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When you have to call in third party air strikes on your own territory, that's a leading indicator:

All predator drone strikes have to be approved by the Pakistanis--and Zardari has approved four times as many in the past nine months as his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, approved in the year before that.
From here.

March 27, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


One of the many issues of counterinsurgency campaigns is that it's never entirely clear when the war is over. There's rarely a surrender, as such, or a ceremony that can be anointed as The Moment. There's no V-E Day, V-J Day, or anything similar. The point of insurgencies is to delay or deny that moment, the goal of counterinsurgencies is less to win a grand decisive battle or campaign than to convince large number of insurgents to give up the effort or, better yet, come over to your side (cf. Anbar Awakening). The result is that knowing when the war is over, when one side has won a military victory, is frequently deeply difficult. When Teddy Roosevelt declared victory in the Philippines on July 4, 1902, it had more to do with domestic politics than military realities. Ironically, winning can lead to a withdrawal ('bringing the soldiers home'), but withdrawal is also what nations waging counterinsurgencies often do when they're losing. The potential for confusion is obvious. Nor does winning mean that the violence has ended. In fact, the violence can go on for decades after the moment the war has 'ended.' In fact, there is a continuum of time when a combatant like the United States might declare the war to have ended and bring the troops home. That could be when the war is going badly and the U.S. feels it no longer worth waging (as happened in Vietnam), it could be when the war has reached some form of stalemate that the U.S. does not feel can be broken (Malaysia, for the British), or it could be when the situation has reached a comparatively stable point that looks like as much of a victory as is possible (Greece in the late 1940s). Having said that, this is pretty much as close as one gets to military victory in a counterinsurgency: Iraq, 2009. American fatalities have dropped massively since the start of the surge and remained low:

Nor is this because U.S. forces are isolating themselves in fortified operating bases. Rather, they are more spread out and vulnerable at this point than they were during the height of the recession, parceled out in penny packets among the population. And the Iraqi population is feeling secure:
Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely

March 17, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Militarism


[Following on from yesterday's analysis.] Given this past history, President Obama's most important responsibility is to enforce realism. Simple sounding in theory, but difficult in practice and notably absent for the last several decades. The two most critical parts of enforcing realism is

  • Budget discipline
  • Building for Real Wars
First, budget discipline. Perhaps the most pernicious practice of the Bush Administration was the splitting of the defense budget from the budgets for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense budget &,
supplemental budgets, 2001-2008
The latter were paid for with 'supplemental budgets' which were passed by Congress separately. The effect was to enforce spending discipline on neither effort. Billions of dollars have been lost in Iraq, while the defense budget has continued to spiral as the military continues to buy larger and more expensive weapons. President Obama seems well on his way to dealing with this one, having announced not only the unification of defense budget and war budgets, but also putting a cap of $537 billion on non-war related defense spending for the next year. As a method for bringing the defense budget under the control, this is a good start. Second, the Pentagon needs to plan for real wars. This sounds like an obvious idea, but practice has been to plan for potential wars rather than actual ones: wars that the United States might wage, rather than ones they were actually waging. In the Cold War, when the genuine potential existed for a large-scale ground war in Western Europe existed, this practice was marginally defensible, though even then it left the U.S. badly prepared for Vietnam, among other conflicts. But now, when a conventional conflict against China or Russia is all but impossible, and the United States is involved in two counterinsurgencies, the practice is actively dangerous.
F-22 Raptor
The primary goal of the services must be to wage the wars they are actually involved in, not the ones that they believe possible. Doing the former leads to the purchase of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for the conflict in Iraq and the rewriting of the Army's Field Manual finally to address counterinsurgency. The latter leads to billions being spent on the F-22, and the use of billion dollar warships to chase pirates off Somalia. The wars that the United States has been involved in in the past few decades have all been asymmetric--against much smaller foes--and a mix of conventional and insurgent campaigns. The defense budget has to focus on preparing for those, not for imaginary conflicts with China. Does that put the U.S. at risk if a massive conventional war comes along? Surely. But no more so than preparing for the large-scale conventional war put us at risk of getting bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this time, America simply does not have the resources to prepare for every contingency no matter how remote. That leaves us only one option: waging the wars we are actually fighting.

February 27, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Militarism


There is always theater in the writing of a defense budget. That is true no more so than this year, when a string of unusual events has made the American military process even more complicated than usual. In 2009-2010, the defense budget is...

  • Being made by a Democratic President and Democratic Congress for the first time since 1994,
  • Being made in a time of catastrophic economic global meltdown,
  • Being made as the United States is moving out of one war (Iraq) and moving more deeply into another war (Afghanistan),
  • Being made as some of the services are beginning to shift away from a Cold War mentality,
  • Being made as the military struggles to rebuild and enlarge itself after seven years of uninterrupted war,
  • Being made as all the services are struggle with procurement difficulties in their next generation weapons systems
  • Being made as the wide-open spigot of funding that started in the post 9/11 era is finally being twisted shut.
The Obama administration's first defense budget is a critical one, both to begin the process for dealing with the factors above, and to set a tone of rationality for the coming years of the administration. Before we turn to that budget, let's peer back at recent defense budgeting history, to get a sense of context. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 ushered in an era of essentially unfettered defense spending, aimed at winning the Cold War. Defense budgets shot up and remained up for most of the 1980s, reaching nearly 6% of GDP ($840 billion in 2008 dollars). The end of the Cold War substantially reduced those budgets and the size of the military. What did not change, however, was the essentially unfettered ability of the military to decide its own strategy and purchasing decisions. With the exception of a small period from 1991-1994, the Pentagon essentially on military strategy ('The Powell Doctrine,' for example) and procurement (continued emphasis on Cold War weapons). President Clinton's difficulties in handling the military essentially led him to abdicate any hard choices about future strategy. There was another brief break from this trend in 2001 as the incoming Bush Administration pushed a self-consciously 'transformational' agenda. Donald Rumsfeld tried to break the services from their Cold War mindset, most notably with the cancellation of the Crusader artillery system. All of that stopped with 9/11 and (despite the legendary dislike of Rumsfeld by the military) the military was allowed by American policy makers essentially to run its budgeting ship, with ever increasing funding.
Tomorrow: What Obama needs to do

February 26, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Militarism


The GOP made a big show of not cooperating with President Obama's passage of the stimulus bill last week. No Republican member of the House voted for the bill and only three GOP Senators did so. There are three major political implications of the way the bill was passed:

  • Legislative power in the government rests largely in the hands of three of the remaining Northeastern GOP Senators: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Once Al Franken is seated as Senator from Minnesota (and it seems more than likely that he will be), any one of those GOP Senators can be the decisive vote to invoke cloture and prevent a Republican filibuster of Democratic legislation. The Democratic majority in the House is so large as to make it functionally irrelevant, unless there is a major Blue Dog revolt. Thus any critical legislative action from the White House is likely to be tailored to those Senators.

  • The calculations of the Republican leadership are those of politicians in a tight spot. After getting soundly thumped in two straight elections and still saddled with the horrendous legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration (much to Democratic delight, Vice-President Cheney has refused to go quietly into the night). Voting for the bill, they likely figured, gained them nothing. Any success would be credited to President Obama and the Democrats. Voting against the bill set them up as the voice of opposition in case of failure, and offered them a (however hypocritical) way of reasserting their status as the fiscally conservative party. That much of this required the most stringent short and long-term political amnesia--amnesia bad enough actually to provoke the normally-compliant media into noticing--was simply a burden to bear. The criticism that they thus put party interests above national ones is misplaced, as the GOP leadership knew that there was no way they could prevent the bill's passage in the House and none of the three GOP Senators who voted for it in the Senate have been punished by their caucus. Essentially, the Republicans were playing political theater and they knew it.

  • The regionalization of the Republicans continues. Voting against the auto bailout bill in the last days of the Bush Administration should effectively destroy the GOP brand even further in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. The effective conversion of northeastern GOP Senators into conservative Democrats means that the GOP presence in the northeast is even more reduced, and it is likely that some if not all Senators will lose their next election. Certainly, Arlen Specter is probably doomed in his 2010 campaign in Pennsylvania, if he's not picked off by a primary challenge. The GOP has become a party of the South and the Great Plains, able to contest states in the West and Midwest, but losing more than they win. The Democrats have now won the popular vote in 4 out of the last 5 Presidential elections, and the GOP's regionalization means that it will be unlikely to produce a nationally-viable candidate in 2012. Certainly neither Sarah Palin nor Bobby Jindal seem to have country-wide credibility.
What emerges from these three implications are a set of questions. How well will the Specter, Snowe, and Collins work with the Obama administration going forward? Will the GOP's gamble on being the Party of 'No' work? Can the GOP avoid becoming a regional party without the ability effectively to contest national elections?

