US-Japan Security Treaty (citing the right to mutual self-defense and Russian occupation of the Kuril Islands as a means to circumvent Article 5) and initiate a large-scale attack on Russia from air, land, sea, and cyberspace with the goal of evicting them from all territory not internationally recognized as Russian soil as well as Kaliningrad.

+Permanently cripple Russia as potential adversary
+Massive boost to future US deterrence efforts if successful
+Makes for great television, Youtube

-Inevitably leads to war with Iran and Syria. Possibly North Korea and China as well.
-Large-scale losses inevitable
-Allies may not agree to assist
-Potential for nuclear holocaust
-Losses may impede future attempts to contain China
-Obama might have to return Nobel prize

Thursday, December 15, 2016


            Some of us are still trying to get one last post in before the end of the semester. As it is finals week, there is not an assigned focus for these posts. Since it is my last post on the National Security Policy blog, and my last post on a Patterson school-related blog post, I decided to take it in a retrospective direction.

            Many topics that were discussed on this blog earlier in the year are going to become much more interesting next fall. Some of my colleagues just starting their Patterson journey will be here to write on them, but I wanted to highlight a few that I think the next administration will change in a drastic way. One of our first topics was inaugurational addresses from presidents past, and in particular those of President Washington and President Eisenhower. The similarities in both were a fear of domestic politics being influenced by outside actors, the importance of a strong economy, and the prevention of another state having hegemony in the Western hemisphere. President Trump’s first address to the people will only share one of these themes, a stronger economy. After all, he has been very dismissive recently when asked about the electoral influence that outside actors had, and whether or not any of that should be concerning. He also has it clear that America is no longer to be considered the leader in every issue worldwide, and wants to retrench and disengage from any issues that he considers not in the national interest. We talked about that term a lot, national interest, and what it means. It is a very subjective term, one that is open to a lot of interpretation after a new administration hits office. For the past two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the decision on where that direction led was been made for them. President Bush’s terms were defined a mere 6 months into his time in office by the 9/11 attacks. President Obama was given a little bit more forewarning during the election, as the financial crisis began making an impact and the economy headed into recession, but the fact that he was not able to make that choice remains the same. President Trump will be going in to office in a climate that has been dictated to the world by his own rhetoric.  A strained relationship with China, while not his responsibility alone, will be on the agenda early. The multiple trade deals that were negotiated under his Democratic predecessors will be open to dismantlement or renegotiation. Geopolitical friction with Russia will be a continuing theme, whether he appeases Russian President Vladimir Putin by lifting focused sanctions on the Russian elite or not. There is certainly a credible forecast for continuing friction, as the diversionary Russian rhetoric on the “imperialistic” US gives way to the image of their favored candidate in the Oval Office. There will have to be a new geopolitical crisis in order to distract the Russian public from poor economic growth. At some point, this crisis will affect enough US interests for the President to be forced to step in. While this would be troubling for any leader, the statements that President-Elect Trump has made on the usage of nuclear weapons puts the world closer to cataclysmic conflict than any time since the end of the Cold War. While the logical leap should not be Trump=Armageddon, due to the bureaucratic nature of foreign policy decision making and action taking, there will be changes in this administration. I wish everyone writing for this blog in the future the best of luck as they decipher it.

Think Tanked

Earlier this year, when Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams wrote an article in the New York Times article on the think tank community and its increasingly lobbying-centric priorities, you would have been forgiven for thinking that a firestorm of criticism from the public would be the industry’s biggest problem. After all, these organizations, of which there are 397 distinct entities, are non-profit and all donations are tax-deductible. The idea that the nation’s biggest economic actors, such as the defense industry and big banks, could control its trusted experts and policy advisors with earmarked donations is scandalous. Instead, they are facing an even starker fate than scandal: irrelevance.

On November 9th, the overall feeling inside the offices of these institutions could not have been a cheery one. Hilary Clinton formally conceded the election to her opponent, Donald Trump, an outsider who has left no room for interpretation on how highly he values the experience and knowledge of the members of these organizations. None of them have been named as advisors to his campaign, none are being predicted as members of his cabinet, and none few are chosen to help his transition team. One exception is the Heritage Foundation, whose vice-president was tapped to lead the transition in the State Department. Another is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where a member was tapped to lead the transition in the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the vast majority of think tanks are reaping what they have sown by opposing the President-Elect during the campaign.

This is not to say that they will lose out entirely. There are a lot of political appointee positions to fill and relatively few Trump staffers with first dibs on those jobs. There have also been some reconciliatory moves by the President-Elect, such as considering former critic Mitt Romney for the Secretary of State position. Finally, most of the Beltway establishment has changed gears to: “If Trump Succeeds, America Succeeds”, after opposing him in the election. If rosier climates come, maybe think tanks can claw back some influence. For now, they are discredited and disenfranchised. 


