Saturday, August 31, 2013

Land of Mystery (north Korea)

I know I have recommended both these books before, but this review provides some interesting commentary about and history of north Korea.  And I think Sheila is going to be in DC this month giving a book talk and I will definitely try to attend.  And we should pay attention to this short paragraph (though I think for many of the reasons outlined in both books I do not think China can absorb north Korea economically much more than it already has as long as the Kim Family Regime continues to exist – but it will try hard to exploit its relationship with China to ensure its survival – but in the end it will bite the hand that feeds it.)

Whether such stability will last over the long term is a different matter. Both Jager and Lankov contend that North Korea cannot resist change forever, though they offer different visions of the nation’s likely future. Jager foresees the country’s gradual absorption into an economic sphere controlled by Beijing. Lankov touches on that scenario but stresses the possibility of dramatic political upheaval resulting in the disintegration of the North Korean regime.
August 30, 2013

Land of Mystery



The Unending Conflict in Korea
By Sheila Miyoshi Jager
Illustrated. 605 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $35.


Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
By Andrei Lankov
Illustrated. 283 pp. Oxford University Press. $27.95.
A quarter-century ago, North Korea seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse. The end of the cold war in the late 1980s and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 suggested that the era of reclusive Communist dictatorships was over. How, asked hopeful observers around the world, could Kim Il-sung’s Stalinist wasteland possibly survive under the pressure of its spectacular economic failures and the tide of democracy and capitalism rising around its borders?
Things got even worse for North Korea in the years that followed. Chinese leaders lost interest in propping up a regime they believed to be doomed. Deprived of foreign support, North Korea descended into a hellish famine that killed between 600,000 and one million of its citizens, an astonishing 3 to 5 percent of the total population, between 1995 and 1998. Perhaps most dangerous of all to the government in Pyongyang, desperate North Koreans responded to starvation by planting private gardens and setting up local markets, displays of grass-roots entrepreneurship that struck at the core of the government’s authority.
And yet North Korea not only survived the 1990s but lives on today with no end in sight. Despite some concessions to economic necessity, North Korea’s essential character remains unchanged, and the family dynasty founded by Kim Il-sung in the 1940s persists without apparent challenge.
How can we explain the remarkable longevity of a regime that, by all rights, should have landed in the dustbin of history long ago? This question lies at the heart of two superb new books. As both studies argue, understanding North Korea, too often dismissed as a merely irrational and reckless pariah, is the starting point for devising sensible policy to manage the dangers that it poses.
Sheila Miyoshi Jager, a professor of East Asian studies at Oberlin College, and Andrei Lankov, a professor of history at Koomkin University in Seoul, South Korea, approach the question in different but equally fascinating ways. In “Brothers at War,” Jager focuses on the international arena, examining how the United States, China and Russia have competed for control on the Korean Peninsula since World War II. More than half of the book provides an elegant and balanced, if not especially innovative, history of the Korean War. Thereafter, Jager enters less familiar terrain, examining why the division of North and South Korea has endured ever since the fighting stopped in 1953.
(Continued at the link below)

State Department Spox Calls North Korea the ‘DPRK’

I just have to chuckle at the issues that people jump on to criticize our government to support their own agendas. In this case Mr. Epstein is throwing stones in a glass house.  If he really wants to be consistent with his theme then he should not be capitalizing the "n" in north Korea.  In his haste to denigrate the State Department spokesperson ("Spox") he provides north Korea with equal legitimacy to South Korea (or the ROK) by capitalizing the "n." Perhaps Mr. Epstein out to find something more substantive to comment on.

State Department Spox Calls North Korea the ‘DPRK’

Joins China Daily, Pravda, and KCNA.