February 21, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


The United States has focused so closely on conventional warfare in all its forms--land, sea, and air--that it has trouble when forms of warfare that are resolutely unconventional crop up. American weapons, doctrine, and training are unprepared to react quickly to situations that do not fit into the preconceived mindset. Even worse, the American government as whole often uses the military in areas for which it is not prepared and in ways that would be better served by non-military solutions. This past month has seen two particular examples of this. First, groups of pirates sailing in small craft from the Somali coastline have begun hijacking ships from the busy sea lane that runs along the Indian Ocean side of the African continent. Armed with little more than assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the pirates have proven successful at taking enormously large ships like oil tankers hostage and extracting millions of dollars of ransom from the companies that own them or their cargos. This is insurgent war at sea, aimed not at other warships but at more vulnerable civilian vessels. The pirates' craft are stealthy by virtue of their smallness, they can dash out from the coastline quickly, and can out run and outmaneuver the civilian ships they are chasing. The required naval response is--as it always has with pirates--to patrol the sea lanes in which the pirates operate and escort the intended targets through the danger area. But this requires the kind of forces that the United States Navy has avoided building over the last two decades: a plentiful number of small craft armed with the most basic of weaponry. The AEGIS air defense weapon system of the billion dollar Arleigh Burke destroyer class is less effective against a speedboat loaded with pirates than a .50 caliber machine gun on a tiny patrol boat. But, while the Navy has a large number of the former, it has few of the latter. The result has been a largely ineffective response off Somalia. The second form of warfare is even more unconventional and perhaps should not be considered as warfare at all, but somewhere across the divide into politics on the Clausewitzian-scale that puts war and politics at opposite ends of the same scale. In this case, the US was surprised to hear that the government of Kyrgyzstan was planning on ejecting American forces from their use of the air base at Manas. Manas is the critical link in the American supply line to its forces in Afghanistan. Through here are carried enormous amounts of food, ammunition, and the other logistical requirements that keep the effort in Afghanistan going. There is another supply-line, but it goes through Pakistan and the Khyber Pass and has proven vulnerable to Taliban attacks in recent months. Manas is thus doubly critical. What was behind the sudden action? Fingers are being pointed at the Russians, who have recently made large loans to Kyrgyzstan. The quid pro quo seems to have been eviction of the Americans. Why would the Russians want to force the Americans out? The answer has less to do with the recent state of relations between the two countries, which has been reasonably good, than it has to do with the continuing effort by the Russians to reestablish themselves as the preeminent power in the countries on their border. The Georgian War was one such effort and it effectively showed not only the Georgians but the Ukrainians and others that the west could not protect those countries if the Russians decided to invade. Evicting the Americans from Manas would start the same process in Central Asia. Even if the Americans manage to hold onto the base by paying the Kyrgyzstanis off, the Russians have made an unmistakeable point about who carries weight in that area of the world. This is not simply a problem of the military. The neglect of anything other than military (and conventional military at that) solutions to problems is a long-standing problem for the United States. Alternative methods--law enforcement, diplomacy, or aid--have for the most part been mocked and underfunded. The result is often that the only available option is the hammer of the military, and so every problem becomes a nail. This process only accelerated during the Bush Administration, when the marginalization of the State Department under Colin Powell and the increased militarization of law enforcement pushed even more responsibilities onto the back of the Pentagon, some of which it has been capable of dealing with, and some not. One of the most important responsibilities of the Obama administration will be to revitalize American ability to respond across the spectrum of problems, from smallest to largest, from diplomatic to military, from economic to social. If the U.S. uses its military power to the exclusion of all else, it virtually guarantees a continuing imperial overstretch and a strong tendency by the world to respond in the same way.

February 18, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


During World War II, British soldiers resentful of American troops who they thought had too much money and too much pull with British women, christened the GIs some variation of 'overpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here.'* According to the USA Today, the second of those seems to becoming more true today:

The number of troops diagnosed as overweight or obese has more than doubled since the start of the Iraq war, yet another example of stress and strains of continuing combat deployments, according to a recent Pentagon study.
Nor is this the first report on such a weight gain. The Chicago Tribune reported last year that the 'Iraq 20' was the military's equivalent of the 'freshman 15.' Soldiers at bases in Iraq could choose from:
Barbecue ribs, fried chicken, rib-eye steak, lobster tails, crab legs, roast turkey, stir-fry, cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, egg rolls, breaded shrimp, buffalo wings, chili, crepes, pancakes, omelets, waffles, burritos, tacos, quesadillas, quiches, bacon, polish sausages, pulled pork, corned beef hash, milk shakes and smoothies

