Weekend Reading: June 12-14 Edition

June 12, 2015

As the summer finally heats up, so do the takes (I could not help myself) and we’ve got them all right here. From a Robert Kaplan smackdown, to an insider view of the Iran deal, here’s the latest weekend reading list.

Also, don’t forget to wish the Army a happy 240th birthday on Sunday.

The imperialism debate. “Kaplan and others call for imperialism-lite — without acknowledging that empires aren’t always sunny, stable and successful. Policymakers and scholars alike need accurate historical examinations of imperial rule, and need to stay alert to the ways in which local politics, outside political forces and military intervention affect countries in untold and infinitely complex ways.” — Benjamin Denison and Andrew Lebovich offer a compelling rebuttal in the Monkey Cage to Robert Kaplan’s May Foreign Policy article in which he argues that while imperialism helped stabilize the Middle East for significant periods in the past, the post-imperial region is much more volatile.

Want more? Read this February 2015 WOTR article by Nick Danforth, he argues against blaming the unrest in the Middle East on artificial borders drawn during the colonial era. And Benjamin Denison counters Danforth’s case study of the Balkans, retorting that they “serve as an emblematic case of state formation where the threat of war drove the Balkan states to strengthen themselves after imperial rule.”

Instability in Kenya means opportunity for al-Shabaab. “The ongoing instability in northeastern Kenya puts further pressure on the Kenyan government to prove that it can respond to al-Shabaab, but it is also an opportunity. Rather than alienating the northeast, the central government should engage with its citizens. Community trust is a critical missing piece in Kenya’s counterterrorism strategy.” — For Ramen IR, Sarah Graveline says that ineffective and brutal police tactics in Kenya are destabilizing relations between the government and its border communities and must be reformed now or it will create an advantage for al-Shabaab.

Need a good distraction at work? Now you can simulate the end of the world online thanks to this simulation by Simon Swain. While this version only allows you to tweak initial conditions, it’s still the perfect 15-minute distraction for a Friday. Hat tip to Mira Rapp-Hooper for pointing this out to us.

What the recent data breach means for the U.S. government. “The question arises: what is the appropriate mechanism for ensuring that OPM or any other government agency is accountable for data protection? And who or what entity is in the position to judge whether government agencies’ data protection practices are adequate? One amusing answer might be to deny the U.S. government enforcement authority over any standard that it cannot, itself, meet. Less rhetorically, however, it is time, and past time for the U.S. government to subject itself to a comprehensive cybersecurity audit, measured against the NIST standards, and conducted by an independent outside commission using non-government assessment tools.” — In the wake of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, the Lawfare blog has a smart take on why now is the time (or perhaps, ages ago) for the government to audit its cyber security measures.

The outcome of the Snowden leaks, two years on. “Snowden intended to spark global debate by framing expansive surveillance and espionage as threats to universal human rights. His June 4 op-ed claimed a ‘change in global awareness’ is underway and ‘the balance of power is beginning to shift.’ However, the gap between these claims and reality is great, suggesting his impact globally has been weak, if not counterproductive.” — The Council on Foreign Relations’ David Fidler examines the impact of the Edward Snowden disclosures following the second anniversary of the leaks. His conclusion: Meh.

A good listen for your commute home. For this week’s War on the Rocks podcast, Ryan Evans sits down with Colin Kahl, the national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, to talk about the Iranian nuclear program deal deadline, which is fast approaching.

America: Show me the hege-money. “America’s limited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were hardly the final throes of a passing hegemon. They are more akin to Britain’s bloody but relatively inconsequential conflicts in Afghanistan and Crimea in the middle of the nineteenth century. Brutal wars like these repeatedly punctured, but never burst, British hegemony.” — At the National Interest, Salvatore Babones argues that U.S. global hegemony is not on the decline and is pretty much running an “imperial world state” that will be running the show for a while.

Why Ukraine matters to the EU. “Rather than force a rethink of major strategic priorities, like the Asia pivot, the United States has responded effectively to the Russia crisis by not playing into Moscow’s narrative and putting capable allies in the diplomatic, economic, and military lead. The United States has coordinated transatlantic consensus to apply painful political and economic costs on Russia without putting at risk cooperation on areas of mutual interest.” — The Italian Institute for International Political Studies just published a report exploring the “real origins” of the current Ukraine crisis that has led to open confrontation between Russia and the European Union. War on the Rocks contributor Sean Kay offers his insight on the logic behind U.S. engagement in chapter six.

A Senate proposal gone bad. “Ultimately, such a policy would be disastrous for dual-military couples. It creates weird incentives — like discouraging marriage and military roommates — and falls disproportionately on enlisted personnel and women. It makes a mockery of all manner of diversity initiatives, and would almost certainly lead to an exodus of women from the services. Nothing about it makes sense from an economic or human perspective.” — Marcus Cunningham, writing for Task & Purpose, analyzes the numbers behind the Senate’s proposal to cut basic allowance for housing for dual-military couples.

A few more from War on the Rocks.

  • Ciro Lopez asks, how does someone at the staff level with an innovative idea get traction in the bureaucratic world of the Department of Defense? Good question.
  • Peter Mansoor examines why national reputation matters.
  • Andre Gziryan shares how to stock your home bar in this two-part series. Part one explains the tools and instruments you need. Look out for part two in the coming days.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Kaplan’s Foreign Policy article called for a return to imperialism, which is not accurate. (6/12/2015; 15:39)


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: Eboni L. Everson, U.S. Army