4:03 PM, AUG 30, 2013 • BY ETHAN EPSTEIN
When it comes to North Korea, it’s helpful to keep a simple rule of thumb in mind: don’t trust anybody who refers to the country as the “DPRK.” (That would be the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the country’s official – and yes, bleakly ironic – name.) Calling North Korea the “DPRK” is not only woefully misleading – there’s nothing democratic, republican, or people-oriented about the brutal dictatorship – but it also lends legitimacy to the ruling regime. It’s little surprise that those who call North Korea the “DPRK” constitute a real rogue’s gallery: the China Daily and Xinhua, China’s state-run news sources, both do so, as does Moscow’s Pravda, and of course KCNA, the North Korean news service. Non-authoritarian news sources, meanwhile call a spade a spade. Heck, even the New York Times always refers to North Korea as North Korea. 
Foggy Bottum
It would appear, however, that our own State Department does not. In an announcement today that North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a visit to a U.S. envoy, State Department spokesman Marie Harf first said in a written statement that she was "surprised and disappointed by North Korea's decision" before adding, "We have sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King's trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date.”

(Continued at the link below)

Friday, August 30, 2013

U.S. spy agencies mounted 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, documents show

More from the Snowden and Greenwald circus. Is there anyone who still thinks these guys are among the worst traitors in US history?  Can anyone defend their criminal actions?

U.S. spy agencies mounted 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, documents show

By Barton Gellman and , Friday, August 30, 9:00 PM

U.S. intelligence services carried out 231 offensive cyber-
operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and war, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.
That disclosure, in a classified intelligence budget provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, provides new evidence that the Obama administration’s growing ranks of cyberwarriors infiltrate and disrupt foreign computer networks.

Additionally, under an extensive effort code-named GENIE, U.S. computer specialists break into foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious U.S. control. Budget documents say the $652 million project has placed “covert implants,” sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand those numbers into the millions.

The documents provided by Snowden and interviews with former U.S. officials describe a campaign of computer intrusions that is far broader and more aggressive than previously understood. The Obama administration treats all such cyber-
operations as clandestine and declines to acknowledge them.

The scope and scale of offensive operations represent an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers.

“The policy debate has moved so that offensive options are more prominent now,” said former deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III, who has not seen the budget document and was speaking generally. “I think there’s more of a case made now that offensive cyberoptions can be an important element in deterring certain adversaries.”

Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011, the budget said, nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document provided few other details about the operations.

Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges in attacks in 2009 and 2010, is often cited as the most dramatic use of a cyberweapon. Experts said no other known cyberattacks carried out by the United States match the physical damage inflicted in that case.

U.S. agencies define offensive cyber-operations as activities intended “to manipulate, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information resident in computers or computer networks, or the computers and networks themselves,” according to a presidential directive issued in October 2012.

Most offensive operations have immediate effects only on data or the proper functioning of an adversary’s machine: slowing its network connection, filling its screen with static or scrambling the results of basic calculations. Any of those could have powerful effects if they caused an adversary to botch the timing of an attack, lose control of a computer or miscalculate locations.

U.S. intelligence services are making routine use around the world of government-built malware that differs little in function from the “advanced persistent threats” that U.S. officials attribute to China. The principal difference, U.S. officials told The Post, is that China steals U.S. corporate secrets for financial gain.

“The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an e-mailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

‘Millions of implants’

The administration’s cyber-
operations sometimes involve what one budget document calls “field operations” abroad, commonly with the help of CIA operatives or clandestine military forces, “to physically place hardware implants or software modifications.”

Much more often, an implant is coded entirely in software by an NSA group called Tailored Access Operations (TAO). As its name suggests, TAO builds attack tools that are custom-fitted to their targets.
The NSA unit’s software engineers would rather tap into networks than individual computers because there are usually many devices on each network. Tailored Access Operations has software templates to break into common brands and models of “routers, switches and firewalls from multiple product vendor lines,” according to one document describing its work.

The implants that TAO creates are intended to persist through software and equipment upgrades, to copy stored data, “harvest” communications and tunnel into other connected networks. This year TAO is working on implants that “can identify select voice conversations of interest within a target network and exfiltrate select cuts,” or excerpts, according to one budget document. In some cases, a single compromised device opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.

Sometimes an implant’s purpose is to create a back door for future access. “You pry open the window somewhere and leave it so when you come back the owner doesn’t know it’s unlocked, but you can get back in when you want to,” said one intelligence official, who was speaking generally about the topic and was not privy to the budget. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

Under U.S. cyberdoctrine, these operations are known as “exploitation,” not “attack,” but they are essential precursors both to attack and defense.
(Continued at the link below)

What happens in Syria after the Tomahawks hit?

The headline question to Tara's piece is exactly right: What comes next?

