9 February 2014

The Geopolitics of the Sochi Olympics

February 5, 2014

The founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Courbetin, had a vision that athletic competitions would attenuate geopolitical ones. Sport, he believed, could cut across cultures and thereby foster amity in the international realm. Accordingly, he worked for the revival of the athletic competitions of the ancient Greeks: the Olympic Games. To popularize the modern version of those games and build an intercontinental following, he championed the rotation of the games among different national hosts every four years. Today, as de Courbetin might have wished, the Olympic movement is a truly global phenomenon. Nations around the world strive to burnish their reputations through participating in the games, winning medals at them, and, above all, by hosting the games. When holding the games on its soil, a country takes the world stage to showcase itself.

Yet de Courbetin's vision has been realized only partway. While the Olympic Games do generate goodwill and international good-feeling, they also occasionally aggravate international tensions by serving as a platform upon which countries play out rivalries and indulge their vanity, reveal their insecurities, and expose their grudges, as the 1936, 1972, 1980, and 1984 games illustrate. The Frenchman's aspirations notwithstanding, the games sometimes exacerbate rather than ameliorate animosity.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, too, may well deepen international acrimony, and do so to the detriment of United States foreign policy. The 22nd Winter Games will take place next month in the picturesque port of Sochi. A resort town on the Black Sea blessed with a subtropical climate and the presence of alpine mountains just thirty-seven miles outside the city, Sochi would seem a superb location for a winter sporting event. In addition, the games have the express and enthusiastic backing of the host country's head of state.


To host the Olympics is always regarded as an honor. It provides a country the chance to put the world's spotlight on itself. The Sochi Olympics, however, carry a deeper significance for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin ascended to the prime ministry in 1999 and the presidency in 2000. These games will, he hopes, showcase not simply his country today, but more importantly its recovery under his leadership from the disastrous decade of political disarray and economic chaos that followed the Soviet collapse of 1991.

It is important to remember that in 1980, just barely a decade before the USSR unraveled, Moscow had hosted the Summer Olympics. Soviet citizens, even at the time, saw those games as a special moment in the history of their state. The USSR already by 1956 had established itself as a leader, if not the leader, in the Olympics and in international sport in general, but it was the arrival of the Olympics games to Moscow heralded the arrival of the USSR. The 1980 games signaled that the world saw the USSR not merely as a fearsome geopolitical and technological power but a cultural actor as well. The U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics therefore did sting Soviet sensitivities, but even that slap in the face could not erase the sense of achievement that Soviet citizenry took in hosting teams from eighty nations from around the globe. The Moscow games were a source of genuine pride for Soviets of Putin's generation.

Alex Salmond is within striking distance of victory. Why hasn’t England noticed?

We could be seven months away from the end of Britain. It's time to worry

By   Alex Massie
8 February 2014

A century ago, with Britain in peril, Lord Kitchener’s stern countenance demanded that every stout-hearted Briton do their bit for King and Country. ‘Your country needs you’ rallied hundreds of thousands to khaki and the Kaiser’s War. Today, with Britain in peril again, you could be forgiven for asking where Kitchener’s successor is. A new recruiting poster might cry: ‘Britons: Wake up! Pay attention! Your country really is at risk!’ The threat, of course, is domestic rather than foreign (for now, at least). It is beginning to be appreciated, even in London, that Alex Salmond might just win his independence referendum in September. The break-up of Britain will have begun, David Cameron will have to contemplate being Prime Minister of a rump country — and HMS Britannia will be sunk, not with a bang but a whimper. It will be due as much to English indifference as Scottish agitation.

The battle for Britain is being conducted on a wavelength which unionist politicians in London struggle to pick up. The nationalists have been preparing for this vote all of their political lives — and know that it is a fight like no other. The unionists seem rather worse prepared. Like hockey players sent on to play a game of rugby, they have a rough idea of the game — but many, especially those based in London, don’t properly understand its rules. The unionists can babble on about the Barnett formula and a hundred other details but, in the end, these are mere details. Salmond’s nationalists offer a tryst with destiny. And the future.

