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Category: Robert Farley

Light Carriers!

[ 16 ] June 10, 2014 |

Latest entry in the endless debate over aircraft carrier classification:

The “aircraft carrier” designation has become a bit of a joke among defense commentators on Twitter, with one Popular Science writer deciding to avoid controversy by referring to everything from the Japanese Izumo to the USS Nimitz as a “floaty movey flyer holder.” The definitional becomes more significant when we range beyond the relatively small community of defense and aviation specialists, and try to explain to the laity why a 45,000-ton ship that carries supersonic jet fighters is not, in fact, an “aircraft carrier.”

A War to Avoid

[ 89 ] June 9, 2014 |

I have a longish piece at the National Interest on how a war between China and the United States might play out.  It concentrates more on the strategic details surrounding the opening and conclusion of any conflict than on the tactical details themselves:

How does the unthinkable happen? As we wind our way to the 100thanniversary of the events that culminated in World War I, the question of unexpected wars looms large. What series of events could lead to war in East Asia, and how would that war play out?

The United States and China are inextricably locked in the Pacific Rim’s system of international trade. Some argue that this makes war impossible, but then while some believed World War I inevitable, but others similarly thought it impossible.

In this article I concentrate less on the operational and tactical details of a US-China war, and more on the strategic objectives of the major combatants before, during, and after the conflict. A war between the United States and China would transform some aspects of the geopolitics of East Asia, but would also leave many crucial factors unchanged. Tragically, a conflict between China and the US might be remembered only as “The First Sino-American War.”

What the Hell is Wrong With People?

[ 371 ] June 8, 2014 |

The occasions under which rape threats are appropriate are: Not ever. The contexts under which it is appropriate to mock or make light of rape threats are: None.

This has been another edition of Things People Should Know Without Being Told.

To Kansas City!

[ 33 ] June 7, 2014 |

Tomorrow morning I leave for Kansas City for the 2014 Comparative Government AP reading.  This will be our last year in KC; next year we’ll shift to Salt Lake.  Accordingly, I’m going to try to do as many KC things as I can in my last year, including another visit to the World War I Museum,dinner at Arthur Bryant’s (which is just better than Oklahoma Joe’s, and has fewer hipsters), and a visit to the Negro League Baseball Museum.

Work, tragically, will continue to be work.  The time when one could shirk duties on the excuse “I’m not even in the state!” has, sadly, passed.

Viagra: Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

[ 26 ] June 6, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat:

Does the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction?

In a recent interview following a speech by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, PLA General Zhu Chenghu, dean of China’s National Defense University, argued that the United States was simultaneously engaging in the dangerous escalation of disputes in the South and East China Seas, and also that it lacked the gumption to follow through on its commitments. Zhu argued “We can see from the situation in Ukraine this kind of ED [extended deployment] has become the male type of ED problem: erectile dysfunction.”

At the same time, Zhu emphasized the threatening nature of U.S. commitments: “If you look at what the U.S. is doing on China’s periphery — things such as reconnaissance, exercises, massive deployments, strengthening military alliances, taking sides on territorial disputes — these things are not good at all.”

 

Movin’ On Up

[ 8 ] June 4, 2014 |

Deep congratulations to Matt Duss on his new gig!

Matthew Duss has been appointed as the new President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, effective August 1, 2014. He replaces Ambassador (ret.) Philip C. Wilcox, Jr. who is retiring after thirteen years at the Foundation.

Duss has been with the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC since 2008. A widely published journalist and policy analyst, he holds a BA and an MA in Middle East Studies from the University of Washington. He is an expert in Middle East affairs and has traveled extensively in the region, including in Israel and Palestine.