But rather than my normal plea for balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means, I would like to ask if anyone can describe what success looks like? Making the assumption that we care going to conduct a limited strike (both in terms of means and time), I would like to read a narrative description of a successful outcome. Not in terms of achieving the end state (assuming one can be determined) or various objectives but a description of what success looks like after we conduct a limited attack. This would be various versions of the vision that the leaders calling for strikes should have and be able to articulate.   It can be described in terms of the instruments of power (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) and from various perspectives:  e.g., What doe success look like for the US, for NATO/EU, for the region, for the UN, for the rebels and for the Syrian people? It can be tangible and intangible (e.g. prevents future use of chemical weapons) Can anyone provide a narrative description of success?  And then of course we should compare that with narrative descriptions of failure as well.

As a thought experiment I would like to see all the supporters of limited strike describe what failure looks like in various forms and all those opposed to limited strikes describe what success looks like and then compare the various versions before we decide what to do.  I would like to hear administration, congressional, and military leaders describe their visions for success and failure.

29 August 2013 Last updated at 21:59 ET

What happens in Syria after the Tomahawks hit?

By Tara McKelveyBBC News Magazine
US officials hope that any military assault on Syria will be surgical and limited. But what does the US do after the missiles or bombs have fallen?
It could go either way. The US may attack - or may not. "I've not made a decision," US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.
Mr Obama has maintained that if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons, the US will act militarily.
And last week, according to US officials, President Bashar al-Assad's forces deployed poison gas against rebels in a Damascus suburb. More than 1,000 people, including women and children, were reported killed.
Syrian government officials say they did not use chemical weapons, but the US is ready to act.
'We are prepared'
UN inspectors are looking for evidence of a gas attack in the Damascus suburb, and plan to finish their work on Friday.
Meanwhile officials in Washington DC are laying the groundwork for military operations.
"We are prepared," Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC.
If US officials proceed with military operations, they will likely be supported by Turkey and France, at least in some fashion. They will not have the backing of the UK, where Parliament on Thursday night rejected a government motion supporting intervention in Syria.
Nor is the UN Security Council expected to support an attack, because the Russians are opposed.
The US military would most likely use Tomahawk cruise missiles for an attack on the Syrian government forces. These missiles are now stored on destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean.
The missiles would not be fired at places where chemical weapons might be stored, since poisonous gas could spread or chemical agents could fall into the wrong hands.
Instead, military facilities would be targeted - radio centres, command posts and missile launchers, says Douglas Ollivant, who served as an operations officer with the Army's Fifth Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.
The initial military operation would be fast.
Public opinion
"It would be a fairly short, sharp action - much like Operation Desert Fox," a 1998 military operation in Iraq, says Peter Mansoor, an Ohio State University professor of military history who served as executive officer for David Petraeus, a retired US Army general, in Iraq.
(Continued at the link below)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

North Korea tops list of critical US intelligence gaps

Now Snowden and Greenwald really piss me off.  I thought they were all about exposing alleged privacy law violations by the NSA.  I thought they were touting that they were acting responsibly with the information they stole from the US government and they vowed to do no harm to the US? Why are they revealing some of the most classified information of our government?  Now they are getting into areas with which I am really concerned (Korea).  This information can breath new life into the north's nuclear plans as they know that their deception efforts can pay off since (according to our budget documents that require justification for funds) we supposedly cannot gain intelligence on the north's program.  Such knowledge will be useful to the Kim Family Regime in multiple ways from military preparations to the negotiating table.  Snowden and Greenwald need to be hunted down and after due process leading to convictions need to go share a cell with Chelsea Manning (though of course they will have to go to a Supermax and not the Disciplinary Barracks at Ft Leavenworth).

North Korea tops list of critical US intelligence gaps

By Carlo Muñoz 08/29/13 03:12 PM ET
Gaining insight into North Korea's secretive nuclear weapons program is one of the the top challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community. 

That issue is among several that have created severe blind spots American intelligence officials are struggling to close, according to classified documents leaked to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. 

Details on the intelligence community's threat assessment was included in the White House's classified fiscal year 2013 budget for intelligence operations, handed over to the Post by Snowden. 