It is easy to assume, in England, that Salmond is sunk. After all, aren’t all other major political parties uniting against him? It is less appreciated that the other parties are the same ones Salmond has outmanoeuvred at every turn since 2011, when the SNP first won an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament. As referendum day draws closer, a formerly formidable unionist advantage is being whittled away. Since Salmond published his ‘white paper on independence’, six successive opinion polls have shown a swing towards a ‘yes’ vote. At present, more than 40 per cent of decided voters plan to vote for independence. It does not take a psephologist to work out that Salmond may win.

Moscow and the Mosque

February 6, 2014 

Co-opting Muslims in Putin's Russia 

Boys talk during prayers at the Jamal mosque in Debent in Russia's Caucasus region of Dagestan, August 17, 2007. (Thomas Peter / Courtesy Reuters)

If Russians were holding their breath in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, it was with good reason. A Black Sea spa town long favored by Kremlin apparatchiks, Sochi occupies a perilous position on Russia’s southern frontier, just 50 miles west of the North Caucasus Federal District, a cauldron of ethnic strife, nationalist separatism, and state repression since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last two years alone, violence in this vast mountainous region, including car bombings, assassinations, and clashes between Muslim fighters and Russian security forces, has killed or injured more than 1,500 people.

Islamist militants in the North Caucasus have been making more frequent appeals to Russia’s other Muslims to rise up and join their cause. Last summer, Doku Umarov, an underground commander who claims control over a phantom Caucasus emirate, called on mujahideen in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan -- two faraway autonomous republics about 400 miles and 700 miles east of Moscow, respectively -- to “spoil” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to stage the Olympics in Sochi atop “the bones of our ancestors.”

But Umarov’s attempts to provoke a Muslim uprising across Russia against Putin’s government have accomplished little. The Caucasus remains an outlier among Russia’s Muslim-majority territories, which, rather than radical redoubts, are stable, well-integrated, and relatively prosperous regions. Most Muslims in the bulk of the Russian Federation hardly ever express sympathy for their brethren in the restive North Caucasus, and historically, they have shown more interest in accommodating the state than resisting it.

The key question today, however, is how the Kremlin will continue to manage its varied Muslim population and whether it can maintain the allegiances of such a diverse group. The Putin government has worked especially hard to co-opt Muslims for its own political goals, both foreign and domestic. Finding an end to the war in the North Caucasus is one piece of the puzzle. In other regions, stability will depend more on whether Moscow keeps trying to control how Russia’s Muslim citizens interpret Islamic tradition by mandating which religious authorities and practices are sufficiently patriotic and compatible with the state.

Muslims and Russian officialdom have always been engaged in a dialogue about how to police Islam. 

Army Deciding the Future of Its Troubled DCGS-A Intel Processing System

By Rowan Scarborough
Washington Times
February 5, 2014

Army mulls funding for controversial intel network

The Army is assessing development plans for its battlefield intelligence network after Congress made it one of the largest budget-slashing victims in the new defense budget.

The fiscal 2014 defense appropriations bill cut more than 60 percent of planned spending for the Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS-A. It is designed as a multidimensional computer network that can collect, store and dispense data about the enemy.

The Army has fiercely defended the more-than-decade-long development and procurement of DCGS-A amid poor test results and scolding from congressional committees. A report by Senate Committee on Armed Services last year said it had urged the Army to buy proven, commercially available systems, but the Army did not.

"We’re still assessing specific impacts to the DCGS-A program," said an Army spokesman.

The spokesman said that under spending restraints “all services were required to take significant reductions … Many of the Army’s major modernization programs were affected by these reductions … The Army will continue to assess the impacts of these difficult decisions and seek opportunities to restore funding if it becomes available. The DCGS-A program remains a key priority Army intelligence system.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine officer, has exposed problems in DCGS-A over the past two years. He has argued that lives are on the line, since one role of an intelligence network is to help find the insurgents who plant improvised explosive devices, the No. 1 killer of troops in Afghanistan.

Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s deputy chief of staff, said the budget cut “speaks to the fact that the program is failing in development and most likely incapable of getting to where it needs to be, or even where the Army ultimately wants it to be.”

Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect

By Peter Koop

February 6, 2014

Did CSEC really track Canadian airport travellers?

On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that theCommunications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers - something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts”:

The CSEC presentation about “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts”

(click for the full presentation in PDF)

However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.

