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[ 91 ] February 28, 2014 |

In case you weren’t paying attention…

Amid fears of a Kremlin-backed separatist rebellion here against Ukraine’s fledgling government, armed men in military uniforms took up positions at two Crimean airports as Ukraine’s interior minister warned of “a direct provocation,” but there was no sign of any violence.

In Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, a large number of masked armed men were stationed at the international airport Friday morning. They were dressed in camouflage and carrying assault rifles, but their military uniforms bore no insignia. It was not clear who they were and they declined to answer questions.

A new frozen conflict? Depends on the reaction of the Ukranian military.



Creeping IP

[ 3 ] February 27, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat dabbles in some constructivism:

As Susan Sell has argued, international IP protection is, in and of itself, a power play on the part of major economic actors.  The construction and maintenance of the rule systems owes itself to the entrepreneurial behavior of private business, working not only through the U.S. government, but also through international institutions.  As such, power relations are embedded within the rules of the IP system, and within our entire way of talking about intellectual property.  This is one reason why the IP provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have proven so controversial.

But adherence to international institutional frameworks isn’t entirely voluntary. The demands of international organizations (and, in bilateral terms, of the EU and the United States) require the Chinese government to develop a position on intellectual property, a set of policies designed to support that position, and the bureaucracy necessary to execute those policies. While this bureaucracy may lack power initially, over time the state acquires what amount to habits of compliance, where it becomes more problematic to step outside the expectations of the international regime than to stay within them.  In China Goes GlobalDavid Shambaugh outlines this process with respect to China’s engagement with the various regimes of the liberal international economic order.  Thus, the development of a bureaucracy to manage IP rights, which China has begun, almost inevitably produces a policy shift towards compliance.


Grounded on Kindle!

[ 7 ] February 27, 2014 |

The Kindle version of Grounded is now available.  If I were you I’d wait until March 11, when you can take advantage of the UPK e-book loyalty program to get both the physical and the electronic copies, but to each his or her own…

A Review! A Review?

[ 82 ] February 26, 2014 |

This is the first five-authored book review I’ve ever seen:


It’s not every day someone argues that an entire service of the United States Armed Forces should be disappeared. But that is exactly what Robert Farley proposes in his new book, Grounded. Farley makes a case for the elimination of the U.S. Air Force, basing his argument on the inaccurate notion that strategic bombing is the sole reason for its existence as an independent service. He also takes the Air Force to task for not adequately supporting ground forces. He believes Air Force aircraft are best subsumed into the Army and Navy for better support of soldiers and sailors. In doing so, Farley disregards what the Air Force does best—air domain dominance—and undervalues a key component of United States historical successes in combat….

On the basis of these conclusions, and mindful of the incredible record of success achieved by America’s armed forces from the advent of the airplane to today, we ask ourselves whether we are willing to bet the lives of America’s sons and daughters, and the security of this nation, on Professor Farley’s recommendation.  We are not.

Whenever I review a book, I revisit Robert Pinsky’s Slate article on the Three Golden Rules of Book Reviewing.

I’d like to think that the three essentials for reviewers were invented by Aristotle, preserved by his students, and handed down for thousands of years by oral tradition. After all, before the review was an important category of journalism, before physical books, even before printing, readers must have asked other readers to report on works they had not yet read from scrolls or tablets. I first encountered the three requirements in the 1970s, when I used to write the old, traditional Consumer Reports style of reviews I have in mind here—sometimes under a pen name—because I needed the money, even in the small quantities paid to reviewers. This was the age of the typewriter, and one of the newspapers I wrote for gave me the rules as part of the same photocopied style-sheet that specified the quality of ribbon, the size of margins, where to double-space, when to use italics, all-caps, or quotation marks for titles, where to put the reviewer’s byline, and so forth…

Every book review, said the anonymous document, must follow three rules:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.
2. The review must tell what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.
3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