Matt, friend of LGM since (before) the beginning, also submitted a late entry to the self-celebratory anniversary wankfest:

I’m getting this in just under wire. Okay not really, it’s just late. But am really glad to have been asked to help mark LGM’s ten year anniversary. Rob and I met at the University of Washington in the early part of the 21st Century, I was taking his course on military interventions, and I knew we would were going to be good friends when he explained to the class that re-doing World War II as a social science experiment would be problematic because it would be too expensive. In a conversation after class I made reference to something I’d read at Talking Points Memo, and we ended up discussing these things called blogs. Not long after, LGM appeared. I was instantly hooked, and I’m pleased to have been one of its first readers, commenters, and fans.

I need to say this too: Beyond the great writing, LGM has also been a great and loyal friend. In troubled times, LGM has just been there for me. That time I decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo for an entire month, who bailed me out? LGM. That time my car broke down near Stevens Pass in two feet of snow, who came to pick me up? LGM. That time I was thinking of calling with a low gut shot straight, who convinced otherwise? LGM. That time I was thinking that Kevin Smith’s films might deserve another look, who talked me down? That was LGM. LGM did that.

God bless you, Lawyers Guns and Money. God bless you.

In a World Very Much Like Ours, Part I

[ 47 ] June 3, 2014 |

A companion to this piece appears at Information Dissemination.

Did Obama push Russia into invading Ukraine?

As disorder continues in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, and as Russian forces remain (despite President Vladimir Putin’s comments) deployed in threatening fashion along Ukraine’s border, finger-pointing has begun in Washington.

In particular, some analysts say, the collapse of the Assad regime in the wake of the brief US bombing campaign backed Putin into a corner.  Moscow bitterly denounced the campaign as “intervention run amok,” but political support and last minute arms shipments could not prevent the military coup that left Assad dead and the regime headless.

While administration spokesmen continue to argue that Syria and Ukraine are unrelated, more than a few analysts have laid responsibility squarely on the Obama administration.

“This is the fruit of Obama’s distraction with the Middle East.  Putin is playing real power politics; when he’s pushed, he pushes back.  It doesn’t seem that many on Obama’s foreign policy team understand this,” said one senior affiliate at a Washington think tank.

The resultant chaos in Syria may provide Moscow a degree of emotional comfort, but chances for a restoration of Russian power appear low.  The collapse of the regime effectively left Russia without a Mediterranean base, especially after rebel groups stormed and destroyed Russian installations at Tartus.

The US “victory” in Syria posed a major setback for Russia, but several sources alleged that it drew US attention away from the developing situation in Ukraine. “While Obama was doing a victory lap on Syria, Putin caught him flat-footed in Ukraine,” said an advisor to a senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Could Obama have seen the Russian move coming? In the wake of the collapse of the Libyan and Syrian governments, the loss of the Yanukovych government in Ukraine seemed eerily reminiscent of the serial collapse of Soviet satellite states in the early 1990s, a memory which remains bitter for much of the Russian leadership. “Would Putin have moved so aggressively if he didn’t feel weak and cornered? I doubt it,” said one senior Bush administration official.

Several foreign policy analysts also voiced concern over the future of Russia’s relationship with China, suggesting that the bombing of Syria might irrevocably have pushed Moscow into Beijing’s arms. “The geopolitical implications of this are gruesome.  We’ve basically traded Damascus for Kiev, which doesn’t make any sense.  We’ve also cemented the Russia-China axis we’ve always feared.”

Indeed, some analysts suggested that the campaign against Syria could prove fatal the Obama’s “Asian Pivot,” intended to redistribute American military and diplomatic effort towards Asia.  “The lesson that Beijing learns from this is that the US can be easily distracted by the Middle East, and doesn’t have its heart in maintaining an anti-Beijing alliance system in East Asia.  It doesn’t help that China now has Moscow in its corner,” said one scholar of Sino-American relations.

What could the Obama administration have done to prevent this? The President’s declaration of a “red line” on Syrian chemical weapons usage locked the United States into intervention after the determination that the Syrian military had used such weapons on civilians.  Analysts interviewed for this report were nearly unanimous that stepping back after making such a declaration would have been a major blow to US credibility and reputation.

