The CSS Blog Network

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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Grappling with the Fait Accompli: A Classical Tactic in the Modern Strategic Landscape

Note stating 'It's a fate accompli'

Note stating ‘It’s a fate accompli’, courtesy Adamina/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 31 May 2016.

Good scholarship doesn’t need to fit within a 2×2 matrix, but it sure helps make sense of things when it does. It’s in this spirit of conceptual clarity that I developed the diagram below depicting variations in the fait accompli, an age-old but underappreciated tactic of the disgruntled and strategically minded. Rather than the naked use of force or threat-making alone—situations whose logics are straightforward even if the best responses aren’t—the fait accompli is a move that pursues an advantage by making it difficult for a competitor to retaliate or counter.

Variations of the Fair Accompli

Variations of the Fait Accompli Table, courtesy Van Jackson/War on the Rocks

This 2×2 diagram is part of a lecture I give at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies on revisionist tactics short of war — what many now call “gray zone” conflicts. Although most security studies scholars and analysts understand broadly what a fait accompli is — literally an “accomplished fact” — the tactic itself has rarely been an object of analysis (two recent rare exceptions are discussed more below). This is a serious oversight, because in the so-called “gray zone” of conflict, the fait accompli is a common means by which states pursue revisionist agendas.

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Taiwan, Thorn in China’s Side, Gets New Attention

Taiwan Flag

Courtesy Nicolas Raymond/Flickr. CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online on 6 December 2016.

Taiwan issue underscores limits of power for the US and China – and the calcification of international policymaking

Since the 1940s, after Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the defeated Kuomintang retreated to Taipei, the Taiwan Strait has remained among the most intractable issues in international relations and a potential site for conflict in Asia. A brief phone call between the US President- elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was a startling intervention in what’s become a warily balanced array of power relations sustained by arcane diplomatic formalisms.

The response from China, which maintains territorial claim to the island as sovereign territory, was relatively muted with more annoyance directed toward Taiwan. Immediate reaction elsewhere to the phone call included concerns about an escalation of the conflict for the entire region and the United States.

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Rebuilding America’s Military

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

Courtesy Bill VanderMolen/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 1 December 2016.

President-elect Trump’s book The Art of the Deal applies the principles of negotiation to business, but they are universal to human nature. A century ago, a previous president indicated similar sentiment when Theodore Roosevelt wrote “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Latent power fuels deals. Upon entering the highest office in the land, President-elect Trump will engage in entirely new types of negotiations. And in this new venue, military power is the new trump card.

U.S. military strength gives the United States leverage in the global arena.

Military power is not organic or constant. It requires investment, innovation, and maintenance. Deploying military power degrades it and requires later revitalization. Adversaries adapt to the most advanced equipment and effective tactics. New threats emerge while old ones wane. Military leverage stems from warfighting advantage, which encompasses two simultaneous requirements: the ability to project military power abroad and to protect the U.S. homeland.

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President Trump and International Relations

The Stinker

Courtesy Maureen Barlin/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on 18 November 2016.

The election of Donald Trump raises justifiable concerns over how he will handle the crises and conflicts he inherits: war in Syria, conflict in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea, North Korean provocations and the fight against terrorism. Yet Germany and Europe – and policy-relevant research – must also examine the broader repercussions for international relations. The following five initial theses require deeper analysis.

A Defeat for Liberalism

Donald Trump’s victory represents a hard knock for the West’s normative bedrock of liberalism. Liberal values of the kind Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised in her congratulatory message to the president-elect are on the defensive – first and foremost within the United States. Autocrats and supporters of various strands of illiberal democracy, like Putin, Erdogan or Orban, may feel vindicated and energised, while the EU will have to work harder to champion liberal democratic values. European states will inevitably see impacts on their external relations. Although Europe has shown little enthusiasm for talk of the “end of history”, both Europe and the United States have tacitly or explicitly assumed that the liberal democratic models will gradually win the day. Internationally, the EU member states must expect to hear increasing arguments that their form of liberal democracy is only one of several acceptable governance models. This could also have effects on international efforts to stabilise and rebuild fragile and failed states.

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