Now, in some sense this review fulfills all three rules. Grounded is, indeed, about abolishing the Air Force. I do, in fact, think that the Air Force should be abolished. The reviewers don’t think that the Air Force should be abolished. Beyond that, however, I must confess that my disappointment with the review extends beyond the fact that  the assembled captains and colonels remain unconvinced. The review cites no specific arguments that I make in the book, beyond the title, and what I’ve alluded to in the various articles associated with the book. The review cites no specific pages or passages, and makes no claims with respect to errors of fact. The reviewers do not engage in any way with my discussion of organizational theory, my depiction of the history of the RAF or the USAF, my discussion of lawfare and the morality of airpower, or with my discussion of the impact of drone technology on airpower theory. On at least one point– “He believes the Air Force should support ground forces—period”– the reviewers badly mis-characterize my argument.

Were the five reviewers, all having read the book with some care, unable to agree on specific problems? Did they determine that a broad rebuttal on policy grounds was more useful than an actual book review?  I’m curious.

In any case, I’ll have a longer response a bit later this week.

USAF Links

[ 10 ] February 25, 2014 |

From the latest re-rebuttal:

With Robert Farley responding to my critique of his Foreign Affairs article, “Ground the Air Force,” our ongoing debate on the pages of the National Interest serves a useful purpose in the larger discussion concerning the roles, missions, and structure of not only the Air Force, but the US military as a whole. Just as with his initial article, it seems Dr. Farley has offered an incomplete picture of airpower and is uneven in his criticism of Air Force leadership.

From Duffel Blog:

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog ground attack plane was seen sulking and sobbing on the sidelines of the Pentagon’s sporting complex, after it was completely cut from the national defense team on Monday.

“I work my ass off out there. I practice more than half these guys,” said the A-10 in between sobs. “How the hell could they choose the F-35 over me? For a so-called ‘stealth fighter’, he sure is getting intercepted a whole heck of a lot.”

While picking teams for its annual scrimmage against North Korea, the U.S. National Security team picked the Global Hawk drone, the F-35, and budget levels from before World War II. Forced to sit and watch from the bench were the A-10, the U-2 spy plane, and thousands of soon-to-be unemployed soldiers and Marines.

And an interview with WUKY.


Sunday Book Review: Command and Control

[ 16 ] February 23, 2014 |

Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety has, since its release, garnered a remarkable amount of attention for a book on nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.  Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness among other books, has turned his eye to nuclear theory and the early history of the United States Air Force. Much like cheeseburgers, pizza,  and heroin, it turns out that while everybody loves nukes, they aren’t particularly  good for you.

What it’s About

Command and Control traces the history of nuclear weapons deployment across the three U.S. services, with an overwhelming focus on the Air Force.  Schlosser episodically tells the story of the 1980 Titan II incident in Damascus, Arkansas, interspersing this narrative with descriptions of a litany of other nuclear accidents and near accidents, from the dropping of a nuclear core in 1946 to a wide variety of bomber mishaps in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Schlosser gives a good account of why military and civilian policymakers felt that expanding the US nuclear arsenal was necessary, and of how they approached considerations of safety.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, civilian officials demanded much higher safeguards than the Air Force could concede. Absolutely committed to the reliability of the nuclear arsenal, the services fought hard against steps that could prevent accidents and unauthorized usage. Even as measures to prevent theft, destruction, or premature detonation of nuclear weapons improved over the decades, nuclear incidents continued.

What Does it Contribute?

These stories are familiar to people who’ve read works such as Scott Sagan’s Limits of Safety, Lynn Eden’s Whole World on Fire, Richard Rhodes’s classic The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and dozens of other books on the early years of nuclear weapon safety and doctrine in the United States. In fact, I suspect that for people interested in the subject, the stories are a bit too familiar; there’s nothing really new here.  During the (fabulously executed) PR rollout of Command and Control, the most interesting reactions came in response to the Goldsboro incident, in which one nuclear weapon was lost and another nearly activated. Although Schlosser presented some new information on the arming switch, none of this was particular surprising to people who followed the history of nuclear weapons policy in the United States.  Indeed, Schlosser spends little time on the Goldsboro incident compared to the Damascus Titan II explosion, where he has numerous first person accounts.

