22 March 2017

*** Eisenhower Was Right: The Military-Industrial Complex Poses A Real Threat ... And An Opportunity

by Elliott Morss

In the 20th and 21st Centuries, the US has been at war far more than any other nation. And recently, US wars appear to be increasingly unfocused and unproductive. Back in 1961, Eisenhower warned about the growing power of the military-industrial complex.

I quote at length from his speech given on January 17, 1961, three days before he left office:

My fellow Americans: 

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. 

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties…. 

** Turnabout is fair play: A Marine officer interviews Tom about military leadership


Here is an exchange I had with Lieutenant Colonel Jeannette Haynie, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who is working on her doctoral dissertation. I am running it here with her permission. Some of this is familiar stuff to longtime readers, but I am offering it because it is a pretty good summary of what I see as the core problems of the U.S. military. Newcomers to the blog may find it helpful.

1) Are there Services, or elements within the Services, that still exercise in some ways or at some points the kind of leadership that Marshall and Eisenhower exhibited during WWII? Or more generally, is the military as a whole as far from that template as it seems to be, with no outliers, after reading the book? 

Yes, I have occasionally seen elements within the services that remind me of the U.S. military leaders of World War II. Indeed, the current defense secretary, James Mattis, seems to come from that mold. He is, as you know, a retired Marine. I think the Corps has more of these sorts of leaders than the other service, but even there, they strike me as a small minority. Anthony Zinni was another one. They are not necessarily easy to work for, but they tend to be seen as fair and rigorous, and attract subordinates who like that approach.

I also see these sorts of leaders in Special Operations. Stanley McChrystal may be one such — I have not watched him in the field, and so don’t know.

** An Army Program That Helps Officers Become Critical Strategic Thinkers


During his multiple command tours in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno developed the sense that there was a shortage of military officers who could think strategically, and who could put together plans appropriate for the challenging environment the Army faced there. 

In 2012, as chief of staff of the Army, Odierno directed the establishment of the Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program (ASP3). The vision of the program is to develop “field-grade officers as strategic thinkers through a combination of practical experience, senior-level professional military education, and a doctoral degree from a university in a field of study related to strategy in order to produce broadly networked future senior officers with strategic acumen, credentials, and skills.” Institutional instinct might have led Army leadership to create a new military professional education program at the War College. Instead, Odierno chose to look outside the system of the Army for ideas and energy. 

ASP3 is evidence that the Army is seriously working to improve the strategic thinking capacity of the organization. From start to finish, the highly competitive officers selected to participate in ASP3 can expect to spend as many as six years earning their degree and working in strategy-related developmental jobs; following graduation, they are then expected to provide a return on the Army’s investment with a minimum of three years served in an additional utilization tour anywhere the Army has the need for their capabilities. Many of these officers will then continue to serve long after their utilization tours, as general officers or well-placed thinkers within the national security policymaking community. 

* Celebrating The One Percent: Is Inequality Really Good For The Economy?

by Michael Hudson

To paraphrase Mark Twain, everyone complains about inequality, but nobody does anything about it.

What they do is to use “inequality" as a takeoff point to project their own views on how to make society more prosperous and at the same time more equal. These views largely depend on whether they view the One Percent as innovative, smart and creative, making wealth by helping the rest of society - or whether, as the great classical economists wrote, the wealthiest layer of the population consist of rentiers, making their income and wealth off the 99 Percent - as idle landlords, monopolists and predatory bankers.

Economic statistics show fairly worldwide trends in inequality. After peaking in the 1920s, the reforms of the Great Depression helped make income distribution more equitable and stable until 1980. Then, in the wake of Thatcherism in Britain and Reaganomics in the United States, inequality really took off. And it took off largely by the financial sector (especially as interest rates retreated from their high of 20 percent in 1980, creating the greatest bond market boom in history). Real estate and industry were financialized, that is, debt leveraged.

