Thinking Through a North Korean “Downfall”

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

He did it. Kim Jong Un defied the world, again. Despite the American warships, despite the Chinese pressure, North Korea’s leader tested another illicit missile. Even if the practice launch “fizzled,” as with gifts, it’s the thought that counts—and in this case, the thoughts are pretty disturbing. And he’s still got a nuke “all primed and ready” to test.

Of course, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests on five previous occasions, including twice last year (not to mention 24 provocative missile tests in the same twelve-month stretch)—and US aircraft carrier visits to the region are not rare. But the backdrop of palpably increased tensions against which these developments are taking place gives them a particularly ominous character.

While an outbreak of war remains unlikely, because this recent cycle continues a long, dangerous trend, we have to ask: What would a war to end the North Korean regime look like? What historical example could we reach to? It is critically important for planners to set their scales correctly to understand the scope war might entail. And in this case, the task’s enormity demands accurate forecasting. Continue reading “Thinking Through a North Korean “Downfall””

Ten Takeaways from the Korean Theater of Operations and A Warfighter’s Way Forward

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

You know there’s a national security problem brewing when in the space of seven weeks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs opines on the widespread challenges North Korea presents, followed closely by visits to South Korea from the secretaries of defense and state.

In a similar effort to come to grips with some of the larger strategic issues at play, I recently concluded an intense, week-long visit to the Korean theater of operations, including the combined warfighting command there (Combined Forces Command/United Nations Command/US Forces Korea; CFC/UNC/USFK). What follows is a list of experience-based takeaways that may be of practical interest and potential use by those well beyond the confines of the Korean Peninsula—things to consider as we slide closer to conflict. Continue reading “Ten Takeaways from the Korean Theater of Operations and A Warfighter’s Way Forward”

The Mike Flynn Problem is Actually a Profession of Arms Problem

*Note: This essay was originally published at War on the Rocks.

When twelve stars tell you to knock it off, there’s a problem.

At several points throughout this past presidential campaign, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn’s partisan political behavior, while legal, was so out-of-line for a member of the profession of arms that a trio of the nation’s elite retired officers reached out informally and publicly to tell Flynn to cease and desist. Flynn’s old commander and comrade, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quietly urged restraint, and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote open letters to mark their disapproval: Gen. Martin Dempsey explained to the American people that Flynn’s inappropriate actions violated the profession’s “apolitical tradition,” and Adm. Michael Mullen amplified the same sentiment, that “for retired senior officers to take leading and vocal roles as clearly partisan figures is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service.”

Yet, despite three enormous red-and-white flags waving “stop,” Flynn, as a commission-holding retired military officer, continued to violate these apolitical values — etched in code, written in policy, deep in history, and reinforced every two years by service-supported voting education and assistance programs — yet, when pressed in an interview about this very criticism, Flynn responded combatively: “What’s Marty Dempsey going to do?” While troubling on its own, Flynn’s defiance raises a larger, more important question: What’s the profession of arms going to do?

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

The Five Fatal Challenges of Warfighting in Korea

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

North Korea’s aggressively destabilizing behavior has hit the headlines again, this time several unannounced, unsanctioned missile tests—part of a national double-time march to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead capable of striking the United States by 2020. North Korea’s drive toward a deep-strike weapon of mass destruction raises an important question: what would the United States do to forestall such a weapon’s use? Airstrikes can’t guarantee getting all the bad stuff, and cyber tools appear to have failed as a “left of launch” option. Deploying ground forces is, of course, an unlikely scenario. But if such an action became necessary, what would ground combat in North Korea look like? Continue reading “The Five Fatal Challenges of Warfighting in Korea”

Can America Fight Wars that Matter Anymore?

*Note: This essay was originally published at Rally Point’s “Command Post” on March 2, 2017.

“I don’t want to go! It’s not for me!”

This past holiday season brought the annual war over religious service attendance. Our inter- and multi-faith loved ones squabbled over the need to go, together, to this annual social tradition. It was a typical scene—our family’s certainly not the only one in which congregational conflict has become common. Sociologists tell us that generational norms are shifting with the rise of the Millennials, and participation in religious community events has fallen, sharply. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted that Sunday’s church hour was America’s “most segregated”—today, for many struggling to cope with this social trend, Sunday has become the family’s most separate hour. Continue reading “Can America Fight Wars that Matter Anymore?”

What the Profession of Arms Can Take from Michael Flynn’s Example

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

I would never actively cheer an administrational death, but, paraphrasing Clarence Darrow, I did smile a bit while reading Michael Flynn’s resignation in the newspaper. It wasn’t for any personal ill will or partisan reason (my stance on political neutrality is well documented), but my grin formed because Flynn’s actions in retirement have directly contradicted two pillars of the Profession of Arms—its apolitical tradition and truth-telling character. And the end of his short tenure as national security advisor provides the Profession a ponderous moment to reflect on what Flynn hath wrought. Continue reading “What the Profession of Arms Can Take from Michael Flynn’s Example”

False Faith: The Third Offset Isn’t a Strategy and Won’t Win Our Next War

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

We’re past idea, beyond buzzword, and have shot right past cliché—overuse and overapplication has rendered the phrase “Third Offset” effectively meaningless. When I hear the term used, it’s akin to the dashboard warning light in my aging car, letting me know I’m approaching a serious deficiency. The fault is geographically diverse; in recent assignments from West Point to Korea to Space and Missile Defense, I’ve heard well-meaning military professionals automatically apply “Third Offset Strategy” as a solution for just about everything, from military education to Kim Jong Un to the Russians and Chinese. But a solution everywhere is a solution nowhere—the Third Offset faithful routinely misunderstand and misrepresent this otherwise valuable weapons and concept development program as a true strategy that will win the next war. That mistake is as dangerous as it is wrong. Continue reading “False Faith: The Third Offset Isn’t a Strategy and Won’t Win Our Next War”