Weekend Reading: July 10-12 Edition


Happy Friday, readers! It’s time to break out that lawn chair, grab a cold beer and spend some time in the sun with some quality reading material, which we’ve collected for this edition of weekend reading. Here are some of the best things we’ve read this week.

Parsing the National Military Strategy. Recently, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey released a new National Military Strategy. While there are few surprises in the document, it provides insight into the preoccupations of Pentagon strategists and is surprisingly readable — for an official Department of Defense publication. Over at Defense in Depth, Janine Davidson highlights key takeaways from the document so you don’t need to read the whole thing.

Looking “Beyond the Iran Deal.” As the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran looms closer, Ilan Goldenberg and Avner Golov analyze the broader implications of an agreement on global nonproliferation norms and regional security in The National Interest. A successful deal could allow the United States to “take the most positive elements of the agreement with Iran and turn them into global best practices,” but only if coupled with the “right combination of policies after a deal including reassuring partners, pushing back against Iranian surrogates and proxies, and leveraging the agreement in the broader non-proliferation arena.”

The Iran Deal and U.S. Grand Strategy. “To protect the deal (assuming one is finalized) and take full advantage of its potential benefits, which include the drastic reduction of the risk of nuclear weapons proliferating in the region, the United States needs a comprehensive strategy for regional security in the Middle East. A potential nuclear deal with Iran — as strategically significant as it is — is only one piece of the Middle East security puzzle.” In a new report for the Atlantic Council, Bilal Y. Saab makes the case for coupling the Iran deal with a new U.S. approach to the Middle East built on cooperative security sustained by regional partners.

Want More? Here at War on the Rocks, Thomas Juneau argues that Iran’s goal in the nuclear talks “is not to consolidate its regional preponderance but rather to cut its losses after years of mounting sanctions and isolation.”

The Battle over Encryption. This week at Lawfare, several authors weigh in on the increasingly contentious debate between government officials and tech executives over data encryption. FBI Director James Comey continues to worry that strong encryption will allow criminals and terrorists to “go dark.” Susan Landau contends that weakening encryption might actually undermine U.S. national security by making data less secure and U.S. companies less competitive. And Paul Rosensweig proposes a compromise between privacy advocates and law enforcement: biometric encryption that would allow authorities to obtain data with a warrant while providing superior protection to the everyday user.

Want More? Walter Haydock weighed in on the debate at War on the Rocks in June, arguing against mandated backdoors in commercial encryption.

Disrupting the Defense Industry. In light of disagreements on privacy and encryption, can Silicon Valley and the Pentagon ever work together effectively? Secretary of Defense Ash Carter certainly thinks so, given his recent meeting with tech executives. But as Paul Tama points out in a report for the Brookings Institution, early-stage tech companies will only compete for defense contracts when entrepreneurs feel that the deck isn’t stacked against them. According to Tama, “the vast majority of these executives also could not envision a viable scenario in which doing business in defense, or the rest of the federal government for that matter, made sense commercially. The Department of Defense (DOD) is simply perceived as a bad customer, one that is heavily skewed in favor of larger, traditional players.”

Speaking of Acquisition ReformIn the latest installment of our “5 Questions” series, Ryan Evans interviews John McCain on his proposals to revamp the way in which the Pentagon does business. Still want more? Check out our “Beyond Offset” series, a collaboration with the Center for a New American Security designed to address the challenges of maintaining America’s competitive edge in military technology and advance solutions.

Ends. Ways. Means. “Remembering General Maxwell’s dictum that strategy is the sum of ends, ways and means, it is important to note that the strategy to defeat ISIL is incomplete without an objective for the end state. A strategy without ends is like throwing ingredients in a bowl, but not knowing the dish you are preparing.” — Diane Maye, writing for Strategy Bridge, says that in order to achieve our objectives in Iraq, the United States needs to take a note from the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, and develop a plan that considers the sum of ends, way, and means.

An Overlooked Issue with the F-35: Training. The F-35 came under fire again this week after critics raised doubts about the platform’s performance in air-to-air combat. At Breaking Defense, Dan Ward highlights another problem with the platform. Regardless of its technical capabilities, the F-35 “will require a cadre of professionals who are ‘proficient in developed tactics.’ That means the pilots need experience in the cockpit, but given the enormous costs, continual delays and tremendous complexity involved, experienced pilots is one thing the F-35 isn’t going to have any time soon.”

Putting the Counter-ISIL Campaign in Historical Perspective. Over at CFR’s Power, Politics, and Preventive Action blog, Micah Zenko compares Operation Inherent Resolve with similar air campaigns over the last 25 years. His conclusion? “For a military campaign that allegedly intends to inflict a ‘lasting defeat’ on the dispersed and large militant army that is the Islamic State, there is a relatively limited — though understandable given the concern of civilian casualties — number of bombs being dropped each day.”

Next Stop is Vietnam. In The Diplomat, Alexander Vuving assesses the implications of a historic visit to Washington by Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong: “The significance of Trong’s visit lies more in what it means than in what it says. For the United States, it means that the strategic gains from a close and strong relationship with Vietnam have outweighed the strategic costs of provoking China and the political costs of befriending a communist regime. For Vietnam, the trip will boost the communist regime’s legitimacy, but at the same time, the friendship with America will have political and strategic ramifications … Trong’s trip means that the reformers are on the rise and the conservatives in decline.”

Corruption as a Force Multiplier for the Enemy. “We’re not looking at a government that’s failing because of corruption … rather, we’re looking at a criminal enterprise succeeding because it’s masquerading as a government.” — Sarah Chayes discusses her latest book, Thieves of the State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, with Dr. Sarah O’Byrne in this podcast for Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger College of Arts & Sciences.

Want more? Did you catch WOTR’s review of this book from earlier this year? No? Well you’ve got to read “Grand Theft Autocracy” by Aaron Mannes!

Fighting and Writing about World War III. The National Military Strategy makes for decent reading material but P.W. Singer and August Cole’s novel Ghost Fleet is far more entertaining — and perhaps just as useful for decision-makers. Over at the Atlantic Council, Ryan Evans moderates a panel on the role that fiction can play in illuminating future strategic problems neglected by nonfiction.

Want More? Dan Ward reviews Ghost Fleet for War on the Rocks and the authors talk about the not-so-distant future of warfare in this podcast for the New America Foundation. Most importantly, nothing goes better with a speculative war novel than the perfect beer pairing. Yet another advantage of fiction over bland white papers.

ICYMI on War on the Rocks

  • Amanda Rothschild on why “being policy relevant takes guts.”
  • Andy Polk making the case for the Trans Pacific Partnership: “The physics of trade are not controlled by America; the push to liberalize trade in Asia does not halt absent the United States.”
  • Andrew Hunter defending the Long Range Strike Bomber: “…the department’s decision to pursue LRS-B appears sound and the affordability target appears plausible.”


Photo credit: U.S. Army Europe