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After Zero

[ 10 ] December 10, 2013 |

Over at the Diplomat, I express some optimism about post-”zero option” Afghanistan:

Nevertheless, all is not grim. We shouldn’t forget that the Republic of Afghanistan, under Najibullah survived for nearly four years after the Soviet withdrawal, despite enjoying very little support from any state other than the flagging USSR.  The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan may be less robust, although it’s hard to see why that would be the case, but it is almost certain that it will enjoy considerably greater international support than its unfortunate predecessor.

Indeed, the focus on Afghanistan itself tells only part of the story, because the region and the world are much different now than in 1992.  When Najibullah fell, the Soviet Union was in the process of full-scale collapse. China and India had yet to develop the military and economic tools to influence events well beyond their borders.  The United States found itself distracted by events associated with the collapse of the USSR, as did Western Europe. Iran was recovering from the Iran-Iraq War, and still sorting through its revolution.


LGM College Bowl Mania

[ 1 ] December 10, 2013 |

The LGM College Bowl Mania league is ready to go.  For those who participated last year, ESPN now includes a helpful “rejoin” option.  For new players:

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

This is a confidence league, which means that you’ll need to rank the games by how confident you are of the victory.  High numbers indicate high confidence, low numbers the opposite.  As always, winner collects a prize of his or her choice from the LGM store.

Duckies Nominations Open!

[ 0 ] December 9, 2013 |

Nominate early. Nominate often.

We’re a few weeks into the call for nominations for the 2014 Online Achievement in International Studies Awards.  It’s time to get serious.  We’ve had a number of impressive nominations, but given the excellent content out there, we’re looking for a much larger pool of nominees.  We want to hear your suggestions. Post your nominations in the comments section below — you may also email us a nomination directly. Please specify the award in the body of the text, provide the name of the blog, and a URL. Nominations close on 1 January 2014.

Remember, finalists will be selected by popular vote, which will run from 5 January-31 January 2014. We will conduct the vote via online survey. In order to register as a voter, email us.

Last year’s winners will judge the finalists and select the winners. We want to make this as difficult as possible for them. Winners will be announced at the ISA Blogging Awards Reception co-sponsored by our friends SAGE at ISA in Toronto next March.

Here are the categories again:

  • Best Blog (Group) in International Studies;
  • Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies;
  • Best Blog Post in International Studies; and
  • Most Promising New Blog (Group or Individual) in International Studies





Foreign Entanglements: The ADIZ

[ 1 ] December 8, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, I speak with Toshi Yoshihara about the new Chinese air defense zone in the East China Sea:

Listicle Alert: Top Five Fighter Aircraft of All Time

[ 112 ] December 7, 2013 |

This is incredibly unlikely to generate any significant debate:

What are the five greatest fighter aircraft of all time? Like the same question asked of tanks, cars, or rock and roll guitarists, the answer invariably depends on parameters. For example, there are few sets of consistent parameters that would include both the T-34 and the King Tiger among the greatest of all tanks. I know which one I’d like to be driving in a fight, but I also appreciate that this isn’t the most appropriate way to approach the question. Similarly, while I’d love to drive a Porsche 959 to work every morning, I’d be hesitant to list it ahead of the Toyota Corolla on a “best of” compilation.

Nations buy fighter aircraft to resolve national strategic problems, and the aircraft should accordingly be evaluated on their ability to solve or ameliorate these problems. Thus, the motivating question is this: how well did this aircraft help solve the strategic problems of the nations that built or bought it?

Happy December 7th Day!

[ 24 ] December 7, 2013 |

Because ‘Murica.

See here for some first-hand accounts of the attack. Two of my great-uncles were at Pearl on 12/7/41.

Also see this great photo compendium from a couple years back.

It’s an F/A-18, Son…

[ 11 ] December 6, 2013 |

Because of course:

So Which Precision Guided Munition Are You? The Answer May Surprise.

[ 6 ] December 5, 2013 |

This week’s Diplomat column examines the implications of the diffusion of precision strike:

The concern apparent in Watts’ monograph is the increasing lethality of Chinese precision-strike systems. Conventional Chinese weapons can now, or will in the short future be able to, destroy or disable the most sophisticated and advanced U.S. systems with conventional payloads.  The premise is fragility; Chinese precision systems can threaten the ability of the USN and USAF to adequately respond to the PLAN and the PLAAF by destroying or disabling critical elements of the U.S. strategic military system, thus inducing system failure.

But what makes the system fragile?  Arguments differ; on the one hand, losing a carrier might be too much for political and military authorities to bear, thus leading to a strategic decision not to intervene. Precision threat uncovers strategic vulnerability that undermines the capacity of the system to function. On the other hand, precision strike (on a target such as Guam) might undercut the actual operational capacity of the U.S. military to fight a campaign. And so it’s worth investigating how enemy precision-strike platforms actually threaten to undercut American military power.