Inequality increased steadily until the global financial crash of 2008. Since then, as bankers and bondholders were saved instead of the economy, the top One Percent have pulled even more sharply ahead of the rest of the economy. Meanwhile, the bottom 25 percent of the economy has seen its net worth and relative income deteriorate.

Post-UP, The Pseudo-Secular Space Is Shrinking, But Hindu Agenda Is Up For Grabs

R Jagannathan

The Hindu agenda is up for grabs, and the only reason why the BJP seems to gain from it is that the rival parties have not woken up to its potential.

If the recent round of assembly elections proves one thing beyond doubt, it is this: the pseudo-secular space is shrinking, as both Hindus and Muslims wise up to the minority vote bank tactics of the so-called “secular” parties. This “secularism” has been a mix of anti-Hindu rhetoric and policies, and open support for minority communalism.

However, while some mild Hindu vote consolidation was apparent in Uttar Pradesh, and this may well benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) right upto 2019, the medium-term reality is that the Hindu vote is up for grabs.

The BJP has garnered the Hindu vote, and will continue to do so in new areas like West Bengal and Kerala, not because it has lived up to its branding as a Hindu party, but as no one else has laid claim to this positioning. The opposition parties, including several regional parties, are still in the same mindset of not letting go of the bloc “minority” vote. As long as they continue to think this way, the BJP will be the default Hindu party.

India: A Bad Friend To Israel

Jaideep A. Prabhu

Nicolas Blarel’s The Evolution of India’s Israel Policy: Continuity, Change, and Compromise since 1922 is a magisterial survey and analysis of Indo-Israeli relations over a span of 70 years.

Blarel, Nicolas. The Evolution of India’s Israel Policy: Continuity, Change, and Compromise since 1922. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015. 428 pp.

India's relations with Israel have fast emerged, since the end of the Cold War, as among the most important for the South Asian nation. A vital source of arms and intelligence, Jerusalem has become Delhi's third-largest defence vendor within 25 years of establishing full diplomatic relations. Additionally, India relies on Israeli expertise in agriculture, and trade between the two countries, currently hovering around $5 billion, is expected to double as soon as a free trade agreement in the works in finalised.

Despite the strategic value of the Indo-Israeli relationship, it has somehow not been a popular subject of study among academics and policy analysts. Public understanding is mostly shaped by media reports that are, by their very nature, shallow and temporal. In these climes, Nicolas Blarel's The Evolution of India's Israel Policy: Continuity, Change, and Compromise since 1922 is a much-needed survey and analysis of relations with one of Delhi's most-valued partners.

India’s Cyber Potential: A Bridge Between East and West


Security researchers and policymakers around the world are struggling with the challenge of securing the digital networks that governments, private companies, and people in general depend on every day. While the most common points of reference to engagements in cyberspace are in the United States, Europe, Russia, and China, other countries are quickly realizing the importance of securing critical networks from crime, sabotage, subversion, and espionage. As the country with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations and economies, this realization is bearing down on India more than most.

So what is India’s current cybersecurity atmosphere, where are the major threats, and what role does the country play in online normative efforts?

Jonathan Reiber, a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity and former Chief Strategy Officer for Cyber Policy in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, notes that “While China has upwards of 720 million internet users, India jumped past the United States to something like 460 million internet users in 2016. But the interesting thing is that the United States is at essentially 90 percent user penetration, and by the end of 2015, China and India were only at about 51 percent and 36 percent penetration respectively.” This means that India, and its populous neighbor China, will dwarf other countries in digitally connected individuals and organizations, and therefore in attack surface vulnerabilities as well.

What went wrong in Pakistan

Pakistan was meant to be a model, an example for other nations to emulate. It was founded after World War II, as the sun was setting on the British Empire and India was preparing for independence. India’s Muslims, though glad to see the end of the Raj, were apprehensive about becoming a minority in a Hindu-majority land.