There is little doubt that the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ended the “honeymoon” provided by the relatively successful operations in Syria and Libya.  However, few of the analysts interviewed for this article suggested any easy answers for the crisis in Ukraine.  At this point, military and political reality seems to leave the United States deeply constrained with respect to recovering Crimea, or to preventing further incursions into other border provinces.

Ground the RAF!

[ 15 ] June 2, 2014 |

My latest at War is Boring:

Could the campaign to eliminate independent air forces succeed with the world’s first independent air force? Some air-power critics associated with the Royal Navy are lobbying the U.K. government to disband the Royal Air Force.

“Air power as a joint concept cannot, and is not, best delivered from an independent service,” retired Royal Navy commanders Graham Edmonds and Paul Fisher wrote in Warships International Fleet Review.

This naval assault on an air force might surprise some Americans. With a few big exceptions, the U.S. military services have avoided open warfare with one another since the 1950s. Even retired officers hesitate before throwing rhetorical punches at their comrades in the other branches.

Compared to the U.S. armed forces, the U.K. military branches have sharp elbows. Mostly, this results from differences in how the American and British governments approach military appropriation.

Also see a couple of good reviews of Grounded. First, Dr. Stephen Wright has a negative but thoughtful review at AFRI. Second, Jeong Lee has a good review at Offiziere.ch.

A Decade of LGM

[ 72 ] May 31, 2014 |

Ten years ago today, the first post appeared at Lawyers, Guns and Money, then housed at lefarkins.blogspot.com.  The first post, by djw, was a classic “Test.”  We then managed a half dozen other posts in the first day, running a gamut of topics that, for the most part, we still write about now.

How did this come about? In early 2004, Scott, djw, and myself  (all graduate students in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington) started talking seriously about founding a blog.  Scott had already given the idea some consideration, and had even come up with a name: Lawyers, Guns and Money.  Both Scott and myself were in the midst of completing our dissertations, so while we didn’t have a wealth of time at the moment for other writing, we could foresee a future in which things would loosen up a bit.  A few months before I had met Matt Duss, who had already started his own blog and got me more interested in the project.

It seemed that everyone was starting a blog at that time, although in retrospect I think we may have been at the very end of the first adopter wave. We gained a small but loyal audience fairly quickly, largely drawn from our friends, colleagues, and students. The early development of this audience was critical, as the most demoralizing aspect of maintaining a blog is the feeling that no one out there is listening.

Since that first day, we’ve published upwards of 21000 posts, with almost 28 million visits and over 42 million page views.  It’s fair to say that both the longevity and the success of LGM have far exceeded anything that we reasonably could have expected when we began. Our audience has grown steadily, with only a couple of instances of sustained decline (these followed the 2004 and 2008 elections).

The Blogosphere

The blogosphere has, obviously, undergone a dramatic set of changes since we set up shop. The most notable difference is the decline in the independent blog; so many of our comrades from 2004 have joined larger media institutions, or become institutionalized (so to speak) on their own. Of course, we’ve hardly been immune to this process, as several of us have moonlighted for a variety of different outlets over the years.

The winds have also shifted against the multi-purpose blog, with authors writing on a variety of topics without pretense to specific expertise.  While each of us had specific areas of academic and policy expertise when we founded LGM, we never envisioned limiting our contributions to those areas.  Indeed, in the early years all of the front-page contributors ranged widely across topics, writing about foreign policy, legal affairs, politics, sports, and cultural topics as if we each had something interesting to say.

The willingness of the blogosphere to tolerate the generalist blogger has declined, and I think it’s fair to say that LGM has accommodated itself to this trend.  This is true both in how the original contributors now behave, and in how we’ve brought in new people.  My posts focus primarily on security and defense work, and while Scott’s posting strays a bit more from his academic interests, it certainly has narrowed around a consistent set of arguments about American politics.  The same could be said of Paul, SEK, and Erik; all write generalist posts, while also contributing heavily on their specialties.