February 11, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Criminal Justice


It is a commonplace of analysis--historical and otherwise--to suggest that militaries fight the last war. So commonplace, that it has trickled into analyses of non-military matters, such as Investment banking. The truism is, unfortunately, not particularly true. Rather, militaries prepare to fight the last war that they want to fight. Generals and Admirals are actually fairly selective in their models, and they usually chose the model that seems to them congenial. In many cases, they simply create an imaginary war to fight, one which fits with their ideas, preconceptions, and prejudices. Sometimes this mythic war resembles an actual war. More often, it resembles an amalgamation of wars, with bits and pieces chosen from different conflicts. In other words, it is not the last war that militaries prepare to fight, it is the preferential war. Thus, the canonical model for fighting the last war--World War I--did not come about because the militaries of Europe prepared merely to fight the last war, but because the generals chose the war they imagined they would fight. In 1914's case, the military leadership of Europe looked more to the wars of the past that they found congenial--the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War--than the one that they didn't--the American Civil War. The point of this for today's world is that the Pentagon is not locked into the last war (whether it be the Gulf War, the Cold War, or Vietnam). Instead, each service, to a varying degree, has remained enamored of World War II and the conventional warfare that dominated that conflict. Thus the Navy focuses on buying large aircraft carriers, escort ships, amphibious landing ships, and submarines, an almost perfect mirror of the Navy that fought Japan from 1941-45. The Air Force aims for air superiority fighters, attack planes, and long range bombers, even as the Army Air Force did against Germany in World War II. The Army buys itself heavy main battle tanks, infantry carriers, and the accoutrements of conventional warfare, looking much like a 21st century version of American forces at Normandy in 1944. The Marine Corps buys amphibious landing craft and tilt-rotor aircraft to be ready for amphibious assaults like the ones at Tarawa and Iwo Jima. There are exceptions within all these services. The Navy and the Air Force have developed and used unmanned vehicles to great purpose in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has adopted some of the hard-won lessons of counterinsurgency and begun equipping itself to match. There are obvious problems with this pattern. One problem is that the military has to justify these new systems in the 21st century, not in WWII. The U.S. is no longer at war with Japan and Germany. As a result, the services look for potential threats that will account for the need to spend billions of dollars. There is no country in the world that can match the Air Force's current fleet of air superiority fighters, so the Air Force points to China and Russia as impending threats. There is no fleet that can match the ships of the Navy, so the the service points to a potential threat from China. This leads to the next problem which is, in the process of preparing for potential wars, the Pentagon neglects the wars that America is actually fighting. Thus, during the war in Iraq, the Army was funding the Future Combat System, an expensive array of technologies for the soldier of the 21st century, while unarmored Humvees were being sent to a combat zone. Finally, when the technologies are sent to the actual conflicts, they often prove not to be optimized for that kind of war. The Stryker armored vehicle had to have steel cages attached to detonate the warheads of insurgent anti-tank weapons in Iraq. The new administration can best deal with this focus on preferential wars is to force the Pentagon and each service to think long and hard about the wars that the U.S. is currently fighting. The last administration did not do this. In fact, President Bush's policies actively militated against such a way of thinking by separating the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the 'normal' military budget and putting them in supplementals. The signal was hard to miss. President Obama should ensure that the same thing does not happen in this administration, lest we discover that our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan become a long-term incapacity.

February 06, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Culture


Suicide rates in the military have jumped over the past few years. The Army has seen the highest rates of suicide in the last 30 years, according to an Associated Press article:

Suicides among U.S. Army troops rose again last year and are at a nearly three-decade high, senior defense officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.At least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the data has not been formally released.

Such a jump in the rate reveals the stress of a military now entering the sixth year of war in Iraq, the eighth year of war in Afghanistan, and the eight year post-9/11. Those years have witnessed a intense operational tempo with units going out of country for multiple tours of a year or more. Combine that with the stress of combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan where the front line is a fluid and changing place, and the recipe for stress is complete. Unfortunately, there is no similar tracking system for Americans who have left the service, and thus it is unclear if they too are killing themselves in larger numbers

Other signs of this stress abound. The divorce rate in the military is up, especially among female service members:

January 31, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Culture


So how did the four issues I highlighted in this post play out during the Presidential campaign, and what lessons do they hold for the future? 1. Economic

January 14, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Militarism

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