They envisioned instead what might be called a “two-state solution”: the establishment of a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims in areas where Muslims were in the majority. Their new nation was to be free, pluralist and tolerant. “We are starting with this fundamental principle,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) declared in 1947, “that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

What went wrong? In an excellent new book, “Purifying the Land of the Pure,” Farahnaz Ispahani both recounts and laments Pakistan’s “descent” into what it has become today: unfree, undemocratic, intolerant and both a sponsor and victim of terrorism.

A Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Ms. Ispahani spent years as a journalist and high-ranking Pakistani official. She clearly loves the land of her birth. It’s doubtful that she’ll ever be able to safely return.

Time Ripe For China And Russia To Form An Alliance – Chinese Expert

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin Ahead of the Silk Road summit in Beijing in May, a reporter from the Kommersant Daily spoke to Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, about China’s relations with Russia, challenges faced by BRICS and the drawbacks of globalization

In May 2017 Beijing will host the Silk Road summit, where over 20 countries including Russia will engage in building a strategic undertaking to promote East-West cooperation. In an interview with Kommersant, Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, spoke optimistically about the prospects for the development of China-Russia relations.

Chinese and Russian soldiers take part in a joint military drill./ Photo: ReutersWhy there is no Russia-China alliance

Despite the fact, that Moscow and Beijing “are not formal allies,” Yan said the countries share a common threat – the U.S. “We don’t support each other openly and that limits our cooperation,” the expert told the paper. “China is a superpower now and I don’t understand why Russia doesn’t want an alliance with us.”

According to Yan, a Russia-China alliance “could increase the political power of [the two] countries and protect [their] territories from the U.S.” 

China's Evolving Nuclear Deterrent

PDF file 1.9 MB 

China's approach to nuclear deterrence has been broadly consistent since its first nuclear test in 1964. Key elements are its no-first-use policy and reliance on a small force of nuclear weapons capable of executing retaliatory strikes if China is attacked. China has recently accelerated nuclear force building and modernization, and both international and domestic factors are likely to drive faster modernization in the future. Chinese nuclear planners are concerned by strategic developments in the United States, especially the deployment of missile defenses. Within the region, Beijing is also an actor in complex multilateral security dynamics that now include several nuclear states, and the improving nuclear capabilities of China's neighbors, especially India, are a growing concern for Beijing. Constituencies for nuclear weapons have gained in bureaucratic standing within the People's Liberation Army (PLA). With few, if any, firewalls between China's conventional and nuclear missile forces, new technologies developed for the former are already being applied to the latter, a trend that will almost certainly continue. Given these changes, China is likely to increase emphasis on nuclear deterrence, accelerate nuclear force modernization, and make adjustments (although not wholesale changes) to policy.
Key Findings

Checking China’s Maritime Push


Summary: The only effective way to create a more stable environment in the maritime areas near China is for the United States to lead a serious diplomatic dialogue with Beijing and other claimants aimed at establishing mutually acceptable restraints, accompanied by strong U.S. and allied deterrence signals.

Since roughly 2007–2008, the People’s Republic of China has clearly taken a more active, assertive stance toward its longstanding territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), both bordering its long maritime coast. Such activities have included, among others: 

Strong statements criticizing the actions and claims of other disputants, especially Japan (in the East China Sea) and Vietnam and the Philippines (in the South China Sea) 

The establishment of new administrative authorities charged with managing various aspects of the claimed land and sea features 

The increased use of military and especially para-military air and naval assets to challenge the activities of other claimants in disputed areas, and sometimes even in what are generally regarded as “open ocean” areas or within the exclusive economic zones of other nations 

Saudi Arabia's Failed Oil War

By Nicholas Borroz and Brendan Meighan

Saudi King Salman’s ongoing visit to Asia, through which he hopes to attract Japanese and Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia, is another indication of how committed the country is to reforming its economy. This trip, along with a host of fiscal modifications at home and the impending initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, the country’s national petroleum and natural gas company, underscore the Kingdom’s recognition of its need to escape dependence on oil—a realization that has come as a result of failed policies from 2014 to 2016 that forced Riyadh to accept the fact that its days of dominating oil markets are over.