Nevertheless, while the individual contributors tend to coalesce more around specific areas than they once did, the blog as a whole still touches on a wide array of topics. It’s a point of pride that we’ve managed to make this transition, and to maintain our independence for so long.  We’re also mindful of all the blogs from the “Golden Age” that haven’t made it as long as we have.  Most often, this has resulted from our own good luck (in terms of consistent outside employment, etc.) than from any degree of merit.

The Contributors

If this project goes as planned, everyone will have a say on what LGM has meant to them, but I wanted to give at least a few brief words on how all of these people have fit into LGM’s project (whatever that is).

Dave Noon was the first addition to the lineup. At the time he was producing brilliant work at Axis of Evel Knievel, work that we would often link to.  Productive conversations eventually ensued, and he came on board in plenty of time to chronicle the “rise” of Sarah Palin from an Alaskan perspective.

Defeated, Sarah retreated into the icy wastes from which she came. No one knows where Dave Noon is now, but some say (and I like to think that this is true), that he took an oath not unlike this one:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

It’s comforting to me, the idea that Noon is standing upon that wall, watching against the return of the Darkness from the North.

Adding Erik had long been an idea; we very much enjoyed his work at Alterdestiny, but there was some uncertainty as to how he might fit in at LGM. As one commenter noted, there’s no question that Erik has changed the tone of the blog, but there’s little question in my mind that the change has been for the positive.  There’s no question whatsoever that Erik’s entry coincided with a significant bump in traffic.

We initially envisioned this site as a politics and culture blog.  Thus, there’s always been space for someone like SEK, although I don’t think that we ever quite grasped that “someone like SEK” would actually be “SEK.” I honestly don’t remember ever even inviting SEK to blog here; we just woke up one morning and he was posting, and that seemed as it should be.

It’s also under these terms that it’s easiest to understand bspencer’s role with the blog.  Over the past year, as I’ve noted on several occasions, I’ve been rebuilding the archives we lost during the transition from Blogger to WordPress.  Much has surely remained the same, but much has also changed, in both tone and content.  I daresay at this point that Beth’s blogging for LGM now is more reminiscent of the first year of LGM than any of the other regulars.

The three original members knew Dave Brockington from the University of Washington Department of Political Science, where he was two years ahead of Dave and myself and three years ahead of Scott. Brockington is our answer to Nate Silver, if Nate Silver lived in the United Kingdom and studied cricket.  I think it’s fair to say that we’ve nearly cornered the market on cricket blogging in the US political blogosphere.

Paul Campos has added a touch of seriousness and maturity to LGM, as well as deep subject matter knowledge in several areas that we consider critical.  We’re not just deeply honored to be part of Paul’s broader project on law school education; we’re also pleased at the attention the campaign has brought to LGM.

We also have a pair of “alumni” or “emerita,” depending on how you want to look at it.  Bean became a part of the crew in order to shore up our legal blogging side, as well as from general awesomeness. She joined us in October 2007, leaving for greener pastures in August 2008. We asked Charli Carpenter to join because of her interest in the intersection of international affairs and pop culture. Her most memorable post grafted a permanent “e” onto the name of a long-term “friend of the blog.” We dearly miss them both.

Finally, LGM has hosted quite a few guest bloggers over the years, including Steve Attewell, Colin Snider, Matt Duss, iocaste, Jonathan Powell, and many others.  At first, we invited guests in order to keep the site going when several of the front pagers went on vacation.  Now, we invite them primarily when we think that have something interesting and useful to say that goes beyond what our expertise can offer.

The Comments

There have surely been points at which I would agree with Freddie’s characterization of the LGM commentariat. The general attitudes of our commenters have changed a great deal over time, as has their relationship with the front-page authors.  There are some few that have been with us since very nearly the beginning.  The relationship has often been frustrating, but has almost always been productive, as some of the blog’s best posts have emerged from conversations that began in the comments.  It remains a tragedy that we lost the larger part of the comments from the first six years of the blog when we shifted to WordPress, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s no way to get those back.

For my part, while I generally don’t wade in as much as I did in the early years of the blog, I still greatly value the comments as a form of peer review.  If I’m making a weak argument, or if I’ve left out some critical detail, or if I’ve explained myself insufficiently, I can count on commenters to point it out. Sadly, this contribution goes unpaid in anything other than our most heartfelt thanks.

Behind the Blogging

LGM has seen remarkably little internal drama over the past decade.  We don’t have a style guide, the money is too small to have a real fight about, and we don’t have an editorial “direction” in the sense that the term is normally used.  This doesn’t quite explain why there’s been so little fighting, as blogs fall apart all the time from big squabbles over small things.  I suppose that the closest we ever came to genuine problems came in mid-2010, when the transition from Blogger to WordPress was not going well and the site was hemorrhaging readers.  Even then, it was the situation that was stressful, not the relationships between contributors.

It’s worth adding that our readers have, over the years, been exceedingly generous. LGM “makes money” in the literal sense of the term, although the proceeds won’t soon allow any of us to quit our day jobs.  Beer money is nice, however, and the experience of owning and managing a small business has been eye-opening.

For my part, the LGM experience has opened up enormous personal and professional opportunities.  There have also been some costs, but those costs have, in my mind, been well worth bearing.  When I think about the contributions that I have made as an academic and “public intellectual,” LGM occupies the central position.

The Future

As for the future… who knows?  We’re all obviously in much different personal and professional  situations than when we founded LGM, but I nevertheless find it heartening that, between the nine of us, we still manage to find enough time in our days to keep the site running at near-peak volume.  We had more pageviews in April 2014 than in any previous month, so we seem to be doing fairly well.

We hope to restart regular podcasts (or at least podcasts that aren’t associated with Game of Thrones) at some point in the near future.  Podcasting demands a bit more organization and coordination that we’re used to, and also entails some upfront costs in terms of prep, learning, and software. A couple of us are also beginning to think about books that revolve around topics developed on the blog; I suspect that if anything comes of this, you will be repeatedly made aware of it in no uncertain terms.

As for the rest of the victory lap, over the next couple of days we will have posts from all the front pagers and former front pagers of LGM, as well as from a few “Friends of the Blog.”  If you like self-celebratory navel gazing, this is your thing.  If not, it’ll all be over in a day or two.

Economic Espionage

[ 14 ] May 28, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat:

What are the limits of legitimate economic espionage? The indictment of five PLA officers for stealing U.S. intellectual property brings economic espionage into the same spotlight lately enjoyed by diplomatic cryptography.  The U.S. decision immediately produced a firestorm of criticism from China, as netizens and the government alike pointed out evidence of widespread hacking efforts on the part of the United States.

The Wind Rises

[ 34 ] May 26, 2014 |

I have a short piece up at War is Boring on The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s (presumably) last film:

The Wind Rises is a loose biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the man behind the famous A6M Zero fighter plane.

Miyazaki’s is better known for anime classics like Princess Mononoke,Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. But this new feature is an aviation history masterpiece from one of world’s best animation directors.

This film may also be Miyazaki’s last production. The 73 year old director announced his retirement last September.

The Wind Rises represents a significant departure from this director’s usual ahistorical, abstract, and pacifist themes. The Wind Rises is a detailed—if highly fictionalized—account Horikoshi’s life and early career.

Sunday Book Review: Arms and Innovation

[ 9 ] May 25, 2014 |

Note: My new project involves examining how intellectual property law affects the spread of military technology across the international system.  Accordingly, I’m now plowing into the literature on military procurement and the defense industry.  I’ll grant that this literature can be a touch less sexy than the history of airpower thought, but there’s still a lot of interest. Consequently, some of the next few waves of book reviews will focus on books about the arms trade and the defense industry.


