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Anatomy of Failure. Why America loses every war it starts – Harlan K. Ullman.

Entertaining the troops under the doubtful assumption that it will raise morale seems to be part of every war we fight.

Since the end of World War II, America lost every war it started and failed in military interventions when it did not use sound strategic thinking or have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the circumstances in deciding to use force.

The public and politicians need to understand why we have often failed in using military force and the causes. From that understanding, hopefully future administrations will be better prepared when considering the most vexing decision to employ force and send Americans into battle.

The twin causes have been the failure to think strategically and to have sufficient knowledge and understanding when deciding on the use of force.

Interestingly, this failure applies to republicans and democrats alike and seems inherent in our national DNA as we continue ignore past mistakes.

By examining the records of presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama in using force or starting wars, it becomes self-evident why we fail. And the argument is reinforced by autobiographical vignettes that provide a human dimension and insight into the reasons for failure, in some cases making public previously unknown history.

The recommendations and solutions offered in Anatomy of Failure begin with a framework for a brains based approach to strategic thinking and then address specific bureaucratic, political, organizational and cultural deficiencies that have reinforced this propensity for failure.

The clarion call of the book is that both a sound strategic framework and sufficient knowledge and understanding of the circumstance that may lead to using force are vital. Without them, failure is virtually guaranteed.

Preface

Since the official end of the Cold War in 1991, remarkably, the United States has been at war or engaged in significant military conflicts and interventions for over two-thirds of the intervening years. Tens of thousands of American Soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen have been killed or wounded in these conflicts. Wars and conflicts in Iraq in 1991; Somalia, 1992-93; the global war on terror, and Afghanistan, 2001-present; Iraq, 2003-present; and Syria and Yemen since 2016 represent a total of nineteen of the past twenty-six years in which this nation’s armed forces have been engaged in combat!

Using the end of World War II in 1945 as a second starting point and including the Korean (1950-53) and Vietnam Wars (from 1959-when the first Americans were killed-to withdrawal in 1974), Americans have been in battle for thirty-seven of the past seventy-two years, or well over 50 percent of the time. The record has not been impressive. Korea was a draw. Vietnam was an ignominious defeat, vividly encapsulated by the poignant image of the last Huey helicopter lifting off the roof of the embattled American embassy in Saigon.

The only outright victory of the past six decades was the first Iraq War in 1991, in which President George H. W. Bush had the sound judgment to limit the objective to ejecting Saddam Hussein and his army from Kuwait and then to withdraw the bulk of our forces from the region.

Tragically for the nation, Bush’s son, George W. Bush, presided over arguably the greatest American strategic catastrophe since the Civil War, the second Iraq war, a conflict that led to the rise of the Islamic State and is still being waged today, without an end in sight.

The reader can evaluate the outcomes of the other interventions cited above.

Several observations that can be made about this history of repeated failure are almost as dismal the record itself.

First, few Americans are even aware of or concerned over how long this nation has been engaged in armed conflict over recent decades. It is quite a staggering length of time for a country that prides itself on its “exceptionalism” and its “peaceful” efforts to spread democracy around the globe.

Second, few Americans even ask why, given what we believe is the greatest military in the world, our record in war and military interventions is so failure prone. Third, we ourselves must ask: What can be done, in light of general public indifference, to ensure success whenever the nation employs military force in major conflicts or interventions?

This book examines the more significant American uses of force over the past six decades to understand why we lose wars (and fail in interventions) that we start. It also argues the absolute need to adopt a valid framework for making decisions, what I have termed a “brains-based approach to strategic thinking.”

While some may regard this term as arrogant, the fact is that too often we have failed to exercise fully the grey matter between our ears, with disastrous results.

To succeed, sound strategic thinking must transcend or minimize the vagaries of politics, ideologies, simplistic campaign slogans, wishful ideas, and the inexperience that have (as the forthcoming chapters will argue) handicapped the nation’s last three commanders in chief and almost certainly will affect the current one. From these analyses, the book derives means for how to win, how to succeed in applying force.

To make this argument more vivid, vignettes about major events are interspersed throughout the text. To some, they will be controversial. To others, these vignettes will underscore on a personal level the larger reasons for failure and the damning impact of the absence of sound strategic thinking. Each vignette is an accurate summary of actual events, to the best of my recollection. A few circumstances have been altered to protect sensitive information or sources.

As with any work, shortfalls and errors are the responsibility of the author alone. The only responsibility of the reader is to keep an open mind in understanding why we lose the very conflicts we start.

Harlan Ullman

Washington, D.C. September 30, 2016

Introduction

A Simple Truth Shaped By Moments of War

Presidents, politicians, and publics have failed to grasp this simple truth: for more than half a century, America has lost every war it has started. Likewise, America has also failed in military interventions it has initiated, interventions undertaken for reasons that turned out to be misinformed, contrived, baseless, ignorant, or just wrong.

In extreme humanitarian crises, especially those involving genocide and mass slaughter of innocents, decisions over whether or not to intervene with military force rather than with only aid and assistance are agonizing. More often than not, such humanitarian interventions bring temporary, not long-term solutions -the relief of the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s ultimate engagement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s being notable exceptions.

