Weekend Reading: July 24–26 Edition

July 24, 2015

Here’s your weekend reading list. I promise lots of smart insight on Iran, Ukraine, British defense, and nothing on Trump.

The Pentagon needs a “Come to Jesus” moment on the unpredictability of war.  “No technology or spin can change the certainty that there will be uncertainty in war. A jet’s components may not work as planned under the high-tempo, extreme battle conditions of a major-power conflict. Or American pilots might have only a fraction of their usual electronic wizardry, due to jamming and hacking by enemy forces. Sensitive stealthy aircraft will get roughed up flying through debris and operating from austere or damaged airfields. This problem is not just caused by the idealized vision of warfare that Washington too often associates with new technology. It is also due to the very idea that new technologies can solve all problems for all people.”  — For Reuters’ Great Debate blog, P. W. Singer and August Cole argue that the Pentagons needs to reassess its view of current and future weapons programs and prioritize them in preparation for the worst-case scenario, not the best.

What to do about Donbas? “So Kyiv hasn’t given Moscow what it wants, enshrining a special status for Donetsk and Luhansk in the constitution — at least not yet. But it did just enough to satisfy Western powers who are eager to demonstrate that Ukraine is adhering to the Minsk agreement. It’s a clever tactic. But one has to wonder if there is a strategy. Because what eventually happens with the rebel-held areas of Donbas is crucial to Ukraine’s future.”  — On his blog for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The Power Vertical, Brian Whitmore weighs Kyiv’s options for the region of Donbas in Ukraine, where the most recent fighting between Russia and Ukraine occurred with little resolution.

Militia. Schmilitia. What the U.S. needs to get right when setting up proxy security forces. “When the United States decides to sponsor militias, it needs to immediately build into its policies implementable ways to disband them once the U.S. objectives have been accomplished. Otherwise, it will have to live with the fact that the militias will likely become a major problem for U.S. interests. The United States thus must look beyond immediate pressing security imperatives and expand its policy horizons toward the long term.”  — Brookings senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown draws comparisons between the effects of militia forces in the countries of Mexico and Afghanistan and their implications for U.S foreign policy.

More guns isn’t the solution to Chattanooga shooting. “The upshot is that your average service member is more qualified than most civilians to handle guns, but no more qualified to neutralize an active shooter than the average professional mechanic is to race the Daytona 500.”  — Adam Weinstein, writing for The Trace, a new publication covering guns in America, says that in the wake of the Chattanooga shooting, arming all military members would be an irrational decision.

Shut up and take the deal. “Broadly, the action would distance the world from the United States and rally them around Iran after more than a decade when the reverse was the case. Further, it is hard to imagine any successful future negotiating effort with the Iranians on any topic. Even more important, it is hard to imagine that rejecting the deal would prompt Iranian behavior to improve, yet rejection would remove powerful, successful tools with which the United States has been able to affect that behavior.”  — Jon B. Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, contends that while the Iran deal is far some perfect, the implications of the United States ultimately rejecting it would be far worse for U.S. relations and the global financial system.

Want more? At War on the Rocks, Kingston Reif says when it comes to the Iran deal, heed the words of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.”

Why we need to hold on to our war stories. “In war, missteps are inevitable. The bigger the responsibility, the longer the campaign, the greater the stakes and the more far-reaching the objectives, the better the odds that more misjudgments will be made. The problem for generals and armies is that they can’t outlive all the historians who will write about them. Historians aspire to objectivity and truth-telling but in the end, they are storytellers, the act of which entails leaving out some details and underscoring others. This gives readers a sense of the people, place, time and plot that drive the narrative form.”  — In the August 2015 edition of Army magazine, Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano explains World War II still matters and why the United States must draw on lessons from the past.

Think forward, not backward. “During the Cold War, the United States sized and organized its military establishment to be able to fight and win two major wars at once, one in Asia and one in Europe. In recent decades this requirement has been nominally sustained, but the scale of each envisaged conflict has been reduced, reflecting both a diminished threat and reduced American capacity. The current standard is to defeat one regional adversary and deny the objective of, or impose unacceptable costs on, a different aggressor in another region.”  — James Dobbins, writing for The National Interest, traces the history of how national security strategies have been historically framed in the United States and warns that current and future administrations must reconsider these strategies when weighing U.S strategic options.

WOTR Weekly Round up: A few more great reads published on our own contributors this week.


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.