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Sunday, April 27, 2003

Desirable Instability
Stability, America's Enemy by Ralph Peters : Perceptive and knowledgeable, Peters never ceases to amaze me. This essay is one of his classics, and in it he makes a compelling argument that a blind commitment to stability as and ends unto itself is not necessarily the best idea.
America's finest values are sacrificed to keep bad governments in place, dysfunctional borders intact, and oppressed human beings well-behaved. In one of the greatest acts of self-betrayal in history, the nation that long was the catalyst of global change and which remains the beneficiary of international upheaval has made stability its diplomatic god.
As I noted below, the US has a tendency to hold stability sacred, and it has proved to be a mistake as we've strived to maintain a bad status quo. We need to lock Peters and Wass de Czege in room together and see what they come up with.

Peters, by the way, is the most intelligent commentator I've seen during this war. He has been writing editorials (such as this one) for the NY Post at a feverish pace, and though the pieces are less... polished than the above Parameters piece, they are no less perceptive. Its difficult to find previous pieces on the NY Post website, though. Perhaps I'll try and collect some of his better ones, as they don't seem to be inacessible...
Posted by Mark on April 27, 2003 at 11:00 PM .: link :.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Positive Ends
Towards a Strategy of Positive Ends by Huba Wass de Czege and Antulio J. Echevarria II [pdf version] : America's role in the world today is a bit of a question mark, and it has been since the end of the Cold War. There have been a lot of proposals by defense planners in recent years, but few of them go beyond the Cold War paradigm of threat-based strategic thinking. Such proposals are based on preventative measures (deterring or defeating specific threats, for example), but prevention is a negative aim; this document proposes an effort of creating positive conditions, those that promote long-term peace, stability, and prosperity. The strength of such a strategy is that it would prevent many threats before they emerge in the first place. Interestingly, this strategy differs from its preventative alternatives in that it is oriented toward achieving a condition, rather than preparing to respond to specific threats. The major weakness of this approach is that others could misconstrue its goals as a form of Pax Americana. Another weakness is that positive aims generally require more energy and resources than its alternatives do.
These weaknesses notwithstanding, a strategy built around positive ends permits the United States to define its vital interests in terms of conditions-such as peace, freedom, rule of law, and economic prosperity-rather than as the containment or defeat of inimical state or non-state actors.
In theory, I rather like this optimistic approach, but there were some worrying aspects of the essay that make it seem as if a strategy of positive ends might not be as practically applicable as it may seem. In particular, though it does away with the Cold War notion of threat based analysis (which depends entirely on developing a correct list of threats and could fail when confronted with a new or emerging threat which our forces are not trained or equipped to handle), it stubbornly holds to the notion that stability above all is the most important factor of international policy. At a high level, of course, stability is something to be desired, but not at the expense of the overall good. Particularly worrying is the assertion that a good example of achieving positive ends is the non-military sanctions applied to Iraq during the 90s.

Still, this is an interesting proposal, but it's worth noting that it was published in September of 2001, at which point, the world and America's place in it changed drastically. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest triumphs of the present war in Iraq owes its success (at least partially) to the theories of one of the authors: Huba Wass de Czege. In 1982, Wass de Czege rewrote US Army doctrine, outlining a strategy emphasizing agility, speed, maneuver, and deep strikes well behind enemy lines. In 1983, he founded the School for Advanced Military Studies, which was set up explicitly to start implementing this new doctrine. By the time Desert Storm got underway, his ideas had begun to take hold and were important to the ground campaign. When we went to Afghanistan, Wass de Czege's ideas had taken an even stronger hold, as the campaign was truly a cooperative effort (one of his goals was to create a military which coordinated efforts between several branches of the armed services ) The most amazing thing about Operation Iraqi Freedom has been the agility, flexibility and active cooperation among all branches of the armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) and special operations.

Writing a new doctrine is one thing, but having it actually work on the battlefield is a true achievement, and one has to wonder how much weight ideas such as this strategy of positive ends carries... I suppose now is the perfect time to implement this strategy of positive ends; Iraq is truly in need of a serious commitment of resources and energy to bring about a peaceful, prosperous, free state, and such a commitment could seriously imply further reform on the region. If we're able to overcome the weaknesses of this strategy (i.e., being portrayed as Pax Americana), I could see it succeeding...

Update 4.27.03 - More on the US mistake of valuing stability above all here.
Posted by Mark on April 18, 2003 at 07:40 PM .: link :.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Living in Historic Times
"Wars have a way of overriding the days just before them. In the looking back, there is such noise and gravity. But we are conditioned to forget. So that the war may have more importance, yes, but still... isn't the hidden machinery easier to see in the days leading up to the event? There are arrangements, things to be expedited... and often the edges are apt to lift, briefly, and we see things we were not meant to...." - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, page 474.
Human beings tend to remember an uncompleted task better than a completed one, ostensibly because an uncompleted task has no closure, and thus our mind must continually work to acheive closure. This is a drastic oversimplification of what pyschologists call the Zeigarnik effect, and you can observe it in action in schools and restaruants across the world. Make a student take the same test he took the day before, and he'll probably do much worse. There are all sorts of similar psychological theories and, depending on how liberally you apply them, you observe them in action all over the place.

Which makes me wonder, how will we remember this war twenty years from now? How will Bush be perceived? If things continue to go as well as they have, will history remember that this war was immensely unpopular in the world or the seemingly conflicting and ambigious motives of the US? Bush and the "Coalition of the Willing" experienced several setbacks in the months leading up to this war, but now, in hindsight, they seem small and insignificant. One of the few things I like about Bush is the way he reacted to these small setbacks. He barely flinched and kept his eye firmly on his long view. Perhaps an application of the Zeigarnik effect on a historical level, Bush recognized that people will only remember how something ends, not the events, setbacks and all, that led us there. We've had a spectacularly successful start, now we just need to make sure it ends right... [Pynchon quote from War Words]
Posted by Mark on April 08, 2003 at 08:55 PM .: link :.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Warp Drive Underwater by Steven Ashley : A long time ago, I wrote about Supercavitation here, but apparently missed this article, which covers the subject much more thouroughly. It focuses mostly on the military applications of this technology (though it is applicable to ocean farming and underwater exploration) and it contains a lot of detail on the most famous example of the technology, Russia's VA-111 Shkval (Squall) rocket-torpedo. Some of the details are speculative, but they give a good explaination of the technology as well as some of the main applications, which include high-speed torpedoes, underwater machine-guns armed with supercavitating bullets to help clear mines, among other applications. Underwater mines are a serious nuisance, and an application such as the US RAMICS program would be a huge help... [via Punchstack]
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2003 at 07:13 PM .: link :.

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