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Monday Linkage

[ 120 ] September 9, 2013 |

First day of class lazy blogging…


[ 34 ] September 7, 2013 |

Warren Zevon is ten years gone. A remembrance from last month.

Constrain! Restrain!

[ 22 ] September 6, 2013 |

Over at the Diplomat I look into whether adherence to an expansive understanding of the War Powers Resolution could constrain US alliance commitments in East Asia. Short answer: Not very much.

President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional authorization for military action against Syria has renewed discussion over the meaning and impact of the War Powers Resolution. Some commentators,including Peter Spiro, have argued that President Obama’s decision to seek authorization places executiveforeign policy prerogatives in serious jeopardy. Given that part of the purpose of the War Powers Act was to prevent the executive from undertaking conflicts like the Korean War and the Vietnam War, it makes sense to wonder what potential effects the decision to seek authorization for the use of force against Syria might have on U.S. commitments in Asia.

“Only Way to Be Sure”

[ 119 ] September 5, 2013 |

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen kills parody, exhumes its corpse, incinerates the body, disperses its ashes across the Afar Depression, then nukes it from orbit.

ROS-LEHTINEN: It is against the norms of international standards and to let something like this go unanswered, I think will weaken our resolve. I — I know that President Reagan would have never let this happen. He would stand up to this. And President Obama — the only reason he is consulting with Congress, he wants to blame somebody for his lack of resolve. We have to think like President Reagan would do and he would say chemical use is unacceptable.

Via Matt Duss.

The Duck Abides

[ 60 ] September 4, 2013 |

Many of the readers here have probably noted the mild turmoil endured by the Duck of Minerva over the past couple of weeks. I have no interest in recapping that, other than to say that turmoil is very nearly a necessary component of any long-lived multi-author blog, and that LGM has been exceedingly fortunate over the years to avoid serious difficulties.

Unfortunately (although mostly not because of this turmoil), Dan Nexon is stepping back from the Duck for a while. In addition to his contributions at the Duck, Dan has long been a friend of LGM, as well as an occasional commenter. Fortunately, however, Duck is also adding some new members. I’m especially looking forward to Laura Seay’s contributions, but really everyone looks good.

The Duck is very nearly the epitome of what a political science disciplinary blog should look like; a core of solid posters, a wealth of (rotating) guests, and a serious interest in the nexus between theory and policy, public affairs, and popular culture. I admire what they’ve done at the Monkey Cage, but it’s always had a whiff of empire to it, while the Duck has remained a warm, welcoming, and altogether comfortable presence.

Foreign Entanglements: Syria Debate

[ 74 ] September 4, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Zack Beauchamp and I talk about the most frustrating aspects of the Syria debate:

Monday Book Review: Blueprints for Battle

[ 53 ] September 2, 2013 |

Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968, edited by Jan Hoffenaar, Dieter Kruger, and David Zabecki (English translation) is a collection of essays on Soviet and Western plans for war in Germany in the first half of the Cold War. It includes good chapters on East German strategic planning, NATO intelligence, the Soviet operational concept, Bundeswehr plans for defending Germany, and the Dutch commitment to alliance planning.

Broadly speaking, the Soviets expected to cut through Western Europe in several days, pushing past the Rhine and to the English Channel before NATO could manage a very significant conventional defense.  Broadly speaking, NATO expected the Soviets to cut through Western Europe in several days, pushing past the Rhine and to the English Channel before NATO could manage a very significant conventional defense. The most optimistic Soviet assessment had forward elements arriving at the Channel on D+2 (!), and advancing at 100 km/day (!), predictions that even some Soviet military commanders publicly scoffed at. Nevertheless, virtually no one believed that NATO forces (even after the recreation of the German armed forces) could provide much more than a speed bump for the Warsaw Pact.

Still, presumptive conventional military superiority on the part of the Soviets didn’t impart as much security as you might expect.  Memory of the successful German attack of June 1941 gnawed at Soviet planners, who viewed the strategic situations as analogous in many ways.  The prospect of a NATO offensive into Eastern Europe that could destroy the Red Army and carry the war into Russia seemed outlandish to Western Europeans, but the Soviets felt they had seen a smaller, less capable force prevail through surprise once in recent memory.

NATO and Warsaw Pact planners disagreed to a degree about the effectiveness of battlefield nuclear weapons.  Both sides expected that they would be used by (after the mid-1950s) both sides in great numbers, but the Soviets didn’t believe that they would have a transformational effect on the conflict. The Russians still expected to dump several megatons worth of nukes onto defending NATO forces in the opening hours of the conflict.  NATO had more realistic expectations of the damage that tactical nukes could do, but wargames still indicated that the Soviets would overcome this disadvantage and win a decisive victory.

But then there’s “truth” and there’s “Truth.”  Initial British and Dutch plans for the war involved little more than organized retreats from initial positions, trying to save as much as possible from the Soviet onslaught.  Later, alliance commitments and reputational obligations would call for more robust efforts to defend Germany, even though both countries continued to rate the prospects of success as very low.

The potential for nuclear war demanded a great deal of truthiness.  NATO required the Bundeswehr to have any prospect of conventional success against the Soviets, but rehearsals suggested that even with the Germans the use of extensive nuclear attacks on West and East Germany would be required for a chance of success.  Such attacks would almost inevitably incur Soviet retaliation, further irradiating Germany. As the Soviet strategic nuclear position improved, the U.S. became more wary of nuclear escalation in the first days of a European War, a prospect which deeply alarmed European war planners (including the Germans!).

