The Libya intervention has capped a difficult decade for airpower. While the combination of airstrikes and special forces units on the ground quickly overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, the utility of airpower in counterinsurgency was called into question over the course of the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was hoped that the intervention in Libya would restore airpower’s luster by quickly defeating a tyrant bent on destroying his political enemies. But the campaign launched by the West’s most powerful air forces has thus far failed to dislodge Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, or even to force him to […]

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The capture this week of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel boss José de Jesús Méndez, aka El Chango or the Monkey, represents a shiny notch on the belt of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, whose five-year-old presidency has been defined by its war against drug kingpins. But the arrest is unlikely to stem the ongoing violence that has caused frustrations to mount among Mexican voters ahead of the nation’s 2012 presidential election. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect, says Sylvia Longmire, a former special agent with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and author of the […]

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I just wanted to add a couple of final thoughts to my post last week on the Libya . . . war. I initially agreed with the Obama administration’s sense that the U.S. participation did not rise to the constitutional threshold of war powers. But just about every online writer whose opinion I respect considers that assessment to be not only unconvincing but ridiculous on its face. That, combined with the fact that we now know the administration arrived at it by cherrypicking its own internal legal advice, makes me realize that I, like the Obama administration, was taking an […]

Sen. John McCain is worried about the direction of U.S. foreign policy, especially within his own party. Some Republican presidential contenders have questioned the nation-building mission in Afghanistan. Others point out that the undeclared war in Libya is neither necessary nor constitutional. “This is isolationism,” an aghast McCain declared on the ABC News program “This Week.” Isolationism? The term “isolationist” is little more than a slur. It essentially means someone who thinks the U.S. should engage in fewer foreign wars than the speaker does. The term emerged in the late-19th century, when it was made popular by the ardent militarist […]

Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired a parting broadside at the NATO alliance. Gates argued that many European countries have chronically underfunded defense, to the extent that they are now incapable of contributing to the multilateral expeditionary operations that have become part of the alliance’s portfolio. Gates’ exasperation focused mainly on operations in Libya, which have now considerably outlasted expectations and may soon outlast the will and capability of NATO’s European members. It is worth noting, however, that protection of Libyan civilians through airstrikes sits so far outside NATO’s founding purpose that the framers of the 1949 treaty […]

A month after the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden, defense analysts are pointing to a growing collaboration between conventional and irregular forces and are calling for a lighter global military footprint, one based on raiding and strike capability rather than ponderous presence. The newfound enthusiasm for “collaborative warfare” is reviving a concept once thought dead: network-centric warfare (NWC). Paradoxically, NWC has proved itself well-suited to low-intensity operations and the culture of special operations forces, where once it was commonly associated with high-intensity conflict against a peer competitor. But NWC’s low-intensity revival also suggests that it will continue to face […]

It is tempting to view the Obama administration’s new cyber strategy as the creation of yet another “conflict domain” to worry about in U.S. national security. Thus, in our enduring habit of piling new fears on top of old ones — nuclear proliferation, terror, rising powers and failed states, among others — we imagine yet another vulnerability/threat/enemy to address with buckets of money. In truth, the strategy document is just our government finally acknowledging that, as usual, any fruitful international dialogue on this subject awaits the first move by the system’s most advanced military power. The same stalemate exists in […]

A constant refrain of the Democratic party’s foreign policy establishment during the administration of former President George W. Bush was that, in contrast to “unilateralist” Republicans with their cosmetic “coalitions of the willing,” Democrats were more skilled at constructing durable international partnerships that would lead to true burden-sharing. The assertion, which became almost an article of faith, served as the basis for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign promise that, if elected, he would be able to secure broader multilateral troop contributions in Iraq to relieve the burden on U.S. troops there. In the 2008 election, the same faith, combined with a […]

Although the United States has been using private contractors in one way or another since the founding of the country, it is the experience of the past decade, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that has focused attention on private military and security contractors (PMSCs) to unprecedented levels. The U.S. Defense Department and State Department, as well as other U.S. agencies and other countries, have used contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan both for logistics work, which accounts for the vast majority of contractors, as well as for much more publicized, but numerically far smaller, security roles. As a result, even […]

The Naval War College just completed its annual Current Strategy Forum, with this year’s topic being “Energy and U.S. National Security: Vulnerability and Opportunity.” Listening to the presentations, one could not help but be struck by the “chicken and egg” relationship between access to energy and U.S. grand strategy. Which should drive the other — and what are the various options? Rising energy costs, combined with economic austerity, means that “business as usual” is no longer an option for the U.S. military. A recent study by Deloitte noted (.pdf), “Warfare and combat operations are not the only variables driving [Defense […]

Last week’s announcement by Pentagon officials that cyberattacks could be classified as acts of war caused concern among those who worry that the United States might act outside international law if it retaliates to such attacks with military force. Others assert the move amounts to little more than a money grab by budget-savvy advocates looking to foment fear and exploit public ignorance. But many cybersecurity experts say the policy statement is merely the latest step in a strategy that President Barack Obama began developing two years ago. And, they say, it might act as a deterrent to would-be U.S. enemies. […]

Defense budget advocacy can be a dry business. While debating the technical aspects of some weapon or another is boring enough to a lay audience, arguing the finer points of industrial policy can put all but the most dedicated bureaucrats — and lobbyists — to sleep. Accordingly, defense policy advocates often rely on scare stories designed to shock and awe, winning an audience’s attention and credulity with dramatic claims of horrific outcomes should the wrong path be taken. If the story succeeds in creating the desired effect, no one realizes until too late that it was all a sham. Perhaps […]

According to a coordinated series of leaks to the media last week, the Pentagon is in the process of finalizing its first formal cybersecurity strategy. Several unnamed Defense Department officials have confirmed that the 30-page classified document will be completed later this month, with the Pentagon expected to release a declassified 12-page version as well. The leaking, which was deliberate, may be a trial balloon to gauge domestic and international response to the strategy’s tenets. That way the text could subsequently be revised, especially when it undergoes further White House review to ensure it harmonizes with the administration’s overall cybersecurity […]

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The appointment of U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff inspired some debate this week over why President Barack Obama passed over U.S. Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright — a previous front-runner for the post. But David Johnson, executive director of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, says the decision to go with Dempsey was something of a no-brainer, since Dempsey stands a significantly better chance of reconciling different factions within the Pentagon over the issue of looming budget cuts. “He fits in very well both with the need to harmonize […]

In March, the Stimson Center released a report (.pdf) by Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams reviewing U.S. security assistance programs. Titled “A New Way Forward,” the report argued that the United States should restructure its security assistance programs away from “security,” as defined in Cold War terms, and toward “governance,” which more accurately reflects U.S. interests in the post-War on Terror world. The difference is hardly trivial. “Security” assistance focuses on improving the tactical and operational capabilities of fielded armed forces, whether against domestic or international foes, while “governance” assistance aims to “strengthen state capacity in failing, fragile, collapsing and […]