Saudi Arabia’s strategy during the production war was to let the spigots flow in the hopes that doing so would undermine two other producers: Iran and the United States. Iran had always enjoyed a latent ability to wrest market control from Saudi Arabia, but crippling international sanctions prevented it from doing so. After the nuclear deal, though, the threat to the Kingdom increased. At the same time, the U.S. oil industry presented a new challenge. By 2015, after a decade of technological innovations, including the use of wireless seismological testing and the automating of various oilrig functions, it had claimed the mantle of global production leader from Saudi Arabia.

In the face of eroding market share, Riyadh refused to cut oil production. It instead opted to increase output in 2016—setting new records for its production levels—to keep global supply high and prices down. In so doing, Riyadh wagered that it could survive depressed prices with its over half a trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves, while its U.S. and Iranian competitors would in turn face so much financial pressure that they would bow out of the running. This was a marked divergence from past Saudi strategy, which typically favored cutting production to regulate supply and keep prices elevated.

Russia, China making gains on US military power

Russia and China are increasingly challenging the military superiority that the United States has held since the early 1990s.

Since the end of the Cold War, America’s naval, air, land and space capabilities, paired with key bases in Europe and Asia, have created a strategic advantage over other major superpowers.

The United States still outspends its rivals on the military, with a roughly $600 billion budget that is three times as much as Beijing's and more than six times as much as Moscow's.

But much of the U.S.'s spending is paying for military operations overseas, such as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“U.S. forces … go halfway around the world to fight. And they fight in the other guy’s backyard, at times in places of the other guy’s choosing. And that’s the problem,” said David Ochmanek, senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation. 

China and Russia, meanwhile, are spending heavily on “modernization” to improve their militaries' quality, efficiency and overall performance. The strategy is paying huge dividends, especially for China.

“It’s not just one area or few areas. If you look at the evolution of [China’s] military over the last 15 years … it’s rather astonishing. Ballistic missiles, air defense, aircraft, electronic warfare, naval vessels — they’ve just invested very substantially in modern capabilities,” Ochmanek said.

The New NATO-Russia Military Balance: Implications for European Security

Richard Sokolsky

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the military balance between NATO and Russia, after years of inattention, has again become the focus of intense concern and even alarm in some Western quarters. From NATO’s vantage point, Russia poses a serious military threat to its eastern flank—and to Euro-Atlantic security more broadly—for three reasons. First, a military reform and modernization program launched in 2008, combined with significant increases in defense spending over the past several years, has improved the capabilities of Russia’s armed forces. Second, in the past decade, Russia has demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to use force as an instrument of its foreign policy, as well as an improved capacity to project military power beyond its immediate post-Soviet periphery. Third, the Kremlin has been conducting a far more aggressive, anti-Western foreign policy, significantly ratcheting up provocative military maneuvers near NATO members’ borders with Russia, intimating nuclear threats, and deploying nuclear-capable missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. As a result, there is a growing perception in the West that Russia has reemerged as a revanchist, neo-imperialist, expansionist, and hostile power bent on dismantling the post–Cold War European security system and dividing the continent into spheres of influence.

The Kremlin has a dramatically different perspective. It maintains that it is threatened by the West and by instability not only around Russia’s periphery but also at home. With NATO’s expansion, the alliance’s border with Russia has shifted much closer to the Russian heartland. These fears, however unjustified they seem from the West’s point of view, have prompted the Kremlin to launch a national mobilization effort to thwart what it perceives as a direct Western threat to Russian security. As seen from the Kremlin, over the past twenty years, the United States and NATO have undertaken numerous initiatives that underscore the threat from the West: NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and the Baltics; NATO partnership programs with states throughout the former Soviet Union; improvements in conventional, missile defense, and nuclear capabilities; support for antigovernment uprisings and regime change around Russia’s periphery; and assistance to opposition movements and parties inside Russia. Specifically, Russian officials have argued that the U.S.-led campaign in the Balkans in the 1990s, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, and U.S. support for the opposition in Syria and for the Arab Spring have threatened Russia’s security environment.1