Tragically, intervention for the right reasons may still fail. Somalia in the early 1990s and, particularly, Libya in 2011 are poignant examples of failure. In some cases, administrations see no choice except to intervene, regardless of risk and the unlikelihood of success. In others, such as the catastrophe now enveloping Syria, all the options range between bad and worse.

When examined critically, objectively, and dispassionately, the reasons and factors that have led to failure in applying military force are self-evident and unarguable. However, too often we are blind to or dismissive of these realities. Vietnam and Iraq (after the 2003 invasion) are the clearest and most damning examples of failed military interventions. Afghanistan is almost certainly going to follow suit, and it is a war in which the United States has been engaged for more than three and a half decades.

Yet, the proposition that wars we start, we lose has been ignored by a succession of presidents of both parties and, for far too many decades, by the American public, especially following the great victories of World War ll and the Cold War. “War” in this book is defined as the use of military force in a major conflict, not metaphorical declarations of war against inanimate enemies, such as drugs, crime, poverty, and other social ills, “wars” that, by the way, have also failed, particularly the ill-named “global war on terror.”

The purposes of this book are to alert future leaders and publics: to inform them about disastrous wars of the recent past started by us and to propose solutions and actions to prevent such failures from recurring, or to minimize the consequences, through sounder strategic thinking. Where the use of force went badly awry, it was through the failure of decision makers, who allowed unsound and flawed strategic thinking to drive bad decisions.

*

This book has its origins in the Vietnam War, in 1965. I was serving as a Swift Boat skipper in the northernmost part of the Republic of South Vietnam. Over time (I was there from 1965 to 1967), even a junior naval officer could not ignore the recurring displays of arrogance, naiveté, ignorance, ineptitude, and incompetence by the senior American political and military leadership in waging that conflict. Despite the heroism and commitment of those who fought and died in Vietnam, the war, like most wars, would have been tragicomic in its idiocies and irrationalities had it not been so deadly serious.

And have no doubt: America started this war, which would turn into a quagmire.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed two votes short of unanimously in both houses of Congress in August 1964, gave three presidents virtual blank checks to wage war in Vietnam. Tragically, that authority was based on the utterly false premise that Hanoi had purposely ordered two separate attacks on American destroyers in international waters off the coast of North Vietnam, the second of which never occurred.

Battlefield tactics exploiting the massive American superiority in firepower and mobility became surrogates for strategy in Vietnam. This confusion of ends and means had fatal consequences. One was excessive reliance on numerical and quantitative measures to rationalize the tactics. This circular logic was manifest in the perverse establishment of “body count,” which became the metric of success. Because the numbers of enemy dead showed we were winning, then ipso facto, we had to be winning.

The year 1965 begins my chronicle for understanding and identifying the anatomy of failure. Like many of the millions of Americans who served in or during the lengthy Vietnam War, I was particularly affected by certain events. Three dramatize on a personal level how and why we lost in Vietnam and too often would make similarly grave errors in the future. Each demonstrates the folly of using force without understanding the interplay of ends and means or applying sound strategic thinking, failures that guarantee defeat. Of course, they also illustrate how all wars reflect human weaknesses and unintended consequences.

The first incident demonstrates that wars cannot be successfully waged in isolation or in compartmentalized fashion by individual services and agencies. The absence of coordination is inexcusable and ultimately proves fatal. The second underscores the huge gap that often exists between those on the front lines and the politicians and commanders hundreds or thousands of miles away. (It also reinforces the Napoleonic axiom that luck matters.) The third and final vignette is the most powerful:

When ends and means are not related owing to flawed strategic thinking and fallacious reasons for having gone to war in the first place, the effort will become morally and politically corrupt.

In 1965, the Vietnam War was escalating, and the Navy called for volunteers to serve in Southeast Asia. The Navy, engaged in the air battle over the North and uncertain how it would join the ground war and the fight in the rivers and offshore in the South, began with a modest (and largely pointless) operation to stop North Vietnam from infiltrating arms and men by sea. The intent of what was called Operation Market Time was to monitor the coasts of South Vietnam with a combination of maritime aircraft, warships, and small patrol craft called “Swift Boats.” Swift Boats were fiftyfoot foot aluminum-hulled craft designed by Sewart Seacraft for servicing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, especially in rough weather. Powered by two Cummins diesel engines, a Swift Boat could make thirty knots in average or better sea conditions.

Swifts carried twin .50-caliber machine guns in a forward mount above the pilothouse; an “over and under” 81-mm (three-inch) mortar that could fire an explosive round about two thousand yards; and a third .50-caliber machine gun mounted above the mortar tube. The crew was equipped with AR-15 automatic rifles, 79-mm grenade launchers, and other small arms. The aluminum skin barely kept out the sea, let alone enemy bullets and shrapnel. Crews were usually five or six, or larger, depending on the mission.

The flaw in this strategy was that North Vietnam already had an effective logistical land route to the South, called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This trail, deep in the interior of Southeast Asia, did not need seaborne routes. But the Navy was anxious to get its share of the action, even though there was little action to be had.

My very modest training at the naval base in Coronado, California, included a superficial course in Vietnamese culture, a course that in my case had only one high point, a lecture by retired Army lieutenant colonel John Paul Vann. Vann was an extremely controversial former officer who later became the de facto commander of Vietnam’s II Corps area (the Central Highlands, north of Saigon) and the only civilian to be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry during the 1972 Easter Offensive. Vann was to be killed in June 1972, when his helicopter smashed into trees on a night flight in II Corps.