Obvious Points that Unfortunately Need Re-Stating, NCAA Edition

[ 156 ] December 4, 2013 |

Regarding Auburn-Alabama:

If Alabama backup kicker Adam Griffith hits the 57-yard field goal, Alabama wins without having to go to overtime. The odds of that kick going through the uprights aren’t great at any level. Since 1999, pro kickers are 31-for-87 (35.6 percent) on field goals from between 56 and 58 yards out, and they’re obviously much better than your typical college kicker. The only argument in Griffith’s favor is that he, unlike some pro kickers in this situation, is not stuck kicking in a situation for which he lacks the leg. Nick Saban didn’t need to stick Griffith out there to try to win the game; he would only send out his backup kicker if he thought Griffith had a legitimate shot at making the kick. Given that Griffith nearly put the bomb through the uprights, Saban wasn’t wrong to believe in Griffith. Let’s throw a wild guess out there and suggest Griffith’s odds of making the kick were right around 18 percent…

The truth is that returning the kick for a touchdown is far from a sure thing, despite what selective memory tells us. From my count, there have been four such returns in the NFL since 2002, each of which came from a kick from a minimum of 52 yards. Even if we don’t consider the made field goals, that’s four touchdowns amid 389 missed field goals from that distance — a mere 1 percent rate of kicks returned for touchdowns. Even if you assume the odds are greater just by having a guy back there to return and you throw in the odds of a blocked field goal being returned for a touchdown, you’re never going to come to a number that’s higher than the odds of Alabama actually making the kick. Saban was right to try for the game winner. He played to win the game.

Outcome notwithstanding, Saban’s decision to challenge the clock and try the 57 yard kick was obviously correct; doing anything else at that point would have been coaching malpractice.

Also, ‘Bama fans are colossal douchebags.

…I’m flummoxed that I have to point this out, but the question “What about the odds of winning in OT” are effectively irrelevant for this question, because in the vast majority of outcomes Alabama still gets to try to win in OT. We’re not talking about a case like the OSU-UM game, where the likelihood of an OT victory is a legitimate variable. If the field goal misses and (as is the case in the vast majority of situations) an Auburn TD does not result, then we get… OT. Saban isn’t giving that up.

…Njorl makes the case:

In the NFL, hail mary’s from 40 have about a 3% chance of success give or take 1%. Attempting the FG gave them a much better chance of winning in regulation.

The question then becomes whether the kick gave Auburn an unacceptably high chance of winning compared to Alabama.

In the NFL, kickers make that kick 36% of the time.
In the NFL, kickoffs and punts that are returned go for TDs less than 0.5% of the time.
There is a greater than 50% chance that the kick (good or bad) would go out of the endzone
That’s a factor of at least 144 to 1 in Alabama’s favor, but there are obvious complications.

College kickers are worse than pro kickers.
College coverage teams are less disciplined than pro coverage teams.
Field goals teams are very poor at coverage, while the return man is every bit as good at returning them as he is at returning other kicks.

Those complicating factors don’t make up for the 144 to 1 edge in my opinion. If I thought my kicker had even a 10% chance of making it, I’d try it.

It’s possible that Saban knows his kicker could not possibly make the kick, but sent him out there anyway, but that requires one to assume that Saban is an idiot. I can accept the possibility that Saban is bad at math. I can’t accept that he’s a complete idiot.

This Is Insane

[ 49 ] December 3, 2013 |

Gonna file this under “too crazy to be true”:

Angola is in the process of acquiring the recently-decommissioned Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias, according to one news report. The entire Angolan navy has just 1,000 sailors. The 643-foot-long Principe de Asturias needs 830 sailors to fully function….

Spain will reportedly sell Principe de Asturias to Angola along with four decommissioned patrol ships. The Angolan navy currently possesses only a handful of Russian-made attack craft each weighing in at just a few hundred tons displacement. The Spanish acquisitions, if they are truly more than rumors, will expand the Angolan fleet by an order of magnitude and compel the navy to add thousands of new sailors.

Whether Angola can recruit and train the required personnel is far from certain. It’s equally unclear whether the African state can afford to operate Principe de Asturias on more than a token basis. In 1997, Thailand commissioned a small flattop based on Principe de Asturias’ design but has found it nearly impossible to keep the carrier and her Harriers in front-line service.

I find this very unlikely, but I kinda want it to be true, if only for the social science value. Watching Angola build not only a navy but also a naval aviation branch from scratch would be remarkably interesting. They would almost certainly need to partner with a more experienced nation, but assuming that they’re interested in using the carrier mainly as a helicopter platform there are several choices, including the various European states, China, and Russia. And, as the article implies, this purchase would immediately put Angola at the head of the first rank of African states in terms of maritime capability.

Still, best thought of as “too good to check.”

“There Are Two Approaches to Waging War, Asymmetric and Stupid”

[ 18 ] December 2, 2013 |

Excellent short article by Conrad Crane on the enduring allure of long range strike and the appeal of airpower:

There are two approaches to waging war, asymmetric and stupid.Every competent belligerent looks for an edge over its adversaries. No country is more asymmetric in warfighting than the United States. An increasingly important part of the new American Way of War has been a reliance on stand-off technology to project power, with a promise of reduced friendly casualties and short, tidy wars with limited landpower commitments. Unfortunately, this predilection has often led to strategic overreach and a dangerously unbalanced force structure,eventually costing the nation much in blood and treasure.

Crane also has some good insights towards the end about how the Obama administration has approached the relationship between airpower, landpower, and grand strategy. Crane’s argument is very landpower focused; I think it would be fair to say that Grounded is more comfortable within a seapower milieu, even if its primary case and key recommendations focus on the relationship between land and air. Nevertheless, good, short read.

Monday Linkage

[ 50 ] December 2, 2013 |

Stuff from the inter-tubes…