Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An Assessment of the Future Security Environment

I received this note from a friend of 30 years who is in a sensitive international position and is one of the very best analysts I know.  This should provide some food for thought, discussion, and argument.  To me it sounds like passion, reason, and chance are woefully out of balance, among other problems.


It's rant time. 

For the first time in my life (legal voting age), I abstained.  That was my vote.  I predicted a Trump win within 5 points (I employed the living system analysis that I'm about to teach), but that wasn't an endorsement.  That was just reasoned, impartial analysis and judgment.

There is so much speculative hoopla concerning the future President Trump administration that I'm astonished that "everyone" appears to be oblivious to what has been occurring over the last 8 (arguably 16) years.  

From where I sit, I have had a unique view to the USA through an impartial lens, much like the old Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom television show.  

My findings:  I have observed a one party system of government, co-opted by a mainstream media (that became a de facto branch of the administration).  I searched our history.  What the US has experienced during these last 8 years has never happened before in total (in parts yes, but not in total).  What I mean by one party system has nothing to do with partisan posturing and rhetoric, but end results. 

Therefore, "everyone" should keep in mind that whatever President-elect Trump does after 20 January, the precedents were created in the last 8 (arguably 16) years of our elected officials (and media) failing to protect and nurture the essence of that which de Tocqueville himself discovered and wrote.  

Unfortunately, many chickens are now coming home to roost (oh, how I love a cliche). 

Now, for the main reason I abstained.  When viewed strategically (truly strategically), although their ways and means were diametrically opposed, the end result on the world stage would have been the same, whether it was Clinton or Trump.  The reality is they cancelled each other out. It's not possible to come to that conclusion, unless one approaches the analytical problem impartially and from a Wild Kingdom-esque aloofness.  Since only one would be POTUS, we'll never know for sure (as many of my acquaintances scoff). But my baselines have yet to fail me. 

I said all that to say this:  

The US and the world are headed for an unprecedented period of violent instability.  The very foundations of systems will be (are being) upended.  Expect wars and violent instability problems to materialize where you least expect them and, where you do expect them, they will likely be worse than anticipated.  In all of this, "everyone" should not place responsibility at the feet of a Donald Trump, a Barak Obama or a George W. Bush.  "Everyone" should take a sober and humble look at themselves in the mirror and accept personal responsibility.  It has been a collective effort. 

My word of caution to you, as you teach the next generation of practitioners and policy drafters, don't try to rationalize the irrational.  You will need to rethink and adjust your baselines. Otherwise, you will find yourself swimming against huge waves, whilst attempting to reach a buoy. 

Flavius Belisarius (obviously a nom de guerre) 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?
David S. Maxwell
Because I do not have Erin Simpson’s experience with General Mattis, I am not as qualified to comment as she is on whether he should or should not be named as the next Secretary of Defense.  I only know him through reputation, recent histories of the war on terrorism, and the many stories and anecdotes from those who have served with him.  I heard him speak at a single conference where he lamented the dearth of strategic thinking in the US military and our national security apparatus.  This comment has remained on my mind ever since I have heard it and I repeat it often to students to challenge them to prove General Mattis wrong.  But that is the extent of my experience with him.
Dr. Simpson makes some excellent arguments as to why he should not be nominated and if appointed why he should decline.  Of all her excellent arguments there is one that I must take exception to and I ask this question: If a President Trump will not listen to General Mattis to whom will he listen?
Given the assessments of the President-elect, if accurate, (and the truth is we have no idea what he is really like, how he will govern, and how he will lead when he takes office) I wonder if General Mattis is not our last best hope to bring measured leadership and strategic thinking to the national security apparatus of the new administration?  If that is the case then I hope that General Mattis will do as those who are committed to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States would:  If asked, serve.
We should also question some of the arguments against having General Mattis or any former general officer serve as Secretary of Defense.  We should cast out two myths – one is that a general is pre-disposed to the use of the military instrument of power as a first choice and the other is that a general, having seen the costs of war, is less likely to use the military instrument of power.  Generals are no more or less likely to follow either course of action as any other competent strategic thinker, either civilian or military.  They are neither warmongers nor peaceniks.  It does a disservice to “generalize” about the mindset of former general officers.  To take such an argument to absurdity, perhaps we should not allow lawyers to become judges.  We should never allow those who have served at the highest levels of the Justice Department to become Supreme Court Justices.  Should we disqualify a general officer who possesses the intellect, leadership ability, and experience to continue to serve at the highest levels of defense and national security simply because he was a general officer?
Our Congress must have had reason to enact a prohibition against any active duty commissioned officer (not just a general officer) from becoming Secretary of Defense for seven years after the officer left active service.  As we know General George Marshall was named Secretary of Defense and served in that capacity for a short time under President Truman (and at the time the prohibition was ten years).  Perhaps it was for reasons of civilian control of the military (which I will address subsequently) or that for some reason a retired general officer might be too close to current serving officers and thus there could be perceptions of conflicts of interest or favoritism.  A study as to why this prohibition was enacted would be probably be a good research paper for a graduate student in security studies or a law student studying national security law.  However, the important question is why Congress did not completely ban all former active duty officers from ever serving as Secretary of Defense and why they reduced the restriction from ten years to seven years?  Perhaps it is because there are Congressmen who recognize that former general officers can make important contributions and may have the requisite skills and experience to serve in that capacity (though of course some may not).  If they are allowed to serve after seven years, why not after five years, especially if a general is of extraordinary character and caliber?