At this training session, Vann described the North Vietnamese and Vietcong in glowing terms and disparaged our South Vietnamese allies. When asked why he regarded the enemy so highly and our allies so poorly, he hesitated for a moment and replied, “I guess God put all the good guys on the other side.”

Classroom instruction was followed by SERE training (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) in freezing temperatures high in California’s mountains, ideal preparation for the heat and jungles of Vietnam. After that, several Swift Boat crews, including mine, boarded chartered civil airliners at Travis Air Force Base, outside San Francisco, for the long transpacific flight to the Tan Son Nhut air base, near Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam. But it did not happen that way.

Arriving at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, expecting to continue on, we were notified that our tickets ended there. Despite Priority One flight status and what we were told was an immediate operational requirement to get us in-country “pronto,” no one had bothered to book us on the next leg, to Saigon. Neither begging nor strong language had any effect. At best, the Air Force could get us to Saigon in about two weeks, following the airlift of a huge USO (United Services Organization) entourage of Hollywood and other celebrities and noncombatant personnel. (Entertaining the troops under the doubtful assumption that it will raise morale seems to be part of every war we fight.) Even worse, the bachelor officer and enlisted quarters at Clark were full up, there was no room at the inn.

“Where the hell do you expect four Swift Boat crews to stay, in tents on the parade field?” the exasperated officer in charge, me, asked a nonplussed and slightly disoriented airman.

“Oh no, by far the best place and much better than here on the base is the nicest whore house in Angeles City,” called the House of the Angels. And that is where we went, cooling our heels, if that was the appropriate phrase. While we tried our best to get to the war, persistently harassing the ticketing office to move up our flights, the crews were not enthusiastic about advancing our departure date. The rooms were quite comfortable, and unlike in the BOQs (bachelor officer quarters), their air conditioning worked. Food was good, beer and booze were plentiful and cheap, and sailors were not bored by their accommodations. With no direct means to contact naval headquarters in Saigon, we were stuck at Clark.

One of the few recreations at Clark was the Officers’ Club. There, I fell into the clutches of Air Force F-4 Phantom fighter pilots on rest and recreation (“R & R”) from the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Phan Rang in South Vietnam.

As we Swifties had the inside track on the local scene, given our billets, a half dozen or more of the pilots joined me in a tour of Angeles City. The pilots had been flying missions in-country for about two or three months. As Americans tried to be in those days, each was overly aggressive and anxious to get back “into the fight.” After some hard drinking, the entourage returned to the Clark Officers’ Club, where there were two bars. The downstairs bar was entered “at one’s own risk” and was not too different from some of the joints in Angeles City. At some stage, an altercation broke out between one of the Air Force pilots and a Marine.

When the scrape was broken up, the Marine was quick to disappear and the Air Force pilots were escorted out of the bar by a bevy of large bouncers. The pilots were not happy with their dismissal and tried to reenter the bar forcibly. Fights broke out with the club bouncers. The Air Police were summoned. Being slightly more sober than my comrades, I attempted to separate the combatants. The APs arrived. Bad language led to a further exchange of blows, and a three-way donnybrook broke out among the Air Police, the bouncers, and the pilots. The APs and bouncers outnumbered the pilots and manhandled each of them, one by one, into the waiting paddy wagon. Realizing this would not be good for my new friends, I demanded that the senior airman summon the officer in charge.

Though I was seemingly coherent, and wearing a Navy tropical white uniform that was not commonplace on an Air Force base, the young Air Police officer in charge was confused. Exploiting that confusion, I invented an outrageous story about how these pilots were soon off on a highly classified, above-top-secret, extremely hazardous mission over North Vietnam. This could be their last fling, so to speak. That was the soft sell. For the hard sell, I, as a representative of Gen. Marmaduke Smedley, had the authority to place everyone in custody if need be.

The “we who are about to die” line may or may not have worked. But the threat of awakening the general with such a bizarre name (the first to come to mind) surely did. Fumbling to find the imaginary phone number in the right pocket of my tropical white shirt, I said, “Here’s the general’s personal phone number. He will not like being disturbed this late.” Whether the young officer believed me or not, he chose leniency rather than the threatened wrath of my general. The officers were released -and, being young and dismissive of authority, waited only a few minutes before reentering the bar. This time they were on their own.

(I later exchanged very occasional letters with one of them. Thirty-five years later, long after I’d forgotten the incident, that pilot, then 1st Lt. Gene Quick, turned up in Washington and called. We arranged a get-together, and after Gene and his wife arrived, he got around to telling the story. My wife was disbelieving. Yet I suspect some elements were true. Welcome to Vietnam, almost.)

After much pleading and begging, finally we were airborne, landing at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut air base ten days late. It was 3 am, and Vietcong mortars were peppering the field, already illuminated with star shells. Our only orders were to call “Tiger 345,” headquarters of Commander, Naval Forces Vietnam, on an antiquated field phone. The other two hundred or so passengers were quickly collected and hustled away to safety. We remained huddled in the empty hangar, hungry, frightened, and tired, listening to mortars exploding nearby and automatic weapons occasionally firing while I cranked on the phone, which was straight from a World War II movie, desperately trying to reach Tiger 345.

