Sunday, September 27, 2009

Strategic Communication & Smarter Interrogation

I recently came across two interesting bits of national security information on the internet. The first was this interesting website on strategic communication. “Now what,” you rightly ask, “is that?” Well, one of the many useful things the website provides is definitions. In the case of this particular term, it refers to:

“The synchronized coordination of statecraft, public affairs, public diplomacy, military information operations, and other activities... to advance US foreign policy objectives.”

In other words, strategic communication involves making sure that your messages to foreign governments and populations are clear and consistent. All too often, American administrations from either party will forget about key components of strategic communication, or the whole thing. Messages from different governmental entities are frequently contradictory. Often they focus on traditional state-to-state diplomacy, to the neglect of public diplomacy. And they usually ignore the propaganda value of our deeds.

The Strategic Communication website is still a work in progress, and looks raggedy in sections, but there are a lot of good resources already, and I expect more to come.

The second thing I came across was this book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq by Matthew Alexander. I have not read it yet, but I am intrigued by the title and the reviews I have seen. Cruel and inhuman practices have caused many people to turn up their noses at the term "interrogation" - and rightfully so. But Alexander reminds us that torture is not the only means of obtaining information from captives. Indeed, smarter techniques not only avoid brutalizing the subject, but are also more likely to produce quality information. That is a lesson often lost in the polemics about interrogation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On the Failure of Population Schemes

This blog usually discusses matters of security, but statecraft has other aspects as well. An article which caught my attention this morning underlined that point: "Shanghai calls on chosen couples to exceed China's one child limit".

The gist of the article is quite simple: China has too many old people and not enough young people, which will make taking care of the elderly a nightmare. "Shanghai is taking the dramatic step of actively encouraging residents to exceed China's famed 'one child' limit, citing concerns about the aging of its population and a potentially shrinking workforce," the Financial Times writes.

The only thing that prevents me from saying, "I told you so," is the fact that I wasn't around when the "one child" policy was first put in place in 1979. The problems that China is now or soon will be facing are the obvious consequences of their actions. "Shanghai's initiative follows campaigns to encourage more child bearing in other crowded Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which had previously worked to promote small families only to see birth rates trail off..." Well, yes, contraception and abortion campaigns tend to have that effect.

In addition to creating a demographic and economic disaster, "China's decades-old one-child policy... remains a significant intrusion into private life." An added bonus.

What particularly tickles me about this story is that plenty of people pointed out the fact that these kinds of policies will backfire. In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his highly controversial encyclical Humanae vitae, which articulated the argument that contraception runs contrary to the natural order. If that sounds a bit too philosophic for a statesman to worry about, let me point out that the true statesman must understand the order of nature before he can operate effectively within it. It is a basic test the Chinese leadership have failed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the July 20 Plot - Again

Two years ago I wrote a post about the July 20 plot. This year, commemorating those who attempted to overthrow Hitler in 1944 is even more important to me.

This past semester, as part of my duties as a teaching assistant at Texas A&M, I led discussions on John Weiss' The Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany. Weiss' argument is easily caricatured: conservatives, traditionalists, big business and Christianity (in particular Catholicism) were responsible for the Holocaust. Only progressive, atheistic (or at least irreligious and relativistic) socialists are free of blame in Weiss' account.

The problems with The Ideology of Death are legion, too many to mention here. I shall concern myself with only one: Weiss all but ignores Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (pictured left) and the July 20 conspirators. Why? Because Stauffenberg represents everything Weiss abhors: a Catholic, an aristocrat, a nationalist and a military officer.

Weiss dismisses the July 20 plotters as johnny-come-latelys. The socialists, he says, had been opposing Hitler from day one, whereas the army only turned against Hitler when it was apparent that defeat was in store. Besides the fact that authors such as Allen Dulles have shown that the army had grave misgivings about Hitler and his band of unprofessional thugs even before the war began, Weiss overlooks a key point: the socialists never came close to toppling Hitler. The July 20 conspirators did.

As if to add insult to injury, Weiss claims that Stauffenberg has been shunned by a nation of proto-fascist Nazi sympathizers in the modern Federal Republic of Germany. His case is weak, at best. Stauffenberg's son Berthold became a general in the post-war German army; another son, Franz-Ludwig, became an elected member of both the German and European parliaments. The members of Germany's elite Wachbataillon take their oath of service on July 20, at the Bendlerblock, where the July 20 conspirators met and were later executed. The street on which it sits has been renamed Stauffenbergstraße and the building now houses the Memorial to the German Resistance.

The modern German army, created in 1955, is keen to sever any connections with its Nazi predecessors. Thus, in addition to post-1955 innovations, there are only two legitimate sources of tradition in the Germany army. One source is the military reformers of the 19th century, men like Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Clausewitz. The other source are the lives and heroic deaths of the July 20 conspirators.

Stauffenberg and his coconspirators were not the only people within Germany to oppose Hitler; brave men and women such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the White Rose movement did likewise. We would do well to reflect on their sacrifices and defend their legacy against the likes of John Weiss.

This post first appeared on The Guild Review, a blog of art, culture, faith and politics.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Difficult Choices in an Era of Deficits: The British Military Budget

My beloved Financial Times carries four pieces on its daily Comment page. Always. In all the years I have subscribed I do not recall ever seeing it otherwise.

So when I saw this morning that there were only three, with Max Hastings' column"What Britain Must Give Up for the Soldiers It Needs," taking up almost double the usual space, I sat up and took notice. The piece is indeed sobering.

I have argued before in favor of retaining conventional military power, including air power. However, Hastings makes a compelling case that Britain's current attempts to maintain military power in all sectors - including a nuclear deterrent and first-rate air intercepting capabilities - come at the cost of failure and death in places like Helmand. In an era of staggering government deficits, expensive projects mean fewer boots on the ground. Rather than simply recapping Hastings' entire article, let me simply suggest that you read it.

While Britain's needs are somewhat different than America's, and her budgets considerably smaller, the basic issues at stake are the same for all the Atlanticist powers. (I have not heard much about the French military budget lately, but I suspect similar debates are at hand, or soon will be.) Thus, Americans would do well to take note of the cousins' concerns.

There are two footnotes I would add to Hastings' comments : While the details of current projects mean that reconfiguring carriers from a fighter complement designed for interception to a helicopter complement designed for ground support may be expensive, it seems to me there are possibilities here for dual-use platforms which may help bridge some of the gap between traditional peer competition and small wars capabilities.

My second comment is related. Hastings makes a strong case that the Trident capability, however desirable in its own right, is expensive and less necessary than other programs. Likewise the F-35. But carriers are another matter. They are useful for power projection around the globe, a veritable sine qua non of international engagement of the kind Britain would like to maintain. And whereas Trident missiles are only good for intimidating second-tier state powers, carriers are versatile - or at least can be - and thus capable of supporting both traditional and asymmetric uses of military power.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Irrelevance of Political Science

In a piece he wrote back in April, FT columnist Gideon Rachman wrote that "it is no longer fashionable to pick political scientists for the top positions making US foreign policy." The reason why is clear enough: "I looked at something called the Journal of Conflict Resolution and found articles about real-world political problems which seemed just to be a mass of quadratic equations. It is hard to believe that anybody actually trying to resolve a conflict would find this kind of stuff useful, or relevant." Joe Nye and Stephen Walt, both of whom teach at Harvard, have made similar observations.

As a result of the growing irrelevance of political science, it has become fashionable to recruit talent from Washington's think-tanks, institutions which are much more policy-oriented than the American academy. But this, Rachman points out, has in turn created another problem: "The transition must be extraordinary for these former analysts and scribblers. Many of them have never managed anything more than a research assistant. And suddenly, they are placed in the White House or the Pentagon and given real-world responsibilities and real soldiers to play with. It’s all a long way from the seminar room."

But a little school in the Federal City seeks to address some of these issues. The Institute of World Politics was founded in 1990 by a former member of the National Security Council Staff who noticed the very same problem Rachman points out: in spite of studying and teaching at the finest schools in the national security field, John Lenczowski discovered that these institutions had not prepared him for the actual work of national security. So he founded his own school, dedicated to the apprehension of intellectual tools which have a practical value for foreign policy practitioners. For faculty he has recruited a variety of men and women who are not only published scholars in their respective fields, but have also served in foreign policy and can bring real-life experience to bear on their teaching. Finally, recognizing that international affairs is not an amoral business, IWP insists that its students study the ideals and values of the American Founding and the Western moral tradition.

IWP has not yet achieved a perfect synthesis of study and practice, ideal and realpolitik. But it is definitely doing some interesting work and making a serious effort to train a rising generation of foreign policy practitioners in, well, the practice of foreign policy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anti-Western League Holds Maneuvers

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an organization for military cooperation which includes Russia, China and all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia except Turkmenistan, are currently holding military exercises in Tajikistan, the BBC reports. The exercises are being billed as an "anti-terrorism" drill, but given that pro-democratic or otherwise anti-establishment movements in these countries are often labeled "terrorists" the claim is dubious. Moreover, the exercise will include not only personnel and vehicles, but also fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. And it is taking place in a country that borders Afghanistan, where NATO is current waging a war against the Taliban. In spite of recent diplomatic niceties, the message is clear: America, go home. This is someone else's back yard.

Observers from India, Pakistan and Iran - all of which have official observer status with the organization - were present. Mongolia, a staunch supporter of the US, also has official observer status, but for reasons that are not given, there are no Mongolian observers present.

"One of the exercises involves Russian and Tajik special forces countering a simulated terrorist attack from Afghanistan." Another exercise involved para-drops. This is no small-scale war game. Nevertheless, do you think Dmitry Medvedev is going to suddenly decide to drop his complaint about NATO exercises in Georgia? Of course not.

The photo is from Peace Mission 2007, the previous SCO war game. According to official Chinese sources, "air forces and precision-guided weapons" were used at this "anti-terrorism military drill." Mmm hmm...