Weekend Reading: April 24-26 Edition

April 24, 2015

Here’s your weekend reading list with the best articles you didn’t know about from the past week.

New research could predict which terrorist groups will attack civilians. “All of this raises what I’ve coined as The Puzzle of Terrorism: If attacking civilians only encourages governments to dig in their political heels, why do groups do it? … It turns out that certain kinds of groups are significantly more likely to attack civilians than others – those suffering from leadership deficits in which lower level members are calling the shots. Leadership deficits promote terrorism by empowering lower level members of the organization, who have stronger incentives to harm civilians.” — Max Abrahms, for Political Violence @ A Glance, on a study that calls for a reassessment of conventional wisdom on terrorists and their motives.

A history lesson. “In the 1840s, Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men.’ This statement is a summary of the sharply criticized and deeply problematic Great Man Theory which nonetheless continues to pervade how we teach, and therefore understand, history. Simplistic as the theory is, and despite falling from favor among historians after World War II, history is still largely taught by jumping from great man to great man, major event to major event.” — Katie Putz writes that we could learn a little something about present-day debates and government-dividing probes if we take a look at defunct journals and old committee reports from previous generations.

Just a really morbid listicle. “Perhaps the most frightening class of weapons are so-called biological weapons. The idea of invisible, often living weapons indiscriminately spreading death and disease is a terrifying one. Biological weapons consist of microorganisms and toxins targeted against humans, animals and crops. Deployed against humans, biological weapons sicken and kill to reduce the effectiveness of armies and terrorize civilian populations. Against animals and crops, biologicals reduce an enemy nation’s food supply.” — At The National Interest, Kyle Mizokami breaks down the five weapons of war that should never be used, including biological weapons.

The next big threat could come from space, and the United States is ready. “Since the United States and its allies are dependent on these satellites for everything from maintaining and operating critical infrastructure and the everyday functioning of modern society, through to the American way of war itself, these growing threats to satellites can not be ignored by policymakers. Fortunately, since the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. has crafted and evolved a remarkably enduring space policy. The fundamentals of which have scarcely changed over the decades, yet is more than capable of dealing with the growing threat environment in space.” — For Real Clear Defense, John B. Sheldon defends the United States’ national space policy (which I am pretty sure is simply, keep China out of it).

Bionic soldiers could soon be a reality. In recently released science and technology “campaign plans,’’ or long-term research plans, the Army Research Laboratory vows to pursue “high-risk and high-payoff” research aimed at producing “revolutionary impacts on the Army’s warfighting capabilities.” Among its goals: maximize “the effectiveness of Soldiers physically, perceptually, and cognitively.” The plans include a “human sciences” portion that calls for research in areas ranging from brain stimulation to exoskeleton development to “implantable interfaces,” including “sensors, computers, and controls implanted in teeth, under the skin, taken orally or directly interfaced with neural tissue.” — William Matthews, writing for Army Magazine, on the Army’s continued quest to create super soldiers.

The British armed forces needs a reality check. “There is little hope in reversing the underlying social and legal developments which are responsible for the legal challenges currently facing the British armed forces. If this is the case, then the complexity and uncertainty that these developments have engendered cannot be reversed easily either. What this means is that the search for legal solutions which completely banish international human rights law from the conduct of military operations is but a pipe dream.” — At the Lawfare blog, Aurel Sari and Noëlle Quénivet on how not to save the British armed forces from legal defeat.

Cold War thinking still drives states’ views on killer robots. “Several states argued that systems that lacked meaningful human control would violate international humanitarian and international human rights law, and thus ought to be banned or ‘proscribed’ by the CCW. Other states claimed that the technology is still not developed to its full potential, and as such, the world ought to wait until we possess the technology to see the true limits of its use.  But this last position is akin to the mineshaft gap rationale.  It basically claims that the possessors of the technology now do not want to give it up, and that they want to develop it further to stay ahead of any potential adversary or emerging threat. The only permissible gap is between those who possess it and those who do not, and if some other actor (state or nonstate) were to possess it, we must not let them get ahead! We must not allow a killer robot gap!” — Duck of Minerva’s Heather Roff describes the varying points of view of states on the topic of “killer robots,” after attending the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

You didn’t read every War on the Rocks article, yet?! It’s okay, we forgive you. Here are a few that you need to be up to date on.

  • Corri Zoli, Rosy Maury and Danny Fay offer excellent analysis on why, without careful, data-driven studies of service members and the issues surrounding their time in and out of the military, we cannot understand how veterans are really doing now or in the future.
  • Anna Simons asks, “aren’t there smarter ways to thread the needle on the women-in-combat-unit topic than have surfaced thus far?”
  • Aaron Stein shuts down the likelihood of a joint Turkish-Saudi military operation in Syria.


Lauren Katzenberg is an 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.

If you have an article you think should be included in the weekend reading list, shoot it over to lauren.katzenberg@warontherocks.com.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army