Wars in those days were obviously fought, in Saigon, on an eight-to-five basis. Thus, there was no answer from Tiger 345 until well after the sun had risen and the mortar attacks had subsided. A soft, female Vietnamese voice answered the phone. The way she pronounced “Tiger 345,” with both a Vietnamese and English lilt, is etched into my memory. An hour later a dilapidated yellow school bus arrived, with mesh wiring over the windows to prevent someone from lobbing a hand grenade or Molotov cocktail into the ancient vehicle.

The briefings in Saigon were as useful as our SERE training had been. Soon we were flying north to “I Corps” (that is, the zone assigned to the South Vietnamese army’s I Corps, the northernmost of four) in Da Nang and PCF Division 101. All of us were new to Vietnam and to war. We officers were young, arrogant, invulnerable (we foolishly thought) to the enemy, and thoroughly inexperienced and unprepared for war.

*

The first of my three vignettes was an incident that occurred on the evening of August 10-11, 1966. Three Swift Boats and four crews had been detached to a small base just inside the mouth of the Cua Viet River in the northernmost reaches of I Corps, almost in the shadow of the Demilitarized Zone separating the South and North. A Vietnamese junk base located a few kilometers away was supposed to provide some security. But the most worrisome part of a generally defenseless position was that we were colocated with the U.S. Marine Corps’ largest fuel depot of petroleum, oil, and lubricants (collectively called POL) in that part of the country, protected by an understrength guard unit.

Had a North Vietnamese or Vietcong rocket hit the fuel dump, the smoke, we joked, would have been visible in San Francisco. Still, despite the presence of local enemy units, no one in the chain of command seemed particularly worried about security. There was very little boat or junk traffic in the canals or to seaward on the ocean. As officer in charge, I dedicated one boat to “over-watch” duty, patrolling at night a few hundred yards from the base as added security. Its task was to detect any infiltration against either our undefended base or the vulnerable POL site and, if necessary, shoot on sight.

On that night, our boat drew over-watch duty. The only radar contacts were two U.S. Coast Guard WPBs -eighty-two-foot-long cutters-also on patrol. Around midnight, two jets overflew us. These could only be American, as the North Vietnamese air force never ventured south. Moments later, fire erupted in the vicinity of one of the WPBs. It appeared that the jets were strafing the boat-USCGC Point Welcome.

Knowing these were not North Vietnamese fighters, we rang up flank speed and closed the cutter. We arrived too late. Two Air Force B-57 Canberra bombers had, incredibly, mistaken Point Welcome for an enemy PT boat and made several strafing runs. The skipper, Lt. David Brostrom, had been killed while heroically shining a searchlight on the cutter’s U.S. ensign, hoping the aircraft would see it. A second crewman, Engineman Second Class Jerry Phillips, had also been killed.

We began picking up survivors who had jumped overboard. Meanwhile, our Vietnamese allies ashore had seen the attacks and, thinking we were the enemy, began firing at us with .30 and .50 caliber weapons. Fortunately, and courageously, Coast Guard chief petty officer Richard Patterson had taken command and fought to save Point Welcome, managing to turn on enough lights to convince our allies to stop shooting. A second WPB joined us in dealing with wounded.

Charges were filed against the Air Force pilots. “Friendly fire” was unfortunately the rule, not the exception, and virtually no coordination existed between the different services operating in the region. The Air Force needed pilots, and the charges disappeared. Other friendly-fire incidents occurred, particularly ashore. Miraculously, no one among our crews was killed or wounded by friendly fire during my tour, either at sea or operating close ashore (although I was almost sunk by a misdirected broadside fired, ironically, from the destroyer USS Uhlmann).

Thirty-one years, to the month, after the Point Welcome tragedy, a very close American friend living in England arrived in Washington with combat photographer Tim Page. They were in town for the CNN/Newseum salute, a huge exhibit, to photojournalists on both sides who died during the Vietnam War.

Over dinner and drinks, Tim, inquiring about my time in Vietnam, asked what had been my most harrowing experience. I recounted a summary of the Point Welcome episode. Page’s face went ashen. “Tim, are you all right?” my friend asked worriedly. Page remained stunned for a moment. Recovering slightly, he looked at me and asked, with emotion, “Did your crew wear red ball caps?”

I looked at him askance. “I beg your pardon?”

“Yes,” he replied, his color returning. “Red ball caps. And didn’t you go by the call sign ‘Red . . .’ something or other?”

“Ah yes, Red Baron . . I said, and then I was speechless. “Yes, Tim, I did, and l was.”

Tears running down his cheeks, he said in a voice filled with awe, “You saved my life! I was aboard Point Welcome.”

As with Gene Quick, sometimes events catch up with you. The larger failure was clear even to a young “jaygee.” Vietnam was fought as three or four separate wars by at least four different armies and air forces and operational commanders. Coordination was avoided by setting geographic boundaries to prevent or reduce friendly fire, rather than addressed by operational requirements. The Central Intelligence Agency further confused coordination. Throughout the country, the agency maintained a separate air force and paramilitary ground forces, as well as a small contingent of patrol boats, operating out of Da Nang.

A subset of the lack of coordination and command was the absence of fire discipline, exacerbated by a gross excess of available firepower. The body count became the metric for success and, too often, the basis for medals and good fitness reports. Aggressiveness was the order of the day. Hence, Air Force pilots were incentivized to mistake Point Welcome for a North Vietnamese PT boat even though none ever ventured south. “Shoot first” may not have been the explicit order of the day, but few units acted otherwise.