Hawala Networks: The Paperless Trail of Terrorist Transactions


An integral component of U.S. counterterrorism strategy has centered on disrupting terrorist finances. Terrorist groups have exploited resources and industries in various countries – poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, charcoal mining in Somalia, and oil extraction in Iraq to name a few – to sell on the black market and subsequently use proceeds to arm and pay militants.

Perhaps one of the most mystifying aspects of terrorist financing is the ability for terrorist organizations to direct capital from one location to another without the use of institutionalized banking systems. To accomplish this objective, terrorist groups turn to hawala networks as a means of moving funds undetected.

Hawala, which means “transfer” in Arabic, is an informal transaction system based largely on mutual trust. The way the system works is as follows: An individual in country A gives money to a hawala broker, known as a hawalader, in country A. That hawalader then contacts a hawalader operating in country B and informs the person to give a certain amount of money to a specific individual in country B. Codes are provided by all parties to ensure that the money is delivered to the proper recipient. The hawaladers themselves do not send physical money; instead, they maintain records of payments and settle debts at a later point, often through the exchange of valuable goods or even through wire transfers. During the transaction, hawaladers charge a fee for their service.

Military Spending For a New Strategic Reality: 2016 Roundtable Series Summary and Analysis

This text focuses on the impact America’s military budget could have on the country’s allies and partners. The text specifically focuses on 1) the difficulties of striking the right balance between force modernization and investing in new technologies, particularly in a fiscally constrained environment; 2) the global next-steps in arms control and nuclear weapons modernization; 3) the role the Trump administration will most likely assume in the world; and 4) what the international community should do to counter the propaganda-based warfare now being conducted in different parts of the world.

Strengthening the Asian Development Bank in 21st Century Asia

This report speculates on how the Asian Development Bank (ADB) can remain an influential actor in Asia. More specifically, the text’s authors 1) highlight how financial norms and practices have evolved in the region over the last 50 years; 2) review the ADB’s design and functions; 3) explore the economic challenges that are relevant to the Bank’s mission, and how it is trying to adapt to them; and 4) conclude that the ADB must maintain its neutrality in a geopolitically fraught environment, but not at the expense of giving more influence to its regional members.

America’s military hits a defining moment: how they react to defeat

Summary: Slowly voices inside the US military speak out about its inability to respond to its manifest failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the large price paid in blood and money for the lessons given. The military has proven unable to take the first step of admitting that they lost. Here Gregory A. Thiele (LtCol , USMC) puts our defeat in a historical context, explains what we did wrong, and gives recommendations. Let’s hope the Marines listen.

— See responses to this in the comments from several experts.

In 1806, the Kingdom of Prussia went to war against France and Napoleon Bonaparte. Prussia suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat. In a pair of battles, Jena and Auerstädt, both fought on 14 October 1806, the Prussian Army was defeated, and the existence of the Prussian state was placed in jeopardy. Prussia survived and reformed its army — an army that later played a pivotal role in Napoleon’s final defeat.

The U.S. military in general — and the U.S. Marine Corps in particular — is at a similar crossroads today. Marines are faced with twin defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. These failures are clear indications that the character of war has changed. The Marine Corps must adapt to meet the challenge of this new face of war. A closer look at Jena-Auerstädt may suggest some ways to do so.

The operating environment of the future

By: Mark Pomerleau

Future battlefields will pose challenges for an Army that is looking to become more expeditionary, which requires operating in more austere forward-deployed locations.

So-called multi-domain battle will present the Army and the joint force with distinct problems, especially those at the tip of the spear.