Monday, December 12, 2016

What's the Big Deal with Answering the Phone: A Donald Trump Story

Image result for trump phone call

Here is what we know: Donald Trump spoke with Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's president. What we don't necessarily know is the content of the phone call or how long it lasted. The big deal is that those other details aren't pertinent to the issue. The president-elect of the United States spoke on the phone with the President of Taiwan. Such communication has not occurred since the United States transferred diplomatic relations with China from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. TThat action effectively internationally recognized the existence of the One China policy promulgated by the People's Republic of China, which is that Taiwan is a part of the PRC and not an independent entity. China is not pleased, to put it lightly, that Trump would speak with the President of Taiwan. Political commentators are already speculating how horribly this will affect the relationship that Trump will build with China during his time as President.

Image result for Trump Taiwan comicsThat phone call raises a few issues, not the least of which is the potential conflict of interest Trump is experiencing with his attempt to move Trump International into Taiwan. The Taiwan recognition issue is not unprecedented. When Ronald Reagan entered office, he promised to revamp relations with Taiwan and invited Taiwanese premiers to the inauguration. Reagan, like Trump, had previous ties with Taiwan from his time as governor of California. Again, Beijing was furious. Beijing sent an envoy to discuss the Taiwan Relations Act. Reagan called China on its envoy and proclaimed that the Act needed to be strengthened, contrary to the PRC's prediction. Throughout Reagan's presidency, he enjoyed stable Sino-American relations, while also strengthening ties with Taiwan.

Image result for trump phone call
I don't think Trump can do the same. He doesn't yet have the international clout or respect. Following the phone call, Beijing analysts called Trump a diplomatic neophyte and criticized him for operating in a landscape with which he is entirely unfamiliar. It is still too early to determine the long-term effects of the phone call, but suffice it to say that it surely will not provide any positives to the United States' relationship with China. Now with Trump set to assume the presidency, all that Americans can do now is brace for impact.

Do You Have Fake News Syndrome?

What is Fake News Syndrome?

Fake News Syndrome (FNS) is when a person believes in fake news and shares fake news articles on social media. National security and other political specialists attempted to contain FNS, but they failed and FSN continues to spread throughout the country.

Who Can Get Fake News Syndrome?

FSN can affect everyone. Mostly, the general public contracts FSN. These are the people who care little and have only a breadth of knowledge on national security and foreign policy. Their lack of understanding of the nuances in national security leads them to be very susceptible to FSN. If political specialists are not careful and do not double-check their biases and sources, they too can be prone to FSN.

The Symptoms

If you have one or more of these symptoms, please contact your nearest national security or foreign policy expert for help,
·      Sharing fake news articles on Twitter and Facebook: If you posted articles from addresses that end in “lo” like .newlo or ones that seem legitimate but end in .comco, these websites are fake.
·      Googling and reading fake news article: Google searches also turn up fake news with the above type of endings.
·      Believing in fake news/Using them in Argument on Social Media: You have believed in fake Google searches and social media articles, such as PEOS won the popular vote, the 9/11 attacks were “controlled demolition” or Congress Voted for World War Three, were true.

Long-term Effects of Fake News Syndrome 

 Luckily, FSN has minimal affect on foreign policy and America’s national security. Since the general public cares little about politics and does not make the actual policies, their beliefs have little impact on the national security of the United States. However, when political elites, who form public opinion and policy, break from the norm and begin to criticize such national security polices in the past like the Vietnam War or today’s immigrant and Syrian Civil War policies, the general public may agree and support these elites. For example, some believe that social media had a slight impact on Donald Trump winning the presidency due to fake news articles claiming the Pope endorsed Trump and an FBI agent investigating Hillary’s emails was found. Lastly, the pizza shop shooting where a man shot a round into the ground because he believed a fake news story claiming the Democrats were sponsoring an underground child sex ring, proves the security of American citizens can be put in danger due to news articles. 

How to Prevent Fake News  Syndrome

·      Double-Check Your Sources: Make sure your sources are from a legitimate news agency and not a fake source before sharing. One professor has created a Google dox about fake news sources. Go check it out here.
·      Your Facebook News Feed is Not A Legitimate Source of News: Understand that Facebook’s algorithm is set up to show you articles you want to see. A Democrat’s Facebook page looks vastly different than a Republican’s. If you want to see just how different, click here.
·      Embrace purpling: Make sure the sources are correct and even understand that this is only one side of the story. Branch out and look at the opposite point of view and garner facts from that side before you make your decision on a topic.
·    Support Fact-Checkers: Utilize online fact checkers like and encourage social media giants and Google to create their own fact checkers to weed out fake news on their sites.

·    Understand Your Own Confirmation Bias: Acknowledge that everyone has his or her own biases, including yourself, and remind yourself that just because you want something to be true does not always make it true, especially when it comes to news.