The administration’s 178-page summary of its 2014 budget request for the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community also provides an assessment of the agencies’ successes, failures and primary objectives, the Post reported on Thursday. 

Of the 50 top counter terrorism threats facing the United States, American intelligence agencies have made "moderate progress" on 38 of those objectives. 

As part of that assessment, intelligence officials noted that lack of insight into Pyongyang's nuclear program tops the list of so-called "critical" gaps in American espionage and counterterrorism efforts. 

Among the foreign nations aspiring to become nuclear powers, Washington has the least visibility into the inner workings of the North Korean program. 

In April, Director of National Security James Clapper told Congress that keeping tabs on the North Korean regime has become an uphill battle for U.S. intelligence. 

"I ... have to say that North Korea, of course, is now and always has been one of the, if not the toughest intelligence targets," Clapper told members of the House intelligence committee at the time. 

That blind spot in U.S. intelligence operations nearly came to a head earlier this year, when provocations by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un brought the region to the brink of war. 
(Continued at the link below)

Kim Jong-un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot by Firing Squad'

I am sure this and the Telegraph articles are part of the circular reporting.  I wonder what the source is on this.

But I did receive this pithy comment from a Korea hand from the first report I sent on this:

What “scholars” and “intell analysts” were saying that he would be “different” than his father?

Kim Jong-un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot by Firing Squad'

Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend was among a dozen well-known North Korean performers who were executed by firing squad on Aug. 20, reports said Wednesday.

Sources in China said singer Hyon Song-wol as well as Mun Kyong-jin, head of the Unhasu Orchestra, were arrested on Aug. 17 for violating North Korean laws against pornography and were executed in public three days later. 

The victims of the atrocity were members of the Unhasu Orchestra as well as singers, musicians and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band. 

They were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos. The tapes have apparently gone on sale in China as well. 

A source said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents.
Left: This screen capture from North Korean Central TV shows North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un clapping during a concert in Pyongyang on Aug. 8.; Right: Hyun Song-wol sings during a concert in Pyongyang on Aug. 8.Left: This screen capture from North Korean Central TV shows North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un clapping during a concert in Pyongyang on Aug. 8.; Right: Hyun Song-wol sings during a concert in Pyongyang on Aug. 8.
Kim met Hyon about a decade ago, before either of them was married. But he was later ordered to break off the relationship by his father Kim Jong-il and she married a soldier. Since then there have been rumors that the two were having an affair.

Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju was also a member of the Unhasu Orchestra before she married him. Whether she had any hand in the executions is unclear. The Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band have apparently been disbanded due to the latest scandal. 
(Continued at the link below)

How an Insular Beltway Elite Makes Wars of Choice More Likely

What a beautiful photo of the Washington Monument below.

But I digress. This article is quite a critique on the Washington elite and something for all national security practitioners and thinks to consider:

I'd never claim to be a foreign-policy expert. But I know enough to scoff when The Weekly Standardgrants "expert" status to Karl Rove, and to discount the prognostication skills of everyone who urged American intervention in Iraq without the faintest idea of what would follow. But in D.C., expert status is never taken away for being repeatedly, catastrophically wrong.
"Legitimacy" in these circles is a matter of social standing and institutional affiliations, not knowledge or track record.
Then there are all the stories about how Obama's credibility depends on him striking Syria. Isn't that something? A president's credibility hinging on him doing something just 9 percent of Americans want him to do! It only makes sense if the unwritten thought is, "His credibility among people who matter." D.C. people, who inflate the importance of rhetoric and looking tough. If Obama doesn't intervene in Syria, his credibility among the American people won't suffer at all.
Washington elites are doing all they can to diminish the people's ability to exert pressure in foreign affairs. The Constitution vested the war power in the legislature so that decisions about war and peace would be debated by elected officials from every community in the country -- people easily reached by their constituents and not personally empowered by war. The legislature isn't nearly as enamored of executive-branch wisdom as executive-branch staffers are. 


How an Insular Beltway Elite Makes Wars of Choice More Likely

By Conor Friedersdorf

washington DC full.jpgReuters
Intervention in Syria is extremely, undeniably unpopular.

