The CSS Blog Network

Keeping Up Civ-Mil Relations

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 April 2017.

James Mattis was sworn in as secretary of defense in what is arguably one of the more fraught periods in civil-military relations in decades.

While civilian control in the United States is based on a solid foundation of history, doctrine, and tradition, civil-military relationships are above all human. And that means they are vulnerable to unrealistic or unmet expectations and perceptions. Simply put, tension invariably infuses these relationships — it’s merely a question of how much and in which way. As such, this relationship should expect strains, some demanding mitigation.

Nearly two decades of (inconclusive) war, serious lapses in the quality of support to our veterans, and a destabilizing budget roller coaster have been some of the major stressors. These are bracketed by a growing disconnect between those who serve, the civilian population, and emerging political factors. A particularly tumultuous election with unprecedented veteran and general officer partisan participation did not stop or mitigate threats of purges of general officers by the Trump campaign. Despite such anti-military rhetoric, Trump eventually faced suspicion that his cabinet was overly militarized and went to bat in support of a waiver for Mattis’s own confirmation. These events, along with an expected, but nonetheless toxic, increase in friction between military and civilian staffs at the Pentagon set the stage for Mattis’ arrival at the River Entrance a few short months ago.

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Nuclear Weapons in a Post-Christian World

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This article was originally published by YaleGlobal on 18 April 2017.

Debate about a nuclear arms race may be missing a moral dimension, and these debates should include all nuclear powers

The second nuclear age takes place in a post-Christian world. New atomic missiles come from North Korea, Pakistan, India, China – with diverse religious and nonreligious traditions. The United States, set to start its own nuclear modernization, now too is a post-Christian nation.

“Post-Christian” here means the decline in primacy of a Christian worldview in politics, especially in the United States and Europe. During the first nuclear age and Cold War, both were Christian societies by this definition. And while Christianity still has many adherents, it lacks the authority it had during the years of the Cold War. This decline of authority means that calculations of self-interest in international politics bear almost all of the weight for restraint and shaping world order. Questions that drove debate about the Cold War arms race are no longer asked with the same passion. Yet these questions haven’t vanished. Who, for example, determines the national interest? Who does the calculations on which self-interest is founded and that determine nuclear armaments buildup?

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Forget the Subs: What Taipei Can Learn from Tehran about Asymmetric Defense

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 April 2017.

Ahead of the Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit this week at Mar-a-Lago, Taiwan is understandably anxious. Trump’s ascendance to the American presidency has injected uncertainty into the U.S. approach to China and Taiwan — an element of foreign policy that is traditionally carefully calibrated to avoid upsetting the precarious cross-strait arrangement. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s unprecedented phone call with then-President -elect Trump in early December seemed to herald a new, more muscularly pro-Taiwan approach. This impression was subsequently belied by Trump’s suggestion that Taiwan could be traded away as part of a grand bargain with China. Speculation about Trump’s interest in upending this long-standing U.S. policy died down after the president affirmed his support for the “one China policy” in his first conversation with Xi. The next month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopted China’s verbiage regarding a “new model of great power relations” during his trip to Beijing.

Whether and how Trump and Xi will address the one China policy remains to be seen. “We are preparing for every scenario,” one unnamed Taiwanese official told The Washington Post. Yet the underlying problem is clear. As Taiwan’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review argues, Chinese military power is increasing at the same time as the new administration’s plans for “the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategic direction and troop deployment” remain uncertain. These shifting geopolitical currents come at the same time as growing strain between Taiwan and China. Beijing regards Tsai’s traditionally pro-independence political party as antagonistic to its interests and, since her inauguration last May, has undertaken a campaign of increased economic, political, and military pressure.

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

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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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