16th November 2010: Ways of Warfare and Strategic Culture

Gautam, P.K. 2006. ‘Ways of Warfare and Strategic Culture’, Defense and Security Analysis, 25(1), 413-423.

Gautam locates his analysis in the debate between Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) and the more technological Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). He surveys the history and debates about British and American ‘ways of warfare’ and the initial fallout from the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the 2003 Iraq War. In positing an Indian ‘way of warfare’ Gautam examines India’s 1962 border war with China, the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, and the 1999 face-off with Pakistan in the Kargil region. For Gautam, Indian culture and strategic thinking is often minimised by Westerners in contrast to the Chinese: Hindu cosmology, the caste system, colonialism, and force regimentation are blamed. Gautam includes an appendix on the Maratha as an historical study, and suggests further research could be done. He notes how current Indian strategists are looking to ‘second generation’ thinkers like Ken Booth and China’s Chanakya for guidance on the politico-military aspects. The debate about ‘ways of warfare’ often degenerates, Gautam believes, into positioning over who has the better system, rather than strategic context. Likewise, the juxtaposition of a renewed debate about strategic culture and the US experience of insurgents in the 2003 Iraq War illustrates the failure to use anthropology before a war begins to understand the host society’s culture and dynamics. Indian strategic thinkers will continue to ‘reconstruct’ the post-1947 experience of India’s military in war and counterinsurgency operations.

15th November 2010: Warriors & Politicians

Stevenson, Charles A. 2006. Warriors and Politicians: US Civil-Military Relations Under Stress, Routledge, New York.

The US Constitution and Congressional powers frame the civilian control and oversight of the US military. Stevenson’s historical study spans the US Civil War to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars of the Bush administration, organised thematically around the three challenges of warfighting, rearmament, and transformation. His chapters on the Vietnam War and Robert McNamara frame the institutional and planning failures that would lead in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a reassessment of Special Operations Forces (SOF), the Soviet ‘way of war’ and counterinsurgency. McNamara’s planning, programming, budgeting system however transformed administrative processes in both the public sector and in defence procurement cycles. This in turn would lay the groundwork for Donald Rumsfeld’s stint as Secretary of Defense and his adoption of execution metrics. Stevenson’s chapter on the Goldwater-Nichols Act deftly captures the successful tactics used to ensure greater interagency cooperation and coordination. In closing, Stevenson considers and evaluates several descriptive models of civil-military relations, considers the strategies of innovators, and the dangers of politicisation. He develops different conclusions to Eliot A. Cohen and Samuel P. Huntington, and notes the work and criticisms of emerging ‘new institutionalist’ scholars like Michael Desch, Peter Feaver, Amy Zegart and Deborah Avant. For me, the literature on civil-military relations clarifies an important aspect of politico-military affairs which affects how counterterrorism policies are conceived, debated, and implemented — either as interstate diplomatic alliances, or as SOF-type engagements to pre-empt an attack or to “hunt the perpetrators” (Susan D. Moeller). Stevenson’s study thus provides an historical and analytical backdrop to how counterterrorism strategies were implemented from the Johnson to the current Obama administration.

12th November 2010: ‘Initial’ PhD Proposal

For the past 3-4 years I’ve been working on a PhD project. It’s gone through several topic changes and about 240,000 words of draft notes. I finally settled on a topic in early 2010: how strategic culture as a framework for understanding the decisions and preferences of national policy elites is adopted in counterterrorism studies, amidst renewed interest in anthropological research methods. I’m looking at both policymakers and terrorist individuals/groups.

You can read the ‘initial’ proposal here. It’s for Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry. I’ll continue to post notes and literature review items on this blog over the coming months, as the project continues to develop.

10th November 2010: Overextension, Vulnerability and Conflict

Rosecrance, Richard. ‘Overextension, vulnerability, and conflict: the ‘Goldilocks problem’ in international strategy.’ International Security 19(4) (1995): 145+.

Nation-states face resource commitments — alliances, economic production and military power — to restrain competitors and challengers. Rosencrance examines the contributions of Barry Posen on military doctrine, Jack Snyder on domestic grand strategy, and Charles Kupchan on elite leadership. Cartel politics and overextension shaped the British Empire’s expansion into the Baltic states during the Crimean War and later into Africa. All three suggest that government officials and self-created myths drive policy, which underpin a strategic culture that elites use to justify their politico-military decisions. For Kupchan, strategic vulnerability — issues of decision stress — is an intervening variable which shapes how they formulate strategic culture.

Kupchan’s distinction between rising and declining states helps to explain several historical analogies made after September 11. In the immediate aftermath of this “high vulnerability” incident, the United States was compared to historical Rome and to Thucydidean war-fighting, given its percived overextension in Afghanistan and Iraq (and with a parallel renewal of interest in Clausewitz and Thucydides amongst classicists). Attention also focussed on the US-Israel and US-Saudi Arabia dyads. In contrast, China and India focused on macroeconomic expansion, and nonmilitary levers such as diplomacy and economic strategies. Snyder and Kupchan’s discussion of decision-making under such circumstances also may help to explain the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War’s role in Al Qaeda’s genesis. It may also explain why Canada as a middle power has promoted human security in contrast to the US emphasis on ‘balance of power’ neo-realism.

