Monday, January 23, 2017

The Swarm

            In Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, Stephen Biddle argues that force employment is central to modern war. Biddle focuses on land warfare tactics and how such tactics determine the outcome of war; in doing so, Biddle largely discounts and ignores the importance of naval and air forces. Yet the biggest critique of the book comes from Biddle’s opinion of technology. The author does not believe that we are undergoing a revolution in military affairs. Biddle states, “the modern system works by exploiting properties of military technology that have changed little since 1918 and are changing only slowly today.” This statement may have been true at the time of press, but today, technology is changing rapidly and so are the military implications. Force deployment or tactics were important before the current system and will be so after. But in arguing his case, Biddle suffers from a lack of imagination and downplays how the current system of force employment itself resulted from technological development. The battlefields of 2018 and beyond may show little resemblance to the battlefields of 1918.

            There are many examples of the ways emerging technology could change the methods militaries wage modern wars and the defense tactics nations employ. With questions surrounding the presidential election, cyber warfare has become a very real concern. The United States economy and military rely heavily on cyber and satellites for communication. Many U.S. officials and scholars believe that the U.S. is falling behind and could not withstand a significant cyber attack. Our satellites remain vulnerable as well, while China is weaponizing outer space. The irony is that a cyber and space war could potentially eliminate a military’s current command and control structures, resetting military operations to something like the modern system employed during the first and second world wars. Therefore, outer space and cyber space will play dominant roles in future wars. 

            An area that could be more revolutionary is the use of unmanned weapons platforms. The U.S. military is introducing more drones to the battlefield every year. If Boston Dynamics’ work is any indication, drone soldiers, sci-fi terminator terrors, may be coming to a conflict near you. Soon, enemy combatants may never enter the same physical space. The combination of AI and improvements in robotics will be revolutionary. Drone swarms are the future of warfare. A mass of low-cost expendable systems could change the way militaries fight. The key to a swarm is that the entire group acts as a single unit, but they're not centrally controlled. Instead, each member of the swarm uses software for coordination that mimics the way flocks of birds and schools of fish behave. Currently, a remote pilot individually flies a military drone like the Reaper, but a single operator could command any number of drones in a swarm. And if drone swarms are the future, China may be winning
The Birds

           Over the past two decades, China’s People’s Liberation Army has transformed itself from a large but antiquated force into a capable, modern military. According to a recent RAND report, China’s technology and operational proficiency still lag behind those of the United States, but it has rapidly narrowed the gap. Moreover, China enjoys the advantage of proximity in most plausible conflict scenarios. China’s geographical advantage in Southeast Asia would likely neutralize many U.S. military strengths. A war over Taiwan or contested islands will not play like the Ludendorff offensive. To maintain the edge, the U.S. military must prepare for the conflicts of the future, rather than those of the past. 

