Tag Archives: military

Should spies emulate journalists?

Canadian soldiers fire an M777 155mm Howitzer ...
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Interesting, especially the advice to think like journalists:

American intelligence in Afghanistan is broken, says the top U.S. intelligence officer there. That’s because it focuses too much on whacking Taliban, and not enough on figuring out Afghanistan’s social and cultural landscapes. But the report from Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top intelligence aide to International Security Assistance Force Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, raises lots of other issues, too. Like, what happened to the military’s “human terrain” programs to map those landscapes? Can spies really perform better if they think and work like journalists? And why is this report being publicly distributed through a think tank?

Flynn’s report — which was prepared for public release by the Center for a New American Security – begins with a stunning admission. “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” the report states. “Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.”

I have some opinions on OSINT that generally center on organizations’ ability to absorb it in useful, credulous ways.  OSINT is essentially old-school journalism, the difference being that news organizations value it.

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Collier sees the upside in political coups

Corporate Foreign Policy features Paul Collier’s bracingly pragmatic view on political coups:

For Collier, the unpalatable reality in many of the poorest countries is that military coups are the most effective check on the abuses of power.  Although the introduction of multi-party elections throughout Africa was meant to improve accountability in governance, Collier believes that far too often the ruling parties hold on to power using bribery, intimidation and fraud. Collier therefore suggests that the idea of a ‘good coup‘. The problem? Naturally, coups have been known to be “unguided missiles, indiscriminately replacing both corrupt and decent regimes“.

The solution, he believes, is to improve electoral accountability and to “provide coups with a guidance system“. He proposes a pact under which EU and US forces – with a rapid reaction capacity to deploy in Africa – would guarantee to protect any government that was judged credibly to have come to power through ‘free and fair’ elections.

That’s interesting.  CFP notes the hazards of encouraging coups, but points out that the African Union has failed to intervene in four coups in the last twelve months.

A contrarian view in the service of understanding an issue better is hardly a bad thing.  It’s difficult to imagine how such a solution would work, though.  The United Nations Security Council is probably damaged beyond repair for this sort of thing, and NATO has had jurisdictional issues with the recent rash of pirate attacks off the Somali coast.  Most sensitive, any program of intervention would be permanently neutered the first time forces intervened in one instance but not in another.  What happens when someone asks (at the UN, perhaps), “why Somalia and not Sudan?”; or worse, “why Africa and not Asia?”

It’s an initially elegant solution to an intractable problem, but the treatment could risk killing the patient.

New military command for cyberspace

As someone who is fascinated by the behavior of organizations, I’m always interested when a new one is created:

The Pentagon plans to create a new military command for cyberspace, administration officials said Thursday, stepping up preparations by the armed forces to conduct both offensive and defensive computer warfare.

// The military command would complement a civilian effort to be announced by President Obama on Friday that would overhaul the way the United States safeguards its computer networks.

Once again with public-private partnership.  So much better than the traditional “one or the other” approach, albeit with challenges of cooperation.  It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.  Some of the politics have kept this one at a lower level than having a direct line to the president, but one could expect that to change after a significant attack.

Downs argues for ROTC on campus

Donald Downs asks whether ROTC and military-strategic studies “enhance the civic and liberal education of nonmilitary students“:

Tensions between the military and the university are hardly new or surprising; after all, the two institutions embrace different cultures, procedures, and purposes. But they managed to coexist in a dynamic tension until the antiwar movement of the 1960s severed the relationship at many colleges, opening a gap that persists to this day. Consider that Brown, Columbia, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale have all forsaken ROTC, and that the programs at Cornell and Princeton have not attracted large numbers of students over the years. (Those programs also draw cadets from nearby campuses.)

In recent years, student groups at some Ivy League universities have launched campaigns to bring ROTC back to their campuses. These initiatives are often coordinated with an umbrella alumni organization, Advocates for ROTC, which has worked behind the scenes and occasionally in more public ways to cajole members’ respective alma maters to restore ROTC to universities where it no longer operates, and to strengthen the program where it exists in a weakened form.

His answer is a firm “yes”, with four points that bolster his case.  The article is worth a careful read.  I can definitely support his view that challenging the basic assumptions of an institution is a way to improve that institution.  The presence of ROTC on university campuses could challenge and improve in both directions.

ALSO:  I understand the rationale for wanting ROTC off-campus, but I think the challenge and cross-pollination is more important than separating soldiers from the world of ideas.  In addition to fighting, the military inculcates discipline, leadership values, and ideals of respect.  To preach inclusion without attempting to understand what motivates one to join and serve is the height of hypocrisy.

Youssef discusses military stress

Nancy Youssef at Nukes and Spooks takes on the increasingly relevant topic of stress in the military:

It was supposed to be that the U.S. Army would refit as they call it once the forces starting coming home from Iraq, but now with the Obama administration’s push into Afghanistan, the stress of the force will continue for at least another year. Indeed, to meet the president’s order for 17,500 combat troops plus 4,000 trainers, the Untied States military must draw down in Iraq.  But violence has been ratcheting up in Iraq; more than 75 people were killed today.

What happens if the Iraqi government asks the U.S. forces to stay longer in places like Mosul? That is, given the stress on the force as Chiarelli described, and the surge of troops headed into Afghanistan, isn’t the biggest worry now that Iraq might disintegrate slowly, enough to require more U.S. troops to stay in Iraq even as Army is surging in Afghanistan? At that point the United States could find itself with a sizeable force still in Iraq and a growing one in Afghanistan. Imagine the stress on the force in that scenario?

Stress in organizations has a fairly solid body of knowledge and perhaps a less solid body of practice.  The excellent book Theories of Organizational Stress, edited by Cary (not Gary) Cooper, begins with this nugget from Studs Terkel:

work is, by its very nature, about violence–to the spirit as well as to the body.  It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around.  It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.  To survive the day is enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.  [emphasis added]

Grim stuff.  Theories offers a range of views, including a comprehensive meta-model theory of organizational stressin which Terry Beehr posits that “organizations which are characterized by environmental uncertainty will make it difficult for people to achieve their objectives, as well as maintaining any sense of personal well-being.”  A more recent paper, “Stress in Organizations”, treads some of the same ground but has some useful insights.  The problem, as with so much theory, is that many organizations lack the will, discipline, ability, or awareness of the research to do anything about organizational stress.

Pundits often note that the current US forces are the greatest fighting force in human history, and it’s hard to refute that point.  It would be a disservice to damage that force beyond repair.  There are no easy answers, but the literature provides some good guidelines for where to start.

MORE:  For those with passing familiarity with some of the theory-practice arguments, Karl Weick’s piece “Theory and Practice in the Real World” in the Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory is a good place to start.  The first sentence in particular highlights the tense relationship between academe and management.