Offshore Balancing in an Age of Austerity

US Defense Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey outlining the Defense Department’s new 10-year strategy. Photo: Erin A Kirk-Cuomo

Practitioners and academics have long contemplated United States defense policy in an age of austerity. The era of expansion under President George W. Bush spiraled into long-term unsustainability, presenting leadership with hard decisions regarding the future of American national security strategy. The Middle East, Asia, and Europe all stand to gain or lose influential elements of American power – key dynamics that will shape the conduct of international relations in a twenty-first century environment rife with unforeseen challenges. President Obama’s recent address reveals how the administration is pursuing military transformation in accord with new strategic thinking.

Conventional wisdom suggests a recalibrated focus on Asia-Pacific in the vein of great power politics. China and a potentially resurgent Russia represent a level of competition that does not exist elsewhere, and the region is all the more wary considering potential mission requirements for a collapsing North Korea. The European Union might be regarded as an economic rival in volume, though it would be hard to imagine any confrontation between longtime defense partners. There are interests in the Middle East that will continue to be the focus of the American military via less strenuous application of force and troop deployment. An unrivaled blue-water naval force, paired with air superiority under every mission parameter, meet vital American interests including defense of the homeland and maintaining a stable energy market within an open economic order. Capable power projection and global strike capability underline core force requirements for a streamlined American military prepared for a host of crisis scenarios around the world. Yet as much as the United States cannot afford to be everywhere at all times, there is a discernible expectation that partner states should increasingly help combat transnational threats and maintain regional stability.

Revival of the “Red Booklet”

Civil Defense was published in Switzerland in 1969 (left, courtesy of Histamut/Wikimedia Commons) and re-published in Japan for the third time in 2003 (right, courtesy of

The question intrigued me. When abroad, I am used to being asked whether it was true that all Swiss men had a military rifle at home.  But, before a Japanese friend asked me about it the other day, I had never heard about a book called Civil Defense, which in the 1960s was apparently handed out to every household by the Swiss government. What was she talking about? And why on earth is a dated Swiss book, unknown to me, popular among the Japanese?

The volume was known in Switzerland as the “red booklet“, which is a double irony: the ‘booklet’ is 320 pages long and full of anti-communist ideology. Zivilverteidigung (Civil Defense) was published in 1969 and 2.6 million copies were distributed to Swiss households for free. It served two purposes: 1) as a guide for the Swiss population about how to behave during, and prepare for, national disasters, including nuclear war; and 2) to instill a spirit of patriotism and resistance towards everything foreign and dangerous (at that time, mainly communism).

The red booklet included lyrics of patriotic songs and, most interestingly, two versions of a story in which Switzerland is threatened by revolutionary forces supported by an outside power. In the first version, written on the right-hand pages of the book, the Swiss people resist and save their country; in the second version, written (of course) on the left-hand pages, the revolution succeeds and Switzerland collapses.

Just a year after its publication in Switzerland, in 1970, Civil Defense was translated into Japanese, and that’s not all: Minkan Bōei (民間防衛), as it’s known in Japanese, was re-published in 1995 and again in 2003. With 150,000 copies sold in all, it isn’t quite a best-seller. Nevertheless, the red booklet remains popular in Japan.

Not so in Switzerland, where it was already out of fashion at the time of its original publication:


E-Learning: Ways Forward

Future learning for defense and security professionals, photo: ISN

Almost anyone involved in large-scale education and training activities has accepted e-Learning as an established method and technology. What started with early experiments by financially powerful large enterprises and armed forces almost twenty years ago, has become available and affordable to almost any organization today.

Open-source solutions for learning management systems and the authoring of content, as well as low-cost hosted solutions,  allow for the minimizing of technology investments to about zero. And based on the experiences of early adopters, the dos and dont’s, as well as successful e-Learning scenarios are widely known.

As a result, e-Learning has found its way into most educational organizations, including many committed to education in the defense and security policy sector. Everything fine and dandy then? Well, almost …

Contrary to basic language and computer training for the broader market (of professionals in general), there is hardly any off-the-shelf online-content available for more specific educational topics related to defense and security. As a result, content in this area is usually produced by educational institutes from scratch, requiring close cooperation between subject matter experts, instructional designers and multimedia specialists. It also requires a lot of time and money.

Despite this, there is more and more content being developed in support of peace and stability worldwide, often supported by funding from various sources. Although most of this content serves its key audience and goals, the return-on-investment for production, as well as the overall effect of educational campaigns might often be improved significantly: The key lies in expanding the target audience.


British Defense Policy at a Crossroads

CSS Analysis in Security Policy no 64
CSS Analysis in Security Policy no 64

Is British defense policy experiencing an East-of-Suez flashback?

In a new policy brief, CSS researcher Aleksandra Dier looks at whether Britain might have to scale back its global ambitions.

The current situation has been compared to 1968 when, largely as a result of lacking resources, Britain had to adopt a more modest international role.

According to her, the future of the country’s defense role depends on its relation to Europe:

“Strengthening its European commitment could help Britain to align its global ambitions with the resources it needs to project a credible international role.

Pursuing European ways to achieve global ends however remains a domestically disputed strategic option.

You can download the paper here.

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