Weekend Reading: August 2

August 2, 2013

Weekend Reading – August 2

Happy Friday and happy August from all of us here at WOTR. Here’s what our team is reading this weekend. As always, we want to include your suggestions in Weekend Reading, so be sure to tweet them to us @WarontheRocks.

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday!

115 years of Guantánamo: From the New Yorker, a fascinating look at the history of Guantánamo Bay. First won from the Spanish after a 9-day battle in 1898, the victorious Americans leased Guantanamo for $2,000 a year. Paul Kramer chronicles how the naval base went from a little-known outpost where American soldiers engaged in various kinds of hedonism to a Cold War symbol of American might to a legal “purgatory” for captured prisoners. Given the politically charged nature of the Guantánamo issue in today’s discourse, this article is a rare and valuable look at how we got to this point.

(Want more? In The New Republic, law professor Robert Knowles suggests that the United States take a page out of Israel’s book, and move to a model of civilian control of the controversial prison).

Supplier beware: This quick read by Claude Berube of the U.S. Naval Academy finds insight on arming Syrian rebels in an unexpected place:  the U.S. experience arming the Viet Minh rebels against the Japanese during World War II. After the Japanese surrendered and Ho Chi Minh was elected President of Vietnam, American Major Allison Thomas asked Ho if he was a communist. His answer? “Yes, but we can still be friends, can’t we?” The rest, as they say, is history.

The center of power you never knew about: Here’s the first installment of a new series from The Asahi Shimbun, which takes a deep dive into how the Chinese Communist Party really works. This series, titled “Inner Sanctum,” examines Zhongnanhai, the secluded compound where the Chinese leadership makes key decisions. “Even we are not sure what occurs there,” one analyst admitted about the mysterious compound. Read on to learn about the shifting Chinese attitude toward North Korea and other interesting internal dynamics playing out in Zhongnanhai, and be sure to catch the rest of the series as it’s released.

F-35, sequestered: It’s no secret that sequestration is causing problems for industries all over the country. But the automatic cuts that were meant to curb rising spending is raising costs for defense companies. In a long and painstakingly reported piece for National Journal, Sara Sorcher isolates a single component of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and shows how reduced production of F-35s is causing unforeseen disruptions – monetary and otherwise – for smaller suppliers.

Reviving a parallel: How similar are the conflicts in Mali and Afghanistan? Many analysts were unwilling to concede the parallels when the French first intervened in Mali in January. But in this probing piece for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, Thomas Ruttig suggests that there may be something to this comparison. He looks at the climate and ecology, drug trafficking, weak rule of law, and other factors that may suggest insights about bringing both conflicts to a close.

Debate: What caused the Iraq war? Over at Duck of Minerva, there’s a lively discussion going on. It’s kicked off by Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro of Yale University, whose forthcoming article points to power shifts, real or perceived, as a key explanation for preventive wars (Their article, by the way, is available ungated for about two weeks, so be sure to take a look). In his response, Professor David Lake of UCSD suggests a number of political and psychological dynamics underlying the actions of Saddam Hussein and the Bush administration, concluding that the war cannot be explained through a purely rational bargaining model.

“Do you not feel ridiculous?” Last weekend marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement. But what did it take to get there? The Atlantic has an interesting look back into the torturous – but now largely forgotten – Korean war cease-fire negotiations. Over the course of over two years, the U.S., China, and North Korea held 159 meetings characterized by stalemate, vitriol, and more than a little dark humor.

(Want more? Regular readers will know that the negotiations on the Korean Peninsula didn’t stop there. After reading this, re-visit WOTR’s own Robert Collins for part 2 of the saga: the 41-year stalemate between North and South Korea.)

The Queen’s speech that never was: And thank goodness, too. The National Archives recently released a copy of a speech written in 1983 for the Queen of England to deliver in advance of a nuclear war with Russia.  The Guardian reports that the speech was part of an exercise in which Whitehall prepared its defenses against an aggressive new leadership in the Kremlin. It’s a chilling historical artifact. Incidentally, the only thing remotely fun about it is the revelation that Britain’s No First Use of  Nuclear [Weapons] doctrine was nicknamed NOFUN.

(Want more? Read the speech in its entirety at BuzzFeed).