The lack of jointness and of a single, integrated operational chain of command would be addressed twenty years later with the Goldwater-Nichols Act, passed in 1986. However, integration of all crossagency capabilities in what would be called a “whole-of-government approach” still has not been fully addressed. Future failures would arise in the Afghan and second Iraq interventions, where underresourced civilian agencies were unable to deal fully with the “What next?” questions involved in bringing stability and security to those regions. “Stovepiping” of departments and agencies still persists, limiting the effectiveness of U.S. policies when all arms of government are vital to success.

*

The second vignette was an incident that spoiled Christmas Eve, 1966. A supposed truce was meant to halt fighting over Tet, the lunar new year, a well known Buddhist holiday coinciding with Christmas. The command in Saigon issued strict orders to return fire only when certain the enemy had fired first. But wars, especially this one, rarely celebrate holidays. We in the field knew that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army (NVA) had often disregarded truces and that we had to be prepared for any attack or probe, no matter the orders from Saigon. PCF Division 101 was based and housed on a floating barracks barge. The barge, an APL in Navy jargon, was anchored in Da Nang Harbor, about five hundred yards from the nearest shoreline.

*

from

Anatomy of Failure. Why America loses every war it starts

by Harlan K. Ullman

get it at Amazon.com

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Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away – Jonathan Freedland. 

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

It turns out Hillary Clinton was right to warn Americans 14 months ago that, “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” And here we are, Trump tweet-goading the North Koreans by declaring military solutions “locked an loaded”. We need imagine no longer.

Those who find themselves trembling at all this have spent the last few days grasping for a comfort blanket. A favourite has been the notion that those around Trump, especially the generals current and former, will not let him unleash nuclear Armageddon. This view holds that, yes, Trump may well be dangerously unhinged but fear not, the wiser heads of Washington will stay his hand. Indeed, this strain of thinking has been visible since Trump took the oath of office. Call it the deep state fantasy. It looks to the national security apparatus, the intelligence agencies and the permanent bureaucracy, the shadow government, to step in and do the right thing.

It hangs its hopes on a range of prospective saviours. It might be the trio of former generals made up of Jim Mattis, who heads the Pentagon, John Kelly, recently drafted in as chief of staff, and HR McMaster who serves as national security adviser. Alternatively, it looks to the loose alliance hailed this week by the influential Axios website as “The Committee to Save America”, consisting not only of the generals but also the cluster of New Yorkers that includes some of Trump’s less hot-headed economic advisers, with added reinforcements from the Republican ranks in Congress. The committee’s unofficial mission: to protect “the nation from disaster”. The ultimate deep state fantasy longs for the men in the shadows not merely to restrain Trump, but remove him from office. The designated hero of this story is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now heading what is reported to be a swift and penetrating probe into allegations of collusion with Russia as well as Trump’s wider business dealings.

Mueller’s role may indeed prove to be critical. But the deep state fantasy itself, while comforting, is surely a dead end for Trump’s opponents. For one thing, events have reached an odd pass when liberals are dreaming of unelected generals thwarting an elected head of government: that used to be the fantasy of the militaristic right.

But it also relies more on hope than evidence. All these supposedly wise heads around Trump: what restraint have they achieved so far? Kelly was meant to impose order and discipline, and yet we still have Trump tweeting threats that could easily be misinterpreted as the cue for war. On North Korea, the US administration continues to send conflicting signals by the hour, with Trump outriders like Sebastian Gorka slapping down secretary of state Rex Tillerson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, creating confusion when a nuclear standoff requires calm clarity.

And we cannot escape the basic fact. All these advisers can try to hold him back, but when it comes to it, nuclear authority is Trump’s and Trump’s alone. He is the nuclear monarch.

The glum truth is that the only people who can effectively check a democratically elected menace like Trump are other democratically elected leaders. Ultimately it will be up to the men and women of Congress to do their constitutional duty by impeaching Trump and removing him from office. If Republicans won’t do it, then voters need to replace them with Democrats who will, by voting for a new House in the midterm elections of November 2018. The trouble is, it’s not clear that the US – or the world – have that much time.

The Guardian 

Mapping the World’s Biggest Weapons Exporters, and their Best Customers – Frank Jacobs. 

War kills. And war sells. These maps show the world’s four biggest arms exporters and their major clients.

While they reveal a lot about who mongers weapons to whom, the sequencing on this graph is a bit misleading.

Reader’s instinct nudges us to interpret the maps clockwise from top left, as a series in descending order. But the correct order is anti-clockwise, from bottom left: the top seller is the U.S., followed by Russia, France and China.

The maps are based on figures for 2011-2015, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. They exclude weapons trade deals below $100 million. The total volume of arms sales for this period was higher than for any other five-year stretch since the end of the Cold war, in the early 1990s.

The United States not only has the world’s largest defence budget by far (1), it also outsells all other countries by a considerable margin.

Bigthink.com

GLOBAL ARMS TRADE – MYTH #2: MILITARY SPENDING IS DRIVEN BY SECURITY CONCERNS – PAUL HOLDEN. 

