Weekend Reading: March 6-8

March 6, 2015

Big news week for national security and foreign policy fields, and not just from Netanyahu’s speech. More importantly, War on the Rocks launched a crowdfunding campaign so we can provide you with even more commentary and analysis from the most experienced voices on strategy, defense, and foreign policy. Help us reach our goal of $100,000 by donating and passing the campaign on to others who love War on the Rocks!

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Mythbusters. At Defense In Depth, Janine Davidson takes down four myths that both drive and endanger U.S. defense policy. These include that the only mission of the military is to “fight and win the nation’s wars,” that we can always defeat our enemies through a mix of “knowledge, rapidity, brilliance, and control,” the myth of the effective “Interagency,” and that any messy problems should just be handed over to special operations forces.

Through the socially constructed looking glass. At the Arabist, authors Sarah Birke and Peter Harling argue that the vocabulary used by media, Western governments, and policy planners, among others, to describe the Islamic State and our efforts to counter it is too often selected to fit social constructs that we already understand, rather than to fit constructs that are accurate. They write, “In the West, the threat posed by Islamic State has been equated with anything from Auschwitz to the genocide in Rwanda to the siege of Sarajevo, even though none of these precedents has much in common with the phenomenon at hand.” These flawed comparisons, however, do far more harm than good and may lead to consequences the West is not prepared for.

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Want more? Over at Jay Ulfelder’s blog, “Dart-Throwing Chimp,” he writes that in the United States, our understanding of rebellions in foreign countries is too often framed in narratives that we can understand, such as deprivation and injustice. In cases when rebellions, or bursts of violence, don’t fit this cry for justice model, then those actors are framed as “terrorists,” “radicals,” or “criminals.” Rather than generalization and simplifying foreign events, Westerners need to examine the deeper implications and motives of actions taken abroad to develop holistic understanding of global affairs.

The Bibi speech: What he didn’t say matters. Michael Koplow, of the Ottomans and Zionists blog, offers his four main takeaways from Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday. The most significant one, he says, is what Netanyahu didn’t say, which was a reaffirmation that a deal with Iran must leave it with zero enrichment capability. Koplow writes: “The fact that he did not repeat it suggests to me that he is taking a more realistic and more reasonable view of things, particularly since low level enrichment was always a red herring – the only number that matters is 20% and higher for breakout purposes – and for the first time, he is actually helping a deal along.”

Want more? At War on the Rocks, Patrick Cronin and Audrey Kurth Cronin offer a new model for defense cooperation as the United States faces new, non-traditional and more complex enemies and forms of warfare. Also, check out our latest podcast, where Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council, Shane Harris of The Daily Beast, and John Amble and Mark Stout, both of War on the Rocks, talk cybersecurity over drinks.

Women rising. The Christian Science Monitor explores whether U.S. military academies will start admitting more women into their schools as the broader military opens more billets to women across the branches. While the application versus rejections rates for women are unclear (because the Pentagon has actively withheld the data, according to the report), there is a growing call for greater encouragement of women to apply to the military academies and more transparency in their enrollment processes.

Want more? In addressing the debate about women in combat, Katherine Kidder, writing for Task & Purpose, points out that in order to create a lasting culture change, this argument needs to be framed around mission effectiveness and not just gender equality.

Time to kill the classic bargaining model in warfare. Writing for Duck of Minerva, Heather Roff explains how cyberwarfare has disrupted the classic bargaining model of warfare, which assumes two rational actors, often states, are engaged in negotiations over some dispute that ultimately leads to war if an agreement cannot be made. The core of this model assumes a debate is ensuing on an issue and each side has a general understanding of other’s stance. However, in cyber warfare, there is often no negotiation preempting an attack, and therefore, there can be no bargaining beforehand. Roff observes, “For cyber ‘war’ then, what we see is a continual barrage of below the threshold attacks (what I refer to as ‘sub limina attacks’) undertaken on the assumption that the target will calculate that it is not worth responding in an escalatory manner.” Therefore, policymakers need to move away from bargaining models in addressing cyber warfare.

WOTR Weekly Roundup: Some highlights from War on the Rocks over the past seven days.


Lauren Katzenberg is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks. She is also the managing editor of Task & Purpose, a news and culture publication covering veterans and military affairs. Follow her on Twitter @lkatzenberg.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army