The presentation was analysed by a reader of this weblog, who wants to stay anonymous, but kindly allowed me to publish his interpretation, which follows here. Only some minor editorial changes were made. 

The CSEC project was not surveillance of Canadian citizens per se but just a small research project closely allied with the previous Co-Traveller Analytics document. The report was written by a ‘tradecraft developer’ at the Network Analysis Centre. The method was not ‘in production’ at the time of the report though the developer concludes it is capable of scaling to production (real surveillance).

The Five Eyes countries are trying out various analytics that work on cloud-scale databases with trillions of files. Some analytics work well, others don’t or are redundant and are discarded. This one worked well at scale on their Hadoop/MapReduce database setup, giving a 2 second response. However, we don’t know which this or any other cloud analytics ever came into actual use. 

In this case, CSEC was just running a pilot experiment here - they needed a real-world data set to play with. This document does not demonstrate any CSEC interest in the actual identities of Canadians going through this airport, nor in tracking particular individuals in the larger test town of 300,000 people. While they could probably de-anonymize user IDs captured from airport WiFi (the Five Eyes agencies ingest all airline and hotel reservation with personal ID tagging etc. into other databases) that was not within the scope of this experiment.

Technically however, CSEC does not have a legal mandate to do even faux-surveillance of Canadian citizens in Canada. So they could be in some trouble - it could morph into real surveillance at any time - because the document shows Canadian laws don’t hold them back. They should have used UK airport data from GHCQ instead. But there they lacked the ‘Canadian Special Source’ access to Canadian telecommunication providers.

U.S. Army Units in Afghanistan Are Harshly Critical of Troubled DCGS Intelligence Processing System

By Brendan McGarry
February 6, 2014

Army Units in Afghanistan Slam Intel System

U.S. Army units in Afghanistan say the service’s multi-billion-dollar battlefield intelligence system is so complicated and unreliable that they continue to use commercial software instead, from Microsoft PowerPoint to Palantir.

That’s according to a Nov. 3 internal assessment of the service’s so-called Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced “dee-sigs”). Military​.com obtained a copy of the previously undisclosed memo, which includes feedback on the technology from several units serving in the country.

The 130th Engineer Brigade arguably had the harshest criticism:

“DCGS continues to be; unstable, slow, not friendly and a major hindrance to operations at the [battalion] level and lower, organic [joint staff communications-electronics directorates] being unable to work on them, requiring an entire set of private IP addresses that do not ‘work’ with the rest of the domain structure, unstable [tactical entity databases], system ‘upgrades’ that erase or lose all of the user’s data, woefully inadequate computing power, and the loss of ~3–5 calender days per month due to systems issues.”

The brigade, which deployed to Afghanistan in September and is responsible for construction projects across the country, was one of five units that met in October to discuss the system with Brig. Gen. Christopher Ballard, then deputy chief of staff for intelligence at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul, according to the memo from Ballard to a counterpart at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The other units that gathered for the first-ever board meeting to review the program included the 101st Air Assault Division in Regional Command — East, 4th Infantry Division in Regional Command — South, the so-called Fusion Center in Regional Command — West and the Theater Intelligence Group, according to the document.

Together, the five units operate three versions of the intelligence system totaling some 613 work stations, according to information in the memo. The 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Air Assault Division alone run almost 80 percent of the stations.

In their feedback, the units made clear that the system is too cumbersome to adequately train soldiers on before deploying — even after 80-hour blocks of instruction at places like Fort Huachuca, Ariz., during Advanced Individual Training or Officer Basic Course.

Southern Israel Slated To Be “Silicon Wadi” Cyber-Security Hub

By Maayan Jaffe
February 7, 2014 

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visits the Israeli government department of telecommunications and cyber systems on June 4, 2013. Two years ago, Israel established a national cyber bureau to coordinate defense against attacks on the country’s infrastructures and networks. Photo: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/FLASH90.

JNS.org – The southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva has long been stigmatized by its peripheral location, economic instability, and poor public image. That reputation, however, is quickly getting a full makeover to a complete cyber-field ecosystem with all the components for global leadership.

On Jan. 27, Lockheed Martin and EMC Corporation announced their plans to invest in projects based in the recently established advanced technology park (ATP) in Be’er Sheva. The announcement took place in Tel Aviv at the CyberTech 2014 International Exhibition and Conference. Later in the week, IBM made a similar announcement.

Lockheed Martin and EMC intend to jointly develop and enhance partnerships with Israeli companies, the Israeli government, and academic institutions in Be’er Sheva, in order to explore and promote collaborative research-and-development projects in cloud computing, data analytics, and related cyber technologies. Under the arrangement, these global leaders will identify a series of development opportunities that can be contracted to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and other experts in the field. Local talent supporting the projects will commit to regular project reviews and deliverable schedules in their efforts to develop next-generation EMC and Lockheed Martin capabilities.

Although Lockheed Martin’s is the top IT-solutions provider for the U.S. government, the company’s 60-plus-year presence in the Jewish state has to date primarily focused on aerospace and defense endeavors. But the ATP endeavor changes the nature of the relationship between Lockheed Martin and Israel.

“We can and have developed a lot of the [cyber security] capabilities and technologies ourselves, but we are looking for partnerships with others… to help us continue to not only build our business, but advance our capabilities,” Robert Eastman, defense and intelligence solutions vice president for Lockheed Martin, told JNS.org. “We look at Israel and we see a truly equal partner. It’s the capabilities they have, the understanding of the cyber threats and the ability—through the innovation available in the Israeli culture and workforce—to be able to develop the world’s leading cutting-edge projects.”

“Israel’s entrepreneurial and academic communities offer a unique combination of talent, innovation and pioneering spirit,” noted Dr. Orna Berry, vice president and general manager of EMC’s Israel Center for Excellence.

EMC currently employs more than 1,000 people in Israel and has until now invested billions in the country through the acquisition of nine Israeli companies, various investments in Israeli technologies, and the establishment of sales and R&D centers in seven locations in Israel. EMC’s activity in Be’er Sheva is expected to expand considerably.

DARPA Wants Self-Destructible Computer Chips

February 3, 2014

The Pentagon wants its top research arm to give troops the same kind of self-destructing devices Ethan Hunt had in the movie series Mission Impossible

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency didn’t necessarily specify the famous 5-second timeline, but military leaders wants to develop semiconductors and computer chips that will turn to dust via a remote signal or at a specific time.

Called the Vanishing Programmable Resources, DARPA announced the program on Jan. 28 issuing a $3.5 million award to IBM to study the possibilities of developing “strained glass substrates” that would crumble into powder on command, according to the DARPA announcement.

Troops carry a host of mobile technologies into combat to include GPS transponders, smartphones and countless other devices. Military leaders are worried what happens when those devices — many of which have sensitive operational information — fall into enemy hands.

“These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage,” DARPA officials said in a statement.

DARPA will host a Proposers’ Day on Feb. 14 in Arlington, Va., to see what technologies potentially already exist, according to a DARPA announcement. The deadline to sign up is Feb. 8.

“The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever,” said Alicia Jackson, the DARPA program manager for VPR. “DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”

A Crisis in Command and the Roots of the Problem

This post was generously provided by Jörg Muth, PhD, the author of Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II. Command Culture is on the professional reading lists of the US Army Chief of Staff and of the US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. The Commandant of the Marine Corps made it required reading for all intermediate officers and all senior enlisted marines.

It seems that we now learn every week about new problematic conditions in the US Armed Forces and especially its officer corps: cheating during exams, sexual harassment on an unprecedented scale, revelations of toxic leaders, Generals who want to garnish their aides at all costs, mediocre faculty and harsh commanders at military schools, corruption in arms deals and supply procurement, and other ethical failures of officers and especially senior officers who abuse their privileges in myriad ways. When an encyclopedia of ethical failures can be created the situation is truly alarming. The lens has been focusing especially on Generals and many have asked correctly how an officer who has displayed such unacceptable behavior could ever have become a General in the first place. Why was he/she not sorted out as a Captain at the latest? Obviously, the whole system needs an overhaul, but no one seems to want to make the hard choices. The latter, however, is a true trait of outstanding leaders.

Like 90% of all problems in an army this comes down to leadership, education, and selection. The knowledge of History really aids decision making, if people would only care to study it. As I have always told all my students in all my classes, in some of the first lectures: only fools learn by their own mistakes, smart people learn by the mistakes of others.

Those who carry, perpetuate, and disseminate culture in an army are the senior commanders and the fixed installations, like military academies and schools. If the command culture and the ethical understanding of an officer corps need to be changed, it must begin at the academies. In the ingrained four-class system where hazing and denigration of younger cadets still happens, the first thing the younger cadets experience is the abuse of power. And it will be their turn to abuse next year when a new bunch of younger cadets arrive.

Houses of Cards

A GQ Magazine added some visual assistance in the network assessment process — Chris Zeitz

Network theory vs. networks in theory 

In the fall of 2010 in Kunar, as the more active period of fighting subsided, we began to take a second look at the day-to-day intelligence reports we had amassed in an attempt to better understand the enemy. We had a lot of material to sift through, as there were a number of intelligence teams operating in the area. As you might be able to tell from the picture above, we tried to have a little fun with the process as well.

We took a new deck of playing cards and wrote names of insurgents on red tape. The cards already had a system of associations (the suit) and ranks (the face value). As the playing cards seemed a little boring with just a name on them, we added some pictures from a GQ magazine. Due to the fact that we were an intelligence team directly supporting a battalion, we were more focused on the local insurgents. When we put together our networks on a large sheet of white paper, we had a lot of Jacks and high-value numerical cards and a few mid-value numerical cards. We could not assign names to the lowest cards, nor could we really justify placing many Kings or Aces on the paper as we did not have many close encounters with these more important insurgents.

Our mission was primarily tactical intelligence, so it makes sense that we would not have significant, regional players involved in our primitive assessment. And it also makes sense that we would not have many low-value cards because a low-value insurgent is not likely to be referenced frequently in intelligence reporting. What is interesting though is a cluster of Jacks and “10s”. I have blacked out their names with my sophisticated MS Paint software for obvious reasons. But, Jake Gyllenhaal’s card was known to be the brother of a more prominent insurgent. Jake’s brother had been fighting in Kunar since the time of the Soviet invasion, and he had notable associates in Nuristan, Kunar and Pakistan. These associates had ties to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and Afghan Taliban leaders. Some of those Afghan Taliban leaders, however, were also rivals as their areas of control overlapped geographically and ethnically. We identified several others that seemed to have that same level of authority in other networks from other parts of the Kunar river valley.

Do Drones Present New Military Opportunities

Do Drones Present New Military Opportunities or are they Simply an Updated Technological Variant of Age-old Weapons and Tactics? Hoover Institution / Stanford University background paper by Thomas Donnelly.
In 1907, just four years after the Wright Brothers had flown a few hundred yards across the beaches of North Carolina, H. G. Wells imagined The War in the Air. In Wells’ dark fantasy, the German Empire employs a fleet of airships to preemptively attack the United States, its only potential scientific, industrial, and geopolitical peer. The German target was New York.
What, If Anything, Is Strategically New About Weaponized Drones?  By Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Wittes

DNI Investigating New Approaches to NSA Metadata Surveillance Program

February 6, 2014

The following Request for Information (RFI) has just been placed online by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clearly DNI is concerned that it has to rapidly come up with a viable alternative to the current practice of NSA storing and databasing all the American telephone records metadata that the FISA Court authorizes. And in typical US Government fashion, DNI is asking the big American defense contractors to come up with some solutions. If you can’t do it yourself, contract it out.

Telephony Metadata Collection Program

Solicitation Number: ODNI-RFI-14-01

Agency: Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Office: ADNI Acquisition Technology & Facilities

Location: AT&F Buying Office

February 5, 2014

Solicitation Number: ODNI-RFI-14-01

Notice Type: Special Notice


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is investigating whether existing commercially available capabilities can provide for a new approach to the government’s telephony metadata collection program under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, without the government holding the metadata. Responses to this RFI will be reviewed and may help to shape the framework for the future telephony metadata program to include the potential for non-government maintenance of that data. 

RFI - Telephony Metadata Bulk Collection

Solicitation Number: ODNI-RFI-14-01

Notice Type: Special Notice

Synopsis: Added: February 5, 2014

As the World Revolts, The Great Powers Watch

Intensifying internal conflict destabilizes Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, more – and international community balks at intervention

John Lloyd
4 February 2014

Civil wars, those raging and those yet to come, present the largest immediate threat to human societies. Some have similar roots, but there is no overall unifying cause; except, perhaps, a conviction that the conflict is a fight to oblivion. Victory or death.

