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Category: Robert Farley

Foreign Entanglements: The Latest From Brazil

[ 2 ] July 26, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Colin Snider and I talk Dilma’s impeachment:


Maintenance Results

[ 7 ] July 26, 2016 |


Apart from general WordPress upgrade compliance, recent maintenance was intended to resolve some hitches that had developed in commenter registration. In particular, the sending of confirmation e-mails, as well as password change request e-mails, had grown sporadic and sketchy.  If folks continue to have any problems, please let me know at the address on the far right sidebar.



Pyotr Velikiy!

[ 8 ] July 21, 2016 |

HMS Dragon with RFS Pyotr Velikiy. By Royal Navy/MOD, OGL,


I do love to write about battleships, and/or battleship-themed warships:

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union embarked on a project to do what no navy had done for decades—build a surface warfare vessel comparable in size to the battleships of World War I and World War II. The U.S. Navy—and every other navy in the world—had given up on ships of this size due to expense and vulnerability. Why concentrate capabilities in a single ship which could quickly fall victim to missiles and torpedoes?

The Soviets not only persisted in building the ships, but have kept them in service even after the Cold War ended. Originally intended to threaten the U.S. Navy’s most precious warships—aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines—the surviving ships now play a different role, showing the flag and ensuring that the world keeps Russian naval power in mind.

As always, the comment section is a treasure.

Beware Russians Bearing Aircraft Carriers…

[ 11 ] July 20, 2016 |
Полетная палуба ТААКР Ульяновск.jpg

Line Drawing, Carrier Ulyanovsk. By К.Е.Сергеев – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

My latest at the Diplomat examines the question of whether India should consider taking up Russia’s offer to build a nuclear aircraft carrier:

As Franz reported last week, Russia has officially offered to construct a multirole nuclear aircraft carrier to fulfill India’s tender for INS Vishal. And although Franz notes that India will likely not avail itself of the Russian offer, it’s worth looking at some reasons why (and why not) it might make sense to go Russian.



[ 6 ] July 19, 2016 |
Sukhoi T-50 in 2011 (4).jpg

Sukhoi T-50 Prototype in 2011. By Dmitry Zherdin –—Air/Sukhoi-T-50/2074287/L/, CC BY-SA 3.0,

My latest at the National Interest covers the ups and downs of the Russian PAK FA fifth generation fighter:

Say what you will about the F-35, but Lockheed Martin has actually built and delivered one hundred and seventy one aircraft thus far.  The Russian Air Force, meanwhile, has yet to receive its first PAK FA.  In lieu of the PAK FA, Russia has continued to acquire generation 4.5 fighters (mostly of the Flanker family) as well as upgrading generation 4 fighters (including various Flankers, the MiG-29 Fulcrum, and the MiG-31 Foxhound). Sukhoi will likely never build the number of fighters that Western analysts expected, or that the Russian Air Force wanted.

Acquisition of the PAK FA has slowed for two reasons. First, technical problems have beset the program, as Russia’s aviation industry (weighed down by the legacy of the post–Cold War collapse) has struggled with the development and manufacture of advanced stealth and avionic components. Second, the Russian economy has been damaged in the face of a worldwide drop in oil prices, and Western sanctions stemming from the decision to seize and annex Crimea. All in all, it remains unclear whether the PAK FA will ever threaten Western dominance of the skies.

Guns and Tanks…

[ 55 ] July 18, 2016 |
Leclerc-openphotonet PICT6015.JPG

Leclerc Main Battle Tank on maneuvers. By Daniel Steger (Lausanne,Switzerland) –, CC BY-SA 2.5,

My latest at the National Interest:

The focus of ground combat operations has shifted dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Relatively few operations now involve the defeat of a technologically and doctrinally similar force, leading to the conquest or liberation of territory. Preparation for these operations remains important, but ground combat branches also have a host of other priorities, some (including counter-insurgency and policing) harkening back to the origins of the modern military organization.

What will the balance of ground combat power look like in 2030, presumably after the Wars on Terror and the Wars of Russian Reconsolidation (more to come on this idea below) shake out?

