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Foreign Entanglements: Precarious Commitments

[ 0 ] December 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Meir Javedanfar speaks with Emily Landau about Iran and the commitment problem:

What Communists Say to One Another When No One Is Listening

[ 34 ] December 14, 2013 |

I’m plowing through Hang Nguyen’s Hanoi’s War, a history of the war from the view of North Vietnam’s elite, and ran across this:

On 13 April, the Chinese leader argued that there was a causal link between DRV’s 3 April announcement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on 4 April: “Had your statement been issued one or two days later, the murder might have been stopped.”

Context: The Chinese were deeply unhappy that Le Duan had agreed to negotiations with the Johnson administration, mostly because the Soviets were pushing hard for the opening of talks, and the Chinese saw the North Vietnamese capitulation on this point as evidence that Hanoi was moving into the Soviet sphere of influence. Le Duan was just as unhappy about the prospect of talks as Zhou Enlai, but Johnson’s public offer of talks left him boxed in.

And this leads Communist leaders to say hurtful things to one another. The fascinating moving parts:

  1. The apparent belief of Zhou Enlai that the MLK assassination was orchestrated by the U.S. government.
  2. The notion that accepting the idea of peace talks gave the U.S. government the leeway it needed to carry out the assassination.
  3. The notion that, even if this were true, Le Duan would care enough about MLK one way or the other to change policy.

1 is, from the point of view of Beijing in 1968, not altogether absurd. 2 is considerably more outlandish, and 3 is just weird.

The rest of the book is also quite good; will review when finished.  The chapter on the reasoning behind the Tet Offensive is particularly interesting, as neither of Hanoi’s patrons thought that it was a good idea.  The Russians were strongly in favor of de-escalation and negotiations, while the Chinese hated the idea of direct attacks on South Vietnamese cities.

The Red… Er, I Guess Everything in North Korea is Red

[ 40 ] December 12, 2013 |

Trying to figure out who Tywin Lannister is in this story:

An uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been executed for trying to overthrow the government, the Korean Central News Agency reported early Friday.

“Traitor Jang Song Thaek Executed” blared the headline posted by the state-run news agency about the man who, until recently, had been regarded as the nation’s second-most powerful figure.

The story said that a special military tribunal had been held Thursday against the “traitor for all ages,” who was accused of trying to overthrow the state “by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods.”

It added, “All the crimes committed by the accused were proved in the course of hearing and were admitted by him.”

Once his guilt was established, Jang was immediately executed, it said.

As Dan Drezner notes, the florid descriptions of Jang’s perfidy don’t seem to reflect particularly well on the surviving family members, but then it has always been thus in Communist purges.  More here.

Have a Holly Jolly Whatever

[ 19 ] December 11, 2013 |

Need a Christmas gift, but can’t imagine what your good-for-nothing friends and ne’er do well relatives might want or need? For the person who wants for and/or deserves nothing, I cannot recommend the Lawyers, Guns and Money CafePress store highly enough. The implements of alcoholism are well regarded, most notably the LGM flask (pictured right).

But what if you hate the holidays, and in fact count yourself as a soldier in the War on Christmas?  Then I must strongly recommend a book that is a) about war and b) will arrive far too late for Christmas.  I am, of course, talking about Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force. Consider: “Santa Claus” operates a high speed aircraft capable of delivering precision ordnance all over the world in a remarkably short period of time.  He is apparently immune to interception, ground fire, and the most sophisticated surface to air missile networks, and apparently does not require fighter escort. Can there be any doubt that Santa is, in fact, a devotee of the works of Giulio Douhet? If we are to win the War on Christmas, we must make careful appraisal of the worldview and tactics of our foes. Grounded is the book that every anti-Christmas crusader needs on his or her shelf.

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.