Weekend Reading: March 7th

March 7, 2014

TGIF! Between the crisis in Ukraine and the release of the QDR and proposed 2015 budget, we’ve had quite the week here at War on the Rocks. To make sure you’re up to date on these events and more, we’ve put together our usual Weekend Reading List.

Enjoy the weekend!

The Failure of the Reset with Russia: Writing for the Washington Post, Daniel Nexon argues that the failure of the “reset” policy toward Russia implemented by the Obama administration in 2008 demonstrates “the realities of power politics in the 21st century.” He notes that while the U.S. faces strategic and political limitations globally, it still maintains the military and economic might to keep the upper hand against Russia. Therefore, regardless of the outcome in Ukraine, “the global balance of power will emerge completely unaltered.”

More on Ukraine: Writing for WOTR, Mark Safranski, James Goldgeier, and Sean Kay each weigh in on NATO’s role in handling the crisis in Ukraine.

Pentagon Released 2014 QDR: This week the Pentagon released the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which builds upon the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, and aims “to adapt, reshape, and rebalance our military to prepare for the strategic challenges and opportunities we face in the years ahead.” Read the full review here. Then, check out commentary from WOTR contributors Bryan McGrath, who reviews the QDR’s high and low points, and Kori Schake, who argues that the document fails to offer a strategy consistent with available resources.

More on the new budget: The Washington Post has a great visual breakdown of the proposed 2015 fiscal year budget proposal released by the Obama administration Tuesday morning.

Frank Underwood in the Flesh: The Atlantic has a profile of Venezuela’s National Assembly chief and vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello. Referred to as a real-life Frank Underwood, Cabello has enabled the National Assembly to ignore constitutional hurdles, “at various times preventing opposition members from speaking in session, suspending their salaries, stripping particularly problematic legislators of parliamentary immunity, and, on one occasion, even presiding over the physical beating of unfriendly lawmakers while the assembly was meeting.” While the fate Venezuelan president Maduro remains unclear, it seems inevitable that Cabello will be controlling the outcome in the shadows.

Cancelled Contracts and Lost Causes: The National Journal takes a look at expensive technology programs funded by the U.S. government, but then cancelled before completion, resulting in billions of wasted taxpayer dollars. An example is the $1.2 billion doled out to BAE Systems and General Dynamics by the Army to develop new armored vehicles that could carry a full nine-man infantry squad. The program is one of many requested for cancellation in the Obama administration’s 2015 defense budget proposal, with not a single vehicle to show for the money already spent.

Drawing Wisdom from Lord of the Rings: John McLaughlin, writing for the American Interest, looks at changes in the threat posed by jihadi extremism over the last dozen years. He argues that the three key ways in which this threat has changed derive from 1) a shift in al-Qaeda’s center of gravity, 2) tactical and leadership debates in the wake of bin Laden’s death, and 3) a decentralization of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and those inspired by it, making it more difficult to locate and penetrate them. He concludes that we are in a moment of transition and “must therefore pay close attention to all of these trends, and to what the extremists themselves tell us about their aspirations. As we do, we would be well served to bear in mind the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose character Éowyn says in the Lord of the Rings: ‘It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two…’”

Crunching the Numbers—Pentagon’s Proposed Cuts to Force Structure not so Bad: Janine Davidson, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, launched her new blog this week, Defense in Depth. In one of her first posts, Davidson argues that the Pentagon’s proposal to cut the active-duty Army from 560,000 soldiers to 450,000 is not as dramatic as critics are claiming. Further, when including proposed growth within the Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces, the resultant overall force structure resembles more of a redistribution of manpower rather than a downsize.

WOTR Highlights from the Week: Don’t miss some of the highlights from WOTR’s contributors from the past seven days.

  • Christopher Mewett shares part 1 of a three-part series, “Ain’t No Party Like a Clausewitz Party Cuz a Clausewitz Party Don’t Stop”
  • Andy Polk examines China’s recent rise in power in the Arab world
  • Adam Elkus discusses the need for civilian and military thinkers and practitioners to engage war’s new (computational) grammar when it comes to artificial intelligence
  • War on the Rocks interviews Ambassador Ron Sorini, the Co-Founder and Principal of Sorini, Samet & Associates, which represents several major U.S. corporations and trade associations before the U.S. Government and the Congress on international trade issues and legislation


Lauren Katzenberg is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery