What Does “Small Footprint” Really Mean?

Silhouette of two US Soldiers in Afghanistan, courtesy of isafmedia/flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 13 March 2014.

There will be no more large-scale American counterinsurgency operations. At least, that’s what the Obama administration’s Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) of 2012 anticipates. While it maintains an existing emphasis on countering irregular threats and conserving hard-won skill sets, the DSG articulates a desire to do so not through large-scale counterinsurgency, but by maintaining a persistent, forward presence around the world and leveraging that presence to deter potential adversaries, respond to crises, and build the capacity of partner nations to provide for their own security. Specifically regarding the latter, the document states,

Across the globe we will seek to be the security partner of choice, pursuing new partnerships with a growing number of nations – including those in
Africa and Latin America – whose interests and viewpoints are merging into a common vision of freedom, stability, and prosperity. Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives… [Emphasis in the
original]

The “small-footprint approach” is a lynchpin of the DSG, and has led to a number of initiatives within the military services, such as the Marine Corps’ establishment of several Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Forces (SPMAGTFs) focused on Africa or the U.S. Army’s Regionally Aligned Brigades (RABs). Yet, the discussion of the implications of the emphasis on small footprint for U.S. foreign policy, and for the U.S. military, has only just begun. » More

Searching for an Exit: Latin America and Venezuela

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, courtesy of Valter Campanato/wikimedia commons

This is a shortened version of the original article, published on 11 March 2014 on the International Crisis Group’s Latin America Crime & Politics blog.

The crisis in Venezuela has escalated beyond the capacity of domestic actors to find a space for dialogue. Each party rejects the legitimacy of its rival. Human rights violations – and protester violence – are leaving deep wounds in Venezuelan society that will take years to heal. Not long ago, such an impasse would have prompted the immediate response of the international community and particularly of regional organisations such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But Latin America is dividing against itself, and Venezuelans are paying the price.

During and after democratic transitions in the hemisphere’s southern cone and the negotiated peace of armed conflicts in Central America (1983-1996), the region built a credible system to protect human rights. The Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights, whose competence and jurisdiction were recognised by almost all American nations (with the notable exceptions of Canada, Cuba, and the U.S.), established standards to sanction past and present human rights violations. In 2001, the OAS, at the culmination of this expansive process, adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter to protect and promote democracy and the rule of law, understanding that these were vital components of free societies. » More

Duties Without Borders

Young girl protesting outside US Embassy in Amman, courtesy of Freedom House/flickr

CAMBRIDGE – More than 130,000 people are said to have died in Syria’s civil war. United Nations reports of atrocities, Internet images of attacks on civilians, and accounts of suffering refugees rend our hearts. But what is to be done – and by whom?

Recently, the Canadian scholar-politician Michael Ignatieff urged US President Barack Obama to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, despite the near-certainty that Russia would veto the United Nations Security Council resolution needed to legalize such a move. In Ignatieff’s view, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is allowed to prevail, his forces will obliterate the remaining Sunni insurgents – at least for now; with hatreds inflamed, blood eventually will flow again. » More

Cloaks of Invisibility: The Latest Frontier in Military Technology

Japanese and US snipers during an exercise, courtesy of Marines/flickr

Fiction and reality have meshed to incredible extents in the past decades, and it is no longer a surprise to see sci-fi-inspired inventions used in everyday life. The military field has been no exception and is now at the cusp of groundbreaking innovations that could change war-making to its core.

The next frontier in defense technology is so-called “stealth” technologies, in which the U.S. military has already invested huge funds. New research is opening up the prospect of achieving something close to invisibility on the battlefield, a breakthrough likened to Harry Potter`s famous invisibility cloak. While most stealth technologies are designated to elude enemy radars, new invisibility technologies could conceal objects in real time, not just from radar but from the naked eye. » More

The Election Question

Presidential election workers in Afghanistan’s Nawa District, courtesy of US Marine Corps/wikimedia commons

NEW DELHI – With street protests roiling democracies from Bangkok to Kyiv, the nature and legitimacy of elections are once again being questioned. Are popular elections an adequate criterion by which to judge a country’s commitment to democracy? Beginning next month, elections in Afghanistan and India will throw this question into even sharper relief.

Afghanistan will hold a presidential election on April 5. But a smooth electoral process is far from guaranteed – especially given that US President Barack Obama has already informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the United States and NATO have no choice but to withdraw their troops by the end of this year. » More

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