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How Organization Theorists Help Explain Military Power

Courtesy of Comrade King/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 21 February 2017.

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, the United States began the same kind of reevaluation of military priorities and strategies that accompany all transitions of power. Crucial in such appraisals is updating assessments of the military power – and therefore threat – posed by a variety of states around the world. My research suggests that a factor rarely considered in estimates of military power – armed forces’ command and control systems – needs to be front and center in the minds of analysts.

To understand why command and control systems, or command structures, are so important to estimates of military power, it is helpful to turn back the clock to a very old conflict. In the late summer of 1904, Japanese and Russian forces fought a major battle outside the Manchurian town of Liaoyang and, to the shock and surprise of both observers and combatants, the Japanese won. This occurred despite the fact that the Japanese fielded fewer men and weapons, attacked well-prepared defensive positions with unimaginative tactics, and enjoyed no clear advantage in soldier quality or skill. The Japanese won because they could better discern what was happening on the battlefield and, as a consequence, use their men and materiel more efficiently and effectively than could the Russians.

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What’s a NATO Ally Worth: Getting Beyond the Two Percent Benchmark

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This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 16 February 2017.

This week Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivered some tough love to America’s allies in Europe. Addressing NATO defense ministers, Mattis offered “clarity on the political reality in the United States.” If the allies do not want to see America moderate its commitment to them, he said, “each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”

On its face, Mattis’ call for NATO to spend more on defense is hardly new, and his words echo the public warnings given by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others. This year, however, after President Trump’s repeated questioning of NATO’s value, the allies are listening especially closely. The new administration is right to call for a boost in European defense spending, but the right measure of our allies’ value is in fact much broader. An overweening focus on budget metrics risks distorting, to NATO’s detriment and to America’s, what it means to be a good military ally.

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Relax, NATO Isn’t Going Anywhere

We stand on guard for thee

Courtesy of Dea Bee/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 16 January 2017.

Donald Trump’s election caused consternation at home and abroad. Outside of the United States, perhaps nowhere is the shock of his victory more keenly felt than amongst our longstanding allies in Europe. No doubt European leaders were still grappling with the aftermath of this development and possible ramifications when they met last month for the final EU Council meeting of the year to discuss the general security situation.

During the campaign, Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric was met by many with a mixture of scorn and amusement. Now, many longtime transatlantic security watchers are sounding the alarm. Lost in all this, however, are several positive developments which point not only to the staying power of the collective defense norm but the wider transatlantic security relationship as well.

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For America, 2016 Was the Year of the Commando

Special Operation Soldiers of the United States Army Special Operations Command

Courtesy USASOC News Service/Flickr. CC BY 2.0

This article was published by War is Boring on 5 January 2017.

They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates. At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group Al Shabab.

Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul. And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have every year since 2001.

For America, 2016 may have been the year of the commando. In one conflict zone after another across the northern tier of Africa and the Greater Middle East, U.S. special operations forces — aka SOF — waged their particular brand of low-profile warfare.

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The EU’s Winter Package for European Security and Defence

Marauder Blueprint

Courtesy of Pascal/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in December 2016.

The security and defence of of the European Union touches on a core area of national sovereignty. Lack of political will and mutual trust among EU member states has long been an obstacle to achieving the treaty objectives and has blocked the framing of a policy that could lead to a common defence. In recent years, defence budgets all over Europe have been slashed in an uncoordinated manner, hollowing out most member states’ capabilities. For this reason, the leaders of the EU member states meeting at the December 2013 European Council decided to buck the trend. But delivery has lagged behind.

Tapping into the political momentum generated by the fraught security climate in and around Europe, the prospect of Brexit and the unpredictability injected into US foreign policy by the election of Donald Trump, the European Council has now endorsed a ’winter package’ to strengthen the common security and defence policy of the Union. It has urged speedy implementation by institutions and member states alike.

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