Rosencrance’s discussion of interwar Germany and Japan as “low vulnerability” countries that pursued war emphasises the role of strategic intention. An intervening variable my be propaganda as a shaper of domestic contexts and decision-makers. This is discussed in Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (Penguin Books, New York, 2005), in which domestic elites and strategic culture become a driver of military war-fighting capabilities. In turn, this period influenced Reagan and Bush administration era neoconservatives, and how Salafi jihadist thinkers were initially perceived as strategists.

Interestingly, Snyder’s book Myths of Empire (1991) used the term ‘blowback’ to describe how an elite can become deluded by its own myths, a process that Chalmers Johnson later popularised after the 2003 Iraq War to describe Al Qaeda’s portrayal of the US as the “far enemy”. This suggests that the immediate post-Cold War debate about strategic culture may have foreshadowed later deveopments, and that this period is overlooked in the ‘three generations’ framework popularised by Harvard’s Alastair Johnston.

9th November 2010: Manufacturing Consent (1988)

Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky. 2002 [1988]. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York, Pantheon Books.

Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent was a significant influence on my undergraduate studies. Their propaganda model was one of the first analytical frameworks I encountered and used to examine Timor-Leste and other political issues. The model’s five filters are: (1) ownership structure; (2) advertising/funding; (3) sources; (4) flak and enforcers; and (5) anti-communism as an ideological framework. Herman would also apply the model in his follow-up book with Gary O’Sullivan, The Terrorism Industry (Pantheon Books, New York, 1989), which Andrew Silke praises for its network-level critique.

In retrospect, Manufacturing Consent is a synthesis of Herman’s institutional finance expertise, Chomsky’s knowledge of propaganda, and the duo’s past work on human rights abuses in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, and Nicaragua. CNN and Fox News now function as flak although Michael Moore‘s projects now use this as a public relations strategy. The ‘global war on terror’ was the Bush administration’s equivalent to the Reagan administration’s ‘anti-communism’. Source range from ‘official’ government officials to academics, think-tanks and ‘idea entrepreneurs’ — the range of viewpoints and quality of information gives counterterrorism studies an instability as a subfield of national security. Barry Saunders and I considered some of the philanthropic foundations and other funding mechanisms for investigative journalism here, including a brief discussion of Steve Coll, Dexter Filkins and Lawrence Wright.

8th November 2010: ‘Behind The Curve’

Cronin, Audrey. ‘Behind The Curve: Globalisation and International Terrorism.’ International Security, 27(3) (Winter 2002/03), 30-58.

Cronin is a Professor at the US National Defense University (LinkedIn profile). This review essay summarises the strategic thinking in counterterrorism circles after Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on 11th September 2001. Cronin discusses the definition and history of terrorism including the work of David Rapoport, Walter Laqueur, and Bruce Hoffman. She concentrates on the intersection of three trends: (1) religiously motivated or ‘sacred’ terror; (2) globalisation as a driver of international terrorism; and (3) ‘communities of support’ in Middle East states. Her policy prescriptions include more long-term thinking; Special Operations Forces-type operations; and a greater reliance on grand strategy and nonmilitary options such as diplomacy, economic and informational levers. These are themes that Cronin develops in her later research. In particular, Cronin notes that the policy orientation of counterterrorism has to-date been perceived as a barrier to multidisciplinary academic researchers. She touches on the absence of strategic culture or its narrow definition as state-centric military force.

Cronin’s paper points to a couple of recurrent themes in pre-September 11 understandings of strategic culture in counterterrorism studies. The policy emphasis of counterterrorism needed to be embedded in a national security culture. Globalisation and religious beliefs illustrate the adaptability of an adversary’s strategic culture to new conditions. The lack of a coherent grand strategy and nonmilitary calculus will become clear in flashpoints like Guantanamo Bay and the debate on anti-money laundering initiatives.

7th November 2010: The ‘Cultural Turn’ in War

Porter, Patrick. ‘Good Anthropology, Bad History.’ Parameters, 37:2 (Summer 2007), 45-58.

Patrick Porter is a military studies academic at King’s College, London. This article is condensed from what would later become the first chapter of Porter’s study Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes (C. Hurst and Co., London, 2009). Porter examines the US military’s resurgent interest in anthropology and a group of historians and strategists who adopt a culturally determinist viewpoint. However, the experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that adversaries can use strategic culture in varied and coevolutionary ways which cultural determinism either overlooks or devalues. The ‘war college’ tradition of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Clausewitz must adapt to current warfighting conditions. Each of these texts — and others such as Salafi jihadist strategies — can be ‘read’ and used in different ways by adversaries. Porter uses this to reinterpret historic clashes — Gallipoli, the Bush administration’s War on Terror, Sri Lanka’s response to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — to show how cultural traditions in warfighting are more contingent and complex than cultural determinism allows for. Such errors may have contributed to misjudgments by the US about Iraq insurgents, and the Israeli Defence Force about Hezbollah in Lebanon. Porter argues that historians and military strategists must adopt a more coevolutionary and contingent view, in which strategic culture is adaptable, flexible, and counterbalanced by other factors such as individual leadership, resources, and power relationships.

5th November 2010: US Geopolitics and Idea Entrepreneurs

Lee, Oliver M. 2008. ‘The Geopolitics of America’s Strategic Culture’, Comparative Strategy, 27, 267-286.

Geopolitics, or how geography affects foreign policy and shapes military and economic power, shapes strategic culture. However, many discussions of strategic culture are unclear about geopolitics and also confuse strategy with military culture and tactics. United States foreign policy is shaped by its geography, Puritan history, and isolation from Eurasia. The US has two strategic subcultures: interventionist and isolationist. Lee contends that a national security elite has historically been interventionist and has come to the foreground of a usually isolationist domestic politics. Public disillusionment about human casualties acts as a constraint on US military culture. The author suggests trend analysis, social indicators and area/regional studies may inform models of strategic culture.

Mueller, John. 2010. ‘Capitalism, Peace, and the Historical Movement of Ideas’, International Interactions, 36:2, 169-184.

History is shaped by ‘idea entrepreneurs’ who promote beliefs and ideas such as environmentalism, women’s rights, and the scientific method. However, ideas that are adopted may have independent trajectories and are not always dependent on each-other. Mueller examines the correlation of capitalism and peace as war-aversion. He suggests these ideas rely on three beliefs: (i) growth of economic well-being as a dominant goal; (ii) peace can promote innovation, progress and growth more effectively than war; and (iii) trade supports wealth creation rather than conquest. Mueller examines each of these beliefs and cites a range of historians, philosophers and other intellectuals who have both pro- and con- views, such as an exchange by naval historian A.T. Mahan and international relations exponent Norman Angell on the economics of war. We may misunderstand the causal links between capitalism, democracy and peace, Mueller argues. Rather than capitalism promoting peace, it may in fact be that the conditions for peace are promoters of capitalism and democracy.

PhD: Academic Publications & Scholarly Research History

For the past five years I’ve been working on ‘draft zero’ of a PhD project on counterterrorism, intelligence, and the ‘strategic culture’ debate within international relations theory and strategic studies.

The project ‘flew past me’ during a trip to New York City, shortly after the September 11 attacks, and whilst talking with author Howard Bloom, culture maven Richard Metzger, Disinformation publisher Gary Baddeley, and others. An important moment was standing on the roof of Bloom’s apartment building in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, and seeing the dust cloud over Ground Zero.

The ‘draft zero’ is about 240,000 words of exploratory notes, sections, and working notes; about 146,000 of these words are computer text, whilst 80,000 is handwritten (and thus different, and more fragmentary).

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll write about the PhD application process, and the project when it gets formally under way, to share insights and ‘lessons learned’.

For now, here’s a public version of my CV and academic publications track record (PDF).

This is part of the background material prepared for the target university’s formal application process. In the publications section, the letter and numbers relate to Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) coding for the annual, institutional process of Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC); and the 2010 final rankings of peer reviewed journals for the Australian Research Council‘s (ARC) Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) program. Universities and research institutions in Australia use the ARC, ERA, HERDC and DEEWR codings for bibliometrics, inter-institutional benchmarking, and to inform the strategic formulation, development and review of research investment portfolios.

21st March 2010: Bloomberg on Michael Lewis and The Big Short

Wrote two pages for PhD draft on Alastair Johnston‘s generational model of strategic culture analysts in security studies and international relations theory.

Cover of

Image Source: Amazon.com

Michael Lewis on Bloomberg‘s ‘For the Record’ to promote his new book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010). Amazon’s #1 book although the reviews are affected by end-user problems with the Kindle  version. Lewis clearly has had extensive media training.

Major points that Lewis makes:

The five main people that Lewis profiles are outsiders — stockmarket analysts rather than bond market specialists — who had to learn about the subprime mortgage market in order to track stocks that they were interested in, and who then decided to short the market.

Financial innovation should be regarded with some skepticism – we can see examples that led to greater inefficiencies rather than more efficient markets, so some innovation can have a downside, and this may be clear only in retrospect. Lewis believes collateralised debt obligations should be more transparent, i.e. traded on exchanges and clearinghouses, so that all parties can manage their counterparty risk.

Financial service firms are now more professional than what Lewis saw at Salomon Brothers during the late 1980s. Yet Wall Street is now far more cynical: bonuses, incentives and hypercompetition have eroded the partnership ethic that keeps these firms stable.

Reviews of The Big Short: The Big Money, Washington Post.

A 20th anniversary piece on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has a couple of interesting anecdotes on how Lynch dealt on-set with his actors.

Roger Lowenstein asks: Who needs Wall Street?

John Kay on oblique decisions.