‘Military spending may not be the most strategically rational approach to a country’s security threats, but it is, in the end, at least driven by security concerns.’

In reality, it is precisely this largely erroneous belief that muddies the water in most arms trade and procurement debates, and provides the cover for all sorts of completely unnecessary military equipment to change hands between producers and buyers for a whole host of other less rational reasons.

The unfortunate truth is that the arms trade is not primarily geared to dealing with security threats. Instead, many arms transactions are undertaken for a plethora of other reasons, and may, in fact, hinder a state’s response to security threats rather than increase preparedness.

ECONOMICS AND THE POWER OF POLITICS

One of the most commonly stated reasons for arms transactions is that they are supposed to generate a whole series of economic benefits. Indeed, in some cases, arms sales are justified entirely for their economic benefit, rather than their importance for national defense. In certain countries these supposed economic benefits become the means by which arms producers place pressure on politicians to support strategically questionable projects: no politician wants to attack a project that may employ large numbers of their constituents, even if the money could theoretically be more efficiently spent elsewhere. Combined, these two reasons can be decisive in securing support for sometimes clearly absurd expenditure.

Changes to US trade policies will mean that a significant percentage of items previously on the Munitions List will now be able to be exported without a license. Some may be small items—bolts and nuts—but there are enough big-ticket items to be worrying: military cargo planes as well as Black Hawk helicopters, for example. Freeing up these items makes it ever easier for groups that may be anathema to the US to get hold of once heavily controlled items.

The danger of the administration’s new export control approach is that it could make it easier for significant military articles to reach major human rights abusers, countries seeking nuclear weapons, or destinations where they may be more likely to fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ironically, and despite the widespread support for deregulation amongst defense companies, there is the real risk that the reforms may lead to a net decrease in US defense industry jobs. This crystallizes the other unfortunate truth: often the economic benefit that is being touted is, in reality, a boon to the major companies but a bane to its employees, and even the wider population.

The threat of shedding defense jobs—and incurring the wrath of the powerful defense lobby—is a particularly important motivation in countries that manufacture and buy their own arms. But those countries that import most of their weapons—the large majority of the world—are often seduced by a different economic incentive: Offsets.

Offsets are agreements on the part of weapons manufacturers to invest in the economy of the buying countries, thus ‘offsetting’ the economic cost of importing the weapons. Offsets are particularly prevalent in the arms trade, despite the fact that they are hugely controversial. Part of this is because the defense trade is given a free pass when it comes to offsets. Using offsets as a selection criterion is banned by the World Trade Organization, except in the defense trade. The result, especially over the previous decade, has been an explosion in the number and size of offset deals. According to The Economist, it is estimated that the total offset obligations (the amount companies are still obliged to invest) in the global defense and aerospace industries is in the region of $250bn, and may grow to a remarkable $450bn by 2016.

CORRUPTION AND BUYING GLOBAL POLITICAL SUPPORT

It is a regrettable reality that the content of many weapons deals around the world are largely, and sometimes solely, determined by corruption. In particular, countries may be induced into buying particular types of equipment, even if better alternatives exist, regardless of the strategic implications of following this path.

In 2006, the consultancy company Control Risks conducted an extensive survey of 350 international businesses situated in numerous jurisdictions around the world. They found that, over the previous five years (2001‒2006), 26% of defense companies they interviewed believed that they had lost contracts due to corruption. In 2006 alone, 31% of defense companies interviewed believed that graft was a decisive factor in who won contracts. This suggests that in a significant number of cases what weapons are bought, who supplies them and what capacities are eventually delivered to armed forces is determined by bribes rather than whether the product itself is the best fit for the security needs of the country.

When corruption is mixed with other imperatives, when security concerns are not the main driving force of weapons buying, the result is entire weapons transactions conducted without apparent reference to a rational case for defense needs.

It is not just individual deals that are questionable: a large number of the most notoriously corrupt defense establishments in the world do not seem to buy arms for their countries’ national protection, but largely to cement important strategic relationships around the world. The simple fact is that by buying weapons systems from one of the major weapons sellers, even the most outrageously dictatorial governments are guaranteed a friendly reception amongst their supplier countries.

CONSEQUENCES 

The mixture of factors that underlie defense transactions, local and international political concerns, economic goals, misplaced national pride and corruption, has the effect that weapons sales often don’t serve much strategic need. More importantly, it can leave defense forces with inadequate weaponry when they are forced into combat roles, or, in certain instances, a telling lack of strategic capacity.

Conclusion

Defending the arms trade by claiming that it is legitimate to arm oneself and one’s allies may seem like a reasonable proposition, but it is frequently a red herring. The reason: when weapons are bought and sold, they are often chosen for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with strategic need. There is a dizzying array of reasons why many arms deals are done, including anticipated economic benefit, local and international political considerations and, disturbingly frequently, corruption. Sometimes the outcome is the selection of weapons systems that may not meet a strategic need exactly, when a better option is available. In others, it can lead to a weapons purchase that meets no identifiable strategic need at all. The end result is that military spending is often strategically questionable at best; farcical, criminal and dangerous at worst.

Global Arms Trade – Myth #1: HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY – Paul Holden. 

Introduction. 