Big Firm, Small Firm

What chance do small firms have in the defense market?  Small firms generally struggle to compete with the big defense conglomerates, but civilian technology often outpaces military tech, especially on price. James Hasik’s Arms and Innovation examines how small firms form alliances with large firms in order to sell to the Defense Department. Hasik concludes that under certain conditions, alliances between large and small firms can work, but that these conditions are often fleeting.  Nevertheless, these alliances have produced some of the most important innovations in military technology of the last fifteen years.

Alliances and Innovation

The problems of integrating small firms into the military-industrial complex substantially predate the coining of the term “military industrial complex.”  When weapon systems became too expensive and risky for firms to simply produce and sell them “off the shelf” to governments, pre-emptive collaboration between the state and a select number of large firms became inevitable.  This necessitated the development of long term relationships, with the consequence that small, non-traditional defense providers had trouble breaking into the market.

There’s a lot of debate on how the Pentagon approaches small firms.  For at least the last fifteen years, DoD has tried to encourage small firms to pursue military contracts.  Don Rumsfeld, among others, believed that small, nimble, private firms could innovate more quickly and more cheaply than the large, state-dependent defense conglomerates. Especially in the tech sector, small firms (and non-defense firms more generally) seem to produce more advanced, lower cost equipment than their larger counterparts.

The problem is that it’s still extremely difficult for small firms to claw their way into the door, as Pete Dombrowski and Eugene Gholz detailed in their book Buying Military Transformation. The rules on securing procurement contracts from DoD are so arcane that only large firms that already have substantial experience with the Pentagon can hope to have much chance.The big defense firms are also far more likely to maintain personal contacts with the Pentagon through the hiring of retired military and civilian personnel, although this too depends on an arcane set of rules determining eligibility for employment.

There are also (as I have discussed in other places) significant issues with intellectual property protection.  Small firms depend on patents and trade secrets to protect themselves from larger defense companies, but such protection depends on the willingness of the Pentagon to rein the larger companies in.

Hasik discusses this problem in terms of skill vs. capital intensive production, maturation of requirements, information “leakiness” and “shakedown potential.” Small firms do well with skill-intensive projects, and are flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities provided by immature technologies and shifting state requirements. Small firms and large firms can work together if the information requirements are right; if large firms can simply steal the trade secrets of small firms, or if the small firms lack sufficient legal protection for their ideas and techniques, then there’s little incentive for the latter to engage in alliances.  Arms length relationships make more sense.

Hasik examines the Predator drone, the MRAP, the Littoral Combat Ship, the JDAM, and several other systems that have resulted from alliances between large and small firms. In some of these cases the small firms are remarkably successful; in others, they maintain success for a period before either a) the market for their product collapses, or b) a larger firm cuts into their market share. However, he makes clear that small firms have played an important role in the development of some of the most widely known technologies of the 21st century.

Pulling it Together

Hasik’s account of the relationship between the state and the private firm in the defense sector is necessarily incomplete, but a broader theoretical framework might have allowed him to frame the insights of this research in a way that could have problematized the entire public-private sector relationship.   In short, the issue of the state’s relationship with private firms is much larger, and goes back much farther, than he suggests.

What Hasik doesn’t offer, and what I’m really interested in, is the comparative aspect; how do other countries stucture their defense industries in terms of allowing small firms a chance to win contracts?  The way that small firms, large firms, and the state relate with one another are embedded in broader socio-economic frameworks, and we can expect that different structures will generate much different patterns of innovation.  This is especially interesting as part of a comparison with the great command economies of the Cold War, but we probably should also expect that defense tech innovation will happen differently in Europe, where “national champions” tend to dominate defense contracting.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of interest here, both on the theoretical and empirical sides.  The cases are well-chosen on “interesting” criteria, and readers who want a short primer on how the JDAM or MRAP came about should find much to their liking. And Hasik provides a valuable window into how the defense industry works, and into how small firms can find a way to break through.

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