Syria currently leads in this grisly league. Deaths now total well over 100,000 in the war between the country’s leader, President Bashar al-Assad,and opposition forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported nearly 126,000 dead last month, and said it was probably much higher. More than 2 million Syrians have left their country as refugees, and 4.25 million have fled their homes to other parts of Syria. Last week, a report by three former war crime prosecutors alleged that some 11,000 prisoners had been tortured, many to death, in “industrial scale killing” by the regime of President Assad.

We are watching a relentless horror unfold. The current negotiations between the various factions of the opposition and the Assad government in Montreux may have saved some women and children from the besieged city of Homs, but at the core remains a presently insuperable clash of aims: the regime insists that Assad remain in power, the opposition that he depart immediately. Assad’s forces appear to have the advantage.

Support from Iran and Russia for Assad’s forces is steady and significant. A Reuters report earlier this month said that aid from Russia was increasing. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, said in Washington last month that an Assad win might be the best “out of three very very ugly options.”

Another ugly option — according to Hayden the most likely — is continuing conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam factions. It could create a larger civil war, dragging one Muslim country after another into deepening conflict over the two branches’ differinginterpretations of the legacy of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shi’ite, the minority in the Muslim world, is the majority in Iraq. There the Sunni minority, which had been the most loyal supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, are attacking Shi’ite centers and provoking counter attacks.

Yet in two other Muslim states, the feud is largely irrelevant. In Afghanistan the Shi’ite are no more than 5 to 10 percent of the population. The growing power of the Taliban — once thought defeated by a NATO intervention a decade ago — now threatens the central government, whose authority and armed forces are proving inadequate to the task of taking over from NATO once its troops withdraw this year. An unannounced civil war is already under way as the prize of state power once more seems achievable.

Inside the Box

People don’t actually like creativity.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly 

In the United States we are raised to appreciate the accomplishments of inventors and thinkers—creative people whose ideas have transformed our world. We celebrate the famously imaginative, the greatest artists and innovators from Van Gogh to Steve Jobs. Viewing the world creatively is supposed to be an asset, even a virtue. Online job boards burst with ads recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers. We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea. 

Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas.

A close friend of mine works for a tech startup. She is an intensely creative and intelligent person who falls on the risk-taker side of the spectrum. Though her company initially hired her for her problem-solving skills, she is regularly unable to fix actual problems because nobody will listen to her ideas. “I even say, ‘I’ll do the work. Just give me the go ahead and I’ll do it myself,’ ” she says. “But they won’t, and so the system stays less efficient.”

R2P: A Spectrum Of Responses

Note: There was a great amount of heat vs. light in many of the comments made in response to Strong State, Weak State, many of which seemed to mistake R2P for something it’s not. The strong identification of the Obama administration with R2P seems to have resulted in the politicization of the norm amongst US-based commenters.

Mark Safranski responded to my piece with a wholesale denial of R2P as a norm or established part of international law, but seems to focus on R2P-as-intervention, rather than R2P as a spectrum of responses to internal political strife aimed at preventing future atrocities. For example:

Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign (!) powers constituted as legitimized, recognized states and write their theories into international law…

Here Safranski and I agree on the proper role of theorists, but it wasn’t theorists that adopted R2P as a norm; it was the UN Security Council, as set forth in UNSCR 1674 in 2005, which was later utilized in the Libya intervention authorization (UNSCR 1973). Currently there are no higher authorities on interventions, peacemaking, and peacekeeping than the Security Council, which is surely not composed of academic theorists, but rather high-level diplomats that make moves, and yes, establish law, only on the explicit authorization of their countries. That the Security Council adopted the principles of R2P speaks more to the usefulness and applicability of the concepts than to any academic theorizing thereof.

