Thursday, May 19, 2016

Captain Obvious Goes to Simulated War

Too often today, the obvious cannot be seen or acknowledged unless somebody conducts an exercise or a research project. Then we are all allowed to see and comment upon what leaders should have been seeing and warning about all along.
So here is an issue we have been discussing for 20 years -- the stupid decision by our elite (of both parties, much of academia, and the entire DOS and DOD) to expand NATO right up to the border of Russia, and pledge that we will go to war in defense of what cannot be defended without huge effort and expense.  What we spent on NATO at the height of the Cold War would not come close to meeting the requirements to rapidly reinforce and defend the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).  The Russians have their largest military force an afternoon drive from the potential battlefield. We have our forces weeks to months away . . . IF we still had some appropriate forces to send.  But the tanks and mechanized infantry troops we would need are gone, as are the air interdiction and air defense forces that would be equally essential.
            And by the way -- the conventional force we fielded in NATO was never the real deterrent.  A no kidding conventional war in Europe would have been bloody, because NATO could have offered strong resistance . . . for a while. But from at least our Vietnam involvement through the 1989 fall of The Wall, the Russians could probably have taken Germany (maybe not France) if they were really willing to pay the price. They had the reserves and the geographic advantage. They could pour in forces faster than we could defeat them, until we were overrun.  We practiced our defense a lot.  I was there -- I practiced it a lot. Our conventional defense would probably not have kept the Soviets out of Germany.
            What dissuaded them from testing their conventional advantage was the knowledge that if our traditional defense failed, a tactical nuclear defense awaited. A “pulse” of hundreds of small nukes delivered by artillery, rockets, short and intermediate range missiles, and aircraft  would not have just blunted the attacking hordes – it would have eviscerated them.  But that nuclear deterrent is now completely gone, as are our tank divisions and fighter/bomber squadrons -- the weapons, the systems, the people, the facilities and the training are not just out of Europe, they are out of existence.
            This is especially bad news because control of the Baltics really matters to Russia.  Imagine that one of our biggest military bases, many of our military ships, and our primary access to say, the Gulf of Mexico, were all concentrated on a spot of land we owned, that was separated from our mainland by 100 miles of Mexican territory.  Would we be pretty intent on establishing a land bridge to our base and troops and ships? Especially if Mexico cut a deal with Russia to defend that land bridge and keep us cut off from our forces?  That is the situation with the Russian territory and base of Kaliningrad -- on the Baltic Sea and a short drive from Russia (as long as they are willing to make that drive over Lithuania – a NATO partner we are pledged to defend).
            In short, we are pledged to go to war to defend a strip of land that can’t be defended, using troops and equipment that do not exist, while partnered with European military forces in worse shape for this mission than we are.  The military objective we defend is of vital interest to our opponent. And anybody who spends 5 minutes looking at this situation can see all this plain as day. Anybody except our European specialists who have been busily spot-welding our future to the Baltic states for two decades.
Fortunately, somebody has now run an exercise, and looked the disaster full in the face, so we can talk about it. (Sydney Freedberg Breaking Defense).  This is not the first group to do this - there have been previous exercises like this, with similar outcomes. But this one featured a cast of well known "NATO experts," and a pedigree from an organization generally more friendly to Obama style "transformation" of America's role in the world, than say, RAND -- so it is getting more attention.
Well good -- finally.  But I still have one complaint. Relying on advice from the NATO experts who dithered while the problem unfolded does not strike me as the best approach fixing it.  I would prefer bringing in an expert who understands the realities of war, offense and defense.  Ditching the generals and ambassadors who got us into this mess, and consulting any random corporal from the 82d Airborne Division instead, would be a good start.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Strategic Question in Real Time

          Some people can teach and also blog prolifically.  I am not of them.   I pour everything I have into preparing (perhaps over-preparing) for every graduate class I teach. And so this blog dries up during the academic year, only to be reborn during academic breaks.  Such a break is now upon us, before I am consumed by summer conferences and preparation of readings and syllabi for next year.  So here goes.
I teach that strategy is a concept -- the “why” of an issue -- the cause and effect relationship that links action to outcome.  If we do X, then we get Y.  Yes, yes – it can be much more complex.  There can be lots of X’s and lots of Y’s, and we may have to prioritize and de-conflict.  But basically (and this is at odds with others who have been teaching strategy and losing wars for the last two decades), strategy is a concept that proposes to get Y by doing X
Policy is the “what” of an issue -- what we are going to do to achieve the ends desired.  Policy is the X in the construct, "X leads to Y."       
Operations is the “how” of action -- how we are going to accomplish the policy that implements the strategy and achieves victory?
         Bureaucracies craft policies and manage operations to ensure that X is implemented as efficiently and effectively as possible. For a bureaucracy, X is always the answer to a given policy issue.  Not implementing X requires an “exception to policy” from someone “at a higher pay grade.”
            It is sometimes hard to demonstrate for students a concept of strategic cause and effect in real time. Policies are easy to see. And history shows the cause and effect of some strategies clearly in retrospect.  (See the differing concepts behind the British and American air campaigns against Nazi Germany for an example.) But identifying flashes of strategic insight in the daily business of government is hard, largely because so many government documents today are labeled “strategies” when they involve no cause-effect analysis at all. Fortunately, Congress has just provided a current example of an action (requiring the President to define a term) that may have significant strategic consequences (cause and effect).

"Senate Armed Services panel adopts cyber 'act of war' provision
“The Senate Armed Services Committee this week added a cybersecurity ‘act of war’ provision to its annual defense authorization measure, requiring the president to ‘develop a policy for determining when an action carried out in cyberspace constitutes an act of war against the United States.’ The committee completed its closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday and will soon release the contents of the bill."  (Inside Cybersecurity)

The goal of the committee (apparently) is to increase cybersecurity by forcing the Administration  to draw a line informing both friend and foe of what cyber targets we will defend by use of force. Note that the committee does not direct what definition to use, or a resulting strategy, or how to enforce it -- just that the concept of cause and effect should be identified in public. 
            This strategic concept (IF we define cyber war and advise our opponents THEN we can deter those opponents, and prepare for conflict should we need to fight and defeat them), is grounded on a strategic theory -- that deterrence can and will work in the cyber world.  And perhaps upon confidence that we can develop a 2d theory - how to fight and win a cyber war – if we can just define when the conflict starts.

This is a great example of strategic thought, because it addresses a great strategic concern. With our current approach to national cyber security, we are doing something rare in human history - we are allowing a small group of people to create a secret theory of deterrence and war in the cyber realm, without a broader political, military or academic discussion. By comparison, during the Cold War, the specifics of nuclear weapons and operations remained highly classified, but the general strategic concepts and policies were broadly identified and debated. Superiority or Mutually Assured Destruction? Missile Defense or Second Strike Capability? Heavy throw weight or lighter MIRVs?  That robust debate, and the requirement for a public defense of public expenditures on the resulting solutions, is one of the things that kept us out of nuclear war.
History provides examples of the President’s current alternative approach which might be called “strategic ambiguity.” The idea is to deter the enemy by keeping your capabilities, intent and strategic concepts a secret, leaving your opponent unsure of exactly what will happen if he makes even a limited offensive move.  The system of secret alliances prior to the First World War followed this strategic concept. The result was war on an unanticipated scale, because enemies could not anticipate the results of each others’ actions.
We are already engaged in cyber war.  The Secretary of Defense said so last week at the change-of-command for the US Northern Command.  He described how we are launching "cyber bombs" against ISIS (and maybe others). But under what rules? What laws? Whose control?  With what strategy and policy? 
Somebody apparently thinks they have a handle on the proper relationship of cyber strategy, policy and operations, because they are waging cyber war in our name.   Letting us in on the concepts and getting our support – while retaining essential secrecy about capabilities and operations – is a wise approach.  Thanks, Senate Armed Services Committee, for a great real time example of strategic thinking.