"Americans strongly oppose U.S. intervention and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if reports that Syria's government used deadly chemicals to attack civilians are confirmed," Lesley Wroughton of Reuters reported August 24. "About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria's civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act." And if there were proof that Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons? Even then, just one in four Americans favors intervention.

The citizenry wants us to stay out of this conflict. And there is no legislative majority pushing for intervention. A declaration of war against Syria would almost certainly fail in Congress. Yet the consensus in the press is that President Obama faces tremendous pressure to intervene. In fact, the same Reuters reporter, Lesley Wroughton, co-bylined another piece last week that began:
With his international credibility seen increasingly on the line, President Barack Obama on Thursday faced growing calls at home and abroad for forceful action against the Syrian government over accusations it carried out a massive new deadly chemical weapons attack ...

If allegations of a large-scale chemical attack are verified -- Syria's government has denied them -- Obama will surely face calls to move more aggressively, possibly even with military force, in retaliation for repeated violations of U.S. "red lines." Obama's failure to confront Assad with the serious consequences he has long threatened would likely reinforce a global perception of a president preoccupied with domestic matters and unwilling to act decisively in the volatile Middle East, a picture already set by his mixed response to the crisis in Egypt.
Where is this pressure coming from? Strangely, that question doesn't even occur to a lot of news organizations. Take this CBS story. The very first sentence says, "The Obama administration faced new pressure Thursday to take action on Syria." New pressure from whom? The story proceeds as if it doesn't matter. How can readers judge how much weight the pressure should carry? Pressure from hundreds of thousands of citizens in the streets confers a certain degree of legitimacy. So does pressure from a just-passed House bill urging a certain course of action, or even unanimous pressure from all of the experts on a given subject. 
What I'd like is if news accounts on pressure to intervene in Syria made it clear that the "growing calls ... for forceful action" aren't coming from the people, or Congressional majorities, or an expert consensus. The pressure is being applied by a tiny, insular elite that mostly lives in Washington, D.C., and isn't bothered by the idea of committing America to military action that most Americans oppose. Nor are they bothered by the president launching a war of choice without Congressional approval, even though Obama declared as a candidate that such a step would be illegal. Some of them haven't even thought through the implications of the pressure they're applying.
Why is their pro-war pressure legitimized as the prevailing story line, despite the fact that they hold a minority position, even as pressure against intervention -- that is to say, the majority position --  is all but ignored? Consider a variation on the "pressure" story that isn't written, though it would be accurate:
(Continued at the link below)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

U.S. Facing Test on Data to Back Action on Syria

This article makes me think of the Churchill quote above that seems very relevant to current events. I think I will leave it up until after the situation in Syria is resolved.

August 28, 2013

U.S. Facing Test on Data to Back Action on Syria

By  and
WASHINGTON - The evidence of a massacre is undeniable: the bodies of the dead lined up on hospital floors, those of the living convulsing and writhing in pain and a declaration from a respected international aid group that thousands of Syrians were gassed with chemical weapons last week.
And yet the White House faces steep hurdles as it prepares to make the most important public intelligence presentation since February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a dramatic and detailed case for war to the United Nations Security Council using intelligence - later discredited - about Iraq’s weapons programs.
More than a decade later, the Obama administration says the information it will make public, likely on Thursday, will show proof of a large-scale chemical attack perpetrated by Syrian forces, bolstering its case for a retaliatory military strike on Syria.
Yet with the botched intelligence about Iraq still casting a long shadow over decisions about waging war in the Middle East, the White House faces an American public deeply skeptical about being drawn into the Syrian conflict and a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties angry about the prospect of an American president once again going to war without Congressional consultation or approval.
American officials said Wednesday there was no “smoking gun” that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack, and they tried to lower expectations about the public intelligence presentation. They said it will not contain specific electronic intercepts of communications between Syrian commanders or detailed reporting from spies and sources on the ground.
But even without hard evidence tying Mr. Assad to the attack, administration officials asserted, the Syrian leader bears ultimate responsibility for the actions of his troops and should be held accountable.
“The commander in chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership,” said the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf - even if, she added, “He’s not the one who pushes the button or says ‘go’ on this.”
(Continued at the link below)


Ryan Evans provides wise counsel.  I think rereading John Collins' 1995 essay is timely. I have pasted it below for ease of access.