Indeed, the principles of sovereignty as responsibility, and early warning/assistance are eminently useful when discussing postcolonialist and post-Cold War states, where all atrocities have occurred in the period after the Second World War. New and developing states are much more likely to encounter difficulties during their maturing process. As such, recognizing and asking for assistance from regional, and later, international, organizations draws on the geographic and cultural advantages inherent to such groups, increasing speed and effectiveness in their response. R2P expands sovereignty as a concept (while reducing its usefulness as an excuse for doing nothing) by setting the standard that states are expected to ask for assistance when dealing with events that are beyond their means to control. MISCA’s operations and subsequent request for assistance from the UN and EU for operations in the Central African Republic is a prime example of this, and exemplifies the middle part of the spectrum of responses envisioned in R2P. The CAR’s experience illustrates how R2P emphasizes self-awareness of states in their capacity to maintain a monopoly on the use of force within their borders; failing to maintain such a monopoly, R2P exhorts them to request assistance in regaining basic security as soon as possible in support of the population, not the state.

Strong State, Weak State:The New Sovereignty and Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. Rather, there is a strictly defined corpus of actions that begin the R2P process — a process that has different levels of corrective action undertaken by the international community in order to persuade, cajole and finally coerce states into actively taking steps to prevent atrocities from occurring within their boundaries. That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations.

R2P traces its roots back to the Holocaust and the subsequent horror of the Allied nations upon discovering Nazi concentration camps and the Final Solution. The phrase “never again” was coined in reference to the mass extermination of Jews, and even though Allied forces were unaware of the extent of the atrocities committed until late in the war, the stage was set for third-party interventions in events occurring solely within the boundaries of a state. Post-conflict accountability measures such as the tribunals at Nuremberg proved to be effective in publicizing the atrocities, but also illustrated the need for states to act on behalf of downtrodden parties prior to the onset of human rights violations — effectively making the case for early warning systems long before the term had entered the human rights vernacular. Indeed, much of the international human rights regime can trace its roots to reactions to the Holocaust, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights all finding their genesis in the aftermath of Nuremberg.

Yet after the creation of this corpus of human rights law little was done to promote responsibility to protect as an international behavioral norm. Consequently, actors continued to commit atrocities such as the seen in the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia with little intervention by external powers. This extended to the complete failure of the international human rights regime in the case of the Rwandan Genocide. The world would be witness to another spectacular failure in Srebrenica, where Dutch-led UN forces were helpless to stop the massacre of civilians by the Bosnian Serb Army.

With these failures fresh in mind, the US and NATO sought UN Security Council approval to intervene in the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo — the most clear example of R2P prior to the policy’s explicit adoption. Here the lack of Security Council approval for NATO actions within the sovereign boundaries of Kosovo — essentially rendering them illegal — combined with the absence of any concrete action taken against NATO or the United States represented a significant change in the manner in which the international community dealt with issues of sovereignty.

5 Questions with Admiral Stavridis on Scotch and Strategy

January 27, 2014 

This is the latest edition of our Five Questions series. Each week, we feature an expert, practitioner, or leader answering five questions on a topic of current relevance in the world of defense, security, and foreign policy. Well, four of the questions are topical. The fifth is about booze. We are War on the Rocks, after all.

This week, I spoke with Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret). He is the former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and currently Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Admiral Stavridis holds a PhD from Fletcher, and has written five books, including Destroyer Command, and over a hundred articles. You can follow him on Twitter @stavridisj.

1. Admiral Stavridis, thanks for doing this. You’ve been a great supporter of War on the Rocks since we launched with your review of The Guns at Last Light. Warrior-scholars like you, General Petraeus, and General McMaster have played very important roles in our military during a trying time of two wars and new security challenges. Does this signal a new era defined by the warrior-scholar seeking to bridge theory and practice? Or was this a blip?

I think the nation has always had warrior-scholars (and warrior-diplomats for that matter) and we will continue to have them. Many of the WWII senior officers had published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings and similar journals. Flag Officers like Rear Admiral JC Wylie, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, and Rear Admiral Bradley Fiske come quickly to mind. As I look at young officers today, we are still producing fine thinkers and writers in the field of strategy, many with PhDs or other advanced degrees. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun in this turbulent century, and we will need to out-think our opponents as well as out-fight them.

2. In the latest issue of Proceedings, you and David Weinstein call for the consolidation of all the service’s cyber components into a U.S. Cyber Force—not just a joint command, but a full-fledged, new service within DoD? What problems would this solve?