Military spending around the world totaled $1,676bn in 2015, nearly $250 for every one of the earth’s 7 billion people. Arms producers have direct access to the upper echelons of power, shaping policy and exercising considerable influence in how the world is run. Rich governments treat arms makers and dealers with remarkable charity. They help them out with subsidies, favorable export rules and a generosity of spirit and funding that most businesspeople could only dream of. Leaders of middle-income and poor countries who want to buy weapons are feted and lobbied by a slick industry that wheels out defense attachés, government ministers, and even royalty as testament to their political connection and clout, not to mention generous financial subsidies and payoffs.

Why does the arms business possess such influence and clout across the globe? The answer is complex, but one of the key reasons is that arms merchants and their government supporters can turn to a set of time-honed and well-packaged arguments to justify the status quo. They tell us that their products make and keep us all safer. They argue that the defense sector is vital to the economy and job creation. They claim that they are at the cutting edge of technological innovation.

All in all, the makers and sellers of weapons have been astonishingly successful in telling a story so deeply embedded in public narratives and political discourse that it is simply taken for granted. The defense industry narrative is like a set of clothes that a politician seeking office—still more so, in office—and the civil servants, academics and journalists concerned with government, put on to go to work every morning. The inconvenient truth is that each one of the claims is either deeply questionable or simply untrue.

The arms business needs to be undressed. Every rotten item needs to be thrown out. Then, we will find, there is hardly anything left. The arguments are nothing more than myths, enforced by repetition and given weighty authority by the power players who trot them out whenever there is the hint of change that might be to their disadvantage.

Global Arms Trade – Myth 1:

HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY

‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’

So goes the much-repeated phrase, taken to heart around the globe. Indeed, the world spends a great deal preparing for war: at least $1,676bn in 2015. With such high levels of spending, and the innumerable threats that arms purchases are said to protect us from, it would be easy to accept this adage at face value: why on earth else would responsible governments pour such huge sums into military spending? Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complicated.

It is unclear that large outlays on defense make a consistently measurable difference in providing security to the countries that buy weapons. Moreover, there is solid evidence showing that, in certain instances, spending money on buying weapons may actually decrease a country’s security.

Between 2011 and 2014, as defense budgets were reduced in the West, the ‘rest of the world’ was increasing its expenditure year-on-year.

Largest spenders worldwide: USA, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Russia has increased its military spending 92% since 2010 alone. Saudi Arabia vastly expanded its defense budget by 97% between 2006 and 2015.

The dominance of the top fifteen spenders should not obscure another important trend: military expenditure is growing rapidly globally, even in some of the poorest regions of the world. Indeed, SIPRI identifies twenty-three countries that have doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013. Among them are some of the world’s poorest nations.

Despite regional and global increases, the United States remains far and away the world’s largest spender on its military, spending more than the next ten nations in the world combined, and four times its closest rival, China.

The US is currently on track to fund the most expensive weapons program in human history, the F-35 fighter jet, which will cost roughly $1.4trn to build and operate over its lifetime.

DOES DEFENSE SPENDING LEAD TO SECURITY?

There are a number of ways in which spending on defense may actually make us less secure.

1. The ‘security dilemma’, or the ‘spiral of insecurity’.

The ‘security dilemma’ occurs when a state with no hostile intentions believes that states around it, while not necessarily expressing any outward enmity, could pose a long-term security threat. The state responds by increasing its own sense of security through building up its defense capacities. However, states around it see this increase in defense spending, and come to believe that the original state now has hostile intentions; they, in turn, increase their own defense capacities. This cycle continues as both parties increasingly divert resources towards their own defense, leading to an arms race. This ‘spiral of insecurity’ can, in the worst case scenario, lead to actual conflict.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Germany’s leaders had come to believe that it was being surrounded by hostile forces including Russia, France and Great Britain. In response, Germany started to build up its military forces, in particular its naval forces, which all other parties began to believe was evidence of Germany’s ill intentions. Great Britain, which had built its military power on its navy, was particularly alarmed. The other three parties, seeing this, also increased their weapons, leading to an enormous arms race. This race created tensions between all the states; so much so that, when a political crisis unfolded upon the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary and Russia both mobilized and Germany then invaded its neighbors, provoking one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The arms race may not have been the cause of World War I (human affairs are always more complicated than that), but it was a substantial contributor to the tensions that led to war.

2. When the spending is wasteful or inflated due to corruption. Usually this involves the perennial problem of cost overruns in the defense sector, dragging projects years into overtime and absorbing scarce economic resources that could be spent on things that encourage security—like health, education and infrastructure.

When corruption enters the picture, defense transactions might only take place because of the illicit money to be earned, without any concern for real strategic need.

3. Wars can make you less secure in the long term. The third way in which defense spending can actually decrease security is when military spending funds wars that, despite their intentions, worsen a country’s security situation.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is arguable that the two largest US military engagements of the 21st century so far have actually left the United States and the world less secure than if they had never been undertaken.(Gosh!) Not only did the conflicts cost trillions of dollars and cause hundreds of thousands of casualties, but they have contributed to an increase in terrorist activity and capabilities in areas well beyond the boundaries of the two states.

The war in Afghanistan—the longest war in US history—is in one respect a response to the ‘blowback’ from US military interventions of the 1980s. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars arming and training Afghan mujahidin forces to help them fight off the Soviet occupation of their country.