Things to remember before going to war in Syria


August 26, 2013 · in 

“No one starts a war -or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”
-Carl von Clausewitz, On War
President Obama has cried “Havoc!” over the use of chemical weapons in Syria. With warships dispatched to the Eastern Mediterranean, has he also let slip the dogs of war?
I have pushed Colonel John Collins’ “Military Intervention: A Checklist of Key Considerations” before and now I do so again.  Before we involve ourselves in yet another Middle Eastern conflict, I hope the President and his national security team are prepared to answer these questions and more.

Military Intervention: A Checklist of Key Considerations


Circumstances under which the United States should intervene militarily on behalf of threatened US interests overseas became the subject of intense debate in 1984, when Secretary of Defense Weinberger prescribed six preconditions that received mixed reviews.[1] Disputes within and between the executive and legislative branches have intensified since post-Cold War complexities replaced the US-Soviet confrontation.[2] Criteria for employing US armed forces as foreign policy instruments are still in flux.[3] It is possible to identify considerations that might help US leaders determine whether military power is appropriate in any given instance, including cases that are benign to begin with. Insights in seven categories familiar to strategists--national interests, threats, political-military objectives, policy guidance, planning options, resources, and public opinion--could help underpin decisions to intervene or abstain and to ascertain whether ongoing military operations seem warranted. Policymakers must determine which interests are worth a fight, relationships between political objectives and the means to attain them, and alternatives in the event that preferred options fail.
Key Considerations
Whether, where, when, and how to intervene militarily pose problems that call for subjective judgments. Secretary Weinberger prescribed "six major tests to be applied when we are weighing the use of US combat forces abroad": the presence of "vital" US or allied interests; clear intent to win; precise objectives and ways to accomplish them; "reasonable" assurance of public support; military action as a last resort; continual reassessment and adjustments as events unfold. The considerations identified below, unlike Weinberger's preconditions, recognize that there are no immutable and universally applicable rules for decisions about interventions. Each case is unique. The following checklists therefore pose questions rather than answers.
National Interests
Military intervention in the absence of highly valued interests often is difficult to justify. Interests that directly affect US national security normally take precedence over all others. The only vital interest is national survival with sovereignty, territorial integrity, fundamental institutions, and values acceptably intact. Other valid interests, including traditional life styles and concerns for international order, are worth preserving. The advisability of military action is most evident when practical political or economic interests are strong. International interests in petroleum, for example, helped create a potent coalition after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, whereas mainly humanitarian motives thus far have failed to solidify unilateral US or multilateral support for military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Intangible interests nevertheless may sometimes prove compelling. National credibility, a necessary asset for any nation that wants to lead, is among them.
A checklist that connects national interests with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Which US and allied interests are pertinent? Are they compatible?
  • Which of them are worth spending US lives for?
  • What is their order of precedence?
Threats to National Interests
Threats to valued national interests vary with regard to imminence and intensity. Decisionmakers who hope to avoid wrong wars at wrong times with wrong enemies cannot rationally conclude that military initiatives would be best until they consider alternatives, appraise probable risks, and prioritize each threat. Those processes first demand intelligence estimates that evaluate enemy capabilities, limitations, and potential responses to US options, supplemented by net assessments that dispassionately compare friendly and enemy postures, with particular attention to geographical contexts.
A checklist that connects threats with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Which perceived threats menace US national interests most severely?
  • Which of those threats are susceptible to mainly military solutions?
  • How do enemy cultures, capabilities, and geography affect the ability of the United States and its allies or prospective coalition partners to counter threats militarily?
  • What might be the long-term consequences of an opponent's success?
Political Aims and Military Missions
Political aims and military missions prescribe for US armed forces what must be done to safeguard national interests against perceived threats. Like interests, they should be prioritized to allow the application of resources for the most important purposes. Explicit statements are commendable, because unrealistic tasks and speculative requirements otherwise result. Political aims and military missions are best developed in collaboration to ensure compatibility; the US experience in Vietnam, for example, was adversely influenced by senior commanders and their civilian superiors who pursued incompatible outcomes. While it is a truism that no plan survives contact, decisionmakers must nevertheless guard against so-called "mission creep," which incrementally (sometimes inadvertently) amplifies ends well beyond the original intent of a plan and hence the ways and means available to attain them. Humanitarian purposes, for example, initially inspired US operations in Somalia; the subsequent switch to peacemaking and nation development opened a gulf between goals and deployed capabilities. Disputes among the United States, the United Nations, NATO, and other allies can be dangerously disruptive if unresolved, as in Bosnia where some prefer peacekeeping while others believe peace enforcement should be the main goal.
Desirable objectives seek a better situation than prevailed before US armed forces intervened. Military victory is only one satisfactory end, despite General MacArthur's admonition that there is no substitute for it. As defined in this article, success is attained if the United States achieves sound objectives in acceptable time at acceptable costs.
A checklist that connects political aims and military missions with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Are political aims clearly expressed and militarily attainable?
  • Are the aims of the United States, the UN, and allied or coalition partners harmonious?
  • Are political objectives and military missions mutually supportive and reinforcing?
  • Would attainment of US aims alleviate the most serious problems in the afflicted state or region?
  • What political-military and economic costs would accompany failure?
Strategic and Policy Guidance