Unlike Sagan or Eden, there’s no obvious theory underlying Schlosser’s account, beyond the notion that nuclear weapons are dangerous and tend to fall apart in alarming ways. At times, the fascination with nuclear disaster porn seems to overwhelm Schlosser’s better instincts as a writer.  When breaking from the central narrative of the Damascus Titan II incident, he recounts near-accident after near-accident, which of course re-affirms the point that even the most tightly held possessions of the U.S. military can break or go missing. At some point the litany ceases to cause alarm and begins to induce not only numbness, but perhaps even the sense that the military is very bad at preventing a certain level of accident, and apparently very good at preventing the escalation of those accidents.

To take a contemporary comparison, Douglas Keeney’s Fifteen Minutes has virtually the same structure as Command and Control.  Keeney intersperses vignettes of the transition between the Bomber Age and the Missile Age across a narrative of another disaster, the collapse of Texas Tower 4 (an early warning radar installation) in the wake of a hurricane.  The cast of characters is very similar (Curtis LeMay plays an outsize role in both), as are the discussions of the underlying logics that drove the development of the arsenals.  But I think I learned more from Keeney’s book, even though it’s half the length and I found the structure off-putting (Keeney’s vignettes are very short, producing a disruptive, episodic reading experience.

On the upside, Schlosser writes beautifully, and I say this as someone who has recently written on virtually the same subject.  Reading Schlosser while copy-editing my own work throws the limitations of my prose into stark relief. Much of the writing on this subject has been academic, with all of the benefits and drawbacks that entails. Schlosser’s description of the collapse and explosion of the Titan II near Damascus is well-researched, detail-oriented, and exceptionally vivid, with strong, well placed personal accounts supplementing the technical aspects. It’s also worth noting that while Schlosser doesn’t pace his story well and doesn’t have much of a theoretical account, he also doesn’t include any serious howlers, although his description of intra-Air Force conflict between the fighter and bomber factions left much to be desired.


I suspect that others will get more from this book than I.  As suggested, Keeney’s book gives more information about the topic in less space, although arguably in a less readable fashion. For experts, there’s not much here beyond some anecdotes that haven’t been fully fleshed out.  Little about Command and Control will surprise anyone who’s read the work of Sagan and Rhodes. But Schlosser does present his material well, and I can imagine this being a useful introductory text to the history of nuclear conflict during the Cold War.

See also Texican and Menand.


Lincoln and Marx

[ 35 ] February 22, 2014 |

From Daniel Little:

Robin Blackburn has assembled a fascinating book drawing out some surprising connections between Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx, An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln. Since both thinkers are highly original in their thinking about the worlds they inhabited, I’ve found the book to be absorbing. It consists of a brilliant hundred-page historical essay by Blackburn that draws out the themes in political theory that were of concern to both thinkers and demonstrates some surprising parallels. The book then provides several relevant speeches by Lincoln, several pieces of journalism by Marx about slavery and the American Civil War, letters by Marx including the centerpiece, a letter from Marx to Lincoln on behalf of the International Workingmen’s Association; and several miscellaneous short articles by other people about Marx and Lincoln.

Senator Blutarsky and the Indemnification of the Fraternity System

[ 122 ] February 21, 2014 |

A good deal of legitimate criticism of Caitlin Flanagan’s work has appeared on this blog, but I must say that I very much enjoyed this article on fraternity life and litigation strategy:

So recently and robustly brought back to life, the fraternities now faced the most serious threat to their existence they had ever experienced. A single lawsuit had the potential to devastate a fraternity. In 1985, a young man grievously injured in a Kappa Alpha–related accident reached a settlement with the fraternity that, over the course of his lifetime, could amount to some $21 million—a sum that caught the attention of everyone in the Greek world. Liability insurance became both ruinously expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain. The insurance industry ranked American fraternities as the sixth-worst insurance risk in the country—just ahead of toxic-waste-removal companies. “You guys are nuts,” an insurance representative told a fraternity CEO in 1989, just before canceling the organization’s coverage; “you can’t operate like this much longer.”