Similarly, it’s not clear how much of the Soviet High Command really believed in the possibility of maintaining operational momentum in the face of serial nuclear attack.  The belief that the Red Army could reach the English Channel in short order was required for bureaucratic and political reasons.  Red Army dominance from 1945 represented both the Soviet Union’s key deterrent capability, and the Red Army’s central political justification. Allowing the NATO tactical nukes could disrupt Soviet logistics (one plan called for the resumption of train service through Dresden twelve hours after a nuclear attack) or blast Soviet spearheads to pieces undercut this entire strategic-political rationale.  We should also recall that no one really knows how armies might operate under conditions of nuclear vulnerability; while one essay traces the disintegration of the U.S. Army’s “Pentomic” division concept, it’s nevertheless possible that the Soviets might have managed to keep things moving even in the face of nuclear weapons.

As suggested, the chapters on Dutch and East German military planning are extremely strong, and the general thread of how both forces conceived of nuclear conflict is quite productive. As others have noted, the chapter on the British Army is extremely weak, with virtually no sourcing. Chapters on NATO northern sector intelligence procedures and Dutch logistical preparations are a bit of a slog, however. The collection only goes to 1968, and consequently does not cover the period in which NATO became steadily more confident in its ability to resist a Warsaw Pact attack. Still, for those interested in the operational, strategic, and political problems on both sides of the European Central Front, this should be a very useful work.


[ 23 ] September 2, 2013 |

The entire August 2004 archive is now available.  We managed 78 posts, with distribution as follows:

  • 34 Farley
  • 20 Lemieux
  • 23 djw
  • 1 Loomis (early guest post)

We don’t have traffic stats for this period, but to the best of my recollection we were drifting around 10000 visits per day.  This would go up to about 25000 by November, then drop back to 8000 or so in early 2005. By comparison, August 2013 at LGM saw 303 posts with 570000 visits.

Over dinner and drinks at APSA, djw asked “does it hold up?”  The answer is… sort of.  The bulk of production concentrates on the 2004 election, and while some essays about long-ago-and-better-forgotten campaigns have enduring value, most do not. The authorial voices are clearly emerging, and in Scott’s writing it’s easy to detect the emerging contours of the blogger he is today. The archive is more interesting as a window into the blogosphere of 2004, with some still-fertile cross-pollination between right and left, and several cameos from writers who are still around (Digby), writers who have changed immensely (Ezra Klein), and writers who have blessedly passed beyond my consciousness (several of the more awful contributors at Tacitus). For this period of LGM, the month includes surprisingly few rants against either Ralph Nader or Mickey Kaus.

Five Questions

[ 18 ] August 28, 2013 |

At the Diplomat, I ruminate on some parallels…

In short order, the United States may go to war against Syria in order to send a message about the use of chemical munitions. I’ve written many times in this space about the difficulty of sending clear messages in international relations; there are always concerns about how to read notes delivered by artillery and cruise missile. I recently finished Stuart Goldman’s book on the Nomonhan incident, the decisive battle in the undeclared war between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1939. While the two incidents differ enormously in context and scope, there are some important parallels with regard to how states use military action to communicate.  I’ve broken these parallels down into five questions:

See also this on questions about the motivation for using chemical weapons.

Briefly on Syria…

[ 81 ] August 27, 2013 |

Some not well organized thoughts on Syria (twitter has ruined me):

  • I don’t expect that the military action that’s likely about to happen will have any meaningful effect on the course of the Syrian civil war.
  • I do suspect that the U.S. will strike a variety of targets (most likely with TLAMs) that are associated in some way with the deployment and control of chemical weapons.
  • I think that the move of other air assets into the region (both by U.S. and U.K.) is largely a precaution against Syrian government reprisal.
  • Given Syria’s lack of response to recent Israeli airstrikes, I doubt we’ll see much beyond a rhetorical condemnation from the Syrians.
  • I worry that the Syrian rebels will over-interpret these strikes as support for their position, and begin to engage in risk-acceptant behaviors intended to provoke the government.
  • Beyond upholding the taboo against chemical weapons use (which I think has some value), it’s not easy for me to sort out the connection between means and ends.
  • I think the Obama administration made its “red line” commitment in the belief that there was virtually no chance that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons (or, indeed, survive this long). The administration seems to be struggling to escape a trap of its own making.
  • I hope that the reluctance to become directly engaged on the part of the administration will limit the dangers of entanglement.  However, such dangers always exist.
  • On balance, I think it’s a bad idea to engage.  But I also doubt that it’s a mistake of any significant or enduring consequence.


The Book Has an Anthem

[ 25 ] August 26, 2013 |

Well, this is just awesome:


[ 15 ] August 26, 2013 |

Colonel Michael Bob Starr and I have gone another iteration on the Air Force. First Colonel Starr:

Paradoxically, if the criteria for organizational independence are to have a distinct mission set and to promote flexible national security options, then the Air Force has the strongest claim to existence of all the military services. America needs a strong Army and Navy, and it most certainly needs a strong Air Force. What America does not need is more defense analysis stuck in a pre-World War I mindset.

Then my response:

Col. Starr might prefer that we forgive “the most optimistic expectations of air power pioneers” in favor of an appreciation of what strategic bombing can do for us here and now. This is fair, but surely it is also fair to evaluate the accomplishments of strategic bombing against what its advocates promised (at the time) was possible.

Hopefully both are helpful. You can follow more of the debate at the Grounded twitter feed.

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