Strategic and policy guidance, including military rules of engagement, can simplify or complicate the preparation of plans and the attainment of objectives. US policymakers were relatively unconcerned about damage and enemy casualties during World War II, because unconditional surrender was the goal in a "total war" and our principal allies were fighting for survival. US leaders, in sharp contrast, imposed strict restrictions on military operations throughout the Cold War to reduce the likelihood of a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. Manchuria remained a "privileged sanctuary" while combat raged in Korea. President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense McNamara personally directed US naval blockades during the Cuban missile crisis. Restraints tightened to prevent a wider war after US forces intervened massively in Vietnam. Sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia were long off limits to US forces; President Johnson picked many targets; graduated responses seemed to apply military power grudgingly. US policymakers, most prominently since Desert Storm, have been reluctant to engage in any armed conflict that promises to be protracted, cause even a few US casualties, or endanger noncombatants. They are prone to consider force only as a last resort, although early decisive action occasionally might quell incipient crises before they become intractable.
A checklist that connects strategic and policy guidance with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Are policies compatible with political aims and military missions?
  • Could some policy restrictions be safely relaxed?
  • Should a time limit be placed on military operations?
  • What costs are acceptable in terms of resources and casualties?
Planning Options
US national security planners balance interests and capabilities against risks and costs, taking policy guidance into account, as they search for feasible, suitable, flexible, and politically acceptable solutions to intervention problems. They advise decisionmakers about the relative roles that diplomacy and military power should play, which missions US armed forces might most appropriately perform, and which might better be left to allies. DOD routinely prepares contingency plans to avoid injurious surprise if crises erupt on short notice, but since precise circumstances are unpredictable, planners cannot anticipate every eventuality. Prior planning nevertheless enables senior officials to reach sound broad conclusions about military intervention much sooner than starting from scratch.
Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie, in his treatise entitled Military Strategy, identified "planning for certitude as the greatest of all military mistakes."[4] Judicious planners consequently ask themselves "What if this or that happens?" and carefully consider alternative courses of action even when response times are short, then devise substitute Options B, C, and D for implementation if preferred Option A is precluded or fails to produce expected results. One school of thought contends that no action at all is preferable to interventions that risk failure, because accompanying costs would be too high. George Shultz, when he was Secretary of State, spoke for a second school whose members believe that appeasement may invite aggression; that the United States is morally obligated to assist allies with whom it has security commitments; and that it "must bear responsibility for the consequences of its inaction. . . . We cannot opt out of every contest," he continued. "If we do, the world's future will be determined by others--most likely by those who are . . . most hostile to our deeply held principles."[5]
A checklist that connects planning options with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • How might adversaries react to any given option advanced by the United States and its allies or coalition partners?
  • How could US, allied, or coalition forces best share the burdens of an intervention?
  • What alternatives appear most attractive if preferred options fail?
  • What political and economic price may be incurred for inaction?
Competition for scarce resources always is fierce, but the best laid plans are useful only if ends (specified as desired outcomes) and means (forces and funds) match reasonably well, with enough in reserve to cope if other current threats loom large. Shortfalls create risks. Reconciliations are required whenever the military balance becomes so unfavorable that important US interests appear vulnerable, objectives appear unrealistic, and commanders anticipate excessively high casualties. Improvements then await decisions to reduce ambitions, add assets, or both.
Repeated operations not directly related to US security, though of value, may expend so much of our operations and maintenance (O&M) funds that little is left to invest in future readiness. The choice then is to cut commitments, increase resources, or both. Multilateral participation might be imperative, although allies and coalitions often impose constraints and require a political or economic quid pro quo.
A checklist that connects resources with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Are allocated resources ample for the current contingency?
  • Could remaining resources handle other likely crises?
  • How many reserve component forces of what kinds would be needed?
  • How could allies or coalition partners contribute? Should they? Would they?
Congressional and Public Support
The extent of popular and congressional support ideally should be clear before we undertake a military intervention, but that may not always be the case. Circumstances could force action before approval can be determined; approval also could prove to be transitory. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 10 August 1964, which endorsed intervention in Vietnam, received only two dissenting votes in Congress, but enthusiasm faded fast after the Tet offensive in 1968. The task of statesmanship therefore is to develop and sustain support for foreign policy initiatives that will involve armed intervention. Compelling interests, sensible objectives, and reasonable prospects for success usually are required to sustain the opinion of the American people and US allies.
The news media exerts a powerful influence on US and world opinion by deciding which crises to publicize and which to ignore. Real-time pictures of starving Somali children, for example, helped spur decisions to intervene, while famine in inaccessible Sudan still receives scant notice.
A checklist that connects public opinion with military intervention might typically include the following entries:
  • Has the President clearly explained the purposes of intervention?
  • Did prior consultation indicate congressional approval?
  • Are US interests and objectives sufficiently compelling to attract and retain public support?
  • Has media coverage overemphasized the crisis concerned?
  • How important is public support to our likely adversaries? Are they better able to develop and sustain it than the United States and US allies?
Military intervention operations, no matter how innocuously they begin, may eventually make US soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen lay their lives on the line. The President, Congress, and their advisers therefore would be wise to repeatedly scrutinize pertinent national interests, threats, objectives, policies, plans, resources, public opinion, and priorities before and after military intervention begins to ascertain whether corrective actions are required. A composite checklist comparable in function to those in this article could assist such assessments.

