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Russia and Malaysia

[ 6 ] July 25, 2014 |

Some thoughts at the Diplomat on the future of Russian arms exports to SE Asia:

Malaysia is a significant customer of Russian hardware. Su-20MKM Flankers, and MiG-29 Fulcrums make up the bulk of its fighter fleet, along with F/A-18 Hornets.  Malaysia also purchases air-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, and similar ordnance from Russia.  Indonesia buys a broader array of equipment from Russia, including helicopters and anti-ship missiles.  However, both Malaysia and Indonesia have displayed considerable willingness to purchase weapons from other partners, making their relationship with Russia strictly arms-length.

The survival of these relationships depends, to some extent, on how deftly Russia plays the diplomatic game over the next few weeks. Thus far, it doesn’t look too promising. Russia’s quandary is to maintain a stance of studied belligerence towards Ukraine and the United States, moderate indignation towards Europe, and civilized behavior to the rest of the world. The downing of the Malaysian airliner puts these into tension. Russia has proposed a frankly incomprehensible theory about how a Ukrainian Su-25 might have shot down the Malaysian jet.

Links of the Day

[ 18 ] July 25, 2014 |

Some links for your morning consumption:


Abolishing the Air Force, 80s Style

[ 12 ] July 23, 2014 |

My latest at WiB looks at a proposal to ditch the Air Force from 1982:

In 1982 John Byron—then a Navy commander and submarine skipper—argued that the United States should reorganize its military around three branches, eliminating the Air Force and creating a new Strategic Deterrent Force.

Reorganization of the U.S. Armed Forces” was the first strategic study co-published by the National War College and the National Defense University Press. It made the rounds among defense analysts at the time. It attracted some attention from the defense reform community and an audience in some of the professional defense journals, including Proceedings and Early Bird, the much-beloved Pentagon news roundup that ceased publication in 2013.


[ 49 ] July 21, 2014 |


Most registrations seem to be rolling fine. However, some people (especially, but not exclusively, non gmail users) are having trouble getting their passwords. If you’re having difficulty, just e-mail us (address halfway down the far right sidebar) , and we’ll manually reset your password.



New Contributors!

[ 224 ] July 20, 2014 |

Many of you may have noticed the subtle changes to the header over the past couple of days. LGM is proud to announce that Steven Attewell and Katie Surrence have agreed to join the site as contributing editors. They can both speak for themselves, so I won’t take up any of your time with lengthy introductions. I have adjusted past guest posts to reflect their authorship.

Also, as of midnight tonight, we’re moving to a registration-only commenting system, on a trial basis, for a week. If you have any problems registering, please let us know at the e-mail address in the sidebar. Give us a day to work out the kinks, however.

…[Erik]: Some registration tips from comments, thanks to Stepped Pyramids

A few tips:

Your username has certain constraints (no punctuation, etc.) but it is not the name you have to appear as. After logging in, go to your profile page and you can edit your Nickname, which controls what name shows up.

You can also change your email there; whichever email you have there determines your gravatar.

Once you have those two things set, you can pretty much think of registration as a system that more reliably tracks your name/email/website combo. Also, no more “uh, Anonymous was me” moments.

What if We Killed the F-35?

[ 8 ] July 20, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at how we might fill (or finesse) the gap created by cancelling the F-35:

With the recent engine fire that grounded the entire F-35 fleet (and mostly destroyed one of the few Lightnings in service), critics of the Joint Strike Fighter have renewed calls for a serious review of the program. And yet the F-35 appears unkillable.  The only winning move, it seems, was not to play, but we’ve been playing for a while, and we’re well beyond easy answers.  The F-35 program, with tentacles across America and in many of the United States’ closest allies, probably cannot be cancelled. The industrial and diplomatic challenges might well dwarf the problems with combat fleet shortfalls.

If it could, however, what would follow? The following five options are not mutually exclusive, and any strategy for replacing the F-35 would need to borrow liberally from several.

Tricksy Thucydides

[ 12 ] July 19, 2014 |

In this week’s Diplomat column I think a bit about how to approach Thucydides:

If we start by acknowledging that the parts we’re taking are all archetypes, then literal fidelity to the narrative record becomes less important. And from this starting point, we can take a few important lessons; the dangers of power transition, the potentially dire effects of war on a democratic polity, the folly of strategic escalation, and the critical role that the whims of fate and human frailty play in geopolitics.

However, this approach also opens the question of why we should rely on Thucydides, rather than other available narratives. For East Asia, we have ready-made accounts that can provide the same kind of archetypes, mostly coming from ancient Chinese history. The Records of the Grand Historian detail conflicts, betrayals, and power shifts every bit as legendary in their complexity as those Thucydides describes. And perhaps we could productively understand China’s emerging A2/AD system-of-systems in the context of Mohist concepts of defensive “just war.” Such an examination might, at the least, give us a better appreciation of how policymakers themselves approach these complexities.

Foreign Entanglements: Credibilitude

[ 3 ] July 19, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and I dive deep on resolve and credibility:

Maybe Merkel Should Buy It

[ 40 ] July 18, 2014 |

Buy it, rename it “Graf Zeppelin.” 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday suggested France should halt the export of Mistral warships to Russia, even if the current sanctions regime still allows it. “In Germany, we are putting on hold the construction of a shooting centre in Russia, given the situation,” she said during a press conference.

“It Is Crazy. It Is Insane”

[ 131 ] July 18, 2014 |

Why can’t Obama be more like Reagan?

 It is worth recalling that Reagan’s own response in 1983 did not get good reviews from the Fox News of the day. According to Richard Reeves’s “President Reagan,” (see p167-70), the administration was seen as far too weak.

True, the president’s nationally televised address on Sept. 5 was full of strong rhetorical condemnation: Reagan called the Soviet action “monstrous,” “murderous,” and “born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life.”

But little action followed. Reagan demanded an apology to the world and continued a number of sanctions — but he decided not to end grain sales to the USSR or to suspend arms control talks. George Will argued that “the administration is pathetic…. We didn’t elect a dictionary. We elected a President and it’s time for him to act.”  The Manchester Union-Leader editorialized that “if someone had told us three years ago that the Russians could blow a civilian airliner out of the skies – and not face one whit of retaliation from a Ronald Reagan administration, we would have called that crazy. It is crazy. It is insane. It is exactly what happened.”

MH 17 Link Roundup

[ 51 ] July 18, 2014 |

A few links on the ongoing MH17 investigation:

To my mind, the most likely scenario (but not the only possible scenario!) is that Donetsk separatists acquired the SAM from existing Ukrainian stocks, then refurbished and put it into service with Russian military assistance. They likely lacked sufficient training to understand how to discriminate between a Ukrainian military transport and a commercial jet liner. The most interesting bits going forward will be reaction in the EU (how far will Berlin and Paris go to pressure Russia), and in Moscow itself.

…and also Gaza. I just have nothing useful to say about Gaza.

Shit, Meet Fan

[ 309 ] July 17, 2014 |


A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday.
The jet is a Boeing 777, according to Interfax.
The plane reportedly went down near the border between Russia and Ukraine.

The only conclusion that I’m prepared to leap to is that this is going to stir up even more trouble than the last Malaysian jet that crashed. Russia and Ukraine are actively contesting this area, they both have surface-to-air missiles, Russian partisans have shot down several Ukrainian planes over the past weeks, and the Russian Air Force has reportedly been testing Ukrainian air space in recent days.

So, yeah. Should’ve taken the long way around.

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