5 Questions with Admiral Stavridis on Scotch and Strategy

Cleared for release by Joint Staff Public Affairs

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 organizingand then are made available to the joint commanders for combat operations.

3.  In a recent interview, you raised the possibility of Syria sparking a wider regional war in the Middle East on Sunni-Shia fault lines comparable to the wars of reformation that consumed Europe for over a hundred years.  You suggest NATO might have a role to play in peacekeeping.  If there was some sort of political settlement, how do you think NATO could best participate in peacekeeping in Syria? Specifically, what do you think Turkey’s role can be or should be?

We are a long way from a peacekeeping force of any kind in Syria.  If and when the United Nations decides to intervene, it will require a Security Council Resolution to authorize the use of force.  If the United Nations Security Council chooses to ask NATO to take on the task (as it did in Libya), I believe NATO would be the most credible and combat ready force with built-in command and control to take on the mission.  But at the moment, the UN clearly would not authorize such a mission due to deep disagreement on the Security Council (principally between the United States and Russia) about the proper course to take.  Turkey would obviously be integrally involved in such a force, whether it was NATO or a UN coalition of some other type.

4.  Sir Hew Strachan recently said that the United States and Britain are guilty of strategic failure in Afghanistan. Is this fair? Will history look kindly on the Afghan surge? Even if we manage to ink a Bilateral Security Agreement with the Afghan government, what do you think about the viability of the Afghan state post-2014?

I remain cautiously optimistic of success in Afghanistan, with success defined as:  a functioning democracy, a sustainable economy that bridges to the mineral wealth of the country, reasonable control of borders, education for children, constitutionally protected rights for women, and an Afghan security force capable of containing the low-grade insurgency represented by the Taliban.  Getting to success will require sustaining about 15K coalition troops (a 90% reduction from peak) for training and mentoring of the Afghan forces.  This will cost about $4B annually which will be shared among the 50 or so troop and cash-contributing nations.  I have yet to see any credible analysis that convinces me the Taliban have any real chance to regain powerthey are deeply unpopular (less than 10% approval) while the government and military are supported (50% and 80% popularity on the same polls).  Karzai needs to quickly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, and hopefully he will soon.  If not, his successor almost assuredly will.  While there are many challenges and problems, I think there is roughly a 2 in 3 chance of success as defined abovenot bad.

5.  I understand you like Scotch, Admiral.  Since this is after all War on the Rocks, can you tell us a little about how you developed a taste for Scotch?

I always remember my Dad, a USMC Colonel and combat veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, having a sip of Scotch at the end of the day with my Mom.  My sister and I would join them (not in the Scotch, sadly), but I always associate a little good Scotch with family, the end of the work day, and relaxation.  I have about 40 different single malt Scotches I have picked up here and there, and my favorites are the heavy, peaty types:  two of my favorites are Laphroaig and Ardbeg, from Islay.  Generally, I like them over an ice cube or two, although a purist would say drink them neat or with a dash of water.  It is all good.  Wish I had one right now…


Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for the National Interest. He is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

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