The CSS Blog Network

Warning Orders: Strategic Reasons for Publicizing Military Offensives

Can anyone hear me?

Courtesy DorkeyMum/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 28 October 2016.

Does publicly announcing an impending military offensive expose assaulting troops to dangers that could be avoided if plans to invade were kept quiet? During all three presidential debates, Republican nominee Donald Trump has asserted that the Obama administration was “stupid” for publicly discussing the impeding joint U.S/Iraqi offensive against ISIL in Mosul, claiming that Hillary Clinton was “telling the enemy everything [she] want[s] to do” and asking “why not a sneak attack?” A week ago, he tweeted:

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The International Dimension of the Fight for Aleppo in Syria

Al-Assad

Courtesy thierry ehrmann/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 21 October 2016.

The offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s military, supported by Russian troops, on Aleppo—Syria’s largest city—might be successful. This large-scale operation was facilitated by the improved relations between Russia and Turkey and because the United States has only limited military options at its disposal. If Aleppo falls, Assad will have control over territory inhabited by more than 60% of Syrians. The brutality of the Russian attacks in Aleppo may, however, carry a political price in the form of new EU sanctions. The clearly harsher rhetoric of Germany, France and the U.S. toward Russia also shows that these countries will not compromise on Ukraine in return for Russian concessions in Syria.

The Importance of Aleppo

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has retaken significant territory from the Syrian opposition and the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS) since October 2015, mainly because of Russian military involvement. His forces have taken the city of Tadmur (Palmyra), Latakia province and parts of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo (which had 2 million inhabitants), along with its outskirts. Now, Assad’s army is besieging the eastern part of Aleppo under rebel control. The rebels number 8,000 strong and are composed of a dozen, mainly Islamist, groups. On 22 September, the Syrian army launched an offensive to retake the whole of Aleppo. The Russian and Syrian bombardment has caused a severe humanitarian crisis: 275,000 civilians, including 100,000 children, have been deprived of nearly all essential needs.

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North Korea’s Testing Decade

North Korean Monument

Courtesy Gilad Rom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on 7 October 2016.

A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.

Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.

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Four Trends That Could Put the Democratic Peace at Risk

US Flag

Courtesy AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 14 October 2016.

Political scientists generally agree that democracies have a foreign policy advantage, particularly when it comes to conflict. Democracies – at least when compared to autocracies – make more credible threats, fight less, and win more.

There’s a lot more debate about why this might be the case, but in research with Matt Baum I argue that it comes down to institutional constraints. Free and fair elections are fine and well, but unless political opposition and an informed public are up to the task of forcing leaders to be responsive, the democratic advantage fades away. Driving the point home, some autocracies are so institutionalized that they effectively constrain leaders and, when they do, those countries look more like democracies in their conflict behavior and outcomes.

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The World Has Passed the Old Grand Strategies By

 Dangerous

Courtesy Thomas Hawk/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 5 October 2016.

It’s grand strategy season in Washington, and with good reason. From War on the Rocks to Foreign Affairs to a recent spate of books, there has been a renewed argument over primacy, offshore balancing, and other contenders for the grand strategy crown. The debate is timely: The international order is in the midst of an epochal shift and a new administration will have to rethink basic organizing concepts for America’s role in the world.

Unfortunately, most of the debate has already begun to ring hollow. The default grand strategy concepts no longer capture the choices that America faces. The most important truth about grand strategy today is that the United States badly needs new options to choose from. The classic stand-off is between advocates of primacy or preeminence on the one hand, and restraint or offshore balancing on the other. There are dramatically different versions of each, and the terms can mislead as easily as they can inform. As Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth have rightly argued, for example, “primacy” can sometimes imply a straw man vision of hegemonic dominance that nobody really advocates.

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