The CSS Blog Network

Spiritual Ardor and Military Might: The Story of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Courtesy of Neil Hester/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 March 2017.

Afshon Ostovar, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Oxford University Press, 2016)

This past September in an audience hall in Tehran, a prominent vocalist named Sadegh Ahangaran took to a microphone to justify an Iranian military adventure. Ahangaran had earned the nickname “the nightingale of the Imam” for his melodies of martyrdom decades earlier during the Iran-Iraq War, his defiant voice often the last thing Iranian combatants heard before death. In his more recent performance, Ahangaran drew on these talents to serenade a similar crowd, but about a different war.

“I must break their windpipes in Aleppo, so that their feet do not touch Kermanshah,” sang Ahangaran, clad in the uniform of a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reaching a crescendo, he thundered, “Since we have said no to the arrogance, we have disturbed the dream of the enemy … We are behind the Mullah until martyrdom.” Enraptured by the recital and seated on the floor before him were soldiers and commanders, past and present, of the IRGC. On a stage directly in front of them was their Mullah – Iran’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief – Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

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“Peace Through Strength”: Deterrence in Chinese Military Doctrine

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 15 March 2017.

 “To pursue peace through strength, it shall be the policy of the United States to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces.” President Donald J. Trump, January 27, 2017.

“[Gen. Martin Dempsey] told American troops based in Japan on Thursday that ‘the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it.’” Associated Press, April 25, 2013.

The idea of “peace through strength” can be traced back to at least Roman times and almost certainly goes back even further, but in U.S. history, it is associated with Ronald Reagan. In his essay, “The Ancient Foreign Policy,” historian Victor Davis Hanson salutes its origins and links this “common wisdom” to the concept of deterrence.

From Vegetius’s Si vis pacem, para bellum [If you want peace, prepare for war] to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength,” the common wisdom was to be ready for war and thereby, and only by that way, avoid war, not to talk bellicosely and to act pacifistically … Deterrence (and with it peace) often was not defined only in material terms; it rested also on a psychological readiness to use overwhelming power to confront an aggressor … Again, deterrence (“the act of frightening away”) rested not just on quantifiable power but also on a likelihood to use it.

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Australian Defense Policy in the Trump Era

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This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 27 February 2017.

The recent story of Australian defense policy is straightforward. Faced with an increasingly adverse strategic outlook, Australia has been bolstering its defenses since the turn of the century. In the past 15 years defense spending has increased by 75% in real terms, defense personnel numbers are up by 18%, and military modernization is underway across the board. At the same me, Australia has demonstrated its alliance credentials through stalwart support of US‐led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As a result, there is little doubt that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is now more capable and more inter‐operable with the US, and the Australia‐US alliance is stronger than at any time since at least the Vietnam conflict.

But the strategic environment has continued to deteriorate on multiple fronts. Most alarming has been China’s annexation and militarization of contested territory in the South China Sea. It is hardly surprising then, that Australia unveiled plans last year to further expand and modernize its own defense force. Just about every aspect of the ADF is slated for expansion and/or enhancement over the next two decades, but the centerpiece is a US$50 billion naval construction program. In addition to new classes of anti‐submarine frigates and offshore patrol vessels, 12 new French‐designed submarines — much larger than any extant conventional submarines — will replace the six existing boats. To pay for this large‐scale program, the government has promised to increase defense spending to 2.1% of the GDP by 2020.
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European Defence 2016

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This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 1 March 2017.

The first EUISS Security Monthly Stats (SMS) brings together defence data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from 2016. Aggregating figures from the 28 EU member states, the graphics answer a series of questions about defence spending levels and arms exports.

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Japan’s Security Policy Reform: Institutional Changes Facilitating a Larger Role in Regional Security

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This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 2 March 2017.

In light of the recent summit between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe and the latter’s fifth year in office, it is a good time to take stock of the recent changes to Japan’s security policy. While these changes lie within a broader continuum since the 1950s of gradually moving away from the post‐World War II constraints, the recent reforms are notable for two reasons: quantity — much has been enacted, amended, or established; and quality — these changes are systemic.

Over the past five years, Japan has redefined its national security strategy and reshaped its postwar system of pacifism, offering more options to respond to and proactively shape its own security environment. The government has built a justification for adopting collective self‐defense, developed a broad political consensus about the security challenges facing Japan, and implemented a series of executive decisions through the legislature and bureaucracy. These reforms are fundamentally reshaping how Japan communicates, thinks about, and implements national security policy by establishing a new institutional culture. These changes should not be valued so much for what they are now, but for their potential.

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