(Continued at the link below)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorde

Book Review: Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder

Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder
David S. Maxwell
The Art of Peace: Engaging in A Complex World
Author: Dr. Juliana Geron Pilon
Transaction Publishers, 2016
If I could recommend one book to the Trump Transition Team it would be Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon’s The Art of Peace: Engaging in Complex World.
Dr. Pilon is a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and a renowned scholar who has taught at the National Defense University, George Washington University and has held post-doctoral fellowships at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the Institute for Humane Letters.   He is the author of a number of acclaimed books and over 200 articles.
I am partial to anyone who can write about Sun Tzu and apply the Art of War to contemporary strategy.  However most such attempts use Sun Tzu as a gimmick to gain attention.  Not so with The Art of Peace.  Dr. Pilon masterfully uses Sun Tzu to illustrate the problems we have with strategic thought and reminds us of the timeless elements of strategy that are arguably more relevant today than at any time in history.  I am even more partial to anyone who can combine Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers to discuss national security strategy and Dr. Pilon masterfully incorporates American history and political philosophy into her work. 
Dr. Pilon argues that “the basic principles of war and peace are transcendent” throughout history and around the world.  What is really unique about this book is that she shows how Sun Tzu’s concepts were applied (admittedly subconsciously) by our Founding Fathers and most importantly that together Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still are applicable to the global geo-strategic environment of the 21st Century.
This book is a critique of American strategy and strategic culture and describes the disease from which we suffer – Strategic Deficit Disorder.  It shows us how standing true to the principles of both Sun Tzu and our Founding Fathers will make us better national security practitioners who strive to practice the “art of peace” as well as the art of war.
Why are Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still relevant?  They have one important trait in common.  They understood human nature and they devised strategies and built our republic in such a way that took human nature into account.  Of course human nature has always been important from Thucydides’ description of realism of fear, honor, and interest, to Clausewitz’ paradoxical trinity of passion, reason, and chance to understanding conflicts in the 21st Century that have been described as a fight for legitimacy among relevant populations.  As we seek to be able to protect U.S. interests in the gray zone between war and peace it is as important to understand the art of peace as it is the art of war.   In the post- 9-11 world we have recognized the importance of the human domain but we can look to Sun Tzu and our founding fathers to understand human nature.
Her basic premise is summarized here:
“… America can no longer afford to sit on the proverbial three-legged (”military, diplomacy, development) national security stool where one leg is a lot longer than either of the other two.  We are so much becoming militarized as decivilianized (with apologies to spell-check).”
Why is this important, especially to the Trump Transition Team?  Because according to Congressman Randy Forbes: "I think that with a President Trump, you'll see him coming out literally within the first few days saying that we are going to have an international defense strategy that is driven by the Pentagon and not by the political National Security Council."  If this is the case we will have four or more years of a decivilianized foreign policy and national security strategy.
Dr. Pilon argues that we need effective statecraft and policy makers, strategists, and statesmen who can practice political warfare that George Kennan defined as using all means at a nation’s command to achieve its objectives short of war.  Our nation’s civilian leadership needs to be well versed in political warfare and the U.S. military, and in particular special operations forces, needs to conduct operations in support of political warfare.
Today’s strategic environment is no longer bi-polar but can be described in terms of the following trinity:
  • Revisionist Powers who seek to disrupt and alter the international system to suit their strategic objectives.
  • Revolutionary Powers who seek to destroy the international system and replace it with one in which they can dominate.
  • Status Quo powers who seek to maintain the strength of the international system by respecting and protecting sovereignty and enforce the rule of law.[i]
To operate in this environment the U.S. needs to be able to conduct political warfare.

(Continued at the link below)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SSP Podcast - Episode 7 - Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell- discuss unconventional warfare (UW), the “gray zone,” and strategy

In case anyone is bored on election day or needs a sleep aid.

Thanks to SSP Alum Jeff Palmer for putting together the SSP Podcast program.  I was honored to join the members of our distinguished SSP faculty and friends of SSP (Professor Richard English) and participating in Jeff's latest podcast episode.  All the podcast episodes can be accessed through iTunes at the link below or from the Center for Security Studies Web page at this link:  These include Bruce Hoffman, Richard English, Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, Ariane Tabatabai, Elizabeth Stanley, and Dan Byman.

Security Studies Podcast - Episode 7 - Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell

ReleasedNov 08, 2016
Episode 7 of the Security Studies Podcast features Col. David Maxwell (Ret.), Associate Director of Georgetown’s Security Studies Program, to discuss unconventional warfare (UW), the “gray zone,” and strategy. We define and conceptualize these terms, cover current examples of the use of UW, discuss the need for the U.S. to develop counter-UW capabilities, and talk about his inspiration to do strategy. Col. Maxwell also shares stories of how his blog came to be ( and of a special memento in his office. The Security Studies Podcast is produced by Jeffrey Palmer. Music:


The Security Studies Podcast
The Security Studies Podcast invites SSP faculty to discuss the most pressing and complex global security issues of today.
Subscribe to The Security Studies Podcast on iTunes here.
Produced by Jeffrey Palmer

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Campaign Plan Phasing: Six-Phase or Unconstrained?

On Campaign Plan Phasing: Six-Phase or Unconstrained? · by David Maxwell · November 3, 2016
In any problem where an opposing force exists and cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative courses. Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life … To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy’s power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954 )
Lauren Fish’s excellent article on the joint phasing construct illustrates the two challenges we have with planning.
On the one hand, we have the science of war that is mainly the concern of “force providers,” the services and joint staff responsible for allocating forces, getting those forces to the theater of operations, and then resupplying them (the major functions of Transportation Command). This is why planners used to say that “the TPFDD [Time Phased Force Deployment Data] is the plan.” The TPFDD drove operations. How and in what order forces arrived in theater drove the plan, though the order of arrival of forces is theoretically based on the theater commander’s requirements. This was the essence of numbered war plans prior to 9/11.
On the other hand, we have actual warfighting. While science plays an enormous role in warfighting because firepower, mass, correlation of forces are so important, the plan must incorporate the art of war to ultimately succeed. In the 1990’s, theater commanders designed the war plans for warfighting and gave requirements for forces to the force provider for resourcing without regard to the four phase construct that Fish shows. That construct was merely illustrative. Some plans had five phases, some had seven, and some even had sub-phases (e.g., phase IIA, phase IIB). Theater commanders and planners enjoyed the latitude to develop a phasing construct that suited the conditions and threats the theater faced. Yes, Fish is correct in that that a common assumption was that an enemy would attack or invade the territory of a friend, partner, or ally and the United States would have to intervene. Still, the plans were not necessarily the “paint by numbers” construct that became the norm with the six-phase template of the post-9/11 world.
Why did we move from a varied phasing construct to the six-phase template? After 9/11, the war on terrorism competed for the many of the same resources as the major theater war plans. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld demanded a way to compare all war plans to ensure that they could be suitably resourced. If they could not be, planners were tasked with identifying risks as the war on terrorism was prosecuted. The simplest way to compare plans was to ensure they all had a standard phasing construct. While the four-phase construct that Fish described was clearly illustrative, it did not tie planners to those four phases. After 9/11, the new joint doctrine forced all planners to follow the same template regardless of the conditions, threats, and political objectives. This makes eminent sense from a resource allocation perspective, but actually hinders campaign planning and the stifles the intellectual rigor required for operational art and support to national strategy. Given the newly termed threats of the “gray zone” and other irregular threats, T.E. Lawrence’s admonition is apt: “Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.” How can we best apply creative thinking and the art of war in a 21st century environment characterized by ambiguous and irregular threats?
(Continued at the link below)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Advice from SOF on the Use of SOF for the Next Administration

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the event and contribute to the discussion.  

Executive summary and table of contents are excerpted below.
Advice from SOF on the Use of SOF for the Next Administration 
Rapporteur: Alexander Powell 
October 2016

Executive Summary 
On October 14, 2016, CNA convened a half-day meeting of experts to discuss the use of special operations forces (SOF) by the next administration. Our speakers consisted of a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and six former SOF Commanders whose rank at retirement ranged from one to four stars. Our audience of approximately 50 attendees consisted largely of active duty SOF and their civilian equivalents. The conversation was held under the Chatham House Rule of non-attribution. The overarching themes of that discussion included the following: 

• The sanctity of SOF. SOF are a limited resource that are most effective when given clear policies and permissive rules of engagement (ROE), when employed and supported in accordance with the “SOF Truths,” and when allowed to have a strong voice in the decisions and policies governing their employment. Our attendees recommended that policymakers and conventional military commanders should: 

Educate themselves—and seek SOF input—on the relative strengths and weaknesses of SOF, and when they should and should not be used. 

Set policy and ROE, and trust that SOF will accomplish the mission, given their flexibility, adaptability, and record of success. 

Recognize that SOF are fully committed and continuing at the present pace of deployments risks burning out the force. Preservation of the force requires growth or relieving SOF of some of its currently assigned missions. 

• Preparation of the policy environment. In strategic policy and resource discussions, SOF are often reliant on non-SOF experts to represent their capabilities and interests. Our attendees recommended that SOF leaders should: Proactively engage influential civilians inside and outside of government in order to educate them on SOF capabilities, limitations, and requirements. 

Seek a more active voice when the use of SOF is considered as a policy option, for example by placing a flag or general officer on the National Security Council Staff. 

Clearly articulate the SOF narrative. For public audiences, this should include who SOF are, what they do, and why—while not revealing methods. For policy audiences, this should include a framework for how to think about SOF using past successes as examples. 

• Balancing the future force. Countering terrorism will initially be a priority for the next administration and SOF will play a central role in this mission. But the U.S. is also facing increasing threats from China and Russia, among others. For SOF to play a role in shaping near-peer adversaries that is commensurate with their core competencies, some rebalancing of the force is required. Our attendees recommended that policymakers and SOF leaders should: Recognize the role that SOF can—and should—play in shaping the environment around rising and resurgent near-peer adversaries. Give SOF greater space, authorities, and resources to act clandestinely in this role. 

Re-examine the balance between surgical strike and special warfare capabilities, personnel, and resources. 

Increase the diversity of the force via greater recruitment of minorities and women, and place an emphasis on their development, mentorship, and retention. Also increase emphasis on language and micro-regional studies. 

Develop SOF’s operational level capabilities, by codifying lessons from the Special Operations Joint Task Forces, resourcing USSOCOM to source and sustain them, and developing planners for SOF-centric campaigns. 

• SOF as a source of innovation. SOF have pioneered numerous technologies and tactics that have benefitted the conventional military. The reasons behind SOF’s ability to innovate include a willingness to rapidly experiment and foster freedom of thought—these should be imitated and reinforced. Our attendees recommended that policymakers and military leaders should: Shift the military service schoolhouses away from teaching mostly conventional war doctrine and “what to think,” to a balance of conventional and unconventional approaches and an emphasis on “how to think.” 

Adjust military service manpower policies to enable non-traditional career paths, new ways of developing leaders, and lateral transfers into service. 

Create a robust intellectual hub at USSOCOM to foster, develop, and transition new technologies and tactics to SOF and the conventional force. 

The next administration will face a multitude of challenges and SOF will continue to play a central role in many of them. The recommendations above will help ensure SOF are as successful for the next administration as they have been for the last one. 
Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 1 
Setting the stage for SOF ..................................................................................................... 1 
Key themes ............................................................................................................................. 3 
The sanctity of SOF ............................................................................................................... 3 
Preparation of the policy environment ............................................................................. 4 
Balancing the future force ................................................................................................... 5 
SOF as a source of innovation ............................................................................................ 7 
Conclusion .............................................................................................................................. 9 

Monday, October 17, 2016

An Information Based Strategy to Reduce Korea’s Increasing Threat

This report is authored by Commander Skip Vincenzo, (US Navy SEAL), who is among the longest serving uniformed officers in Korea in the past two decades.  He assembled a group of Korea hands (page 13 of the report) to work on this project this summer.

Co-published with CNAS, USKI-SAIS, and NDU our Georgetown Security Studies Review.

Special Issue: An Information Based Strategy to Reduce Korea’s Increasing Threat

Special Issue: An Information Based Strategy to Reduce Korea’s Increasing Threat

In cooperation with the Center for a New American Security, National Defense University, and the US-Korea Institute at SAIS, Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and the Georgetown Security Studies Review present a new special report available for download here.

Executive Summary

Deterrence works, until it doesn’t.”—Sir Lawrence Freedman
The United States’ current approach to North Korea does not fundamentally resolve the risks of its belligerent behavior nor halt the development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. As these capabilities are improved, there is greater potential that Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea— confident he can deter a regime-threatening reaction—will attempt a violent provocation to achieve political objectives but in doing so miscalculates and instead sparks a crisis which escalates disastrously. While the United States has contingency plans for a wide range of conflict scenarios, executing them would be extraordinarily costly—the military capabilities Pyongyang has now amassed would inflict catastrophic damage.
James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, has repeatedly warned that Pyongyang is “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States…” and that “North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system…”1 With such a capability, Kim is attempting force the international community to accommodate him to avoid conflict. However, he could underestimate U.S. resolve, which in turn would ignite conflict. If the Kim regime falls, a nuclear-armed, fragmented military could strike the United States.
To avert this, the United States should work with South Korea to develop an information campaign designed to reduce the risks of conflict or regime collapse by convincing regime elites that their best options in these circumstances would be to support ROK-U.S. Alliance efforts. This would require five key elements:
• Enhance our ability to de-escalate a crisis by ensuring that the regime’s elites fully understand the consequences of a war by continually demonstrating the U.S.-ROK Alliance’s advanced military capabilities.
• Reduce the potential for violence by formulating policies that provide credible assurances of amnesty to regime elites and, if they act in ways which support alliance efforts, a beneficial role after the Kim regime collapses or a conflict is resolved on Alliance terms.
• Reduce the humanitarian costs by formulating policies that inform ordinary North Koreans what to expect in a contingency and how to act.
• Reduce civil and military resistance by formulating policies that guarantee North Koreans full rights as citizens of South Korea.
• Mitigate collapse of the civil infrastructure by incentivizing bureaucrats, technicians, and local commanders to protect and maintain critical facilities.
Reducing the wartime damage the North could inflict and lessening the potential chaos of collapse would provide renewed leverage for the U.S.-ROK Alliance to de-escalate a crisis before it erupts. However, if crisis does occur, this strategy would enable a more favorable and less costly conclusion.