1. Media response to Weinberger's "tests" is available in Secretary Weinberger's National Press Club Speech, Washington, Current News Special Edition No. 1244, DOD, 8 January 1985. That speech plus nine other official views are reproduced in Stephen Daggett and Nina Serafino, The Use of Force: Key Contemporary Documents, Rpt. Nr. 94-805F, Washington, Congressional Research Service, 17 October 1994.
2. For some contemporary points and counterpoints, see US Congress, House Rept. 104-18, Parts 1, 2, 3, National Security Revitalization Act, Report Together With Additional and Dissenting Views, 104th Congress, 1st Session, 6 February 1995, 166 p.; Ann Devroy, "President, Dole Divide Over Foreign Policy," The Washington Post, 2 March 1995, p. 1; Senator Bob Dole, "Shaping America's Global Future," Foreign Policy, No. 98 (Spring 1995), 29-43.
3. Past practices are summarized by Mark M. Lowenthal and Robert L. Goldich in Use of Force by the United States: Case Studies, 1950-1991, Rpt. Nr. 92-757, Washington, Congressional Research Service, 14 October 1992. Stanley R. Sloan analyzes present trends in The United States and the Use of Force in the Post-Cold War World: Toward Self-Deterrence?, CRS Rpt. Nr. 94-581S, 20 July 1994.
4. J. C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1967), p. 85.
5. "Shultz vs. Weinberger--When to Use Power," U.S. News & World Report, 24 December 1984, pp. 20-21.

John M. Collins is the Senior Specialist in National Defense with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. He enlisted in the Army as a private in 1942 and retired with the rank of colonel in 1972. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas City and holds a master's degree from Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is also a graduate of the Army Command General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the National War College. He was chief of the Campaign Planning Group, Vietnam, in 1967-68. He is the author of ten books, including Grand Strategy: Principles and Practices (Naval Institute Press, 1973), and many major Library of Congress publications.

Reviewed 25 November 1996. Please send comments or corrections to

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