For fraternities to survive, they needed to do four separate but related things: take the task of acquiring insurance out of the hands of the local chapters and place it in the hands of the vast national organizations; develop procedures and policies that would transfer as much of their liability as possible to outside parties; find new and creative means of protecting their massive assets from juries; and—perhaps most important of all—find a way of indemnifying the national and local organizations from the dangerous and illegal behavior of some of their undergraduate members. The way fraternities accomplished all of this is the underlying story in the lawsuits they face, and it is something that few members—and, I would wager, even fewer parents of members—grasp completely, comprising a set of realities you should absolutely understand in detail if your son ever decides to join a fraternity.

Flanagan moves past the standard complaints about the role of fraternities in campus life, and focuses on the ways in which national fraternities manage litigation damage.  I also like how she interviews  expert litigators in order to determine how they negotiate the legal terrain; her account brings out the craft of law more than many similar articles.

Strategerizing Mark IV

[ 13 ] February 20, 2014 |

A bit more on airpower, seapower, and strategic theorizing:

The ongoing debates over airpower theoryseapower theory, and strategic theory more generally have glided over three issues: the division between domains of action, the division between military and civilian contributions, and the increasingly transnational nature of the modern strategic community. Until we grapple with these three factors, we’re missing a big part of the process of how we grow and groom specialists in strategic affairs.

Technology and Organizational Design

[ 4 ] February 19, 2014 |

I have a post up at War Council (a project associated with the West Point Defense and Strategic Studies Program) about technology, innovation, and institutional design:

Major Cavanaugh’s post brings to the fore one of the most critical issues facing any defense establishment: the relationship between technology and organizational design. How does the way in which we structure our military organizations affect military technological innovation? The short answer is that institutions both shape and manage technology.  The services set priorities for procurement and innovation that lead to technological transformation.  This is as it should be; specialists in land, air, and naval warfare know what they need, and should have a hand in pushing the defense industrial sector in the right direction. At the same time, organizations have to respond to disruptive, unanticipated technological change.  Military success over the last century had depended on having the capacity to manage such change.

I Maintain the Same Policy on Office Hours

[ 170 ] February 18, 2014 |

This is very European:

No Swiss fighter jets were scrambled Monday when an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked his own plane and forced it to land in Geneva, because it happened outside business hours, the Swiss airforce said… But although the co-pilot-turned-hijacker quickly announced he wanted to land the plane in Switzerland, where he later said he aimed to seek asylum, Switzerland’s fleet of F-18s and F-5 Tigers remained on the ground, Swiss airforce spokesman Laurent Savary told AFP.

This, he explained, was because the Swiss airforce is only available during office hours. These are reported to be from 8am until noon, then 1:30 to 5pm.

As you may recall, later this year Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to purchase 18 Saab Gripen fighters to defend Swiss airspace from 8am until noon, then 1:30 to 5pm.

Airpower and Drones: An Excerpt

[ 21 ] February 17, 2014 |

War is Boring has published a short excerpt of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force. The excerpt is taken from the chapter on drones, and stems from one of my biggest frustrations with the extant drone debate; the lack of sufficient connection to the history of airpower theory and practice.

The novelty of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles can obscure how well they fit within traditional air power theory. Drones’ capacity for combining persistent surveillance with precision-guided munitions makes them useful for air campaigns designed to detach the sinews of enemy military and governmental institutions.

Indeed, if neoclassical air power theory is about leveraging intelligence and surveillance to achieve political and strategic effect, drones are ideal platforms. Drones’ vulnerability to surface and air attack—at least by sophisticated opponent—is ameliorated by their lower material and human costs.

Check out the rest.

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