“Russia is the pacing threat. Even a most casual look into what Russia is doing in eastern Ukraine today tells us insights into what a multi-domain battle environment will look like,” Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, Commanding General 21 st Theater Sustainment Command, said March 14 at the AUSA Global Force Symposium. “It will require us to operate and sustain operations in an unforgiving lethal environment, one in which our Army is not operated in since World War II or some of the battles in Korea.”

While not currently supporting multi-domain battle in Europe today, Gamble said that if the force shoots for where they want to go in 2025, operations in Europe, but not Europe alone, provide the laboratory to learn, adapt and build the foundations for multi-domain battle and understand the sustainment components of complex environments.

In regard to sustaining forces in this new operational environment, Gamble identified time and distance as the most pressing challenges in trying to resupply forces with new or refurbished equipment from the depots far away from the front lines. Another component is adapting to the new operating environment forces might find themselves in.

Drone Proliferation and the Use of Force: An Experimental Approach

By Michael C Horowitz, Paul Scharre and Ben FitzGerald


As more countries acquire drones, will their widespread availability lead to greater military adventurism and conflict? Will countries be more willing to put a drone in harm’s way? If so, how will other nations respond? Would they be more willing to shoot down a drone than a human-inhabited aircraft? And if they did, are those incidents likely to escalate?

To help answer these questions, in 2016 the Center for a New American Security conducted a survey experiment to better understand how experts and the general public viewed the use of force with drones. The survey evaluated expert and public attitudes about the willingness to use force in three scenarios: (1) deploying an aircraft into a contested area; (2) shooting down another country’s aircraft in a contested area; and (3) escalating in response to one’s own aircraft being shot down. For each scenario, half of the survey respondents read questions where a drone was used and half of the survey respondents read questions where a human-inhabited aircraft was used.

This experimental design was intended to better understand how the introduction of drones into militaries’ arsenals might change expert and public attitudes about the use of force relative to human-inhabited aircraft. Given the continuing integration of robotics into national militaries, as well as the proliferation of drones, this is a critical question for global politics. Moreover, while several studie sapproach the topic by looking at public opinion in the United States, we know less about how communities of foreign policy experts view drones.

We’ve attacked yet another nation. How long until somebody hits back?

Summary: We feel big and bold, waging one-sided cyber attacks on other nations. Without warning. Shredding US and international law, including UN treaties signed and approved by the Senate. We are creating the precedents for this new form of war. Eventually we will become a target, vulnerable because of our extraordinary reliance on high-tech system. Probably we will whine afterwards about the unfairness of others doing to us as we did to them. (First of two posts today. A second on today’s job report will appear soon.)

First there was Stuxnet, attacking Iran’s legal nuclear program (despite claims, we have not shown that they were enriching uranium in violation of their obligations). Now we learn about America’s secret cyberwar against North Korean’s missile program.

“Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

“Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Why the DOD is trying to focus more on software, big data

Samantha Ehlinger

‎The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is focusing more on software than hardware, and trying to pivot the department to becoming a data-driven organization, SCO Director Will Roper said Monday at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. 

In a wide-ranging conversation about his office’s work and the future of warfare, Roper answered a question around how to handle the department’s newest weapons potentially falling in the hands of the Islamic State.

“We need to do a better job in the Defense Department of not over-designing things so that we can’t lose them,” Roper said. 

He said the DOD is good at designing exquisite systems, which use the best of government technology, but when it comes to autonomous weapons the department is trying to stay within the realm of commercial technology. While it may not be as high-performing as something highly-customized and built in-house, if its left behind on the battlefield there is not as much worry it could be turned on the U.S. 

Instead of focusing on hardware, then, SCO focuses on investing in the software underlying those commercial technologies that allows systems to collaborate, Roper said. And software, he said, is easier to protect than hardware.

How Intelligent Drones Are Shaping the Future of Warfare

By Benjamin Powers

The drones fell out of the sky over China Lake, California, like a colony of bats fleeing a cave in the night. Over 100 of them dropped from the bellies of three Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, their sharp angles cutting across the clear blue sky. As they encircled their target, the mechanical whir of their flight sounded like screaming. 

This was the world's largest micro-drone swarm test. Conducted in October 2016 by the Department of Defense's Strategic Capabilities Office and the Navy's Air Systems Command, the test was the latest step in what could be termed a swarm-drone arms race. China had previously been ahead when they tested a swarm of 67 drones flying together – calling their technology the "top in the world" – but with the latest test of 103 drones, the United States was once again ahead.What made this test intriguing, however, was the drones themselves – and what they might mean for the future of warfare. 

Drones have come a long way from their initial uses for surveillance. On February 4th, 2002, in the Paktia province of Afghanistan near the city of Khost, the CIA used an unmanned Predator drone in a strike for the first time. The target was Osama bin Laden. Though he turned out not to be there, the strike killed three men nonetheless. The CIA had used drones for surveillance before, but not in military operations, and not to kill. What had once merely been a flying camera in the sky was now weaponized.

Rumiyah: Jihadist Propaganda and Information Warfare in Cyberspace

By Remy Mahzam


Recognising that wars are no longer confined to the physical battlefields, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has since 2014 embarked on an aggressive propaganda campaign in cyberspace through the release of various online publications like Dabiq (discontinued since August 2016), Amaq News, Al-Naba and Rumiyah. Since its debut in September 2016, Rumiyah (‘Rome’ in Arabic), which draws its title from a Prophetic tradition foretelling the fall of the West, is a strategic distraction from the realities on the ground characterised by the considerable loss of territory and revenue, heavy casualties and low morale among fighters. The launch of Rumiyah came precisely at a time when the rhetoric to justify the final battle in Syria seemed counter-intuitive and signalled a strategic shift in IS’ modus operandi, with the battle against its enemies going not only beyond the Middle East but also into the realm of the digital.

The New Face of Terrorism Propaganda

In terms of substance, Rumiyah is not dissimilar to its predecessor Dabiq or other jihadist publications such as Al-Qaeda’s Inspire or Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Al-Risalah. It is however likely to be more influential in the realm of jihadist propaganda given its wider reach. Translated into 10 languages (English, Bahasa, Bosnian, French, German, Kurdish, Pashto, Russian, Turkish and Uyghur), IS’ narratives could easily be localised and tailored to fit the readership and dynamics of particular communities in the respective regions, from the Middle East to Xinjiang and Southeast Asia. Its availability in multi-lingual forms is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of adherents across the world compared to previous IS foreign language publications, like the Russian language Исtок (Istok), Turkish language Konstantiniyye, French language Dar Al Islam and Bahasa language Al-Fatihin which only catered to a specific demographic or locality.

The Graveyard of Empires and Big Data


The only tiki bar in eastern Afghanistan had an unusual payment program. A sign inside read simply, “If you supply data, you will get beer.” The idea was that anyone — or any foreigner, because Afghans were not allowed — could upload data on a one-terabyte hard drive kept at the bar, located in the Taj Mahal Guest House in Jalalabad. In exchange, they would get free beer courtesy of the Synergy Strike Force, the informal name of the American civilians who ran the establishment.

Patrons could contribute any sort of data — maps, PowerPoint slides, videos, or photographs. They could also copy data from the drive. The “Beer for Data” program, as the exchange was called, was about merging data from humanitarian workers, private security contractors, the military, and anyone else willing to contribute. The Synergy Strike Force was not a military unit, a government division, or even a private company; it was the self-chosen name of the odd assortment of Westerners who worked — or in some cases volunteered — on the development projects run out of the guest house.

The Synergy Strike Force’s Beer for Data exchange was a pure embodiment of the techno-utopian dream of free information and citizen empowerment that had emerged in recent years from the hacker community. Only no one would have guessed that this utopia was being created in the chaos of Afghanistan, let alone in Jalalabad, a city that had once been home to Osama bin Laden. Or even more unlikely, that the Synergy Strike Force would soon attract the attention of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).