Technology and Diffusion

[ 4 ] July 15, 2016 |

Shenyang J-15 landing on CV-16 Liaoning By Simon Yang –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Global Security and Intelligence Studies has published an article of mine:

This article investigates the diffusion of military technology through the cyber theft of intellectual property (IP). During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union worried about illicit appropriation of military technology, some of which occurred through review of IP documents. Recently, these concerns have intensified, as the expanding use of IP has offered a window—sometimes one left wide open—for theft. This is particularly the case for dual-use technology, which is less likely to have been initially created with secrecy protections in place. In recent years, sources have alleged that China is appropriating a vast amount of military-related IP from the United States. As the digital age has matured, there is persuasive evidence that China is taking advantage of the steps involved in others’ IP regimes by using cyber espionage to access into materials developed as part of the IP legal regime. These include defense contractors’ internal legal documents, law firms’ written evaluations of technology, as well as patent applications submitted to the Patent and Trademark Office. The opportunity that these access points provide adds a new layer to the analysis of the diffusion of military technology.

This is part of a broader project that I’m still working on.  Fingers crossed something will actually get done in the next month or so.

“Middle East Peace” vs. Middle East peace

[ 76 ] July 14, 2016 |
Ercole de Roberti Destruction of Jerusalem Fighting Fleeing Marching Slaying Burning Chemical reactions b.jpg

Roman Siege of Jerusalem. By David Roberts, Public Domain,


On Sunday I returned from my second trip to Israel-Palestine in the last decade.  Like the first, this trip involved conversations with a number of speakers (mostly Israeli, but some Palestinian) on the state of the peace process. The first trip was sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a decidedly neo-conservative leaning institution.  The latest trip was associated with the Rabin Center. When I visited in 2008, many of the speakers pushed back against the idea that the Occupation was the central problem in the Middle East.  If you recollect 2008, there was a growing belief in the United States that resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute was part of the key that would unlock the problem of the Middle East more generally.  This view was held not simply among Palestinian advocates or on college campuses, but widely within the US national security establishment; among others, David Petraeus occasionally voiced the argument that a just resolution to the Occupation could help resolve broader regional problems.

The popularity of this idea in the US national security establishment had several sources; on the one hand, Americans were searching for reasons for the enduring problems of the Middle East that didn’t focus on US policy (such as invading Iraq, supporting Saudi Arabia, etc.).  On the other, Americans were still willing to listen to diplomats and policymakers from Arab states, who at the time preferred to concentrate on Israel-Palestine rather than on Iran, or myriad other difficulties.  In any case, the view from the national security establishment was quite instrumental; it had very little to do with establishing a just resolution to the Occupation, and very much to do with allowing the US to extricate itself from the various situations it had embroiled itself in. It also involved the (condescending, when you think about it) claim that the Israelis didn’t really understand their long term interests, and that they would be better served by doing what the United States asked them to. On the European side, the Israelis were hit with the often implicit, sometimes explicit claim that the trouble that European states faced with their Islamic minorities would quickly disappear if only the Israelis could give the Palestinians a fair shake.

As you can imagine, this push met with very little support from the Israelis I heard from back in 2008. Even the leftish two-staters (and these did not predominate in the 2008 visit) were extremely reluctant to grant that the Occupation was the proximate, or even antecedent, cause of a panoply of problems in the Middle East.  Instead (and most of the speakers brought up these points without prompting), the real obstacles to Middle East peace (as opposed to “Middle East Peace”) resided in the imperial ambitions of Iran, the dysfunction and brutal authoritarianism of Arab states, and the direct action of the United States (primarily the Iraq War, which the Israelis had suddenly decided was a bad idea at some point between 2003 and 2008). Whatever the speakers may have thought about the settlement project from a policy or justice point of view, they nearly uniformly rejected the idea that one more or less settlement had much impact on the broader contours of Middle East politics. The Israelis were particularly (and unsurprisingly) incensed by the idea that the United States knew Israeli interest better than the Israelis themselves; this was the case even when the speakers displayed a strong aversion to the settlement project, and to the general conduct and maintenance of the occupation.

Obviously, these beliefs were deeply self-serving from the Israeli point of view.  They were not, however, entirely wrong.  The US did a lot of dumb stuff after 2001 (and before, obviously) that had nothing to do with Israel; it also did a lot of dumb stuff that involved Israel in some fashion. It grated on Israelis that Americans were blaming Israel for their own idiocy.  At the same time, the Israelis correctly pointed out the multiple sources of Arab social dysfunction, and probably had a better sense of the regional impact of the growth of Iranian power (less in terms of the specific threat to Israel than in the ways the Sunni states would freak out) than the Americans did. And the struggles that European states have faced in integrating Islamic communities obviously have to do with much more than Israel-Palestine.

Let’s fast forward to 2016. Although the slate of speakers this time around concentrated heavily in the center-left Labour elite, the message resonated with 2008; not all of this mess is our fault.  Even the left-leaning speakers made clear that the effort from 2008 (and thereabouts) to put Israel-Palestine at the center of Middle East dysfunction had utterly collapsed.  The reasons for this are obvious: Syria is in the middle of a civil war that has killed more people in five years than all the dead of all the Arab-Israeli wars combined;  ISIS has handily demonstrated the incapacity of the Arab state; Egypt has gone through two revolutions without noticeably changing, and the Sisi regime is arguably more responsible for suffering in Gaza today than Israel; Libya and Yemen have collapsed; the surviving Sunni regimes have made clear that they care a lot about Iran and not a whit about Palestinians; the Turks and the Iranians themselves have made clear that support for Hamas is little more than a elaborate public relations maneuver. If anything the Israelis were more contemptuous of the Europeans than the Americans, noting that Islamic communities in Europe appear considerably more prone to terrorism than Islamic communities within Israel itself.

Now obviously you can pull at a lot of those threads, and find some long-term Israeli culpability for how things have turned out in the Middle East, but it’s very, very difficult to say that the Israelis are flat wrong on these points. The implications that Israelis draw from this varies; for those who support the settlement project, this confirms the long-standing view that pro-Palestinian attitudes in the Arab states are anything more than authoritarian incitement, a sentiment that seems only mildly to conflict with the oft-implicit belief that Israel is most secure when surrounded by safely authoritarian regimes. Interpretations on the left are more cautious, combining a disdain for idea of Israel-Palestine centrality, with a degree of dismay that there are now fewer levers to push Israel into a long-term agreement with the Palestinians.

And so this is the backdrop to how Israelis (and to some degree, Palestinians) view the future of the peace process.  Regional dynamics can be safely ignored for now, or at least for as long as the Sauds, the Hashemites, the Assads, and General Sisi remain in power. From the point of view of the Israeli right, the primary threat to Israel now lays with the legal-normative activity of the trans-Atlantic community, especially the EU but also the United States under Obama (read this excellent column by Aluf Benn on what Bibi actually believes).  Most of the Israelis seemed to take BDS fairly seriously, perhaps even more seriously than the Palestinians.  The Israeli strategy for managing this problem is the subject of my latest column at the Diplomat (yes; this post is basically an 1100 word introduction to a 500 word column).

But apart from the specifics of the India-Israel relationship, India plays an important role in Israel’s broader diplomatic strategy. In short, building a bridge with India, a country that no longer seems to care very much about the Israel-Palestine dispute, helps to insulate Jerusalem from European and American criticism. As with the effort to build good relationships with China and Russia, the Israeli effort in India (beyond its specific benefits) hopes to take advantage of the fact that most Asian countries have no direct interest in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. India is particularly valuable in this regard because of its history of non-alignment and anti-colonial activism.

Key to the Israeli argument is that it has become clear that the Israel-Palestine dispute is peripheral to the key military and strategic development in the Middle East. Although Palestine remains an important talking point for many regional players, Iran, Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Turkey, Egypt, and the rump Syrian government all have more important things to worry about than the plight of the Palestinians. This is an argument that Israelis have made for some time, and of course it serves Israeli interests to make it. But at the moment it has the benefit of being largely inarguable, given events in Syria and Iraq.

The upshot is this: Everyone now appears deeply skeptical about anything other than a unilateral resolution to the Occupation in the short- to medium-term, in part because regional dynamics have completely undermined pressure on the Israelis. Moreover, Bibi has a strategy for insulating Israel from future pressure, especially on the part of the trans-Atlantic community.


[ 12 ] July 14, 2016 |

Movies on a Plane

[ 135 ] July 13, 2016 |
Khrushchev U2.gif

Khrushchev with U-2 Wreckage. By CIA –, Public Domain,


Took two long flights over the past week and a half, which meant movies. Some thoughts:

Batman vs. Superman

This movie is not good, but I liked it more than I expected.  Wonder Woman is in the film for some reason, and Jesse Eisenberg decides to play Lex Luthor as a somewhat less menacing, less dangerous version of Mark Zuckerberg. I’m going to credit that last as an actual decision and not an accident, and it’s… interesting. Maybe the point is that Luthor has never conceived of a scheme to dominate the lives of everyday people so grandiose, and so completely successful, as Facebook?  Would Batman or Superman have destroyed the algorithm on Zuckerberg’s dorm room window?

With respect to the two principles, I thought Affleck was just fine as Batman, and that Snyder mostly got Batman right. Cavil’s Superman remains a disaster, however.  It doesn’t make sense for Superman to dislike humans as much as Cavil seems to dislike people.  A grudging sense of responsibility isn’t enough; even Brandon Routh’s Superman was clearly sad and unhappy, but he didn’t seem to resent human beings.  Unless they manage to fix this core problem at the heart of the DC movie universe, there’s gonna be trouble ahead.

Bridge of Spies

I guess I’m just done with Spielberg?  This is a movie about spies and airplanes, and it had Alan Alda; I feel that I should really have enjoyed it.  But nothing was surprising; every emotional punch, and every plot point, was hopelessly telegraphed.  Maybe Spielberg should stop making historical films, so at least we could pretend to be surprised?  Hanks mails in yet another Stand Up White Guy Beset by Troubles, and Sebastian Koch is in the movie for some reason.

The sole upside was Mark Rylance, who turns in the classic “I don’t know why I’m in this movie, so I’ll act as if I’m in some other movie” kind of performance that Alan Rickman perfected. That, and the shootdown of the U-2 was pretty cool.


I quite liked this one.  I’ve thought for a long time that Apollo Creed is really the most interesting figure in the Rocky universe, the only one that makes the story interesting from a political and social point of view.  Creed draws upon Ali, but he’s not a “streets of Louisville” kind of guy; from the first, he’s more comfortable in the boardroom than in the ring, which is a fascinating message to send in 1977.  He has to back Rocky in III, because he has to die in IV; Clubber Lang would never care enough about the Soviet Union to bother fighting Ivan Drago. Creed brings Apollo’s story full circle (including the reference to the third Creed-Balboa fight), and manages to get a creditable performance out of Stallone. And until the final fight (and including even much of that), the fight scenes easily clear the rather low bar of “most realistic boxing scenes in a Rocky movie.”


[ 103 ] July 13, 2016 |
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

USNS Comfort. By Spc. Landon Stephenson – Navy News Service Hi-Res, Public Domain,

Well, this is interesting.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is vetting retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, a four-star officer who served as NATO’s 16th Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Stavridis, who currently serves as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is being formally vetted, according to two sources familiar with the process.

In addition to his service to NATO from 2009 to 2013, Stavridis also served as the 15th commander of U.S. European Command from 2006 to 2009, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976.

Stavridis would certainly be an interesting choice.  I’m guessing that the logic runs that Trump himself sews up the major constituencies of the Democratic Party, and that Stavridis would serve to reassure folks who need a Vaguely Competent White Guy on the ticket.  Although Stavridis is fairly obscure to most people outside the national security community, he probably sufficiently fits that bill.  I have no idea of his broader political convictions, or of his ability to manage the campaign trail. Smart guy, but I’m not sure what else exactly he adds to the ticket.

In a strange sense, Stavridis would have made a better choice for Bernie Sanders.  Partnership for the Americas is a really good book about Stavridis’ time with Southern Command; the gist is that maritime power can make some positive, broadly uncontroversial contributions to global welfare.  It’s the kind of argument that would have contributed to, and been compatible with, Bernie’s foreign policy perspective.

War College on Grounded

[ 1 ] July 11, 2016 |

I recorded a podcast for War College (not affiliated with any of the service war colleges) on Grounded the other day. Check it out. I’ve also updated the Grounded and Battleship Book pages for all extant reviews (and yes, removed all of the spam that seems to periodically infect those pages).

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