Russian Military Successes and Diplomatic Victory in Syria

   The fate of Syria will be partly decided in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic and still under the influence of Moscow as a symbol of a world that is changing. It is indeed in Astana, the capital build from scratch in the middle of the steppe by the authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev, that the negotiations  were open today, January 23, under the sponsorship of Russia, Turkey and, Iran, the unprecedented negotiations between the Damascus regime and the Armed Syrian Opposition.
  Relentlessly hammered and with disdain for months, the expression "supposedly moderate opposition" has disappeared from the Russian diplomatic parlance on Syria. This shift is not just semantic. Since the reconquest by the regime of the rebels’ districts of eastern Aleppo, the Kremlin still seems determined to transform these military successes, which remain fragile, into diplomatic victory. And for this, the presence of the Syrian opposition and its armed wing is necessary.
The sponsors of these discussions are the countries involved in the battlefield, supporters of the regime, such as Russia or Iran, or the opposition, such as Turkey. "The format of the" troika "to date has demonstrated its relevance”, said the Chief Russian Diplomat during his presentation in December 20, 2016 in Moscow, noting that these countries have "a real impact on the ground ".  It is the Kremlin's key idea to arrive at a lasting cease-fire, a conditional aspect for the resolution of the conflict. After Astana, the negotiation should continue in Geneva under the leadership of the United Nations, in February 8, 2017.
  Other major players such as the United States, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia were not invited. However, the United States could be present in Geneva and this should be a sign of the Kremlin vis-à-vis the new administration of Donald Trump. If Trump does send an envoy to Geneva next month, it would be the first official contact in which the Americans and the Russians can discuss in a more effective way to fight against terrorism in Syria. The presence of Turkey is seen as the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara and represents an opportunity for Turkey and Iran to confirm their role of new regional powers.
   The purposes of the Astana’s negotiations include the consolidation and the establishment of a long lasting cease-fire signed last year after a Russian-Turkish agreement signed by nine rebel organizations. Another purpose is related to the full participation of fighters on the ground and, finally, the agreement on the drafting of a constitution and the process of a referendum and elections.
The Russians have agreed to place the United Nations at the center of the game and change the draft resolution they had initially submitted on December 31, 2016 to the Security Council. The final text of the 2336 resolution on Syria was amended by France, the UK, and the U.S. It sets out a detailed roadmap of the crisis with the establishment of a ceasefire and the opening of negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations for a political transition, new constitution and general elections.

 There are still many divergences in terms of the fate of Bashar Al-Assad. While the United States, the Europeans, the Syrian opposition and, the Arab countries want Assad to leave either immediately or at the end of the transitional period, Russia in contrast is doing whatever it will take as long as there is no other alternative to ensure the survival of the current Syrian regime. And the Iranians are even more uncompromising in their support for the dictator. Hopefully, the parties in Astana will agree on sustainable solutions by tomorrow, January 24, 2017. If not, let’s pray that it will happen on the shores of Lake Geneva in order to end the suffering of the Syrian people.

Will President Trump and Secretary James Mattis get along?

Will  President Trump and Secretary James Mattis get along?

Out of all of President Trump’s picks for top cabinet positions, James Mattis’ nomination for Secretary of Defense seems to be the one to have received the least amount of scrutiny. In fact, Mr. Mattis was confirmed, almost unanimously by the Senate (98-1) on Friday January 20, couple of hours after Mr Trump took the oath of office. Other nominations  for important cabinet positions such as that of Betsy DeVos for Education or Rex Tillerson for State have yet lead to confirmation as several questions continue to be raised  about the postulants' suitability for the job. This is not to suggest General Mattis is exempt of reproach. After all, he has been on the record making comments about Islam that were not necessarily appropriate.
General Mattis' new role as defense secretary has of course implications as far as the new administration’s vision for the U.S. military is concerned. President Trump has indicated throughout the campaign season that he intends to pursue an isolationist policy. He has questioned the need to have an important military alliance such as NATO, going as far as qualifying it of obsolete. Furthermore, he has made a series of comments that seemed to indicate that he intends to pursue a rapprochement with Russia. The NATO argument is unprecedented given the US long standing policy of ensuring the security, peace and prosperity of Europe.

 It is therefore difficult to understand why President Trump chose General Mattis as defense secretary whose track record does not seem to align with an isolationist military policy. Whereas President Trump would prefer to take a step back and allow Russian to influence things in Syria, General Mattis is more likely to advocate for a bigger US military role in the conflict. Most importantly, a rapprochement with Russia is not an idea shared by the newly sworn Secretary of defense, as evidenced by comments made during his Senate confirmation hearing. When asked about the possibility of seeking closer ties with Russia, Mattis simply indicated that the United States has several times  tried to engage positively with Russia in the past and that there is “a relatively short list of successes in that regard”. 

Given Mr Trump and General Mattis' apparent different viewpoints on critical issues in American military policy, there is the potential for tensions between the two men. In any case, President Trump's authoritarian tendencies is more likely to lead to the dismissal of General Mattis à la General MacArthur if tensions were to arise. However, in doing so, the president's political capital could take a hit.