A significant portion of this aid was diverted by Pakistani intelligence, which used it to support Islamic extremist groups that have engaged in terrorism in South Asia and beyond. Aid that did reach Afghanistan often ended up in the hands of foreign fighters and forces that had an anti-US orientation.

Once the Soviet occupation had been repelled, and a nasty civil war was concluded, these groups turned their attention to attacking the United States and its interests. Following the civil war, many of them became part of the original cadre of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida organization, which was hosted by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban itself has received substantial support from Pakistani intelligence. As a result, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to root out Al Qaida, it was in part addressing a problem of its own making. And the mission of driving Al Qaida out of Afghanistan soon morphed into a large-scale counterinsurgency effort designed to defeat the Taliban and remake Afghanistan as a pro-US ‘democracy’ (or at least a pro-US regime, democratic or not). Fifteen years later the Taliban remains a major force in Afghanistan, the regime in Kabul is rife with corruption, and Al Qaida has entrenched itself in Pakistan.

This is what the United States and the world got for Washington and Europe’s investment in a trillion-dollar military undertaking in Afghanistan.

The case of Iraq is, of course, even more striking, in that it was without question a war of choice, and it has spawned a new generation of militant extremists, notably ISIS, who largely use military equipment supplied to the country by the US itself.

4. Military spending isn’t always intended to protect citizens. The fourth way in which defense spending can decrease the security of citizens is that in undemocratic states, military spending can make citizens less safe. Indeed, spending on one’s military in many cases does not mean protecting the country, but rather protecting the ruling elite from its people or discontented groups within the population, rather than protecting the people as a whole from external or internal threats. Even in more democratic, or partially democratic countries, the military may suppress legitimate dissent among citizens and marginalized groups.

The less free a country is, the more it tends to spend on the military.

5. Using the military to solve the world’s security issues isn’t always the best bet.

The fifth way that military spending can decrease security is that massive military expenditure can increase the tendency to seek military solutions to non-military problems.

One example of this has been the decades-long US ‘war on drugs’ which has been used to justify aid to death squads and repressive regimes abroad and mass surveillance and incarceration at home. For example, the multi-billion US ‘Plan Colombia’, designed to help the Colombian government dismantle the drug cartels there, included aid to a corrupt military that regularly abused human rights and aerial application of pesticides in large parts of the country. To the extent that Plan Colombia helped undermine the drug cartels there, the drug trade was merely displaced to Central American countries like Honduras and Mexico, where high levels of violence by drug gangs have become the norm.

Other suggested approaches, like reducing drug demand in the US by expanding treatment programs and providing alternative forms of employment in impoverished areas, have received only modest resources relative to the sums spent on military methods of fighting drugs.

In the US, the Pentagon budget is roughly fourteen times the budget of the US State Department. This is truly remarkable: in its relationship with the outside world, the US devotes 1,400% more to projecting military power than it does on building alliances and finding non-military solutions to conflicts.

As for peacekeeping, the US contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts is less than 0.5% of what it spends on military activities. If the United States devoted a tiny fraction of what it spends on its own military to support the cost of the United Nations and multilateral peacekeeping, a robust international capability could be on call to enforce peace agreements, protect potential victims of repression and genocide, and separate warring parties.

The idea that there is a military solution to terrorism has also been put into serious doubt by an influential 2008 study by the US-based RAND Corporation—a think-tank esteemed by conservatives. The study reviewed the life-cycles of 648 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006, identifying the ways in which these groups ended. It found that in 43% of cases, terrorist groups ceased to exist because they were successfully integrated into the formal political process. In 40% of cases, the groups disappeared because of successful policing efforts. A further 10% of terrorist groups stopped their military activities because they achieved their main aim. And, most importantly for this discussion, only 7% of terrorist groups were snuffed out as a result of military campaigns.

Using the military to win the ‘war on terror’ is simply not going to work. More to the point, it is likely to be counter-productive, fueling resentment and undermining long-term regional goals.

As the Jones and Libicki note: Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect of what is intended: it is often over-used, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.

Human security is defined by the United Nations as ‘the right of all people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair’. Underpinning this is the recognition that ‘all individuals, in particular vulnerable people, are entitled to freedom from fear and freedom from want, with an equal opportunity to enjoy all their rights and fully develop their human potential’.

When security is thought about in this way—and it is hard to argue that a population that is chronically malnourished is not at risk—the type of threats that need to be addressed changes drastically. Instead of just focusing on threats from war or conflict, human security requires us to look at all the various risks that are faced in the world today that undermine human dignity, drive poverty and put billions of people in a constant state of emergency of survival. Some of these risks include access to clean water, food security, climate change, health pandemics, violent multinational organized crime and repressive states that use their monopoly of violence to terrorize their own populations. There is little doubt that, when considered in this light, the world suffers a serious human security deficit.

Military expenditure is massive, and fails to substantially tackle any of the major threats to human security. If only a fraction of military spending was focused on broader human security goals, the improvement in the security profile of billions of people around the world would be tremendous.

The goals of freedom from want and fear are most likely to be achieved in democratic states that are accountable to their populations. But huge amounts of global military spending is directed towards maintaining dictatorships or repressive regimes.

Perhaps it is time to recognize one powerful fact: even a small reduction in defense spending, one that sees resources properly devoted to the human security dangers faced by the majority of the world’s population, could actually make the world safer, healthier, more prosperous and more secure.