The problems are inefficiency, cross-service competition, lack of standardized training and education, and creating an effective military capability in the cyber world. The pick-up team approach (allowing each service to have its own cyber branch, with different career paths and training regimes) is not efficient. Cyber is too big, too important, and too central to future warfighting not to have a dedicated cadre of individuals who focus on training, equipping, and organizing—and then are made available to the joint commanders for combat operations.

Learning Large Lessons from Small Wars

February 5, 2014 

Not long after America’s withdrawal from South Vietnam, Harvard Professor Stanley Hoffmann observed that, “Of all the disasters of the last decade, the worst could be our unwillingness to learn enough from them.” The same appears true today. For all the ink spilt and bytes used, it is hard not to want to paraphrase Dr. Hoffmann and apply his witticism to America’s policy elite. So here goes: the greatest disaster about Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom is our abject inability to draw critical lessons from them.

I find myself in mild disagreement with Mark Stout’s comments on the counterinsurgency debate. The debate is certainly useful. However, it masks a larger and more important debate on the effectiveness of American policy and the strategy community, and another about the utility of force in the 21st century. We should not be distracted from these larger debates, which depend on our ability to be reflective and properly draw upon history to establish lessons.

Drawing clear lessons from post-mortems and “after action reviews” is a delicate matter because they can be politicized too readily. But it can and must be done. For an example, see the admirable Joint Staff assessment titled The Decade of War. But the military drew only operational lessons in that report. Its strongest lesson was about the “Big War” mentality that blinded the U.S. military from studying and preparing for insurgencies or small wars.

Several contributors here at WOTR have touched on the need to draw lessons carefully. Dr. David Johnson of RAND has reflected on his own experience in the post-Vietnam Army. Others, like Army Strategist Nate Finney, have also commented on the challenge, saying:

If we cannot look critically at our conflicts, how they were prosecuted, what worked and didn’t work, and what this could imply for the future, all of the concept development (think AirSea Battle and Strategic Landpower) and budget battles we are currently debating will be largely premature, if not largely uninformed.

Hagel Says Ethical Scandals Are a ‘Growing Problem’ in the Military

February 5, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is worried that after more than a decade of fighting two wars, the nation’s military is under a different kind of stress that’s leading to a loss of “moral character.”

One scandal after another has popped up in the news. An Air Force general was fired for drinking and misconduct during a trip to Russia. An officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention program was arrested for attacking a woman outside an Arlington, Va., strip club. A group of nuclear missile operators were suspended for cheating on proficiency exams. Now the Navy is investigating several trainers at its nuclear propulsion program for cheating.


Stephanie Gaskell is deputy editor and senior reporter for Defense One. She previously covered the Pentagon for Politico. Gaskell has covered war, politics and breaking news for nearly 20 years, including at the Associated Press, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. She has reported from ... Full Bio

Ethical misconduct is nothing new in the military, but Hagel worried that these cases are just part of a growing trend. “I think he definitely sees this as a growing problem, and he’s concerned about the depth of it,” Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby said Wednesday during a briefing at the Pentagon.

What if two Chinese colonels think that warfare is changing, even if you don't?

FEBRUARY 7, 2014 

By Col. C. Anthony Pfaff, U.S. Army 

Best Defense guest columnist 

There has been a great deal of discussion lately regarding how political and technological developments have impacted our understanding of war

More than a decade of frustration combating weaker insurgent forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the likelihood of future frustration to ensure political stability in developing nations and U.S. access to critical markets and infrastructure has led many to question whether we still adequately understand what war is. Central to this discussion has been a debate over whether the nature of war has changed or simply its character. At stake in this debate is not only how we develop, organize, and employ military forces, but also our doctrinal view of war, which has important implications for how we justify the use of those forces. How we justify the use of those forces has equally important implications for how often we find ourselves using it. 

In a recent article on "War on the Rocks," Christopher Mewett described war's nature as "violent, political and interactive." His concern, rightfully so, is that if we do not get the nature of war right, we will not properly prepare for it. However, this view of war is not necessarily shared by at least some possible U.S. adversaries. In their oft-cited 1999 book, Unrestricted Warfare, two Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiansui, argued that the United States narrowly defined war and this narrow understanding exposed it to a vulnerability that weaker states, like China, could exploit. In fact, they stated the U.S. military does a poor job of deliberating upon future fights, adding "lucid and incisive thinking ... is not a strong point of the Americans." If only they knew.