A Straitjacket Strategy to Contain North Korea

*Note: This essay was originally published at The National Interest on February 8, 2017.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis spent the tail end of last week in Seoul and Tokyo conferring with allies about the extreme challenge posed by a belligerently nuclear North Korea. When he gets back, Secretary Mattis should provide President Donald Trump with an option to straitjacket the rogue regime with consistently stiff military restraints to enable diplomacy. Pin down their arms and North Korea’s only option will be to talk.

North Korea is a uniquely vexing challenge with a rapidly closing solution window. Adm. Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, calls them his “most volatile and dangerous threat” because their violent mood swings endanger a key ally in South Korea, 25 million people in Seoul, and periodically hold hostage the critical economies of Northeast Asia. The so-called Doomsday Clock recently edged closer to midnight than any time since the unstable dawn of the nuclear age, an acknowledgement of today’s near-term nuclear risk, thanks in part to North Korea’s reckless behavior. And a recent high-level defector says subversive information is “crumbling” North Korea and the regime’s days are “numbered”; oppositely, widely-reported intelligence tells us North Korea will be capable of striking the U.S. homeland with a long-range nuclear missile by 2020. Continue reading “A Straitjacket Strategy to Contain North Korea”

The 45 Paradoxical Qualities of the Strategist

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What qualities define the strategist? While some contemplate the best schools or best processes to “build” the best senior strategists—maybe the best way forward is to start with a simple set of characteristics that might best exemplify the strategist. Continue reading “The 45 Paradoxical Qualities of the Strategist”

After Action Review: Operation UNDERBELLY

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

There are lessons from wars of the past. There are lessons from wars of the present. And there are lessons from wars of the future.

MWI Fellow August Cole proves this third point in his exceptional work of short fiction, “UNDERBELLY,” which “explores what war in Europe against an increasingly aggressive Russia might look like with a dramatically reduced US commitment to NATO.” The tale envisions a new role for the American Sheriff in which it only provides “logistic, intelligence, and technical support” to NATO in a crisis. Operation UNDERBELLY then, is a British-led, multi-national European military effort to drive back the Russians in the Baltics. And strategists, planners, and tacticians can apply today’s tools to learn from this fictitious future-look. Continue reading “After Action Review: Operation UNDERBELLY”

On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 1: A Military Declaration of Political Neutrality

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After a heated, bitterly contested election season, now that the peaceful transfer of power is complete and temperatures have subsided a bit—it’s important for the Profession of Arms to reflect on its critical role in this democratic society.

In the spirit of this important reflection, recently, I made the case that, while they should always maintain the right to vote—military officers should choose not to vote—to fulfill their professional duty to prevent politics from dividing our troops and separating us from society, as well as to uphold the long, star-studded tradition of uniformed non-voting (i.e. Grant, Marshall, Patton, Eisenhower, etc.).

In swift response, retired Gen. Carter Ham, announced in the Army Times he “could not disagree more strongly” with this position, and countered it was inadvisable “to suggest officers recuse themselves from one of the most fundamental rights and obligations of citizenry.” He concluded by reminding readers of then-Gen. George Washington’s words, “When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.” Continue reading “On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 1: A Military Declaration of Political Neutrality”

On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote

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Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap has written, perhaps unintentionally, a truly ironic essay for The Hill publication.

While he may have meant to disagree with my earlier-written opinion that military officers should not vote to maintain their professional obligation to reduce cancerous political partisanship in the ranks, his response’s immense irony is noteworthy. Continue reading “On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote”

The Military Strategist’s Oath

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I pledge, to the best of my ability, that:

I will take pride in being part of the Nation’s arsenal of ideas, because wars are won as much in the mind as by the fist.

I will remember the battlefield punishes vanity; I am the most loyal skeptic, and personal investment will never obscure focus on clear-eyed, selfless support for the best strategy available.

I will wield words as weapons; with precision and concision, I expend great effort to share knowledge, with exceptional candor and courage, for the betterment of all in the security community I serve.

I will grant appropriate credence to and draw upon the sum total of all academic disciplines, the accumulated wisdom of the policy community, and the hardest-fought lessons of warfare. Continue reading “The Military Strategist’s Oath”

Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict

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

War is hard. Even the sharpest mind can’t accurately predict or adequately prepare for trial by combat. It is inherently dependent on the enemy’s zags and the environment’s zigs—we can’t foresee where war will take us, so while we may shape it at the margins, we can never truly control the next stage of conflict. Moreover, even if we could predict where war might go, it wouldn’t really matter since we can’t replicate the precise conditions of war, and therefore we’ll never be fully ready for such violent challenges. Both characteristics bear heavily on what strategists can accomplish at war, and so these merit some scrutiny. Continue reading “Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict”