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What Is a Moral Foreign Policy?

What Is a Moral Foreign Policy?

How should we judge the morality of a president's foreign policy? Joseph Nye suggests a rubric that is based on a three-dimensional ethics of intentions, means, and consequences and that draws from realism, cosmopolitanism, and liberalism.

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                                    [post_content] => While historians write about American exceptionalism and moralism, diplomats and theorists like George Kennan have often warned about the negative consequences of the American moralist-legalist tradition. According to this line of thinking, international relations is anarchic and there is no world government to provide order. States must provide for their own defense and when survival is at stake, the ends justify the means. Where there is no meaningful choice there can be no ethics. Thus, in judging a president’s foreign policy, we should simply ask whether it worked, not whether it was moral. However, in my experience as a scholar and sometime practitioner of foreign policy, morals do matter.

The skeptics duck the hard questions by oversimplifying things. The absence of world government does not, in fact, mean the absence of all order. And while some foreign policy issues do relate to America’s survival as a nation, most do not. Since World War II, the United States has been involved in several wars but none were necessary to ensure its survival. Many important foreign policy choices having to do with human rights or climate change or internet freedom do not involve war at all. Instead, most foreign policy issues involve making trade-offs between values — something that requires making choices — not the application of a rigid formula of “raison d’état.” A cynical French official once told me, “I define good as what is good for the interests of France. Morals are irrelevant.” He seemed unaware that his statement was a moral judgment.

It is tautological, or at best trivial, to say that all states try to act in their national interest. The important question is how leaders choose to define and pursue that national interest under different circumstances. Access to oil, sales of military equipment, and regional stability are all national interests, but so too are values and principles that are attractive to others. How can these two categories of interests be combined?

Moreover, whether practitioners like it or not, Americans continuously make moral judgments about presidents and foreign policies.[1] The election of Donald Trump has revived interest in what is a moral foreign policy, shifting it from a theoretical question to front page news. For example, after the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Trump was criticized for ignoring clear evidence of a brutal crime in order to maintain good relations with the Saudi crown prince. The New York Times labelled Trump’s statement about Khashoggi “remorselessly transactional, heedless of the facts,” while the Wall Street Journal editorialized that “we are aware of no President, not even such ruthless pragmatists as Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson, who would have written a public statement like this without so much as a grace note about America’s abiding values and principles.”[2]

Unfortunately, many judgments about ethics and foreign policy are haphazard or poorly thought through, and too much of the current debate focuses on Trump’s personality. Americans are seldom clear about the criteria by which they judge a moral foreign policy. They praise a president like Ronald Reagan for the moral clarity of his statements, as though rhetorical good intentions are sufficient in making ethical judgments. However, Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush showed that good intentions without adequate means to achieve them can lead to ethically bad consequences, such as the failure of Wilson’s Treaty of Versailles or Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Or they judge a president simply on results. Some observers have praised Richard Nixon for ending the Vietnam War, but was he right to sacrifice 21,000 American lives just to create a reputational “decent interval” that turned out to be an ephemeral pause on the road to defeat?

In this essay, I suggest an approach to comparing different moral foreign policies. I first argue that good moral reasoning should be three dimensional: weighing and balancing the intentions, the means, and the consequences of a president’s decisions. Determining a moral foreign policy is not a matter of intentions versus consequences but must include both as well as the means that were used. I then examine and compare the elements of three common mental maps of world politics — realism, cosmopolitanism, and liberalism.

Presidents often combine these three mental maps in different ways that shape the intentions, means, and assessment of consequences of their foreign policy. I illustrate this process with a discussion of the problem of intervention. Finally, I develop a scoring system that allows us to compare their policies, and then apply it to three presidents. Given the different cultural backgrounds, political views, and religious beliefs of Americans, moral reasoning about foreign policy is hotly contested both by politicians and analysts, but it is inescapable.[3] This article aims not to solve but to bring structure to these arguments.

Three-Dimensional Ethics

In their daily lives, most people make moral judgments along three dimensions: intentions, means, and consequences. Intentions are more than just goals. They include both stated values and personal motives (as in, “her motives were well meant”). Most leaders publicly express goals that sound noble and worthy, even though their personal motives, such as ego and self-interest, may subtly corrupt those goals. Moreover, good goals must not only satisfy one’s values, they also have to pass a feasibility test. Otherwise, the best of intentions can have disastrous moral consequences, often providing the proverbial pavement for the road to hell. Johnson may have had good intentions when he sent American troops to Vietnam, but a leader’s good intentions are not proof of what is sometimes misleadingly called “moral clarity.” Judgments based on good intentions alone are simply one-dimensional ethics. For example, Ari Fleischer, the press secretary for George W. Bush, praised his boss for the “moral clarity” of his intentions, but more than that is needed for a sound moral evaluation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[4] The second important dimension of moral judgment is means. Means are spoken of as being effective if they achieve one’s goals, but ethical means also depend upon their quality as well as their efficacy. How do leaders treat others? A moral leader must likewise consider the soft power of attraction and the importance of developing the trust of other countries. When it comes to means, leaders must decide how to combine the hard power of inducements and threats with the soft power of values, culture, diplomacy, and policies that attract people to their goals.[5] Using hard power when soft power will do or using soft power alone when hard power is necessary to protect values raises serious ethical questions about means. As for consequences, effectiveness is crucial and involves achieving the country’s goals, but ethical consequences must also be good not merely for Americans, but for others as well. “America first” must be tempered by what the Declaration of Independence called “a proper consideration for the opinions of mankind.” In practice, effectiveness and ethical means are often closely related. A leader who pursues moral but unrealistic goals or uses ineffective means can produce terrible moral consequences at home and abroad. Leaders with good intentions but weak contextual intelligence and reckless reality-testing sometimes produce bad consequences and lead to ethical failure. [quote id="1"] Given the complexity of foreign policy, prudence is more than just an instrumental virtue. Recklessness in assessing what just war theorists call “a reasonable prospect of success” can become culpable negligence in moral terms. Good moral reasoning about consequences must also consider maintaining an institutional order that encourages moral interests as well as particular newsworthy actions, such as helping a human rights dissident. It is also important to include the ethical consequences of “non-actions,” such as President Harry Truman’s willingness to accept stalemate and domestic political punishment during the Korean War rather than follow Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s recommendation to use nuclear weapons. Good moral reasoning does not judge presidential choices based on stated intentions or outcomes alone, but on all three dimensions of intentions, means, and consequences.[6] Mental Maps of the World and Moral Foreign Policy What is an accurate picture of world politics? Is it so harsh that leaders must abandon their morals at the border? Do they have any duties to those who are not fellow citizens? Cynics might say, “No, because foreigners don’t vote.” Total skeptics argue that the entire notion of a “world community” is a myth, and that where there is no community, there are no moral rights and duties. Nonetheless, moral discourse in the realm of foreign policy persists, and leaders use three prevailing mental maps of world politics to offer different answers to these questions. Realism While there are various strands of realism, realists all portray a world of anarchy where a state’s survival depends upon it helping itself — international morals and institutions provide little succor. Unlike total skeptics, realists accept some moral obligations but see them as limited primarily to practicing the virtue of prudence in the harsh environment of world politics. John Bolton argues for “defending American interests as vigorously as possible and seeing yourself as an advocate for the US rather than a guardian of the world itself.”[7] Hans Morgenthau wrote that “the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation…get in the way of successful political survival. … Realism, then, considers prudence…to be the supreme virtue in politics.”[8] In the words of John Mearsheimer, “States operate in a self-help world in which the best way to survive is to be as powerful as possible, even if that requires pursuing ruthless policies. That is not a pretty story, but there is no better alternative if survival is a country’s paramount goal.”[9] In dire situations of survival, consequences may indeed justify what appear to be immoral acts. Robert D. Kaplan argues that “the rare individuals who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most necessary leaders for their countries.”[10] A frequently cited example is when Winston Churchill attacked the French fleet in 1940, killing some 1,300 Frenchmen, rather than let the fleet fall into Hitler’s hands. Churchill referred to that crisis of British survival as a “supreme emergency,” and Michael Walzer argues that in such rare instances moral rules can be overriden even though “there are no moments in human history that are not governed by moral rules.”[11] For instance, some ethicists have justified Churchill’s bombing of German civilian targets in the early days of World War II when Britain’s survival was at stake, but condemned his later support for the fire-bombing of Dresden in February 1945 when victory in Europe was already assured.[12] In the early days of the war, Churchill could claim the necessity of “dirty hands” as his justification for overriding the moral rules, but he was wrong to continue to do so in the later days of the war when he had more leeway. In general, such dire straits of supreme emergency are rare and leaders often exaggerate dangers and threats to justify their actions. For example, Trump justified his mild reaction to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi with, “America First! The world is a dangerous place!”[13] But realists who describe the world in a way that pretends moral choices do not exist are, in fact, making a moral choice and then merely disguising that choice. Survival comes first, but that is not the end of the list of values. Most of international politics is not about survival. A smart realist also knows different types of power exist. No president can lead without power, at home or abroad, but power is more than bombs, bullets, or resources. You can get others to do what you want by coercion (sticks), payment (carrots), and attraction (soft power), and a full understanding of power encompasses all three of these behaviors. Because soft power is rarely sufficient by itself and takes longer to accomplish its effects, leaders find the hard power of coercion or payment more appealing. But when wielded alone, hard power can exact higher costs than when it is combined with the soft power of attraction. The Roman empire rested not only on its legions, but also on the attraction of Roman culture. The Berlin Wall came down not under an artillery barrage, but from hammers and bulldozers wielded by people who had lost faith in communism. A nation’s soft power rests upon its culture, its values, and its policies (when the latter are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others). It can be reinforced by the narratives that a president uses to explain his foreign policy. John F. Kennedy, Reagan, and Barack Obama, for example, framed their policies in ways that attracted support both at home and abroad. Nixon and Trump were less successful in attracting those outside the United States. There is a moral difference between a broad, long-term definition of national interest that can include citizens of other nations and a myopic definition that excludes others. Cosmopolitanism Another important mental map of the world involves viewing the world through a lens of common humanity, known as cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitans see all humans as of equal moral worth regardless of borders. While it may be weak, some degree of international human community exists. As neural science has shown, moral intuition about other humans is evolutionarily hard-wired into people.[14] Most Americans respond with empathy to pictures of starving or drowned children even if not all Americans would allow them to cross the U.S. border or would take them into their homes, although some would. The cosmopolitan mental map rests on the belief that basic human rights are universal. David Luban argues that rights “are not respecters of political boundaries and require a universalist politics to implement them; even if this means breaching the wall of state sovereignty.”[15] Many Americans hold multiple loyalties to several communities at the same time in a series of widening concentric circles that extend beyond national boundaries. One can simultaneously feel part of a town, a state, a region, a profession, a transnational ethnic group, and humanity at large. However, loyalty to the outer circles tends to be weaker and generate weaker moral duties than cosmopolitans often assume. One can be a stout inclusive nationalist and a moderate globalist at the same time, but the community of nationality is usually stronger. [quote id="2"] I often used to ask my students to test their moral intuitions about the existence and limits of cosmopolitanism with the following thought experiment. Suppose you are a good swimmer reading at the beach and you notice a child drowning in the surf. Would you put down your book and rescue her? Most would say yes. Would it matter whether she called, “Help!” or cried out in a foreign language? Most would say the foreign language would make no difference. If she were somewhat further out and you were not a strong swimmer, how much risk would you take? Answers would range from the prudent to the heroic. If there were two children, one of which was yours, and you could rescue only one, would it matter whether it was yours? Most would say yes. In other words, one’s role as parent adds moral rights and duties beyond the common humanitarian duty that would prompt one to rescue an anonymous drowning child. Borders are arbitrary and sometimes unjust, but nations are communities that similarly engender additional roles, rights, and responsibilities. As Stanley Hoffmann pointed out, “States may be no more than a collection of individuals and borders may be mere facts, but a moral significance is attached to them.”[16] A cosmopolitan who ignores the moral, legal, and institutional significance of borders fails to do justice to the difficult job of balancing rights in the international realm as much as the blinkered realist who sees everything as a matter of national survival. A humanitarian duty to rescue can coexist with a preference for prioritizing the protection of one’s fellow citizens.[17] The devil is in the details of how far and how much. Liberalism There are various strands of liberalism including economic liberalism, which stresses the pacific benefits of trade; social liberalism, which emphasizes contacts among people; and institutional liberalism, which argues that institutions can create a society of states that mitigates the negative effects of anarchy. International politics is often called anarchic, but anarchy simply means “without government,” and does not necessarily mean chaos. Liberals argue that rudimentary practices and institutions such as the balance of power, international law, norms, and international organizations can create enough order to establish a framework for making meaningful moral choices in most cases. Institutions shape expectations of future behavior, which allows leaders to go beyond simple transactionalism. Institutions of international law and morality play a role even in war. The just war doctrine originated in the early Christian church as Saint Augustine and others wrestled with the paradox that if the good did not fight back, they would perish and the evil would inherit the earth. That doctrine of just self-defense became secularized after the 17th century and today it provides a broad normative structure that encompasses all three moral dimensions discussed above: good intentions represented by a just cause; forceful means that are proportional to the situation and which discriminate between military and civilian targets; and good consequences that emerge from a prudent regard for the probability of success. Just war doctrine is more than theoretical. It is enshrined both in international humanitarian law (e.g., the Geneva Conventions) and the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice. Soldiers who violated the moral principles that are enshrined in the law of armed conflict have been jailed in many countries including the United States. Different mental maps of the world portray anarchy differently, and that affects the way leaders frame their moral choices. Writing in 1651 after the bloody English civil war in which the king was decapitated, the realist Thomas Hobbes thought of anarchy as chaotic and imagined a state of nature without government as a war of all against all where life was “nasty, brutish, and short.” In contrast, writing in a somewhat more peaceful period a few decades later, the liberal John Locke thought of anarchy as the absence of government, but imagined that such a state of nature would involve social contracts that permitted the successful pursuit of life, liberty, and property. Modern liberals follow the Lockean approach to international anarchy and believe that institutions stabilize expectations in ways that permit reciprocity and morality to enter into policy decisions. They help create a “long shadow of the future,” that is a means to escape zero-sum calculations.[18] Liberals argue that while there is no world government, there is a degree of world governance. They argue that anarchy therefore has limits. At the same time, they recognize that the state is a key institution of world politics both as a reality and as a moral community. Even a renowned liberal philosopher like John Rawls believed that the conditions for his theory of justice applied only to domestic society.[19] At the same time, Rawls argued that a liberal society’s duties went beyond its borders: These should include mutual aid in dire circumstances and respect for laws and institutions that ensure basic human rights while allowing people in a diverse world to determine their own affairs as much as possible.[20] The rise of human rights law after World War II, particularly in reaction to the horror of genocide, has complicated presidential choices. The American public wants some response to genocide, but it is divided over how much. For example, in retrospect, Bill Clinton criticized his own failure to respond to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.[21] Yet, after the death of American soldiers in an earlier humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1993, had Clinton tried to send American troops to Rwanda he would have encountered stiff resistance in parts of his administration, the Congress, and the public. Clinton has acknowledged that he could have done more to help the United Nations and other countries to save some of the lives that were lost in Rwanda, but this example is a reminder that good leaders today are often caught between their cosmopolitan inclinations and their more traditional democratic obligations to the people who elected them. Mixing Mental Maps These three mental maps of world politics are not mutually exclusive — in practice, leaders mix them in inconsistent ways in different contexts to shape the stated intent, means, and consequences of their foreign policies. In a detailed comparison of the 14 American presidents since 1945, I found that most have turned out to be “liberal realists with a touch of cosmopolitanism.”[22] Realism is the default position that most presidents use to chart their course in foreign policy. Given a world of sovereign states, in my personal policy experience, realism is the best map to start with. For example, at the end of the Cold War when I participated in formulating an East Asia policy in the Clinton administration, we wanted to integrate a rising China into liberal international institutions, but we started with a realist policy of reaffirming the U.S.-Japan security relationship, which was, at that point, in disarray. By reaffirming America’s position in the regional balance of power, we were taking out a realist insurance policy in case our policy of liberal integration failed. The two approaches were complementary to one another. Realism is the right place to start, but too many realists stop where they start without realizing that realism is a necessary but not sufficient condition for crafting good policy. They fail to recognize that cosmopolitanism and liberalism often have something important to contribute to forming an accurate moral map. When survival is in jeopardy, realism is a necessary basis for a moral foreign policy, but it is not sufficient for all foreign policy scenarios. The question again is one of degree. Since no state can attain perfect security, the moral issue is what degree of security must be assured before other values such as welfare, identity, or rights become part of a president’s foreign policy? Most foreign policy choices involve questions about authorizing arms sales to authoritarian allies or criticizing the human rights behavior of another country. When some realists treat such isssues as similar to Churchill’s decision to attack the French fleet, they are simply ducking hard moral issues. It is not enough to say that security comes first or that justice presupposes some degree of order. Presidents have to assess how closely a situation fits a Hobbesian or Lockean mental map, or where an action lies on a continuum between ensuring security and pursuing other important values. [quote id="3"] Public opinion also shows a similar pattern of mixing mental maps. Because the American people are usually more concerned with domestic issues than foreign policy, they tend toward a basic form of realism. Security from attack and economic security generally rank highest in opinion polls. Because elite opinion is often more interventionist than the public, some critics argue that the elite is more liberal than the public.[23] However, patterns of “strong, widespread public support for international organizations, multilateral agreements and actions, and collective international decision making suggest that most Americans are…‘neo liberals,’” while support for humanitarian assistance shows strands of cosmopolitanism.[24] 

The Example of Intervention

Intervention has been a fraught issue in recent foreign policy debates, prompting questions about when the United States should take actions that involve extending its reach beyond its own borders. Since 1945, the liberal Charter of the United Nations has limited the use of force to self-defense or actions authorized by the Security Council (where the United States and four other countries have veto power). Realists argue that intervention can be justified if it prevents disruption of the balance of power upon which order depends. Cosmopolitans prioritize justice and individual human rights to justify humanitarian intervention. Liberals argue that nations are groups of people with a sovereign right — enshrined in the U.N. Charter — to determine their own fate. Intervention can only be justified to counter a prior intervention or to prevent a massacre that would make a mockery of self-determination.[25] In practice, these principles often get combined in odd ways. In Vietnam, Kennedy and Johnson argued that America was countering a North Vietnamese intervention in the South, but the Vietnamese saw themselves as one nation that had been artificially divided for realist, Cold War balance-of-power purposes. In the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush used force to expel Iraq’s forces from Kuwait in order to preserve the regional balance of power, but he did so using the liberal mechanism of a U.N. collective security resolution and a broad coalition to enhance American legitimacy and soft power. Bush considered himself a realist and refused to intervene to stop the shelling of civilians in Sarajevo, but after devastating pictures of starving Somalis were shown on American television in December 1992, he sent American troops on a cosmopolitan humanitarian intervention in Mogadishu, which subsequently became a problem for his successor.[26] In the second Gulf War, American motives for intervention were mixed. Theorists have sparred over whether the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a realist or a liberal intervention.[27] Some key figures in the George W. Bush adminstration, such as Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, were realists concerned about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and the local balance of power. The “neo-conservatives” in the administration (many of whom were former liberals) stressed promoting democracy as well as maintaining American hegemony. Outside the administration, some liberals supported the war because of Hussein’s abominable human rights record, while others opposed Bush for failing to obtain the institutional support of the U.N. Security Council as his father had in the first Gulf War. Stephen Walt, a realist skeptic about intervention, argues that “had realists been at the helm of US foreign policy over the past 20 years, it is likely that a number of costly debacles would have been avoided.”[28] Perhaps he is right, but his case is far from clear, for there are many variants of realism as well as of liberalism. Realism is a broad tendency, not a precise category with clear implications for policy. Certainly Cheney and Rumsfeld considered themselves realists. In the 2016 presidential debate, both Trump and Hillary Clinton said the United States had a responsibility to prevent mass casualties in Syria, but neither advocated major military intervention. While some commentators argue that liberal interventionism to promote democracy has “grown into ‘America’s self-designation as a special nation,’” there is an enormous difference between democracy promotion by coercive and non-coercive means.[29] Voice of America broadcasts and the National Endowment for Democracy cross international borders in a very different manner than does the 82nd Airborne Division. In terms of consequences, the means are as important as the ends. No one of the mental maps of the world provides presidents with an easy answer or substitutes for their good judgment and contextual intelligence when deciding whether to intervene or not. In its broadest definition, intervention refers to external actions that influence the domestic affairs of another sovereign state, and they can range from broadcasts, economic aid, and support for opposition parties at the low-coercion end of the spectrum, to blockades, cyber attacks, drone strikes, and military invasion at the high-coercive end. From a moral point of view, the degree of coercion involved is very important in terms of restricting local choice and rights. Moreover, military intervention is a dangerous instrument to use. It looks deceptively simple, but rarely is. Prudence warns against unintended consequences.

“The Best Moral Choice in the Context”: A Presidential Scorecard

How then should we judge the morality of a foreign policy? Presidents have their own values and convictions but they are also leaders living in what Max Weber described as a political world of non-perfectionist ethics.[30] Arnold Wolfers, a sophisticated and subtle Swiss-American realist, argued after World War II that “the interpretation of what constitutes a vital national interest and how much value should be attached to it is a moral question. It cannot be answered by reference to alleged amoral necessities inherent in international politics.” At the same time, leaders cannot always follow a simple formula. The best one can hope for in judging the ethics of foreign policy leaders, Wolfers concluded, is determining whether they made “the best moral choices that circumstances permit.”[31] While this is true, it is not completely helpful. It is a necessary but certainly not a sufficient standard. As mentioned above, prudence is a virtue in an anarchic world, but such a broad rule of prudence can easily be abused. How, then, can Americans decide whether their presidents did indeed make “the best moral choices” under the circumstances? They can start by making sure to judge them in terms of three-dimensional ethics, deriving criteria for each dimension from the wisdom of all three mental maps of realism, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism (in that order). When looking at the foreign policy goals that presidents have sought, one should not expect them to have pursued justice at the international level similar to what they aspired to in their domestic policies. In the August 1941 Atlantic Charter, one of the founding documents of the liberal international order, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill declared their devotion to ensuring freedom from want and from fear (though they disagreed about the British empire),[32] but Roosevelt did not try to transfer his domestic New Deal to the international stage. [quote id="4"] As mentioned earlier, survival comes first, but liberals and cosmopolitans argue that America has duties abroad that include humanitarian assistance and respect for basic human rights. Beyond that, Rawlsian liberals want to allow peoples in a diverse world to determine their own affairs as much as possible.[33] Thus, Americans should ask whether a president’s goals include a vision that expresses widely attractive values both at home and abroad, but also prudently balances those values and assesses risks so that there is a reasonable prospect of success. It is not enough to articulate noble goals — feasibility also matters. This means a president should be judged not only on his or her character and intentions, but also on contextual intelligence when it comes to promoting values. Regarding ethical means, presidents can be judged by the well-established just war criteria of proportional and discriminate use of force that are the law of the land in the United States. They can also be judged by Rawls’ liberal concern for minimal degrees of intervention in order to respect the rights and institutions of other peoples. As for ethical consequences, Americans can ask whether a president succeeded in promoting the country’s long-term national interests, but also whether he respected cosmopolitan values regarding human life by avoiding extreme insularity totally discounts harm to foreigners. The example that leaders set also has important moral consequences, as does whether they are promoting truth and trust that broadens moral discourse at home and abroad. These criteria are modest and derived from insights from realism, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism. The resulting “scorecard” below is by no means complete. Others might select other criteria from the different mental maps and weight them differently. Nevertheless, this scorecard provides some basic guidance to determine what constitutes a moral foreign policy that goes beyond Wolfers’ simple generality about prudence: Intentions: Goals and Motives
  1. Moral vision: Did the president express attractive values, and did those values determine his motives? Did he have the “emotional IQ” to avoid contradicting those values because of his personal needs?[34]
  2. Prudence: Did he have the contextual intelligence to wisely balance the values he pursued and the risks he imposed on others?
Means
  1. Use of force: Did he use force while paying attention to necessity, discrimination in the treatment of civilians, and the proportionality of benefits and harm?
  2. Liberal concerns: Did he try to respect and use institutions at home and abroad? To what extent did he consider the rights of other peoples?
Consequences
  1. Fiduciary: Was he a good trustee of America’s long-term interests?
  2. Cosmopolitan: Did he consider the interests of other peoples and minimize causing them unnecessary harm?
  3. Educational: Did he respect the truth and build credibility? Did he respect facts? Did he try to create and broaden moral discourse at home and abroad?

Three Illustrations

This three-dimensional scorecard hardly solves all problems of judgment, but it encourages looking at all dimensions of a president’s actions when comparing the morality of different foreign policy leadership. Consider the example of Reagan and the two Bushes. When people sometimes call for a “Reaganite foreign policy,” they tend to mean the moral clarity that went with Reagan’s simplification of complex issues and his effective rhetoric in the presentation of his values. Not only is this type of morality inadequate and one-dimensional for reasons explained above, but it also mistakes the success of Reagan’s moral leadership, which included the ability to bargain and compromise as he pursued his policies. Nonetheless, clear and clearly stated objectives can educate and motivate the public. The key question is whether Reagan was prudent in balancing his aspirations and the risks of trying to achieve his objectives. Reagan’s initial rhetoric in his first term created a dangerous degree of tension and distrust in U.S.–Soviet relations that increased the prospect of a miscalculation or accident leading to war, but it also created incentives to bargain which Reagan later put to good advantage when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Reagan’s second term. In terms of consequences, Reagan undoubtedly advanced the national interests of the United States, though most of the credit for ending the Cold War and the Soviet Union belongs to Gorbachev. In any event, Reagan took good advantage of the opportunity in a manner that did not exclusively benefit insular American interests. He ranks near the top of the second quartile. By his own account, George H. W. Bush did not have a transformational vision for the world, but was interested in avoiding disaster in a world that was changing dramatically at the end of the Cold War. While he referred to a “new world order” he never spelled out what this would look like. As Bush and his team responded to the forces that were largely outside of his control, he set goals that balanced opportunities and prudence. In each instance, Bush limited his short-term aims in order to pursue long-term stability, prompting some critics to complain that Bush did not set more transformational objectives.[35] In ethical terms, although Bush did not express a strong moral vision, it is difficult to make the case that he should have been less prudent and taken more risks. In terms of consequences, Bush was a worthy fiduciary in accomplishing national goals and managed to do so in a manner that was not unduly insular and did minimal damage to the interests of foreigners. He was careful not to humiliate Gorbachev and to manage Boris Yeltsin’s transition to power in Russia. At the same time, not all foreigners were adequately protected; for example, Bush assigned a lower priority to Kurds in northern Iraq, to dissidents in China, or to Bosnians who were embroiled in a civil war in the former Yugoslavia. In that sense, Bush’s realist approach limited his cosmopolitan impulses. With better communication skills, Bush might also have been able to do more to educate the American public about the changing nature of the world they faced after the Cold War. But given the uncertainties of history, and the potential for disaster as the Cold War era came to a close, Bush had one of best foreign policies of the period after 1945. He allowed America to benefit from a rising tide and his skills avoided shipwreck during tempest. He ranks in the top quartile (along with Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.)[36] In contrast, George W. Bush started his first term in office as a limited realist with little interest in foreign policy, but his objectives became transformational after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Like Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman, Bush became concerned about security but turned to the rhetoric of democracy to rally his followers in a time of crisis. His 2002 national security strategy, which came to be called the Bush Doctrine, proclaimed that the United States would “identify and eliminate terrorists wherever they are, together with the regimes that sustain them.”[37] In this new game, there were no rules. The solution to the terrorist problem was to spread democracy everywhere, and a freedom agenda thus became the basis of his 2006 national security strategy.[38] But the removal of Hussein did not accomplish the mission, and inadequate understanding of the context plus poor planning and management undercut Bush’s grand objectives. As a result, I rank him in the bottom quartile of presidents since World War II.

Conclusion

A perpetual problem in American foreign policy is the complexity of the context, and that is why contextual intelligence is such an important skill for presidents to have in framing an ethical foreign policy. Contextual intelligence is the ability to understand an evolving environment and capitalize on trends.[39] Sometimes prudence is dismissed as mere strategic self-interest and contrasted with moral conviction. But in three-dimensional ethics, both are essential. As Max Weber famously pointed out, conviction is important but in a complex political environment like foreign policy, the president is a trustee who must follow an ethic of responsibility.[40] In that context, weak contextual intelligence that produces negligent assessment and reckless risk-taking leads to immoral consequences. In legal terms, irresponsible assessment is termed “culpable negligence.” In assessing foreign policy, Trump’s rejection of intelligence and reliance on television sources raises serious moral as well as practical questions. We live in a world of diverse cultures and still know very little about social engineering and how to “build nations.” When one cannot be sure how to improve the world, prudence becomes an important virtue in an ethic of responsibility, while hubristic visions can do serious damage. Prudence usually requires emotional intelligence and the ability to manage one’s emotions and turn them to constructive purposes rather than to be dominated by them. [quote id="5"] That returns us to the role of institutions, public goods, and how broadly a president defines America’s national interest. The overall assessment of a president’s foreign policy depends not just on specific actions but also on how a pattern of actions shapes the environment of world politics. A president may have a broad and long-term vision but be unable to convince the public — witness Wilson in 1919. The disastrous 1930s were caused when the United States replaced Britain as the largest global power but failed to take on Britain’s role in providing global public goods. The result was the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide, and world war. In the domestic realm, governments produce public goods such as policing or clean water from which all citizens can benefit and none are excluded. At the anarchic global level, where there is no government, public goods — such as managing climate change, ensuring financial stability, or guaranteeing freedom of the seas — are provided by coalitions led by the largest power. Small countries have little incentive to pay for such global public goods: Because their small contributions make little difference to whether they benefit or not from these goods, it is rational for them to ride for free. But the largest powers can see the effect and feel the benefit of their own contributions. Thus, it is rational and in the long-term national interest of the largest countries to lead. Part of American exceptionalism is America’s disproportionate size. Leadership by the largest country in the production of global public goods is consistent with “America First” but it rests on a broader historical and institutional understanding of the current context than Trump has shown when he uses that term. As Henry Kissinger has argued,
to strike a balance between the two aspects of world order — power and legitimacy — is the essence of statesmanship. Calculations of power without a moral dimension will turn every disagreement into a test of strength. … Moral prescriptions without concern for equilibrium, on the other hand, tend toward either crusades or an impotent policy tempting challenges; either extreme risks endangering the coherence of the international order itself.[41]
Well-meaning interventions that are not based on good contextual intelligence can alter millions of lives for the worse. For presidents, prudence is a necessary virtue for a good foreign policy, but it is not sufficient. American presidents in the inter-war period were prudent when they instead needed to embrace a broader institutional vision. Wilson had such a vision, but without adequate contextual intelligence. Roosevelt began his presidency without a foreign policy vision but developed one on the job. In the future, a sense of vision and strategy that correctly understands and responds to new technological and environmental changes, such as cyber threats and climate change, will be crucial. In judging a president’s record of pursuing a moral foreign policy that makes Americans safer but also makes the world a better place, it is important to look at the full range of his or her leadership skills, to look at both actions and institutions, commissions and omissions, and to make three-dimensional moral judgments. Even then, we will often wind up with mixed verdicts — but that is the nature of foreign policy. We cannot responsibly banish moral discourse from foreign policy, but we can try to be more disciplined in how we structure our moral reasoning about it.   Joseph S. Nye Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus and former dean of the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, and earned a PhD in political science from Harvard. He has served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, chair of the National Intelligence Council, and deputy under secretary of state for security assistance, science, and technology. His most recent books include Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, Is the American Century Over?, and Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Diplomacy. In a recent survey of international relations scholars, he was ranked as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy, and in 2011, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers.   Image: Sgt. Bryan Lewis [post_title] => What Is a Moral Foreign Policy? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => what-is-a-moral-foreign-policy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-25 18:42:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-25 23:42:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=2152 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => How should we judge the morality of a president's foreign policy? Joseph Nye suggests a rubric that is based on a three-dimensional ethics of intentions, means, and consequences and that draws from realism, cosmopolitanism, and liberalism. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 3, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => In their daily lives, most people make moral judgments along three dimensions: intentions, means, and consequences.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Borders are arbitrary and sometimes unjust, but nations are communities that similarly engender additional roles, rights, and responsibilities. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The rise of human rights law after World War II, particularly in reaction to the horror of genocide, has complicated presidential choices. The American public wants some response to genocide, but it is divided over how much.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => No one of the mental maps of the world provides presidents with an easy answer or substitutes for their good judgment and contextual intelligence when deciding whether to intervene or not. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => We cannot responsibly banish moral discourse from foreign policy, but we can try to be more disciplined in how we structure our moral reasoning about it. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 334 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, “Realism, Liberalism and the Iraq War,” Survival 59, no. 4 (August-September 2017): 7–26, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2017.1349757. [2]  Mark Landler, “Trump Stands with Saudis Over Murder of Khashoggi,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/world/middleeast/trump-saudi-khashoggi.html; “Trump’s Crude Realpolitik,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 21, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-crude-realpolitik-1542763629. [3] Owen Harries, “Power and Morals,” Prospect, April 17, 2005, 26, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/powerandmorals. [4] Ari Fleischer, “What I Will Miss About President Bush,” New York Times, Nov. 4, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/opinion/02bush.html. [5] Joseph Nye, Jr., Soft Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). [6] Tom L. Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (New York: McGraw Hill, 1982), 179. In his view, virtue ethicists emphasize intentions, deontologists focus more on means, and utilitarians are most concerned with consequences. [7] Caroline Daniel, “Hard Man Who Sits at the Heart of US Foreign Policy,” Financial Times, Dec. 19, 2002, 14. [8] Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: Knopf, 1955), 9. [9] John J. Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 216. [10] Robert D. Kaplan, The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Random House, 2018), 146. [11] See, Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 2, no. 2 (1973): 160–80. See also, Gerald F. Gaus, “Dirty Hands,” in, A Companion to Applied Ethics, ed. R.G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman (Malden, MA, Blackwell, 2003), 167–79. [12] Cathal J. Nolan, “‘Bodyguard of Lies’: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Defensible Deceit in World War II,” in, Ethics and Statecraft: The Moral Dimensions of International Affairs, ed. Cathal J. Nolan, 2nd ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 35–58. [13] “Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia,” The White House, Nov. 20, 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-donald-j-trump-standing-saudi-arabia/. [14] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, Random House, 2012). [15] David Luban, “The Romance of the Nation State,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 9, no. 4 (Summer 1980): 392, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265007. [16] Stanley Hoffmann, Duties Beyond Borders: On the Limits and Possibilities of Ethical International Politics (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1981), 155. [17] Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 125. [18]  See, Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984); Robert O. Keohane, “Reciprocity in International Relations,” International Organization 40, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 1–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2706740. [19] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971). [20] John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). [21] Barbara Kellerman, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004), chap. 9. [22] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [23] Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). [24] See, Daniel W. Drezner, “The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion,” Perspectives on Politics 6, no. 1 (March 2008): 63. See also, Benjamin I. Page and Marshall M. Bouton, The Foreign Policy Dis-connect: What Americans Want from Our Leaders but Don’t Get (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 241. [25] Michael Walzer, Arguing About War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 35–36. [26] Humanitarian intervention is not a new or uniquely American foreign policy problem. Victorian Britain had debates about using force to end slavery, Belgian atrocities in the Congo and Ottoman repression of Balkan minorities long before Woodrow Wilson became the American president. Gary J. Bass, Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (New York, Random House, 2008), 4. [27] Deudney and Ikenberry, “Realism, Liberalism and the Iraq War.” [28] Stephen M. Walt, “What Would a Realist World Have Looked Like?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 8, 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/08/what-would-a-realist-world-have-looked-like-iraq-syria-iran-obama-bush-clinton/. [29] Quoted in, Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, “Syria Provokes an American Anxiety: Is U.S. Power Really So Special?” New York Times, Oct. 8, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/world/middleeast/syria-provokes-an-american-anxiety-is-us-power-really-so-special.html. See also, Sean Lynn-Jones, “Why the United States Should Spread Democracy,” Discussion Paper 98-07, Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, March 1998. [30] Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in, Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 126. [31] Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962) 47–65. [32] See Michael Fullilove, Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America Into the War and Into the World (New York: Penguin, 2013), chap. 7. [33] Rawls, The Law of Peoples. [34] The masculine pronoun used in the list reflects presidential history, not preferences for the future. [35] Zbigniew Brzezinski, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (New York: Basic Books, 2007). [36]  For a full discussion, see, Nye, Do Morals Matter? chap. 9. [37] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House, September 2002, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nss/2002/. [38] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, March 2006, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nss/2006/. [39] Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria, In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005). See also, Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Powers to Lead (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), chap. 4. [40] Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” 126. [41] Henry Kissinger, World Order (New York: Penguin Press, 2014), 367. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) [thumb] => medium [heading] => h1 [widget] => main [show_download] => 1 ) ) [1] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2134 [post_author] => 49 [post_date] => 2019-11-21 13:14:29 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-21 18:14:29 [post_content] => Though we are loath to admit it, we all enjoy a good academic fight. The recent passing of two noted, brilliant, but problematic intellectual pugilists — the historian Norman Stone and literary critic Harold Bloom — has made me wonder whether such battles are the best way to advance scholarly arguments and expand our understanding of the world.[1] I was certainly trained in the arts of intellectual combat. As an undergraduate, I had a front row seat to what had been called “the great 3:1 pissing match,” an intense debate over whether NATO conventional forces could withstand an attack from larger Soviet forces, and how to assess the military balance on the central front in Europe (3:1 is the concentration of forces needed to break through a well-established front).[2] Reading Greg Brew’s new article, “The Collapse Narrative: The United States, Mohammed Mossadegh, and the Coup Decision of 1953,” brought back memories of my first academic clash. Twenty years ago, an article I published on the same issue received a skeptical review at H-Diplo.[3] I remember locking myself in my office for 48 hours, pulling out file after file of primary documents, and consulting with friends and mentors, all in order to craft the right response.[4] In the academic world I was raised in, a negative review had to be met — immediately and with great force — with a sharp rejoinder. The pursuit of knowledge was often framed as a bitter contest between competing theoretical schools, where no side could concede an inch to its opponents. The leading journal, International Security, devoted scores of pages in the 1990s to unending, contentious debates over which “ism” best explained how the world worked. Like other young scholars, I followed these arguments with rapt attention, rooting for my “ism” with the same irrational passion I have long devoted to my often emotionally crippling attachment to the Philadelphia Eagles. This model of intellectual battle was how I thought scholarship and knowledge advanced. I no longer see things this way. The pursuit of wisdom is not about scoring points or attempting to defeat adversaries. Most of the issues we wrestle with in international security, foreign policy, and grand strategy are complex, contested, and difficult, defying parsimonious explanations or generalizations. Most people — both in the academy and in the policy world — explore these issues in good faith. The correspondence in this issue of TNSR between Mark Bell, Julia McDonald, Brendan Green, and Austin Long is, to my mind, an exemplar of how such exchanges over scholarly differences should take place: in a serious but respectful manner. All four are terrific scholars. And the fact is, the issue they are dealing with — how to define and understand a nuclear crisis — is an epistemological nightmare. What is a nuclear crisis? Is it any contest involving a nuclear armed state, which is how some political scientist have coded it, or does the use of nuclear weapons have to be explicitly mentioned? Nuclear weapons have perverse and puzzling effects on state behavior, dampening crises that might have otherwise have emerged (the Long Peace!) yet creating dangerous situations — like the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis — that make no sense in a non-nuclear world. And the bomb is always present, hovering like a dark shadow over world politics, even when nuclear weapons appear irrelevant or no one is talking about them. I’ve made the point elsewhere that coding anything involving nuclear weapons is hard, since the “Ns” we really care about are nine (the number of nuclear weapons states), two (the times atomic bombs have been used in battle, both within days of each other in 1945), and, most importantly, zero (the number of thermonuclear wars). In the nuclear realm, certainty is elusive and most of our assertions are historical interpretations. I am not sure I am convinced by either approach. Yet, all four are to be commended for their efforts, as the issues involved could not be more important. From a social science perspective, small Ns are a nightmare. In the world of nuclear weapons, however, small Ns are a miracle of history and policy, and we should continue our rigorous intellectual examination of these questions in our unending quest to keep those numbers — nine, two, and zero — exactly where they are. The scholarly focus on competing theoretical frameworks can also blind us to how policymaking actually works and why it often fails. Philip Zelikow’s important new article, “To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem Solving,” identifies what he sees as a steep decline in the United States’ ability to conduct effective, competent statecraft. To be clear, Zelikow is not so much worried about which grand strategy or school of thought animates U.S. policy: Trendy academic debates over restraint, primacy, or off-shore balancing miss the point in the same way the battle of the “isms” did in the 1990s. His contention is that the skills needed to carry out successful policy should be thought of like engineering; an interactive process between assessment, design, and implementation. The good news is that these skills are teachable, and Zelikow’s urging that universities update their pedagogy accordingly should be heeded. Sometimes intellectual insight emerges that defies easy categorization by “isms” or schools of thought, yet this insight reveals a whole new way of understanding old problems. Andrew Rhodes’ “Thinking in Space: The Role of Geography in National Security Making,” is such an article. Rhodes identifies an irony: The contemporary tools available to scholars and policymakers to understand geography are extraordinary. Yet, rarely do we understand or interrogate the mental maps to understand how space and geography affect international policy and world politics. Borrowing from Ernest May and Richard Neustadt’s famous Harvard Kennedy School class and book, Rhodes says we must learn to “think in space.” Jaehan Park makes the case that much of the international relations theory that developed after World War II was aspatial. Some of this had to do with the nuclear revolution, but much of it was driven by “emotional repugnance, as in the case of Morgenthau, or of ‘physics envy,’ in the academy in general.” Systems analysis and game theoretic models thus replaced traditional geopolitical models for understanding international relations.[5] Rhodes’ piece is difficult to categorize, either in terms of a school of thought or a methodology. It is eclectic and smart, precisely the kind of article that is difficult to place in traditional disciplinary journals but finds a most welcome home at TNSR. This is not to suggest we abandon sharp intellectual debate — quite the contrary. People may have important disagreements over how Todd Hall explains what is driving the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyo islands, or how David Betz and Hugo Stanford-Tuck portray urban warfare. Such contestation is to be welcomed, even encouraged, because the issues these scholars tackle matter enormously. The 1953 Mossadegh coup analyzed in Brew’s article, for example, plays an outsize role in both Tehran and Washington in explicitly and implicitly shaping contemporary U.S.-Iranian relations. It is important that we rigorously examine and test our assumptions about the origins and consequences of this critical event. There is a balance to be had. During the late 16th and early 17th century, scholarly debates at the world’s most prestigious universities, Cambridge and Oxford, were often shaped by arid, formal, and bitter theological and philosophical disputes with little connection to the larger world. At the same time, a new, unheralded institution emerged in London — Gresham College — which was later to become the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, or the Royal Society. Its members, pursuing science for the larger public good, helped transform our understanding of the physical world; including, most consequentially, the navigation of the sea. Oxford and Cambridge soon caught up and surpassed Gresham College. The world, however, should be grateful for its efforts to escape academic “inside baseball” and connect knowledge to larger social purposes. Perhaps the way our current academic system operates when it comes to studying foreign policy and international security could use a similar helpful nudge. I learned a lot sitting on the sidelines watching the great 3:1 pissing war. What I remember most as it unfolded in 1988 and 1989, however, was the strange allocation of intellectual resources. Intense, passionate, and even intemperate clashes over the military balance in central Europe were taking place just as the Cold War was ending and the Soviet Union unraveled. In just a few years, the great pissing war would be forgotten, the term “Fulda Gap” would largely disappear, and the participants would move on to other intellectual battles, with no one questioning whether this particular war of words had been especially fruitful. At TNSR, we enjoy and encourage sharp, big arguments. But any debate should be respectful and measured, while recognizing how hard it is to get definitive answers. Most vital of all, such debates should be important to people beyond the silos and ivory towers in which we often find ourselves. We hope you agree with us that this issue passes that test.   Francis J. Gavin is the chair of the editorial board of the Texas National Security Review. He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958–1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012). His latest book, Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy, will be published by Brookings Institution Press later this year.   [post_title] => Wars with Words? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => wars-with-words [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-21 13:27:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-21 18:27:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=2134 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => In his introductory essay for Vol. 2, Iss. 4, Francis J. Gavin, the chair of TNSR's editorial board, discusses academic combat, debates over "isms," and how to truly advance knowledge through intellectual exchange. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => [style] => framing [type] => Framing [style_label] => The Foundation [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 49 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Eric Homberger, “Harold Bloom, Obituary,” The Guardian, Oct. 15th, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/15/harold-bloom-obituary; Falstaff Agonistes, “Obituary: Harold Bloom Died on October 14th, The Economist, Oct. 24, 2019, https://www.economist.com/obituary/2019/10/24/obituary-harold-bloom-died-on-october-14th; Richard J. Evans, “Norman Stone Obituary,”  The Guardian June 25, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/25/norman-stone-obituary; Marcus Williamson, “Norman Stone: Outspoken Historian and Writer Whose Work Polarised Academic Opinion,” Independent, July 1, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/norman-stone-death-obituary-news-historian-dead-a8974476.html. [2] While there were several competing articles published on the subject, the gist of the dispute can be found here: John J. Mearsheimer, Barry R. Posen, Eliot A. Cohen, “Correspondence: Reassessing Net Assessment” International Security 13, No. 4 (Spring 1989): 128–79, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538782. [3] Francis J. Gavin, “Politics, Power, and U.S. Policy in Iran, 1950-1953,” Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 58–89, https://doi.org/10.1162/15203970152521890. [4] Francis J. Gavin, “Author’s Response,” H-Diplo, Oct. 8, 1999, https://issforum.org/reviews/PDF/Gavin-response.pdf. [5] Jaehan Park, “The Case for Geopolitics,” unpublished chapter from his forthcoming dissertation, The Age of Geopolitics: Japan, Russia, and the United States in the Far East, 1895-1905. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2052 [post_author] => 322 [post_date] => 2019-11-07 14:10:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-07 19:10:07 [post_content] =>

Only statesmen who can do their political and strategic thinking in terms of a round earth and a three-dimensional warfare can save their countries from being outmaneuvered on distant flanks.

            -Nicholas Spykman[1]

  Leaders who fail to think in space do so at their own peril. Nicholas Spykman published the above warning on the importance of mental maps in the context of World War II and the global challenges it presented, but his argument regarding the importance of spatial thinking to the nation’s security has never been more relevant. Thinking in space has long been an essential tool for thinking critically and communicating clearly when it comes to national security decision-making. The importance of mental maps and geographic communication are only growing in an era of new global challenges and renewed great power competition. Strategists and diplomats would benefit from gaining greater insight into the ways geographic information shapes national security decision-making. Moreover, understanding this impact can help produce recommendations for how American strategists can more effectively think in space. The tools and resources needed to elevate the spatial thinking of those charged with conducting America’s foreign policy and securing the national interest are all available. Unfortunately, American strategists are currently not making full use of geographic information, inhibiting the policymaking process as well as the government’s ability to communicate global policy. Despite national security decision-makers having unprecedented access to geographic information and tools with which to visualize the world, this is not the golden age of spatial thinking in national security policymaking. The challenges confronting the national security community require learning new ways of spatial thinking — and relearning old ones — on a global scale. The ability to “think in space” is more than mere navigation, map-reading, or geographic literacy. The basic assumptions laid out in Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s classic study Thinking in Time, which explores how decision-makers can make better use of history, are germane to this type of thinking.[2] The first assumption is that busy decision-makers and their advisers are presented with a tremendous quantity and diversity of information every day. Thus, when it comes to thinking in space, such individuals can consume only a small amount of the geographic information available to them. Second, the pressures of time and limited information do not lend themselves to thinking critically or, in the case of thinking in space, questioning the geographic renderings they are presented with. Third, it is nevertheless possible to achieve marginal improvements — in this case, in the use of geographic information — and be, as Neustadt and May put it, “more reflective and systematic.”[3] This article seeks to advance the conversation about how geographic information shapes national security decisions. While many have agreed with Spykman that “geography matters” and although there is a substantial literature on cartography as a form of communication, there has been little analysis of how geography “matters” when it comes to contemporary national security decision-making.[4] This article begins by considering the position of national security decision-making at the intersection of the art and science of cartography and visualization, the unique cartographic consciousness of American strategists, and the various theories of geopolitics. These three elements are analogous to the three “images” Kenneth Waltz identified to discuss international relations: the individual, the national, and the global.[5] In the sections that follow, I discuss the interaction of technology and geography, arguing that the ability of decision-makers to think critically in space has not kept pace with the advances of technology. The article then turns to the structure and process for employing geography in U.S. national security institutions and the importance of thinking in space in order to tackle 21st-century national security challenges. Finally, the article closes with recommendations for making the national security workforce more effective and identifies areas for further research.

Three Levels of Thinking in Space

Echoing Waltz, thinking in space occurs at three levels of national security decision-making: the individual, the governmental or national, and the global. Examining each of these three levels in sequence allows a careful review of the existing research, historical context, and theoretical foundations of different aspects of thinking in space. These three perspectives also provide useful analogies and suggest frameworks for evaluating contemporary issues. At the most basic level, thinking in space is the act of an individual seeking to make sense of space when it is out of sight and perhaps beyond his or her direct experience. On the national level, American society, including its vast national security bureaucracy, has developed its own uniquely American national geographic consciousness, with implications for how Americans use geographic information. At the highest level, geographic conceptualization of the international system — that is, geopolitics — bounds and focuses diplomacy and national security decisions. The Individual Level: Capturing and Interpreting Space on a Flat Surface Individuals must interpret and describe their geographic context, whether exploring a new city as a tourist or formulating wartime strategy. It is, therefore, essential to understand fundamental issues of cognition and spatial reasoning, which have been an important part of human evolution and can vary widely among individuals and even cultures.[6] Some may possess Clausewitz’s inner eye — the military thinker wrote that spatial cognition is a commander’s “special gift.” His version of thinking in space was a “sense of locality” through which abstract space was “vividly present to the mind, imprinted like a picture, like a map, upon the brain, without fading or blurring in detail.”[7] Others, however, might be what the Japanese call “hōkō onchi,” someone who is “directionally tone-deaf.”[8] One famous study found unique patterns of activity and even structural changes in the hippocampus of the brains of London taxi drivers who mastered the encyclopedic knowledge required to pass the city-wide driver licensing exam.[9] Cartography is the way in which geographic information is communicated to and interpreted by the individual. The maps we study shape our spatial understanding, and the maps we make reflect deliberate choices to describe and simplify a complex reality. Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges both explored the idea of a fictional “perfect” map, on a one-to-one scale, which would be difficult to consult as “it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight.”[10] A perfect map is impossible, and thus every map is a simplified, two-dimensional abstraction of three-dimensional space. According to one provocative argument, “not only is it easy to lie with maps, it’s essential.”[11] These lies could be accidental misrepresentations or deliberate deceptions, but the best maps make intentional and transparent choices, trading some distortions for others, such as scale, projection, and symbolization. Thus, the mapmaker only tells “white lies” and the informed map reader knows which lies the map contains and why. Scale and projection are both practical cartographic “lies.” A wall-sized world map cannot contain the same detail as a state highway map, but both have their purpose. Projection allows the transfer of three dimensions to two but entails some distortions in the process: No projection can preserve true distance, area, and shape in the same map. For example, many map users are familiar with the Mercator projection’s heavy distortion of distance and area. While the unlikely hold of the Mercator projection on American education is an instructive history of addiction to lazy conventions, there is nothing technically inaccurate about the projection itself, which was a remarkable technological achievement that facilitated global trade and exploration.[12] The essential point is that mapmakers must select an appropriate projection and scale to facilitate accurate interpretation by the map user, and informed map users must understand the reasons for those choices.  

Image 1: Comparison of Six Different Common Projections, All Centered on Beijing (Maps by author, 2019)

Robinson: Compromise to reduce distortion of shape, area, and distance.

 

Goode Homosoline: Distortion reduced by interrupting the map in areas less important to the user.

 

Miller Cylindrical: Compromise that fits on a rectangular page, but distorts distance and area, particularly in high latitudes.

 

Orthographic: Realistic "globe" view, but shapes and area are distorted. Can only depict one hemisphere.

 

Miller Cylindrical: Compromise that fits on a rectangular page, but distorts distance and area, particularly in high latitudes.

 

Gnomonic: Every line is a great circle, showing direct paths between points, but area and shape are distorted. Can only depict one hemisphere.  

Mercator: Useful for ocean navigation, but significant distortion of distance and area. The example above includes polar regions which are typically cropped.

  There is no perfect answer when it comes to choosing a map projection, though there are many wrong ones. One map familiar to many in the U.S. military is “The World with Commanders’ Areas of Responsibility,” which uses the Miller Cylindrical projection to delineate the regional combatant commands under the Unified Command Plan. The standard world wall map produced for the Department of Defense also uses the Miller projection, which has the advantage of being rectangular and fitting neatly onto a sheet or wall, but is only slightly less distorted than the Mercator projection in terms of high latitudes.[13] The Miller projection is inappropriate, for example, for a planner in the Pacific seeking to understand or convey the tyranny of distance in that theater. When distance is the central issue to a planning team, an equidistant projection, of which there are many kinds, is most appropriate. However, American officials rarely use equidistant projections, possibly because they look unfamiliar and distort shape while preserving distance. When comparing the size of two areas or mapping the distribution of data, such as population density, an equal-area projection is most appropriate and accurate. When mapping the entire world onto a single sheet or wall, a “compromise” projection provides a balance that accepts, but minimizes, distortions to the distance, area, and shape.[14] The creator of one of the best compromise projections, Arthur H. Robinson, called for map creators to heed principles of graphic design just as an author “must employ words with due regard for many important structural elements of the written language, such as grammar, syntax, and spelling.”[15]  

 

Image 2: The Miller Cylindrical projection (above) is common to many department of Defense wall maps. The Two-Piont Equidistant projection (below), shows true distances to Honolulu and Taipei. Both maps are at the scale of 1:65,000,000, and show the Great Circle paths among Taipei, Honolulu, Fairbanks, Darwin, and San Francisco. The dashed rings show 2000-kilometer ranges around these cities. Maps by author, 2019.

  Symbolization is another area in which cartographers must tell necessary “lies.” To make a road, river, or small island visible on a map, the cartographer often must make it far wider or larger than it actually is at that scale. Abstract symbolization provides a powerful language through which cartographers can communicate, but can also easily become a source of inadvertent blunders or deliberate deception. The design choices that cartographers make significantly impact the ways in which individuals will perceive geographic information. Even if scale and projection are appropriately and effectively used, the employment of line, color, information density, text labels, and symbols bear on accuracy and ease of interpretation. Because maps can feature centrally in national security decision-making, this is particularly important to bear in mind. The National Level: Development of American Cartographic Consciousness Zooming out from the individual to the national level, one can see how a unique American cartographic consciousness has evolved with the nation, shaping the way that Americans — including national security decision-makers — view the world. Every nation, and its government, has its own relationship with maps. The national map is a critical dimension of national identity and governments have a vested interest in the regular, public declaration of the extent of their sovereignty. Kosovo and Cyprus, for example, put the outline of their borders on their national flags. America’s cartographic consciousness developed over several principal phases. Spatial thinking may have had an early hold on the national psyche in a nation founded by traders and explorers — George Washington himself had an early career as a surveyor before his military and political life. The colonial era was marked by exploration, colonization, and conquest of the interior, after which national independence marked an inflection point as the young republic sought to craft its own geographic identity.[16] Before and after independence, there was a grand spatial dimension to America’s commitment to territorial expansion. This was evident in the colonial era but grew rapidly in the years after independence, most notably with the Louisiana Purchase and the Jefferson administration’s sponsorship of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Susan Schulten, a leading scholar of the role of cartography in American society, highlights important links between geographic education and the development of the early republic. Emma Hart Willard, a prominent educator of the period, explicitly connected the teaching of geography with national development and promotion of an American identity.[17] The Civil War represented a watershed moment in popular mapping, as newspapers published battle maps and Americans both north and south followed the progress of the war. Some of the first American maps to shade or color code the different states (i.e., choropleth maps) distinguished slave and free states, while the Lincoln administration closely studied maps detailing the distribution of slave populations in the South. The 1874 publication of the Statistical Atlas of the United States, charting data from the 1870 census, opened a new era of the American government using cartographic data in support of policymaking.[18] This period also saw growing institutional commitment to the study and advancement of geography, as seen in the establishment of the American Geographical Society in 1851 and the National Geographic Society in 1888. It was also at this time, in 1878, that Harvard appointed its first geography professor.  

Image 3: Population density, as depicted in the Statistical Atlas of the United States for 1870. Courtesy of the U.S. Census Department

  At the end of the 19th century, a truly outward and international perspective to America’s cartographic consciousness began to emerge. The Spanish-American War, the “Great White Fleet,” and Alfred Thayer Mahan’s writings on global sea power shifted America’s cartographic consciousness to a maritime and international focus. The acquisition of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines forced an expansion of the national map that included the vast scale of trans-Pacific distances. And although Mahan did not achieve the same popular acclaim in his own country that he enjoyed in Europe, he had a clear impact on key leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, who, as assistant secretary of the Navy and later as president promoted the development of the United States into a global naval power.[19] Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wartime leadership demonstrated the value of thinking in space: He had an innate spatial sense that strengthened his critical thinking and he employed maps in communicating with his administration. But, in addition to creating a White House map room and attaching hand-annotated maps to memoranda, Roosevelt employed geography to explain national strategy to the public, most famously in his Feb. 23, 1942, radio address, for which newspapers nationwide printed accompanying world maps. Roosevelt directly contributed to a new national consciousness of strategic issues in World War II that Alan Henrikson called a “revolution…in the way Americans visually imagined the earth and represented it cartographically.”[20] The career of cartographer Richard Edes Harrison exemplified this revolution.[21] In the 1930s, Harrison began producing maps emphasizing nontraditional projections and perspectives — particularly orthographic projections, which provide a realistic “globe” view, but in which shapes and areas are distorted and only one hemisphere is viewable at a time. He sacrificed convention to enable visualizations that better reflect the reality that the world is three-dimensional than do most flat, two-dimensional maps.[22] Harrison’s 1944 Look at the World: The Fortune Atlas for World Strategy includes dozens of original maps of war zones from multiple perspectives and advances several arguments about how different nations’ unique spatial perceptions influenced the making of good or bad strategy. Harrison made an impassioned plea for the importance of “geographical sense” to Americans who had been forced by the war from “a period of cartographic lethargy.”[23] He also attacked the “psychological shackles of conventional maps” that prevent Americans from effectively conceptualizing geographic challenges, and held particular disdain for the “invariable placing of North at the top [as] geographical cant in its most pernicious form.”[24] The popular atlases and magazine maps of World War II created the defining spatial conception of global threats facing America — Henrikson called this new global awareness “air-age globalism” — that continued into the early years of the Cold War.[25] The threat of nuclear attack by strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles brought new military challenges into sharper focus, such as the strategic value of the Arctic. Maps with azimuthal equidistant projections centered on the North Pole became essential to understanding the threat axis. Those emphasizing the cartographic perspective of air-age globalists reached their peak with Alexander de Seversky whose maps depicted the Arctic as the “area of decision” situated most directly between the industrial heartlands of the United States and Soviet Union.[26] [quote id="1"] Although remarkable technical achievements in cartography continued throughout the Cold War, geography’s place in academia did not keep pace. Indeed, despite the demand for geography skills during World War II, Harvard eliminated its geography department in 1948. Neil Smith argues that Harvard’s decision marked a key moment in an “academic war over the field of geography,” in which the institutionally weak discipline faced challenges in establishing itself as a true science, something more than a set of technical skills and distinct from the other physical and social sciences.[27] Personal and academic rivalries also played a role in the Harvard affair, as did McCarthyite accusations that university geography departments were a “haven for socialists.”[28] Also in decline from a relative high point during World War II was the effectiveness of geographic discourse between national leaders and the public, which did not carry forward to Vietnam. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote late in life that Indochina had been effectively “terra incognita” for the Kennedy-Johnson national security team.[29] But the United States employed ample cartographic resources in support of combat and economic development efforts in Vietnam. Furthermore, at various stages of America’s military involvement in Vietnam, President John F. Kennedy, McNamara, and President Richard Nixon all used maps in televised press conferences on the Vietnam War, but the effect was somehow less compelling than Roosevelt's radio address. Johnson, for his part, studied a terrain model of Khe Sanh as he directed his advisers to avoid a repeat of Dien Bien Phu, perhaps reflecting the broader tendency to fixate on operational and tactical situations, rather than the strategic level of war in that conflict.[30] Over the course of the Cold War, the associated cartographic imagery became more ideological than geostrategic, reflecting the global contest for influence between the two superpowers.[31] The Cold War map simplistically reduced the world (on a Mercator projection) to color-coded countries aligned to either the United States or the Soviet Union. It is not yet clear how to describe the American cartographic consciousness in the post-Cold War or post-9/11 world. The low level of geographic literacy among Americans in an age of globalization is a popular and longstanding complaint.[32] In one recent study, conducted at a time of high tension on the Korean peninsula, only 36 percent of American respondents could correctly identify North Korea on a map, while only 16 percent of Americans could correctly locate Ukraine in a similar 2014 study.[33] But these results are nothing new: In December 1950, with the Korean peninsula in crisis, the New York Times front page highlighted the poor results of a survey on geographic education in American schools and colleges.[34] Indeed, for all of the geopolitical turbulence of recent decades, America’s cartographic consciousness and the way that the American national security apparatus functions have been remarkably consistent since the end of the Cold War. The International Level: The Theory and Context of Geopolitics At the international level, geographic context and literacy are closely related to how decision-makers perceive the structure of the international system and the nature of the powers that define it. Saul Bernard Cohen defines modern geopolitics as the “scholarly analysis of the geographical factors underlying international relations and guiding political interactions.”[35] Geopolitics shapes the way national leaders view the outside world and how they make national security decisions. Just as individuals may not comprehend the distortions of the map they are looking at and Americans may not reflect on the uniqueness of their own cartographic perspective, national leaders may not realize it when they invoke geopolitical theories or engage in some of the great debates of geopolitics. In other words, policymakers may not be interested in geopolitics, but geopolitics is interested in them. The principal early proponent of geopolitical thought was Halford Mackinder, who elaborated the concept of a Eurasian “heartland,” control of which determined global power. Mackinder’s career overlapped with Mahan’s, but they advanced very different arguments about where the seat of global power rested. Mackinder, writing at a time when Mahan’s theories of sea power had reached peak popularity, argued that the true pivot of world power was on land, and that advances in the technologies of land power diminished the importance of maritime trade and naval power.[36] However, Mahan the historian and Mackinder the geographer shared a common geographical model and common assumptions about the role of military power and conflict in determining a nation’s status in the international system.[37] This enduring understanding of a world in which regional centers of power compete within a closed system has profoundly influenced how strategists conceive of global space. Nicholas Spykman fused Mahan and Mackinder in his analysis of great power competition for regional and global influence.[38] Spykman accepted much of Mackinder’s geographic conceptualization, but argued that the critical geostrategic region was not the Eurasian heartland but the coastal “Rimland” that surrounds Eurasia, an area that Mackinder referred to as the “inner or marginal crescent.”[39] According to Spykman, a strong power like the United States should, therefore, support buffer states (i.e., in the Rimland) and fight its enemies abroad, as only weak states fight defensively at their own borders or within their own territory. Spykman also studied the difference between how land powers and sea powers think in space, writing in 1938 that “[a] land power thinks in terms of continuous surfaces surrounding a central point of control, while a sea power thinks in terms of points and connecting lines dominating an immense territory.”[40] Spykman perceived that the unpopularity of foreign engagement created a natural cycle among great powers — especially the United States — of war, isolation, alliance, and renewed war. Furthermore, Spykman explicitly connected the structure of the international system to domestic and foreign policy, calling the tension between interventionism and isolationism “the oldest issue in American foreign policy.”[41] [quote id="2"] Spykman’s perspective helped shape policy throughout the Cold war, but the politics and structure of the immediate post-Cold War world initially appeared dramatically different than the preceding centuries of great power competition and traditional geopolitics. However, in his 2012 book, The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan highlighted the enduring importance of geopolitics following the end of the Cold War. Not only does he begin his first chapter with an argument for “recover[ing] our sense of geography” that was lost with the end of the Cold War, but he devotes a full chapter to the 21st-century importance of Spykman’s Rimland thesis.[42] More recently, Jakub Grygiel updated Spykman’s thinking for the new century. Grygiel’s 2017 book, The Unquiet Frontier, co-authored by Wess Mitchell, makes a geopolitical argument for resisting the lure of isolationism and sustaining American engagement abroad to counter Chinese and Russian probing for weak points in America’s international position.[43] The context and theory of geopolitics are not merely academic. Contemporary strategists debate whether Mahan or Mackinder holds more sway in guiding China’s rise. The answers to that debate hold important implications for how America should compete with China over the long term.[44] The thinking of individuals across the American foreign policy establishment, from realists to liberal internationalists, has been firmly rooted in Spykman’s concept of forward engagement for the better part of a century. Spykman also discussed the possibility that the Asian littorals might one day “be controlled not by British, American, or Japanese sea power but by Chinese air power.”[45] He would doubtless be amazed at the geographic tools — from GPS to Google Earth — available to the average person and the geospatial support provided to American national security decision-makers, but at the same time dismayed at their inability to “do their thinking in terms of a round earth and three-dimensional warfare.”[46] In order to critically analyze national security decision-making, it is essential have a greater awareness of how thinking in space takes place on the individual, national, and international levels. These national security decisions occur within a specific context on all three levels, often in ways decision-makers may not be fully conscious of. As Robert Jervis writes, “the roots of many important disputes about policies lie in differing perceptions. And in the frequent cases when the actors do not realize this, they will misunderstand their disagreement and engage in a debate that is unenlightening.”[47] The preceding theoretical and historical foundation therefore serves as the basis for the following portion of this article, which focuses on the practical considerations of how well the national security establishment thinks in space and how it might improve.

The Use of Geography in National Security Institutions

There is little data on how exactly government institutions employ the vast amounts of geographic data and finished cartographic products created by the U.S. government. Public strategy documents, congressional testimony, and some declassified products offer the public a small but limited view of the frequency with which cartography is utilized in discussions on issues of defense and foreign policy and the quality of such cartography. The extent to which officials employ cartography and visualization to explain a decision is relevant, and potentially a meaningful proxy, to how much “thinking in space” went into that decision. Thinking in space is not just useful during the decision-making process itself. It is also central to effectively communicating how a given decision will be implemented. Using text and cartography together in public documents can help explain a national security issue to the public more effectively, as well as guide the execution of policy at the lower levels of government.[48] It is notable that neither the 2017 National Security Strategy nor the 2018 National Defense Strategy includes any maps.[49] Similarly, the National Defense Strategy Commission’s 2018 assessment of the National Defense Strategy, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the Navy’s 2018 Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, and the 2017 Defense Posture Statement, all lack maps, although they were laid out by professional graphic designers and include other visual aids, such as photographs and charts.[50] Despite their purpose being to explain global strategy, these documents use maps with less frequency than a typical issue of the Economist. By contrast, the annual report to Congress titled, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” mandated since 2000, includes 14 maps in its 2018 edition, including a diverse set of scales and projections.[51] Although released by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, it is important to note this report is fundamentally an intelligence product and is largely compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Similarly, the Defense Department’s 2019 Missile Defense Review includes a few small and informative maps but is also produced by the intelligence community.[52] The lack of maps in the majority of these documents does not mean that cartography and spatial thinking played no role in their development and presentation or the implementation of the policies they prescribe. For example, those who developed the 2018 National Defense Strategy consulted maps while considering new operating concepts, testing these concepts in war games, and presenting National Defense Strategy themes to key stakeholders.[53] However, these cartographic efforts were ad hoc and largely incidental to the process of developing and implementing the strategy. Whether considering grand strategy, military capability, national cartographic consciousness, or individual spatial cognition, to exclude geographic content fails to make use of a valuable tool. Geographic expertise and resources are scattered widely and inconsistently across the national security enterprise, but many organizations have some sort of department that produces cartographic or geospatial products, often in conjunction with other graphic design services. That some parts of the government employ geography in their public messaging and others do not could reflect deliberate choices about the most appropriate or most effective ways to make an argument. More likely, however, is that the differences are the result of widely varying cartographic capabilities across the government, unevenly distributed geospatial resources, and long-unquestioned institutional processes. [quote id="3"] The National Security Council, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff would all benefit from a much greater ability to produce original geographic content in house. These organizations are among the most influential in the interagency policymaking process — indeed the National Security Council is its central coordinator — and yet they lack their own cartography capabilities. Policymakers at the National Security Council, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff may be avid consumers of maps, and they all certainly have access to quality geographic products through the intelligence community. However, that this capability has been almost exclusively allocated to the intelligence community has important implications. The intelligence community, by nature and by design, resides primarily in a classified domain, which allows it to take the sensitive information it collects and present it through geospatial visualizations. But working with classified systems can also hinder the employment of the full range of software and data that is available, as security policies can slow the adoption of commercial or open-source software suites and data repositories. In recent years, many successful geography applications have emerged from open-source software models that emphasize crowd-sourced development and collection of data by a wide array of volunteers — as in the case of OpenStreetMap — but government agencies prefer traditional models of software development and data collection from established corporations.[54] A more subtle challenge arises from the relationship between the intelligence community and policymakers, in which intelligence seeks policy relevance but avoids making policy prescriptions. High standards of security and objective independence from crafting policy are vital principles within the intelligence community, but when it is the only one with cartographic resources, these firebreaks can also serve to keep the best maps and most compelling geographic communication out of the hands of decision-makers. The government, with some exceptions, has generally treated geography and cartography as a service to be provided to customers, rather than as a core capability for decision-makers. That is, cartography is a support function assigned to technical specialists, rather than a skill, like effective writing, to be prized by policy advisers or senior officials. This has been particularly true in the military, which has considered mapmaking an enlisted function and not a skill set needed in the officer corps. The military has diminished even the enlisted focus on cartography through the elimination of certain specialties or their merger with other disciplines.[55] Government organizations have also been hampered in geostrategic thinking by the shift from general and thematic cartography to specialized geospatial intelligence. A subtle difference is apparent in the different treatment of geography at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the CIA. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s doctrinal definition of geospatial intelligence is that it “consists of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information,” emphasizing imagery and data over cartography.[56] By contrast, the CIA’s cartography center emphasizes cartography as a form of communication “to present the information visually in creative and effective ways for maximum understanding.”[57] This focus on visual communication may be narrower, more traditional, and less technical, but it is probably more consistent with promoting thinking in space.

Visualizing and Communicating the Geography of Coming Challenges

The contemporary environment and the threats that loom on the horizon present new challenges, and a few opportunities, for thinking in space. The American national security enterprise has a chance to regain the skills it has lost. Now is a time when those charged with thinking in space in defense of the nation can gain a new and more sophisticated understanding of the geographic information they consume, the limits of their own expertise in using it, and ways to cope with ambiguity. Although lacking any maps, as noted above, the 2018 National Defense Strategy uses spatial language to argue for a reappraisal of the nation’s strategic position. The strategy document argues that “every domain is contested—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace,” that battles are conducted “at increasing speed and reach,” and that “the homeland is no longer a sanctuary.”[58] By naming the leading competitors or pacing threats, the language of the National Defense Strategy allows for more geographic clarity than similar previous documents that referred only generically to capabilities or regions. Stating explicitly that China, followed by Russia, should be the strategic focus of the U.S. military, puts a geographic frame on planning discussions. Chinese military modernization has reintroduced old lessons about the tremendous expanse of the Pacific theater. Preparing for a high-end conflict that emphasizes the air and maritime domains might require relearning the cartography of the air-age globalism that took hold in the 1940s. Invoking the “tyranny of distance” has become a standard talking point for officials highlighting the difficulties of rapid response and the importance of forward deployment and foreign partnerships in the Pacific. But there is insufficient geographic content to support these points beyond rudimentary — and often inaccurate — range rings. If China is the primary concern for force planners, they must employ better mental and physical maps of the Pacific. Well-articulated spatial content, with geographic arguments supported by cartographic communication, would help strategists present a more effective case to their audience. The true implications of the tyranny of distance and the key geographic relationships of the Pacific theater need to be fully understood by strategists and clearly argued before the national leadership, the American people, and key U.S. allies.[59] In particular, there are three domains that are crucial when it comes to constructing both mental and actual maps if decision-makers want to be prepared for coming challenges. Space, cyberspace, and the undersea environment are essential strategic domains whose physical infrastructure is difficult to visualize spatially. Very few humans have navigated a submarine or charted the motion of a spacecraft and while cyberspace has become a part of ordinary life, few can explain the physical infrastructure of the internet. Leading Chinese strategists have emphasized that these domains are critical, calling space and cyber the new “commanding heights” of military capability that could “determine the outcome of future wars.”[60] Making smart investments to prepare for future conflict and compete with peer adversaries in these domains requires the commitment of a host of political, technological, and financial resources. These weighty national security decisions require critical analysis of complex data. Thinking in space must play a part in these decisions, even if spatial visualization proves difficult. Space Preparing for, deterring, and executing operations in the space domain requires decision-makers to think spatially. Outer space may be far from the earth’s surface where map coordinates are plotted, but it remains fundamentally spatial. Thus, we can analyze and visualize space in some of the same ways we approach traditional geographic problems. The coordinates that describe the three-dimensional position of a satellite are no different than those of an airplane, except that they change much more rapidly, the atmosphere is not a factor, and the distances are so great that communication delays are a more important factor, even at the speed of light. [quote id="6"] American policymakers seeking to accurately envision the spatial context of objects above the Karman Line probably fare little better than American high school students trying to locate Iraq on a world map. Supporting decision-makers in analyzing this domain will require a mix of traditional and unconventional geospatial materials. There is not a widely available body of accessible reference material for visualizing earth orbits. The established standard, Systems Tool Kit (formerly known as Satellite Tool Kit) contains a powerful visualization engine, but, as with many Geographic Information Systems suites, it is designed for experts, not generalists, in order to analyze complicated physics problems.[61] Outside of science education posters, there are few wall charts or reference atlases of various satellite constellations. Such charts — unclassified base maps of space — do not yet adorn the walls of conference rooms in which policymakers discuss investing in this vital domain. In part, the nature of orbitology makes a static or “flat” reference product on paper problematic, thus, animation or interactive displays may foster more understanding. Although creating, transporting, and displaying a digital interactive product has major practical limitations, it would almost certainly be more accurate and effective than static products, in part because objects in space move very fast and static maps cannot accurately portray location in time.[62] Cyberspace Visualizing cyberspace in recent years has been an interesting artistic endeavor, but practical mapping of the domain in support of national security decision-making remains undeveloped. Gaining a better understanding of the overlap between physical and virtual domains has become vitally important for senior officials. There have been a variety of official and unofficial efforts to generate comprehensive, global maps of internet traffic and devices, and books like The Atlas of Cyberspace have compiled different conceptual visualizations.[63] These efforts highlight that the private sector dominates both the visualization and the management of the physical infrastructure that supports internet traffic,[64] while private companies play an increasingly central role in discovering and responding to cyber attacks. They also own and manage the majority of the key information for visualizing the internet, such as charts of cables and switches and raw data on the paths through which internet traffic is routed. [65] One author found the researchers from a leading visualization firm, TeleGeography, to be part of a “small global fraternity that knows the geography of the internet” and has robust mental maps of the geographic movement of traffic on the internet’s physical cables.[66] Undersea The undersea domain has captured less attention in the popular press than space and cyberspace, but it is nevertheless a vital strategic domain that challenges the geographic thinking of national security leaders. In contrast to the cyber and space domains, shortfalls in thinking about undersea space derive more from disinterest and lack of imagination than technical or bureaucratic challenges. Anti-submarine warfare was a high priority in World War II, but submarine operations of that era were only partially an undersea contest. Competing for mastery of the undersea domain reached its height in the Cold War ocean surveillance networks and reliance on submarine-launched ballistic missiles for strategic deterrence. Such issues of military use of the undersea domain have become prominent again, but technology has also dramatically increased the commercial importance of the undersea environment. The overwhelming majority of global communication rides on seabed fiber-optic cables and the growing feasibility of extracting seabed resources requires an enhanced understanding of the undersea geography that determines competing claims and the accessibility of those resources. These challenges raise the importance of making national security leaders familiar with the shape and science of the undersea world. Those who develop and implement national strategy will have to become more spatially conversant in presenting and considering the strategic issues of the undersea domain.

Challenges to Thinking in Space

Getting policymakers and military leaders to think in space more effectively is easier said than done. There are a number of challenges to enhancing geographic skills — some of these challenges are more cognitive and abstract, while others are more practical and procedural. But they must be described so that they can be understood and overcome. As discussed above, technology has made possible some remarkable uses of geography in the digital age, but technology is a double-edged sword that creates tradeoffs for the decision-maker relying on a digital reference or navigational aid. Similarly, there are tradeoffs in the specific ways that national security organizations use geographic information, with implications for the quality and efficiency of the decisions these groups make. Confronting the nature of these tradeoffs suggests national security decision-makers would benefit from adapting their tools and processes to improve their ability to think in space. The Effects of Technology on Thinking in Space in the 21st Century The idea that technology impacts the spatial thinking of its users is not a new one. In 1913, Gerard Stanley Lee wrote that “the telephone changes the structure of the brain. Men live in wider distances, and think in larger figures, and become eligible to nobler and wider motives.”[67] A growing body of research has examined the effects of technology on spatial thinking as digital systems replace analog techniques in cartography and navigation and indicates that technology can both aid and hinder thinking in space. Geographic information systems technology encompasses the collection, manipulation, analysis, and display of increasingly rich data sets, empowered by global navigation systems, the storage of big data collected in the field, space-based imaging sensors, and the computing power to process it all. This technology has become an essential tool for an ever-broadening set of organizations, from businesses seeking more efficient supply chains to local governments managing public services and utilities and nongovernmental organizations conducting disaster relief. The essential skills for developing geographic tools and manipulating geographic information, i.e., geographic information systems technology, has become much more an exercise in computer programming and development of user interfaces than of traditional cartography. Scientists studying the interface between human cognition and digital maps discuss “navigational efficiency,” suggesting the ideal geospatial tool would reach maximum efficiency by requiring no geographic knowledge or critical thinking.[68] [quote id="4"] Digital navigation is the ubiquitous and essential means by which many people around the world engage with the mapped environment. But the ease of use and narrow purpose of navigational tools and digital map applications have also led to what researchers identify as “spatial cognitive deskilling” — people who use certain tools and interfaces actually acquire less spatial knowledge than they otherwise would.[69] A visual display that demands less skill of the user and strips away context can have clear benefits. Henry Grabar notes this is perhaps most evident in the way that a transit diagram, technically a “cartogram” rather than a map, allows a tourist to navigate the New York subway or London Underground. However, Grabar also points out that such navigational tools abandon geographic accuracy and provide little to no context of the surrounding environment. Having “small screens and egocentric perspectives, mobile navigation systems function like blinders, reducing the landscape to the width of a street. They narrow the world.”[70] Indeed, a broader view of the world provides a reminder of the tendency for technology to narrow the perspective by abandoning the context. A remarkable 2018 New York Times map of every structure in the United States, produced in both paper and online interactive forms, prompted Harvard’s Susan Crawford to remark on how modern technology denies individuals important spatial context, saying that “we lose what’s fascinating about a place by not having this bigger picture.”[71] Small navigational displays in cars replicate a capability that has been available in military cockpits for decades. Various studies have examined how to optimize displays for tactical situational awareness.[72] Recent studies of U.S. Navy doctrine have praised the development, circa 1943, of the shipboard Combat Information Center, which allows operational commanders to think spatially with new sensors (radar), new displays (the Plan Position Indicator scope), and networked communications (radio).[73] For all of the advances of integrated sensors and communications in modern military systems, some contemporary military officers have noted issues with spatial cognitive de-skilling within the officer corps due to using these digital tools in place of analog processes and paper charts. Moreover, digital screens limit the size and resolution of the map display and the hardware and software that integrate sensors, processors, databases, and displays require significant maintenance. The Navy now relies on digital charts that can be updated more readily than paper charts, but the system needs constant information technology support for the maintenance and integration of various electronic components. Developing skilled navigators necessitates specialized training with analog and digital systems alike. Digital systems require their users to be especially conscious of the quality and sources of the data displayed.[74] One study of flight skills among pilots found that certain basic skills were declining due to reliance on advanced instruments and that pilots consistently overestimated their level of skill in the event of losing advanced systems.[75] One critique of the Army’s digital systems, under the Command Post of the Future, is that these new tools are not expedient for field use since they have maintenance requirements that are too steep for deployment in austere environments. Moreover, they can introduce as much noise as signal into a geographic display because of a bias toward the most-accessible data layers displayed on a base map (such as auto-generated vehicle locations) rather than the most important data. Some officers, therefore, find digital systems to be less effective than analog alternatives for conveying clear spatial information among higher- and lower-echelon commanders.[76] Dealing with Ambiguity: Dangers of Dependence and Excessive Trust Despite the trend in spatial de-skilling, technology has deepened our addiction to certain types of geographic information and changed the way we consume it — with a less critical eye and without context. But what would happen if that technology was suddenly unavailable? Unexpectedly being denied the availability, quality, and accuracy of geographic information that technology currently provides will impair decision-making at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. There is a need for greater research on what happens when strategic decision-makers, conditioned to highly accurate and unambiguous spatial information, are suddenly denied that information or presented a deliberately deceptive spatial image. The increasing sophistication and broader proliferation of technology that is shaping strategic situational awareness present new challenges to decision-makers. Rebecca Hersman and Bernadette Stadler argue that many of the core concepts of crisis management were developed during the Cold War; however, decision-makers have not kept pace with changes in technology since 1990.[77] Furthermore, they argue the “emerging strategic situational awareness environment” will require policymakers to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the technology through which they visualize and maintain awareness of complex security challenges. Natural fog and friction are reason enough to build cognitive tools for dealing with ambiguous geographic information. However, an adversary presenting deliberately deceptive geographical information creates crucial challenges for decision-makers. Sharp power and information warfare are on the rise, and the United States has proven itself ill-prepared to deal with the deception and disinformation campaigns at which an adversary like Russia excels. Although geographic information has not yet been tampered with in the same way as other forms of communication, cartography will not be spared from the phenomenon of “deepfakes” and will inevitably be involved in what a recent RAND study called “truth decay.”[78] Following the Gulf War, discussions about navigation warfare began to shift toward the operational impacts of protecting and attacking a combatant’s positioning, navigation, and timing  systems on weapons guidance, command and control, and a variety of other operational functions.[79] But little attention has been paid to the possibility of a systemic attack that, beyond crippling GPS and communications networks, fundamentally degrades or denies the ability of the senior leadership to make geographically informed decisions. The 2002 Millennium Challenge exercise highlighted just how poorly U.S. military commanders fare at processing a highly dynamic common operating picture, particularly when a deceptive foe pollutes that picture with false information.[80] It is increasingly easy to envision a conflict in which the national command authority will have to issue new strategic guidance with no confidence in its knowledge of enemy and friendly positions and might have to act counter to a geographic picture it suspects of being deceptive. The geographic information that supports and empowers national security decisions can be both part of the problem and part of the solution in future challenges. Cartography has always been an art that manages the ambiguity of the geographic environment and, when used carefully and effectively, can serve as an essential heuristic to aid strategic decisions even in an uncertain environment. However, to improve performance in these decisions, senior leaders in the U.S. national security community would benefit from moving away from what Gary Klein calls an “impoverished mental model” to a “rich mental model” in their consumption and use of geographic information.[81] Practical Challenges of Incorporating Geography into National Security Institutions Some of the challenges to thinking in space are rather practical. As discussed above, cartography skills are in surprisingly short supply within the Department of Defense. A broad survey of the distribution of Defense Department cartographic resources would help leadership study the possibility of equipping policy offices and planning staffs with some of the capabilities currently found only in the intelligence community. Cartographic consultants could embed within planning teams, not to give them reference material, but to help add quality geographic content to documents and presentations. However, even if staff officers and decision-makers were able to create and edit better maps, they would still face practical challenges in sharing and displaying them. Cartographers have always published maps in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the contemporary national security community is narrowly limited to the letter-size sheets that are easily reproduced and included in briefing books. Amateur and professional cartographers alike must struggle with the tradeoff of creating the most compelling and accurate product possible while recognizing that the limitations of printers and formatting may require a black-and-white image in “portrait” orientation. The U.S. military’s devotion to “slideware” predates the arrival of Microsoft PowerPoint, but the dangers of the current PowerPoint addiction, which is antithetical to critical thinking, are well established in formal and informal critiques, such as the “Creed of the PowerPoint Ranger.”[82] PowerPoint has some advantages when it comes to displaying maps and other geospatial information, providing a common format and platform for easy sharing of files by email. PowerPoint allows the easy import and annotation of base maps, empowering any user to attempt thematic cartography by layering crude symbols, but it is very much a double-edged sword. The ease of manipulating images and adding new symbols can obscure or misuse the underlying geographic data. PowerPoint itself, and the broader system of storing, transmitting, and displaying its files, presents important limitations similar to those of printer paper and briefing books. PowerPoint locks in a specific aspect ratio that is perfect for a map of North Dakota, but not for countries like Vietnam or Chile, which have a major north-south extent (unless, of course, one follows Harrison’s advice to abandon the arbitrary “north up” convention). Because file sizes grow quickly with high-resolution images — such as a quality map — the imperative quickly becomes reducing the resolution of embedded images, which in effect deliberately reduces the quality of a map. To support necessarily large files of quality geographic products, information technology departments should seek better integration with and adoption of alternatives to email for simple and secure transfer. [quote id="5"] Digital displays have advantages in that they cheaply and easily display an array of dynamic content and can even support animation. A very early glimmer of how such technology might prove useful to support national security goals appeared in the use of animated terrain models through a program called PowerScene during the 1995 negotiations for the Dayton Accord.[83] U.S. officials, led by Richard Holbrooke, reportedly used PowerScene to great effect with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to demonstrate the advantages and infeasibility of different proposed border demarcations.[84] Visualization of detailed three-dimensional models is widely employed by the U.S. military for mission planning, but the promise of systems like PowerScene to support national-level decision-making or multilateral diplomacy, as seen at Dayton, has not materialized. The technology demonstrated at Dayton is now widely available for free: The desktop edition of Google Earth supports fly-through control with a joystick or gamepad. If deployed more widely and if users develop a natural facility with the interface, future government officials might use such a tool for studying a problem or presenting policy options, although the low level of geographic literacy and unsophisticated employment of cartographic tools detailed above suggest that simpler and more straightforward solutions would pay greater dividends in the near term. Furthermore, those employing and using this kind of visualization tool should do so conscious of the dangers of spatial de-skilling.[85] The quality of digital screens has improved dramatically in recent years, accompanied by falling prices in high-resolution displays. Nevertheless, screens still struggle to compete with paper when it comes to resolution, a major factor when rendering the fine details that the human eye can pick out of a good map. Large-format paper maps also have their own downsides. Paper maps are static, paper is expensive (and heavy in large quantity), and printers are notoriously fickle. But paper maps transport easily, roll out on any table, and work even when computers, networks, and projectors do not cooperate. The Department of Defense and national security organizations might consider shifting some of their resources away from large digital displays to make large-format color printers and plotters more widely available.

Growing a National Security Workforce Equipped to Think in Space

Although national security professionals undoubtedly score higher in geographic literacy than the general population, proper surveys of these issues would surely reveal gaps and areas for improvement. Jakub Grygiel has argued that “the education profession is failing” the needs of national security.[86] Better foundational education on geography would help enrich the geographic mental models of policymakers. Students receiving a master’s degree in national security or international relations — civilian or military — ought to receive both education and training for using geography. The differences between education and training are subtle but tremendously important: If training is learning how to perform a specific task and education is learning how to think, then both are required for thinking in space. National security professionals, whether on a military staff or at the National Security Council, could be more effective if equipped with the practical skills to develop original geographic content. They should be able to make their own maps, their own geographic arguments, and know what went into them. These practical skills, though mechanical in many ways, are potentially as valuable as the mechanical skill of proper citation in academic writing that receives such heavy emphasis at the war colleges. Just as the war colleges stress critical thinking skills to turn successful operational-level leaders into effective participants in the interagency policymaking process at the strategic level, these institutions would be ideal places to build upon the practical navigational skills of pilots, sailors, and battalion commanders in order to help them create more sophisticated and strategic mental maps.[87] Civilian and military graduate programs rightly require students to master clear and effective writing. These future decision-makers would similarly benefit from receiving training in the modern tools available for analyzing and presenting geographic information. Studies at the graduate level should involve more than just remedial familiarity with maps and should emphasize skills for mastering spatial critical thinking. Over the longer term, curriculum changes could create a broader reservoir of geographic expertise at senior levels. Professional military education requirements already highlight critical thinking and briefly mention geographic factors, but the Joint Staff ought to amplify the importance of spatial thinking and communication, alongside reading and writing, in the senior schools.[88] Civilian and military schools should draw on a well-established academic curriculum for all levels of cartography and visualization with commercial and open-source software suites, including free online courses. Other near-term solutions include the addition of courses on geographic skills in elective programs, or the creation of a geography adviser to aid students in incorporating geography and cartography into their work. Such an adviser, or a “geography center,” would not be the equivalent of a mapmaker on call. Rather, these advisers would serve as mentors to help students conceive geographic arguments and provide resources for gaining practical skills with tools like geographic information systems software. ArcGIS, produced by ESRI, is the overwhelmingly dominant geographic information systems software suite, with a market share akin to that of PowerPoint. The U.S. government is ESRI’s largest customer and ArcGIS licenses are widely available throughout different parts of the national security community. Where licensing costs are prohibitive, the leading open-source alternative to ArcGIS is QGIS, which can serve most of the geospatial analysis and cartography needs of a typical military officer or foreign policy generalist. The sophistication of software like ArcGIS and QGIS can present steep learning curves to novices. Moreover, these software suites have capabilities that go far beyond the needs of those seeking to merely incorporate effective cartography into their communication. There are, however, several other free and user-friendly options available for quickly generating base maps tailored to the purpose required. ESRI offers an online “My Map” portal that provides basic geographic information systems services and a library of base maps in different styles, with more powerful services available with a subscription.[89] The “Natural Earth” project, sponsored by a consortium including the North American Cartographic Information Society, provides an extensive set of well-curated public domain data for use in map making.[90] The cartographer Cynthia Brewer, who has published several practical guides to effective cartographic design, also maintains a website for effective and reliably reproduced color schemes that can quite literally help the amateur cartographer or designer to “paint by numbers.”[91] With a small investment in expert instruction or self-guided study, a skilled computer user can learn to create custom maps at no cost, choosing among appropriate projections in QGIS and layering data from Natural Earth.[92]

Conclusion

Geographic analogies are powerful instruments, though they run the same risks of cognitive bias and shallow analysis as other simplifications, such as historical analogy. The shortcomings of historical analogy have been well studied by scholars who warn against the “tyranny of the past upon the imagination,” and the dangers awaiting those who “do not examine a variety of analogies before selecting the one that they believe sheds light on their situation.”[93] The great military historian Michael Howard highlighted the dangers of overlapping analogies in both history and cartography, writing that historical battlefield maps, with “neat little blocks and arrows moving in a rational and orderly way…are an almost blasphemous travesty of the chaotic truth.”[94] Just as one ought not to depend on a single historical analogy, a senior official or policy analyst could constrain their thinking if relying on a single geographic perspective. Geography can be just as subjective as history, and those who desire to think more effectively in space should seek out multiple perspectives in the maps they study and their own mental maps. As mentioned above, Richard Edes Harrison argued that a critical first step is to dispense with persistent conventions that inhibit a “flexible view of geography,” such as always placing north at the top of the map. Harrison also wrote, in a wartime article co-authored by Robert Strausz-Hupé, that “the main pitfall to avoid is the continual use of one map, for the mind is inexorably conditioned to its shapes. It begins to look ‘right’ and all others ‘wrong.’”[95] Take as an example a map of the Taiwan Strait rotated 55 degrees. Such a map will look “wrong” at first, but has the benefit of forcing the viewer to give fresh consideration to the key distances and geographic relationships.  

Image 4 Taiwan Strait: Richard Edes Harrison encouraged the use of maps that force a new perspective on a familiar geographic issue. Map by author, 2019.

  Despite the pace of technological development and geopolitical shifts in the last two decades, the fundamental processes of national security institutions have changed remarkably little and are not conducive to the flexible view advocated by Harrison and Strausz-Hupé above.[96] The bureaucratic circulatory system continues to rely on strategy documents, memos, email, briefings, and PowerPoint slides with anemic geographic content. The current distribution of cartographic capability and the standard forms of communication within the government are stagnant and may actively contribute to spatial de-skilling.[97] Thus, the national security community needs to sharpen its understanding of the problem and consider different processes. There is limited data on questions of geographic literacy, trends in the use of geographic data, or the effectiveness of spatial thinking within the U.S. national security establishment. More research is needed to understand the institutional dimensions of how the U.S. government thinks in space, where the strengths and weakness are, what credible options for improvement exist, and what barriers inhibit their employment. Collection of such data would enable meaningful evaluation of how effectively the U.S. government’s geospatial tools and products support decision-makers and would undoubtedly suggest ways to improve the government’s use of geography and fix technical gaps and problems. Broad surveys of America’s national security institutions could not only identify any persistent holes in basic geographic knowledge but could also highlight conceptual strengths and weaknesses in employing the art and science of cartography. The findings of such investigations would provide valuable information to the civilian and military academic institutions of higher learning that shape future policymakers. There is much work to be done in studying and improving the way the U.S. national security apparatus uses geography. However, another vital question for future scholars and analysts will be how America’s potential adversaries think in space. Succeeding in a long-term strategic competition requires a deep understanding of the thought processes, priorities, and blind spots of the other side. It is crucial to understand the persistent distortions that exist in an adversary’s world view, what inefficiencies endure in the ways they process new and ambiguous geographic information, and what cartographic messages resonate best with their national security system.[98] But this will not be possible until the U.S. national security community improves its own ability to think in space. Thinking in space is only one tool available to decision-makers and is no panacea to crafting successful strategies and avoiding tragic blunders. But more sophisticated geographic thinking and communication will sharpen national security decision-making and help decision-makers to better communicate their plans to the public. The national security community must be a learning and adaptive organization. It needs an objective evaluation of how effectively it is employing geographic information and it must seek every opportunity to sharpen its skills in order to think effectively in space.   Andrew Rhodes is a career civil servant who has served as an expert in Asia-Pacific affairs in a variety of analytic, advisory, and staff positions across the Department of Defense and the interagency. He earned a BA in political science from Davidson College, an MA in international relations from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and a certificate in Geographic Information Sciences from the University of North Dakota. He recently graduated with highest distinction from the U.S. Naval War College and is an affiliated scholar of the Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute. The contents of this paper reflect the author’s own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, or the U.S. government. Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Peter Dutton, Michael O'Hara, Megan Rhodes, and many other Naval War College classmates, faculty, and staff who provided valuable insights for this article. [post_title] => Thinking in Space: The Role of Geography in National Security Decision-Making [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => thinking-in-space-the-role-of-geography-in-national-security-decision-making [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-08 17:07:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-08 22:07:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=2052 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Being able to "think in space" is a crucial tool for decision-makers, but one that is often deemphasized. In order to improve its ability to think in space, the national security community ought to objectively assess how effectively it is employing geographic information and seek every opportunity to sharpen its skills in this area. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Harrison made an impassioned plea for the importance of “geographical sense” to Americans who had been forced by the war from “a period of cartographic lethargy.” ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In other words, policymakers may not be interested in geopolitics, but geopolitics is interested in them. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The government, with some exceptions, has generally treated geography and cartography as a service to be provided to customers, rather than as a core capability for decision-makers. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => For all of the advances of integrated sensors and communications in modern military systems, some contemporary military officers have noted issues with spatial cognitive de-skilling within the officer corps due to using these digital tools in place of analog processes and paper charts.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => However, even if staff officers and decision-makers were able to create and edit better maps, they would still face practical challenges in sharing and displaying them.  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => These weighty national security decisions require critical analysis of complex data. Thinking in space must play a part in these decisions, even if spatial visualization proves difficult. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 322 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Nicholas J. Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1942), 165. [2] Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: The Free Press, 1986). [3] Neustadt and May, Thinking in Time, 2. [4] Ken Jennings, Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks (New York: Scribner, 2011). Harm de Blij, Why Geography Matters: More than Ever (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 16. [5] Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis, Revised Edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). [6] M.R. O’Connor, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World (New York: St. Martin’s, 2019). Lera Boroditsky and Alice Gaby, “Remembrances of Times East: Absolute Spatial Representations of Time in an Australian Aboriginal Community,” Psychological Science 21, no. 11 (2010): 1635, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0956797610386621. [7] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Everyman’s Library), 1993), Book I, chap. 3, 127. [8] Joshua Hotaka Roth, “Hōkō onchi: Wayfinding and the Emergence of ‘Directional Tone-Deafness’ in Japan,” Ethos 43, no. 4 (December 2015): 402–22, https://doi.org/10.1111/etho.12098. [9] Eleanor A. Maguire et al., "Navigation-Related Structural Change in the Hippocampi of Taxi Drivers," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 97, no. 8 (2000): 4398–403, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.070039597. [10] Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (London: Macmillan, 1893), 169. Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science,” in, Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998). [11] Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps, Second Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 1. [12] Mark Monmonier, Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). [13] “Mapping Customer Operations,” Defense Logistics Agency, accessed Jan. 18,  2019, http://www.dla.mil/Aviation/Offers/Products/Mapping/Topographic/. [14] J.A. Steers, An Introduction to the Study of Map Projections, 15th Edition (London: University of London, 1970). [15] Arthur H. Robinson and Randall D. Sale, Elements of Cartography, 3rd Edition (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969), 250. [16] Susan Schulten, "Map Drawing, Graphic Literacy, and Pedagogy in the Early Republic," History of Education Quarterly 57, no. 2 (May 2017): 185–220, https://doi.org/10.1017/heq.2017.2. [17] Jeremy Black, Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 75. [18] Susan Schulten, Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 2012. [19] George W. Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy 1890-1990 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 11. [20] Alan K. Henrikson, “The Map as an ‘Idea’: The Role of Cartographic Imagery During the Second World War,” The American Cartographer 2, no. 1 (1975): 19, https://doi.org/10.1559/152304075784447243. [21] Susan Schulten, “Richard Edes Harrison and the Challenge to American Cartography,” Imago Mundi 50, no. 1 (1998): 174–188, https://doi.org/10.1080/03085699808592886. [22] Jeremy Black, Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 230. [23] Richard Edes Harrison, ed., Look at the World: The Fortune Atlas of World Strategy (New York: Fortune, 1944). [24] Harrison, ed., Look at the World. [25] Timothy Barney, Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America’s International Power (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 30. [26] Alexander P. de Seversky, Air Power: Key to Survival (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950), map following page 312. [27] Neil Smith, “’Academic War over the Field of Geography’: The Elimination of Geography at Harvard 1947-1951,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77, no. 2 (June 1987): 155­–72, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8306.1987.tb00151.x. [28] Smith, “Academic War,” 166. [29] Robert S. McNamara, “We Were Wrong, Terribly Wrong,” Newsweek, April 16, 1995. [30] Conor Friedersdorf, “The Battle of Khe Sanh and Its Retellings,” Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 27, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-battle-of-khe-sanh-and-its-retellings/551315/. [31] Barney, Mapping the Cold War, 11–16. [32] Kevin Quealy, “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy,” New York Times, May 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/14/upshot/if-americans-can-find-north-korea-on-a-map-theyre-more-likely-to-prefer-diplomacy.html; Kyle Dropp, Joshua D. Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff, “The Less Americans Know About Ukraine’s Location, the More They Want U.S. to Intervene,” Washington Post, April 7, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/07/the-less-americans-know-about-ukraines-location-the-more-they-want-u-s-to-intervene/. “What College-Aged Students Know About the World: A Survey on Global Literacy,” National Geographic Society and the Council on Foreign Relations, September 2016, https://www.cfr.org/global-literacy-survey. “Final Report: 2006 Geographic Literacy Study,” National Geographic Society and Roper Public Affairs, May 2006, https://media.nationalgeographic.org/assets/file/NGS-Roper-2006-Report.pdf. [33] Quealy, “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map”; Dropp et al., “The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location.” [34] Benjamin Fine, “Geography Almost Ignored in Colleges, Survey Shows: Yet Most Educators Deem It Vital to Good Citizenship-Students' Knowledge of Subject Found Woefully Inadequate,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 1950, 1. Barney also references this article in juxtaposition to early Cold War headlines on the same day relating to the Korean War: see Barney, Mapping the Cold War, 96. [35] Saul Bernard Cohen, Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations, 2nd Edition (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2009), 11. [36] Martin Glassner, Political Geography (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 1995), 325. [37] Jon Sumida, “Alfred Thayer Mahan, Geopolitician,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 22, no. 2-3 (1999): 42, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402399908437753. [38] Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics. [39] Francis Sempa, “The Geopolitical Realism of Nicholas Spykman,” in, Nicholas J. Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008). [40] Nicholas J. Spykman, “Geography and Foreign Policy II,” American Political Science Review 32, no. 2 (April 1938): 224. Emphasis added. I am indebted to Jakub Grygiel, for whom I once worked as a research assistant, for highlighting this passage: Grygiel, Great Powers and Geopolitical Change, 10. [41] Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics, 5. [42] Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (New York: Random House, 2012), 3. [43] Jakub J. Grygiel and A. Wess Mitchell, The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016). [44] Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, 2nd Edition (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018). [45] Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics, 469. [46] Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics, 165. [47] Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 31. [48] Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Cheshire, CT: The Graphics Press, 2001). Michael P. Verdi and Raymond W. Kulhavy, “Learning with Maps and Texts: An Overview,” Educational Psychology Review 14, no. 1 (March 2002): 27-46, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1013128426099. [49] Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, Department of Defense, January 2018, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [50] National Security Strategy of the United States, The White House, December 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; 2018 National Defense Strategy; Providing for the Common Defense, National Defense Strategy Commission, Nov. 14, 2018, https://www.usip.org/publications/2018/11/providing-common-defense; Nuclear Posture Review, Department of Defense, February 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF; A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0, United States Navy, December 2018, https://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/Design_2.0.pdf; 2017 Defense Posture Statement: Taking the Long View, Investing for the Future, Department of Defense, February 2016, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017DODPOSTURE_FINAL_MAR17UpdatePage4_WEB.PDF. [51] Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Aug. 16, 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Aug/16/2001955282/-1/-1/1/2018-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT.PDF. [52] Missile Defense Review, Department of Defense, Jan. 17, 2019, https://www.defense.gov/Experience/2019-Missile-Defense-Review/. [53] Personal experience of the author in 2017 and correspondence with principal members of the National Defense Strategy drafting team in 2019. [54] “About Page,” OpenStreetMap, https://www.openstreetmap.org/about. [55] “Careers and Jobs: Geospatial Engineer (12Y),” United States Army, https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories/construction-engineering/geospatial-engineer.html; “Careers and Jobs: Geospatial Intelligence Imagery Analyst (35G),” United States Army, https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories/intelligence-and-combat-support/geospatial-intelligence-imagery-analyst.html. [56] “Publication 1.0: GEOINT Basic Doctrine,” National System for Geospatial Intelligence, April 2018, https://www.nga.mil/ProductsServices/Pages/GEOINT-Basic-Doctrine-Publication.aspx. The Department of Defense defines imagery as “a likeness or presentation of any natural or man-made feature or related object or activity, and the positional data acquired at the time the likeness or representation was acquired, including: products produced by space-based national intelligence reconnaissance systems; and likeness and presentations produced by satellites, airborne platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles, or other similar means.” DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint Publication 1-02) (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 115. [57] “The Mapmaker’s Craft: A History of Cartography at CIA,” Central Intelligence Agency, Nov. 10, 2016, https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2016-featured-story-archive/mapmakers-craft.html. [58] 2018 National Defense Strategy, 3. [59] Andrew Rhodes, “Go Get Mahan’s Yardstick,” US Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 7 (July 2019): 19–23, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2019/july/go-get-mahans-yardstick. [60] Xiao Tianliang [肖天亮], “'Operational Cloud' Promotes Joint Operations to a Higher Level [“作战云”把联合作战推向更高层次],” People’s Liberation Army Daily [解放军报], Jan. 5, 2016. [61] “Space Support,” Analytical Graphics, Inc., accessed July 26, 2019, agi.com/products/space-support. [62] “Catalog of Earth Satellite Orbits,” NASA, Sept. 4, 2009, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/OrbitsCatalog. [63] Betsy Mason, “Beautiful, Intriguing, and Illegal Ways to Map the Internet,” WIRED, June 10, 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/06/mapping-the-internet/. [64] Martin Dodge and Robert Kitchin, Atlas of Cyberspace (London: Pearson, 2002). [65] Adam Segal, The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age (New York: PublicAffairs, 2016), 41. [66] Andrew Blum, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 33­–34. Mapping Communication (Carlsbad, CA: TeleGeography, 2018). Electronic book is available at https://blog.telegeography.com/free-ebook-telecom-history-telegeography-map-portfolio, accessed Jan. 24, 2019. [67] Gerald Stanley Lee, Crowds: A Moving-Picture of Democracy (New York: Doubleday, 1913), 65. [68] Stefan Münzer, Hubert D. Zimmer, and Jörg Baus. "Navigation Assistance: A Trade-Off between Wayfinding Support and Configural Learning Support," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 18, no. 1 (2012): 18–37, https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0026553. [69] Klaus Gramann, Paul Hoepner, and Katja Karrer-Gauss, "Modified Navigation Instructions for Spatial Navigation Assistance Systems Lead to Incidental Spatial Learning," Frontiers in Psychology 8, no. 193 (2017), https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2017.00193; Claudio Aporta and Eric Higgs, "Satellite Culture: Global Positioning Systems, Inuit Wayfinding, and the Need for a New Account of Technology," Current Anthropology 46, no. 5 (December 2005): 729–53, https://doi.org/10.1086/432651. [70] Henry Grabar, “Smartphones and the Uncertain Future of 'Spatial Thinking,” Citylab (Atlantic Monthly blog), Sept. 9, 2014, https://www.citylab.com/life/2014/09/smartphones-and-the-uncertain-future-of-spatial-thinking/379796/. [71] Quoted in, Tim Wallace, Derek Watkins, and John Schwartz, “A Map of Every Building in America,” New York Times, Oct. 12, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/12/us/map-of-every-building-in-the-united-states.html. [72] Maura C. Lohrenz, Michael E. Trenchard and Melissa R. Beck, “Clearing Up the Clutter,” Defence Management Journal (2008). Maura C. Lohrenz, et al., “Optimizing Cockpit Moving-Map Displays for Enhanced Situational Awareness,” in, Situational Awareness in the Tactical Air Environment: Augmented Proceedings of the NAWC 1st Annual Symposium (1997), chap. 13, 363–87, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a508998.pdf. [73] Trent Hone, Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898-1945 (Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press, 2018), 206. Trent Hone, “Learning to Win: The Evolution of U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine During the Guadalcanal Campaign,” Journal of Military History 82, no. 3 (July 2018): 817–41. [74] Edward H. Lundquist, “Surface Warfare Officers School Employing New Technology and Training Methods,” Defense Media Network, Aug. 22, 2018, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/surface-warfare-officers-school-employing-new-technology-training-methods/. [75] John P. Young, Richard O. Fanjoy, and Michael W. Suckow, “Impact of Glass Cockpit Experience on Manual Flight Skills,” Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education and Research 15, no. 2 (Winter 2006), https://doi.org/10.15394/jaaer.2006.1501; John Zimmerman, “The Truth About the iPad,” Air Facts, Sept. 29, 2011, https://airfactsjournal.com/2011/09/johns-blog-the-truth-about-the-ipad/; Ron Rapp, “Teaching Flight Planning: Digital vs. Paper,” The House of Rapp, June 7, 2011, http://www.rapp.org/archives/2011/06/flight-planning/; Michael W. Gillen, Degradation of Pilot Skill, Master’s Thesis, University of North Dakota, 2008. [76] John Q. Bolton, “Modifying Situational Awareness: Perfect Knowledge and Precision Are Fantasy,” Small Wars Journal, June 10, 2018, https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/modifying-situational-awareness-perfect-knowledge-and-precision-are-fantasy; John Bolton, “Overkill: Army Mission Command Systems Inhibit Mission Command,” Small Wars Journal, Aug. 29, 2017, https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/overkill-army-mission-command-systems-inhibit-mission-command. [77] Rebecca Hersman and Bernadete Stadler, “When Is More Actually Less? Situational Awareness and Nuclear Risks,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 2, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/08/when-is-more-actually-less-situational-awareness-and-nuclear-risks/. [78] Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron, “Deepfakes and the New Disinformation War: The Coming Age of Post-Truth Geopolitics,” Foreign Affairs 98, no. 1 (January/February 2019), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2018-12-11/deepfakes-and-new-disinformation-war. Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2314.html. [79] “Lockheed Martin Selected for U.S. Air Force Navigation Warfare Study,” Business Wire, Aug. 21, 1996. [80] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005), 99–147. [81] Gary Klein, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011), 104. [82] T.X. Hammes, “Dumb-dumb Bullets,” Armed Forces Journal, July 1, 2009, http://armedforcesjournal.com/essay-dumb-dumb-bullets/; Spencer Ackerman, “Colonel Kicked Out of Afghanistan for Anti-Powerpoint Rant,” WIRED, Aug. 27, 2010, https://www.wired.com/2010/08/anti-powerpoint-rant-gets-colonel-kicked-out-of-afghanistan; Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, 2nd Edition (Cheshire, Conn: Graphics Press, 1942, 2006). “PowerPoint Ranger: Where the Battle Staff Commiserates” Powerpoint Ranger, https://powerpointranger.com/. [83] Mark W. Corson and Julian V. Minghi, “Powerscene: Application of New Geographic Technology to Revolutionise Boundary Making,” IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin, Summer 1996, 34–37. [84] Ethan Watters, “Virtual War and Peace,” Wired, March 1996, https://www.wired.com/1996/03/virtual-war-and-peace/. [85] Eric Van Rees, “AR, VR and GIS Have Finally Found Each Other,” Spar3D, Oct. 10, 2017, https://www.spar3d.com/blogs/all-over-the-map/ar-vr-gis-finally-found/. [86] Jakub Grygiel, “Educating for National Security,” Orbis 57, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 201–216, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2013.02.001. [87] Kevin P. Kelley and Joan Johnson-Freese, “Getting to the Goal in Professional Military Education,” Orbis 58, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 119–31, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2013.11.009. [88] “Officer Professional Military Education Policy,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 18001.01E, May 29, 2015 [89] “ My Map,” ArcGIS, accessed Nov. 7, 2019, https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html. [90] “Home Page,” Natural Earth, https://www.naturalearthdata.com/. [91] Cynthia A. Brewer, Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users (Redlands, CA: Esri Press, 2015). Cynthia Brewer, Mark Harrower, and the Pennsylvania State University, “COLORBREWER 2.0: Color Advice for Cartographers,” http://www.colorbrewer2.org/. [92] “Projection Wizard” is an excellent tool for amateur cartographers needing assistance selecting a projection and importing it to software like QGIS. See, http://projectionwizard.org/. [93] Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, 217–18, 281–82. [94] Michael Howard, “The Use and Abuse of Military History,” Royal United Services Institution Journal 107, no. 625 (1962): 4–10. [95] Richard Edes Harrison and Robert Strausz-Hupé, “Maps, Strategy, and World Politics,” Infantry Journal, November 1942, 40. [96] Wolf Melbourne, “Naval Intelligence’s Lost Decade,” US Naval Institute Proceedings 144, no. 12 (December 2018): 44–48, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018/december/naval-intelligences-lost-decade. [97] Claude Berube, “How to Avoid a Naval Intelligence Jutland,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 18, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/10/getting-back-to-basics-how-to-avoid-a-naval-intelligence-jutland/. [98] For one example of Chinese scholars discussing the nexus of cartography and geopolitical analysis, citing many of the same issues raised here, see, He Guangqiang and Song Xiuju (何光强, 宋秀琚), “Map Projection and Geopolitical Analysis: A Perspective of Spatial Cognition (地图投影与地球政法分析:一种空间认知的视角),” Human Geography (人文地理), no. 2, 2014. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2046 [post_author] => 321 [post_date] => 2019-11-06 12:31:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-06 17:31:01 [post_content] => On Aug. 19, 1953, the streets of Tehran exploded into violence. Clashes broke out between rival crowds at the city’s major radio station and central squares, while an armored column surrounded the home of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, peppering it with machine gun fire. Shouts of “Zendebad shah!” — “Long live the shah” — filled the air as Mossadegh’s National Front government fell from power. From the ashes rose a new government, led by former Gen. Fazlallah Zahidi and the young shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who returned from a brief exile on August 20. The shah spent the subsequent years consolidating his rule inside Iran, maintaining a close relationship with the United States until his fall from power amidst the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79. Though various Iranian factions and figures took part in the downfall of Mossadegh, the coup would not have been possible without the participation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British secret intelligence services. A pivotal moment in the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, modern Iranian history, and the history of covert operations, the coup of 1953 — the Mordad Coup, or Operation TPAJAX, as it is sometimes known — has received considerable scholarly attention. No fewer than four monographs, dozens of articles, two edited volumes, and countless chapters have been published that illustrate, in vivid detail, both the coup itself and the preceding oil nationalization crisis that consumed Iran, Great Britain, and the United States.[1] Among this mass of scholarship, there is a broad consensus on how the coup took place.[2] In 2000, the New York Times published an internal CIA history of the coup written in 1954 that revealed major operational details.[3] Other official histories have been declassified, though some pages remain redacted.[4] While the original volume in the State Department’s venerable Foreign Relations of the United States series focusing on Iran from 1951 to 1954 contained no information on the coup operation, in 2017 the Office of the Historian released a retrospective Foreign Relations of the United States volume.[5] Documents in the new volume confirm major details from existing sources, but they also reveal much that had hitherto remained obscure. In particular, the 300 documents included in this volume shed considerable light on the perspectives of various U.S. policymakers at the time, including their thoughts and feelings toward Iran, Mossadegh, oil nationalization, and the course of action needed to resolve the crisis.[6] Nevertheless, some gaps remain: Britain’s involvement in the coup, code-named “Operation Boot” by the intelligence services, is still relatively unknown, due to the lack of declassified documents.[7] The insights provided by this new volume of Foreign Relations of the United States are crucial to understanding Operation TPAJAX. While much is known about how the coup took place, there remains some disagreement as to why the United States decided on covert action or why this decision was made in early 1953. Mark J. Gasiorowski argues that U.S. actions in Iran were largely motivated “by fears of a communist takeover.” Viewed within the broader context, the decision to remove Mossadegh emerges “as one more step in the global effort of the Eisenhower Administration to block Soviet expansionism.”[8] Iran was a strategically important country due to its position athwart both the Soviet Union and the Middle East oil fields, which held roughly 50 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Mossadegh had chosen to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, setting off an international crisis that exacerbated Iran’s internal politics. There were also worrying signs that he would soon ally himself with Iran’s communist organization, the Tudeh Party. As historian Mary Ann Heiss argues, for U.S. policymakers in early 1953, a coup appeared necessary “to save Iran from communist domination.”[9] Other scholars like Steve Marsh and James F. Goode have offered similar interpretations of the coup decision, while Francis J. Gavin argues that a shift in the Cold War balance of power proved critical in motivating the Eisenhower administration to act against Mossadegh.[10] Another explanation for the coup centers on oil. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, Mossadegh’s nationalization of the oil industry posed a grave risk to Western domination of global oil supplies, particularly the oil concessions held by major Western oil companies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Venezuela, and elsewhere. The coup was therefore necessary to restore Western control over Iranian oil and reduce the threat of nationalization in other oil-producing regions.[11] This view is a popular one, particularly in light of what occurred after the coup: The shah’s government signed an agreement with oil companies that effectively reversed nationalization, awarding American firms 40 percent of a consortium that would control the flow of Iranian oil for the next 20 years.[12] Viewed from this perspective, the coup was part of an effort to control oil resources in developing countries, which formed the foundation for the global economy constructed and supervised by the United States.[13] This take emphasizes an aspect of covert action that Abdel Razzaq Takriti has noted in multiple coup operations: The hegemon’s intervention is motivated by “global contestations over political and economic sovereignty,” and chiefly revolves around the control of natural resources and the restriction of popular political will.[14] Both arguments have their shortcomings. Nationalization resulted in Iran’s isolation from the global oil economy — by 1953, none of the major oil companies needed Iranian oil and the success of a British-led embargo had reduced Iran’s oil exports to zero.[15] While Great Britain hoped to remove Mossadegh in order to reverse nationalization and restore British control over Iran’s oil industry — where a British oil company had been dominant since the early 20th century — the U.S. position was much more complex. Continuous negotiation efforts from 1951 to early 1953 were aimed at restarting the flow of oil. A final offer was made to Mossadegh that would have left Iran “master of its industry,” though there were conditions attached that ultimately made the offer unacceptable to Mossadegh.[16] Thus, oil played a role in the coup decision, as will become clear, but regaining control of Iranian oil, overturning nationalization, or serving the commercial interests of the companies were not the paramount concerns.[17] Furthermore, Iran’s communist Tudeh Party, while well organized and increasingly active in street demonstrations, lacked “the intention or the ability to gain control of the government.”[18] The new Foreign Relations of the United States volume has illustrated, according to Gasiorowski’s recent study, that the Tudeh threat was small in 1953 and that the U.S. decision to oust Mossadegh “was not made on the basis of strong evidence that a Communist takeover might otherwise soon occur.”[19] New documentary evidence indicates British officials approached the United States in late 1952 “disposed to bring about a coup d’etat in Iran,” but were rebuffed by Truman administration officials who thought it too risky.[20] Why, then, did policymakers reverse this decision, and organize a coup in Iran with British help a few months later? This article addresses that question by re-examining the coup of August 1953 from the point of view of U.S. policymakers in Washington and Tehran. It utilizes the archives of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, as well as records from Britain’s National Archives and the archival collections of major oil companies.[21] In particular, this article seeks to use revelations from the 2017 Foreign Relations of the United States volume to re-evaluate the 1953 coup decision. It draws on similar studies of formal decision-making by Philip Zelikow as well as Alexandra T. Evans and A. Bradley Potter, to isolate the factors involved and lay out a hierarchy of motives influencing a key foreign policy decision, one that would have momentous consequences, both for the United States and Iran.[22] [quote id="1"] Specifically, this article examines the formation of a “collapse narrative” that emerged based on intelligence assessments of the internal conditions in Iran in the years leading up to the coup. This narrative shaped policy in a way that made covert action in Iran more likely. The collapse narrative incorporated concerns over oil with the well-articulated fears of Iran “falling behind the Iron Curtain.”[23] Faced with an embargo on oil exports, Mossadegh launched a series of policies in late 1952 designed to render Iran “oil-less.” While his policies may have worked in time to detach Iran from the influence of oil, the notion of an oil-less Iran filled the United States with dread. The collapse narrative, a predictive analytical framework for viewing developments within Mossadegh’s Iran that soon permeated policymaking discourse in both Tehran and Washington D.C., rested upon two foundations: that oil-less economics was not sustainable for Iran in the long term, and that, without an oil agreement, the National Front government was not capable of managing Iran’s affairs without leaning on communist support. Preventing collapse by stabilizing Iran’s political system and resuming the flow of oil, thereby solving the government’s financial problems and ensuring a stable source of revenue for Iran’s economic development, was the primary motivation for Operation TPAJAX. The coup was not about countering an imminent communist threat — rather, it rested on fears of an uncertain future, concern over an ill-defined collapse of Iran’s internal stability through economic and political disintegration, and a deeply engrained skepticism of Iran’s ability to avoid catastrophe without foreign intervention. Scholars such as Douglas Little and Matthew Jacobs have noted the tendency of American policymakers to “Orientalize” governments and individuals in the Middle East, assembling a “hierarchy of race and culture” built on assumptions of Arab and Iranian inferiority and the struggle of Middle Eastern cultures to adapt to Western concepts of modernity.[24] Persistent notions of Iranian incapacity, born out of prior experiences and bolstered by broader views of the Middle East, affected U.S. thinking and fed into the collapse narrative. Officials viewed Iran as backward, feudal, and vulnerable to social revolution. American thinking emphasized economic development driven by central state growth as a cure for these apparent ills — a view that prioritized security over democracy and thus favored authoritarian modernizing regimes over popular democratic coalitions.[25] Establishing such a regime in Iran, backed with U.S. support and funded through oil revenues, seemed the only way to prevent an Iranian collapse — an outcome that would have had disastrous strategic ramifications for the United States and would have impaired future access to Middle Eastern oil. While certain policymakers, particularly CIA Director Allen Dulles, exaggerated the threat of collapse, the decision to remove Mossadegh should not be thought of as an intelligence failure. Rather, it constitutes a moment when policymakers, surrounded by uncertainty and driven by a fear that the worst-case scenario was just around the corner, chose to undertake a radical action in the belief that it was the last remaining viable option. In the American hierarchy of motives — which included forestalling the spread of communist influence, ending the oil crisis, and promoting a pro-Western regime in Iran — preventing collapse emerged as a broadly felt justification for covert action. In that sense, the operation was a success — Iran did not collapse, its government remained pro-Western, and the oil crisis was resolved in a way that satisfied Iran’s need for revenue and the oil companies’ desire for control. Yet, the coup decision had significant implications for the future of Iran and its relations with the United States, narrowing subsequent U.S. policy and staining the shah’s post-coup government with a mark of illegitimacy. The first section of this article details the historical background, including American views of Iran before 1951, the rise of Mossadegh, and the oil nationalization crisis. The second section analyzes the collapse narrative put forward by various U.S. officials at the time based on assessments of Iran’s oil-less economy and Mossadegh’s capacity to manage it effectively. The third section considers the coup decision itself, the option of taking covert action, and the circumstances surrounding the Eisenhower administration’s deliberations in early 1953. The fourth and final section lays out the hierarchy of motives that went into the coup decision and explores the coup’s aftermath. I argue that Operation TPAJAX was meant to prevent a collapse in Iran — a vaguely defined though omnipresent fear in the minds of American policymakers — and restore the flow of Iranian oil, not for the sake of American oil companies, but as a way to “save” Iran from a future without oil and put it back on the path toward progress.

Chaotic and Corrupt Conditions

In the aftermath of World War II, Iran emerged as a particular point of concern for U.S. policymakers. While nominally pro-Western, the country appeared vulnerable to destabilization by the Soviet Union, with which it shared a long border. Iran’s ruling elite, land-owning aristocrats who dominated the parliament, or Majlis, were led by the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a young and fairly inexperienced figure at the time. To American observers, Iran’s greatest weakness was its “backwards” economy, as well as the paucity of managerial expertise among the country’s elite. Foreigners tended to emphasize Iran’s “feudal” state, where, according to one author, “95% of the people are impoverished, ignorant and inarticulate.”[26] Iran was a country, wrote Ambassador John C. Wiley in 1950, “of archaic feudalism,” where economic conditions “involving hunger and despair…are an obvious invitation to subversive activities.”[27] State Department officials observing Iran’s attempts at economic development after World War II advocated for “a complete revolution of the present system of management,” which could only be accomplished “under the temporary control of foreigners.”[28] Wiley suggested an aggressive policy of economic and military assistance: Aid disbursements, “properly controlled,” would give the United States the ability “to shape [the] course of events; though of course our control should remain imperceptible.”[29] Max Weston Thornburg, a former oil executive who served as economic adviser to the shah’s government from 1948 to 1951, summed up the problem in a dispatch to Wiley: “The practical difficulty of turning money, ideas and good intentions into real works, however simple, by people who don’t know how to do it.”[30] Iran’s access to oil revenues seemed to offer the nation a way toward lasting stability. Oil was discovered in 1908 in Iran’s southwestern province of Khuzestan, and, by 1950, Iran was the fourth-largest oil producer in the world. The oil industry in Iran, as in other Middle Eastern states, was owned and operated by a foreign company: in this case, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later renamed British Petroleum, or BP). The company was deeply unpopular in Iran. Royalty payments, which had lagged behind company profits and tax payments to the British government, were considered unfairly low. Great Britain had historically interfered in Iran’s internal affairs and thus the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was widely seen by most Iranians, particularly an emerging class of nationalist politicians, as a front for British power.[31] With the United States standing aloof, tensions within Iran increased, much of them focused on the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This was exasperated by frustration with the country’s corrupt political system and socio-economic inequality. In March 1951, a supporter of nationalizing Iran’s oil industry assassinated the shah’s prime minister, Ali Razmara. In the chaos that followed, nationalists in the Majlis nominated their leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, as the new prime minister. Mossadegh called for nationalization as well as the expulsion of foreign influence from the country. The shah, fearing the new government’s massive popular support, signed Mossadegh’s nationalization bill into law on May 1, 1951.[32] The rise of Mossadegh, a 69-year-old Iranian aristocrat and prominent nationalist icon, revolutionized Iranian politics. Oil nationalization was the most popular political program in modern Iranian history. Support for Mossadegh and his governing coalition, the National Front, was particularly strong in urban areas among the working class and middle-class intelligentsia. Mossadegh was one of the first postcolonial nationalist politicians to emerge in the Middle East, and his program of nationalization provided a blueprint for other leaders, including Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would nationalize the Suez Canal in 1956. Rather than take sides in the Cold War, Mossadegh sought to maintain a middle path. His outlook, while largely pro-Western, was neutral and emphasized Iran’s independence. Mossadegh was also not a communist — in fact, when he first came to power, Soviet propaganda vilified him as an “American puppet.”[33] Even so, Mossadegh was a challenge that the United States and Great Britain were ill equipped to face. [quote id="2"] The British, for whom the Iranian oil industry represented a major economic and political asset, were fairly straightforward in their policy: remove Mossadegh and reverse nationalization. The British, as well as the major oil companies, hoped to prevent Iran’s nationalization from spreading to other oil-producing nations, like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela, or Indonesia. Working in tandem, the United Kingdom and these companies placed an embargo on the nationalized Iranian oil. The embargo was very effective: The companies controlled the global tanker supply and were able to increase oil production elsewhere to make up for the Iranian oil shutdown. By September 1951, Iran’s oil exports had been reduced to zero. The British hope was that economic pressure would force Mossadegh from power, thus leading to a new, more “reasonable” government amenable to an oil agreement that suited British interests, and they were prepared to be patient in executing this goal. The major oil companies were able to maintain their control of the global oil supply fairly easily and, by early 1952, oil markets had recovered from the shock of the Iranian shutdown.[34] American thinking was more conflicted. While there was little support for Mossadegh, policymakers recognized Iranian nationalism as a powerful political force. Failure to satisfy this sentiment at a time of intense internal instability in Iran could potentially lead to a worse outcome. At the same time, officials in the Truman administration were unwilling to abandon the British, an important Cold War ally, and were conscious of protecting American oil companies from further nationalizations. Any resolution to the crisis in Iran had to contain the “contagion” of nationalization, preventing it from spreading elsewhere. Thus, between May 1951 and March 1953, the United States focused on facilitating an oil agreement between Mossadegh and the United Kingdom. While Iranian nationalism would have to be satisfied, in the interests of global oil and out of respect to the British the American proposals focused on ways to accept the principle of nationalization while keeping control of Iranian oil in British hands. Naturally, Mossadegh found such proposals unacceptable.[35] In July 1952, a political crisis resulted in Mossadegh temporarily stepping down as prime minister. The United States, according to declassified documents in the 2017 Foreign Relations of the United States volume, moved quickly to support a new government led by conservative politician Ahmed Qavam, who immediately expressed his willingness to negotiate an acceptable oil settlement “as soon as possible.”[36] But before any progress could be made, massive demonstrations broke out in Tehran. Nationalists, as well as members of the communist Tudeh Party, took to the streets to protest. Qavam lost his nerve and resigned. The shah bowed to public pressure and reinstated Mossadegh. Once back in power, Mossadegh undertook a series of measures designed to transform Iran into an oil-less economy. Imports plummeted while non-oil exports increased. To make up the budget deficit left by the absence of oil revenues, Mossadegh turned to deficit financing. Two billion rials, Iran’s currency, were released between July 1952 and January 1953, increasing the total quantity of rials in circulation by 20 percent.[37] Mossadegh’s embrace of Keynesian economics provided a temporary boost to the marketplace. Iran’s agricultural sector, which accounted for 80 percent of its gross national product, thrived in the midst of the oil shutdown. Good harvests in 1951–52 and 1952–53 improved rural employment and cut back on the need for imports. It is possible an Iranian economy without oil would have succeeded, provided Mossadegh had been able to maintain political stability.[38] But that’s not how U.S. policymakers saw things. Rather, they perceived an oil-less Iran under Mossadegh’s leadership to be a recipe for disaster. While the Truman administration rejected the idea of covert action in November 1952, the Eisenhower administration reversed course, gave up on further negotiations with Mossadegh, and approved funding for a coup in April 1953. The administration made the decision for a host of different reasons, but crucial among them was an emerging narrative emphasizing Iran’s inevitable collapse. Included in this narrative were perceptions of Iran’s vulnerability, the weakness of the Mossadegh government, and the importance of restarting the flow of oil revenues.

Judging Collapse: Measuring Oil’s Importance to Iran

Did Iran need oil? Was it possible for Iran to survive as an oil-less state? For U.S. policymakers, such questions were difficult to answer. When nationalization first occurred, U.S. officials worried that a showdown between Iran and the British would bring internal chaos to Iran, making a collapse into communist rule “a distinct possibility.”[39] The Tudeh Party was viewed as the country’s only properly organized political party, one that received considerable moral and material support from the Soviet Union. Even before the United Kingdom and the Western oil companies imposed an embargo against Iran, American officials believed Mossadegh’s crusade against the oil companies would end in disaster, particularly if the British pushed him too far: “Any test of will … in the light of the highly irrational and emotional view of the Iranians, [would] not be successful,” according to Assistant Secretary of State George C. McGhee. It was crucial that the “uninterrupted flow of oil” be maintained.[40] The CIA thought an oil shutdown would promptly lead to “bankruptcy, internal unrest, and at worst Communist control of the state.”[41] With negotiations stalled and the United Kingdom turning to pressure tactics, policymakers in Washington grew increasingly worried about Iran’s ability to resist communist pressure. While estimates varied, it appeared that five to ten thousand members of the Tudeh Party came from Iran’s industrial working class and the intelligentsia. Communist domination as a result of an internal coup led by the Tudeh Party, with external Soviet support à la Czechoslovakia in February 1948, seemed likely if a solution to the oil crisis was not found.[42] Heiss argues that U.S. officials exaggerated the effects of the embargo, misjudged the importance of oil, and treated Iran as an industrial society rather than an agricultural one.[43] Indeed, 80 percent of Iran’s economy was agricultural. While the oil industry employed around 50,000 skilled and nonskilled workers, it existed as an enclave and had few linkages to the rest of the economy, a phenomenon that was (and still is) quite common in oil-producing countries.[44] Information on Iran’s economy was hard to come by in the early 1950s: The chief source of intelligence was the U.S. Embassy in Iran, particularly reports written by the embassy’s economic counselor Robert M. Carr. According to Carr, for the Iranian year 1330 (March 1951–March 1952), had nationalization not occurred, the Iranian government would have earned £10 million worth of rials from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s operating expenses, another £12.2 million from sales of sterling at differing exchange rates, and £28 million in royalties. Under these conditions, the oil company would contribute 4.5 billion rials in state revenue, more than one-third of its entire budget, including projected development expenses.[45] This was an estimate of a single year: A conservative estimate was that the British-controlled company contributed roughly half of Iran’s state expenditures. Carr and U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson chose to express it as “forty percent of the total budget.”[46] In addition, oil royalties and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s internal purchases constituted around 60 percent of Iran’s foreign exchange balance. Nationalization and the British embargo removed these lucrative sources of revenue and foreign exchange. By September 1951, with exports at zero and royalty payments from the oil company suspended, Iran faced a trade crisis, a state budget crisis, a balance-of-payments crisis, and a defunct development plan.[47]

[table id=19 /]

Table 1: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Contribution to Iran’s State Budget, 1951-1952 (Estimated)[48]

 

[table id=18 /]

Table 2: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Foreign Exchange Contributions, Millions of Rials[49]

  In 1951, these figures produced considerable alarm. Senior officials like Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Policy Planning Director Paul Nitze, and McGhee scrambled to implement an oil settlement and “keep Iranian oil moving.” “[O]nly in this way can we hope to prevent the Iranian economy from collapsing.”[50] As Acheson explained to British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in November of that year, failure to reach an oil settlement — thus producing a prolonged oil embargo — would lead to the weakening of Iran’s armed forces, political assassinations and social unrest, “and the rapid movement toward the Tudeh Party’s taking over.”[51] But Carr initially downplayed the risk of an imminent collapse. According to him, Iran’s agricultural economy would show “considerable resistance” to the oil shutdown, while Mossadegh could draw on gold and foreign exchange reserves to fill the budget and trade gap. Mismanagement was to blame for Iran’s existing financial woes, and the country possessed the resources to survive for some time, “if the burden was properly distributed.”[52] The State Department agreed, arguing that Iran’s government could pay its bills for up to a year, “without any benefits whatsoever from oil resources.”[53] Eventually, fears of collapse subsided, with Nitze admitting in February 1952 that Iran’s economic conditions — its gold reserves, internal credit facilities, and prospects for a strong harvest — meant a general disintegration was unlikely, though the country’s politics remained unstable.[54] But fears of a collapse began to mount again, particularly after July 1952, when Mossadegh returned to office and began to implement his oil-less economic policies. Carr and his staff at the embassy viewed such policies with deep skepticism. Minor reforms designed to boost imports and save foreign exchange would provide “superficial” improvements, masking symptoms of an “economic and financial deterioration.”[55] To fund the government, Mossadegh turned to deficit financing, which the embassy believed would produce disastrous inflation: “The printing press has become a source of government revenue.”[56] It was feasible that a government possessed of greater will, “sufficiently able, demagogic and dictatorial,” could balance the budget and survive without oil revenues, perhaps indefinitely. But Carr, as well as others at the U.S. Embassy, doubted Mossadegh’s competence or the abilities of his government to guide the country. Mossadegh’s reforms were evidence of growing state involvement in the economy, characterized by interventions from the “already overgrown and none-too-competent bureaucracy.” The increased involvement of the state, necessitated by the extreme conditions produced by the oil crisis, presaged a slow slide down a familiar slope: “[T]he reformers are the apostles of the typical ‘bureaucratic revolution,’ complete with the statism, controls and neo-Keynesian economics which have become increasingly questioned elsewhere.”[57] To make an oil-less economy work, Mossadegh would either need to take full control over Iran’s state and economy or lean on outside support. Without U.S. assistance, his only option would be to turn to the Soviet Union. Carr’s concerns were shared by his boss, Henderson. A career foreign service officer, Henderson had been among the State Department’s most aggressively anti-communist voices, “a hard-line anti-Soviet diplomat,” according to his biographer.[58] While Carr’s reports rarely made it all the way to Washington, his views were regularly synthesized by Henderson, whose impact on U.S. policy was far more significant. “Iran is [a] sick country,” he wrote, “and [Mossadegh] is one of its most sick leaders.”[59] An oil agreement would halt a “financial collapse towards which [Iran] was heading so rapidly.”[60] Without access to oil revenues, no government could improve “the miserable social and economic conditions” pervasive throughout the country. In the absence of meaningful reforms and improvements, “[the] discontent of [the] people is bound to attract them towards [the] extreme of Communism.”[61] Like Carr, Henderson did not think collapse was imminent, but he pointed to “insidious disintegration” stemming from the financial situation.[62] Mossadegh lacked the capacity to lead Iran effectively. An oil-less economy would need “skillful, strong and ruthless dictatorship,” the kind only the Tudeh Party “was capable of furnishing.”[63] Since the National Front took power, “there has been a marked deterioration of forces making for steady administration and for [the] stability [of the] country.” Communist influence within the government, while apparently quite small, could grow quickly under the right circumstances: Henderson believed that Mossadegh received “Tudeh-slanted advice," that a number of cabinet ministers were, in fact, “Tudeh tools,” and that “infiltration of this kind might result in communists creeping almost imperceptibly into power.”[64] In steering Iran toward oil independence, Mossadegh would either fail or be forced to lean on Tudeh support. Either way, the outcome would be the same. [quote id="3"] By late 1952 and into early 1953, these views were becoming well represented elsewhere in the Truman administration, State Department, and CIA. According to Carr’s figures, Mossadegh still retained some flexibility: Iran’s hard currency and gold reserves, as well as Iran’s agricultural economy, meant he could probably stave off spiraling inflation, “unless there is a serious crop failure or an unfavorable export market.” But this did not allay fears of a collapse. Without a return of oil revenues, “further currency expansion” was inevitable.[65] The National Security Council policy document completed in November 1952 concluded that Mossadegh’s government had stoked “popular desire for promised economic and social betterment,” increasing the social unrest already evident prior to 1951. Furthermore, “nationalist failure to restore the oil industry has led to … deficit financing to meet current expense, and is likely to produce a progressive deterioration of the economy at large.”[66] Deputy CIA Director Robert Amory concluded that, without oil, Iran would succumb to “economic and political disintegration.”[67] Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett felt urgent action was needed “to prevent the strategic collapse of Iran’s loss to communism,” and suggested a course of economic and military aid.[68] But others in the government worried that aid for Mossadegh would just encourage further intransigence during oil negotiations, preventing an agreement and continuing the oil-less economy. Following his victory in the 1952 presidential election, Dwight D. Eisenhower was briefed by President Harry Truman and Acheson. The situation in Iran, they said, had developed to a “critical point.” Mossadegh’s approach to the crisis was irrational: The Iranians were more interested in defying the British “than they were in the economic benefits which might come to them from the oil industry.” The stalemate at the negotiating table and the ongoing British oil embargo “had led to very grave disintegration” within both the government and the “social structure” of Iran. Hard evidence would suggest that the National Front could survive for a year if it acted “reasonably,” but Acheson and Truman no longer thought that likely. “They would act emotionally,” perhaps breaking relations with the United States and cutting the number of public employees or reducing wages for the army, which would increase internal unrest. “[I]n a very short time [they] might have the country in a state of chaos.”[69] By late 1952, there was a growing feeling throughout the Truman administration that an oil-less Iran under Mossadegh’s rule would lead to disaster. However, there were few outward signs that economic collapse was imminent — inflation inside Iran had not yet reached crisis levels, the cost of living indices were relatively stable, and imports had fallen while non-oil exports had risen. One estimate from October 1952 noted how the loss of oil revenues had not “seriously damaged” Iran’s economy, thanks in part to an “excellent harvest.”[70] Nevertheless, the emerging consensus in Washington was pessimistic. According to Acheson’s recollection, “[the] situation was deteriorating … various people put it at four, six, seven or eight months,” but sooner or later, “we would reach … the point of no return.”[71] Fear of the future, skepticism of Iranian capacity for self-government, and an overriding sense that the Tudeh Party would profit from continued uncertainty formed an omnipresent fear of collapse that gripped the Truman administration in its last months in office, despite signs that Iran’s economy was actually managing the oil shutdown fairly well. No one could claim with any confidence when this collapse would take place, or even what it would look like. “If present trends continue unchecked,” however, there was thought to be a growing chance that Iran would drift away from the West “in advance of an actual communist takeover.”[72] The question galling Acheson, Truman, Nitze, and others was how to prevent this collapse from occurring.

The Coup Decision

Allen Dulles, deputy director of the CIA beginning in August 1951 and director after February 1953, was a noted skeptic of the Mossadegh government. In May 1951, just after nationalization of the oil supply, the forceful and gregarious Dulles suggested the United States cooperate with the British and intervene directly: “[T]hrow out Mossadegh, close the Majlis … at a later date a premier could be installed with our help.”[73] In late 1952, as his superiors deliberated, Dulles turned to Thornburg for advice. The former oilman-turned-international consultant who had acted as economic adviser to the shah’s government before 1951 was one of the few self-described “Iran experts” known in Washington. Thornburg enjoyed “unusual access” to both Dulles and the Department of State and he offered policy advice in meetings, memos, and messages sent from his personal island in the Persian Gulf.[74] Thornburg scoffed at Iran’s nationalist government. Supporters of Mossadegh “are not the kind of men who can carry out any practical program.” Rather, the men governing Iran were “political flaneurs” interested only in advancing their own careers. According to him, establishing a “democratic government” was not necessary. “What is necessary is that each of these countries have a stable government dedicated to the welfare of its people.”[75] Otherwise, the risk was instability and, eventually, collapse leading to communist rule. Thornburg felt that this could best be prevented by backing a right-wing strongman. A “responsible” regime led by the shah — a figure most American officials viewed as indecisive and weak-willed — could impose martial law, rule by decree, and reach a suitable oil settlement, thereby freeing up funds for a new development scheme. The key for Thornburg was changing the political balance in Iran. The goal should not be “how to make an oil agreement that will bolster up the government in Persia, but how to bolster up the government in Persia so it can make an oil agreement.”[76] The necessary consequence of that conclusion was removing Mossadegh from power. Documents in the 2017 Foreign Relations of the United States volume indicate that U.S. officials considered removing Mossadegh at various times throughout 1951 and 1952. After Mossadegh’s consolidation of power in July 1952, Assistant Secretary of State Henry F. Byroade had plans drawn up “as to possible alternatives to Mossadeq, method of bringing such a government into power, and the type of encouragement and support that would be necessary in such circumstances.”[77] The policy paper that the National Security Council adopted in November 1952 was much more alarmist than similar papers published a year before.[78] The policy mentioned the threat of an “attempted or actual communist seizure of power,” and included provisions for “special political operations in Iran” to support noncommunist forces.[79] The CIA had been active in Iran since 1948, combatting the Tudeh Party through an operation code-named TPBEDAMN and setting up a “stay-behind” mission in case Iran’s government were to fall under communist influence.[80] The United Kingdom, which had long sought Mossadegh’s removal from office, was expelled from Iran in October 1952, after which British officials reached out to the United States for help.[81] The British, conscious of U.S. concerns and anxious to elicit assistance, emphasized the threat of an internal coup through Tudeh Party subversion. The risk did not arise “from the country’s bad financial situation,” but rather from Mossadegh’s unwillingness “to check the growth of communist strength.” To that end, they were “disposed to bring about a coup d’etat in Iran,” and hoped for U.S. help in replacing Mossadegh with a more “reliable” prime minister. It was, in their opinion, “our best chance to save Iran.”[82] According to one agent’s recollection, the offer was favorably received by Dulles and Frank Wisner of the CIA.[83] [quote id="4"] But senior U.S. officials, including CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith and Acheson, could not see a viable alternative to Mossadegh among Iran’s conservative politicians. Mossadegh had placed his own supporters in key army posts: He could not be easily deposed through a military coup. Moreover, no conservative political figure possessed the prestige to challenge the National Front, while the young shah seemed paralyzed. Arguably the second-most powerful man in Iran was the populist demagogue Ayatollah Sayyed ʻAbu al-Qasim Kashani. While a member of Iran’s Shia clerical leadership, Kashani was more notable for his hardline position on oil negotiations. He was opposed to any deal with the oil companies and had condemned oil revenues as a “curse rather than a blessing.” Should Mossadegh retire or die in office, a new nationalist government would probably coalesce around Kashani. From a U.S. point of view, it was better to have Mossadegh remain in power than to have such an unpredictable figure assume a position of authority.[84] For these reasons, the British offer was rebuffed. “You may be able to throw out Mossadegh,” remarked Smith, “but you will never get your own man to stick in his place.”[85] While Dulles felt that an operation could be carried out “in such a way that British and American connection with it could never be proven,” officials in the State Department, like Byroade and Freeman Matthews, were skeptical.[86] By late 1952, Carr’s reports and Henderson’s analysis convinced policymakers in Washington that an Iranian economy without oil was not sustainable, and that, without an oil settlement, Mossadegh would lead the country into disaster. But a coup to remove him did not seem viable. Nitze informed the United Kingdom that the United States would not dismiss the idea, but would, for the time being, proceed with a new round of negotiations: “We would keep the suggestion in mind.”[87] Instead of a coup, the focus turned to the question of propping up Mossadegh and staving off collapse. Byroade suggested an oil settlement or “substantial financial assistance and a program of economic development” as the two best options.[88] Lovett insisted that the United States “must get the oil flowing” in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating to the point where a military intervention became necessary.[89] According to Nitze, Iran needed to be pushed into a deal that would provide “sufficient revenues to meet its economic problems.”[90] Talk of financial aid to Mossadegh continued after Eisenhower took office in January 1953. The president, despite taking a more flexible position than his predecessor, seemed preoccupied with the problem of how to aid Mossadegh. “If…I had $500,000,000 of money to spend in secret,” he said during a meeting of his National Security Council on March 4, “I would give $100,000,000 of it to Iran right now.”[91] While the United Kingdom felt the new administration would be “more robust,” initially there was continuity in policy. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles focused on continuing negotiations with Mossadegh, though it was clear that a settlement was unlikely, given the disagreements between Mossadegh and the British over terms to settle the 1951 nationalization.[92] An important turning point in the crisis came in late February 1953. Mossadegh’s position in Iran had grown unstable. Aware that conservative forces were maneuvering against him, in February 1953 Mossadegh demanded the shah abandon his few remaining prerogatives and subordinate himself to the government. Henderson, exhausted after months of negotiating and frustrated with the prime minister’s “one track mind,” “hyper-sensitive attitude,” and “suspicious character,” had come to think further negotiations were pointless.[93] Moreover, he regarded the shah as “a potentially powerful anti-commie element.” Mossadegh’s assault on the monarch prompted Henderson to take action, despite conventions prohibiting U.S. diplomats from intervening in local politics.[94] “I dislike remaining inactive,” he wrote defiantly, “when [the] monarchical institution…is in grave danger.” Henderson went to the shah and implored him to remain in the country. He then met with Mossadegh, making it clear that the shah’s departure would “weaken [the] security [of the] country,” an open show of support for the monarchy. Shortly after their meeting, crowds organized by the prime minister’s opponents, including Ayatollah Kashani and several pro-shah organizations, assaulted Mossadegh’s house, forcing him to climb over a 10-foot fence to take refuge in the house next door.[95] Events in January and February 1953 indicated increasing political instability in Iran, which prompted a more alarmist assessment in Washington. Allen Dulles, together with others inside the CIA, had the intelligence estimate for Iran altered in January. If current trends were allowed to continue “beyond the end of 1953,” internal tensions and the “continued deterioration of the economy” would lead to a “breakdown of governmental authority” and the “gradual assumption of control by the Tudeh.”[96] In his report for Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, by then director of the CIA, contended that conditions in Iran had been steadily deteriorating since 1951, “building up…a situation where a Communist takeover is becoming more and more of a possibility.” He then noted that CIA agents had resources inside Iran, “a considerable supply of small arms…[and] a considerable amount of cash,” which could be quickly supplemented.[97] During a meeting of the National Security Council on March 4, the CIA director laid out the situation in Iran in the bleakest possible terms: Mossadegh’s actions in February indicated his desire to rule as dictator, but if he were to die or resign, “a political vacuum would occur … and the Communists might easily take over.”[98] While John Foster Dulles and Eisenhower were focused on negotiating with Mossadegh during the March 4 National Security Council meeting, they were noticeably more skeptical of Mossadegh at a second meeting on March 11. They felt there was little hope of Mossadegh agreeing to new oil terms, while financial aid would only delay the inevitable and irritate the British. The risks of doing nothing were high: Should Iran be lost, the entirety of the Middle East’s oil resources would be lost with it.[99] Dulles instructed Henderson that there would be no new offers to Mossadegh and that all his requests for economic assistance were to be rebuffed.[100] Discussion in Washington turned toward “assets which could be rallied to support a replacement [for Mossadegh].” The National Security Council policy adopted in 1953 outlined plans to be undertaken “prior to an identifiable attempted or actual communist seizure of power,” while preparations were made for “special psychological measures” in connection with the “special political operations” authorized in November 1952.[101] Funds for operations were released in early April.[102] Henderson warned that conditions in Iran were becoming critical. “Practically all sections of the Iranian public,” he wrote, were growing increasingly frustrated with the West, “as they note the deteriorating conditions of the country. …Only those sympathetic to the Soviet Union and to international communism have reason to be pleased at what is taking place in Iran.”[103] In May, Henderson met with Secretary of State Dulles in Karachi. The ambassador, drawing on Carr’s analysis, reported that Iran’s economy was in the midst of a slow deterioration. “The need for foreign exchange has become acute. …[L]ocal currency needs have been met in the printing press route. …[T]he inflationary effect of this is only just beginning to be felt.” On the political side, the confrontation in February had increased Mossadegh’s reliance on the Tudeh Party, “the only organization which can give him the kind of support in the streets.” Henderson and the secretary of state discussed four potential courses of action, which included breaking off negotiations, proceeding with emergency aid, or removing Mossadegh through covert action. Doing nothing, however, would quicken Iran’s “drift into chaos.”[104] It is difficult to say with certainty, but it would appear that the decision to remove Mossadegh was made sometime in March or April, with Henderson’s May meeting with Secretary of State Dulles representing a final consultation. By June, Operation TPAJAX was in motion.[105]

The Hierarchy of Motives and the Collapse Narrative

The decision to topple Mossadegh emerged from several factors. Like their predecessors in the Truman administration, officials in the Eisenhower administration hoped to resolve Iran’s oil crisis. While the embargo remained in effect, Secretary of State Dulles worried that Iran would soon start “dumping” oil on the international market at rock-bottom prices or sell oil to the Soviet Union.[106] CIA Director Allen Dulles supplied figures indicating Iran could produce and export as much as 3.7 million tons (74,000 barrels per day).[107] Such actions would negatively impact the global oil economy and do nothing to alleviate the economic conditions in Iran, since the oil would be sold at low prices and in relatively small amounts, yielding little revenue. At the March 4 and March 11 National Security Council meetings, both the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower expressed concern over losing access to Middle Eastern oil. On March 11, Eisenhower noted that an agreement with Mossadegh “might not be worth the paper it was written on,” and might disrupt concessions elsewhere if the terms were “too favorable” to Iran.[108] Such comments have led historians to speculate that the Eisenhower administration, which enjoyed close ties to the American oil industry, sought to remove Mossadegh in order to gain access to Iranian oil and protect Western oil interests elsewhere.[109] Such motivations did influence policy, but were probably not decisive on their own. Both the United Kingdom and the oil companies themselves doubted Iran’s ability to ship large quantities of “unclean” oil when cheaper sources, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, were available.[110] The Petroleum Administration for Defense, a branch of the Department of the Interior tasked with monitoring the global oil supply, felt there was no market for Iranian oil and that it would take two years for Mossadegh to claw back market share.[111] With only 28 tankers of its own, the Soviet Union could not move large quantities of Iranian oil.[112] Rather than focusing on saving the oil companies, which were never consulted by the Eisenhower administration at any point in early 1953 (something noted by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden[113]), the United States focused on conditions inside Iran. Fear of collapse stemming from a prolonged oil shutdown and a lack of oil revenues for the Iranian state outweighed worries of a global oil economy without Iran. The precise imagining of this collapse was linked to the threat of the Tudeh Party. Reports at the time indicated that the communist group was not ready to challenge the government.[114] The CIA had infiltrated the organization and had up-to-date information on key decisions.[115] Allen Dulles and Henderson chose to emphasize the “imperceptible” increase in the Tudeh Party’s power, and the “gradual assumption of control” it could engineer.[116] The February crisis was decisive: Mossadegh broke with the shah and his former ally Kashani, and adopted a more lenient attitude toward the communist organization. As one Iranian minister explained to the U.S. embassy in Iran, Mossadegh could not fight both his conservative opposition and the communists, and had opted for a marriage of convenience.[117] Mossadegh may have been acting strategically, but his maneuver seemed to confirm Dulles and Henderson’s warning of a creeping Tudeh influence over the government. But this threat was never characterized at the time as imminent. [quote id="5"] Documents in the 2017 Foreign Relations of the United States volume and other declassified sources indicate that avoiding a Kashani government was as important to U.S. officials as preventing the rise of the Tudeh Party. Worries that Mossadegh would die or resign once again prompted concerns over who would succeed him — something that had preoccupied the Truman administration. With conservative opposition too weak to mount an effective opposition effort, Mossadegh would be succeeded by another member of the National Front. Ayatollah Kashani was the most likely candidate, given his prominence, popular following, and powerful street presence. As prime minister, it was unlikely Kashani would seek an oil agreement. Rather than reach a deal with the British, “[h]e has … urged that Iran forget its oil resources and develop a self-sustaining economy and governmental structure not dependent on them.”[118] When the idea of a coup was first suggested in November 1952, Nitze had queried whether CIA assets could be used against the Tudeh Party and Kashani, whose aggressive form of nationalism was viewed as particularly destabilizing.[119] If matters were left to drift and Mossadegh became suddenly incapacitated, Kashani’s leadership of the National Front was more or less assured. Avoiding this outcome was another reason the United States opted for covert action.[120] In the hierarchy of motives behind Operation TPAJAX, concerns over Iran’s oil nationalization and the communist threat were both important, but they were not, by themselves, crucial to the final decision to back the coup. Instead, both oil and communism factored into the decision through the predictive analytical framework of the collapse narrative represented in the reports and writings of Carr, Henderson, Thornburg, and Allen Dulles: They describe the deterioration of the oil-less economy, the consequent increase in communist or extremist influence, and the final nightmare scenario in which Iran could break away from the West, become a Soviet satellite, and threaten Western access to all Middle East oil. And yet, no one in either the Truman or Eisenhower administration articulated what collapse would look like in completely lucid terms. Hence, its characterization as a narrative: a story of how the future in Iran might unfold, should the United States do nothing. Once the narrative came to dominate policy, a form of groupthink took over. According to the CIA record, Allen Dulles dismissed intelligence provided by the agency’s analytical wing, relying on advice from “experts” like Thornburg, who shared his interventionist proclivities. Anything “incompatible with the planned covert political action … did not dissuade the President, Secretary of State … from executing TPAJAX.”[121] At least one CIA report on the limitations of U.S. resources in Iran was produced but never utilized. Dulles must have either ignored the report or had it suppressed.[122] Preventing collapse by changing the internal political dynamics of Iran — “bolstering up” a government so it could then reach an oil agreement and forestall the fall into chaos and communism, as Thornburg put it — was the goal of TPAJAX.[123] The operation was not meant to prevent a communist coup, but to reverse conditions that might result in a communist government, while producing the conditions necessary to restart the flow of oil. This becomes clear when examining the planning phase of the coup and the operation’s immediate aftermath. In 1952, the State Department’s John Leavitt was considering potential strategies should Mossadegh be removed from power. A new government would be given a sizable loan with further aid “contingent on a satisfactory solution of the oil issue.”[124] The oil issue, however, was to be downplayed during and immediately after the operation. According to John Stutesman, director of the State Department’s Bureau of Greek, Turkish, and Iranian Affairs and formerly Henderson’s political counselor at the embassy in Tehran, the United States “should avoid any statement that the oil question is involved in a change of government in Iran,” and the new regime should be deterred from raising the oil question publicly for at least several months.[125] The United States had been funding agricultural relief operations through the Point Four foreign aid program since 1951. These programs were to continue, even as operations against Mossadegh proceeded, in order to keep Iran’s agrarian economy “afloat.”[126] After the coup, “substantial economic assistance” would be provided to Iran’s new government. Such aid would keep the post-coup government on its feet while also giving the U.S. leverage over its approach to the oil question.[127] Fazlallah Zahidi, a former general, was selected to lead the post-coup government. He possessed the necessary ambition, was “energetic,” and committed to pursuing an oil settlement “on a realistic basis.”[128] An estimate prepared by Donald Wilber for the CIA noted that Zahidi, who had led a number of abortive coup attempts against Mossadegh in 1952 and early 1953, was “anxious to settle the oil issue.” Once in power, he would be “presented with a draft of an oil agreement,” which would be implemented as soon as his government was “firmly established,” with a promise of further U.S. loans and cash grants once the agreement was signed.[129] Zahidi was also outwardly eager to launch a sweeping social and economic reform program tied to the new oil agreement.[130] Planning throughout 1953 was slow, however, due to the shah’s “unwillingness to take any initiative.”[131] It took months to convince the wary monarch to participate. Henderson, who had gone out of his way to aid the monarchy in February 1953, suggested the shah could be replaced if he proved uncooperative.[132] On August 19, military units loyal to the shah and Zahidi overwhelmed Mossadegh’s forces, and after a lengthy battle captured the prime minister at his house. The CIA transferred to Zahidi the funds that were left over from the operation (around $1 million), while Secretary of State Dulles approved an emergency grant of $45 million. As per the U.S. strategy, this aid was applied judiciously: It was used to push Zahidi into quickly confirming an oil agreement. “The most difficult problem confronting us,” argued John Foster Dulles, “was how to develop revenues for Iran out of her oil.”[133] Henderson told the shah in straightforward terms that a new oil arrangement would hand effective control back to the companies, while providing Iran “income in [the] immediate future from its oil.” According to Manuchehr Farmanfarmaʼiyan, an Iranian oilman, the proposal was essentially an ultimatum. If the “principle” of foreign control was not admitted, there would be no deal and no aid.[134] Again, the administration’s goal was to bring about the speedy return of oil revenues to help Iranian finances, in order to bolster Zahidi and the shah. To accomplish this, however, Iran would need to reach a deal with the major oil companies: According to Dulles, this would require the “partial negation of Iranian nationalization,” to facilitate corporate cooperation and the rapid recovery of production.[135] [quote id="6"] Intercorporate documents gleaned from the archive of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP) make it clear that the companies had no need of Iranian oil, as the global market was in a state of over-supply and an Iranian recovery would depress prices. The American oil companies initially argued that it would be better for the British to return to Iran alone, permitting the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to recover its nationalized assets. But John Foster Dulles and others rejected this as politically impossible. Even with Mossadegh out of power, the Iranian public would react violently to a British return, unless it was suitably camouflaged. The Eisenhower administration directed the five major U.S. firms to take over Iran’s oil industry “in the security interest of the United States … to permit the reactivation of the petroleum industry in Iran and to provide to the friendly government of Iran substantial revenues.”[136] Their participation came “at the request of the United States government, and for the primary purpose of assisting Iran … to improve and stabilize its economy.”[137] The U.S. companies were given a 40-percent stake in the new “Iran Consortium,” with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company receiving 40 percent of its own and the remaining 20 percent split between Royal Dutch/Shell and the Compagnie Française des Pétroles. The shah’s government was in no position to argue with the companies’ terms and approved the final agreement in October 1954. In legal terms, Iran’s nationalization remained in effect — U.S. officials recognized that to do otherwise would only inflame Iranian nationalism. But the reality of nationalization was effectively reversed, and the Western oil companies would control the flow of Iranian oil for another 20 years.[138] The new oil agreement was very unpopular in Iran. Together with the coup, the agreement identified the shah’s new government with foreign influence, staining it with a mark of illegitimacy that would never truly disappear. For American policymakers, however, these issues were of secondary importance. Without an oil agreement, Iran would lurch “from crisis to crisis,” depending on aid “to meet emergencies” and the shah’s legitimacy would remain shaky following the coup. Such a strategy would do little to create “real stability, permit development or avoid future emergencies.”[139] The new agreement was needed to support the government, which could use oil to fund programs of economic development, “[to] meet popular aspirations,” and forestall the country’s slip toward communism.[140] Once the Consortium Agreement was ratified by the shah’s new Majlis in October 1954, the chief U.S. negotiator, Herbert Hoover Jr., offered his congratulations to Iran’s foreign minister. The news marked a “significant victory” for those “dedicated to the principle that Iran is to move toward social and economic development.”[141] Iran had been saved. The coup was complete.

Conclusion

The collapse narrative formed by Carr, Henderson, Dulles, and Thornburg carried over into the official histories of the coup. According to one internal CIA account, “[Iran] seemed headed for an economic collapse and political anarchy,” a state of affairs that would inevitably lead to its transformation into a “Soviet satellite.”[142] The coup was necessary, “as the alternative to certain economic collapse in Iran … [due to] the dangerous and advanced stage of illegal deficit financing,” concluded CIA adviser and coup chronicler Wilber.[143] The same notion found traction in the shah’s Iran, which charged Mossadegh with “tyrannical” acts, including the printing of new rials. The failure of his economic policies acted as justification for his subsequent imprisonment, despite his sincere arguments that the country “could sustain itself without oil revenues.”[144] Within the Eisenhower administration, it was agreed that the coup had been necessary, while the efficacy of covert action was proven a second time in 1954 when the CIA assisted in the removal of Guatemalan president Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. “Whatever we have done, good or bad … we can at least have the satisfaction that we saved Iran from communism,” concluded Eisenhower in 1957.[145] The collapse narrative provided the foundation for the decision to remove Mossadegh. The threat posed to the global oil market by Iran’s nationalization remained inchoate and the communist threat to Iran was not imminent. But the threat of collapse, imagined through a predictive analytical framework and articulated in terms either of a progressive economic deterioration or a political crisis brought on by Mossadegh’s death or incapacitation loomed on the horizon if the United States failed to act. Fears of a collapse had percolated throughout the policymaking apparatus for months and were evident in the economic reports of Carr and the political analysis of Henderson. CIA Director Dulles was a crucial supporter of intervention, but while he may have accepted the collapse narrative, he did not form it entirely on his own. Although covert action was initially rejected, by March 1953 other options — aiding Mossadegh, pushing for an oil settlement, or doing nothing — appeared unsuitable. Once the coup decision was made, there was no going back. Among those directly involved in launching Operation TPAJAX, Henderson voiced the strongest reservations. Though he supported the action, he doubted whether TPAJAX would bring about the stability the United States craved in Iran: “I do not believe the problem can be solved merely by attempts to unseat Mossadegh.”[146] His uncertainty was prescient. Iran’s new government came to power marred by illegitimacy and dependent upon coercion and repression. Despite his apparent strength, the shah fell from power amidst the tumult of the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79, his allies in Washington watching in disbelief as another cadre of “irrational” leaders took over the Iranian state. But all that lay in the future. There was an obvious sense of relief among U.S. policymakers in the aftermath of the coup, as oil dollars and U.S. aid flooded into Iran and the shah’s military decimated the ranks of the Tudeh Party and National Front. According to Carr’s successor Spencer Barnes, most aid was wasted and its positive economic effect “sterilized.” Yet, the psychological impact of regime change and the hope for a new oil settlement would offset that waste: “The economy of Iran has considerable resistance and flexibility … [and] political factors are often more important than economic [ones],” while ongoing deficit spending could probably continue for months, “perhaps even a year or so,” before becoming “disastrous.”[147] Nevertheless, the collapse narrative did not go away, although the sense of urgency did. Subsequent administrations continued to doubt Iranian competence: “What they lack is the capacity for sustained, dynamic effort,” wrote Kennedy adviser Robert Komer in October 1962. “They don’t have what it takes to run a country themselves.”[148] The shah’s form of top-down modernization, lubricated by billions in oil revenues, seemed the only viable cure for Iran’s chronic instability. The coup of 1953 returned Iran to a state of “stability” that American policymakers could comprehend. More importantly, TPAJAX ensured that Iran would never again be “oil-less.”   Dr. Gregory Brew is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. A historian of U.S.-Iranian relations and the political economy of international oil, his work has appeared in Iranian Studies, International History Review, Mediterranean Quarterly, and The Oxford Research Encyclopedia. He also writes on the geopolitics of energy at The FUSE. Find him @gbrew24.   Acknowledgements: This article is based on a paper presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. The author would like to thank the panel participants who read and commented on the paper, including Mary Ann Heiss, Mark J. Gasiorowski, Roham Alvandi, Malcolm Byrne, and David S. Painter. The author would also like to acknowledge the excellent editorial assistance of the staff at the Texas National Security Review and both peer-review readers.   [post_title] => The Collapse Narrative: The United States, Mohammed Mossadegh, and the Coup Decision of 1953 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-collapse-narrative-the-united-states-mohammed-mossadegh-and-the-coup-decision-of-1953 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-06 13:26:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-06 18:26:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=2046 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => On Aug. 19, 1953, elements inside Iran organized and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and British intelligence services carried out a coup d’état that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Historians have yet to reach a consensus on why the Eisenhower administration opted to use covert action in Iran, tending to either emphasize America’s fear of communism or its desire to control oil as the most important factor influencing the decision. Using recently declassified material, this article argues that growing fears of a “collapse” in Iran motivated the decision to remove Mossadegh. American policymakers believed that Iran could not survive without an agreement that would restart the flow of oil, something Mossadegh appeared unable to secure. There was widespread skepticism of his government’s ability to manage an “oil-less” economy, as well as fears that such a situation would lead inexorably to communist rule. A collapse narrative emerged to guide U.S. thinking, one that coalesced in early 1953 and convinced policymakers to adopt regime change as the only remaining option. Oil and communism both impacted the coup decision, but so did powerful notions of Iranian incapacity and a belief that only an intervention by the United States would save the country from a looming, though vaguely defined, calamity. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => While much is known about how the coup took place, there remains some disagreement as to why the United States decided on covert action or why this decision was made in early 1953. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While there was little support for Mossadegh, policymakers recognized Iranian nationalism as a powerful political force.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => To make an oil-less economy work, Mossadegh would either need to take full control over Iran’s state and economy or lean on outside support. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => By late 1952, Carr’s reports and Henderson’s analysis convinced policymakers in Washington that an Iranian economy without oil was not sustainable, and that, without an oil settlement, Mossadegh would lead the country into disaster. But a coup to remove him did not seem viable.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Fear of collapse stemming from a prolonged oil shutdown and a lack of oil revenues for the Iranian state outweighed worries of a global oil economy without Iran. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Without an oil agreement, Iran would lurch “from crisis to crisis,” depending on aid “to meet emergencies” and the shah’s legitimacy would remain shaky following the coup. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 321 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Accounts of the coup include, Ali Rahnema, Behind the 1953 Coup in Iran: Thugs, Turncoats, Soldiers, and Spooks (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New York: New Press, 2013); Mark J. Gasiorowski, “The 1953 Coup d’Etat Against Mossadeq,” in, Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, ed. Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 227­–60. A popular, though far less rigorous account, is, Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2004). For general studies of the crisis that precipitated the August 1953 coup, see, James A. Bill and Wm. Roger Louis, eds., Musaddiq, Iranian Nationalism and Oil (London: Tauris, 1988); Mary Ann Heiss, Empire and Nationhood: The United States, Great Britain, and Iranian Oil, 1950-1954 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Steve Marsh, Anglo-American Relations and Cold War Oil: Crisis in Iran (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); James F. Goode, The United States and Iran: In the Shadow of Musaddiq (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Mostafa Elm, Oil, Power and Principle: Iran’s Oil Nationalization and Its Aftermath (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992); and Richard W. Cottam, Iran and the United States: A Cold War Case Study (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988). A few of the more notable articles published concerning the coup and nationalization crisis include, Steve Marsh, “The United States, Iran and Operation ‘Ajax’: Inverting Interpretative Orthodoxy,” Middle Eastern Studies 39, no. 3 (2003): 1–38, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00263200412331301657; Francis J. Gavin, “Politics, Power, and US Policy in Iran, 1950-1953,” Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 56–89, https://doi.org/10.1162/15203970152521890; and Andreas Etges, “All That Glitters Is Not Gold: The 1953 Coup Against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran,” Intelligence and National Security 26, no. 4 (2011): 495–508, https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2011.580603. [2] A new revisionist school has attempted a re-evaluation of the coup, arguing that foreign intervention was relatively unimportant. See, Darioush Bayandor, Iran and the CIA: The Fall of Mosaddeq Revisited (Houndsmill: Basingstoke, 2010); Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon, The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), 53–89; Ray Takeyh, “What Really Happened in Iran: The CIA, the Ouster of Mosaddeq, and the Restoration of the Shah,” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 4 (July/August 2014): 2–14, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2014-06-16/what-really-happened-iran. For a detailed response to this revisionism, see, Fakhreddin Azimi, “The Overthrow of the Government of Mosaddeq Reconsidered,” Iranian Studies 45 no. 5 (2012): 693–712, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00210862.2012.702554. [3] Donald Wilber, CIA Clandestine Service History: Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August 1953, ed. Malcolm Byrne, published online by the National Security Archive, Nov. 29, 2000, 1–3, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/. [4] Scott A. Koch, “Zendebad Shah!”: The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, August 1953 (Washington DC: CIA, June 1998); and The Battle for Iran, published online by National Security Archive, June 27, 2014 https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB476/. [5] Carl N. Raether and Charles S. Sampson, eds., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Iran, 1951-1954, Volume X (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1989) [hereafter FRUS X]; James C. Van Hook, ed., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Iran, 1951-1954, Second Edition (Washington DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2018) [hereafter FRUS Retrospective]. [6] In September 2017, the Wilson Center organized a seminar on the new FRUS volume. Included among the participants were Mark J. Gasiorowski, Malcolm Byrne, David S. Painter, Wm. Roger Louis, Bruce Kuniholm, Barbara Slavin, and others. [7] One British operative published a memoir that touched on coup planning in 1953. See, C.M. Woodhouse, Something Ventured (London: Granada, 1982). [8] See Mark J. Gasiorowski, “The 1953 Coup D’etat in Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 19, no. 3 (August 1987): 275, https://www.jstor.org/stable/163655. See also, Gasiorowski, “The 1953 Coup d’Etat Against Mossadeq,” 227–60. [9] Heiss, Empire and Nationhood, 172. [10] Rahnema, Behind the 1953 Coup, 60–61; Marsh, Anglo-American Relations, 152–53, Goode, The United States and Iran, 110. Gavin, “Politics, Power, and US Policy in Iran,” 56–89. [11] Abrahamian, The Coup, 5. [12] Elm, Oil, Power and Principle, 276; Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 412–20. For the formation of the consortium, see, Mary Ann Heiss, “The United States, Great Britain, and the Creation of the Iranian Oil Consortium, 1953-1954,” International History Review 16, no. 3 (August 1994): 511–35, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40107317. [13] David S. Painter, Oil and the American Century: The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Oil Policy, 1941-1954 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 173–99. [14] Abdel Razzaq Takriti, “Colonial Coups and the War on Popular Sovereignty,” American Historical Review 124, no. 3 (June 2019): 880, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhz459. [15] Mary Ann Heiss, “The International Boycott of Iranian Oil and the Anti-Mosaddeq Coup of 1953,” in, Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, ed. Malcolm Byrne and Mark J. Gasiorowski (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 178–200. [16] Henderson to Acheson No. 2425, December 27, 1952, United States National Archives, College Park, Maryland, [USNA] Record Group [RG] 59, Central Decimal File [CDF], Box 5510, 888.2553/12-2652. [17] For a response to Abrahamian’s “control of oil” argument, see, Mark J. Gasiorowski, “Review of The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, by Ervand Abrahamian,” Middle East Journal 67, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 315–17, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43698055. [18] Zendebad Shah!, 11. [19] Mark J. Gasiorowski, “U.S. Perceptions of the Communist Threat in Iran During the Mossadegh Era,” Journal of Cold War Studies 21, no. 3 (Summer 2019): 37, https://doi.org/10.1162/jcws_a_00898. [20] Memo, Jernegan to Matthews, October 23, 1952; Byroade to Matthews, November 26,1952; Memo of Conversation, December 3, 1952. Thanks to the National Security Archive for making these documents available: https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late. [21] Documents from Record Group 59 and Record Group 84 (RG 59 and RG 84) were viewed in the Main Reading Room, United States National Archives, College Park, Maryland. British Petroleum Archive (BP) at the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK. [22] Philip Zelikow, “Why Did America Cross the Pacific? Reconstructing the U.S. Decision to Take the Philippines, 1898-99,” Texas National Security Review 1 no. 1 (December 2017): 36­–67, https://tnsr.org/2017/11/america-cross-pacific-reconstructing-u-s-decision-take-philippines-1898-99/; Alexandra T. Evans and A. Bradley Potter, “When Do Leaders Change Course? Theories of Success and the American Withdrawal From Beirut, 1983-1984,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 2 (February 2019): 10–38, https://tnsr.org/2019/02/when-do-leaders-change-course-theories-of-success-and-the-american-withdrawal-from-beirut-1983-1984/. [23] Wilber, CIA Clandestine Service History, 1. [24] Quote from Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945, 3rd Edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2008), 28. See also, Matthew F. Jacobs, Imagining the Middle East: The Building of an American Foreign Policy, 1918-1967 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 12–27. [25] For an example of this trend in thinking, see, Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008). For development ideology in the Cold War, see, Michael E. Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development and US Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2011). [26] A.C. Millspaugh, “The Persian-British Oil Dispute,” Foreign Affairs II, no. 3 (April 1933): 521–25, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/1933-04-01/persian-british-oil-dispute. [27] Telegram, Wiley to Acheson, Feb. 27, 1950, FRUS 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V, ed. Herbert A. Fine et al., no. 217, (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1978), https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v05/d217. [28] From USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 7243: Memo by Dean Acheson, August 17, 1946, 891.50/8-1746; Memo of Conversation, October 8, 1948, 891.50/10-848; “Need for Improving the Economic Conditions in Iran,” 891.50 SEVEN YEAR PLAN/6-2248; “Memorandum on the Naficy Plan,” March 12, 1948, 891.50 SEVEN YEAR PLAN/6-2248, U.S. Embassy No. 179, June 22, 1948, Enclosure No. 3; Memo of Conversation, February 28, 1946, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 7244, 891.51/2-2846; Allen to State, no. 575, June 28, 1947, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 7245891.60/6-2847. [29] Wiley to State, no. 179, February 1, 1950, USNA RG 84 U.S. Legation & Embassy, Tehran, Classified General Records[USLETCGR] 1950–1952, Box 35; Richards to Acheson, No. 673, April 13, 1950, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR 1950–1052, Box 35. [30] Thornburg to US Ambassador, March 5, 1950, recovered from World Bank General Archives, WB IBRD/IDA MNA Folder ID 1805823, http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/162371403270473426/wbg-archives-1805823.pdf. [31] James Bamberg, The History of the British Petroleum Company: The Anglo-Iranian Years, 1928–1954, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982); and James Bamberg, British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-1975: The Challenge of Nationalism, Vol. 3 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). [32] For the narrative of the nationalization crisis, see Abrahamian, The Coup, 9–80. [33] Maziar Behrooz, “Tudeh Factionalism and the 1953 Coup in Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 33, no. 3 (August 2001): 364, http://www.jstor.org/stable/259456. [34] For the British view of the Iran crisis, see, Steven G. Galpern, Money, Oil and Empire in the Middle East: Sterling and Postwar Imperialism, 1945-1971 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 80–141; Wm Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 632–89; Heiss, “The International Boycott of Iranian Oil,” 178–80. [35] The various phases of negotiation are described in detail in Heiss, Empire and Nationhood. [36] Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, July 18, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 84, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d84. See also, Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, July 18, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 85, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d85; Telegram, U.S. State Department to U.S. Embassy London, July 18, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 86, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d86;, Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, July 19, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 88, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d88. [37] Iran Economic Papers, no. 8, “Imports and Exports,” January 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953–1955, Box 60; US Embassy Iran, no. 46, July 18, 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953–1955, Box 60; Henderson to State, no. 1245 September 23, 1952, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1950–1952, Box 36 501; Middleton to Foreign Office, no. 292 (E), September 22, 1952, United Kingdom National Archives [UKNA] Foreign Office [FO] 371/98625 EP 1112/29. [38] Patrick Clawson and Cyrus Sassanpour, “Adjustment to a Foreign Exchange Shock: Iran, 1951-1953,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 19, no. 1 (February 1987): 10–11, http://www.jstor.org/stable/163025. Homa Katouzian, “Oil Boycott and the Political Economy: Mosaddeq and the Strategy of Non-Oil Economics,” in, Musaddiq, Iranian Nationalism and Oil, ed. Bill and Louis (London: IB Tauris, 1988), 212–14. [39] Telegram, Acheson to Gifford, June 22, 1951, FRUS 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran 1951-1954 [FRUS X], no. 30, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d30;  Statement of Policy Proposed by National Security Council: Iran, June 27, 1951, FRUS 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran 1951-1954, no. 32, ,  https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d32. [40] Memo of Conversation,  July 12, 1951, FRUS X, no. 40,  https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d40; Memo from McGhee to Acheson, April 20, 1951, RG 59 888.2553/4-2051. [41] Intelligence Memorandum, July 11, 1951, FRUS Retrospective, no. 39, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d39. [42] Gasiorowski, “U.S. Perceptions of the Communist Threat,” 13, 17. [43] Heiss, “International Boycott of Iranian Oil,” 198. Heiss bases her conclusion on figures from Jahangir Amuzegar and M. Ali Fekrat, Iran: Economic Development Under Dualistic Conditions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), 21. [44] Hossein Mahdavy, “The Patterns and Problems of Economic Development in Rentier States: The Case of Iran,’’ in, Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East: From the Rise of Islam to the Present Day, ed. M.A. Cook, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 443–67. [45] US Embassy no. 574, October 31, 1951, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1950–1952, Box 39; Iran Economic Paper no. 2, Government Budget, January 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953–1955 Box 60; US Embassy no. 712, March 5, 1951, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5503, 888.2553/3-551. [46] Henderson to Acheson, November 6, 1951, FRUS X, no. 122,  https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d122. [47] Henderson to State No. 3781, Drafted by Carr, April 4, 1952, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR 1950–1952 Box 36. [48] US Embassy no. 866, Contributions of the AIOC to the Iranian Embassy, April 27, 1951, USNA RG 59 CDF Box 5504, 888.2553/4-2751. [49] Iran Economic Paper no. 9, Balance of Payment, January 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953–1955, Box 60. [50] Villard to Nitze, Policy Planning Staff, October 9, 1951, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5507, 888.2553/10-951. [51] Memo of Conversation, November 4, 1951, FRUS X, no. 120, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d120. [52] US Embassy No. 185, October 4, 1951, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR 1950–1952, Box 35; Henderson to State, no. 3781, Drafted by Carr, April 4, 1951, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR 1950–1952, Box 36. [53] “Prospects for Economic Stabilization in Iran After Oil Nationalization,” July 23 1951, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5505A, 888.2553/7-2351. [54] Memo of Conversation, February 14, 1952, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5506 Nitze-Linder Working Papers. [55] US Embassy Tehran, no. 555, January 17, 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953­–1955, Box 60. [56] US Embassy Tehran, no. 824, April 8, 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1953–1955, Box 60. [57] US Embassy Tehran, no. 555, January 17, 1953, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR, 1950–1952, Box 36. [58] John J. Harter, “Loy Henderson and the Cold War: An Interview with the Biographer of ‘Mr. Foreign Service,’” Foreign Service Journal (April 1992): 41–45, http://www.afsa.org/foreign-service-journal-april-1992. [59] Telegram, Henderson to State, January 4, 1952, FRUS X, no. 139, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d139. [60] Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, January 29, 1952, FRUS X, no. 153, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d153. [61] Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, October 22, 1951, FRUS X, no. 116, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d116; Henderson to Acheson, no. 1869, November 20, 1951, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5507, 888.2553/11-2051. [62] Telegram, Henderson to Gifford, February 28, 1952, FRUS X, no. 164, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d164. [63] Henderson to Acheson No. 1857 November 5, 1952, USNA RG 84 USLETCGR 1950-1952 Box 36. [64] Telegram, Henderson to Acheson,  November 5, 1952, FRUS X, no. 235, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d235. [65] Special Estimate-33, Prospects for Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran, October 14, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 132, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d132; National Intelligence Estimate (NIE-75), November 13, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 143, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d143. [66] Statement of Policy Proposed by the National Security Council, The Present Situation in Iran, November 20, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, No 147, NSC 136/1, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d147. [67] Robert Amory Jr., Memo for General Smith, November 28, 1952, CIA CREST On-Line. https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP79-01041A000100020058-0.pdf. [68] Lovett for Acheson, November 12, 1952, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5510, 888.2553/11-1252. [69] Memo of Conversation, November 18, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 146, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d146. [70] Special Estimate: Prospects for Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran, October 14, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 132, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d132. [71] Dean G. Acheson Papers, Box 81, Princeton Seminar, May 15, 1954, from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO. [72] Statement of Policy Proposed by the National Security Council: The Present Situation in Iran, November 20, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 147, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d147. [73] Memorandum Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency, May 1, 1951, FRUS Retrospective, no. 20, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d20; Memo, Langer to Smith, July 6, 1951, FRUS Retrospective, no. 37 https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d37; Minutes of Meeting with Director of Central Intelligence Smith, May 9, 1951, FRUS Retrospective, no. 25, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d25. [74] Zendebad Shah!, 119. The island had been a gift from the ruler of Bahrain, with whom Thornburg forged a relationship while serving as a representative of the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL). See, Linda Wills Qaimmaqami, “The Catalyst of Nationalization: Max Thornburg and the Failure of Private Sector Developmentalism in Iran, 1946-1951,” Diplomatic History 19, no. 1 (January 1995): 1–31, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.1995.tb00575.x. [75] Memo of Conversation, August 20, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 116, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d116. [76] Memo Prepared by Thornburg, August 22, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, No. 118, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d118; Memo from Dulles to Smith, Attached Letter Thornburg to Dulles, February 19, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 154, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d154. [77] Memo, Byroade to Acheson, July 29, 1952, FRUS Retrospective Iran, no. 101, emphasis mine, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d101. [78] Gavin, “Politics, Power, and US Policy in Iran,” 78–80. [79] Statement of Policy Proposed by the National Security Council: The Present Situation in Iran, November 20, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 147, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d147. [80] Mark J. Gasiorowski, “The CIA’s TPBEDAMN Operation and the 1953 Coup in Iran,” Journal of Cold War Studies 15, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 4–24, https://doi.org/10.1162/JCWS_a_00393; and Gasiorowski, “The US Stay-Behind Operation in Iran, 1948-1953,” Intelligence and National Security 34, no. 2 (February 2019): 170–88, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02684527.2018.1534639. [81] For British interest in removing Mossadegh, see Rahnema, Behind the 1953 Coup, 11–33. [82] Memo Jernegan to Matthews, October 23, 1952; Byroade to Matthews, November 26,1952; Memo of Conversation, December 3, 1952, National Security Archive, Briefing Book no. 601, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late. [83] Woodhouse, Something Ventured, 117–18. [84] Special Estimate: Prospects for Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran, October 14, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 132, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d132; Memo Prepared in the Office of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, March 31, 1953, FRUS Retrospective No. 181, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d181. [85] Zendebad Shah!, 15. [86] Byroade to Matthews, November 26, 1952, National Security Archive, Briefing Book no. 601, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late. [87] Memo of Conversation, December 3, 1952, National Security Archive, Briefing Book no. 601, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late. [88] Memo from Byroade to Matthews, October 15, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 133, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d133. [89] Lovett to Acheson, October 24, 1952, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5510, 888.2553/10-2452; Lovett for Acheson, November 12 1952, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5510, 888.2553/11-1252. [90] Nitze for Acheson, November 6, 1952, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5510, 888.2553/11-652. [91] Memo of Discussion at the 135th Meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, No. 171, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d171. [92] The best account of these discussions can be found in Heiss, Empire and Nationhood, 135–66. [93] Henderson to Acheson no. 2518, January 3, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511, 888.2553/1-353. [94] Telegram, Henderson to State, October 22, 1951, FRUS X, no. 116, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d116. [95] Rahnema, Behind the 1953 Coup, 49–59; CIA Briefing Note for Dulles, Undated, FRUS Retrospective, no. 159, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d159; Telegram, Henderson to State, February 25, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 161, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d161; Telegram, Henderson to State, February 26, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 162, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d162; Telegram, Henderson to State, February 27, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 165, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d165; Telegram, Henderson to State, February 28, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 166, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d166. [96] National Intelligence Estimate, November 13, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 143, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d143; National Intelligence Estimate, January 9, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 152, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d152. The quotes indicate passages of the original national intelligence estimate which were altered for the January draft. [97] Memo prepared in the Office of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, March 31, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 181, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d181; Memo, Allen Dulles to Eisenhower, March 1, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 169, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d169. [98] Memo of Discussion at the 135th Meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 171, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d171. [99] Memorandum of Discussion at the 136th Meeting of the National Security Council, March 11, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 176, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d176. [100] Foster Dulles to Henderson no. 2387, March 13, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511A, 888.2553/3-1353. [101] Memo for the Record, March 18, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 179, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d179; Progress Report to the National Security Council, March 20 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 180, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d180; Memo from Morgan to Allen Dulles, April 3, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 183, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d183. [102] Memo, Roosevelt to Allen Dulles, April 4 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 184, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d184. [103] Memo, Smith to Eisenhower, May 23, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 211, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d211. [104] Memo, Mattison to Henderson, May 19, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 206, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d206. [105] A meeting between Henderson and several CIA officials, including Kermit Roosevelt, on June 6 makes it clear that the ambassador was aware of the operation to remove Mossadegh. See, Memo of Conversation, June 6, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 216, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d216. Roosevelt’s memoir includes a meeting held on June 25 when high-level approval was given, but no record has been found elsewhere. See Roosevelt, Countercoup, 1–10. Two CIA histories mention authorization for TPAJAX was given by Secretary Dulles and Eisenhower on July 11, but no record has been found to confirm this. See, Editorial Note, FRUS Retrospective, no. 225, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d225. [106] Foster Dulles to Holmes, no. 5294, February 10, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511, 888.2553/2-1053. [107] Allen Dulles, Memo for Secretary of State, February 18, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511,888.2553/2-1853. [108] Memorandum of Discussion at the 136th Meeting of the National Security Council, March 11, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 176, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d176. [109] Collier, Democracy and the Nature of American Influence in Iran, 120–21. [110] Holmes to Foster Dulles no. 4663, February 20, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511, 888.2553/2-2053. [111] Note to Linder from PAD Deputy Administrator, February 4, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511, 888.2553/2-453. [112] Holmes to Foster Dulles no. 4663, February 20, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511, 888.2553/2-2053. [113] Foreign Office to Makins No. 716, February 18, 1953, UKNA FO 371/104612 EP 1531/158. [114] CIA Memo, Undated, FRUS Retrospective, no. 138, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d138; Gasiorowski, “U.S. Perceptions of the Tudeh Threat,” 30–32. [115] Information Report Prepared by the CIA, April 6, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 185, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d185. [116] Telegram, Henderson to Acheson, November 5, 1952, FRUS X, no. 235, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d235; National Intelligence Estimate, January 9, 1953, FRUS X, no. 152, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d152. [117] Memo, Warne to Henderson, May 20, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 207, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d207. [118] Memo Prepared in the Office of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, March 31, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 181, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d181. [119] Memo of Conversation, December 3, 1952, National Security Archive, Briefing Book no. 601, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late. [120] Kashani helped organize crowds on August 19 that supported the coup against Mossadegh. There is as yet little evidence to suggest he was paid by the CIA or the British. See, “New Findings on Clerical Involvement in the 1953 Coup in Iran,” National Security Archive, Briefing Book 619, published March 7, 2018, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2018-03-07/new-findings-clerical-involvement-1953-coup-iran. [121] Koch, Zendebad Shah!, Appendix E, 118­–19, 120. This particular appendix detailing the scope of divisions within the CIA was not declassified until 2017. [122] Memo Prepared by the Directorate of Plans, CIA, March 3, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 170, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d170. [123] Memo from Allen Dulles to Smith, Attached letter Thornburg to Dulles, February 19, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 154, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d154. [124] Leavitt to Roosevelt, September 22, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 122, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d122. [125] Memo, Stutesman to Richards, Undated, FRUS Retrospective, no. 256, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d256; Nash to Cutler, Undated,  FRUS Retrospective, no. 299, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d299. [126] Memo of Conversation, June 2, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 215, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d215. [127] CIA Memo for the Record, August 19, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 282, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d282. [128] Memo of Conversation, May 16, 1952, FRUS Retrospective, no. 73, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d73; CIA Memo for the Record, August 19, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 282, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d282. [129] Memo from Waller to Roosevelt, April 16, 1953, Attachment no. 1, “Factors Involved in the Overthrow of Mossadeq,” Undated, FRUS Retrospective, no. 192, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d192. [130] Dispatch from the Embassy in Iran to the State Department, May 20, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 208, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d208. [131] CIA Briefing Note, April 21, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 194, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d194. [132] Memo of Conversation, June 6, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 216, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d216. [133] Memo of Discussion at 160th Meeting of the National Security Council, August 27, 1953, FRUS Retrospective, no. 304, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d304. [134] Manucher Farmanfarmaian, Blood and Oil: Memoirs of a Persian Prince (New York: Random House, 1997), 302–03; Henderson to Foster Dulles no. 949, October 22, 1953, RG 59 888.2553/10-2253; Henderson to Foster Dulles no. 958, October 23, 1953, RG 59 888.2553/10-2353. [135] Dulles to Henderson, September 23, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511A, 888.2553/9-2153. [136] Quoted in, Multinational Oil Corporations and US Foreign Policy, Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate (Washington: 1975), 68. [137] “The American Group’s Further Views: Basis for the Settlement with Anglo-Iranian,” British Petroleum Archive, Coventry UK [BP] 66232, March 16, 1954. [138] The legal means behind the “façade of nationalization” put in place by the 1954 agreement were complex. See, Heiss, “Creation of the Iranian Oil Consortium, 1953-1954,” 511­–35. [139] Statement of Policy by the National Security Council, January 2 1954, FRUS Retrospective, no. 355, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d355; Memo from the Office of National Estimates, March 29, 1954, FRUS Retrospective, no. 365, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d365. [140] National Intelligence Estimate, December 7, 1954, FRUS Retrospective, no. 375, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1951-54IranEd2/d375. [141] Foster Dulles to Henderson, October 28, 1954, FRUS X, no. 502, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v10/d502. [142] The Battle for Iran, 1. [143] Wilber, Clandestine Service History, 1, Appendix B: “‘London’ Draft of TPAJAX Operational Plan.” [144] Quoted in Katouzian, “Oil Boycott,” 209. [145] Memo of Discussion at the 312th Meeting of the National Security Council, February 7, 1957, FRUS 1955-1957 Vol. XII, no. 391, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1955-57v12/d391. [146] Memo by Stutesman, May 8, 1953, Attachment, Henderson to State no. 4348, May 7, 1953, USNA RG 59 CDF, Box 5511A, 888.2553/5-853. [147] Barnes to Henderson, Conversion of US Aid Dollars to Rials, September 21, 1953, USNA RG 469 Records of U.S. Foreign Aid Agencies, Iran Branch, Subject Files 1952–1959, Box 2; Barnes to Warne and Henderson, Utilization of Grant Aid Funds, October 14, 1953, USNA RG 469 Records of U.S. Foreign Aid Agencies, Iran Branch, Subject Files 1952–1959, Box 2. [148] Paper by Komer of the National Security Council Staff, October 20, 1962, FRUS 1961-1963 Vol. XVIII Near East 1962-1963, no. 85, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v18/d85. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1963 [post_author] => 311 [post_date] => 2019-10-10 05:00:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-10 09:00:28 [post_content] =>

The truth is that the jungle is neutral. It provides any amount of fresh water, and unlimited cover for friend as well as foe—an armed neutrality, if you like, but neutrality nevertheless. It is the attitude of mind that determines whether you go under or survive. ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ The jungle itself is neutral.[1]

- F. Spencer Chapman

  The urban environment is complex and difficult. Tactically, it strains communications, overloads sensory capability, and pushes the decision-making onus to the lowest level. Strategically, it is complex because tactical actions are amplified and the speed at which local and international audiences are informed has never been faster. American and British environmental doctrine emphasizes the significant operational challenges that this environment presents.[2] In truth, however, the urban setting is neutral. It affects all protagonists equally, even if it does not always appear to do so. In The Jungle is Neutral, the classic account of three years of behind-the-lines jungle fighting against the Japanese in Malaya during World War II, the British soldier F. Spencer Chapman attributed his success to the principle that the environment is intrinsically neither good nor bad but neutral. What is true for warfare in the jungle — an environment that inflicts its own demands every bit as severe as those of the city — ought to be true for urban warfare. And yet, although conflict in cities is more prevalent now than in the past on account of demographic trends and urbanization, the supposedly challenging nature of urban warfare — as opposed to warfare in other “simpler” environments — is contradicted by many historical and contemporary examples. There are obvious difficulties that fighting a war in an urban environment poses, but they are surmountable through a combination of realistic hard training, changes in command mindset — at the strategic and political level as much as at the tactical level — and technological innovation (in order of priority). In some ways, the urban environment is a rewarding one in which to fight because those best prepared to leverage the neutral environmental factors can use them to magnify their comparative strengths. There is no reason why professional, regular armed forces, such as predominate in the West, ought not to be the best prepared to fight in this domain. The factors that threaten an army’s equanimity when it comes to fighting in an urban environment are the same for all belligerents. They do not impact regular Western soldiers more than irregular, non-Western challengers, who are thought to be unaffected by, or even gain an advantage from, these factors. This thinking comes from an entrenched mindset that insists on the uniqueness of the urban environment and holds firmly to certain shibboleths about urban warfare that are equivocal, if not outright ahistoric. The better trained and better equipped soldier should be comfortable in the chaos of the city — or at any rate as comfortable as he or she would be in any other environment. This is true not only for confrontations between regular and irregular forces, but also for “near-peer” conflict. The advantages afforded to the better trained, equipped, supported, and mentally prepared soldier are magnified by this environment, which rewards tactical skill. The line that “the future of war is not the son of Desert Storm, but the stepchild of Chechnya and Somalia” is a staple of the literature on contemporary strategic affairs.[3] It was written by former United States Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak as part of a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London in 1996 in which he also coined the oft-quoted term “strategic corporal.” His overall argument was as follows: On account of the increasing interconnectedness of the world, the West will inevitably be drawn into “someone else’s wars” — which is to say, wars of choice that feature limited political commitment on the part of intervening forces.[4] Those wars will increasingly be centered in large, poorly governed urban areas, and will be fought against well-armed and capable opponents who will most likely be nonstate or quasi-nonstate actors. All of this will take place under the unblinking stare of the camera, bringing the local to the global stage and the global to the local stage. Together, these factors create a monster — like the mythical hundred-eyed Greek giant Argus Panoptes — that looms in the consciousness of generals and statesmen.[5] Seemingly grave tactical challenges are mixed with strategic unpredictability in a context of strict limitations on the use of force and acceptance of casualties. British doctrine describes the near future of war alliteratively as congested, cluttered, connected, contested, and constrained.[6] Likewise, the notable strategic thinker David Kilcullen goes for three related Cs: crowded, complex, and coastal.[7] There has developed a sort of orthodoxy, going back at least 20 years, which holds that population growth, urbanization, and interconnectedness — the driving forces of change in the global political economy — are pushing war into modes and contexts that conventional armed forces are finding, and will continue to find, vexingly difficult — in particular, the city. Whether this orthodoxy is correct is debatable. The strength of its grasp on the military mind and the defense policy establishment, however, is not. This paper is the joint effort of an academic and a professional soldier with 18 years of experience in infantry command, including multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. It uses an ethnographic approach, a technique that has been increasingly applied to contemporary defense policy and strategic studies.[8] It draws heavily on the subjective experience of practitioners with recent experience of urban warfighting, which we evaluate alongside a range of historical cases and extant doctrine from the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO. In this respect, this paper also employs the techniques of applied history, which we understand in the sense described by the naval historian Geoffrey Till as the illumination of the present and future through resonant historical examples, not “to point out lessons [per se], but to isolate things that need thinking about.”[9] We conducted fieldwork in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Israel between 2014 and 2017, which included lengthy visits to urban warfare training facilities, including observing and embedding in military exercises for periods of several days at a time. We also participated in numerous professional symposia on the subject, seminars, simulations, and wargames, mostly with the British Army (though nearly always with an international presence), as well as NATO. All told, we conducted over 40 interviews with veteran officers and noncommissioned officers, urban warfare trainers and course designers, doctrine authors, and subject-area specialists. This paper proceeds in five sections. In the first section, we seek to establish the fundamental characteristics of urban warfare, making reference to canonical works on the history of the city; specifically, works on war and the city. This includes, first and foremost, how the city’s connections with other urban conglomerations and the density of the civilian population causes a distinctive compression of the levels of war such that the tactical and political become inextricably entangled. In the second section, we use two historical examples — the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the British invasion of the River Plate during the Napoleonic Wars — to demonstrate that the problems of urban warfare are not new, as is often supposed or intimated. These examples serve as an important reminder to practitioners of the centuries of military and strategic wisdom accrued by their predecessors who faced similar dilemmas — and sometimes even solved them. In choosing the examples noted above, we focused only on cases that took place prior to World War I and are well-documented. We excluded numerous cases of besieged cities in which capitulation occurred after the exterior defenses were breached, or where a defending commander surrendered when a breach looked inevitable — a typical occurrence in early-modern European fortress warfare.[10] We also excluded cases where, although significant fighting continued on the streets after the outer defenses had failed, the historical accounts of said fighting were patchy and therefore there was little for us to say about it.[11] Our two examples were chosen because they superbly illustrate the rapid political, economic, and diplomatic impacts of urban warfare. Moreover, because they preceded the advent of the “information age,” which so preoccupies and confounds contemporary analysts, by about two millennia and two centuries, respectively, they serve as particularly apt correctives to the hype that often surrounds the topic of urban warfare today. In the third section, we show how a narrow view of the history of urban warfare, particularly one that is resolutely focused on the experience of one titanic and highly peculiar battle — Stalingrad — distorts perceptions of the problem at hand and its potential solutions. Other World War II battles, and a range of post-1945 conflicts up to the present day, call into serious question the validity of the “lessons” of Stalingrad, such as the tendency for commanders to lose control of the battle, the symbolic resonance of cities that causes politicians to invest greater strategic meaning in them than they ought, the permanent advantages of the defender, the high force ratios necessary to succeed, and the idea that superior weaponry, training, and mobility inevitably become less important or useful in city fighting. The fourth section shifts focus from diagnosis to prescription. Here, we suggest a rather prosaic, albeit fundamental, reform: the substantial upgrading of training protocols, urban warfare facilities, and tactical training systems to allow armed forces to better familiarize themselves with urban warfare, and to practice and experiment in convincing settings that can accommodate large combined-arms teams. The bulk of this section is based on extended visits to a range of such facilities in several countries, as well as interviews with training staff to identify the central problems and best practices. There is no equivalent scholarly research on this subject in the civil sphere, and we suspect, based on our research, in military circles either.[12] [quote id="1"] In the fifth section, we propose an approach to urban operations that we argue is in greater accordance with both the logic of projected force sizes, as compared with the current and imagined size of global megacities, and with our understanding of the best practices of military operations and leadership in all other environments — including simultaneity, tactical boldness, coordinated action of small units, and clarity of intent. The “strongest gang” model, as we call it, is a realistic solution to the problems of urban conflict that cannot be addressed by the current prevalent methods, which are too positively controlled, too manpower-intensive, too cautious, and cede too much initiative to objectively weaker and less capable opponents. In this section, we also discuss several potential contributions of technology to the successful conduct of 21st-century urban operations. Overall, we accept that the reality of demographics and geopolitics means that warfare will increasingly occur in urban environments. Nevertheless, we argue this is not, in itself, a development to be feared. If this represents a change, then it is one of degree not of fundamentals and is manageable with the right mindset — one that is sensitive to both opportunities and threats — and with bold and creative leadership.

The Challenges of Urban Warfare: Political and Tactical Entanglement

War is a “continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means,” wrote Clausewitz,[13] while politics, since the days of Plato’s ideal polis, has been wound up tightly with the affairs of the city. To impose political will upon a group of people through the use of force would seem to require that it be exercised where the people actually live, generate wealth, and conduct collective public life. It is, therefore, important to recognize that the fundamental problem of urban warfare, the one that pervades it from the heights of strategy to the minutiae of house-clearing, is the inextricability of the tactical from the political. Politics dictate what range of tactical options the practitioner can choose against which opponents in all contexts — this is a truism of war as applicable in cities as in rural areas, in cyberspace as well as outer space. For years now, there has been growing skepticism of the utility of the concept of “levels of war,” in which tactics nest hierarchically within operations, which nests within strategy, all of which are superseded by politics. This, essentially, is the essence of the aforementioned “strategic corporal” effect. There is an urge, therefore, to separate these levels for analytical purposes. But this would be a mistake. The urban environment has a tendency to amplify the negative effects of viewing the relationship between politics and tactics as hierarchical, discrete, and unidirectional. According to this manner of thinking, it is possible to rationalize isolating tactics from the study of policy — and sometimes strategy — because the latter two purportedly matter much more. Although there is certainly good cause to believe that, in the long term, great tactics cannot compensate for bad policy, tactics are both the base for and servant of strategy and ought not be left aside.[14] In cities, this is particularly true because the sheer density of people in a highly networked environment magnifies the degree to which politics and tactics are interwoven. Contemporary British doctrine, both in general as well as in regards to urban environments, illustrates this with its emphasis on the concept of “integrated action,” defined as the orchestration and execution of operations “in an interconnected world, where the consequences of military action are judged by an audience that extends from immediate participants to distant observers.”[15] The Limits of Avoiding the City For practically all of history, generals have loathed the prospect of fighting in cities and have sought to avoid it. Sun Tzu advised fighting in cities only if “absolutely necessary, as a last resort.”[16] For 2,500 years, generals have happily agreed with the strategic wisdom of this maxim, whether or not they have read ancient Chinese military philosophy. Even today, while decision-makers acknowledge that they are going to have to fight in an urban environment at some point, when left to their own devices in wargames and experiments, NATO generals elect to bypass cities without hesitation. Urban terrain poses a number of challenges for combat operations. Clausewitz described action in war as being like movement in a resistant medium. The elements that make up the atmosphere of war, he said, were danger, physical exertion, intelligence, and friction.[17] Each of these is supposedly intensified in the city. The profusion of places to hide in this multidimensional environment means engagement typically occurs at very short distances and fire fights are swift and brutal. The continuous high-level alertness required for close action, combined with extreme physical discomfort, is thought to hasten the onset of battle fatigue.[18] Command and control is bedeviled by communications problems caused by buildings that block both vision and radio signals. This, in turn, causes city battles to fragment rapidly into isolated and uncoordinated low-level fighting. If this kind of fighting is hard for professional soldiers who are trained in taking initiative, confident in their equipment, and physically prepared for the rigor involved, then how much harder is it for the less well-trained — or even untrained — conscript or amateur? Meanwhile, the presence of civilians in the urban environment adds a complicating element of friction that pervades every level, from tactics through strategy to policy. Indeed, Alice Hills, author of perhaps the most significant academic study on the challenges of urban warfare, describes the intractability of the problem as moral and normative in nature and therefore a particular concern for liberal states.[19] On the one hand, history suggests that there are conceivably many political, humanitarian, and legal reasons for even pacific liberal states to intervene in foreign cities, such as to conduct a strategic raid on specific facilities (e.g., weapons laboratories), to evacuate noncombatants, or to forestall genocide. (Imagine, for example, a raid on Radio Mille Collines, effectively the command-and-control system of the massacre of the Rwandan Tutsis.) On the other hand, such intervention risks becoming bogged down in a form of warfare that can exact a great toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. How can commanders maximize their forces’ military effectiveness, which is necessary given the high costs of keeping personnel and equipment in the field, while maintaining domestic and international support in a media-saturated environment, where that support is dependent in large part on keeping casualties and collateral damage below an indeterminate threshold of public acceptability?[20] The 1992–93 American-led U.N. intervention in Somalia remains a textbook example of this problem: It was a humanitarian operation initially that ended ignominiously as a small war following a vicious battle in the streets of Mogadishu in which two American helicopters were shot down, 18 American soldiers were killed, 72 were wounded, and a pilot was captured.[21] [quote id="2"] It is no wonder, then, that when at all feasible the most politically desirable operation is one that involves no troops on the ground at all, no matter what the terrain. The 1999 Kosovo War, which NATO conducted almost entirely from the air, epitomized this line of strategic reasoning. Wesley Clark, the commanding general of the campaign, wrote in his account of the war about the political wrangling that took place over conducting a ground offensive and the likely casualties that would ensue. He remarked,
there was no military answer to the problem of urban warfare in Belgrade. Or the determined resistance of the Serb population along the way. The northern approach included the classic invasion routes, which the Yugoslav military would be well prepared to defend. I knew that the political problems for NATO would be insuperable.[22]
Since the advent of the “War on Terror,” avoiding putting “boots on the ground” has been far more difficult from a tactical perspective, particularly after the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003. The appetite of all Western governments, including the United States, for the large-scale deployment of conventional forces has diminished markedly since the early days of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a case in point, Britain embarked more or less enthusiastically on the Iraq War, with Parliament voting 412 in favor and 149 against in 2003.[23] However, by August 2013, the Cameron government’s proposal to join American-led air strikes in Syria was defeated narrowly by a vote of 285 to 272. Even so, fully detaching from ongoing conflicts has proven extremely difficult. More recently, Western involvement in wars in the Middle East, and to a lesser extent Ukraine, has primarily involved airpower alongside special forces and small advisory teams in support of local forces — a far more politically palatable approach. The character of operations, however, has still been typified by the attack and defense of fortified locations, or urban areas that can be rapidly fortified (whether deliberately or as a by-product of combat), and operations that unfold over weeks and months, not hours and days. Ukrainian officers, for instance, characterized the months-long defense of the Donetsk Airport — a “serpentine grid of tunnels, bunkers, and underground communications systems” — against rebel forces of the Donbass Republic as a “mini-Stalingrad.”[24] In the Philippines, meanwhile, government forces needed five months to clear a force of about 1,000 Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf militants from Marawi, a town of 600,000 inhabitants that was significantly damaged in the process.[25] Undoubtedly, what primarily distinguishes cities from other theaters of conflict is the level to which they are intermingled with civilian life. But population centers can only be bypassed for so long in the hope of avoiding a military operation in the midst of a major concentration of noncombatants. At some point, one eventually gets to Baghdad or Mosul, or to Aleppo or Raqqa. Then what? The history of warfare is littered with instances of urban fighting. As the great historian of cities Lewis Mumford put it, war and the city are inextricable: “As soon as war had become one of the reasons for the city’s existence, the city’s own wealth and power made it a natural target.”[26] If you choose to fight “wars amongst the people,” as today’s wars have been described, then you must literally get among them.[27] In the mind of the contemporary Western politician, conflict in the urban environment — getting “amongst the people” — is synonymous with Stalingrad, and, as such, is beyond the public’s tolerance in terms of expenditure of “blood and treasure.” In order for the military to be able to present politicians with a full spectrum of credible and usable options, this assumption needs to be challenged. Currently it is based upon extant military doctrine — and, presumably, on the private advice of generals to policymakers — which says that urban conflict requires an approach that is reliant upon massive firepower and overwhelming manpower. But reports from practitioners at the tactical level and in training establishments, coupled with examples from military history, falsify this thesis. It is wrong — there is a different way.

Nothing Fundamental Has Changed

It is hard to gainsay Hills’ conclusions, particularly with regards to the primacy of politics. And yet, while she is cautious not to overemphasize the novelty of the problems she describes, writing that the “characteristics and tactical constraints of urban operations have remained remarkably consistent over the past 60 years,” because she rejects a longer historical approach, she misses that this statement would have been just as true 2,000 years ago.[28] The challenges of urban warfare that confront this generation of soldiers and statesmen are, for the most part, not new. Even the challenges that might seem new, such as the prevalence of the media, are only superficially different or, at most, an amplified echo of the past. Two examples from history show that governments have long been drawn into faraway urban conflicts with nonstate actors, and found them hard to fight, for reasons including political interconnectedness, media influence, and tactical complexity. Consider first the following scene from Flavius Josephus’ The Jewish War, which recounts a critical battle in the siege of Jerusalem by Roman legions under the command of Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian in the year 70 AD:
Threatening death to any of the populace who would breathe a word about surrender, and butchering all who even spoke casually about peace, they attacked the Romans who had entered. Some confronted them in the streets, some assailed them from the houses; while others, rushing forth without the wall through the upper gates, so disconcerted the guards at the ramparts, that they sprang down from their towers and retreated to their camp. Loud cries arose from those within, who were surrounded by enemies on all sides, and from those without, in alarm for their comrades who had been left behind.   The Jews, constantly increasing in numbers, and possessing many advantages in their knowledge of the streets, wounded many of the enemy, and drove them before them by repeated charges; while the Romans continued to resist mainly from sheer necessity, as they could not escape in mass owing to the narrowness of the breach; and had not Titus brought up fresh succours, all who had entered would probably have been cut down. Stationing his archers at the end of the streets and taking post himself where the enemy was in greatest force, he kept them at bay with missiles. Domitius Sabinus, who in this engagement, as in others, showed himself a brave man, aiding his exertions. Caesar held his ground, plying his arrows incessantly, and checking the advance of the Jews, until the last of the soldiers had retired.[29]
That this battle involved swords and clubs rather than M-4s and AK-47s matters little — just replace “archers” and “arrows” with "close combat attack” and “armed aviation” and the scene has an obvious contemporary resonance. Moreover, the tactics of the Jewish rebels differed little from those of, say, Islamic State insurgents in the months-long battle for Mosul in Iraq. Zealots among Jerusalem’s defenders murdered all moderate Jewish leaders and burnt the city’s dry food supply, which would have fed the population for a year or two, on the logic that it would compel noncombatants to join the fight. In fact, it only compounded the tragedy. More Jews died of the starvation brought on by the zealots than were killed by the Romans in the collective punishment that followed the defeat of the revolt. The wider political complexity of the campaign and its distinct and immediate connections to politics in the Roman capital over 2,300 miles away are equally noteworthy.[30] At the time of the battle, Vespasian had been emperor for just one year and the defeat of a Roman army, especially one commanded by his son, would have greatly undermined his power. Also bear in mind that Flavius Josephus was not an objective historian but rather a hagiographer. Famously described as the “Jewish Benedict Arnold,” he was quite literally owned by Titus and was conscious of the need to preserve and advance the celebrity of his master.[31] Thus, one must read between the lines of this account to see that what it describes is a tactical blunder by Titus, who advanced his troops prematurely through a too-small breach, and was then rescued from disaster by a competent subordinate, in addition to artillery support. In the introduction to her final chapter, “The Logic of Urban Operations,” Hills writes that the most important reason for examining urban battles is that they have the potential to become a critical security issue in the 21st century on account of, inter alia, demographic trends, globalization, and powerful nonstate adversaries. Cities are, moreover, not just politically significant but also economically significant as “base points” in a global web of production and markets, which conflict would disrupt.[32] And yet, the idea that the impact of urban warfare is increasingly strong — whether by resonating powerfully in international politics, causing upheaval in global markets, or impacting the mood of distant populations — has been true for at least two centuries, possibly even two millennia. [quote id="3"] For instance, in late June of 1806, British forces under the command of Adm. Sir Home Popham landed at the Rio de la Plata, Argentina with the aim of capturing Buenos Aires and ultimately seizing one of the greatest and richest Spanish colonies in South America. It was not a strategically planned gambit. In fact, Popham had acted independently on his own judgment as a commander, having convinced himself that the people of the region were “groaning under the tyranny” of Spain and eager for liberation. He also considered it an opportunity to counter Allied setbacks in the European theater — notably Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.[33] But ministers in London, once they learned of the event, thought he had vastly exceeded his authority. Their fury, however, was largely assuaged by the initially agreeable results: A superior Spanish military force was quickly routed at the cost of a handful of British casualties and Buenos Aires was occupied. The then vast sum of $1,086,000 was sent back to Britain by frigate along with six wagon-loads of other booty — primarily Jesuit’s bark (a valuable antimalarial) and mercury. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was also seized from abandoned and surrendered Spanish armories. Financial markets in London soared in anticipation that the good times would continue to roll. Unfortunately, by the time that these treasures had arrived in Britain, and reinforcements had been dispatched, events had already turned decidedly for the worse. While the British certainly did plunder the assets of the deposed Spanish regime, they took some care not to “exasperate” the local population, as counter-insurgency doctrine has wisely advised for over a hundred years.[34] Thus, private property was untouched; the population, which was regarded as liberated rather than conquered, was protected; local government, courts, and tax authorities were permitted to continue as normal; and the place of the Catholic Church in society was left untouched. It was to little avail, however, for two reasons. First, the improvisational nature of the campaign caused even those locals who were happy to see the end of Spanish rule to doubt the long-term intentions of the British, which in turn caused political unrest. Second, Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, a Knight of the Order of Malta in the service of Spain, played upon the unpacified mood of the population to organize a powerful insurgency out of a ragbag of escaped regular soldiers, angry civilians, and thrill-seeking gauchos. The result was a bitter humiliation for Great Britain, which resulted in the court-martial of the officer in charge of operations. Ironically, this was not Popham, who escaped immediate blame by moving on before things came to a head, but Gen. John Whitelocke, who had arrived in May 1807 with a small army of 6,000 troops under orders to recover the worsening situation with another assault on Buenos Aires. The fighting in the capital and the surrounding area proved insurmountably difficult for the British, who discovered that the thick walls and flat roofs of the Spanish colonial urban landscape cut through by narrow alleys provided endless opportunities for ambushes. In scenes reminiscent of Titus’ premature foray into Jerusalem, British soldiers were assailed from the roofs by a great proportion of the population with hand grenades, musket fire, stones, and boiling water, while at nearly every major street corner they were attacked by Spanish cannons loaded with grape-shot, which were stationed behind deep ditches that were reinforced by sharpened stakes. The war has generally been forgotten by Britons, but not Argentinians, for whom it was a precursor to revolution and independent nation-building.[35] It was unquestionably a “hybrid” battle with a mix of regular and irregular modes of warfare.[36] It also included the exploitation of clan, tribal, and illicit networks in order to sustain the insurgent fighting forces. In the final battles on the streets of Buenos Aires, de Liniers achieved the operational and tactical feat of deploying the most primitive arms alongside what were then cutting-edge ones. This is to say nothing of the political complexity of the conflict, which was substantial and wide-ranging. Tactical decisions in the local contest between Spanish colonial rulers, indigenous people, and their British liberators-cum-conquerors resonated very quickly in the distant capitals of London, Madrid, and Paris. Likewise, the effect on financial markets was a powerful factor driving political and military decision-making. There was a media dimension as well: first, in the enthusiastic celebration of Popham — who was acutely conscious of his celebrity — and, second, in the public pillorying of Whitelocke. One of the main conclusions of important scholars like Hills is that, although tactics of urban warfare have changed little, the strategic context has evolved considerably as a result of globalization, demography, and urbanization. And yet, based on examples from history, it would seem that the strategic context has not actually changed in any fundamental way.

"Stalingraditis" and Other Urban Legends

To say that there is little in today’s world that has not been seen or dealt with in the past is not to say that there is nothing new at all. Likewise, to say that present-day strategists exaggerate how much they are affected by the connectedness, complexity, and sheer riskiness of the world relative to their forebears is not to say that they do not face challenges. It is, rather, that strategists today will be better able to deal with such challenges if they are clear-eyed about what is new and what is not, and what lessons can be generalized — so long as they do not sever themselves entirely from the experience and knowledge of the past. In a recent keynote speech on the past, present, and future of urban warfare, the British military historian Antony Beevor, author of numerous works on World War II, including the classic Stalingrad, detailed a number of lessons that can be gleaned from that battle. First, he argued, commanders lose control of the battle more rapidly in urban environments than they do in others — it is, according to Beevor, intrinsically more difficult terrain on which to fight than any other. Second, cities are imbued with a symbolic resonance that makes them dangerous objectives for politicians. This makes them wont to devote more resources to them than their strategic value merits. Third, the defender usually determines the tactics in cities — a key advantage, and one that normally accrues to irregular more so than regular forces. Fourth, fighting in cities consumes far more troops than planners usually imagine while the urban environment diminishes the advantages of superior conventional weaponry, mobility, and training.[37] Beevor concludes that “there is something pitiless about urban warfare.” All of these lessons, including particularly the last one, are surely true of Stalingrad, and, in one form or another, one finds them repeated in British, American, and NATO doctrine.[38] The trouble is, however, that none of these lessons are generalizable, and thus it can be misleading when they are treated as such. The Myth of Intrinsic Difficulty: Is Urban Terrain the Hardest? Beevor claims that the urban environment is intrinsically difficult. This difficulty, however, is neutral, manifesting differently, but with equal impact, upon all sides. It is perhaps truer to say that the urban environment is more difficult to fight in for a commander who is not down at the small-team level. But tactical and operational victories are made up of small-team successes. The commander in charge of a small team can, in real time, take advantage of the multiple approach routes, the variety of possible sources of fire support, and the opportunities for surprise that the environment presents. The closeness of the terrain often allows commanders at this level to get further forward than would otherwise be possible and thus leads to them making rapid decisions with better information. In the urban context, a main benefit of a high-tempo maneuver operation over a methodical firepower-driven one is that the former deprives the defenders of the time to fortify, particularly by employing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have proven a difficult challenge for attacking forces, as well as a serious impediment to post-war rebuilding efforts. For instance, in the recent fighting with Islamic State forces in Mosul, Iraq, it was discovered that a single hospital complex had been laced with approximately 1,500 IEDs.[39] In this context, maintaining operational tempo could allow the attacking commander to continue to make military gains and deny the enemy time to place such devices, so long as the political situation is amenable. Moreover, a less firepower-intensive approach is likely to be a factor in maintaining political will and public consent. Nevertheless, small-unit maneuvering in a dispersed manner within cities presents some obvious challenges. These include having fewer safe rear areas and fewer heavily protected routes for supply and reinforcement and medical evacuation. There are, however, technological changes that may significantly alleviate these concerns, as discussed below. [quote id="4"] It is frequently observed that one of the great advantages of operating in “uncluttered” places like deserts, as opposed to cluttered urban centers, is that, whereas the former presents a logistical challenge, the dearth of civilians is an advantage. A German general captured by the British during the North Africa campaign in World War II put it this way: Desert fighting was a “tactician’s paradise and the quartermaster’s nightmare.”[40] This is based, however, on something of a misapprehension — that in environments outside of towns and cities one is not operating among the people. Even in the Libyan deserts, on the tracts of the desolate Sahara, a military commander is still operating amid a civilian population that may exert a direct impact on his operations. One can see this, for example, in the memoirs of Vladimir Peniakoff, one of the most colorful officers of British military history, who was commander of “Popski’s Private Army” — a legendary desert reconnaissance and raiding force in North Africa. Peniakoff described the manner of his operations and planning in this way:
What I like to do is to go myself beforehand over the country and get the feel of the plains, the mountains, and the valleys; the sand, the rocks, and the mud; at the same time, I listen to the local gossip; find out who commands the enemy and what are his pastimes—who my friends are and how far they are prepared to help me and what are the presents that will please. Then, when I come back later with my men to carry out my evil schemes, I can let the plan take care of itself.[41]
In other words, while the presence of civilians in the city is indeed a factor that adds to the complexity of the operating environment, this is also the case in other environments, even ones that seem, at first glance, to be relatively uncluttered. Replace plains, mountains, and valleys with boulevards, streets, and alleys, or sand, rocks, and mud with apartment complexes, shopping malls, and industrial parks, and it does not fundamentally change Peniakoff’s admonition about how to plan and lead a military operation. Though the density of habitation may change, war remains a human endeavor that takes place among people.[42] When it comes to warfare on land, there is no unpeopled place where combat can occur without reference to noncombatants, as though in a gladiatorial ring where bloodied fighters are clearly sequestered from the onlookers.[43] Urban warfare is undoubtedly fraught with serious difficulties, but so too is warfare in every environment. Rote pronouncements of its supremely challenging nature are unhelpful. Rarely are the potential advantages of operating in an urban environment considered. When questioned on this, however, our interlocutors remarked on several such advantages. For one thing, civilian observation and digital connectedness could be an intelligence resource to friendly forces. For another, the wealth of possible routes into and around the city could enable small unit movements and offer plentiful cover and concealment. The relatively short range of engagements can lead to greater visibility of the enemy allowing precision and, therefore, a possible reduction in the need to use indirect fire and a concomitant reduction in collateral damage. Moreover, outflanking the enemy is easier, as is isolating enemy positions. In sporting terminology, it is easier to create the “one-on-ones” that afford the team’s best players the opportunities to use their skills to the team’s advantage. In addition, the presence of the media need not be seen as a bad thing, as it could allow commanders to focus world attention for information operations or deception purposes. Finally, the dependence of some adversaries on one or more urban areas for their own sustainment — logistics, popular support, and so on — are potential centers of gravity that can be attacked. The enormous logistical advantages of operating in proximity to working port facilities was noted frequently by those we interviewed and studied. Indeed, it is striking in speaking to and reading the accounts of commanders of many post-Cold War operations how little they highlight the difficulties of urban environments as compared to other complaints. Problems of logistics, as always, feature prominently. An Australian commander in the 2000 East Timor operation, for example, described how he had to have four transport ships run ashore on the beach at Suai, where engineers cut the hulls open with oxyacetylene torches so that desperately needed supplies could be removed with a front-end loader — a triumph of improvisation but hardly an ideal manner in which to operate.[44] For all the difficulties of operating in urban settings, as long as the city is still functioning to some degree, the opportunities for “living off the land” are significantly greater than in most other environments. Fuel, electricity, water, food, shelter, medical facilities, communications facilities, places where repairs can be done, and the equipment with which to do such repairs are abundant in metropolitan settings — and in short supply outside of them — precisely because of the densely interconnected nature of the city. Triumph of the Lack of Will? On the Symbolic Importance of Cities The evidence surrounding the symbolic importance of cities and its hold on the minds of politicians is also quite mixed. One of the major problems with using Stalingrad as a benchmark is that it was extremely unusual in the strength of its political symbolism. For Stalin and Hitler, both unbridled totalitarian autocrats, the battle was a proxy for a personal and ideological contest — a test not only of each other’s will but of the total national strength they could command. Thus, neither could contemplate retreat or surrender, causing both men to hurl division after division into the cauldron of fire. This has not been the case, however, in more recent urban battles. If Fallujah had been renamed George Bush-ville after the first battle there in 2004, or if Sadr City was renamed Barack Obama City after the Obama administration took over the Iraq War, then a comparison with Stalingrad would perhaps be a bit more apt. The fact is, though, that American and British urban operations in Iraq after 2003 were, on the whole, characterized by a decided lack of sustained political concern as politicians and military-strategic headquarters back home urged caution and retreat on local commanders for fear of costly entanglement. Towns and cities were thus repeatedly cleared, or at any rate temporarily pacified, only to be subsequently abandoned to insurgents. Clearly neither city held particular symbolic importance for the United States or Great Britain. Instead, lack of will has tended to be more typical of urban battles in recent years. It must be said that Britain lately has been more guilty of this than the United States. The reasons why are not terribly mysterious: As the junior partner in the expeditionary campaigns of the “War on Terror,” Britain’s political and military leadership has perceived that it has less skin in the game and less responsibility for the ultimate outcome.[45] The best example of this lack of will is the British occupation of Basra, Iraq, which is described frankly in a vignette in the most recent British Army doctrine. It shows that much of the United Kingdom’s difficulties in southern Iraq stemmed from a lack of political will and an excess of caution in London. In essence, they were quite willing to give up Basra to insurgent control more than once.[46] When looking for an example of how political equivocality and strategic lassitude can exert a baleful influence on tactics in urban operations, it is hard to beat what took place on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983: A truck packed with 12,000 pounds of TNT was driven by a Shiite commando into the headquarters of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut, where it exploded, killing 241 Americans almost instantaneously. A congressional inquiry into the attack concluded afterward that security had been “inadequate” and that the local commander had made serious errors of judgment. Yet, security was inadequate by design, though not the local commander’s. Taking stronger security measures would have clashed with the diffident political goals of the intervention, according to the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. Moreover, given that before the attack the facility had been visited by no fewer than 24 generals and admirals, the question arises why the local commander’s putative errors were not remarked upon and rectified.[47] The fact is that the Marines were in a tactically indefensible posture because policymakers decided the political situation required it and generals advised them incorrectly about the risks, or argued inadequately as to their severity. [quote id="5"] For the Marine Corps, the Beirut attack was a major blow — the worst loss of life in a single day it had suffered since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. For the United States as a whole, it was an embarrassing setback, but it was not terribly consequential. Indeed, on the day of the attack, President Ronald Reagan signed the order authorizing the military intervention in Grenada.[48] This illustrates something that has typified the West’s “limited wars” since the era of decolonization: that although not always “low intensity” from the point of view of the immediate participants, politicians have always considered it a strategic option to pack up and go home (i.e., to lose), or move on to a different small war. Stalingrad, on the other hand, was unlimited. In fact, it was arguably the most completely committed battle of history’s most total war to date, rivaled only by the Battle of Berlin in the spring of 1945. As an illustration, consider the radio speech delivered by Reichsmarschal Hermann Goering in late January 1942 as the German defenses were collapsing:
[L]ike a mighty monument is Stalingrad… . One day this will be recognized as the greatest battle in our history, a battle of heroes… . We have a mighty epic of an incomparable struggle, the struggle of the Nibelungs. They, too, stood to the last.[49]
Despite Goering’s bombast, there is a kernel of truth to what he said: Stalingrad was undeniably stupendous and practically incomparable. Thus, to employ it as the yardstick by which all urban warfare is measured in perpetuity is deeply problematic. The Myth of the Defensive Advantage: Who Really Determines the Tactics? Good militaries increase in competence as they fight. Learning the hard lessons that a tenacious adversary can teach and armed conflict serves to cement is part of war.[50] For example, one might contrast the battles of Caen and Groningen, the former in June 1944 and the latter in April 1945. Both were urban conflicts and involved the same protagonists — the British and Canadians versus the Germans. Caen was a costly Allied victory, slow and nearly Pyrrhic, with a heavy toll of civilian casualties caused by high-level bombing and artillery barrages. Groningen, on the other hand, was a quick fight. It was decisive and caused few civilian casualties and involved the use of lighter, more discriminate weapons. It was not that the tactics themselves changed much between the two battles, but that they were simply better executed.[51] As a military force increases in tactical proficiency, it is able to secure political objectives without recourse to the kind of overwhelming firepower that destroys the city. Concurrently, as victory comes closer to hand, the minds of politicians turn more toward thoughts of “winning the peace” and thus the military becomes tactically less free to employ destructive measures such as mass aerial bombing and artillery barrages. It is not true, as Beevor argues, that the defender usually determines the tactics employed in urban fighting. There are so many examples to the contrary that, at best, it might be said that this is sometimes the case. Israel, for instance, has repeatedly been successful in determining the tactics in its fights with entrenched Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza at various times since the high point of violence of the Second Intifada in the early to mid-2000s. One oft-cited example is the way the Israelis conducted their attack on the town of Nablus in 2002 by “inverting the map” or “walking through walls … like a worm that eats its way forward” — using roads as barriers rather than thoroughfares, and using the interior of buildings as roads rather than a series of impermeable walls.
We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps.[52]
The reference to interpretation and reinterpretation of space shows the influence of postmodern and post-structuralist theory, which was popular in Israeli military thinking at the time. This was unfortunate because it obscured what otherwise was solid advice to commanders thinking about urban operations.[53] The fact is that no army that has fought in an urban environment for much time interprets space in a “traditional” manner. It adapts. It quickly learns to keep infantry off narrow streets that are easily raked by fire from entrenched positions, and to move forward by “mouseholing,” using the outer walls and roofs of buildings as natural cover under which to approach enemy positions and blow them up. Arguably, no army knows this as well as Israel’s. After all, one of the preeminent examples of successful urban warfighting comes from Israel’s War of Independence. In just six days of intense fighting beginning on April 26, 1948, a lightly armed, 600-strong force of Irgun — a Jewish paramilitary-cum-terrorist group headed by Menachem Begin, who later became prime minister — dislodged an entrenched and well-armed Arab military force more than twice its size from the city of Jaffa. The Irgun then defended its gains against counterattacks by a much larger British combined-arms force, which had the benefit of naval gunfire and air support.[54] The example of Jaffa contradicts the argument that urban warfare necessarily favors the defense over the offense — the Irgun was quite successful at both in the same battle. It also raises questions about the argument, discussed below, that urban operations are necessarily highly demanding in terms of manpower given that the Irgun were decidedly outnumbered.[55] The defending force can only determine the tactics of the attacking force so long as the attacker does not put the defender under cognitive as well as physical pressure. A steady, deliberate approach at the tactical level allows the enemy time to orient himself to the threat and then bring assets to bear to counter it. The attacker is then forced to win through the combination of weight and accuracy of firepower. The object of the attacking force ought to be to put the defending force into a state of material surprise, a condition in which, even if it is aware of the presence of the attacker, it will be unable to prepare accordingly for contact.[56] The deliberate approach is expensive in materiel if not manpower and can kill many civilians and heavily damage infrastructure. However, if the attacking force overwhelms the defending force’s ability to make decisions at the lowest level through speed, aggression, and simultaneous action in as many places as possible at the same time, then the defender will be unable to choose the tactics. It will be too busy trying to survive to dictate the terms of any engagement. Numbers in Urban Warfare: Force Competence Trumps Force Size There is perhaps no idea about urban warfare that is more firmly fixed than the idea that urban operations are unusually manpower-intensive. Towns and cities are typically thought to have the potential to absorb enormous numbers of soldiers — even if they are undefended. This stems, it is argued, from the size and geographical and architectural complexity of the environment. Guiding a force through all the potential bottlenecks of a city is time-consuming and difficult, while guarding against potential attacks at vulnerable locations and warding off re-infiltration of cleared areas soaks up troops.[57] The Soviet General Staff is reputed to have calculated on the basis of its experience during World War II that the optimum ratio of attacker to defender in urban environments was 10 to one. This would be a major impediment to anyone contemplating fighting in a city, and is a clear case of Stalingrad-itis. Other major battles of the war, however, would point to an opposite, or at any rate more nuanced, conclusion. First, in October 1944, two battalions of the American 26th Infantry Division (with armor and engineering attachments) soundly defeated a much larger entrenched German force of 5,000 troops in nine days of fighting in the city of Aachen.[58] Seventy-five Americans were killed and the German force that had been ordered by Hitler to fight to the last man was essentially wiped out. Second, in April 1945, elements of the 2nd Canadian Division defeated a German force of equal size that was trying to hold on to the Dutch city of Groningen. In that case, only 100 civilians were killed alongside 43 Canadians and approximately 150 Germans — a remarkable feat given that the civilian population was present throughout the fierce fighting.[59] Finally, also in April 1945, a battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, supported by tanks of the King’s Hussars, defeated a large, well-equipped, well-led, and highly experienced force from the German 9th Parachute Division that was holding the small northern Italian town of Medicina. The German unit also had tank and artillery support. In a short, decisive battle lasting a few hours, much of it hand-to-hand, in which tanks blasted holes through the walls of structures through which the Gurkhas advanced, 100 Germans were killed, while the British lost only seven men.[60] Each of these instances featured unorthodox tactics; aggressive, rapid combined-arms action; and close-quarter fighting in which the allied troops had to guard against civilian casualties. And yet, in each, the attacking side prevailed, at less cost to itself than the defender, and (with the partial exception of Aachen) without massive damage to the civilian infrastructure, let alone the kind of wanton slaughter of noncombatants that was seen in Stalingrad.[61] More recent examples similarly suggest that the assumption of the high demands of manpower in urban operations is exaggerated. In early April 2003, for instance, while pundits were predicting a protracted and bloody siege of Iraq’s capital and the Iraqi government spokesman was declaring that there were no American troops in the city, tanks and armored personnel carriers of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division were conducting “thunder runs,” blasting their way down Baghdad’s main thoroughfares.[62] Until this point, it had been widely supposed that armored vehicles could not successfully operate in urban environments. This was largely based on the defeat dealt to Russian mechanized forces in late December 1994 and early January 1995 by Chechen secessionist fighters in Grozny. [quote id="6"] The Chechens used “swarms” of loosely coordinated, highly capable small units to ambush Russian columns with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in the canyons created by multistory tower blocks lining the city’s thoroughfares. Two mechanized brigades were all but destroyed, with at least 200 armored vehicles burnt up and 1,500 Russian troops killed.[63] The superiority of the weaponry of the Russian forces was diminished and the mobility of their armor proved to be fragile and contingent. And yet, Baghdad, a much larger and equally dense city, was captured in April 2003 by an armored force comprising around 1,000 men, suffering only a handful of casualties in the process. Consider also the 1st Brigade Combat Team, which was responsible for the city of Ramadi in Iraq from 2005 to 2006. Ramadi is four times larger than Fallujah, where a year earlier heavy operations by the U.S. Marine Corps consumed far more than the resources of one brigade in two major battles. Nevertheless, the end result was more or less positive: At a cost of 83 American lives, the city was cleared of al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents, 1,500 of whom were killed. First, insurgents in the city were isolated from external support to the maximum extent possible by checkpoints on major transport routes. Then, neighborhoods were cleared one by one in operations normally starting with the rapid fortification of small combat outposts from which small-unit actions would be conducted. Meanwhile, the pacified areas were gradually handed over to Iraqi police. The techniques employed in the Ramadi operations were extraordinarily time-consuming — the campaign took nine months. But they had the effect of keeping al-Qaeda in Iraq off balance. 1st Brigade Combat Team was ordered to “Fix Ramadi, but don’t do a Fallujah,” and that is what it did. This goal was achieved, moreover, without the evacuation, voluntary or otherwise, of the civilian population.[64] Military force can create the minimum conditions to allow normal civilian life to continue, by killing, capturing, demoralizing, or deterring insurgents[65] — but the effect is temporary. For it to take hold requires the emergence of good government, administration, and policing. To say that this is difficult would be an understatement, as the last 18 years have shown. It is wrong, however, to place the blame for the confusion one sees in contemporary counter-insurgency theory and practice on the peculiarities of the urban environment. The key problem is not the urban terrain and the extraordinary demand for large numbers of troops that it is supposed to cause. Rather, as we have discussed already, it is about the policy objective: What is the political effect that the military force is supposed to achieve in the city? And is it actually achievable by military force, whatever its size? When it comes to the numbers and effectiveness of weapons, the most important thing is the tactical aptitude and leadership qualities of the combat forces involved. In this respect, the Russian military of the mid-1990s was staggeringly bad compared to the Chechen irregulars they faced, who were highly motivated, skilled, and well equipped.[66] In the case of Baghdad in 2003, the roles were reversed: The attacking American marines and soldiers were supremely capable and their boldness paid off against a demoralized, half-routed, and uncoordinated enemy that was decidedly back on its heels. The years that followed showed that, while urban operations are far from easy, the challenges they pose are not insurmountable.

Sweat Saves Blood: Training in the Right Environment

The lessons of Iraq notwithstanding, Krulak is still fundamentally right that warfare is likely to be even more centered on urban environments in the future. Western politicians will continue to have the urge to intervene militarily in other countries for one reason or another, whether good, bad, or imagined. How then to give Western forces the ability to operate confidently in cities, and to innovate and develop new methods that maintain and extend the gap in competence between them and their likely opponents? One part of the answer is prosaic, but nevertheless vital: training. In January and February 2001, the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory conducted a series of battalion-level urban warfare exercises dubbed “Project Metropolis,” building on earlier experiments in the 1990s that had highlighted alarmingly high casualty rates among friendly forces in such environments. The experiments showed that the high initial rate of casualties experienced by Marine units dropped sharply after they had received hard and realistic training.[67] The report detailed a number of other technological and tactical improvements, but the gist was that training made the difference. In nearly all of the interviews with British unit commanders conducted for this research, whether at the Infantry Battle School's Urban Warfare Instructor’s Course or with the urban warfare group at the Land Warfare Centre, we heard words to this effect: “[A]t first my battalion/company/platoon was alarmingly poor at urban warfare but after training in the right environment I was much more confident.”[68] It is not that new training methods or new techniques are needed per se, because the old methods and techniques are still important. It is rather that training in the relevant methods requires the correct environment. It is the training environment that allows commanders to simulate the scale and complexity of the challenges troops will face in an urban battle. How the actual training is done depends on the commander organizing it. British commanders, for instance, are encouraged to brainstorm down to the junior noncommissioned officer level, then run their units through an exercise. After that, the operative scenario is changed slightly to ensure that soldiers are not “learning the range” but instead are learning to understand and solve the dynamic underlying problems. Then the exercise is run again. Finally, the exercise is run once more without leaders present, to ensure that the unit as a whole has absorbed the relevant lessons and is able to act accordingly in an organic manner. Far less ideal is when lessons are conducted straight out of a pamphlet (i.e., in accordance with a checklist and a generic scenario authored by someone other than the commander). How these exercises are run is also contingent on factors relating to the particular scenario at hand — which is dependent, in turn, on ever-shifting complexities of the real world — and the character and capabilities of the units involved. But regardless, having the right environment in which to train is the most important factor. As for what is the “right” environment, based on our interviews it comes down to three factors: authenticity, scale, and recoverability of lessons. Does the training area look — and ideally feel, sound, and smell — like the real thing? Is it sophisticated enough to accurately simulate the effects of various weapons? What feedback is being given to the soldier who is “hit”? Does he or she experience minor pain or an inconvenience or simply a loss of pride from being defeated? The instant and often uncomfortable result of using modified personal service weapons firing paint pellets accurate up to at least 100 feet sharpens the mind. Increasing the variety and range of the weapons being simulated or using a different feedback method would likely pay huge dividends. Can exercises be recorded and played back (as, for example, one might see in some video games), so that all commanders can learn from mistakes and successes, their own as well as others? Is the environment big enough for large units to practice macro-level combined arms and support functions simultaneously, not just micro-individual or small-unit battle drills? Urban Warfare Training: International Comparison Few countries possess facilities approaching the ideal standards. Although it has a large number of small sites for practicing close-quarter battle, the United States currently has no facility for training large units in realistic urban environments.[69] Likewise, Britain’s urban training areas are generally considered inadequate by its users — too small and too much like a central European village, the sort of urban environment the army envisaged it would need to fight in when they were built in the 1980s. There is a mock Afghan village in the Stanford Training Area in Norfolk, U.K., run by the Operational Training Advisory Group, which is an up-to-date and generally convincing portrayal of operating conditions in Helmand province. But it does not pretend to approximate the conditions of a city.[70] France has very good facilities at CENZUB in Sissonne, which features a large number of well-designed buildings of various types, and a standing opposition force able to perform a variety of “enemy force” roles: regular, irregular, and hybrid. A U.S. Marine Corps senior noncommissioned officer who visited the facility in the summer of 2017 was particularly impressed by the relative degree of seriousness with which the French treated urban training, remarking,
A significant aspect of this quality training is that the OpFor [Opposition Force] is staffed with quality soldiers who plan and fight with the will to win. I observed the OpFor actually “winning the battle” on several occasions. In a sense, this training has an element of “free play” in that while scripted in a way, the CENZUB staff creates conditions for free thinking on both sides.[71]
Britain has a degree of access to CENZUB in accordance with the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty on defense and security cooperation between the two countries, which could offset the relatively low quality of its own facilities. Certainly, the British soldiers and commanders with whom we have spoken who have trained there are very positive about the experience. However, when defense budgets are under pressure, savings are often found by cutting travel alongside other activities. CENZUB is only useful if you can get there. The best existing urban warfare training facility is in Israel’s Negev desert on the Tze’elim army base. Nicknamed “Baladia,” the Arabic word for “city,” the training area was built in 2005 in part by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a cost of $45 million. It consists of around 6oo different buildings, including five mosques, a casbah, a clinic, a town hall, and an eight-story apartment building. The environment provides a highly realistic simulation of a Middle Eastern town, right down to a sound and pyrotechnic system able to recreate the ambient noises of normal civilian life (e.g., calls to prayer, music, road noise) as well as very convincing indirect fire attacks and IED blasts. The whole facility is controlled through a central monitoring station that can track and record all elements of large units through exercises for after-action review.[72] As a testament to the authenticity of Baladia, while one of us was writing up notes in a Tel Aviv bar after a visit to the facility, the bartender, an Israeli Defense Force reservist, recognized the crude sketch of the facility seen below and remarked that he had spent many weeks in training there. In his words, after a few days on exercise there it was hard sometimes to tell the difference between Baladia and actual operations in Gaza, where he had seen combat as a sharpshooter.  

“Baladia” camp, Tze’elim Israeli Defense Forces training area, Oct. 21, 2015. (Image courtesy of the authors)

  Germany is nearing completion of an urban warfare training area at Schnöggerssburg in Saxony-Anhalt, which will rival Baladia in scale and sophistication. It includes a range of building types set in neighborhoods including an “old town,” a shanty town, a light industrial area, a railway station, and an airport.[73] However, the key innovation of this facility is the “Legatus” simulation system developed by the weapons and engineering company Rheinmetall AG. In addition to recording exercises as described above, it can purportedly accurately model the effect of weapons fired externally on targets inside buildings or otherwise obscured by cover.[74] If true, this would represent a major advancement over existing optical laser-based training systems, which work well in relatively open terrain, where there is limited cover, but fail in cluttered urban environments where cover is plentiful and varies in ballistic resistance. Although most Russian bases, like American and British ones, usually include just a few buildings, occasionally ruins, in which small units practice urban combat drills, Russia is investing substantially in new facilities.[75] At the Mulino base near Nizhny Novgorod, for instance, the new 333rd Combat Training Center operates a range of sophisticated training simulators and a “battle town,” which is said to be large enough to accommodate a full battalion on exercise.[76] Additionally, the Chechen provincial government operates on behalf of the federal Russian army an impressively large and thoughtfully planned facility that is nearly 400 hectares in size and includes a range of building sizes. Like CENZUB, it features a permanent cadre of trainers with extensive practical experience with urban combat. However, the facility is reserved for Spetznaz units (Russian Special Operations Forces) exclusively and is almost entirely focused on counter-terrorism operations, thus its benefits are not available to Russian general-purpose forces.[77] Lessons Learned and Not Learned in Urban Warfare Training Whatever the environment, soldiers must be taught to outthink the adversary, to get inside the enemy’s decision-action cycle using violence and tempo and then stay there, because keeping the enemy on its heels, reeling backward and struggling just to survive, is universally recognized as key to a successful operation. “The battle always goes to the quickest,” was how the famous German general, Erwin Rommel, once put it.[78] Yet, whereas most Western armies have plenty of big spaces with varied natural terrain in which to experiment and practice how to do these things, the same is not true with regard to urban environments. Despite the fact that most of the soldiers that make up modern armies themselves live in cities, command and training establishments treat city fighting distinctly differently — they are more risk-averse and less bold, more rule-bound and less imaginative, and ultimately less able to innovate. British soldiers, for example, are told from the moment training begins that they are part of the most professional fighting force in history, that they are the best equipped, best trained, and best supported soldiers in the world, and that they need not fear anyone, or any environment. This message changes, however, during the few days of urban warfare training they are allocated as part of their six-month Combat Infantryman’s Course.[79] Soldiers are told that in other environments the use of initiative is not only tolerated but positively encouraged. However, in the urban environment, they are discouraged from aggressively pursuing an enemy who is almost certainly less well trained and equipped. The soldier is taught to fear the threats of a fast tempo — isolation, outflanking, a reduction in the fire support that can be brought to bear — but not taught to embrace these things as opportunities that can work in his or her favor. [quote id="7"] An example from the American forces also illustrates this curiously hidebound attitude. It is widely agreed that one of the most effective pieces of equipment in the arsenal of the urban counter-insurgency in Iraq was the collection of concrete barriers of varying sizes, called “T-walls” on account of their cross-sectional appearance.[80] Most famously, T-walls were a key element of the 2008 Battle of Sadr City, a large Shiite suburb of Baghdad, where they were used effectively to enable friendly force maneuver. Isolating operational areas with rapidly deployable walls deprived the insurgents of mobility, concealment, support, and initiative. As a RAND study of the battle concluded, “Concrete enlisted time on the side of the counterinsurgent,” which is quite a remarkable accomplishment.[81] For all its success, though, the method of deploying the barriers was extremely ad hoc, relying on civilian top-hooking cranes hired by the day, which needed to be unhooked from the blocks by hand by a military engineer who was exposed to fire in the process.[82] Eleven years later, it is still ad hoc: There have been no changes to any systems or equipment sets, such as the number of cranes assigned to engineer or maneuver units. There is no doctrine for emplacing concrete barriers or for the consideration of logistic packages that include concrete walls. And the technique for their emplacement is not practiced in training centers.[83] Why not change in response to what seems to be a significant lesson of modern warfare?[84] One area where the training of soldiers is being adjusted for the urban environment is physical conditioning. Both the American and British armed forces, among others, have shifted the emphasis of physical training away from the high endurance forced march toward developing all around stronger soldiers who are trained in the sort of repeated anaerobic bursts of activity typically required in urban operations, like hauling themselves, their equipment, and perhaps wounded comrades, over walls and through windows.[85] Still, more could be done. To prepare a soldier for urban warfare, he or she also needs to conceive of moving through the city quite differently than most civilians — to think like an urban explorer, the sort of person who is as happy moving through service tunnels and across rooftops as on sidewalks and roads.[86] Armed forces have long recruited directly, or otherwise sought as trainers or guides, the likes of poachers and backwoodsmen for their specialist fieldcraft skills. Why should the urban environment be any different?[87] Urban warfare is not intrinsically more difficult than other forms of warfare. It creates certain challenges but at the same time creates opportunities. The ability to overcome the former and exploit the latter rests ultimately on the quality of training. To return to Rommel, whom we quoted earlier, the kind of quick and fluid action that he sought in his troops begins long before the fight:
The commander must always strive to make his troops aware of the latest in tactical theory and developments, with a view to learning and applying the practical experience on the battlefield. …The best care of troops is founded in good training, as this reduces casualties.[88]
What is required to realize this is twofold: first, training facilities that are big enough for large combined-arms units with supporting logistic, medical, and intelligence elements, and realistic enough to approximate real-world battle conditions; and second, a mindset among those training soldiers in urban warfare that tells soldiers they can adapt to and thrive in this environment as well as in any other.

Tempo, Pressure, Pursuit: The Strongest Gang

Western armies have a longstanding habit of seeking solutions to tactical and strategic problems in technology because this plays to the strengths of Western countries. In a March 2017 NATO urban warfare game, for instance, the teams played with 39 different hypothetical and actual technologies. These included: various enhancements to C2ISR (command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), improving the ability of friendly forces to see and understand the operational environment in real time in complex detail; a range of autonomous weapons and logistics systems to reduce the exposure of soldiers to the highest risks; several measures to improve mobility and force protection; and some concepts for helping commanders to better influence the information environment.[89] Many, if not all, of these technologies and ideas could prove useful and will soon be or are already available. More important than changes in technology, however, are changes in how urban operations are conducted generally, something with which the British and American armies are already experimenting. We will deal with these first before looking further at developments in C2ISR and logistics. Combined arms operations, including the use of armor, are likely to continue to have a significant role in any future major urban conflict. We would not seek to suggest that light forces can, or indeed should, be the sole answer to the problem. As ever, force packages should be configured to deal with the threat presented by the enemy. However, regular force tactics must evolve. In a world containing urban clusters of up to 150 million people, saturating a city with soldiers cannot be the answer — as was prescribed by old field manuals and doctrine.[90] The numbers simply will not add up. What is needed is a substantial shift in thinking from extant, industrial-era, positive-control-oriented approaches, to one in which the regular force is simply the strongest gang in a given area. The key to fighting in the morass of the urban environment is not necessarily using divisional-level maneuvering to shatter an enemy general’s plan, but successfully overwhelming the adversary’s cognitive abilities at the team and individual level — all in an effort to achieve a given policy aim. The army fighting in this context should seek to create a thousand small outflanking maneuvers together to generate the conditions to destroy their enemy’s ability to put together a response. Beyond being an efficient method of killing the enemy, this approach could allow the attacking force to gain geographically distinct, localized control in a short timeframe. This would, of course, require enough soldiers to achieve multiple, simultaneous actions and in so doing create a situation complex enough to overwhelm the enemy’s ability to comprehend it. But it would also require commanders at all levels to have the courage to allow their subordinates to seize opportunities as they are created. To make the best use of the advantages regular soldiers have over their irregular and less well-trained adversaries, conventional military thinking must be turned on its head. At an individual level, regular soldiers are more lethal than their irregular adversaries, are in better physical condition, shoot straighter, and are from a military culture that (in theory) regards initiative as a key criterion for professional advancement. Put simply, Western soldiers have numerous advantages over the enemy. To focus only on their disadvantages is ceding the psychological high ground before the first shot has been fired. Currently, Western soldiers are likely to be part of a force that is loath to let them use those advantages because the politicians that control that force are often uncertain as to the value of the prize, which makes them risk-averse. It has long been a truism of military history, as observed earlier, that no amount of tactical acumen can make up for defective strategy. But now it is worse than that even — bad policy actively drives bad tactics, while making strategy largely irrelevant. Even the best fighting force in the world, if it is deployed statically and is permanently restrained from being proactive, is still eminently vulnerable to a fanatic in a bomb vest, with all the strategic impacts that that entails. It is ironic that in the pursuit of the laudable goal of limiting risk, specifically casualties to their own forces and to noncombatants, governments dictate strategies and prescribe tactics that, in practice, increase the risk and likely predetermine failure.[91] At the command level, the “maneuvrist approach” is the first tenet of the British Army’s philosophy for operations and a frequent reference point for allied armies.[92] Applying this philosophy in the urban environment demands that commanders fight the urge to control in real time. Control measures are essential, but they need to be simple, robust, and as unrestrictive as possible. The fragmenting tendencies of the city require everyone to be comfortable operating in the pursuit of a well-articulated goal while not requiring minute-by-minute direction. Perhaps being the strongest gang is most similar to how naval doctrine conceives of sea control — interventions that are limited in time and scale of ambition and are characterized by a high degree of ruthless, independent action. The current doctrine of strict control measures and positive control is no longer entirely fit for purpose, fixed as it is in the ground-holding concepts of land warfare. The underpinning logic of this doctrine is twofold. First, it is generally still supposed that urban battles involve the use of massed artillery to buy the time and space to maneuver and cause the maximum possible destruction of the enemy’s combat power before any attempt is made to engage in direct combat. Second, the lack of visibility and the fluidity of the battle make it very difficult to discern friend from foe. In an effort to avoid friendly fire and civilian casualties, therefore, commanders are wont to impose positive control upon their subordinates, requiring them to seek authorization for firing their weapons or moving. However, these concerns should be of decreasing importance. Western armed forces are unlikely to employ overwhelming firepower in a congested battlespace where there are so many noncombatants, because a) in most conceivable contingencies it would exceed the limits of political acceptability, and b) in most instances there are viable, or better, alternatives. Notably, technological advances in the form of precision-fire weapons supported by unmanned aerial vehicles reduce the requirement for conventional artillery, even if they do not replace them altogether. It is helpful to reflect on the remarks made half a century ago by the Brazilian Marxist revolutionary Carlos Marighella, who wrote what was essentially a gangster warfighting manual dressed up with ideological claptrap:
The urban guerrilla must possess initiative, mobility, and flexibility, as well as versatility and a command of any situation. Initiative especially is an indispensable quality. It is not always possible to foresee everything, and the urban guerrilla cannot let himself become confused, or wait for instructions. His duty is to act, to find adequate solutions for each problem he faces, and to retreat. It is better to err acting than to do nothing for fear of making a mistake.[93]
The truth of the matter is that this perfectly sensible tactical advice to the urban guerrilla is just as pertinent now to the regular Western soldier. Marighella and his followers and admirers were never so numerous or powerful as to be able to physically dominate the entirety of the cities in which they chose to operate. Neither is any Western army up to such a task without an extraordinary concentration of effort that is politically implausible and therefore strategically tenuous. The Technological Contribution: C2ISR and Logistics Before moving to our conclusion, it is worth dwelling briefly on the existing and likely impacts of technology on urban warfare, starting with C2ISR, as it is both an expansive and elusive subject, and its effects on the battlefield are pervasive and indirect. A main point we wish to stress, however, is that technology should be an enabler of the strongest gang theory — allowing dispersed operations of the sort idealized above. In practice, technology is too often an impediment when it is employed to reinforce a top-down, positive control-oriented command model that squelches small unit initiative. Technology is important, but it can become a problem when you let it drive the cart, as it were. Moreover, as we have stressed in other respects, it can be a neutral factor that affects all belligerents the same, for better or worse. For example, in some ways, technological developments in this field have seriously benefited irregular forces. For example, in addition to their extensive use of IEDs while fighting the Iraqi Army, Islamic State forces also employed vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) as a precision weapon, including armored variants. These were used in combination with other weapons. What allowed them to operate in this manner was the group’s relatively sophisticated C2ISR system, which included modified, off-the-shelf drones. With the aerial perspective afforded to them by such devices, Islamic State commanders were able to control and direct multiple VBIED attacks over a large area, including on moving columns or columns that had briefly halted. In response, Iraqi units were forced to construct ditches and other barriers around themselves and throughout the city to slow and control the threat.[94] Ultimately, all major road movements would be accompanied by a bulldozer on a flatbed truck. When forced to halt, instead of simply setting out pickets and heavy weapons pointed in the direction of potential attack, the bulldozer would be used to dig a ditch and berm enclosure, thus providing a good measure of defense against truck and car bombs.[95] [quote id="8"] There are many advantages to operating in such a manner, including fewer civilian casualties, as potentially jittery soldiers are less likely to open fire on unidentified vehicles approaching their perimeter. The disadvantages, though, are significant: For one thing, it cannot work without wrecking whatever civilian infrastructure is present, such as sewers, water mains, utility cables, and road surfaces. Conducting such an operation in an urban setting, when garnering and maintaining the good will of the local population is a main objective, is very challenging. Some potential solutions are already emerging in military engineering conferences and in the marketing brochures of firms selling defensive barriers and counter-mobility systems, the latter very often focused on changes to urban infrastructure for domestic counter-terrorism purposes.[96] One of these firms, Kenno, a Finnish manufacturer of laser-welded, steel-sandwich components, has, with the Finnish army, developed what is essentially a surface-mounted, reusable, modular fortress that can be assembled without specialist tools by a small team in a few hours.[97] What the above illustrates is that changes in civilian technologies — including robotics and microelectronics, miniaturization of batteries, and communications — enabled a nonstate actor, the Islamic State, to acquire one of the primary advantages of airpower (i.e., aerial reconnaissance) at a fraction of the cost of an air force. This, in turn, has caused the regular forces operating against the group to reinvent technologies and tactics that would have been recognizable to a Roman legionary constructing a marching fort in hostile territory at the end of a day’s march. It has also required regular forces to develop their own new techniques for utilizing new technologies, allowing them to operate in smaller teams in a more dispersed manner. For instance, at a recent conference of urban warfare specialists in New York, a senior officer highlighted the need to constantly develop new techniques while recounting an observation made to him by a young Australian special forces officer working with Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State in 2017: “The most effective weapon on the current battlefield is a joint and inter-agency-enabled combined arms team with an armed ISR platform (i.e., a ‘drone’) flying above.”[98] Similarly, in a workshop on conflict in urban environments which we attended in Britain, a London-based company showcased a civilian technology that it had developed for creating precise 3D-renderings of urban infrastructure using laser-scanning, which allowed them to be experienced in virtual reality. The military applications of this for planning, simulation, and training are significant, if it can be made robust enough for the field, and if the scanning devices are light enough to be deployed on an unmanned aerial vehicle. The first question the senior officer in the room asked was how close to real time these simulations could be delivered.[99] The apprehensions that animated both senior officers noted above are consistent with those that pertain in any environment. Commanders want to have intimate knowledge of the terrain, including where their own forces are or will be, where their enemy is and may be going, and what their intentions are (such as they can be gleaned). Additionally, they want this information in a form that they can, quite literally, walk through with their subordinate commanders during the planning phase of an operation — and for all of this to happen more swiftly and accurately than for the opponent. Peniakoff would have asked for the same thing, as would have Wellington, or Marlborough, or any of the great captains of history all the way back to Alexander the Great. Developments in C2ISR seem to be making that more possible in the city than previously thought. Clearly, when forces are operating in relatively small numbers in a dispersed manner in a city in upheaval, there will be concerns about the security of supply chains. Technology may have some useful answers here also, which are worth discussing in a bit more detail. Consider, for instance, that NASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have recently initiated the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges, modeled partly on the DARPA Grand Challenges that began experimenting with autonomous ground vehicles more than a decade ago. The main thrust of this effort is to alleviate a civilian problem, specifically the traffic jams that plague life and commerce in big cities, through the development of a new class of air vehicles that will bypass congestion by flying over it. “I happen to believe that this is a revolution coming in aviation,” were the words of one of the NASA officials involved — a revolution that has significant military impact too.[100] If the head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office can say that he is looking forward to the age of autonomous air taxis and Domino’s is already experimenting with the aerial drone delivery of pizzas fresh from its ovens to its customers’ backyards, then it stands to reason that urban military logistics, from resupply through medical evacuation, are likewise set for a shake-up.[101] Urban air mobility may have started with a civilian preoccupation with the frustrations of commuting and the perceived need for just-in-time delivery of everything from machine parts to snacks, but its potential military applications are significant. Accepting Risk, Avoiding Self-Defeat The essential point here is that many of the perceived problems of urban warfare are, in fact, self-imposed. They emerge from a constraint on the way military force is used together with the growing capability for real-time, friendly-force tracking, which reduces the risk of soldiers accidentally attacking their own side. Yet, constraining soldiers too tightly also reduces their ability to maximize their chances of victory against a determined enemy. The solution is to ruthlessly and efficiently apply the maneuvrist approach at the tactical level. Senior commanders must become comfortable with formulating a plan and then trusting in the skill of their most junior subordinates to see that plan succeed. Commanders at all levels must see the urban battlefield as a series of disparate and lightly connected nodes of activity.[102] The apogee of this approach would be for small groups of soldiers, whose activities are lightly coordinated and de-conflicted, to exert pressure upon the adversary in multiple places at the same time. Each small team would be given the freedoms and the resources to allow it to overwhelm the adversary through superior skill, tactics, and equipment. [quote id="9"] The reticence on the part of Western armies to accept an approach that is distinctly less oriented toward positive control, where local commanders are freer to maneuver more boldly and aggressively, accepting a higher degree of political risk, is based on admirable concerns. Senior commanders are uncomfortable with what could be seen as abandoning the individual soldier to a fight that pits him against his adversary. In this approach, the commander would have to effectively wash his hands of the ability to affect the outcome once the soldier has made contact with the enemy. Its potential benefits, however, are numerous. For starters, it produces less actual — as opposed to perceived — risk to the soldier because a fractured and retreating enemy is less able to coordinate resistance than one that is continually given time and space in which to reorganize and to evolve new tactics.[103] It also reduces the demand for indirect (i.e., non-precision) fire. It is a methodology that maximizes the strengths of a well-trained and equipped force and minimizes the time spent fighting in places where people actually live in dense concentrations. While the “strongest gang” approach does render an attacking force vulnerable to counter-tactics from the enemy, this will only be an issue if that force is not very effective. The assumption that this would be the case is a disappointing and self-defeating foundation from which to make military decisions and shows a disturbing lack of trust down the chain of command. Applying multiple points of pressure to the enemy would allow a force to achieve the mission while affording the commander the opportunity to judge where and how to commit resources to exploit success. There is little here that should offend or frighten modern commanders. Boldness, simultaneity, coordinated action, and the like are principles of combat that have long been taught and applauded in every other tactical environment. Why not the city?

Conclusion

The urban environment is a challenging setting in which to fight — as are all environments. Undoubtedly, the key constraint is the potential intermingling of civilians and civilian infrastructure with combat operations. Yet, civilians may be evacuated, limiting their exposure to harm, and it is sometimes possible to fight in a way that mitigates collateral damage, even when civilians are present throughout the battle. Unequivocally, significant political consequences may follow from a soldier pulling the trigger. But history and the experience of recent urban operations show that soldiers and commanders — properly trained and equipped — can act judiciously and achieve the goals of their mission despite the odds seeming to be against them. Military operations invariably have an impact on the urban landscape — even small arms can be devastating to structures — and there is no straightforward, correct answer to whether and to what extent it is acceptable to damage a city in pursuit of a political objective. It depends on many factors — military necessity and justness of cause, in particular — and the answer may vary even within the same conflict. Take for example operations in northwest Europe against Germany during World War II. Allied generals faced very different political strictures on tactics at the end of the campaign than they did at the beginning. Critics exaggerate the impact on the city when they speak of combat operations “killing the city” and of “urbicide,” purportedly a renascent war strategy that targets the “destruction of buildings qua representatives of urbanity.”[104] In reality, there are no major cities that have been destroyed by war. Groningen and Aachen — and even Berlin, Stalingrad, Hiroshima, and Carthage for that matter — were all back in business soon after being blasted to smithereens in warfighting that verged on the exterminatory. Sometimes, nature may destroy a city, but man, despite his best efforts, does not.[105] Technological change is a constant that touches upon every aspect of urban warfare. Weapons are more powerful as time passes and communications are more rapid and dense. Overall, there has been an acceleration of the transnational flow of people, ideas, and things across the global political economy that seems, at first glance, to be a major complicating factor in politics and warfare. There has also been a change of scale: Cities are simply bigger by an order of magnitude than they were in the past because there are vastly more people in the world and fewer of them are needed to work in agriculture. At the end of the day, however, these are changes in form rather than substance. The challenges faced by the British Army in Basra in 2005 were not all that different from those that it faced in Buenos Aires 200 years earlier. The reason the words “urban guerilla” cannot yet be replaced with “British soldier” in Marighella’s quote is the misalignment of policy with strategic realities and tactical common sense. The problem of the urban terrain is both political and tactical. However, it is beyond our remit and ken to solve the problem of a highly risk-averse political context, as we described it earlier. Western politicians probably ought not to pick fights in the world’s sprawling, ungoverned conurbations against little-understood enemies preying on collapsing civil societies. The best thing is not to fight at all, anywhere — as Sun Tzu quite rightly said. Nevertheless, there are a wide range of very plausible limited contingencies — strategic raids on certain facilities and noncombatant evacuation operations spring most readily to mind — that will propel armed forces into urban environments to one degree or another. It is possible to make some progress on the tactical side that will improve the chances of such actions being successful — namely, doing what is known to work, but doing it better and more consistently. For that to occur, however, Western armies must first stop deploying and re-deploying the same hoary old scare stories about what seems likely to be the normal operating environment for the foreseeable future. Tactics can be adjusted and training improved to master the neutrality of the environment. Military and strategic thought is most compelling and practically useful when it is empiric, pragmatic, and phlegmatic. Commanders will never be totally right in their decisions. They ought, though, to try to be “right enough” — to be able to determine the big picture goals, such that they are decisive and incisive enough to be turned into clear orders. And they must have the moral courage to let subordinate commanders get on with the task unburdened by micromanagement or bullying. Methodologies of strict cause and effect in complex problems of warfare, urban or otherwise, ought to be distrusted. Too often they are flawed by bad history — “just-so stories” that are based on habit and legend dressed up as authoritative models.[106] Moreover, the combination of Moore’s Law with the ubiquity of technology and its ever-decreasing cost ought to remind us that the context of contemporary operations is one in which having the technological edge is no longer decisive on its own, if indeed it ever was. Thriving in the urban environment requires that statesmen and commanders settle clearly and wisely on policy aims that military power has a chance of achieving. That is what will enable placing a greater emphasis on tempo and exploiting the greater tactical flexibility and individual lethality of the modern Western soldier in the conduct of operations. These injunctions would, we believe, result in operations more truly in line with the maneuvrist approach that is now frequently invoked but is not actively practiced. The city is a harsh and complex place in which to fight. But, like Spencer Chapman’s jungle, it is neutral. In the pursuit of sound policies, Western militaries possess the skills and capabilities to master warfare in the city, if only leaders have the courage to let them get on with it.   David Betz is Professor of War in the Modern World in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. He is head of the Insurgency Research Group, deputy director of the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications, and senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia). He has written on information warfare, the future of land forces, the virtual dimension of insurgency, propaganda of the deed, cyberspace and insurgency, and British counter-insurgency in such journals as the Journal of Strategic Studies, the Journal of Contemporary Security Studies, and Orbis. His latest book is Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power (Hurst/Oxford University Press). He is now working on a new book entitled Walled Worlds, which explores the contemporary resurgence of fortification strategies. Hugo Stanford-Tuck is a lieutenant colonel in the British Army’s Royal Gurkha Rifles, a light infantry regiment specializing in air assault and jungle operations. He has commanded infantry soldiers on operations in Sierra Leone, the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Stanford-Tuck has planned military campaigns at the political-strategic level, disaster relief activities at the operational level, and combat operations at the tactical level. He has written about counter-insurgency, combat, and the entwined Darwinian relationship between adversaries. He is currently studying for an MBA at Warwick Business School and next year will be establishing and then commanding a new battalion of Gurkha Specialized Infantry.   Image: Eden Briand [post_title] => The City Is Neutral: On Urban Warfare in the 21st Century [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-city-is-neutral-on-urban-warfare-in-the-21st-century [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-11 10:20:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-11 14:20:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1963 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Contrary to what is often supposed, urban warfare is not more difficult than other types of warfare. The combat environment is neutral, just like every other environment. Urban warfare is, however, likely to be more prevalent in coming years, which is why it is important that Western armies learn to do it confidently. The current approach to this type of fighting is wrong because it is burdened by bad history. The problems of urban combat are not new. Moreover, they are solvable through a combination of hard training, changes in command mindset, and technological innovation. We propose a “strongest gang” model as a realistic solution to the problems of urban conflict that cannot be addressed by the current dominant methods that are too positively controlled, too manpower-intensive, too cautious, and cede too much initiative to objectively weaker and less capable opponents. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The advantages afforded to the better trained, equipped, supported, and mentally prepared soldier are magnified by this environment, which rewards tactical skill. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => But population centers can only be bypassed for so long in the hope of avoiding a military operation in the midst of a major concentration of noncombatants.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => That this battle involved swords and clubs rather than M-4s and AK-47s matters little — just replace “archers” and “arrows” with “close combat attack” and “armed aviation” and the scene has an obvious contemporary resonance.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Beevor claims that the urban environment is intrinsically difficult. This difficulty, however, is neutral, manifesting differently, but with equal impact, upon all sides. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => One of the major problems with using Stalingrad as a benchmark is that it was extremely unusual in the strength of its political symbolism.  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => When it comes to the numbers and effectiveness of weapons, the most important thing is the tactical aptitude and leadership qualities of the combat forces involved.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => To prepare a soldier for urban warfare, he or she also needs to conceive of moving through the city quite differently than most civilians — to think like an urban explorer, the sort of person who is as happy moving through service tunnels and across rooftops as on sidewalks and roads. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In practice, technology is too often an impediment when it is employed to reinforce a top-down, positive control-oriented command model that squelches small unit initiative.  ) [8] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Boldness, simultaneity, coordinated action, and the like are principles of combat that have long been taught and applauded in every other tactical environment. Why not the city? ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 311 [1] => 312 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] F. Spencer Chapman, The Jungle Is Neutral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1950), 125. [2] See the list of urban warfare characteristics in, Joint Urban Operations, Joint Publication 3-06 (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nov. 20, 2013), I-5–I-9. [3] Charles C. Krulak, “The United States Marine Corps in 21st Century,” RUSI Journal 141, no. 4 (1996): 25, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071849608446045. [4] Krulak writes in his article that “we” will be drawn into such wars, referring to the United States Marine Corps. It is apparent from context, though, speaking to a British audience for publication in a Western professional military journal, that his message was aimed at the United States and its allies. [5] We thank independent scholar Lily Betz for this apposite allusion to mythology. [6] Strategic Trends Programme: Future Operating Environment 2035, U.K. Developments, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre, U.K. Ministry of Defence,  2015, 21, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/646821/20151203-FOE_35_final_v29_web.pdf. [7] David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (London: Hurst, 2013), chap. 5. [8] For more on which, as well as a good example of such, see Amanda Chisholm, “Ethnography in Conflict Zones: The Perils of Researching Private Security Contractors,” in, The Routledge Companion to Military Research Methods, ed. Alison J. Williams et al. (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016), chap. 11. [9] Geoffrey Till, Maritime Strategy and the Nuclear Age (London: Macmillan, 1982), 224. [10] Christopher Duffy, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 1660-1860 (London: Greenhill Books, 1975), 188. [11] The cases considered were: Jerusalem 70, Rome 410, Constantinople 1453, Londonderry 1689, Gibraltar 1779–83, Acre 1799, Sevastopol 1854, Lucknow 1857, Paris 1870–71, Plevna 1877, Mafeking 1899–1900, and Port Arthur 1904–05. [12] The United States Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group based at Twentynine Palms, CA, has the longest established and most extensive experience in this subject area. The urban warfare group in the Modern War Institute at West Point is a more recent initiative but has done excellent work in the public domain. [13] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Michael Howard and Peter Parker (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993), 99. [14] On the interaction of bad policy with tactics, see, David Betz and Hugo Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win,” Infinity Journal 6, no. 3 (Winter 2019): 16–22, https://www.infinityjournal.com/article/212/Teaching_Your_Enemy_to_Win/. A compelling case for the rectification of the relative isolation of tactics from scholarship on war is made by B.A. Friedman, On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017). [15] See, Land Operations, Land Warfare Development Centre, Army Doctrine Publication AC 71940, (2017), 4-01; see also Operations in the Urban Environment, Land Warfare Development Centre, Doctrine Note 15/13, (2010), 59–60. [16] Sun Tzu, The Art of War in, Classics of Strategy and Counsel Vol. 1: The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000), 74. [17] Clausewitz, On War, 139–41. [18] Gregory J. Ashworth, War and the City (New York: Routledge, 1991), 121. See also Todd C. Helmus and Russell W. Glenn, Steeling the Mind: Combat Stress Reactions and their Implications for Future Warfare (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2005), 39­–67. [19] Alice Hills, Future War in Cities: Rethinking a Liberal Dilemma (London: Frank Cass, 2004). [20] Hills, Future War in Cities, 229 and chap. 9. [21] See Theo Farrell, “Sliding Into War: The Somalia Imbroglio and US Army Peace Operations Doctrine,” International Peacekeeping 2, no. 2 (1995), https://doi.org/10.1080/13533319508413551. [22] Wesley K. Clark, Waging Modern War (New York: Public Affairs, 2001), 318. [23] “Iraq — Declaration of War — 18 Mar 2003 at 22:00,” The Public Whip, March 18, 2003, https://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2003-03-18&number=118&display=allpossible. [24] Oliver Carroll, “Inside the Bloody Battle for Ukraine’s Donetsk Airport,” Newsweek, Feb. 3, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/13/inside-bloody-battle-ukraines-donetsk-airport-304115.html. [25] 165 government troops, 45 civilians, and practically all of the Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed. The damage to the city may be seen in this photo essay: “Marawi in Ruins After Battle Against Pro-ISIL Fighters,” Al Jazeera, Oct. 23, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2017/10/marawi-ruins-battle-pro-isil-fighters-171023071620271.html [26] Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (London: Harvest/HBJ, 1986), 43. [27] Rupert Smith, The Utility Of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Allen Lane, 2005). [28] Hills, Future War in Cities, 243. [29] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, Vol. 2, trans. Robert Traill (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1851), 143. [30] Indeed, it is arguably one of the most consequential battles of all history. Without the destruction of Jerusalem, religious scholars reckon that Christianity might not have arisen as the dominant faith of the West centered on Rome. See Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (London: Penguin, 2009), 111. In colloquial Spanish, a phrase probably brought by Sephardic Jews and their descendants fleeing the massacre, “mas malo que Tito” (worse than Titus), survives in common use to this day. [31] For a discussion of the merits of the traitorous appellation of Flavius, see William den Hollander, “Was Josephus a ‘Jewish Benedict Arnold?’” Mosaic, Nov. 14, 2014, https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/uncategorized/2014/11/was-josephus-a-jewish-benedict-arnold/?print. [32] Hills, Future War in Cities, 242. [33] The section of this paper dealing with the British in Argentina in 1806–07 is based upon Ian Hernon, The Savage Empire: Forgotten Wars of the Nineteenth Century, (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2000). [34] The advisement not to “exasperate” is one of the characteristically economical and wise principles of the British counterinsurgency guru C.E. Callwell in his classic, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3rd ed. (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1906). The contemporary influence of the work is discussed in, David Betz, “Counter-insurgency, Victorian-Style,” Survival 54, no. 4 (2012): 161–82, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2012.709395. [35] A painting entitled “La Reconquista de Buenos Aires,” by the French artist Charles Fouqueray showing the dejected British commander, Gen. Beresford, surrendering to de Liniers hangs proudly in the Argentine National Historical Museum, Buenos Aires. [36] Frank G. Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars (Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007). [37] Sir Antony Beevor, “Keynote Speech,” Urban Warfare: Past, Present, and Future Conference, Royal United Services Institute, Feb. 2, 2018. [38] Joint Urban Operations, Joint Publication 3-06, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nov. 20, 2013, I-5-I-9, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_06.pdf. [39] Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Context of the Ninewa Operations and the Retaking of Mosul City, 17 October 2016-10 July 2017, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, undated, 2, http://www.uniraq.org/images/factsheets_reports/Mosul_report%2017Oct2016-10Jul201731%20October_2017.pdf. [40] Quoted in James Holland, Together We Stand: Turning the Tide in the West: North Africa, 1942-1943 (London: HarperCollins, 2005), 24. [41] Emphasis added. Vladimir Peniakoff, Popski’s Private Army (London: The Reprint Society, 1953), 55. [42] Jim Storr, The Human Face of War (London: Continuum Press, 2009). [43] A point made particularly clearly by Smith in, The Utility of Force, 284–85. British urban warfare doctrine specifically notes Smith’s paradigm of “war amongst the people” as a key driver of the need of the aforementioned concept of “integrated action.” See, Operations in the Urban Environment, 59. [44] Duncan Lewis, “Lessons from East Timor,” in, Future Armies, Future Challenges: Land Warfare in the Information Age, ed. Michael Evans, Russell Parkin, and Alan Ryan (Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2004). [45] For further elaboration on this, see, David Betz and Anthony Cormack, “Iraq, Afghanistan and British Strategy,” Orbis 53, no. 2 (Spring 2009), 319–36, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2009.01.004; and David Betz, Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power (London: Hurst, 2015), esp. chap. 5. [46] Betz, Carnage and Connectivity, 31. [47] See, the chapter on Beirut and the Reagan era intervention in Lebanon in Peter Huchthausen, America’s Splendid Little Wars: A Short History of U.S. Military Engagements, 1975-2000 (London: Viking, 2003), 45–64. [48] Huchthausen, America’s Splendid Little Wars, 62. [49] Quoted in, William Craig, Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad (London: Book Club Associates, 1973), 373. [50] Alec Wahlman credits American success in urban operations, despite the lack of consistent effort to prepare for it specifically, to two factors: transferable competence (i.e., the applicability of skills, techniques, and equipment not designed specifically for urban conflict), and battlefield adaptation, in, Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2015), 237–46. [51] A point that Jim Storr argues holds true for the Allied armies in general in World War II. See, The Hall of Mirrors: War and Warfare in the Twentieth Century (Warwick, UK: Helion and Co., 2018), 155. [52] Quoted in, Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (New York: Verso, 2012), 198. [53] Weizman, Hollow Land. The insistence of Israeli military strategists in the Operational Theory Research Institute on using such terms did much harm to their cause insofar as it freighted a good deal of common sense with language that made it incomprehensible to those who needed it. A point remarked upon by the post-2006 Lebanon War report on the perceived Israeli failings there. See, Winograd Commission: The Commission to Investigate the Events of the 2006 Lebanon Campaign, State of Israel, January 2008 [in Hebrew]. See also Eyal Weizman, “Walking Through Walls: Soldiers as Architects in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict,” Lecture at the Arxipelago of Exception conference, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Nov. 11, 2005. [54] Benjamin Runkle, “Jaffa, 1948,” in, City Fights: Selected Histories of Urban Combat from World War II to Vietnam, ed. John Antal and Bradley Gericke (New York: Presidio Press, 2003), 289–314. [55] The historiography of the Jaffa battle is complex and contested. The post-1948 Israeli Defense Forces had good reason to downplay the contributions of the Irgun. In the Irgun Museum in Tel Aviv, the battle is portrayed as a triumph. There are no good detailed accounts from the British side. It is apparent though, for obvious reasons, that in 1948, the eagerness of British forces to fight was small as they were withdrawing from Palestine. Thanks to Dr. Eitan Shamir from the Political Science Department at Bar Ilan University for reviewing the Hebrew sources on our behalf. [56] See, Robert R. Leonhard, Fighting by Minutes: Time and the Art of War, 2nd ed. (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2017), 180. [57] See, Lutz Unterseher, “Urban Warfare,” in, Brassey’s Enclopedia of Land Forces and Warfare, ed. Franklin D. Margiotta (London: Brassey’s, 2000), 1099. [58] Christopher R. Gabel, “Knock ‘em All Down: The Reduction of Aachen, October 1944,” in, Block by Block: The Challenges of Urban Operations, ed. William G. Robertson (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College Press, 2003), 84–85. [59] Ashworth, War and the City, 150. Unlike Aachen, where the Americans made decisive use of heavy artillery, the Canadian commander forbade the use of indirect-fire artillery and aerial bombing in order to mitigate collateral damage. [60] The battle is ill-remembered outside of the Gurkhas. This account was given to us in the officers’ mess of the modern Gurkha Regiment, where a painting by Terence Cuneo depicts it. [61] The solvability of urban combat is a powerful theme in Wahlman, Storming the City, passim and 6. [62] The definitive account of this is, David Zucchino, Thunder Run: Three Days in the Battle for Baghdad (London: Atlantic Books, 2004). [63] Louis A. DiMarco, Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq (Oxford: Osprey, 2012), 162. [64] DiMarco, Concrete Hell, 196. [65] William F. Owen, “Killing Your Way to Control,” British Army Review, no. 151 (Spring 2011), 34–37. [66] See, Anatol Lieven, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), esp. chap. 8. [67] Project Metropolis: Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain, Battalion Level Experiments, Experiment After Action Report, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, May 7, 2001. Project Metropolis has recently been restarted. See, Todd South, “How This Urban Warfighting Experiment Could Transform How Marines Fight in Cities,” Marine Times, Jan. 7, 2019. [68] American colleagues, including Col. Douglas Winter, chair of the Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations U.S. Army War College at the Changing Character of Warfare conference, Oxford University, June 27, 2019, and Maj. (ret.) John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, West Point at War in the Global City conference, Warwick University, Dec. 11, 2018, echoed the same things our British interlocutors told us. [69] John Spencer, “The Army Needs an Urban Warfare School and It Needs it Soon,” Modern War Institute, April 5, 2017, https://mwi.usma.edu/army-needs-urban-warfare-school-needs-soon/. Some of our interlocutors advised that a new facility has been approved in the United States that is large and, by international standards, lavishly well funded (reputedly at $6-9 billion). The key feature of this facility is meant to be its relatively large and impressively realistic civilian population. However, as far as we have been able to determine thus far, there has been no official announcement of this nor have we seen any written documentation of it. [70] See, “Troops Train in the Middle East of England,” U.K. Ministry of Defence, Jan. 18, 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/troops-train-in-the-middle-east-of-england. [71] Taken from an unclassified and unpublished trip report provided us by one of our Marine Corps interlocutors, June 27, 2017. [72] See, “Preparing for More Urban Warfare,” Economist, Jan. 25, 2018. [73] The base can be seen in this report by Gunnar Breske: ‘Häuserkampf in Schnöggersburg- Bundeswehr baut Geisterstadt,” Tagesthemen, ARD television, Oct. 2, 2015, in German but with English subtitles, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDzUWFrbmMI. [74] “Rheinmetall Presented Its Latest Legatus Live Urban Operations Training Systems at Eurosatory 2018,” Army Recognition, June 22, 2018, http://armyrecognition.com/eurosatory_2018_official_news_online/rheinmetall_presented_its_latest_legatus_live_urban_operations_training_systems_at_eurosatory_2018.html [75] Interview with former senior Russian Ministry of Defence official, Moscow, Oct. 6, 2017. [76] J. Hawk, Daniel Deiss, and Edwin Watson, “Russia Defense Report: Fighting the Next War,” South Front, March 19, 2016, https://southfront.org/russia-defense-report-fighting-the-next-war/. Interestingly, the simulation system at Mulino was originally supposed to be provided by Rheinmetall, presumably a variant of the Legatus system, under a €100 million contract from which the Germans withdrew after the imposition of sanctions in 2014. [77] Interview with former senior Russian Ministry of Defence official, Moscow, Oct. 6, 2017. [78] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Rommel and His Art of War, ed. John Pimlott (London: Wrens Park, 2003), 133. [79] It is perhaps instructive that a British infantry soldier under training spends more time on the drill square learning to march than learning the core skill of fighting in an urban environment. [80] As convincingly recounted in, Bing West, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (New York: Random House, 2008), 330. [81] David E. Johnson, M. Wade Markel, and Brian Shannon, The 2008 Battle of Sadr City: Reimagining Urban Combat (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2013), 108, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR160.html. [82] For an illustration see the photos in Johnson, Markel, and Shannon, The 2008 Battle of Sadr City, 75–76. [83] Correspondence with Maj. (ret.) John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, Nov. 16, 2017. Spencer was a company commander in the Sadr City battle and also served in Iraq in 2015–16 as an adviser on barrier systems. [84] We were unable to obtain from our interviewees a consistent or plausible answer to this question. It was supposed by several, including Spencer (see note 83), that perhaps the Army did not think it would have to do it again, which runs contrary to the stated assumption that urban warfare is going to be more common and is therefore perplexing. [85] Sean Kimmons, “Army Combat Fitness Test to Become New PT Test of Record in Late 2020,” Army News Service, July 9, 2018, https://www.army.mil/article/208189/army_combat_fitness_test_set_to_become_new_pt_test_of_record_in_late_2020. [86] For insight into the philosophy and techniques of “place hacking,” a good place to start is, Bradley L. Garrett, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (London: Verso, 2013). For this research, we interviewed a place-hacker in October 2017 who illustrated for us, with photos as an example, a typical hack of our own university — an adventure that encompassed crawling through generally unknown (and publicly inaccessible) service tunnels, climbing decorative surface features of structures, and traversing the rooftops of several central London landmarks over a space of three city blocks. Another worthwhile text for opportunistically reshaping the way cities are envisioned is, Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City (New York: Farrakhan, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016). [87] Our interlocutors at the British Army Infantry Battle School’s Urban Warfare Instructor’s Course half-joked that a good number of private soldiers brought to the table extensive burglary and other relevant skills from their civilian lives. The special forces and intelligence agencies sometimes actively seek out such recruits for specialist work, notably surveillance. However, except for a few one-off and ad hoc consultations with waterworks and sewage utilities, we came across no systematic engagement by regular forces with a range of urban specialists, whether licit or (as we would suggest that they also do) semi-licit or illicit ones. [88] Quote from, Rommel, Rommel and His Art of War, 133–34. [89] Urbanisation Seminar Game, NATO Defence College, Rome, Sept. 28–Oct. 7, 2017. [90] “China Is Trying to Turn Itself Into a Country of 19 Super-Regions,” Economist, June 23, 2018, https://www.economist.com/china/2018/06/23/china-is-trying-to-turn-itself-into-a-country-of-19-super-regions?frsc=dg%7Ce. [91] Clausewitz was not the first to repeat this sentiment, but his formulation of it is especially adroitly put, “the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.” See, Clausewitz, On War, 84. This category of mistake, however, is by far the most common in contemporary Western strategy. On which point also see, Betz and Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win.” [92] Land Operations, 5–2. [93] Carlos Marighella, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla (1969), 4. A version of this manual can be read here: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marighella-carlos/1969/06/minimanual-urban-guerrilla/index.htm. [94] What the Battle for Mosul Teaches the Force, Mosul Study Group, no. 17-24 U, U.S. Army, September 2017, 36, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/Primer-on-Urban-Operation/Documents/Mosul-Public-Release1.pdf. [95] Interview by authors with a British Army officer who was part of an advisory team in Iraq during Mosul operations, Brecon, Wales, March 2018. [96] These are discussed in greater detail in, David Betz, “World of Wallcraft: The Contemporary Resurgence of Fortification Strategies,” Infinity Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 2018): 18–22. [97] Technical data and a video of the Balpro system may be seen on the company’s website: “Force Protection Balpro Protector – Fast Fortification System,” Kenno, http://www.kenno-shield.com/balpro/force-protection-balpro-products/. [98] Maj. Gen. Rick Burr, “Future War in Cities: Australian Thoughts,” Multi-Domain Battle in Megacities Conference, Fort Hamilton, NY, April 3­–4, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ah1ogq_mHw&list=PLx2Zn7hPXT7d1zDzuqt00NOsI4ZzyTXUu&index=6. [99] Urban Warfare Study Day at British Army, Land Warfare Centre, Warminster, July 10, 2018. [100] Alan Boyle, “NASA and FAA Cast a Wide Net to Get Set for Revolution in Urban Air Mobility,” GeekWire, Nov. 2, 2018, https://www.geekwire.com/2018/nasa-faa-cast-wide-net-get-ready-revolution-urban-air-mobility/. [101] David Reid, “Domino’s Delivers World’s First Ever Pizza by Drone’, CNBC, Nov. 16,  2016. [102] A related thought suggests it be treated as an organism. See, John Spencer and John Amble, “A Better Approach to Urban Operations: Treat Cities Like Human Bodies,” Modern War Institute, Sept. 13, 2017, https://mwi.usma.edu/better-approach-urban-operations-treat-cities-like-human-bodies/. [103] On which point, see, Betz and Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win,” 16–22. [104] Martin Coward, Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009), 15. [105] A point treated with great perspicacity recently in, John Spencer, “The Destructive Age of Urban Warfare; or, How to Kill a City and How to Protect it,” Modern War Institute, March 28, 2019, https://mwi.usma.edu/destructive-age-urban-warfare-kill-city-protect/. [106] Storr, The Human Face of War, 199. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1948 [post_author] => 279 [post_date] => 2019-10-03 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-03 09:00:03 [post_content] =>

In Response to "How to Think About Nuclear Crises"

Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long In their article in the February 2019 issue of the Texas National Security Review, Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald make a cogent argument that all nuclear crises are not created equal.[1] We agree with their basic thesis: There really are different sorts of nuclear crises, which have different risk and signaling profiles. We also concur that the existence of a variety of political and military dynamics within nuclear crises implies that we should exercise caution when interpreting the results of cross-sectional statistical analysis. If crises are not in fact all the same, then quantitative estimates of variable effects have a murkier meaning.[2] We should not be surprised that, to date, multiple studies have produced different results. Nevertheless, the article also highlights an alternate hypothesis for nuclear scholarship’s inconsistent findings about crisis outcomes and dynamics: Nuclear crises are intrinsically hard to interpret. The balance of resolve between adversaries — one of the most important variables in any crisis — is influenced by many factors and is basically impossible to code ex ante. The two variables identified as critical by Bell and Macdonald for determining the shape of a crisis — the nuclear balance and the controllability of escalation — are only somewhat more tractable to interpretation. The consequence is that nuclear crises are prone to ambiguity, with coding challenges and case interpretations often resolved in favor of the analyst’s pre-existing models of the world. In short, nuclear crises suffer from an especially pernicious interdependence between fact and theory.[3] To the extent that this problem can be ameliorated — although it cannot be resolved entirely — the solution is to employ the best possible conceptual and measurement standards for each key variable. Below we provide best practices for coding the nuclear balance, with particular focus on Bell and Macdonald’s interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We argue that, following much of the extant literature, Bell and Macdonald make interpretive choices that unintentionally truncate the history that underlies their coding of the nuclear balance in this case. In our view, they incorrectly conclude that the United States had no military incentives to use nuclear weapons first in 1962. Below, we analyze their interpretation of the Cuba crisis by examining two indicators that might be used to establish the nuclear balance: the operational capabilities of both sides and the perceptions of key U.S. policymakers. We conclude by drawing out some broader implications of the crisis for their conceptual framework, offering a friendly amendment. What Were the Operational Capabilities on Both Sides in 1962? Bell and Macdonald’s characterization of the nuclear balance in the Cuban Missile Crisis is a central part of their argument, as it is their sole empirical example of a crisis that “was not characterized by incentives for deliberate first nuclear use.” They base this assertion on a brief overview of the balance of U.S. and Soviet strategic forces in 1962, followed by a claim that “[t]he U.S. government did not know where all of the Soviet warheads were located, and there were concerns that U.S. forces were too inaccurate to successfully target the Soviet arsenal.”[4] Yet, any calculation of the incentives for deliberate first use must be based on the full context of the military balance. This hinges on the operational capabilities of both sides in the crisis, which includes a concept of operations of a first strike as well as the ability of both sides to execute nuclear operations. The available evidence on operational capabilities suggests that a U.S. first strike would have been likely to eliminate much, if not all, of the Soviet nuclear forces capable of striking the United States, as we summarize briefly below. Any concept of operations for a U.S. first strike would have been unlikely to rely solely, or even primarily, on relatively inaccurate ballistic missiles, as Bell and Macdonald imply. In a sketch of such an attack drafted by National Security Council staffer Carl Kaysen and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Harry Rowen during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the strike would have been delivered by a U.S. bomber force rather than with missiles. As Kaysen and Rowen describe, all Soviet nuclear forces of the time were “soft” targets, so U.S. nuclear bombers would have been more than accurate enough to destroy them. Moreover, a carefully planned bomber attack could have exploited the limitations of Soviet air defense in detecting low flying aircraft, enabling a successful surprise attack.[5] Kaysen would retrospectively note that U.S. missiles, which were inaccurate but armed with multi-megaton warheads, could also have been included in an attack, concluding, “we had a highly confident first strike.”[6] Kaysen’s confidence was based on his understanding of the relative ability of both sides to conduct nuclear operations. In terms of targeting intelligence, while the United States may not have known where all Soviet nuclear warheads were, it had detailed knowledge of the location of Soviet long-range delivery systems. This intelligence came from a host of sources, including satellite reconnaissance and human sources. U.S. intelligence also understood the low readiness of Soviet nuclear forces.[7] As Kaysen would later note, “By this time we knew that there were no goddamn missiles to speak of, we knew that there were only 6 or 7 operational ones and 3 or 4 more in the test sites and so on. As for the Soviet bombers, they were in a very low state of alert.”[8] Of course, Kaysen’s assessment of the balance of forces in 1961 might have been overly optimistic or no longer true a year later during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, other contemporary analysts concurred. Andrew Marshall, who had access to the closely held targeting intelligence of this period, subsequently described the Soviet nuclear force, particularly its bombers, as “sitting ducks.”[9] James Schlesinger, writing about four months before the crisis, noted, “During the next four or five years, because of nuclear dominance, the credibility of an American first-strike remains high.”[10] The authors of the comprehensive History of the Strategic Arms Competition, drawing on a variety of highly classified U.S. sources, reach a similar conclusion:
[T]he Soviet strategic situation in 1962 might thus have been judged little short of desperate. A well-timed U.S. first strike, employing then-available ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] and SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] forces as well as bombers, could have seemed threatening to the survival of most of the Soviet Union’s own intercontinental strategic forces. Furthermore, there was the distinct, if small, probability that such an attack could have denied the Soviet Union the ability to inflict any significant retaliatory damage upon the United States.[11]
The Soviet nuclear-armed submarines of 1962 were likewise vulnerable to U.S. anti-submarine warfare, as they would have had to approach within a few hundred miles of the U.S. coast to launch their missiles. As early as 1959, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Nathan Twining testified that while “one or two isolated submarines” might reach the U.S. coast, in general, the United States had high confidence in its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.[12] The performance of these capabilities during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when multiple Soviet submarines were detected and some forced to surface, confirms their efficacy, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge in their description of an attack on a Soviet submarine during the crisis.[13] How Was the Nuclear Balance Perceived in 1962? Bell and Macdonald offer three data points for their argument that U.S. policymakers did not perceive meaningful American nuclear superiority during the Cuban Missile Crisis. First, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and other veterans of the Kennedy administration attested retrospectively that nuclear superiority did not play an important role in the Cuba crisis.[14] Second, President John F. Kennedy received a Joint Chiefs of Staff briefing on the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) — the U.S plan for strategic nuclear weapons employment — in 1961, which reported that Soviet retaliation should be expected under all circumstances, even after an American pre-emptive strike.[15] Third, the president expressed ambivalence about the nuclear balance on the first day of the Cuba crisis.[16] But this evidence is a combination of truncated, biased, and weak. The retrospective testimony of Kennedy administration alumni is highly dubious. McNamara, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and others were all highly motivated political actors, speaking two decades after the fact in the context of fierce nuclear policy debates on which they had taken highly public positions, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge in a footnote.[17] The problems with giving much weight to such statements are especially evident given the fact that, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge,[18] these very same advisers made remarks during the Cuba crisis that were much more favorably disposed to the idea of American nuclear superiority.[19] The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefing to Kennedy on SIOP-62 is evidence, contrary to Bell and Macdonald’s interpretation, of American nuclear superiority in 1962. Bell and Macdonald make much of the briefing’s caution that “Under any circumstances—even a preemptive attack by the US—it would be expected that some portion of the Soviet long-range nuclear force would strike the United States.”[20] But interpreting this comment as evidence that the United States did not possess “politically meaningful damage limitation” capabilities makes sense only if one has already decided that the relevant standard for political meaning is a perfectly disarming strike.[21] Scott Sagan, in commenting on the briefing, underscores that “although the United States could expect to suffer some unspecified nuclear damage under any condition of war initiation, the Soviet Union would confront absolutely massive destruction regardless of whether it struck first or retaliated.”[22] Crucially, the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for maintaining a U.S. first-strike capability in a memorandum to McNamara commenting on his plans for strategic nuclear forces for fiscal years 1964­–68. This memorandum, sent shortly after the crisis, argues that the United States could not, in the future, entirely eliminate Soviet strategic forces. Yet, the memorandum continues: “The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a first-strike capability is both feasible and desirable, although the degree or level of attainment is a matter of judgment and depends upon the US reaction to a changing Soviet capability.”[23] In short, not only did the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude the United States had a meaningful first-strike capability in 1962, they believed such a capability could and should be maintained in the future. As for Kennedy’s personal views, it is important not just to consider isolated quotes during the Cuban crisis — after all, he made several comments that point in opposite directions.[24] One has to consider the political context of the Cuban affair writ large: the multi-year contest with the Soviets over the future of Berlin, and effectively, the NATO alliance. Moreover, Kennedy had deliberately built Western policy during the Berlin crisis on a foundation of nuclear superiority. NATO planning assumed that nuclear weapons would ultimately be used, and probably on a massive scale.[25] As Kennedy put it to French President Charles de Gaulle in June of 1961, “the advantage of striking first with nuclear weapons is so great that if [the] Soviets were to attack even without using such weapons, the U.S. could not afford to wait to use them.” In July, he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “he felt the critical point is to be able to use nuclear weapons at a crucial point before they use them.” In January of 1962, expecting the Berlin Crisis to heat up in the near future, he stressed the importance of operational military planning, and of thinking “hard about the ways and means of making decisions that might lead to nuclear war.” As he put it at that meeting, “the credibility of our nuclear deterrent is sufficient to hold our present positions throughout the world” even if American conventional military power “on the ground does not match what the communists can bring to bear.”[26] But the president recognized that this military strength was a wasting asset: The development of Soviet nuclear forces meant that the window of American nuclear superiority was closing. For this reason, Kennedy thought it important to bring the Berlin Crisis to a head as soon as possible, while the United States still possessed an edge. “It might be better to let a confrontation to develop over Berlin now rather than later,” he argued just two weeks before the Cuba crisis. After all, “the military balance was more favorable to us than it would be later on.”[27] Two months after the crisis, his views were little different. Reporting on a presidential trip to Strategic Air Command during which Kennedy was advised that “the really neat and clean way to get around all these complexities [about the precise state of the nuclear balance] was to strike first,” Bundy “said that of course the President had not reacted with any such comments, but Bundy’s clear implication was that the President felt that way.”[28] Broader Implications Our argument about the nuclear balance during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if correct, requires some friendly amendments to Bell and Macdonald’s framework for delineating types of nuclear crisis. Our discussion of the operational capabilities and policymaker perceptions during the Cuba crisis underscores that Bell and Macdonald’s first variable — “the strength of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis”[29] — probably ought to be unpacked into two separate variables: military incentives for a first strike, and political bargaining incentives for selective use. After all, whatever the exact nuclear balance was during 1962, the United States was certainly postured for asymmetric escalation. The salience of America’s posture is thrown into especially bold relief once the political context of the crisis is recognized: The Cuban affair was basically the climax of the superpower confrontation over Berlin, in which American force structure and planning was built around nuclear escalation. Indeed, this is how policymakers saw the Cuba crisis, where the fear of Soviet countermoves in Berlin hung as an ever-present cloud over discussions within the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.[30] According to Bell and Macdonald, either kind of incentive is sufficient to put a case into the “high” risk category for deliberate use. But in truth, political incentives to use nuclear weapons selectively — even if only against military targets — are ever present. They are just seldom triggered until matters have gone seriously awry on the battlefield. In short, we believe Bell and Macdonald were right to expend extra effort looking for military first-strike incentives, which add genuinely different sorts of risk to a crisis. We argue that operational capabilities and policymaker perceptions in the Cuba crisis show that such incentives are more common than generally credited. So, we would build on Bell and Macdonald’s central insight that different types of nuclear crisis have different signaling and risk profiles by modestly amending their framework. We suggest that there are three types of nuclear crisis: those with political bargaining incentives for selective nuclear use (Type A); those with risks of both selective use and non-rational uncontrolled escalation (Type B); and those with political risks, non-rational risks, and military incentives for a nuclear first strike (Type C). Type A crises essentially collapse Bell and Macdonald’s “staircase” and “stability-instability” models, and are relatively low risk.[31] Any proposed nuclear escalation amounts to a “threat to launch a disastrous war coolly and deliberately in response to some enemy transgression.”[32] Such threats are hard to make credible until military collapse has put a state’s entire international position at stake. Outcomes of Type A crises will be decided solely by the balance of resolve. We disagree with Bell and Macdonald’s argument that the conventional military balance can ever determine the outcome of a nuclear crisis, since any conventional victory stands only by dint of the losing side’s unwillingness to escalate. But the lower risks of a Type A crisis mean that signals of resolve are harder to send, and must occur through large and not particularly selective or subtle means — essentially, larger conventional and nuclear operations. Type B crises are similar to Bell and Macdonald’s “brinksmanship” model.[33] These have a significantly greater risk profile, since they also contain genuine risks of uncontrolled escalation in addition to political risks. Crisis outcomes remain dependent on the balance of resolve, but signaling is easier and can be much finer-grained than in Type A crises. The multiple opportunities for uncontrolled escalation mean that there are simply many more things a state can do at much lower levels of actual violence to manipulate the level of risk in a crisis. For instance, alerting nuclear forces will often not mean much in a Type A crisis (at least before the moment of conventional collapse), since there is no way things can get out of control. But alerting forces in a Type B crisis could set off a chain of events where states clash due to the interaction between each other’s rules of nuclear engagement, incentivize forces inadvertently threatened by conventional operations to fire, or misperceive each other’s actions. Any given military move will have more political meaning and will also be more dangerous. Type C crises are similar to Bell and Macdonald’s “firestorm” model.[34] These are the riskiest sorts of nuclear crisis, since there are military reasons for escalation as well as political and non-rational risks. Outcomes will be influenced both by the balance of resolve and the nuclear balance: either could give states incentives to manipulate risk. Such signals will be the easiest to send, and the finest-grained of any type of crisis. But because the risk level jumps so much with any given signal, the time in which states can bargain may be short.[35] In sum, Bell and Macdonald have made an important contribution to the study of nuclear escalation by delineating different types of crisis with different risk and signaling profiles. We believe they understate the importance of American nuclear superiority during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that these coding problems highlight some conceptual issues with their framework. In the end, though, our amendments appear to us relatively minor, further underscoring the importance of Bell and Macdonald’s research. We hope that they, and other scholars, will continue to build on these findings.   Brendan R. Green, Cincinnati, Ohio Austin Long, Arlington, Virginia  

In Response to a Critique

Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald We thank Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long for their positive assessment of our work and for engaging with our argument so constructively.[36] Their contribution represents exactly the sort of productive scholarly debate we were hoping to provoke. As we stated in our article, we intended our work to be only an initial effort to think through the heterogeneity of nuclear crises, and we are delighted that Green and Long have taken seriously our suggestion for scholars to continue to think in more detail about the ways in which nuclear crises differ from one another. Their arguments are characteristically insightful, offer a range of interesting and important arguments and suggestions, and have forced us to think harder about a number of aspects of our argument. In this reply, we briefly lay out the argument we made in our article before responding to Green and Long’s suggestion that we underestimate the incentives to launch a nuclear first-strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis and their proposal of an alternative typology for understanding nuclear crises. Our Argument In our article, we offer a framework for thinking through the heterogeneity of nuclear crises.[37] While the existing literature on such crises assumes that they all follow a certain logic (although there is disagreement on what that logic is), we identify factors that might lead nuclear crises to differ from one another in consequential ways. In particular, we argue that two factors — whether incentives are present for nuclear first use and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved — lead to fundamentally different sorts of crises. These two variables generate four possible “ideal type” models of nuclear crises: “staircase” crises (characterized by high first-use incentives and high controllability), “brinkmanship” crises (low first-use incentives and low controllability), “stability-instability” crises (low first-use incentives and high controllability), and “firestorm” crises (high first-use incentives and low controllability). Each of these ideal types exhibits distinctive dynamics and offers different answers to important questions, such as, how likely is nuclear escalation, and how might it occur? How feasible is signaling within a crisis? What factors determine success? For example, crises exhibiting high incentives for nuclear first use combined with low crisis controllability — firestorm crises — are particularly volatile, and the most dangerous of all four models in terms of likelihood of nuclear war. These are the crises that statesmen should avoid except under the direst circumstances or for the highest stakes. By contrast, where incentives for the first use of nuclear weapons are low and there is high crisis controllability — the stability-instability model — the risk of nuclear use is lowest. When incentives for nuclear first use are low and crisis controllability is also low — brinkmanship crises — or when incentives for first use are high and crisis controllability is also high — the staircase model — there is a moderate risk of nuclear use, although through two quite different processes. For the brinkmanship model, low levels of crisis controllability combined with few incentives for nuclear first use mean that escalation to the nuclear level would likely only happen inadvertently and through a process of uncontrolled, rather than deliberate, escalation. On the other hand, high levels of crisis controllability combined with high incentives for nuclear first use — characteristic of the staircase model — mean that escalation would more likely occur through a careful, deliberate process. First-Use Incentives in the Cuban Missile Crisis First, Green and Long address the extent of incentives for launching a nuclear first strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In short, they argue that there were substantial military incentives for America to strike first during the crisis and that these were understood and appreciated by American leaders.[38] While space constraints meant that our analysis of the nuclear balance in the Cuban Missile Crisis was briefer than we would have liked, we certainly agree that the United States possessed nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union during the crisis.[39] The debate between us and Green and Long is, therefore, primarily over whether the nuclear balance that we (more or less) agree existed in 1962 was sufficiently lopsided as to offer meaningful incentives for nuclear first use, and whether it was perceived as such by the leaders involved. In this, we do have somewhat different interpretations of how much weight to assign to particular pieces of evidence. For example, we believe that the retrospective assessment of key participants does have evidentiary value, although we acknowledge (as we did in our article) the biases of such assessments in this case. Given the rapidly shifting nuclear balance, we place less weight on President John F. Kennedy’s statements in years prior to the crisis than on those he made during the crisis itself,[40] which were more consistently skeptical of the benefits associated with U.S. nuclear superiority at a time when the stakes were at their highest.[41] We also place somewhat less weight than Green and Long on the 1961 analysis of Carl Kaysen, given doubts about whether his report had much of an effect on operational planning.[42] And finally, we put less weight on the Joint Chiefs of Staff document from 1962 cited by Green and Long in support of their argument, given that it acknowledges the U.S. inability to eliminate Soviet strategic nuclear forces — thus highlighting the dangers of a U.S. nuclear first strike — as well as focuses on future force planning in the aftermath of the crisis. We would also note that our assessment that U.S. nuclear superiority in the Cuban Missile Crisis did not obviously translate into politically meaningful incentives for first use is in line with standard interpretations of this case, including among scholars that Green and Long cite. For Marc Trachtenberg, for example, “[t]he American ability to ‘limit damage’ by destroying an enemy’s strategic forces did not seem, in American eyes, to carry much political weight” during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[43] Similarly, the relative lack of incentives for rational first use in the crisis motivated Thomas Schelling’s assessment that only an “unforeseeable and unpredictable” process could have led to nuclear use in the crisis.[44] Regardless of whether participants in the Cuban Missile Crisis understood the advantages (or lack thereof) associated with nuclear superiority, in some ways, our disagreement with Green and Long is more of a conceptual one: where to draw the threshold at which a state’s level of nuclear superiority (and corresponding ability to limit retaliatory damage) should be deemed “politically meaningful,” i.e., sufficiently lopsided to offer incentives for first use. This is a topic about which there is certainly room for legitimate disagreement. “Political relevance” is a tricky concept, which reinforces Green and Long’s broader argument that “nuclear crises are intrinsically hard to interpret” — a point with which we agree.[45] But Green and Long seem to view any ability to limit retaliatory damage as politically meaningful, since they argue that a nuclear balance that would have likely left a number of American cities destroyed (and potentially more), even in the aftermath of a U.S. first strike, nonetheless provided strong military incentives for first use. By contrast, our view is that the threshold should be somewhat higher than this, though lower than Green and Long’s characterization of our position: We do not, in fact, think that the relevant standard for political meaning “is a perfectly disarming strike.” Part of our motivation in wanting a threshold higher than “any damage limitation capability” is that it increases the utility of the typology we offer by allowing us to draw the line in such a way that a substantial number of empirical cases exist on either side of that threshold. Green and Long, by contrast, seem more satisfied to draw the line in such a way that cases exhibiting very different incentives for first use — a crisis with North Korea today compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example — would both be classified on the same side of the threshold.[46] Green and Long’s approach would ignore the important differences between these cases by treating both crises as exhibiting strong incentives for nuclear first use. This would be akin to producing a meteorological map that rarely shows rain because the forecaster judges the relevant threshold to be “catastrophic flooding.” There is nothing fundamentally incorrect about making such a choice, but it is not necessarily the most helpful approach to shedding light on the empirical variation we observe in the historical record. An Alternative Typology of Nuclear Crises Second, Green and Long offer an alternative typology for understanding the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Green and Long argue that there are three types of crisis: “those with political bargaining incentives for selective nuclear use (Type A); those with risks of both selective use and non-rational uncontrolled escalation (Type B); and those with political risks, non-rational risks, and military incentives for a nuclear first strike (Type C).” This is an interesting proposal and we have no fundamental objections to their typology.[47] After all, one can categorize the same phenomenon in different ways, and different typologies may be useful for different purposes. Space constraints inevitably prevent Green and Long from offering a full justification for their typology, and we would certainly encourage them to offer a more fleshed out articulation of it and its merits. Their initial discussion of the different types of signals that states can send within different types of crises is especially productive and goes beyond the relatively simple discussion of the feasibility of signaling that we included in our article. We offer two critiques that might be helpful as they (and others) continue to consider the relative merits of these two typologies and build upon them. First, it is not clear how different their proposed typology is from the one we offer. At times, for example, Green and Long suggest that their typology simply divides up the same conceptual space we identify using our two variables, but does so differently. For example, they argue that they are essentially collapsing two of our quadrants (stability-instability crises and staircase crises) into Type A crises, while Type B crises are similar to our brinkmanship crises and Type C crises are similar to our firestorm crises. If so, their typology does not really suggest a fundamentally different understanding of how nuclear crises vary, but merely of where the most interesting variation occurs within the conceptual space we identify. The key question, then, in determining the relative merits of the two typologies, is whether there is important variation between the two categories that Green and Long collapse. We continue to think the distinctions between stability-instability crises and staircase crises are important. Although both types of crises are relatively controllable and have limited risk of what Green and Long call “non-rational uncontrolled escalation,” they have very different risks when it comes to nuclear use: lower in stability-instability crises and higher in staircase crises. The factors that determine success in stability-instability crises — primarily the conventional military balance due to the very low risk of nuclear escalation — do not necessarily determine success in staircase crises, in which the nuclear balance may matter. As a result, we think that collapsing these two categories is not necessarily a helpful analytical move. Second, to the extent that their typology differs from our own, it does so in ways that are not necessarily helpful in shedding light on the variation across nuclear crises that we observe. In particular, separating incentives for first use into “political bargaining incentives” and “military incentives” is an intriguing proposal but we are not yet fully persuaded of its merits. Given that one of Green and Long’s goals is to increase the clarity of the typology we offer, and given that they acknowledge the difficulties of coding the nuclear balance, demanding even more fine-grained assessments in order to divide incentives for first use into two separate (but conceptually highly connected) components may be a lot to ask of analysts. Moreover, given Green and Long’s assertion that “political incentives to use nuclear weapons selectively…are ever present,” their argument in fact implies (as mentioned above) that political incentives for first use are not a source of interesting variation within nuclear crises. We disagree with this conclusion substantively, but it is worth noting that it also has important conceptual implications for Green and Long’s typology: It means that their three types of crises all exhibit political incentives for nuclear first use. If this is the case, then political incentives for nuclear first use simply fall out of the analysis. In effect, crises without political incentives for nuclear first use are simply ruled out by definition. This analytic move renders portions of their argument tautologous. For example, they argue that the conventional balance cannot “ever determine the outcome of a nuclear crisis,” but this is only because they assume that there are always political incentives to use nuclear weapons first, and thus, “any conventional victory stands only by dint of the losing side’s unwillingness to escalate.” More broadly, this approach seems to us at least somewhat epistemologically problematic. In our view, it is better to be conceptually open to the existence of certain types of crises and then discover that such crises do not occur empirically, than it is to rule them out by definition and risk discovering later that such crises have, in fact, taken place. In sum, while we are not fully persuaded by Green and Long’s critiques, we are extremely grateful for their insightful, thorough, and constructive engagement with our article and look forward to their future work on these issues. We hope that they, along with other scholars, will continue to explore the ways in which nuclear crises differ from one another, and the implications of such differences for crisis dynamics.   Mark S. Bell, Minneapolis, Minnesota Julia Macdonald, Denver, Colorado   [post_title] => Contrasting Views on How to Code a Nuclear Crisis [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => contrasting-views-on-how-to-code-a-nuclear-crisis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-24 16:41:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-24 20:41:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1948 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => In this issue’s correspondence section, Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long offer up an alternative way to code nuclear crises in response to Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald's article in the February 2019 issue of TNSR. Bell and Macdonald, in turn, offer a response to Green and Long's critique. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => [style] => framing [type] => Framing [style_label] => The Foundation [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 279 [1] => 138 [2] => 258 [3] => 259 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 2 (February 2019): 40–64, http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/1944. [2] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 42, 63. [3] For an excellent treatment of this problem in the international relations context, see Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 154–72. [4] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [5] See Memorandum for General Maxwell Taylor from Carl Kaysen, “Strategic Air Planning and Berlin,” Sept. 5, 1961, from National Archives, Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB56/BerlinC1.pdf. [6] Marc Trachtenberg, David Rosenberg, and Stephen Van Evera, “An Interview with Carl Kaysen,” MIT Security Studies Program (1988), 9, http://web.mit.edu/SSP/publications/working_papers/Kaysen%20working%20paper.pdf. [7] Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce, and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015): 44–46, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.958150. [8] “An Interview with Carl Kaysen,” 9. [9] Quoted in Long and Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike,” 46. [10] James R. Schlesinger, “Some Notes on Deterrence in Western Europe,” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, June 30, 1962), 8. [11] Ernest R. May, John D. Steinbruner, and Thomas M. Wolfe, History of the Strategic Arms Competition 1945–1972, v.1 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1981), 475. [12] Quoted in Scott Sagan, “SIOP-62: The Nuclear War Plan Briefing to President Kennedy,” International Security 12, no. 1 (Summer 1987): 34, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538916. [13] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 56. See also, May, Steinbruner, and Wolfe, History of the Strategic Arms Competition, 475; and Owen Coté, The Third Battle: Innovation in the US Navy’s Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2003), 42. [14] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55, 59. [15] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [16] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [17] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 59, fn 96. For more on Bundy, see, e.g., McGeorge Bundy et al., “Nuclear Weapons and the Atlantic Alliance,” Foreign Affairs 60, no. 4 (Spring 1982): 753–68, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1982-03-01/nuclear-weapons-and-atlantic-alliance. [18] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [19] Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 88. [20] Sagan, “SIOP-62,” 50. [21] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [22] Sagan, “SIOP-62,” 36, and esp. n. 49. [23] Joint Chiefs of Staff Memorandum 907-62 to McNamara, Nov. 20, 1962, in Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1961-1963, Vol. 8, 387–89, quotation on 388, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v08/d109. [24] For example, consider his remark, just after the peak of the crisis, that “My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons,” before strongly implying massive U.S. preemption would be preferable to tactical use. See ExComm Meeting, Oct. 29, 1962, in Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 657. [25] For excellent accounts of Kennedy’s Berlin policy and his views on nuclear superiority, which we draw upon heavily, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), chap. 8; Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), chaps. 2–3. [26] Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 292, 293, 294, 295. [27] Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 353, 351. [28] Legere memorandum for the record of the White House daily staff meeting, Dec. 10, 1962, National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman's Staff Group December 1962-January 1963; quoted in FRUS 1961-1963, Vol. 8, 436. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v08/d118. [29] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 43. [30] See, e.g., Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 353, n. 3. [31] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 47–49. [32] Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 97. [33] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 49. [34] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 49–50. [35] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 102. [36] This work was supported by U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD (PASCC) award FA7000-19-2-0008. The opinions, findings, views, conclusions or recommendations contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of USAFA, DTRA or the U.S. Government. [37] Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 2 (February 2019): 40-64, http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/1944. For additional applications of our framework, see Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “Toward Deterrence: The Upside of the Trump-Kim Summit,” War on the Rocks, June 15, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/toward-deterrence-the-upside-of-the-trump-kim-summit/; Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How Dangerous Was Kargil? Nuclear Crises in Comparative Perspective,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 135–48, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1626691. [38] One minor correction to Green and Long’s argument: The Cuban Missile Crisis is not the “sole empirical example” in our article of a crisis characterized by a lack of incentives for first use. In the article we also argue that the 2017 Doklam Crisis between India and China lacked strong incentives for first use, and we suspect there are plenty more crises of this sort in the historical record. Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 60–61. [39] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [40] The quote from the crisis that Green and Long cite does not really support their argument. Green and Long state: “consider [Kennedy’s] remark, just after the peak of the crisis, that ‘My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons,’ before strongly implying massive U.S. preemption would be preferable to tactical use.” In fact, consider the full quote: “My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons. The decision to use any kind of a nuclear weapon, even the tactical ones, presents such a risk of it getting out of control so quickly.” Kennedy then trails off but “appears to agree” with an unidentified participant who states, “But Cuba's so small compared to the world.” This suggests that Kennedy was expressing deep skepticism of any sort of nuclear use remaining limited, as well as doubts about the merits of taking such risks over Cuba, rather than making any sort of clear comparison between the merits of tactical use and massive pre-emption as Green and Long suggest. Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 657. [41] For a recent analysis of Kennedy’s behavior during the Cuban Missile Crisis that concludes that he was deeply skeptical of the benefits of nuclear superiority during the crisis, see James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 29–37. [42] For example, see Francis Gavin’s assessment that “little was done with” Kaysen’s plan, a claim which echoes Marc Trachtenberg’s earlier assessment that “it is hard to tell, however, what effect [Kaysen’s analysis] had, and in particular whether, by the end of the year, the Air Force was prepared in operational terms to launch an attack of this sort.” Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 38; Marc Trachtenberg, History and Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 225. [43] Marc Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security 10, no. 1 (Summer 1985), 162, http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2538793. [44] Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 97. [45] Indeed, at the risk of adding even more complexity, the relevant threshold likely varies with the stakes of the crisis: Leaders are likely to view lesser damage limitation capabilities as politically relevant when the stakes are higher than they are when the stakes involved are lower. [46] For discussion of the North Korean case, see Bell and Macdonald, “Toward Deterrence,” and Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 61–62. [47] We do, however, suggest that our labels offer somewhat more joie de vivre than the alphabetic labels that Green and Long offer. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1862 [post_author] => 102 [post_date] => 2019-09-10 05:00:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-10 09:00:14 [post_content] => Policymaking is a discipline, a craft, and a profession. Policymakers apply specialized knowledge — about other countries, politics, diplomacy, conflict, economics, public health, and more — to the practical solution of public problems. Effective policymaking is difficult. The “hardware” of policymaking — the tools and structures of government that frame the possibilities for useful work — are obviously important. Less obvious is that policy performance in practice often rests more on the “software” of public problem-solving: the way people size up problems, design actions, and implement policy. In other words, the quality of the policymaking. Like policymaking, engineering is a discipline, a craft, and a profession. Engineers learn how to apply specialized knowledge — about chemistry, physics, biology, hydraulics, electricity, and more — to the solution of practical problems. Effective engineering is similarly difficult. People work hard to learn how to practice it with professional skill. But, unlike the methods taught for engineering, the software of policy work is rarely recognized or studied. It is not adequately taught. There is no canon or norms of professional practice. American policymaking is less about deliberate engineering, and is more about improvised guesswork and bureaucratized habits. My experience is as a historian who studies the details of policy episodes and the related staff work, but also as a former official who has analyzed a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues at all three levels of American government, including federal work from different bureaucratic perspectives in five presidential administrations from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. From this historical and contemporary vantage point, I am struck (and a bit depressed) that the quality of U.S. policy engineering is actually much, much worse in recent decades than it was throughout much of the 20th century. This is not a partisan observation — the decline spans both Republican and Democratic administrations. I am not alone in my observations. Francis Fukuyama recently concluded that, “[T]he overall quality of the American government has been deteriorating steadily for more than a generation,” notably since the 1970s. In the United States, “the apparently irreversible increase in the scope of government has masked a large decay in its quality.”[1] This worried assessment is echoed by other nonpartisan and longtime scholars who have studied the workings of American government.[2] The 2003 National Commission on Public Service observed,
The notion of public service, once a noble calling proudly pursued by the most talented Americans of every generation, draws an indifferent response from today’s young people and repels many of the country’s leading private citizens. … The system has evolved not by plan or considered analysis but by accretion over time, politically inspired tinkering, and neglect. … The need to improve performance is urgent and compelling.[3]
And they wrote that as the American occupation of Iraq was just beginning. In this article, I offer hypotheses to help explain why American policymaking has declined, and why it was so much more effective in the mid-20th century than it is today. I offer a brief sketch of how American education about policy work evolved over the past hundred years, and I argue that the key software qualities that made for effective policy engineering neither came out of the academy nor migrated back into it. I then outline a template for doing and teaching policy engineering. I break the engineering methods down into three interacting sets of analytical judgments: about assessment, design, and implementation. In teaching, I lean away from new, cumbersome standalone degree programs and toward more flexible forms of education that can pair more easily with many subject-matter specializations. I emphasize the value of practicing methods in detailed and more lifelike case studies. I stress the significance of an organizational culture that prizes written staff work of the quality that used to be routine but has now degraded into bureaucratic or opinionated dross. Many former officials share such concerns, as will become apparent.[4] My suggestions use a relatively simple template, making it easy for people to learn and use it. But, as in engineering, knowing the steps for good policy design is much simpler than implementing them in professional practice. That is why in-depth case work in training and a strong organizational culture in practice are so important, and so difficult. Of course, some will point to dysfunction in the hardware of American politics and policy as a cause of the decline in policymaking prowess. But whatever the other issues, surely part of the solution to improving American policymaking must include better performance in analyzing, crafting, and implementing solutions to public problems.

Policymaking: Hardware vs. Software

The software of substantive public problem-solving overlaps with the formal procedures of government, but it is really a different subject. The software of policy is about how policies are crafted within a given set of processes and constraints. Software includes methods or routines for the way the substantive work is done, at the level of the individual professional and the institution. At every stage, the software includes organizational cultures for getting and evaluating information, for doing analysis, and for recording what is being done. By contrast, the tools and structures that frame the possibilities for useful work may be described as the hardware of policymaking. Explanations for failures of policy tend to focus on the structure of government. While hardware constraints are real, in my experience, problems often have at least as much to do with bad software. Good software is also one of the few defenses against bad hardware. For instance, amid all the public controversies about law in America, the United States still does reasonably well upholding the rule of law and the administration of justice. Why? One reason is because the American legal profession has established very strong norms about what constitutes appropriate legal reasoning and quality legal research and writing. This is software. [quote id="1"] Such norms are no sure cure for partisanship, caprice, incompetence, and corruption. But, in the American legal world, generally accepted norms for legal research and writing do help constrain excesses, clarify arguments and evidence, and expose sloppy work. They provide a common vocabulary for evaluation and analysis. In American public policy design, however, there are no comparable norms that distinguish professional craft. There is no commonly understood set of habits that routinely force out necessary questions and naturally highlight gaps in information or analysis. Good software, rigorous training, and strong organizational culture can decisively improve performance. One of the more interesting social-science experiments ever conducted for policy work, the University of Pennsylvania and U.C.-Berkeley’s “Good Judgment Project” led by Philip Tetlock, Barbara Mellers, and Don Moore, funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, ran from 2011 to 2015. It included work from more than 25,000 forecasters making more than a million predictions about world developments. The study’s basic conclusions: “First, talented generalists often outperform specialists in making forecasts. Second, carefully crafted training can enhance predictive acumen. And third, well-run teams can outperform individuals.”[5] Consider that an illustration of what is possible in just one facet of work.

Preparing to Make Policy

Bad policymaking is almost unavoidable when policymakers undertake complex and difficult work without adequate training or preparation. Unfortunately, a lack of adequate training or preparation seems to be the norm among American policymakers today. Why? I offer three premises: First, general training among senior and mid-level policy professionals is radically insufficient to prepare them to do action-focused analysis and assessment, high-quality written policy design work, and adaptive, people-centered implementation. Usually this training simply does not exist. Second, whatever the talents of individual politicians or officials or commentators, they will remain idiosyncratic unless the craft is institutionalized in a canon of professional education and the related ideas are better understood. Third, even if certain professional or graduate schools (e.g., in public policy, law, political science, or economics) had an effective canon of this kind, which I believe they do not, such programs — as currently configured — simply will not reach, or are effectively unavailable, to the large majority of people who will find themselves actually filling most senior and mid-level policy jobs. Modern American political history offers support for these premises, as I outline below. As this sketch reveals, the best practices that made the software of American policymaking successful in the mid-20th century neither came out of the academy nor migrated back into it. They were never adequately turned into canonical methods, “carefully crafted training,” or an organizational culture of well-run analytical teams.

A Brief History of Preparing Policymakers

American education for public service “has differed from such education in most if not all other parts of the world.”[6] Outside of the Army and Navy, the notion of professional “careers” in public service did not emerge in America until the late 19th century. The passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 created the first national civil service in America and many states adopted similar reforms. These laws required competitive examinations for entry into public service — although the educational levels required were not high. Basic literacy and numeracy were desired, as was some knowledge of accounting and some constitutional history. A loosely defined field of “public administration” arose during the early 20th century. The impetus for it was a delayed reaction to the rapid urbanization of America, one of the great social upheavals in the history of the country. The field of public administration combined general administrative skills and knowledge (e.g., finance, accounting, personnel management), relevant technical knowledge (e.g., hydrology, criminology), and some knowledge about emerging social sciences. The Training School for Public Service, founded in 1911, was typical among pioneering public administration institutions. At first not associated with any university, it was instead part of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, founded in 1906. In 1931, the Training School in New York City broke up. Part of it went to Columbia University and part to the important Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, which was founded in 1924 with six public administration students. The Woodrow Wilson School was established at Princeton University in 1930. In Washington, DC, Robert Brookings founded a research institute and graduate school in the early 1920s, later reduced just to research. Between 1914 and 1930, several dozen institutions created small programs in public or municipal administration.[7] Diplomacy escaped all formal professionalization until early in the 20th century. Diplomats, as distinct from consuls, did not begin to have to pass examinations until the mid-1920s. “Then, as now, many of the higher diplomatic posts remained ‘spoils.’”[8] In the United States, expertise in statecraft was often equated with experience in the principles and practice of international law. To foster its study, the American Society of International Law was founded in 1906. Some indication of the society’s stature can be gathered from noting that its first president was Elihu Root (1906–24), who had been Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of war and then secretary of state. When Root stepped down, his place was taken by the then-secretary of state (and future chief justice of the Supreme Court), Charles Evans Hughes (1924–29). In those years, the society regularly held meetings at the White House and was addressed by the president. In addition to skill in the practice of international law, skill in foreign policy work was also often associated with the knowledge of international business. Familiarity with diplomatic history was a plus, as was knowledge of foreign languages, geography, and culture. The new law schools could well have become a broader base for training policymakers. But the formative ones, such as Harvard Law under Dean Christopher Langdell, sought to foster as their distinct intellectual identity a new science of legal thinking, its principles to be discovered through the study of cases. In this context, “administrative law” became a field within law schools, conceived of as an effort to decode the legal principles that guided court review of administrative decisions.[9] Very early, the public administration schools moved away from older styles of training in governing philosophies, political thought, and civic virtue, the kinds of educations urged by men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, or John Stuart Mill. Like the founders of American political science, these academic leaders thought such educational agendas were old-fashioned and too concerned with formal structures. Instead, the new leaders of these schools wanted to move beyond discussions of political philosophy and civic virtue. They wanted to build policies on the scientific study of social conditions and political behavior. They hoped that “scientific — ‘what is’ — studies would replace public-spirited — ‘what should be’ — studies.” Their argument was that by understanding the sociology of criminal behavior, the economics of labor unrest, the public health of cities, or the patterns of behavior among elected officials, there would be a scientific basis for action, and that this was better than just a lot of nostalgic, virtuous philosophizing.[10] This model for a school of public administration added some value. Various disciplines gathered valuable information about social conditions and theories about social behavior. Public administration was then informed by such knowledge. But neither the early schools, like Maxwell, nor the emerging discipline of “political science,” developed a canon for how best to apply scientific knowledge to higher-level policy design.[11] [quote id="2"] Political science was built up as a discipline to consider policymakers objectively, as objects of study. Such scientists view the behavior of policymakers much as entomologists view the behavior of insects. Neither set of scientists are necessarily concerned with giving “how to” advice to their subjects. In saying this, I am not trying to join a culture war decrying the relevance of social science. I simply observe the way such scientists tend to formulate their problems and questions, which then affects everything else. Much of the debate about relevance in those disciplines is a supply-side argument: that if they produced different scholarship, such work would be more influential. My argument in this article is different. It is a demand-side argument. It is that, as the software of policy work has deteriorated, the people doing policy work no longer do the analysis — or articulate the questions — to seek out and use relevant knowledge, whatever its source. I think it will be most impactful to fix the demand side of the problem. The Golden Age of American Policymaking Policy staff work of all kinds achieved a relative high point with the crises of the 1940s. The craft and discipline of policymaking was already surging because of the public responses to the Great Depression. But World War II produced a vast mobilization of talent to tackle a staggering array of military, economic, and governance problems. The Allied successes included extremely high-quality policy work on grand strategy, logistics, and problem-solving of every kind. The German and Japanese high commands were comparably deficient in all these respects.[12] Paul Kennedy calls this software advantage the “most important variable of all.” Analytically, he noticed “a support system, a culture of encouragement, efficient feedback loops, a capacity to learn from setbacks, an ability to get things done.” All of this could permit “the middlemen in this grinding conflict the freedom to experiment, to offer ideas and opinions, and to cross traditional institutional boundaries.”[13] From these tremendous accomplishments, I note five observations: First, no one should overly romanticize the often quarrelsome, wasteful, and chaotic world of Washington during these years. There were many mistakes, some of them deadly and disastrous. Nor did the skills come from a well-thought-through template of the kind proposed in this paper. They emerged piecemeal from vast and stressful experience, amid plenty of bureaucratic rivalry and confusion. Second, the experience arose from years of trial and error in managing the most challenging rival sets of claims and arguments on a global scale. With their long experience in doing this, including the challenges of managing resources, shipping, and manpower, the British staffing systems were the most evolved. British staffing practices were envied and then emulated by the Americans. Third, the relevant qualities did not, by and large, migrate from the American universities. Nor did the qualities migrate back to them. Fourth, the relevant qualities did emerge from some distinctive cultures and leaders. One big tributary was the very strong, decentralized problem-solving culture of American business in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.[14] In that era, the paradigmatic discipline of American business and industry was engineering, and the paradigmatic figure was that of the ingenious tinkerer who deeply understood both design and production and knew his way around the shop floor. Bill Knudsen at General Motors, who started his career in bicycle and auto parts, and as a builder of steam engines, was a typical and well-known exemplar. Another great tributary was the managerial culture inside the armed forces, fostered by specific individuals. The military leaders during the war who set the tone for the high-level staff work were strategic managers — men like George C. Marshall or the civilian resource manager, Ferdinand Eberstadt, rather than “warriors” like Douglas MacArthur. It was no accident that Marshall elevated his most trusted staffer and planner in 1942, Dwight Eisenhower, to top command. Marshall and Eisenhower had strong views about the organizational culture of effective policymaking. Underperforming staff officers or program managers were frequently relieved and reassigned. Fifth, the wartime and immediate postwar experience profoundly influenced organizational culture for another generation or so. A great many Americans had been drawn into the work of higher-level policy design on numerous topics. “One analyst referred to [the war] as the largest program in postdoctoral education for faculty in the nation’s history.” There was a similar impact on the nation’s lawyers.[15] The breadth of experience summed up by these five observations about policy culture and staff work carried over into postwar efforts. In 1947, as secretary of state, Marshall used his first national radio address to the American people to remind them that, “Problems which bear directly on the future of our civilization cannot be disposed of by general talk or vague formulae – by what Lincoln called ‘pernicious abstractions.’ They require concrete solutions for definite and extremely complicated questions.”[16] The military and business cultures of the United States in this period were intensely oriented toward practical problem-solving. They emphasized meticulous written staff work: unending flows of information and estimates, habitual preparation of meeting records or minutes, constant and focused debates about priorities and tradeoffs, and guidance directives drafted with concise precision that a lawyer would envy. The result, especially by 1943 and afterward, was marked in dozens of projects from the atom bomb to the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift. Any close study of such efforts reveals superior construction of large-scale, complex multi-instrument policy packages, including frequent adjustments. The point about constant adjustment and iteration is notable. Even in military technology, most of the key Allied innovations turned out to be second-generation innovations. In other words, they were not the airplanes or ships that were available or in production at the start of the war. Instead, they were new or improved models of every kind, several of which had not even been imagined before the war. They were developed with agility and on a massive scale by a number of agencies and scores of companies in response to ongoing lessons learned, lessons that were constantly, consciously being extracted and studied. It is difficult for those who have not pored through the archives to appreciate the scale and scope of this work, ranging from economic statecraft to amphibious operations to science policy. The extraordinary sets of official history volumes from World War II, familiar to historians of the period, give a sense for the work. They are also a striking illustration of the organizational culture that would produce such meticulous and admirable historical analyses. The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. The Microeconomic Turn The mid-20th-century academic paradigm of policymaking assumed a relatively neat separation between “policy” on the one hand (often equated with lawmaking) and “administration” on the other, presumably informed by good social science. By the 1960s, this older paradigm seemed more and more out of date. Although intellectuals recognized the huge intermediate space that was being filled by policymaking, academia had trouble figuring out how to teach it. Older public administration programs suffered an institutional identity crisis. The private foundations that had helped build up that field in the 1930s lost interest. The field of public administration fell into lower repute as compared with the rising social sciences. Partly in response, a new trend in public policy education took shape. The social sciences were developing new techniques for the systematic analysis of public policies using analytic models, many derived from economic theory, along with quantitative methods. The federal government was pouring money not only into the expansion of government services, but also into training programs. In 1958, the Government Employees Training Act became law, while grants from the Civil Service Commission helped to subsidize large numbers of mid-career students. Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School was transformed by a 1965 gift from Charles and Marie Robertson. In 1968, the University of Michigan converted its public administration institute into an institution for “public policy studies.” Also in 1968, Harvard scrapped its former school of public administration, established a new John F. Kennedy School of Government, and developed an entirely new academic program for it. During that same academic year, the University of California created a new Graduate School of Public Policy at its flagship Berkeley campus, awarding a new “public policy” degree to replace its earlier offering in public administration. [quote id="3"] Dedicating one of the new buildings at the Woodrow Wilson School in May 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that “the public servant today moves along paths of adventure where he is helpless without the tools of advanced learning.” He said the country would need “enormous new drafts of trained manpower into the public service.” A presidential task force recommended new programs to train these “enormous new drafts.” Foundations like Carnegie and Ford took on the role that the Social Science Research Council had played in an earlier generation. All this momentum produced one of the most significant changes in professional higher education of that generation. “At the heart of this shift [during the 1960s and early 1970s] was a growing faith in the power and prestige of economics as a field, a method, and even a science.” For instance, “in and around Robert McNamara’s Department of Defense, economists put into practice techniques of program analysis and benefit-cost measurement, which President Lyndon Johnson then forced on all domestic departments involved in building his Great Society.” One scholar involved in this shift recalled
visiting the office of a cabinet secretary in order to explain to him a several-hundred-page booklet on policy planning budget systems, one of the hallmark techniques of the era. He came upon the secretary fingering the booklet and asking, ‘What is this piece of shit?’ He had the pleasure of responding, ‘That piece of shit, sir, is what the president of the United States has directed that you introduce into your department.’[17]
The triumph of the RAND analysts, as some called it, put a lasting mark on education for public service. The core curriculum for that degree and similar foundational programs, like the one at Berkeley, then set a widely imitated paradigm which claimed that it taught “policy analysis.” Economic tools for analyzing policy were regarded as novel. They fostered evidentiary discussion of outcomes. And, because the tools came from “demanding social science disciplines,” they “helped give the curriculum of the fledgling public policy schools a certain kind of legitimacy in the academic world in which they were struggling for academic respect.”[18] “But left open, however,” one of the founding deans of such schools recalled,
were the answers to two further important questions: first, the extent to which schools of public policy intended to train individuals to participate effectively in the governmental process as policy makers as well as policy analysts; and if so, how individuals trained to be policy analysts, or policy makers … would relate to the political processes that were an inevitable part of policy making in a democratic society.[19]
Further, in the new curricula the definition of “policy analysis” was narrowed. In this paradigm, policy analysis teaching would focus on “economics, statistics, and quantitative analysis.” In such core curricula, at least half of the courses are in economics and statistics.[20] They focus especially on cost-benefit analysis and the microeconomic fields of behavioral economics, game theory, and operations research. Any student who masters this curriculum and the relevant statistics applications would be equipped to contribute to certain kinds of policy-related research. The student could model theories of action for certain kinds of public problems. But most policymaking challenges, and the related staff work, call upon different sets of skills. As a result, even as it triumphed in this part of academia, the microeconomic paradigm of policy analysis was passing out of fashion in much of government. In the world of foreign policy, the microeconomic paradigm never gained much traction to begin with, except in segments of development work.[21] Some studies have been done on the alumni of this kind of policy analysis education to see how well it worked for them in practice. The results seriously question the value of such core curricula. The alumni told the investigators that they wished they had learned more about topics like “policy design.”[22] While the study of policy analysis was taking its microeconomic turn, the study of “public administration” went through its crisis and advanced forward. It was revived as a field of “public management.” That field, fortunately, has continued to mature and advance.[23] Social Science and the Return of the Lawyers After World War II, law and lawyers became more and more powerful in establishing paradigms for domestic policymaking in the United States. In foreign policy, the story was very different. The older paradigm for expertise, that of international law, lost its dominant standing. No critic was more influential than the famous former diplomat George Kennan, who published a set of polemical lectures on “American Diplomacy” in 1951 attacking what he regarded as a legalist-moralist strain in American statecraft.[24] Kennan himself had no particular use for social science. He spent the rest of his life writing history and historical reflections. History and social science continue to be invaluable resources for evidence about trends and causes in social behavior. The gap remains in the application of this knowledge to the solution of practical problems. This is not because academics do bad work. Their work varies, as always. But, as I mentioned earlier, their work is fundamentally oriented to answering questions that are meaningful within their scholarly fields. These questions are very different from the kinds of questions actually encountered in the application of their knowledge to the solution of practical problems. There is a similar divide between the world of laboratory science disciplines and the world of engineering. Chemical engineering is not just applied chemistry. It is a distinctive discipline with canonical methods of its own. In the engineering disciplines, this point was grasped more than a hundred years ago. Law schools have become principal producers of the people who are actually going into the policy jobs. Lawyer-officials have ready gifts. They know how to make an argument. They are usually experienced writers. On a good day, they are relatively rigorous in attending to factual and legal detail. The tradeoff for these “generalist” skills, however, is a lack of much subject-matter or foreign expertise. Experienced as advocates who can pick evidence to defend a position, lawyers are not necessarily trained to weigh and sift positions on both sides. Experienced in being asked to decide what “can” be done, lawyers are not trained to analyze what “should” be done, even in policies having to do with policing or the administration of justice. They have no necessary experience in policy design, analysis, or implementation. Perhaps above all, a lawyerly cast to government tends to emphasize process over substance. Meetings proliferate. Sides are heard. The quality of written staff work takes second place.

The Teaching Problem and “Thick” Cases 

The World War II generation learned much about effective policy work, but never quite figured out how to teach it. Data for the microeconomic sort of policy analysis is also rarely connected to the data about implementation. Experts in program evaluation and experts in performance management became estranged, “a tale of two children who were brought up in the same house but were raised by different tribes and aren’t so friendly with one another.”[25] One part of the problem is that policy engineering is complicated. Assessing a policy situation is a classic problem of “thick description.” In academia, if readers will forgive me for lapsing momentarily into academic-speak, thick description
accurately describes observed social actions and assigns purpose and intentionality to these actions, by way of the researcher’s understanding and clear description of the context under which the social actions took place. Thick description captures the thoughts and feelings of participants as well as the often complex web of relationships among them. Thick description leads to thick interpretation, which in turn leads to thick meaning of the research findings. … Thick meaning of findings leads readers to a sense of verisimilitude, wherein they can cognitively and emotively ‘place’ themselves within the research context.[26]
For readers who got bogged down in that definition, the punch line is in the last sentence. Consider the Marshall Plan, for example. The simple memory of this might be that Americans wisely displayed exceptional generosity and foresight in committing a lot of money to help rebuild Europe. But that level of understanding barely begins to comprehend the qualities of the work involved in developing and implementing the European Recovery Program. The genius of the program is found in the details of the design, which are difficult to summarize quickly but include the way the plan involved the Europeans in working out the program designs and new ways to cooperate within Europe, the way the program set up and used local “counterpart” funds for acquisitions in each of the participating European countries, and the way it rallied wary U.S. congressmen with elements that appealed to the businessmen in their districts. Even at the level of higher strategy, the Marshall Plan reflected a choice of where to commit resources and energy — in this case, a massive commitment to Western Europe amid the simultaneous clamor for a commitment instead to America’s favored side in China’s civil war. Many public policy problems are like this, “thick” with successive stages of problem-solving, each with layers of analysis and context. Such thick problems are relatively resistant to social science generalizations. They also confound quests for generic forecasting. The problem has spawned an extensive literature about the craft of analyzing and sifting specific information, although in America much of this work is mainly known and taught among professional intelligence analysts.[27] All this is hard to translate to the classroom for a variety of reasons. First, many teachers do not have the requisite knowledge of policy-relevant details, because they have never been involved in the subject-matter specialization and because their scholarly disciplines do not usually expect (or even want) them to master such problem-solving skills. [quote id="4"] Second, hiring practitioners does not necessarily help. When ex-practitioners go into the classroom, they can often tell stories. They remember some of the details. Yet, they have no canon for how to teach about their experiences. One expert who surveyed courses in diplomacy all over America found that the differences were enormous. Across academics and practitioners alike, she concluded, “I could not find a common core.” Instead, what she found were courses that just elide the messy challenge of how to solve problems, especially if they involved other governments. Some courses focus on acquiring transnational expertise, “without distrusted national governments getting in the way.” Other courses dodge engagement by being aimed more at Americans who view the world as “a pathological mess” and just want protection from it. Then they focus on security studies, including intelligence, like the study of how to diagnose a disease, without attempting to teach about how to solve a foreign problem.[28] Third, college courses prefer “thin” cases that are easy to digest and understand in a single class before moving on to the next topic. The structure of a course usually leaves little time for students to delve very deeply into the details, personalities, and issues in any specific episode. To do so requires too much reading or assumes too much background knowledge. Students like stories. But, in the classroom, memorably thin descriptions and colorful anecdotes are preferred. Even classes that use a case method rarely devote multiple classes, much less weeks, to microexamination of a single case, however rich it may be. One popular solution to teaching about problem-solving is to stage a simulation. Yet, simulations in such simplified thin cases “devolve rather rapidly into theater.” International crisis simulations reinforce the notion of diplomacy as “an event or series of events, of crisis management or negotiations done in a matter of days.” To a veteran practitioner, “Diplomacy is to simulations as the practice of medicine is to the TV show ‘ER.’”[29] Another practice in contemporary teaching about policy work enjoins students to try writing “options” papers, modeled on policy memos. A typical policy memo in contemporary American government consists of some discussion of what is going on, something about process, and recommended talking points. If there is any policy analysis at all, it rarely advances much beyond op-ed style argument. As if to learn to imitate this mediocrity, students writing options papers are often urged to keep their papers short — op-ed length — supposedly so they can learn how to engage the attention of busy policymakers. The would-be experts thus learn to be experts by dumbing themselves down. Such training does not prepare students to engage professionally with the messy details of the policy instruments being used or the messy details of the local circumstances in which these concepts may actually be tested.

The Organizational Culture Problem

The usual focus in the study of organizational culture is on the culture of operators, of the “street-level bureaucracy,” as the title of one classic work put it.[30] These studies tend to neglect the organizational culture of higher-level policy work. Yet, it was just that part of organizational culture that was so essential in the software of the American organization for victory in World War II and its most effective public problem-solving in the postwar years. This part of the software is made up of formal and informal routines for activities that seem mundane, but are not. These cultural routines and habits define the way the key organizations distribute information about what is going on, including the ways top officials get their information every morning; comment upon or “clear” incoming reports or policy papers; delegate policy work; interact with “the field”; analyze issues for higher-level discussion and decision; resolve differences, either through written work or in meetings; record and brief about policy discussions and decisions; and critique their work. There are great variations in these practices. American practices are different than in other governments. They even vary greatly over time within the same agency. Two specific examples, both in the foreign policy world, illustrate this point. Through World War II and the postwar years, daily information about what was going on in the world was provided to top leaders by diplomatic and military reports, from the State Department and the armed services. Beginning in the 1960s, and evolving very slowly during the next 30 years, the CIA took over the job. The CIA became a systematic primary source of daily publications and briefings to tell top leaders what was going on in the world. The armed forces’ products quickly receded in importance and the quality deteriorated. By the 2000s, the State Department’s daily morning product had disappeared altogether and was abolished. Intelligence agencies have very particular strengths and weaknesses in what they follow and what they do. So, reliance on the intelligence agencies for the morning “papers” has very large effects on what policymakers see about the world. It also has very damaging effects on the incentives and quality surrounding diplomatic and military reporting. But this growing reliance on the daily worldview of the intelligence community (not necessarily drawing from foreign field presence or experience) was not the product of a conscious policy choice. It evolved incrementally, with little notice or reflection. Records of policy discussions provide another example of the variation of organizational cultures over time. Through the war and postwar years, careful records were usually kept for all high-level meetings among American officials. This is hard to do. It was not done mainly out of regard for historians, although that was a factor. It was done because such records were considered essential for good government. It forced reflection on what had been said or not said. It helped others stay current if they had a need to know what was going on. These habits were so thoroughly ingrained that even when President Eisenhower met one-on-one with his secretary of state, almost invariably one or both men would routinely prepare a written record of what they had just said to each other. The secret recording systems used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Richard Nixon were an extension of such habits, as dictabelts and tape machines made their way into offices. Henry Kissinger’s staff prepared excellent records of about 15,000 of his meetings and telephone calls. These routines remained relatively strong through the 1970s and even well into the 1980s, though they were starting to fade. It is now rare to find any good records kept of what is said at meetings among American officials. The quality of the records of meetings with foreigners has also deteriorated. The usual excuse given is the horror of leaks. But that horror was perfectly familiar to officials of the wartime and postwar generation as well. Though constantly irritated by leaks, those past officials thought that the net value of routines of good governance took precedence. The real reasons for the change are likely more banal. There was no conscious policy choice across the administrations to quit preparing good records. It is just hard to do it. Without a routinized discipline, it vanishes from the day-to-day culture. In the postwar period, detailed written estimates and policy staff work were the norm. Papers were subjected to constant peer review from colleagues who were similarly trained and experienced. Very busy officers were accustomed to writing and reading lengthy papers of this kind every day. Thousands of Americans acquired such experience. They could be found operating at the highest levels in Marshall Plan development (such as the famed economists Charles Kindleberger and Edward Mason), occupation governance (such as the young Kissinger), strategic planning, research and development (for example, Vannevar Bush’s team at the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development and later in the creation of the National Science Foundation), and much more. One pattern in the War Department culture was that responsibility for planning and responsibility for operations were inseparable. A planner had to be willing and able to convert his work into action.[31] Developing these habits, the Americans during the 1940s were strongly influenced, through common work in various Allied organizations, by long-established and relatively high-quality British processes for collective policy analysis and staff work. Eisenhower was both a product and exemplar of such Allied experience. Although the origins are almost forgotten, the 1947 creation of America’s National Security Council system was greatly influenced by the model of British systems, including the British War Cabinet system. Many of the Americans had come to know, imitate, and grudgingly admire those staffing methods. They consciously adapted analogous habits of systematic paper preparation, record-keeping, historical evaluation, peer commentary, lucid guidance, and collective decision-making. Eisenhower well understood this background about why the National Security Council was created and how it was originally expected to function. He was the last American president who did.[32] [quote id="5"] The Pentagon Papers on the decisions made during the Vietnam War, the subject of the 2017 film, “The Post,” were an anachronism in more than one way. As bad as the Vietnam decisions were, the policy papers were long, detailed, and rigorous. The Pentagon Papers were such a revelation because this underlying policy work, and the dilemmas being presented, were relatively lucid and self-revealing. Suppose contemporary officials actually opened up and read some of these documents about Vietnam today. Suppose they contrasted the quality of the memos written in the 1960s with the papers they have seen cross their desk more recently, say, on policy toward Afghanistan or Iraq. These officials might be a bit bewildered. In their own working lives, they may never have seen written staff analyses of this kind, work that was so commonplace 50 years ago.[33] The sheer existence of the Pentagon Papers project is another revealing symptom of a vanished organizational culture. This work of thoroughgoing historical reflection was done at the direct behest of Secretary of Defense McNamara, during the Johnson administration. Back then, this sort of high-quality review was not so strange. There were other searching, internal self-examinations, like the ones done after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or after the swine flu vaccine mess during the Ford administration. It is hard now to imagine the kind of American government that would even commission an internal study as meticulous as the Pentagon Papers, or the kind of studies the Kennedy and Ford administrations ordered to examine their own failures.[34] Outsiders — and even many insiders, especially the less-experienced ones — are unconscious of most of this software, and how much it varies. Historians rarely notice such things or compare contrasting routines over time. Although the details of such staffing practices have been extensively studied in Britain, I do not know of any comparable published work on these practices in the United States. One way to spot the decline in the quality of written policy work is to notice if the paper simply describes what is going on and then moves on to statements of what “we” want, with “talking points.” In this environment, PowerPoint slides replace prose analysis. As the quality of written staff work declines, fewer decisions can be made based off the paperwork. High-level meetings proliferate. They become a surrogate for good written analysis and advocacy. In such oral processes, delegation of analysis and action is more difficult. More and more policy work gets pulled up to the level of overworked principals, and their own ill-documented oral meetings. Meanwhile, senior agency officials turn more and more into functionaries. As they know their work or views are less meaningful, the trend reinforces the downward cycle. The older organizational culture naturally placed a high value on in-depth knowledge and analysis. In the CIA’s analytic world, for instance, Cold War-era estimates “could draw on a deep base of knowledge,” the 9/11 Commission observed in 2004. But,
[w]hen the Cold War ended, those investments could not easily be reallocated to new enemies. The cultural effects ran even deeper. In a more fluid international environment with uncertain, changing goals and interests, intelligence managers no longer felt they could afford such a patient, strategic approach to long-term accumulation of intellectual capital. A university culture with its versions of books and articles was giving way to the culture of the newsroom.[35]
With the disappearance of these organizational cultures, largely unnoticed, the software of policymaking that went with them also faded away about a generation ago. The deterioration in policymaking software has had a huge impact, as several recent policy episodes, including the Iraq War, have made clear. Yet, the present generation of policymakers and politicians are, understandably, not even aware of what has happened or how the government has changed.

A Template for Policy Engineering: Assessment … Design … Implementation

“Design process” is a phrase that is foundational in engineering education, in which students are trained in how to apply knowledge to the solution of practical problems. One of the main purposes of an engineering design process is to generate better questions and focus them constructively. Such focused questions then drive more specific, in-depth assessment. Engineers are often taught a set of steps they must memorize, steps that are put on a card they carry in their wallet. The specific steps memorized by engineering trainees vary from textbook to textbook or teacher to teacher. Common formulas have five or seven steps. MIT’s fine course on “Engineering Innovation and Design” in its renowned Gordon Engineering Leadership Program has a 10-step design process.[36] “Design” has become a fashionable concept during the last ten years. Although the usages overlap, they vary in important ways. In the business world, “design thinking” has become a term synonymous with a search for greater creativity in thinking about what the firm is trying to do. A leader in this field is the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford’s d.school. Its guide to design thinking breaks down a process with five stages (with sub-methods for each): empathize (with the user), define (the challenge), ideate, prototype, and test.[37] At the end of the 2000s, reacting to a very difficult and complex set of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army decided it needed to add the concept of “design” to its basic field manual for “the operations process.” Officers now argue about what “Army design methodology” means in practice. At a minimum, it is the Army’s way of urging commanders who are confronting complex or unfamiliar problems to stop and think harder about what they are trying to do. Officers are urged to at least “give a bit of structure to those periodic conversations any commander has with his staff officers to improve his appreciation of the mission.” This should at least take the form of four questions, about what is going on, what exactly is the desired end state, what is the theory of strategic action to get that result, and how to act and speak to make good on that theory.[38] [quote id="6"] Meanwhile, within academia, some scholars of public management have pressed for a turn toward a “new” study of policy design, what they call “design 2.0.” These experts reject the stock analyses that just relate tools to outputs, a superficial “means-ends understanding of policy formulation.” Instead, they call attention to the multilayered and deeply context-dependent nature of modern policy design.[39] In the world of business schools, the field of “decision analysis” — a required part of the usual first-year MBA curriculum — consists substantially of teaching students how to assign number weights to values and probabilities and then work up equations that integrate the calculation of these variables.[40] It does not, however, actually teach a policy design framework. A process for policy work, which itself is often called a “design process,” is all about assessment, design, and implementation. [41] Assessments Assessments are judgments about circumstances. These appreciations are always a compound of assessments of reality, what we or “they” think is going on; assessments about values, what we or “they” care about; and preliminary assessments about action — what, if anything, might be done. In this context, the action judgment is simply the threshold cognitive judgment — can we do something about this? — that then influences how much attention we give to the problem. There are various heuristic aids to assessment: weighing alternative interpretations of available evidence, weighing alternative futures and scenarios, assigning probabilities, and more.[42] Good assessment has at least four elements: Design Design is the choreography of action. A more academic definition of policy design, developed by scholars working in Canada and Singapore, calls it: “an activity conducted by a range of policy actors at different levels of action in the hope of improving policymaking and policy outcomes through the accurate anticipation of the consequences of government actions and the articulation of specific courses of action to be followed to achieve different levels of policy goals and ambitions.” Such design work occurs “within the context of designing complete policy packages. … [So] each policy and program is a complex arrangement of ends and means-related goals, objectives, instruments, and calibrations that exists in a specific governance and temporal setting, and these contexts must be taken into account if effective program design is to result from design efforts.”[44] To put this a little more simply, the “design” part of a policy design process includes choices about: To offer a simple illustration of how such a framework could be applied, just consider one part, the “operational objectives,” in the Trump administration’s trade and tariff policy toward China. Are they to gain a trade deal that would more fairly recouple the American and Chinese economies? If so, what would be a concrete definition of success? Or the operational objectives could be the opposite — to decouple the two economies. Again, what would be a concrete, working definition of whether that objective had been attained? Or the operational objectives could be defined as a targeted increase in U.S. manufacturing employment, or as a reduction of U.S. bilateral current account deficits. And so on. Obviously, the analysis of these different operational objectives then open up quite different questions about the best theories of action and choreographies of what should be done. Yet, since at the moment (September 2019) no one can tell what the operational objectives are for the U.S. policy, the policy becomes inherently incoherent. Implementation Implementation is the final part of the policy work. It is attentive to local circumstances, the realities of the field, and the many stakeholders involved. At every stage, the software includes the organizational cultures for getting and evaluating information, for doing analysis, and for recording what is being done. As with the other elements, implementation is not separate from assessment and design. It interacts with them, as implementation informs ongoing reevaluation of everything else. [45] This whole template — conscious methods for assessment, design, and implementation — is itself just a kind of heuristic tool. As with the engineering trainees memorizing the steps on their wallet cards, such tools are both a discipline and a defense. They are a kind of analytical checklist that provide a bit more protection against so many insistent claims that divert and distract attention.

Policy Education Should Not Stand Alone

The wartime and postwar science adviser, public official, and longtime president of Harvard, James Conant, regarded Harvard’s public administration school, established in the late 1930s, as his greatest failure. He observed that two approaches had to be balanced. Such public affairs education should not, he thought, duplicate business schools by trying to build an entirely separate faculty. He thought such education should draw on the resources of the university as a whole. At the same time, Conant thought it was important to have a curriculum that did not emphasize a science of public administration separated from its policy content.[46] Colleges of arts and sciences, and the major professional schools (law, business, engineering, medicine) all turn out women and men who work on public policy. In fact, despite the growth of the policy schools, these older institutions empirically still contribute the great majority of the citizens who work on such problems, including at the higher levels of policymaking. Yet, none of those “regular” schools are, or can be, primarily interested in public policy or education for public service. Even at the leading policy schools, only a fraction of their graduates actually go into public service.[47] The challenge, then, is in how to offer a distinctive preparation for citizen involvement in public policy. Aside from the general education of citizens, the professionals who are most likely to identify a need for more professional training tend to be in government, including the military, foreign service, intelligence, and legislative staff; law, including as a possible addition to law school work; business, including as a possible addition to business school work; academia, including as a possible addition to PhD or MA programs; applied science, including engineering, public health, and medical practice; and nonprofit organizations. Many of the key jobholders already in government are primarily trained in specialized field and technical duties. Their often-admirable training does not include adequate preparation for policymaking challenges outside their traditional functional and managerial skillsets. Traditional graduate studies related to policy work tend to bifurcate into two very distinct tracks — a professional master’s degree program and an academic PhD program. Both of these programs serve important purposes, but they leave a major gap. The PhD students develop rigorous research skills to investigate theories in their fields, but are largely insulated from consideration of real-world policymaking.[48] Professional master’s students are exposed to some complexities and challenges of practice. The strength of these programs can be training in quantitative analytic methods, public administration, and advocacy. For various reasons, they do not provide rigorous training in the kind of strategic and design thinking needed for problem-solving, nor do they impart enough relevant substantive knowledge.[49] In addition, students are forced to make a fateful choice early in their studies. They can either pursue the law or master’s degree, which opens the path to the world of practice yet can mean foregoing a career in teaching and research. Or they can pursue the academic PhD and sharply steer away from training in practical problem-solving. An alternative approach would be to develop a relatively flexible curriculum. It would be conceived not as an alternative educational pathway, but as a broadening or extension of a core path that a student or professional has already chosen. Rather than forcing students to choose between a traditional “major” or career track and public service, the purpose of the curriculum would be to help students learn how to apply their core interest (and others they may discover) to public service. This complementary curriculum thus need not emphasize in-depth subject-matter education in particular regions of the world or in functional specialties like development, public health, cyberspace, or public order. The curriculum should instead be designed and delivered so that it can complement many such specializations. Such a curriculum could have at least three especially distinctive features: first, instruction and practice in analysis of detailed information and the assessment of situations. These assessments must grow out of a relatively deep ability to understand and imagine governance in unfamiliar institutions. Second, instruction and practice in a conscious policy design process: This process can teach students how to break down complex policy problems. Then they can learn how to unpack and identify critical questions or choices, using a common conceptual vocabulary. Finally, the curriculum could make extensive use of detailed case studies, both historical and contemporary, as projects in which students can develop a series of specific skills in working with situations of potential cooperation and conflict. These projects can be sustained over weeks, to give a sense of iterative change and adjustment. Some programs have tried such “policy task forces/workshops.”[50] [quote id="7"] The skills to develop in such extended exercises can include attention to the routine habits of effective staff work. They include familiarity with the role of budgeting in policymaking, crafting public statements, participation in policy debates, role-playing to understand the perspectives of others and gain experience with negotiation, and learning to orchestrate and evaluate the implementation of a policy. Such an educational initiative carries with it a major agenda for research. More and better “thick” case studies are needed, of the kind that are indispensable in other realms of professional education. The traditional scholarly disciplines have a specific understanding of what “case studies” mean for their investigations, but those case studies are rarely very useful for this kind of practical education. At some policy schools, such cases as exist have been prepared by professional “casewriters” who often do not have substantive training in the topic and whose work may not reflect the best scholarship or expert analysis. The range of possible studies of this kind is enormous. Such studies can bring “thick” problems and fateful choices to life.

Conclusion

There are obviously several major ways to explain the decline in government performance and the collapse in public trust in the U.S. government since the high-water marks of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Since the early 1960s, the government has tried to do much more — around the world and at home — and it is perceived to have usually fallen short, sometimes catastrophically so. It is not very useful to blame the anti-Washington discourse. Such scapegoating of Washington is not new. It is an old, old theme in American history. Nor do I blame incompetent delivery of basic services, which are still reasonably good in America. Part of the story is a record of policy failures: the tendency to react to events rather than drive them, poorly specified objectives, confusing guidance, reliance on weakly evidenced suppositions, little grasp of organizational capacities, inability to adapt organizations to new problems, overreliance on ill-managed contractors. These are all symptoms. They are symptoms of policies that are badly designed. Weak knowledge of the history of certain issues or even of the government’s own policy record, a superficial grasp of other communities or institutions, and a preoccupation with reactions to daily news: These, too, are symptoms. They are symptoms of a weakening capacity for in-depth professional assessment. Of course, the marked tendency to militarize policy, to rely on military instruments and military policymakers, is no cure. It is another symptom of the breakdown, as American policymaking is dumbed down and becomes praetorian. Some of these problems can be blamed on bad structures and on polarized, dysfunctional politics. But that’s not all of the story. As the immensely powerful Qing empire in China began to decay in the early 1800s, a leading scholar began calling for reform of the Confucian system that selected and trained the country’s administrative elite. He looked around and saw “everything was falling apart … the administration was contaminated and vile.” The scholar, Bao Shichen, “found himself drawn toward more practical kinds of scholarship that were not tested on the civil service exams.” Bao “would in time become one of the leading figures in a field known broadly as ‘statecraft’ scholarship, an informal movement of Confucians who were deeply concerned with real-world issues of administration and policy.”[51] Tragically, for Bao and many of his reformist allies, though their efforts made some headway, it was not enough. They could not reverse the decline of their empire. The United States government has plenty of problems too. Fortunately, it is not yet at the point the Qing dynasty reached. Americans can reflect on a proud heritage, not far in the past, when Americans were notorious across the world for their practical, can-do skills in everything from fixing cars to tackling apparently insurmountable problems, public as well as private. These seemingly bygone skills were not in their genes or in the air. They need not be consigned to wistful nostalgia. The skills were specific. They were cultural. And they are teachable.   Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, both at the University of Virginia. His books and essays focus on critical episodes in American and world history. A former civil rights attorney and career diplomat, he has served at all levels of American government. He was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and, before that, directed the Carter-Ford commission on federal election reform. He has also worked on international policy in each of the five administrations from Reagan through Obama.   Image: Nicepik [post_title] => To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => to-regain-policy-competence-the-software-of-american-public-problem-solving [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-09 12:37:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-09 16:37:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1862 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => American policymaking has declined over the past several decades, but it is something that can be regained. It is not ephemeral or lost to the mists of time. The skills needed to tackle public problem-solving are specific and cultural — and they are teachable. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The software of policy is about how policies are crafted within a given set of processes and constraints. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Very early, the public administration schools moved away from older styles of training in governing philosophies, political thought, and civic virtue, the kinds of educations urged by men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, or John Stuart Mill.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Many public policy problems are like this, “thick” with successive stages of problem-solving, each with layers of analysis and context.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => One pattern in the War Department culture was that responsibility for planning and responsibility for operations were inseparable. A planner had to be willing and able to convert his work into action. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A process for policy work, which itself is often called a “design process,” is all about assessment, design, and implementation.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Rather than forcing students to choose between a traditional “major” or career track and public service, the purpose of the curriculum would be to help students learn how to apply their core interest (and others they may discover) to public service. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 102 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), 469. [2] On other quality critiques, see, e.g., Donald Kettl, Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2016); and Paul Light, “A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop it,” Brookings Institution, July 2014, https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/Light_Cascade_of_Failures_Why_Govt_Fails.pdf. [3] Urgent Business for America: Revitalizing the Federal Government for the 21st Century, National Commission on Public Service, chaired by Paul Volcker (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2003), 1–2. [4] A group of former officials who are also educators, and have thus worked on both sides of the fence, recently joined me in publishing a “Statement on Education for Public Problem Solving,” posted at a website that also includes some suggestive scholarship. https://fsi.stanford.edu/publicproblemsolving/docs/statement-working-group-public-problem-solving. [5] Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Philip E. Tetlock, “Superforecasting: How to Upgrade Your Company’s Judgment,” Harvard Business Review, May 2016, 4, https://hbr.org/2016/05/superforecasting-how-to-upgrade-your-companys-judgment; see generally Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (New York: Broadway Books, 2015). [6] Alexander Keyssar and Ernest May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” in, For the People: Can We Fix Public Service? ed. John D. Donahue and Joseph S. Nye Jr. (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2003), 225. [7] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” 232. [8] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” 230. [9] See William Chase, The American Law School and the Rise of Administrative Government (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 29–49. [10] “Scientific,” Ralph Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship: Leadership and Good Government in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2015), 102 (discussing the address of Harvard president A. Laurence Lovell to the new American Political Science Association in 1910). A perceptive Chinese political thinker of the early 20th century, Liang Qichao, much influenced by the work of John Dewey, was worried in 1919 about the trend in American political science toward “the omnipotence of science” amid a presumed social Darwinism of struggle among conflicting interests. Liang, trying to adapt Western ideas to his more Confucian sensibility, believed these trends were neglecting the older concentration on civic virtue and defining the public good. Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 104–05. [11] Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 101–30. Ketcham illustrates his argument with an appendix that offers a sharply observed history of the evolution of the Maxwell School at Syracuse (see pages 205–52). Both William Mosher, at Syracuse, and Charles Merriam, at the University of Chicago, produced early exemplary textbooks that tried to balance their social scientific observations of American public life with hortatory statements of their idealistic hopes for American government planning. Reviewers noted the “unresolved” tension between the specific science and the sermonizing idealism about how it should be applied in practice. Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 226–27. [12] On the deficiencies of high-level German military staff work, especially on higher-level strategy, intelligence assessment, resource management, and logistics, see, e.g., Geoffrey Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000). [13] Paul Kennedy, Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War (New York: Random House, 2013), 362, 372. A similar argument is made by Richard Overy, in Why the Allies Won (New York: Norton, 1997), who does not delve as deeply into the software that made the structures he praises so functional. [14] See, for example, Thomas McCraw and William Childs, American Business since 1920: How It Worked, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2018), 26–28, 72–75 (emphasizing the decentralized management approaches of both Alfred Sloan at GM and Ferdinand Eberstadt in organizing war production). Explaining the “deindustrialization” of the 1970s and 1980s, they stress that, by then, “American management became more enamored with ‘financialization’ than with creating new products and services.” See page 232. [15] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service,” 233. [16] Marshall radio address, April 1947, quoted in Philip Zelikow, “George C. Marshall and the Moscow CFM Meeting of 1947,” Diplomacy and Statecraft 8 no. 2 (1997): 97, 116, https://doi.org/10.1080/09592299708406045. [17] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service,” 234; and Graham Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy: Reflections by a Founding Dean,” in, Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, ed. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert Goodin, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 64. See generally, telling this triumph of the microeconomic turn as a success story, Beryl Radin, Beyond Machiavelli: Policy Analysis Comes of Age (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2000). Radin’s conception of policy analysis is triumphantly exclusive. It seems to simply ignore the existence of lawyers, diplomats, and health care policy wonks, among the many categories of people who believe they do such work. [18] Allison, “Emergence,” 68. Allison recounts that he focused much of his agenda as dean on offsetting this curricular bias by building up the public management curriculum, fostering executive programs, and raising funds for problem-focused research centers. This work did help the school take off and become relatively successful. But, even from his account, it is not clear that he ever fully addressed the two questions that bothered him from the start. [19] Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy,” 65. [20] Such courses are currently 16 of the 30 credits in the Harvard Kennedy School’s first-year master in public policy core curriculum: “Degree Requirements,” Harvard Kennedy School, accessed Aug. 26, 2019, https://www.hks.harvard.edu/educational-programs/masters-programs/master-public-policy/degree-requirements. [21] As I saw firsthand when chairing part of the Harvard Kennedy School’s core curriculum during the 1990s, several of the founders of the Harvard Kennedy School were deeply dissatisfied with the way the school’s core curriculum had developed. They believed the school had succumbed to the desire of much of the faculty to join the “third best economics department in Cambridge.” Richard Neustadt quoted in Graham Allison, “Institution Builder,” in, Guardian of the Presidency: The Legacy of Richard E. Neustadt, ed. Matthew Dickinson and Elizabeth Neustadt (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 146–47. [22] For articles that focus on alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School, see, Carol Chetkovich, “What’s in a Sector? The Shifting Career Plans of Public Policy Students,” Public Administration Review 63 no. 6 (November 2003): 660–74, https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-6210.00330; and Mark Henderson and Carol Chetkovich, “Sectors and Skills: Career Trajectories and Training Needs of MPP Students,” Journal of Public Affairs Education 20 no. 2 (2014): 193–216, https://doi.org/10.1080/15236803.2014.12001782. [23] The modern field of public management has innovated and matured into a global movement, borrowing much from management innovations in the private sector. At the level of day-to-day job performance and integrity, federal bureaucrats seem to do at least as well as employees in private firms. See Donald Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2005); and Hal Rainey, Understanding and Managing Public Organizations, 5th ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014), chap. 14. [24] George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). [25] Donald F. Kettl, “Making Data Speak: Lessons for Using Numbers for Solving Public Policy Puzzles,” Governance 29 no. 4 (October 2016): 573–79, https://doi.org/10.1111/gove.12211; “a tale of two children,” Donald Moynihan quoted in Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, “Government’s Data-Driven Frenemies,” Governing, March 17, 2016, http://www.governing.com/columns/smart-mgmt/gov-performance-measurement-program-evaluator.html. [26] Joseph Ponterotto, “Brief Note on the Origins, Evolution, and Meaning of the Qualitative Research Concept Thick Description,” Qualitative Report 11 no. 3 (2006): 538, 543, https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol11/iss3/6/. [27] An introduction to this literature is available through the essays collected in Roger George and James Bruce, eds., Analyzing Intelligence: National Security Practitioners’ Perspectives, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014). [28] Donna Marie Oglesby, “Diplomacy Education Unzipped,” Foreign Service Journal (January/February 2015): 27, 28, https://www.afsa.org/diplomacy-education-unzipped. [29] Barbara Bodine (a retired diplomat and current director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy), “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event): A Practitioner’s Song,” Foreign Service Journal (January/February 2015): 21, 24. [30] E.g., Michael Lipsky, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services, 30th anniv. rev. ed. (New York: Russell Sage, 2010). For an example in the case of U.S. diplomats, see Kenneth Weisbrode, The Atlanticists: A Story of American Diplomacy, rev. ed. (Santa Ana, CA: Nortia Press, 2015). [31] See, for example, the detailed portrait in Ray Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division, in the Historical Series on the U.S. Army in World War II, subseries for the War Department (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1951). [32] The initial proposal for a national security council, in the Eberstadt Report, was modeled on the British War Cabinet system and the wartime State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee, which had also been modeled on British practice. Douglas Stuart, Creating the National Security State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 89. For background on the Roosevelt practice, see also, Matthew Dickinson, Bitter Harvest: FDR, Presidential Power and the Growth of the Presidential Branch (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Though this is mostly forgotten now, President Harry Truman was suspicious of the national security council proposal. He was suspicious precisely because he understood that it was modeled on the British War Cabinet and, like that system, was meant to dilute the power of the head of government and constrain him in a more deliberate, analytical, and collective decision-making system. [33] When national security officials of the Obama administration reflect on the best written policy work they encountered, the two standouts seem to have been the preparatory work done before the May 2011 Bin Laden raid into Pakistan and the policy support work on Iran that culminated in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. But I think those episodes stand out so much to them because the fine quality of that written policy work was not the norm. [34] As illustrations see, for example, the studies published in Richard Neustadt, Report to JFK: Skybolt in Perspective (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Richard Neustadt and Harvey Fineberg, The Swine Flu Affair: Decision Making on a Slippery Disease (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1978). [35] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), 91. I was the commission’s executive director. This particular passage of the report was drafted with the input of a former deputy director of the CIA and the former head of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, both of whom were on our staff. During the 2000s and 2010s, reacting to problems in analytic tradecraft, exemplified by the Iraq weapons of mass destruction catastrophe, the intelligence community built up a National Intelligence University, operated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The CIA has developed its Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis. The substance of the CIA’s analytic training has improved, although some of those involved in these innovations believe the intelligence community needs to make further significant progress. [36] The ten steps are: 1) identify needs (what’s the problem?); 2) information phase (what exists?); 3) stakeholder phase (what’s wanted and who wants it?); 4) planning/operational research (what’s realistic and what limits us?); 5) hazard analysis (what’s safe and what can go wrong?); 6) specifications (what’s required?); 7) creative design (ideation); 8) conceptual design (potential solutions); 9) prototype design (create a version of the proposed design); and 10) verification (does it work and, if not, redesign). From the version of MIT’s course 6.902 taught in Fall 2012 by Blade Kotelly and Joel Schindall and available through MIT OpenCourseWare. [37] See, e.g., “An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide,” Hasso Plattner Institute, accessed Aug. 26, 2019, https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/sandbox/groups/designresources/wiki/36873/attachments/74b3d/ModeGuideBOOTCAMP2010L.pdf. [38] “Field Manual 5-0: The Operations Process,” Department of the Army, March 2010; “ADP 5-0: The Operations Process,” Department of the Army, May 2012. The impetus for the “design” movement appears to have come from the Army’s Command and General Staff College and School for Advanced Military Studies, both at Fort Leavenworth. The quote and questions, paraphrased, are from Lt. Col. Celestino Perez, “A Practical Guide to Design,” Military Review, March-April 2011, 43–45, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/military-review/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20110430_art008.pdf; see also Heather Wolters, “Army Design Methodology: Commander’s Resource,” Department of the Army, Feb. 2012, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a558054.pdf. [39] One template for policy design, derived from domestic policy experience, offers a five-level framework: high-level abstraction, program-policy linkages, program-level operationalization, program implementation linkages, and specific measures. Michael Howlett, Ishani Mukherjee, and Jeremy Rayner, “Designing Effective Programs,” in, Handbook of Public Administration, 3rd ed., ed. James Perry and Robert Christensen (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015), Table 10.5, 196. See generally Michael Howlett, Ishani Mukherjee, and Jun Jie Woo, “From Tools to Toolkits in Policy Design Studies: The New Design Orientation Towards Policy Formulation Research,” Policy & Politics 43 no. 2 (April 2015): 291, 297-99, https://doi.org/10.1332/147084414X13992869118596. For more on this notion of “design 2.0” as a research agenda, see also Howlett and Mukherjee, “Policy Design: From Tools to Patches,” Canadian Public Administration 60 no. 1 (March 2017): 140–44, https://doi.org/10.1111/capa.12209. [40] See, e.g., Paul Goodwin and George Wright, Decision Analysis for Management Judgment, 5th ed. (New York: Wiley, 2014). [41] Earlier and different versions of this design framework were first tried out in Philip Zelikow, “Foreign Policy Engineering: From Theory to Practice and Back Again,” International Security 18 no. 4 (Spring 1994): 143–71, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2539180. This framework has been tried out in the classroom at Harvard and elsewhere. At Stanford, Jeremy Weinstein and Francis Fukuyama are developing an analogous framework in their teaching. [42] See, e.g., the illustrations catalogued in Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (New York: Henry Holt, 2009); and Steven Johnson, Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most (New York: Riverhead, 2018). [43] These four elements are a synthesis of methods suggested in Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers (New York: Macmillan, 1986), along with the way Neustadt, May, and I then developed and taught these ideas. See also Tetlock and Gardner, Superforecasting. I’m indebted to Michael Morell for discussions about the most basic elements of good assessment. See also the good discussion in Bodine, “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event),” 21–26. [44] Howlett, Mukherjee, and Rayner, “Designing Effective Programs,” 195. [45] For more on this emphasis on local, ground-level knowledge, see generally, written more in the context of domestic policymaking, Tara Dawson McGuinness and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The New Practice of Public Problem Solving,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2019, 27–33, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_new_practice_of_public_problem_solving. For some promising work on how to implement effective programs in the realm of state institution building, what they call “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation,” see Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock, Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). In more of a conflict/security context, see the pair of outstanding recent case study illustrations of analysis from the ground up, offered in Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) (the paperback edition has a valuable afterword reflecting on more recent U.S. efforts); and Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). [46] Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy,” 67; James Conant, My Several Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1970). [47] Such placement trends led to a major lawsuit against Princeton, in which the members of the Robertson family that had originally donated the funds to enlarge the Woodrow Wilson School sued because the school no longer seemed to be using the gift to educate students for public service. Part of the 2008 settlement required Princeton to sponsor a $50 million foundation dedicated to that mission. Tamar Lewin, “Princeton Settles Money Battle Over Gift,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/11/education/11princeton.html. [48] This depiction of the academic market failure draws in part from arguments developed by Jim Steinberg and Frank Gavin for the Carnegie International Policy Scholars program. The academic PhD programs suffer from another problem. Unlike the policy schools, which are often home to faculty from a variety of social science disciplines, and in some cases the natural sciences and engineering, PhD programs in international affairs are designed, taught, and administered in discipline-based departments, primarily political science. This arrangement may make sense for scholarly training in that discipline. But it is counterproductive for interdisciplinary policy training. That problem has been compounded by the long-term decline of area studies programs within political science departments. [49] The professional master’s degree programs, typically one to two years, focus on professional skills training for future practitioners. These degree programs are the core of most APPAM (Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management) and APSIA (Association of Professional Schools in International Affairs) schools. To the extent they have a canon, they too reflect the “microeconomic turn.” There are usually also courses that provide background information on international relations, current issues, and particular regions. As a nod to practical training, such schools frequently hire faculty as professors of practice and adjuncts who are current and former practitioners. They frequently draw from their experience to tell good policy stories and offer suggestive illustrations. This helps. But they then lack an established teachable canon for rigorous professional education. [50] There are some useful precedents in the “policy analysis exercises” used at some of the public policy schools. At Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Bodine describes policy task force/workshops as “more practical than the conventional academic approach and more conceptual, structural and historical than simulations or even case studies.” Each focuses on a single major ongoing policy issue. Students produce a set of detailed papers on each facet of it. Bodine, “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event),” 25. The CIA’s Kent School of Intelligence Analysis has had some success using an analogous approach in training intelligence analysts. [51] Stephen Platt, Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age (New York: Knopf, 2018), 233 (following the work of William Rowe). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) ) ) [3] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_newsletter [mc4wp] => 61 ) [4] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_textblock [main_title] => Latest Roundtables [intro_title] => What is a Roundtable? [intro_text] => Roundtables are where we get to hear from multiple experts on either a subject matter or a recently published book. These collections of essays allow for detailed debates and discussions from a variety of viewpoints so that we can deeply explore a given topic or book. ) [5] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_roundtables [wgt_type] => auto [qty] => 3 [posts] => ) ) ) [queried_object_id] => 2 [request] => SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID = 2 AND wp_posts.post_type = 'page' ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1963 [post_author] => 311 [post_date] => 2019-10-10 05:00:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-10 09:00:28 [post_content] =>

The truth is that the jungle is neutral. It provides any amount of fresh water, and unlimited cover for friend as well as foe—an armed neutrality, if you like, but neutrality nevertheless. It is the attitude of mind that determines whether you go under or survive. ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ The jungle itself is neutral.[1]

- F. Spencer Chapman

  The urban environment is complex and difficult. Tactically, it strains communications, overloads sensory capability, and pushes the decision-making onus to the lowest level. Strategically, it is complex because tactical actions are amplified and the speed at which local and international audiences are informed has never been faster. American and British environmental doctrine emphasizes the significant operational challenges that this environment presents.[2] In truth, however, the urban setting is neutral. It affects all protagonists equally, even if it does not always appear to do so. In The Jungle is Neutral, the classic account of three years of behind-the-lines jungle fighting against the Japanese in Malaya during World War II, the British soldier F. Spencer Chapman attributed his success to the principle that the environment is intrinsically neither good nor bad but neutral. What is true for warfare in the jungle — an environment that inflicts its own demands every bit as severe as those of the city — ought to be true for urban warfare. And yet, although conflict in cities is more prevalent now than in the past on account of demographic trends and urbanization, the supposedly challenging nature of urban warfare — as opposed to warfare in other “simpler” environments — is contradicted by many historical and contemporary examples. There are obvious difficulties that fighting a war in an urban environment poses, but they are surmountable through a combination of realistic hard training, changes in command mindset — at the strategic and political level as much as at the tactical level — and technological innovation (in order of priority). In some ways, the urban environment is a rewarding one in which to fight because those best prepared to leverage the neutral environmental factors can use them to magnify their comparative strengths. There is no reason why professional, regular armed forces, such as predominate in the West, ought not to be the best prepared to fight in this domain. The factors that threaten an army’s equanimity when it comes to fighting in an urban environment are the same for all belligerents. They do not impact regular Western soldiers more than irregular, non-Western challengers, who are thought to be unaffected by, or even gain an advantage from, these factors. This thinking comes from an entrenched mindset that insists on the uniqueness of the urban environment and holds firmly to certain shibboleths about urban warfare that are equivocal, if not outright ahistoric. The better trained and better equipped soldier should be comfortable in the chaos of the city — or at any rate as comfortable as he or she would be in any other environment. This is true not only for confrontations between regular and irregular forces, but also for “near-peer” conflict. The advantages afforded to the better trained, equipped, supported, and mentally prepared soldier are magnified by this environment, which rewards tactical skill. The line that “the future of war is not the son of Desert Storm, but the stepchild of Chechnya and Somalia” is a staple of the literature on contemporary strategic affairs.[3] It was written by former United States Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak as part of a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London in 1996 in which he also coined the oft-quoted term “strategic corporal.” His overall argument was as follows: On account of the increasing interconnectedness of the world, the West will inevitably be drawn into “someone else’s wars” — which is to say, wars of choice that feature limited political commitment on the part of intervening forces.[4] Those wars will increasingly be centered in large, poorly governed urban areas, and will be fought against well-armed and capable opponents who will most likely be nonstate or quasi-nonstate actors. All of this will take place under the unblinking stare of the camera, bringing the local to the global stage and the global to the local stage. Together, these factors create a monster — like the mythical hundred-eyed Greek giant Argus Panoptes — that looms in the consciousness of generals and statesmen.[5] Seemingly grave tactical challenges are mixed with strategic unpredictability in a context of strict limitations on the use of force and acceptance of casualties. British doctrine describes the near future of war alliteratively as congested, cluttered, connected, contested, and constrained.[6] Likewise, the notable strategic thinker David Kilcullen goes for three related Cs: crowded, complex, and coastal.[7] There has developed a sort of orthodoxy, going back at least 20 years, which holds that population growth, urbanization, and interconnectedness — the driving forces of change in the global political economy — are pushing war into modes and contexts that conventional armed forces are finding, and will continue to find, vexingly difficult — in particular, the city. Whether this orthodoxy is correct is debatable. The strength of its grasp on the military mind and the defense policy establishment, however, is not. This paper is the joint effort of an academic and a professional soldier with 18 years of experience in infantry command, including multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. It uses an ethnographic approach, a technique that has been increasingly applied to contemporary defense policy and strategic studies.[8] It draws heavily on the subjective experience of practitioners with recent experience of urban warfighting, which we evaluate alongside a range of historical cases and extant doctrine from the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO. In this respect, this paper also employs the techniques of applied history, which we understand in the sense described by the naval historian Geoffrey Till as the illumination of the present and future through resonant historical examples, not “to point out lessons [per se], but to isolate things that need thinking about.”[9] We conducted fieldwork in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Israel between 2014 and 2017, which included lengthy visits to urban warfare training facilities, including observing and embedding in military exercises for periods of several days at a time. We also participated in numerous professional symposia on the subject, seminars, simulations, and wargames, mostly with the British Army (though nearly always with an international presence), as well as NATO. All told, we conducted over 40 interviews with veteran officers and noncommissioned officers, urban warfare trainers and course designers, doctrine authors, and subject-area specialists. This paper proceeds in five sections. In the first section, we seek to establish the fundamental characteristics of urban warfare, making reference to canonical works on the history of the city; specifically, works on war and the city. This includes, first and foremost, how the city’s connections with other urban conglomerations and the density of the civilian population causes a distinctive compression of the levels of war such that the tactical and political become inextricably entangled. In the second section, we use two historical examples — the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the British invasion of the River Plate during the Napoleonic Wars — to demonstrate that the problems of urban warfare are not new, as is often supposed or intimated. These examples serve as an important reminder to practitioners of the centuries of military and strategic wisdom accrued by their predecessors who faced similar dilemmas — and sometimes even solved them. In choosing the examples noted above, we focused only on cases that took place prior to World War I and are well-documented. We excluded numerous cases of besieged cities in which capitulation occurred after the exterior defenses were breached, or where a defending commander surrendered when a breach looked inevitable — a typical occurrence in early-modern European fortress warfare.[10] We also excluded cases where, although significant fighting continued on the streets after the outer defenses had failed, the historical accounts of said fighting were patchy and therefore there was little for us to say about it.[11] Our two examples were chosen because they superbly illustrate the rapid political, economic, and diplomatic impacts of urban warfare. Moreover, because they preceded the advent of the “information age,” which so preoccupies and confounds contemporary analysts, by about two millennia and two centuries, respectively, they serve as particularly apt correctives to the hype that often surrounds the topic of urban warfare today. In the third section, we show how a narrow view of the history of urban warfare, particularly one that is resolutely focused on the experience of one titanic and highly peculiar battle — Stalingrad — distorts perceptions of the problem at hand and its potential solutions. Other World War II battles, and a range of post-1945 conflicts up to the present day, call into serious question the validity of the “lessons” of Stalingrad, such as the tendency for commanders to lose control of the battle, the symbolic resonance of cities that causes politicians to invest greater strategic meaning in them than they ought, the permanent advantages of the defender, the high force ratios necessary to succeed, and the idea that superior weaponry, training, and mobility inevitably become less important or useful in city fighting. The fourth section shifts focus from diagnosis to prescription. Here, we suggest a rather prosaic, albeit fundamental, reform: the substantial upgrading of training protocols, urban warfare facilities, and tactical training systems to allow armed forces to better familiarize themselves with urban warfare, and to practice and experiment in convincing settings that can accommodate large combined-arms teams. The bulk of this section is based on extended visits to a range of such facilities in several countries, as well as interviews with training staff to identify the central problems and best practices. There is no equivalent scholarly research on this subject in the civil sphere, and we suspect, based on our research, in military circles either.[12] [quote id="1"] In the fifth section, we propose an approach to urban operations that we argue is in greater accordance with both the logic of projected force sizes, as compared with the current and imagined size of global megacities, and with our understanding of the best practices of military operations and leadership in all other environments — including simultaneity, tactical boldness, coordinated action of small units, and clarity of intent. The “strongest gang” model, as we call it, is a realistic solution to the problems of urban conflict that cannot be addressed by the current prevalent methods, which are too positively controlled, too manpower-intensive, too cautious, and cede too much initiative to objectively weaker and less capable opponents. In this section, we also discuss several potential contributions of technology to the successful conduct of 21st-century urban operations. Overall, we accept that the reality of demographics and geopolitics means that warfare will increasingly occur in urban environments. Nevertheless, we argue this is not, in itself, a development to be feared. If this represents a change, then it is one of degree not of fundamentals and is manageable with the right mindset — one that is sensitive to both opportunities and threats — and with bold and creative leadership.

The Challenges of Urban Warfare: Political and Tactical Entanglement

War is a “continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means,” wrote Clausewitz,[13] while politics, since the days of Plato’s ideal polis, has been wound up tightly with the affairs of the city. To impose political will upon a group of people through the use of force would seem to require that it be exercised where the people actually live, generate wealth, and conduct collective public life. It is, therefore, important to recognize that the fundamental problem of urban warfare, the one that pervades it from the heights of strategy to the minutiae of house-clearing, is the inextricability of the tactical from the political. Politics dictate what range of tactical options the practitioner can choose against which opponents in all contexts — this is a truism of war as applicable in cities as in rural areas, in cyberspace as well as outer space. For years now, there has been growing skepticism of the utility of the concept of “levels of war,” in which tactics nest hierarchically within operations, which nests within strategy, all of which are superseded by politics. This, essentially, is the essence of the aforementioned “strategic corporal” effect. There is an urge, therefore, to separate these levels for analytical purposes. But this would be a mistake. The urban environment has a tendency to amplify the negative effects of viewing the relationship between politics and tactics as hierarchical, discrete, and unidirectional. According to this manner of thinking, it is possible to rationalize isolating tactics from the study of policy — and sometimes strategy — because the latter two purportedly matter much more. Although there is certainly good cause to believe that, in the long term, great tactics cannot compensate for bad policy, tactics are both the base for and servant of strategy and ought not be left aside.[14] In cities, this is particularly true because the sheer density of people in a highly networked environment magnifies the degree to which politics and tactics are interwoven. Contemporary British doctrine, both in general as well as in regards to urban environments, illustrates this with its emphasis on the concept of “integrated action,” defined as the orchestration and execution of operations “in an interconnected world, where the consequences of military action are judged by an audience that extends from immediate participants to distant observers.”[15] The Limits of Avoiding the City For practically all of history, generals have loathed the prospect of fighting in cities and have sought to avoid it. Sun Tzu advised fighting in cities only if “absolutely necessary, as a last resort.”[16] For 2,500 years, generals have happily agreed with the strategic wisdom of this maxim, whether or not they have read ancient Chinese military philosophy. Even today, while decision-makers acknowledge that they are going to have to fight in an urban environment at some point, when left to their own devices in wargames and experiments, NATO generals elect to bypass cities without hesitation. Urban terrain poses a number of challenges for combat operations. Clausewitz described action in war as being like movement in a resistant medium. The elements that make up the atmosphere of war, he said, were danger, physical exertion, intelligence, and friction.[17] Each of these is supposedly intensified in the city. The profusion of places to hide in this multidimensional environment means engagement typically occurs at very short distances and fire fights are swift and brutal. The continuous high-level alertness required for close action, combined with extreme physical discomfort, is thought to hasten the onset of battle fatigue.[18] Command and control is bedeviled by communications problems caused by buildings that block both vision and radio signals. This, in turn, causes city battles to fragment rapidly into isolated and uncoordinated low-level fighting. If this kind of fighting is hard for professional soldiers who are trained in taking initiative, confident in their equipment, and physically prepared for the rigor involved, then how much harder is it for the less well-trained — or even untrained — conscript or amateur? Meanwhile, the presence of civilians in the urban environment adds a complicating element of friction that pervades every level, from tactics through strategy to policy. Indeed, Alice Hills, author of perhaps the most significant academic study on the challenges of urban warfare, describes the intractability of the problem as moral and normative in nature and therefore a particular concern for liberal states.[19] On the one hand, history suggests that there are conceivably many political, humanitarian, and legal reasons for even pacific liberal states to intervene in foreign cities, such as to conduct a strategic raid on specific facilities (e.g., weapons laboratories), to evacuate noncombatants, or to forestall genocide. (Imagine, for example, a raid on Radio Mille Collines, effectively the command-and-control system of the massacre of the Rwandan Tutsis.) On the other hand, such intervention risks becoming bogged down in a form of warfare that can exact a great toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. How can commanders maximize their forces’ military effectiveness, which is necessary given the high costs of keeping personnel and equipment in the field, while maintaining domestic and international support in a media-saturated environment, where that support is dependent in large part on keeping casualties and collateral damage below an indeterminate threshold of public acceptability?[20] The 1992–93 American-led U.N. intervention in Somalia remains a textbook example of this problem: It was a humanitarian operation initially that ended ignominiously as a small war following a vicious battle in the streets of Mogadishu in which two American helicopters were shot down, 18 American soldiers were killed, 72 were wounded, and a pilot was captured.[21] [quote id="2"] It is no wonder, then, that when at all feasible the most politically desirable operation is one that involves no troops on the ground at all, no matter what the terrain. The 1999 Kosovo War, which NATO conducted almost entirely from the air, epitomized this line of strategic reasoning. Wesley Clark, the commanding general of the campaign, wrote in his account of the war about the political wrangling that took place over conducting a ground offensive and the likely casualties that would ensue. He remarked,
there was no military answer to the problem of urban warfare in Belgrade. Or the determined resistance of the Serb population along the way. The northern approach included the classic invasion routes, which the Yugoslav military would be well prepared to defend. I knew that the political problems for NATO would be insuperable.[22]
Since the advent of the “War on Terror,” avoiding putting “boots on the ground” has been far more difficult from a tactical perspective, particularly after the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003. The appetite of all Western governments, including the United States, for the large-scale deployment of conventional forces has diminished markedly since the early days of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a case in point, Britain embarked more or less enthusiastically on the Iraq War, with Parliament voting 412 in favor and 149 against in 2003.[23] However, by August 2013, the Cameron government’s proposal to join American-led air strikes in Syria was defeated narrowly by a vote of 285 to 272. Even so, fully detaching from ongoing conflicts has proven extremely difficult. More recently, Western involvement in wars in the Middle East, and to a lesser extent Ukraine, has primarily involved airpower alongside special forces and small advisory teams in support of local forces — a far more politically palatable approach. The character of operations, however, has still been typified by the attack and defense of fortified locations, or urban areas that can be rapidly fortified (whether deliberately or as a by-product of combat), and operations that unfold over weeks and months, not hours and days. Ukrainian officers, for instance, characterized the months-long defense of the Donetsk Airport — a “serpentine grid of tunnels, bunkers, and underground communications systems” — against rebel forces of the Donbass Republic as a “mini-Stalingrad.”[24] In the Philippines, meanwhile, government forces needed five months to clear a force of about 1,000 Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf militants from Marawi, a town of 600,000 inhabitants that was significantly damaged in the process.[25] Undoubtedly, what primarily distinguishes cities from other theaters of conflict is the level to which they are intermingled with civilian life. But population centers can only be bypassed for so long in the hope of avoiding a military operation in the midst of a major concentration of noncombatants. At some point, one eventually gets to Baghdad or Mosul, or to Aleppo or Raqqa. Then what? The history of warfare is littered with instances of urban fighting. As the great historian of cities Lewis Mumford put it, war and the city are inextricable: “As soon as war had become one of the reasons for the city’s existence, the city’s own wealth and power made it a natural target.”[26] If you choose to fight “wars amongst the people,” as today’s wars have been described, then you must literally get among them.[27] In the mind of the contemporary Western politician, conflict in the urban environment — getting “amongst the people” — is synonymous with Stalingrad, and, as such, is beyond the public’s tolerance in terms of expenditure of “blood and treasure.” In order for the military to be able to present politicians with a full spectrum of credible and usable options, this assumption needs to be challenged. Currently it is based upon extant military doctrine — and, presumably, on the private advice of generals to policymakers — which says that urban conflict requires an approach that is reliant upon massive firepower and overwhelming manpower. But reports from practitioners at the tactical level and in training establishments, coupled with examples from military history, falsify this thesis. It is wrong — there is a different way.

Nothing Fundamental Has Changed

It is hard to gainsay Hills’ conclusions, particularly with regards to the primacy of politics. And yet, while she is cautious not to overemphasize the novelty of the problems she describes, writing that the “characteristics and tactical constraints of urban operations have remained remarkably consistent over the past 60 years,” because she rejects a longer historical approach, she misses that this statement would have been just as true 2,000 years ago.[28] The challenges of urban warfare that confront this generation of soldiers and statesmen are, for the most part, not new. Even the challenges that might seem new, such as the prevalence of the media, are only superficially different or, at most, an amplified echo of the past. Two examples from history show that governments have long been drawn into faraway urban conflicts with nonstate actors, and found them hard to fight, for reasons including political interconnectedness, media influence, and tactical complexity. Consider first the following scene from Flavius Josephus’ The Jewish War, which recounts a critical battle in the siege of Jerusalem by Roman legions under the command of Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian in the year 70 AD:
Threatening death to any of the populace who would breathe a word about surrender, and butchering all who even spoke casually about peace, they attacked the Romans who had entered. Some confronted them in the streets, some assailed them from the houses; while others, rushing forth without the wall through the upper gates, so disconcerted the guards at the ramparts, that they sprang down from their towers and retreated to their camp. Loud cries arose from those within, who were surrounded by enemies on all sides, and from those without, in alarm for their comrades who had been left behind.   The Jews, constantly increasing in numbers, and possessing many advantages in their knowledge of the streets, wounded many of the enemy, and drove them before them by repeated charges; while the Romans continued to resist mainly from sheer necessity, as they could not escape in mass owing to the narrowness of the breach; and had not Titus brought up fresh succours, all who had entered would probably have been cut down. Stationing his archers at the end of the streets and taking post himself where the enemy was in greatest force, he kept them at bay with missiles. Domitius Sabinus, who in this engagement, as in others, showed himself a brave man, aiding his exertions. Caesar held his ground, plying his arrows incessantly, and checking the advance of the Jews, until the last of the soldiers had retired.[29]
That this battle involved swords and clubs rather than M-4s and AK-47s matters little — just replace “archers” and “arrows” with "close combat attack” and “armed aviation” and the scene has an obvious contemporary resonance. Moreover, the tactics of the Jewish rebels differed little from those of, say, Islamic State insurgents in the months-long battle for Mosul in Iraq. Zealots among Jerusalem’s defenders murdered all moderate Jewish leaders and burnt the city’s dry food supply, which would have fed the population for a year or two, on the logic that it would compel noncombatants to join the fight. In fact, it only compounded the tragedy. More Jews died of the starvation brought on by the zealots than were killed by the Romans in the collective punishment that followed the defeat of the revolt. The wider political complexity of the campaign and its distinct and immediate connections to politics in the Roman capital over 2,300 miles away are equally noteworthy.[30] At the time of the battle, Vespasian had been emperor for just one year and the defeat of a Roman army, especially one commanded by his son, would have greatly undermined his power. Also bear in mind that Flavius Josephus was not an objective historian but rather a hagiographer. Famously described as the “Jewish Benedict Arnold,” he was quite literally owned by Titus and was conscious of the need to preserve and advance the celebrity of his master.[31] Thus, one must read between the lines of this account to see that what it describes is a tactical blunder by Titus, who advanced his troops prematurely through a too-small breach, and was then rescued from disaster by a competent subordinate, in addition to artillery support. In the introduction to her final chapter, “The Logic of Urban Operations,” Hills writes that the most important reason for examining urban battles is that they have the potential to become a critical security issue in the 21st century on account of, inter alia, demographic trends, globalization, and powerful nonstate adversaries. Cities are, moreover, not just politically significant but also economically significant as “base points” in a global web of production and markets, which conflict would disrupt.[32] And yet, the idea that the impact of urban warfare is increasingly strong — whether by resonating powerfully in international politics, causing upheaval in global markets, or impacting the mood of distant populations — has been true for at least two centuries, possibly even two millennia. [quote id="3"] For instance, in late June of 1806, British forces under the command of Adm. Sir Home Popham landed at the Rio de la Plata, Argentina with the aim of capturing Buenos Aires and ultimately seizing one of the greatest and richest Spanish colonies in South America. It was not a strategically planned gambit. In fact, Popham had acted independently on his own judgment as a commander, having convinced himself that the people of the region were “groaning under the tyranny” of Spain and eager for liberation. He also considered it an opportunity to counter Allied setbacks in the European theater — notably Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.[33] But ministers in London, once they learned of the event, thought he had vastly exceeded his authority. Their fury, however, was largely assuaged by the initially agreeable results: A superior Spanish military force was quickly routed at the cost of a handful of British casualties and Buenos Aires was occupied. The then vast sum of $1,086,000 was sent back to Britain by frigate along with six wagon-loads of other booty — primarily Jesuit’s bark (a valuable antimalarial) and mercury. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was also seized from abandoned and surrendered Spanish armories. Financial markets in London soared in anticipation that the good times would continue to roll. Unfortunately, by the time that these treasures had arrived in Britain, and reinforcements had been dispatched, events had already turned decidedly for the worse. While the British certainly did plunder the assets of the deposed Spanish regime, they took some care not to “exasperate” the local population, as counter-insurgency doctrine has wisely advised for over a hundred years.[34] Thus, private property was untouched; the population, which was regarded as liberated rather than conquered, was protected; local government, courts, and tax authorities were permitted to continue as normal; and the place of the Catholic Church in society was left untouched. It was to little avail, however, for two reasons. First, the improvisational nature of the campaign caused even those locals who were happy to see the end of Spanish rule to doubt the long-term intentions of the British, which in turn caused political unrest. Second, Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, a Knight of the Order of Malta in the service of Spain, played upon the unpacified mood of the population to organize a powerful insurgency out of a ragbag of escaped regular soldiers, angry civilians, and thrill-seeking gauchos. The result was a bitter humiliation for Great Britain, which resulted in the court-martial of the officer in charge of operations. Ironically, this was not Popham, who escaped immediate blame by moving on before things came to a head, but Gen. John Whitelocke, who had arrived in May 1807 with a small army of 6,000 troops under orders to recover the worsening situation with another assault on Buenos Aires. The fighting in the capital and the surrounding area proved insurmountably difficult for the British, who discovered that the thick walls and flat roofs of the Spanish colonial urban landscape cut through by narrow alleys provided endless opportunities for ambushes. In scenes reminiscent of Titus’ premature foray into Jerusalem, British soldiers were assailed from the roofs by a great proportion of the population with hand grenades, musket fire, stones, and boiling water, while at nearly every major street corner they were attacked by Spanish cannons loaded with grape-shot, which were stationed behind deep ditches that were reinforced by sharpened stakes. The war has generally been forgotten by Britons, but not Argentinians, for whom it was a precursor to revolution and independent nation-building.[35] It was unquestionably a “hybrid” battle with a mix of regular and irregular modes of warfare.[36] It also included the exploitation of clan, tribal, and illicit networks in order to sustain the insurgent fighting forces. In the final battles on the streets of Buenos Aires, de Liniers achieved the operational and tactical feat of deploying the most primitive arms alongside what were then cutting-edge ones. This is to say nothing of the political complexity of the conflict, which was substantial and wide-ranging. Tactical decisions in the local contest between Spanish colonial rulers, indigenous people, and their British liberators-cum-conquerors resonated very quickly in the distant capitals of London, Madrid, and Paris. Likewise, the effect on financial markets was a powerful factor driving political and military decision-making. There was a media dimension as well: first, in the enthusiastic celebration of Popham — who was acutely conscious of his celebrity — and, second, in the public pillorying of Whitelocke. One of the main conclusions of important scholars like Hills is that, although tactics of urban warfare have changed little, the strategic context has evolved considerably as a result of globalization, demography, and urbanization. And yet, based on examples from history, it would seem that the strategic context has not actually changed in any fundamental way.

"Stalingraditis" and Other Urban Legends

To say that there is little in today’s world that has not been seen or dealt with in the past is not to say that there is nothing new at all. Likewise, to say that present-day strategists exaggerate how much they are affected by the connectedness, complexity, and sheer riskiness of the world relative to their forebears is not to say that they do not face challenges. It is, rather, that strategists today will be better able to deal with such challenges if they are clear-eyed about what is new and what is not, and what lessons can be generalized — so long as they do not sever themselves entirely from the experience and knowledge of the past. In a recent keynote speech on the past, present, and future of urban warfare, the British military historian Antony Beevor, author of numerous works on World War II, including the classic Stalingrad, detailed a number of lessons that can be gleaned from that battle. First, he argued, commanders lose control of the battle more rapidly in urban environments than they do in others — it is, according to Beevor, intrinsically more difficult terrain on which to fight than any other. Second, cities are imbued with a symbolic resonance that makes them dangerous objectives for politicians. This makes them wont to devote more resources to them than their strategic value merits. Third, the defender usually determines the tactics in cities — a key advantage, and one that normally accrues to irregular more so than regular forces. Fourth, fighting in cities consumes far more troops than planners usually imagine while the urban environment diminishes the advantages of superior conventional weaponry, mobility, and training.[37] Beevor concludes that “there is something pitiless about urban warfare.” All of these lessons, including particularly the last one, are surely true of Stalingrad, and, in one form or another, one finds them repeated in British, American, and NATO doctrine.[38] The trouble is, however, that none of these lessons are generalizable, and thus it can be misleading when they are treated as such. The Myth of Intrinsic Difficulty: Is Urban Terrain the Hardest? Beevor claims that the urban environment is intrinsically difficult. This difficulty, however, is neutral, manifesting differently, but with equal impact, upon all sides. It is perhaps truer to say that the urban environment is more difficult to fight in for a commander who is not down at the small-team level. But tactical and operational victories are made up of small-team successes. The commander in charge of a small team can, in real time, take advantage of the multiple approach routes, the variety of possible sources of fire support, and the opportunities for surprise that the environment presents. The closeness of the terrain often allows commanders at this level to get further forward than would otherwise be possible and thus leads to them making rapid decisions with better information. In the urban context, a main benefit of a high-tempo maneuver operation over a methodical firepower-driven one is that the former deprives the defenders of the time to fortify, particularly by employing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have proven a difficult challenge for attacking forces, as well as a serious impediment to post-war rebuilding efforts. For instance, in the recent fighting with Islamic State forces in Mosul, Iraq, it was discovered that a single hospital complex had been laced with approximately 1,500 IEDs.[39] In this context, maintaining operational tempo could allow the attacking commander to continue to make military gains and deny the enemy time to place such devices, so long as the political situation is amenable. Moreover, a less firepower-intensive approach is likely to be a factor in maintaining political will and public consent. Nevertheless, small-unit maneuvering in a dispersed manner within cities presents some obvious challenges. These include having fewer safe rear areas and fewer heavily protected routes for supply and reinforcement and medical evacuation. There are, however, technological changes that may significantly alleviate these concerns, as discussed below. [quote id="4"] It is frequently observed that one of the great advantages of operating in “uncluttered” places like deserts, as opposed to cluttered urban centers, is that, whereas the former presents a logistical challenge, the dearth of civilians is an advantage. A German general captured by the British during the North Africa campaign in World War II put it this way: Desert fighting was a “tactician’s paradise and the quartermaster’s nightmare.”[40] This is based, however, on something of a misapprehension — that in environments outside of towns and cities one is not operating among the people. Even in the Libyan deserts, on the tracts of the desolate Sahara, a military commander is still operating amid a civilian population that may exert a direct impact on his operations. One can see this, for example, in the memoirs of Vladimir Peniakoff, one of the most colorful officers of British military history, who was commander of “Popski’s Private Army” — a legendary desert reconnaissance and raiding force in North Africa. Peniakoff described the manner of his operations and planning in this way:
What I like to do is to go myself beforehand over the country and get the feel of the plains, the mountains, and the valleys; the sand, the rocks, and the mud; at the same time, I listen to the local gossip; find out who commands the enemy and what are his pastimes—who my friends are and how far they are prepared to help me and what are the presents that will please. Then, when I come back later with my men to carry out my evil schemes, I can let the plan take care of itself.[41]
In other words, while the presence of civilians in the city is indeed a factor that adds to the complexity of the operating environment, this is also the case in other environments, even ones that seem, at first glance, to be relatively uncluttered. Replace plains, mountains, and valleys with boulevards, streets, and alleys, or sand, rocks, and mud with apartment complexes, shopping malls, and industrial parks, and it does not fundamentally change Peniakoff’s admonition about how to plan and lead a military operation. Though the density of habitation may change, war remains a human endeavor that takes place among people.[42] When it comes to warfare on land, there is no unpeopled place where combat can occur without reference to noncombatants, as though in a gladiatorial ring where bloodied fighters are clearly sequestered from the onlookers.[43] Urban warfare is undoubtedly fraught with serious difficulties, but so too is warfare in every environment. Rote pronouncements of its supremely challenging nature are unhelpful. Rarely are the potential advantages of operating in an urban environment considered. When questioned on this, however, our interlocutors remarked on several such advantages. For one thing, civilian observation and digital connectedness could be an intelligence resource to friendly forces. For another, the wealth of possible routes into and around the city could enable small unit movements and offer plentiful cover and concealment. The relatively short range of engagements can lead to greater visibility of the enemy allowing precision and, therefore, a possible reduction in the need to use indirect fire and a concomitant reduction in collateral damage. Moreover, outflanking the enemy is easier, as is isolating enemy positions. In sporting terminology, it is easier to create the “one-on-ones” that afford the team’s best players the opportunities to use their skills to the team’s advantage. In addition, the presence of the media need not be seen as a bad thing, as it could allow commanders to focus world attention for information operations or deception purposes. Finally, the dependence of some adversaries on one or more urban areas for their own sustainment — logistics, popular support, and so on — are potential centers of gravity that can be attacked. The enormous logistical advantages of operating in proximity to working port facilities was noted frequently by those we interviewed and studied. Indeed, it is striking in speaking to and reading the accounts of commanders of many post-Cold War operations how little they highlight the difficulties of urban environments as compared to other complaints. Problems of logistics, as always, feature prominently. An Australian commander in the 2000 East Timor operation, for example, described how he had to have four transport ships run ashore on the beach at Suai, where engineers cut the hulls open with oxyacetylene torches so that desperately needed supplies could be removed with a front-end loader — a triumph of improvisation but hardly an ideal manner in which to operate.[44] For all the difficulties of operating in urban settings, as long as the city is still functioning to some degree, the opportunities for “living off the land” are significantly greater than in most other environments. Fuel, electricity, water, food, shelter, medical facilities, communications facilities, places where repairs can be done, and the equipment with which to do such repairs are abundant in metropolitan settings — and in short supply outside of them — precisely because of the densely interconnected nature of the city. Triumph of the Lack of Will? On the Symbolic Importance of Cities The evidence surrounding the symbolic importance of cities and its hold on the minds of politicians is also quite mixed. One of the major problems with using Stalingrad as a benchmark is that it was extremely unusual in the strength of its political symbolism. For Stalin and Hitler, both unbridled totalitarian autocrats, the battle was a proxy for a personal and ideological contest — a test not only of each other’s will but of the total national strength they could command. Thus, neither could contemplate retreat or surrender, causing both men to hurl division after division into the cauldron of fire. This has not been the case, however, in more recent urban battles. If Fallujah had been renamed George Bush-ville after the first battle there in 2004, or if Sadr City was renamed Barack Obama City after the Obama administration took over the Iraq War, then a comparison with Stalingrad would perhaps be a bit more apt. The fact is, though, that American and British urban operations in Iraq after 2003 were, on the whole, characterized by a decided lack of sustained political concern as politicians and military-strategic headquarters back home urged caution and retreat on local commanders for fear of costly entanglement. Towns and cities were thus repeatedly cleared, or at any rate temporarily pacified, only to be subsequently abandoned to insurgents. Clearly neither city held particular symbolic importance for the United States or Great Britain. Instead, lack of will has tended to be more typical of urban battles in recent years. It must be said that Britain lately has been more guilty of this than the United States. The reasons why are not terribly mysterious: As the junior partner in the expeditionary campaigns of the “War on Terror,” Britain’s political and military leadership has perceived that it has less skin in the game and less responsibility for the ultimate outcome.[45] The best example of this lack of will is the British occupation of Basra, Iraq, which is described frankly in a vignette in the most recent British Army doctrine. It shows that much of the United Kingdom’s difficulties in southern Iraq stemmed from a lack of political will and an excess of caution in London. In essence, they were quite willing to give up Basra to insurgent control more than once.[46] When looking for an example of how political equivocality and strategic lassitude can exert a baleful influence on tactics in urban operations, it is hard to beat what took place on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983: A truck packed with 12,000 pounds of TNT was driven by a Shiite commando into the headquarters of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut, where it exploded, killing 241 Americans almost instantaneously. A congressional inquiry into the attack concluded afterward that security had been “inadequate” and that the local commander had made serious errors of judgment. Yet, security was inadequate by design, though not the local commander’s. Taking stronger security measures would have clashed with the diffident political goals of the intervention, according to the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. Moreover, given that before the attack the facility had been visited by no fewer than 24 generals and admirals, the question arises why the local commander’s putative errors were not remarked upon and rectified.[47] The fact is that the Marines were in a tactically indefensible posture because policymakers decided the political situation required it and generals advised them incorrectly about the risks, or argued inadequately as to their severity. [quote id="5"] For the Marine Corps, the Beirut attack was a major blow — the worst loss of life in a single day it had suffered since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. For the United States as a whole, it was an embarrassing setback, but it was not terribly consequential. Indeed, on the day of the attack, President Ronald Reagan signed the order authorizing the military intervention in Grenada.[48] This illustrates something that has typified the West’s “limited wars” since the era of decolonization: that although not always “low intensity” from the point of view of the immediate participants, politicians have always considered it a strategic option to pack up and go home (i.e., to lose), or move on to a different small war. Stalingrad, on the other hand, was unlimited. In fact, it was arguably the most completely committed battle of history’s most total war to date, rivaled only by the Battle of Berlin in the spring of 1945. As an illustration, consider the radio speech delivered by Reichsmarschal Hermann Goering in late January 1942 as the German defenses were collapsing:
[L]ike a mighty monument is Stalingrad… . One day this will be recognized as the greatest battle in our history, a battle of heroes… . We have a mighty epic of an incomparable struggle, the struggle of the Nibelungs. They, too, stood to the last.[49]
Despite Goering’s bombast, there is a kernel of truth to what he said: Stalingrad was undeniably stupendous and practically incomparable. Thus, to employ it as the yardstick by which all urban warfare is measured in perpetuity is deeply problematic. The Myth of the Defensive Advantage: Who Really Determines the Tactics? Good militaries increase in competence as they fight. Learning the hard lessons that a tenacious adversary can teach and armed conflict serves to cement is part of war.[50] For example, one might contrast the battles of Caen and Groningen, the former in June 1944 and the latter in April 1945. Both were urban conflicts and involved the same protagonists — the British and Canadians versus the Germans. Caen was a costly Allied victory, slow and nearly Pyrrhic, with a heavy toll of civilian casualties caused by high-level bombing and artillery barrages. Groningen, on the other hand, was a quick fight. It was decisive and caused few civilian casualties and involved the use of lighter, more discriminate weapons. It was not that the tactics themselves changed much between the two battles, but that they were simply better executed.[51] As a military force increases in tactical proficiency, it is able to secure political objectives without recourse to the kind of overwhelming firepower that destroys the city. Concurrently, as victory comes closer to hand, the minds of politicians turn more toward thoughts of “winning the peace” and thus the military becomes tactically less free to employ destructive measures such as mass aerial bombing and artillery barrages. It is not true, as Beevor argues, that the defender usually determines the tactics employed in urban fighting. There are so many examples to the contrary that, at best, it might be said that this is sometimes the case. Israel, for instance, has repeatedly been successful in determining the tactics in its fights with entrenched Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza at various times since the high point of violence of the Second Intifada in the early to mid-2000s. One oft-cited example is the way the Israelis conducted their attack on the town of Nablus in 2002 by “inverting the map” or “walking through walls … like a worm that eats its way forward” — using roads as barriers rather than thoroughfares, and using the interior of buildings as roads rather than a series of impermeable walls.
We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps.[52]
The reference to interpretation and reinterpretation of space shows the influence of postmodern and post-structuralist theory, which was popular in Israeli military thinking at the time. This was unfortunate because it obscured what otherwise was solid advice to commanders thinking about urban operations.[53] The fact is that no army that has fought in an urban environment for much time interprets space in a “traditional” manner. It adapts. It quickly learns to keep infantry off narrow streets that are easily raked by fire from entrenched positions, and to move forward by “mouseholing,” using the outer walls and roofs of buildings as natural cover under which to approach enemy positions and blow them up. Arguably, no army knows this as well as Israel’s. After all, one of the preeminent examples of successful urban warfighting comes from Israel’s War of Independence. In just six days of intense fighting beginning on April 26, 1948, a lightly armed, 600-strong force of Irgun — a Jewish paramilitary-cum-terrorist group headed by Menachem Begin, who later became prime minister — dislodged an entrenched and well-armed Arab military force more than twice its size from the city of Jaffa. The Irgun then defended its gains against counterattacks by a much larger British combined-arms force, which had the benefit of naval gunfire and air support.[54] The example of Jaffa contradicts the argument that urban warfare necessarily favors the defense over the offense — the Irgun was quite successful at both in the same battle. It also raises questions about the argument, discussed below, that urban operations are necessarily highly demanding in terms of manpower given that the Irgun were decidedly outnumbered.[55] The defending force can only determine the tactics of the attacking force so long as the attacker does not put the defender under cognitive as well as physical pressure. A steady, deliberate approach at the tactical level allows the enemy time to orient himself to the threat and then bring assets to bear to counter it. The attacker is then forced to win through the combination of weight and accuracy of firepower. The object of the attacking force ought to be to put the defending force into a state of material surprise, a condition in which, even if it is aware of the presence of the attacker, it will be unable to prepare accordingly for contact.[56] The deliberate approach is expensive in materiel if not manpower and can kill many civilians and heavily damage infrastructure. However, if the attacking force overwhelms the defending force’s ability to make decisions at the lowest level through speed, aggression, and simultaneous action in as many places as possible at the same time, then the defender will be unable to choose the tactics. It will be too busy trying to survive to dictate the terms of any engagement. Numbers in Urban Warfare: Force Competence Trumps Force Size There is perhaps no idea about urban warfare that is more firmly fixed than the idea that urban operations are unusually manpower-intensive. Towns and cities are typically thought to have the potential to absorb enormous numbers of soldiers — even if they are undefended. This stems, it is argued, from the size and geographical and architectural complexity of the environment. Guiding a force through all the potential bottlenecks of a city is time-consuming and difficult, while guarding against potential attacks at vulnerable locations and warding off re-infiltration of cleared areas soaks up troops.[57] The Soviet General Staff is reputed to have calculated on the basis of its experience during World War II that the optimum ratio of attacker to defender in urban environments was 10 to one. This would be a major impediment to anyone contemplating fighting in a city, and is a clear case of Stalingrad-itis. Other major battles of the war, however, would point to an opposite, or at any rate more nuanced, conclusion. First, in October 1944, two battalions of the American 26th Infantry Division (with armor and engineering attachments) soundly defeated a much larger entrenched German force of 5,000 troops in nine days of fighting in the city of Aachen.[58] Seventy-five Americans were killed and the German force that had been ordered by Hitler to fight to the last man was essentially wiped out. Second, in April 1945, elements of the 2nd Canadian Division defeated a German force of equal size that was trying to hold on to the Dutch city of Groningen. In that case, only 100 civilians were killed alongside 43 Canadians and approximately 150 Germans — a remarkable feat given that the civilian population was present throughout the fierce fighting.[59] Finally, also in April 1945, a battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, supported by tanks of the King’s Hussars, defeated a large, well-equipped, well-led, and highly experienced force from the German 9th Parachute Division that was holding the small northern Italian town of Medicina. The German unit also had tank and artillery support. In a short, decisive battle lasting a few hours, much of it hand-to-hand, in which tanks blasted holes through the walls of structures through which the Gurkhas advanced, 100 Germans were killed, while the British lost only seven men.[60] Each of these instances featured unorthodox tactics; aggressive, rapid combined-arms action; and close-quarter fighting in which the allied troops had to guard against civilian casualties. And yet, in each, the attacking side prevailed, at less cost to itself than the defender, and (with the partial exception of Aachen) without massive damage to the civilian infrastructure, let alone the kind of wanton slaughter of noncombatants that was seen in Stalingrad.[61] More recent examples similarly suggest that the assumption of the high demands of manpower in urban operations is exaggerated. In early April 2003, for instance, while pundits were predicting a protracted and bloody siege of Iraq’s capital and the Iraqi government spokesman was declaring that there were no American troops in the city, tanks and armored personnel carriers of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division were conducting “thunder runs,” blasting their way down Baghdad’s main thoroughfares.[62] Until this point, it had been widely supposed that armored vehicles could not successfully operate in urban environments. This was largely based on the defeat dealt to Russian mechanized forces in late December 1994 and early January 1995 by Chechen secessionist fighters in Grozny. [quote id="6"] The Chechens used “swarms” of loosely coordinated, highly capable small units to ambush Russian columns with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in the canyons created by multistory tower blocks lining the city’s thoroughfares. Two mechanized brigades were all but destroyed, with at least 200 armored vehicles burnt up and 1,500 Russian troops killed.[63] The superiority of the weaponry of the Russian forces was diminished and the mobility of their armor proved to be fragile and contingent. And yet, Baghdad, a much larger and equally dense city, was captured in April 2003 by an armored force comprising around 1,000 men, suffering only a handful of casualties in the process. Consider also the 1st Brigade Combat Team, which was responsible for the city of Ramadi in Iraq from 2005 to 2006. Ramadi is four times larger than Fallujah, where a year earlier heavy operations by the U.S. Marine Corps consumed far more than the resources of one brigade in two major battles. Nevertheless, the end result was more or less positive: At a cost of 83 American lives, the city was cleared of al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents, 1,500 of whom were killed. First, insurgents in the city were isolated from external support to the maximum extent possible by checkpoints on major transport routes. Then, neighborhoods were cleared one by one in operations normally starting with the rapid fortification of small combat outposts from which small-unit actions would be conducted. Meanwhile, the pacified areas were gradually handed over to Iraqi police. The techniques employed in the Ramadi operations were extraordinarily time-consuming — the campaign took nine months. But they had the effect of keeping al-Qaeda in Iraq off balance. 1st Brigade Combat Team was ordered to “Fix Ramadi, but don’t do a Fallujah,” and that is what it did. This goal was achieved, moreover, without the evacuation, voluntary or otherwise, of the civilian population.[64] Military force can create the minimum conditions to allow normal civilian life to continue, by killing, capturing, demoralizing, or deterring insurgents[65] — but the effect is temporary. For it to take hold requires the emergence of good government, administration, and policing. To say that this is difficult would be an understatement, as the last 18 years have shown. It is wrong, however, to place the blame for the confusion one sees in contemporary counter-insurgency theory and practice on the peculiarities of the urban environment. The key problem is not the urban terrain and the extraordinary demand for large numbers of troops that it is supposed to cause. Rather, as we have discussed already, it is about the policy objective: What is the political effect that the military force is supposed to achieve in the city? And is it actually achievable by military force, whatever its size? When it comes to the numbers and effectiveness of weapons, the most important thing is the tactical aptitude and leadership qualities of the combat forces involved. In this respect, the Russian military of the mid-1990s was staggeringly bad compared to the Chechen irregulars they faced, who were highly motivated, skilled, and well equipped.[66] In the case of Baghdad in 2003, the roles were reversed: The attacking American marines and soldiers were supremely capable and their boldness paid off against a demoralized, half-routed, and uncoordinated enemy that was decidedly back on its heels. The years that followed showed that, while urban operations are far from easy, the challenges they pose are not insurmountable.

Sweat Saves Blood: Training in the Right Environment

The lessons of Iraq notwithstanding, Krulak is still fundamentally right that warfare is likely to be even more centered on urban environments in the future. Western politicians will continue to have the urge to intervene militarily in other countries for one reason or another, whether good, bad, or imagined. How then to give Western forces the ability to operate confidently in cities, and to innovate and develop new methods that maintain and extend the gap in competence between them and their likely opponents? One part of the answer is prosaic, but nevertheless vital: training. In January and February 2001, the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory conducted a series of battalion-level urban warfare exercises dubbed “Project Metropolis,” building on earlier experiments in the 1990s that had highlighted alarmingly high casualty rates among friendly forces in such environments. The experiments showed that the high initial rate of casualties experienced by Marine units dropped sharply after they had received hard and realistic training.[67] The report detailed a number of other technological and tactical improvements, but the gist was that training made the difference. In nearly all of the interviews with British unit commanders conducted for this research, whether at the Infantry Battle School's Urban Warfare Instructor’s Course or with the urban warfare group at the Land Warfare Centre, we heard words to this effect: “[A]t first my battalion/company/platoon was alarmingly poor at urban warfare but after training in the right environment I was much more confident.”[68] It is not that new training methods or new techniques are needed per se, because the old methods and techniques are still important. It is rather that training in the relevant methods requires the correct environment. It is the training environment that allows commanders to simulate the scale and complexity of the challenges troops will face in an urban battle. How the actual training is done depends on the commander organizing it. British commanders, for instance, are encouraged to brainstorm down to the junior noncommissioned officer level, then run their units through an exercise. After that, the operative scenario is changed slightly to ensure that soldiers are not “learning the range” but instead are learning to understand and solve the dynamic underlying problems. Then the exercise is run again. Finally, the exercise is run once more without leaders present, to ensure that the unit as a whole has absorbed the relevant lessons and is able to act accordingly in an organic manner. Far less ideal is when lessons are conducted straight out of a pamphlet (i.e., in accordance with a checklist and a generic scenario authored by someone other than the commander). How these exercises are run is also contingent on factors relating to the particular scenario at hand — which is dependent, in turn, on ever-shifting complexities of the real world — and the character and capabilities of the units involved. But regardless, having the right environment in which to train is the most important factor. As for what is the “right” environment, based on our interviews it comes down to three factors: authenticity, scale, and recoverability of lessons. Does the training area look — and ideally feel, sound, and smell — like the real thing? Is it sophisticated enough to accurately simulate the effects of various weapons? What feedback is being given to the soldier who is “hit”? Does he or she experience minor pain or an inconvenience or simply a loss of pride from being defeated? The instant and often uncomfortable result of using modified personal service weapons firing paint pellets accurate up to at least 100 feet sharpens the mind. Increasing the variety and range of the weapons being simulated or using a different feedback method would likely pay huge dividends. Can exercises be recorded and played back (as, for example, one might see in some video games), so that all commanders can learn from mistakes and successes, their own as well as others? Is the environment big enough for large units to practice macro-level combined arms and support functions simultaneously, not just micro-individual or small-unit battle drills? Urban Warfare Training: International Comparison Few countries possess facilities approaching the ideal standards. Although it has a large number of small sites for practicing close-quarter battle, the United States currently has no facility for training large units in realistic urban environments.[69] Likewise, Britain’s urban training areas are generally considered inadequate by its users — too small and too much like a central European village, the sort of urban environment the army envisaged it would need to fight in when they were built in the 1980s. There is a mock Afghan village in the Stanford Training Area in Norfolk, U.K., run by the Operational Training Advisory Group, which is an up-to-date and generally convincing portrayal of operating conditions in Helmand province. But it does not pretend to approximate the conditions of a city.[70] France has very good facilities at CENZUB in Sissonne, which features a large number of well-designed buildings of various types, and a standing opposition force able to perform a variety of “enemy force” roles: regular, irregular, and hybrid. A U.S. Marine Corps senior noncommissioned officer who visited the facility in the summer of 2017 was particularly impressed by the relative degree of seriousness with which the French treated urban training, remarking,
A significant aspect of this quality training is that the OpFor [Opposition Force] is staffed with quality soldiers who plan and fight with the will to win. I observed the OpFor actually “winning the battle” on several occasions. In a sense, this training has an element of “free play” in that while scripted in a way, the CENZUB staff creates conditions for free thinking on both sides.[71]
Britain has a degree of access to CENZUB in accordance with the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty on defense and security cooperation between the two countries, which could offset the relatively low quality of its own facilities. Certainly, the British soldiers and commanders with whom we have spoken who have trained there are very positive about the experience. However, when defense budgets are under pressure, savings are often found by cutting travel alongside other activities. CENZUB is only useful if you can get there. The best existing urban warfare training facility is in Israel’s Negev desert on the Tze’elim army base. Nicknamed “Baladia,” the Arabic word for “city,” the training area was built in 2005 in part by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a cost of $45 million. It consists of around 6oo different buildings, including five mosques, a casbah, a clinic, a town hall, and an eight-story apartment building. The environment provides a highly realistic simulation of a Middle Eastern town, right down to a sound and pyrotechnic system able to recreate the ambient noises of normal civilian life (e.g., calls to prayer, music, road noise) as well as very convincing indirect fire attacks and IED blasts. The whole facility is controlled through a central monitoring station that can track and record all elements of large units through exercises for after-action review.[72] As a testament to the authenticity of Baladia, while one of us was writing up notes in a Tel Aviv bar after a visit to the facility, the bartender, an Israeli Defense Force reservist, recognized the crude sketch of the facility seen below and remarked that he had spent many weeks in training there. In his words, after a few days on exercise there it was hard sometimes to tell the difference between Baladia and actual operations in Gaza, where he had seen combat as a sharpshooter.  

“Baladia” camp, Tze’elim Israeli Defense Forces training area, Oct. 21, 2015. (Image courtesy of the authors)

  Germany is nearing completion of an urban warfare training area at Schnöggerssburg in Saxony-Anhalt, which will rival Baladia in scale and sophistication. It includes a range of building types set in neighborhoods including an “old town,” a shanty town, a light industrial area, a railway station, and an airport.[73] However, the key innovation of this facility is the “Legatus” simulation system developed by the weapons and engineering company Rheinmetall AG. In addition to recording exercises as described above, it can purportedly accurately model the effect of weapons fired externally on targets inside buildings or otherwise obscured by cover.[74] If true, this would represent a major advancement over existing optical laser-based training systems, which work well in relatively open terrain, where there is limited cover, but fail in cluttered urban environments where cover is plentiful and varies in ballistic resistance. Although most Russian bases, like American and British ones, usually include just a few buildings, occasionally ruins, in which small units practice urban combat drills, Russia is investing substantially in new facilities.[75] At the Mulino base near Nizhny Novgorod, for instance, the new 333rd Combat Training Center operates a range of sophisticated training simulators and a “battle town,” which is said to be large enough to accommodate a full battalion on exercise.[76] Additionally, the Chechen provincial government operates on behalf of the federal Russian army an impressively large and thoughtfully planned facility that is nearly 400 hectares in size and includes a range of building sizes. Like CENZUB, it features a permanent cadre of trainers with extensive practical experience with urban combat. However, the facility is reserved for Spetznaz units (Russian Special Operations Forces) exclusively and is almost entirely focused on counter-terrorism operations, thus its benefits are not available to Russian general-purpose forces.[77] Lessons Learned and Not Learned in Urban Warfare Training Whatever the environment, soldiers must be taught to outthink the adversary, to get inside the enemy’s decision-action cycle using violence and tempo and then stay there, because keeping the enemy on its heels, reeling backward and struggling just to survive, is universally recognized as key to a successful operation. “The battle always goes to the quickest,” was how the famous German general, Erwin Rommel, once put it.[78] Yet, whereas most Western armies have plenty of big spaces with varied natural terrain in which to experiment and practice how to do these things, the same is not true with regard to urban environments. Despite the fact that most of the soldiers that make up modern armies themselves live in cities, command and training establishments treat city fighting distinctly differently — they are more risk-averse and less bold, more rule-bound and less imaginative, and ultimately less able to innovate. British soldiers, for example, are told from the moment training begins that they are part of the most professional fighting force in history, that they are the best equipped, best trained, and best supported soldiers in the world, and that they need not fear anyone, or any environment. This message changes, however, during the few days of urban warfare training they are allocated as part of their six-month Combat Infantryman’s Course.[79] Soldiers are told that in other environments the use of initiative is not only tolerated but positively encouraged. However, in the urban environment, they are discouraged from aggressively pursuing an enemy who is almost certainly less well trained and equipped. The soldier is taught to fear the threats of a fast tempo — isolation, outflanking, a reduction in the fire support that can be brought to bear — but not taught to embrace these things as opportunities that can work in his or her favor. [quote id="7"] An example from the American forces also illustrates this curiously hidebound attitude. It is widely agreed that one of the most effective pieces of equipment in the arsenal of the urban counter-insurgency in Iraq was the collection of concrete barriers of varying sizes, called “T-walls” on account of their cross-sectional appearance.[80] Most famously, T-walls were a key element of the 2008 Battle of Sadr City, a large Shiite suburb of Baghdad, where they were used effectively to enable friendly force maneuver. Isolating operational areas with rapidly deployable walls deprived the insurgents of mobility, concealment, support, and initiative. As a RAND study of the battle concluded, “Concrete enlisted time on the side of the counterinsurgent,” which is quite a remarkable accomplishment.[81] For all its success, though, the method of deploying the barriers was extremely ad hoc, relying on civilian top-hooking cranes hired by the day, which needed to be unhooked from the blocks by hand by a military engineer who was exposed to fire in the process.[82] Eleven years later, it is still ad hoc: There have been no changes to any systems or equipment sets, such as the number of cranes assigned to engineer or maneuver units. There is no doctrine for emplacing concrete barriers or for the consideration of logistic packages that include concrete walls. And the technique for their emplacement is not practiced in training centers.[83] Why not change in response to what seems to be a significant lesson of modern warfare?[84] One area where the training of soldiers is being adjusted for the urban environment is physical conditioning. Both the American and British armed forces, among others, have shifted the emphasis of physical training away from the high endurance forced march toward developing all around stronger soldiers who are trained in the sort of repeated anaerobic bursts of activity typically required in urban operations, like hauling themselves, their equipment, and perhaps wounded comrades, over walls and through windows.[85] Still, more could be done. To prepare a soldier for urban warfare, he or she also needs to conceive of moving through the city quite differently than most civilians — to think like an urban explorer, the sort of person who is as happy moving through service tunnels and across rooftops as on sidewalks and roads.[86] Armed forces have long recruited directly, or otherwise sought as trainers or guides, the likes of poachers and backwoodsmen for their specialist fieldcraft skills. Why should the urban environment be any different?[87] Urban warfare is not intrinsically more difficult than other forms of warfare. It creates certain challenges but at the same time creates opportunities. The ability to overcome the former and exploit the latter rests ultimately on the quality of training. To return to Rommel, whom we quoted earlier, the kind of quick and fluid action that he sought in his troops begins long before the fight:
The commander must always strive to make his troops aware of the latest in tactical theory and developments, with a view to learning and applying the practical experience on the battlefield. …The best care of troops is founded in good training, as this reduces casualties.[88]
What is required to realize this is twofold: first, training facilities that are big enough for large combined-arms units with supporting logistic, medical, and intelligence elements, and realistic enough to approximate real-world battle conditions; and second, a mindset among those training soldiers in urban warfare that tells soldiers they can adapt to and thrive in this environment as well as in any other.

Tempo, Pressure, Pursuit: The Strongest Gang

Western armies have a longstanding habit of seeking solutions to tactical and strategic problems in technology because this plays to the strengths of Western countries. In a March 2017 NATO urban warfare game, for instance, the teams played with 39 different hypothetical and actual technologies. These included: various enhancements to C2ISR (command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), improving the ability of friendly forces to see and understand the operational environment in real time in complex detail; a range of autonomous weapons and logistics systems to reduce the exposure of soldiers to the highest risks; several measures to improve mobility and force protection; and some concepts for helping commanders to better influence the information environment.[89] Many, if not all, of these technologies and ideas could prove useful and will soon be or are already available. More important than changes in technology, however, are changes in how urban operations are conducted generally, something with which the British and American armies are already experimenting. We will deal with these first before looking further at developments in C2ISR and logistics. Combined arms operations, including the use of armor, are likely to continue to have a significant role in any future major urban conflict. We would not seek to suggest that light forces can, or indeed should, be the sole answer to the problem. As ever, force packages should be configured to deal with the threat presented by the enemy. However, regular force tactics must evolve. In a world containing urban clusters of up to 150 million people, saturating a city with soldiers cannot be the answer — as was prescribed by old field manuals and doctrine.[90] The numbers simply will not add up. What is needed is a substantial shift in thinking from extant, industrial-era, positive-control-oriented approaches, to one in which the regular force is simply the strongest gang in a given area. The key to fighting in the morass of the urban environment is not necessarily using divisional-level maneuvering to shatter an enemy general’s plan, but successfully overwhelming the adversary’s cognitive abilities at the team and individual level — all in an effort to achieve a given policy aim. The army fighting in this context should seek to create a thousand small outflanking maneuvers together to generate the conditions to destroy their enemy’s ability to put together a response. Beyond being an efficient method of killing the enemy, this approach could allow the attacking force to gain geographically distinct, localized control in a short timeframe. This would, of course, require enough soldiers to achieve multiple, simultaneous actions and in so doing create a situation complex enough to overwhelm the enemy’s ability to comprehend it. But it would also require commanders at all levels to have the courage to allow their subordinates to seize opportunities as they are created. To make the best use of the advantages regular soldiers have over their irregular and less well-trained adversaries, conventional military thinking must be turned on its head. At an individual level, regular soldiers are more lethal than their irregular adversaries, are in better physical condition, shoot straighter, and are from a military culture that (in theory) regards initiative as a key criterion for professional advancement. Put simply, Western soldiers have numerous advantages over the enemy. To focus only on their disadvantages is ceding the psychological high ground before the first shot has been fired. Currently, Western soldiers are likely to be part of a force that is loath to let them use those advantages because the politicians that control that force are often uncertain as to the value of the prize, which makes them risk-averse. It has long been a truism of military history, as observed earlier, that no amount of tactical acumen can make up for defective strategy. But now it is worse than that even — bad policy actively drives bad tactics, while making strategy largely irrelevant. Even the best fighting force in the world, if it is deployed statically and is permanently restrained from being proactive, is still eminently vulnerable to a fanatic in a bomb vest, with all the strategic impacts that that entails. It is ironic that in the pursuit of the laudable goal of limiting risk, specifically casualties to their own forces and to noncombatants, governments dictate strategies and prescribe tactics that, in practice, increase the risk and likely predetermine failure.[91] At the command level, the “maneuvrist approach” is the first tenet of the British Army’s philosophy for operations and a frequent reference point for allied armies.[92] Applying this philosophy in the urban environment demands that commanders fight the urge to control in real time. Control measures are essential, but they need to be simple, robust, and as unrestrictive as possible. The fragmenting tendencies of the city require everyone to be comfortable operating in the pursuit of a well-articulated goal while not requiring minute-by-minute direction. Perhaps being the strongest gang is most similar to how naval doctrine conceives of sea control — interventions that are limited in time and scale of ambition and are characterized by a high degree of ruthless, independent action. The current doctrine of strict control measures and positive control is no longer entirely fit for purpose, fixed as it is in the ground-holding concepts of land warfare. The underpinning logic of this doctrine is twofold. First, it is generally still supposed that urban battles involve the use of massed artillery to buy the time and space to maneuver and cause the maximum possible destruction of the enemy’s combat power before any attempt is made to engage in direct combat. Second, the lack of visibility and the fluidity of the battle make it very difficult to discern friend from foe. In an effort to avoid friendly fire and civilian casualties, therefore, commanders are wont to impose positive control upon their subordinates, requiring them to seek authorization for firing their weapons or moving. However, these concerns should be of decreasing importance. Western armed forces are unlikely to employ overwhelming firepower in a congested battlespace where there are so many noncombatants, because a) in most conceivable contingencies it would exceed the limits of political acceptability, and b) in most instances there are viable, or better, alternatives. Notably, technological advances in the form of precision-fire weapons supported by unmanned aerial vehicles reduce the requirement for conventional artillery, even if they do not replace them altogether. It is helpful to reflect on the remarks made half a century ago by the Brazilian Marxist revolutionary Carlos Marighella, who wrote what was essentially a gangster warfighting manual dressed up with ideological claptrap:
The urban guerrilla must possess initiative, mobility, and flexibility, as well as versatility and a command of any situation. Initiative especially is an indispensable quality. It is not always possible to foresee everything, and the urban guerrilla cannot let himself become confused, or wait for instructions. His duty is to act, to find adequate solutions for each problem he faces, and to retreat. It is better to err acting than to do nothing for fear of making a mistake.[93]
The truth of the matter is that this perfectly sensible tactical advice to the urban guerrilla is just as pertinent now to the regular Western soldier. Marighella and his followers and admirers were never so numerous or powerful as to be able to physically dominate the entirety of the cities in which they chose to operate. Neither is any Western army up to such a task without an extraordinary concentration of effort that is politically implausible and therefore strategically tenuous. The Technological Contribution: C2ISR and Logistics Before moving to our conclusion, it is worth dwelling briefly on the existing and likely impacts of technology on urban warfare, starting with C2ISR, as it is both an expansive and elusive subject, and its effects on the battlefield are pervasive and indirect. A main point we wish to stress, however, is that technology should be an enabler of the strongest gang theory — allowing dispersed operations of the sort idealized above. In practice, technology is too often an impediment when it is employed to reinforce a top-down, positive control-oriented command model that squelches small unit initiative. Technology is important, but it can become a problem when you let it drive the cart, as it were. Moreover, as we have stressed in other respects, it can be a neutral factor that affects all belligerents the same, for better or worse. For example, in some ways, technological developments in this field have seriously benefited irregular forces. For example, in addition to their extensive use of IEDs while fighting the Iraqi Army, Islamic State forces also employed vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) as a precision weapon, including armored variants. These were used in combination with other weapons. What allowed them to operate in this manner was the group’s relatively sophisticated C2ISR system, which included modified, off-the-shelf drones. With the aerial perspective afforded to them by such devices, Islamic State commanders were able to control and direct multiple VBIED attacks over a large area, including on moving columns or columns that had briefly halted. In response, Iraqi units were forced to construct ditches and other barriers around themselves and throughout the city to slow and control the threat.[94] Ultimately, all major road movements would be accompanied by a bulldozer on a flatbed truck. When forced to halt, instead of simply setting out pickets and heavy weapons pointed in the direction of potential attack, the bulldozer would be used to dig a ditch and berm enclosure, thus providing a good measure of defense against truck and car bombs.[95] [quote id="8"] There are many advantages to operating in such a manner, including fewer civilian casualties, as potentially jittery soldiers are less likely to open fire on unidentified vehicles approaching their perimeter. The disadvantages, though, are significant: For one thing, it cannot work without wrecking whatever civilian infrastructure is present, such as sewers, water mains, utility cables, and road surfaces. Conducting such an operation in an urban setting, when garnering and maintaining the good will of the local population is a main objective, is very challenging. Some potential solutions are already emerging in military engineering conferences and in the marketing brochures of firms selling defensive barriers and counter-mobility systems, the latter very often focused on changes to urban infrastructure for domestic counter-terrorism purposes.[96] One of these firms, Kenno, a Finnish manufacturer of laser-welded, steel-sandwich components, has, with the Finnish army, developed what is essentially a surface-mounted, reusable, modular fortress that can be assembled without specialist tools by a small team in a few hours.[97] What the above illustrates is that changes in civilian technologies — including robotics and microelectronics, miniaturization of batteries, and communications — enabled a nonstate actor, the Islamic State, to acquire one of the primary advantages of airpower (i.e., aerial reconnaissance) at a fraction of the cost of an air force. This, in turn, has caused the regular forces operating against the group to reinvent technologies and tactics that would have been recognizable to a Roman legionary constructing a marching fort in hostile territory at the end of a day’s march. It has also required regular forces to develop their own new techniques for utilizing new technologies, allowing them to operate in smaller teams in a more dispersed manner. For instance, at a recent conference of urban warfare specialists in New York, a senior officer highlighted the need to constantly develop new techniques while recounting an observation made to him by a young Australian special forces officer working with Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State in 2017: “The most effective weapon on the current battlefield is a joint and inter-agency-enabled combined arms team with an armed ISR platform (i.e., a ‘drone’) flying above.”[98] Similarly, in a workshop on conflict in urban environments which we attended in Britain, a London-based company showcased a civilian technology that it had developed for creating precise 3D-renderings of urban infrastructure using laser-scanning, which allowed them to be experienced in virtual reality. The military applications of this for planning, simulation, and training are significant, if it can be made robust enough for the field, and if the scanning devices are light enough to be deployed on an unmanned aerial vehicle. The first question the senior officer in the room asked was how close to real time these simulations could be delivered.[99] The apprehensions that animated both senior officers noted above are consistent with those that pertain in any environment. Commanders want to have intimate knowledge of the terrain, including where their own forces are or will be, where their enemy is and may be going, and what their intentions are (such as they can be gleaned). Additionally, they want this information in a form that they can, quite literally, walk through with their subordinate commanders during the planning phase of an operation — and for all of this to happen more swiftly and accurately than for the opponent. Peniakoff would have asked for the same thing, as would have Wellington, or Marlborough, or any of the great captains of history all the way back to Alexander the Great. Developments in C2ISR seem to be making that more possible in the city than previously thought. Clearly, when forces are operating in relatively small numbers in a dispersed manner in a city in upheaval, there will be concerns about the security of supply chains. Technology may have some useful answers here also, which are worth discussing in a bit more detail. Consider, for instance, that NASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have recently initiated the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges, modeled partly on the DARPA Grand Challenges that began experimenting with autonomous ground vehicles more than a decade ago. The main thrust of this effort is to alleviate a civilian problem, specifically the traffic jams that plague life and commerce in big cities, through the development of a new class of air vehicles that will bypass congestion by flying over it. “I happen to believe that this is a revolution coming in aviation,” were the words of one of the NASA officials involved — a revolution that has significant military impact too.[100] If the head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office can say that he is looking forward to the age of autonomous air taxis and Domino’s is already experimenting with the aerial drone delivery of pizzas fresh from its ovens to its customers’ backyards, then it stands to reason that urban military logistics, from resupply through medical evacuation, are likewise set for a shake-up.[101] Urban air mobility may have started with a civilian preoccupation with the frustrations of commuting and the perceived need for just-in-time delivery of everything from machine parts to snacks, but its potential military applications are significant. Accepting Risk, Avoiding Self-Defeat The essential point here is that many of the perceived problems of urban warfare are, in fact, self-imposed. They emerge from a constraint on the way military force is used together with the growing capability for real-time, friendly-force tracking, which reduces the risk of soldiers accidentally attacking their own side. Yet, constraining soldiers too tightly also reduces their ability to maximize their chances of victory against a determined enemy. The solution is to ruthlessly and efficiently apply the maneuvrist approach at the tactical level. Senior commanders must become comfortable with formulating a plan and then trusting in the skill of their most junior subordinates to see that plan succeed. Commanders at all levels must see the urban battlefield as a series of disparate and lightly connected nodes of activity.[102] The apogee of this approach would be for small groups of soldiers, whose activities are lightly coordinated and de-conflicted, to exert pressure upon the adversary in multiple places at the same time. Each small team would be given the freedoms and the resources to allow it to overwhelm the adversary through superior skill, tactics, and equipment. [quote id="9"] The reticence on the part of Western armies to accept an approach that is distinctly less oriented toward positive control, where local commanders are freer to maneuver more boldly and aggressively, accepting a higher degree of political risk, is based on admirable concerns. Senior commanders are uncomfortable with what could be seen as abandoning the individual soldier to a fight that pits him against his adversary. In this approach, the commander would have to effectively wash his hands of the ability to affect the outcome once the soldier has made contact with the enemy. Its potential benefits, however, are numerous. For starters, it produces less actual — as opposed to perceived — risk to the soldier because a fractured and retreating enemy is less able to coordinate resistance than one that is continually given time and space in which to reorganize and to evolve new tactics.[103] It also reduces the demand for indirect (i.e., non-precision) fire. It is a methodology that maximizes the strengths of a well-trained and equipped force and minimizes the time spent fighting in places where people actually live in dense concentrations. While the “strongest gang” approach does render an attacking force vulnerable to counter-tactics from the enemy, this will only be an issue if that force is not very effective. The assumption that this would be the case is a disappointing and self-defeating foundation from which to make military decisions and shows a disturbing lack of trust down the chain of command. Applying multiple points of pressure to the enemy would allow a force to achieve the mission while affording the commander the opportunity to judge where and how to commit resources to exploit success. There is little here that should offend or frighten modern commanders. Boldness, simultaneity, coordinated action, and the like are principles of combat that have long been taught and applauded in every other tactical environment. Why not the city?

Conclusion

The urban environment is a challenging setting in which to fight — as are all environments. Undoubtedly, the key constraint is the potential intermingling of civilians and civilian infrastructure with combat operations. Yet, civilians may be evacuated, limiting their exposure to harm, and it is sometimes possible to fight in a way that mitigates collateral damage, even when civilians are present throughout the battle. Unequivocally, significant political consequences may follow from a soldier pulling the trigger. But history and the experience of recent urban operations show that soldiers and commanders — properly trained and equipped — can act judiciously and achieve the goals of their mission despite the odds seeming to be against them. Military operations invariably have an impact on the urban landscape — even small arms can be devastating to structures — and there is no straightforward, correct answer to whether and to what extent it is acceptable to damage a city in pursuit of a political objective. It depends on many factors — military necessity and justness of cause, in particular — and the answer may vary even within the same conflict. Take for example operations in northwest Europe against Germany during World War II. Allied generals faced very different political strictures on tactics at the end of the campaign than they did at the beginning. Critics exaggerate the impact on the city when they speak of combat operations “killing the city” and of “urbicide,” purportedly a renascent war strategy that targets the “destruction of buildings qua representatives of urbanity.”[104] In reality, there are no major cities that have been destroyed by war. Groningen and Aachen — and even Berlin, Stalingrad, Hiroshima, and Carthage for that matter — were all back in business soon after being blasted to smithereens in warfighting that verged on the exterminatory. Sometimes, nature may destroy a city, but man, despite his best efforts, does not.[105] Technological change is a constant that touches upon every aspect of urban warfare. Weapons are more powerful as time passes and communications are more rapid and dense. Overall, there has been an acceleration of the transnational flow of people, ideas, and things across the global political economy that seems, at first glance, to be a major complicating factor in politics and warfare. There has also been a change of scale: Cities are simply bigger by an order of magnitude than they were in the past because there are vastly more people in the world and fewer of them are needed to work in agriculture. At the end of the day, however, these are changes in form rather than substance. The challenges faced by the British Army in Basra in 2005 were not all that different from those that it faced in Buenos Aires 200 years earlier. The reason the words “urban guerilla” cannot yet be replaced with “British soldier” in Marighella’s quote is the misalignment of policy with strategic realities and tactical common sense. The problem of the urban terrain is both political and tactical. However, it is beyond our remit and ken to solve the problem of a highly risk-averse political context, as we described it earlier. Western politicians probably ought not to pick fights in the world’s sprawling, ungoverned conurbations against little-understood enemies preying on collapsing civil societies. The best thing is not to fight at all, anywhere — as Sun Tzu quite rightly said. Nevertheless, there are a wide range of very plausible limited contingencies — strategic raids on certain facilities and noncombatant evacuation operations spring most readily to mind — that will propel armed forces into urban environments to one degree or another. It is possible to make some progress on the tactical side that will improve the chances of such actions being successful — namely, doing what is known to work, but doing it better and more consistently. For that to occur, however, Western armies must first stop deploying and re-deploying the same hoary old scare stories about what seems likely to be the normal operating environment for the foreseeable future. Tactics can be adjusted and training improved to master the neutrality of the environment. Military and strategic thought is most compelling and practically useful when it is empiric, pragmatic, and phlegmatic. Commanders will never be totally right in their decisions. They ought, though, to try to be “right enough” — to be able to determine the big picture goals, such that they are decisive and incisive enough to be turned into clear orders. And they must have the moral courage to let subordinate commanders get on with the task unburdened by micromanagement or bullying. Methodologies of strict cause and effect in complex problems of warfare, urban or otherwise, ought to be distrusted. Too often they are flawed by bad history — “just-so stories” that are based on habit and legend dressed up as authoritative models.[106] Moreover, the combination of Moore’s Law with the ubiquity of technology and its ever-decreasing cost ought to remind us that the context of contemporary operations is one in which having the technological edge is no longer decisive on its own, if indeed it ever was. Thriving in the urban environment requires that statesmen and commanders settle clearly and wisely on policy aims that military power has a chance of achieving. That is what will enable placing a greater emphasis on tempo and exploiting the greater tactical flexibility and individual lethality of the modern Western soldier in the conduct of operations. These injunctions would, we believe, result in operations more truly in line with the maneuvrist approach that is now frequently invoked but is not actively practiced. The city is a harsh and complex place in which to fight. But, like Spencer Chapman’s jungle, it is neutral. In the pursuit of sound policies, Western militaries possess the skills and capabilities to master warfare in the city, if only leaders have the courage to let them get on with it.   David Betz is Professor of War in the Modern World in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. He is head of the Insurgency Research Group, deputy director of the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications, and senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia). He has written on information warfare, the future of land forces, the virtual dimension of insurgency, propaganda of the deed, cyberspace and insurgency, and British counter-insurgency in such journals as the Journal of Strategic Studies, the Journal of Contemporary Security Studies, and Orbis. His latest book is Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power (Hurst/Oxford University Press). He is now working on a new book entitled Walled Worlds, which explores the contemporary resurgence of fortification strategies. Hugo Stanford-Tuck is a lieutenant colonel in the British Army’s Royal Gurkha Rifles, a light infantry regiment specializing in air assault and jungle operations. He has commanded infantry soldiers on operations in Sierra Leone, the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Stanford-Tuck has planned military campaigns at the political-strategic level, disaster relief activities at the operational level, and combat operations at the tactical level. He has written about counter-insurgency, combat, and the entwined Darwinian relationship between adversaries. He is currently studying for an MBA at Warwick Business School and next year will be establishing and then commanding a new battalion of Gurkha Specialized Infantry.   Image: Eden Briand [post_title] => The City Is Neutral: On Urban Warfare in the 21st Century [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-city-is-neutral-on-urban-warfare-in-the-21st-century [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-11 10:20:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-11 14:20:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1963 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Contrary to what is often supposed, urban warfare is not more difficult than other types of warfare. The combat environment is neutral, just like every other environment. Urban warfare is, however, likely to be more prevalent in coming years, which is why it is important that Western armies learn to do it confidently. The current approach to this type of fighting is wrong because it is burdened by bad history. The problems of urban combat are not new. Moreover, they are solvable through a combination of hard training, changes in command mindset, and technological innovation. We propose a “strongest gang” model as a realistic solution to the problems of urban conflict that cannot be addressed by the current dominant methods that are too positively controlled, too manpower-intensive, too cautious, and cede too much initiative to objectively weaker and less capable opponents. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The advantages afforded to the better trained, equipped, supported, and mentally prepared soldier are magnified by this environment, which rewards tactical skill. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => But population centers can only be bypassed for so long in the hope of avoiding a military operation in the midst of a major concentration of noncombatants.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => That this battle involved swords and clubs rather than M-4s and AK-47s matters little — just replace “archers” and “arrows” with “close combat attack” and “armed aviation” and the scene has an obvious contemporary resonance.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Beevor claims that the urban environment is intrinsically difficult. This difficulty, however, is neutral, manifesting differently, but with equal impact, upon all sides. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => One of the major problems with using Stalingrad as a benchmark is that it was extremely unusual in the strength of its political symbolism.  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => When it comes to the numbers and effectiveness of weapons, the most important thing is the tactical aptitude and leadership qualities of the combat forces involved.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => To prepare a soldier for urban warfare, he or she also needs to conceive of moving through the city quite differently than most civilians — to think like an urban explorer, the sort of person who is as happy moving through service tunnels and across rooftops as on sidewalks and roads. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In practice, technology is too often an impediment when it is employed to reinforce a top-down, positive control-oriented command model that squelches small unit initiative.  ) [8] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Boldness, simultaneity, coordinated action, and the like are principles of combat that have long been taught and applauded in every other tactical environment. Why not the city? ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 311 [1] => 312 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] F. Spencer Chapman, The Jungle Is Neutral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1950), 125. [2] See the list of urban warfare characteristics in, Joint Urban Operations, Joint Publication 3-06 (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nov. 20, 2013), I-5–I-9. [3] Charles C. Krulak, “The United States Marine Corps in 21st Century,” RUSI Journal 141, no. 4 (1996): 25, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071849608446045. [4] Krulak writes in his article that “we” will be drawn into such wars, referring to the United States Marine Corps. It is apparent from context, though, speaking to a British audience for publication in a Western professional military journal, that his message was aimed at the United States and its allies. [5] We thank independent scholar Lily Betz for this apposite allusion to mythology. [6] Strategic Trends Programme: Future Operating Environment 2035, U.K. Developments, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre, U.K. Ministry of Defence,  2015, 21, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/646821/20151203-FOE_35_final_v29_web.pdf. [7] David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (London: Hurst, 2013), chap. 5. [8] For more on which, as well as a good example of such, see Amanda Chisholm, “Ethnography in Conflict Zones: The Perils of Researching Private Security Contractors,” in, The Routledge Companion to Military Research Methods, ed. Alison J. Williams et al. (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016), chap. 11. [9] Geoffrey Till, Maritime Strategy and the Nuclear Age (London: Macmillan, 1982), 224. [10] Christopher Duffy, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 1660-1860 (London: Greenhill Books, 1975), 188. [11] The cases considered were: Jerusalem 70, Rome 410, Constantinople 1453, Londonderry 1689, Gibraltar 1779–83, Acre 1799, Sevastopol 1854, Lucknow 1857, Paris 1870–71, Plevna 1877, Mafeking 1899–1900, and Port Arthur 1904–05. [12] The United States Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group based at Twentynine Palms, CA, has the longest established and most extensive experience in this subject area. The urban warfare group in the Modern War Institute at West Point is a more recent initiative but has done excellent work in the public domain. [13] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Michael Howard and Peter Parker (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993), 99. [14] On the interaction of bad policy with tactics, see, David Betz and Hugo Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win,” Infinity Journal 6, no. 3 (Winter 2019): 16–22, https://www.infinityjournal.com/article/212/Teaching_Your_Enemy_to_Win/. A compelling case for the rectification of the relative isolation of tactics from scholarship on war is made by B.A. Friedman, On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017). [15] See, Land Operations, Land Warfare Development Centre, Army Doctrine Publication AC 71940, (2017), 4-01; see also Operations in the Urban Environment, Land Warfare Development Centre, Doctrine Note 15/13, (2010), 59–60. [16] Sun Tzu, The Art of War in, Classics of Strategy and Counsel Vol. 1: The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000), 74. [17] Clausewitz, On War, 139–41. [18] Gregory J. Ashworth, War and the City (New York: Routledge, 1991), 121. See also Todd C. Helmus and Russell W. Glenn, Steeling the Mind: Combat Stress Reactions and their Implications for Future Warfare (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2005), 39­–67. [19] Alice Hills, Future War in Cities: Rethinking a Liberal Dilemma (London: Frank Cass, 2004). [20] Hills, Future War in Cities, 229 and chap. 9. [21] See Theo Farrell, “Sliding Into War: The Somalia Imbroglio and US Army Peace Operations Doctrine,” International Peacekeeping 2, no. 2 (1995), https://doi.org/10.1080/13533319508413551. [22] Wesley K. Clark, Waging Modern War (New York: Public Affairs, 2001), 318. [23] “Iraq — Declaration of War — 18 Mar 2003 at 22:00,” The Public Whip, March 18, 2003, https://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2003-03-18&number=118&display=allpossible. [24] Oliver Carroll, “Inside the Bloody Battle for Ukraine’s Donetsk Airport,” Newsweek, Feb. 3, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/13/inside-bloody-battle-ukraines-donetsk-airport-304115.html. [25] 165 government troops, 45 civilians, and practically all of the Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed. The damage to the city may be seen in this photo essay: “Marawi in Ruins After Battle Against Pro-ISIL Fighters,” Al Jazeera, Oct. 23, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2017/10/marawi-ruins-battle-pro-isil-fighters-171023071620271.html [26] Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (London: Harvest/HBJ, 1986), 43. [27] Rupert Smith, The Utility Of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Allen Lane, 2005). [28] Hills, Future War in Cities, 243. [29] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, Vol. 2, trans. Robert Traill (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1851), 143. [30] Indeed, it is arguably one of the most consequential battles of all history. Without the destruction of Jerusalem, religious scholars reckon that Christianity might not have arisen as the dominant faith of the West centered on Rome. See Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (London: Penguin, 2009), 111. In colloquial Spanish, a phrase probably brought by Sephardic Jews and their descendants fleeing the massacre, “mas malo que Tito” (worse than Titus), survives in common use to this day. [31] For a discussion of the merits of the traitorous appellation of Flavius, see William den Hollander, “Was Josephus a ‘Jewish Benedict Arnold?’” Mosaic, Nov. 14, 2014, https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/uncategorized/2014/11/was-josephus-a-jewish-benedict-arnold/?print. [32] Hills, Future War in Cities, 242. [33] The section of this paper dealing with the British in Argentina in 1806–07 is based upon Ian Hernon, The Savage Empire: Forgotten Wars of the Nineteenth Century, (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2000). [34] The advisement not to “exasperate” is one of the characteristically economical and wise principles of the British counterinsurgency guru C.E. Callwell in his classic, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3rd ed. (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1906). The contemporary influence of the work is discussed in, David Betz, “Counter-insurgency, Victorian-Style,” Survival 54, no. 4 (2012): 161–82, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2012.709395. [35] A painting entitled “La Reconquista de Buenos Aires,” by the French artist Charles Fouqueray showing the dejected British commander, Gen. Beresford, surrendering to de Liniers hangs proudly in the Argentine National Historical Museum, Buenos Aires. [36] Frank G. Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars (Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007). [37] Sir Antony Beevor, “Keynote Speech,” Urban Warfare: Past, Present, and Future Conference, Royal United Services Institute, Feb. 2, 2018. [38] Joint Urban Operations, Joint Publication 3-06, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nov. 20, 2013, I-5-I-9, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_06.pdf. [39] Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Context of the Ninewa Operations and the Retaking of Mosul City, 17 October 2016-10 July 2017, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, undated, 2, http://www.uniraq.org/images/factsheets_reports/Mosul_report%2017Oct2016-10Jul201731%20October_2017.pdf. [40] Quoted in James Holland, Together We Stand: Turning the Tide in the West: North Africa, 1942-1943 (London: HarperCollins, 2005), 24. [41] Emphasis added. Vladimir Peniakoff, Popski’s Private Army (London: The Reprint Society, 1953), 55. [42] Jim Storr, The Human Face of War (London: Continuum Press, 2009). [43] A point made particularly clearly by Smith in, The Utility of Force, 284–85. British urban warfare doctrine specifically notes Smith’s paradigm of “war amongst the people” as a key driver of the need of the aforementioned concept of “integrated action.” See, Operations in the Urban Environment, 59. [44] Duncan Lewis, “Lessons from East Timor,” in, Future Armies, Future Challenges: Land Warfare in the Information Age, ed. Michael Evans, Russell Parkin, and Alan Ryan (Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2004). [45] For further elaboration on this, see, David Betz and Anthony Cormack, “Iraq, Afghanistan and British Strategy,” Orbis 53, no. 2 (Spring 2009), 319–36, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2009.01.004; and David Betz, Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power (London: Hurst, 2015), esp. chap. 5. [46] Betz, Carnage and Connectivity, 31. [47] See, the chapter on Beirut and the Reagan era intervention in Lebanon in Peter Huchthausen, America’s Splendid Little Wars: A Short History of U.S. Military Engagements, 1975-2000 (London: Viking, 2003), 45–64. [48] Huchthausen, America’s Splendid Little Wars, 62. [49] Quoted in, William Craig, Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad (London: Book Club Associates, 1973), 373. [50] Alec Wahlman credits American success in urban operations, despite the lack of consistent effort to prepare for it specifically, to two factors: transferable competence (i.e., the applicability of skills, techniques, and equipment not designed specifically for urban conflict), and battlefield adaptation, in, Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2015), 237–46. [51] A point that Jim Storr argues holds true for the Allied armies in general in World War II. See, The Hall of Mirrors: War and Warfare in the Twentieth Century (Warwick, UK: Helion and Co., 2018), 155. [52] Quoted in, Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (New York: Verso, 2012), 198. [53] Weizman, Hollow Land. The insistence of Israeli military strategists in the Operational Theory Research Institute on using such terms did much harm to their cause insofar as it freighted a good deal of common sense with language that made it incomprehensible to those who needed it. A point remarked upon by the post-2006 Lebanon War report on the perceived Israeli failings there. See, Winograd Commission: The Commission to Investigate the Events of the 2006 Lebanon Campaign, State of Israel, January 2008 [in Hebrew]. See also Eyal Weizman, “Walking Through Walls: Soldiers as Architects in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict,” Lecture at the Arxipelago of Exception conference, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Nov. 11, 2005. [54] Benjamin Runkle, “Jaffa, 1948,” in, City Fights: Selected Histories of Urban Combat from World War II to Vietnam, ed. John Antal and Bradley Gericke (New York: Presidio Press, 2003), 289–314. [55] The historiography of the Jaffa battle is complex and contested. The post-1948 Israeli Defense Forces had good reason to downplay the contributions of the Irgun. In the Irgun Museum in Tel Aviv, the battle is portrayed as a triumph. There are no good detailed accounts from the British side. It is apparent though, for obvious reasons, that in 1948, the eagerness of British forces to fight was small as they were withdrawing from Palestine. Thanks to Dr. Eitan Shamir from the Political Science Department at Bar Ilan University for reviewing the Hebrew sources on our behalf. [56] See, Robert R. Leonhard, Fighting by Minutes: Time and the Art of War, 2nd ed. (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2017), 180. [57] See, Lutz Unterseher, “Urban Warfare,” in, Brassey’s Enclopedia of Land Forces and Warfare, ed. Franklin D. Margiotta (London: Brassey’s, 2000), 1099. [58] Christopher R. Gabel, “Knock ‘em All Down: The Reduction of Aachen, October 1944,” in, Block by Block: The Challenges of Urban Operations, ed. William G. Robertson (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College Press, 2003), 84–85. [59] Ashworth, War and the City, 150. Unlike Aachen, where the Americans made decisive use of heavy artillery, the Canadian commander forbade the use of indirect-fire artillery and aerial bombing in order to mitigate collateral damage. [60] The battle is ill-remembered outside of the Gurkhas. This account was given to us in the officers’ mess of the modern Gurkha Regiment, where a painting by Terence Cuneo depicts it. [61] The solvability of urban combat is a powerful theme in Wahlman, Storming the City, passim and 6. [62] The definitive account of this is, David Zucchino, Thunder Run: Three Days in the Battle for Baghdad (London: Atlantic Books, 2004). [63] Louis A. DiMarco, Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq (Oxford: Osprey, 2012), 162. [64] DiMarco, Concrete Hell, 196. [65] William F. Owen, “Killing Your Way to Control,” British Army Review, no. 151 (Spring 2011), 34–37. [66] See, Anatol Lieven, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), esp. chap. 8. [67] Project Metropolis: Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain, Battalion Level Experiments, Experiment After Action Report, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, May 7, 2001. Project Metropolis has recently been restarted. See, Todd South, “How This Urban Warfighting Experiment Could Transform How Marines Fight in Cities,” Marine Times, Jan. 7, 2019. [68] American colleagues, including Col. Douglas Winter, chair of the Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations U.S. Army War College at the Changing Character of Warfare conference, Oxford University, June 27, 2019, and Maj. (ret.) John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, West Point at War in the Global City conference, Warwick University, Dec. 11, 2018, echoed the same things our British interlocutors told us. [69] John Spencer, “The Army Needs an Urban Warfare School and It Needs it Soon,” Modern War Institute, April 5, 2017, https://mwi.usma.edu/army-needs-urban-warfare-school-needs-soon/. Some of our interlocutors advised that a new facility has been approved in the United States that is large and, by international standards, lavishly well funded (reputedly at $6-9 billion). The key feature of this facility is meant to be its relatively large and impressively realistic civilian population. However, as far as we have been able to determine thus far, there has been no official announcement of this nor have we seen any written documentation of it. [70] See, “Troops Train in the Middle East of England,” U.K. Ministry of Defence, Jan. 18, 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/troops-train-in-the-middle-east-of-england. [71] Taken from an unclassified and unpublished trip report provided us by one of our Marine Corps interlocutors, June 27, 2017. [72] See, “Preparing for More Urban Warfare,” Economist, Jan. 25, 2018. [73] The base can be seen in this report by Gunnar Breske: ‘Häuserkampf in Schnöggersburg- Bundeswehr baut Geisterstadt,” Tagesthemen, ARD television, Oct. 2, 2015, in German but with English subtitles, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDzUWFrbmMI. [74] “Rheinmetall Presented Its Latest Legatus Live Urban Operations Training Systems at Eurosatory 2018,” Army Recognition, June 22, 2018, http://armyrecognition.com/eurosatory_2018_official_news_online/rheinmetall_presented_its_latest_legatus_live_urban_operations_training_systems_at_eurosatory_2018.html [75] Interview with former senior Russian Ministry of Defence official, Moscow, Oct. 6, 2017. [76] J. Hawk, Daniel Deiss, and Edwin Watson, “Russia Defense Report: Fighting the Next War,” South Front, March 19, 2016, https://southfront.org/russia-defense-report-fighting-the-next-war/. Interestingly, the simulation system at Mulino was originally supposed to be provided by Rheinmetall, presumably a variant of the Legatus system, under a €100 million contract from which the Germans withdrew after the imposition of sanctions in 2014. [77] Interview with former senior Russian Ministry of Defence official, Moscow, Oct. 6, 2017. [78] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Rommel and His Art of War, ed. John Pimlott (London: Wrens Park, 2003), 133. [79] It is perhaps instructive that a British infantry soldier under training spends more time on the drill square learning to march than learning the core skill of fighting in an urban environment. [80] As convincingly recounted in, Bing West, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (New York: Random House, 2008), 330. [81] David E. Johnson, M. Wade Markel, and Brian Shannon, The 2008 Battle of Sadr City: Reimagining Urban Combat (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2013), 108, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR160.html. [82] For an illustration see the photos in Johnson, Markel, and Shannon, The 2008 Battle of Sadr City, 75–76. [83] Correspondence with Maj. (ret.) John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, Nov. 16, 2017. Spencer was a company commander in the Sadr City battle and also served in Iraq in 2015–16 as an adviser on barrier systems. [84] We were unable to obtain from our interviewees a consistent or plausible answer to this question. It was supposed by several, including Spencer (see note 83), that perhaps the Army did not think it would have to do it again, which runs contrary to the stated assumption that urban warfare is going to be more common and is therefore perplexing. [85] Sean Kimmons, “Army Combat Fitness Test to Become New PT Test of Record in Late 2020,” Army News Service, July 9, 2018, https://www.army.mil/article/208189/army_combat_fitness_test_set_to_become_new_pt_test_of_record_in_late_2020. [86] For insight into the philosophy and techniques of “place hacking,” a good place to start is, Bradley L. Garrett, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (London: Verso, 2013). For this research, we interviewed a place-hacker in October 2017 who illustrated for us, with photos as an example, a typical hack of our own university — an adventure that encompassed crawling through generally unknown (and publicly inaccessible) service tunnels, climbing decorative surface features of structures, and traversing the rooftops of several central London landmarks over a space of three city blocks. Another worthwhile text for opportunistically reshaping the way cities are envisioned is, Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City (New York: Farrakhan, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016). [87] Our interlocutors at the British Army Infantry Battle School’s Urban Warfare Instructor’s Course half-joked that a good number of private soldiers brought to the table extensive burglary and other relevant skills from their civilian lives. The special forces and intelligence agencies sometimes actively seek out such recruits for specialist work, notably surveillance. However, except for a few one-off and ad hoc consultations with waterworks and sewage utilities, we came across no systematic engagement by regular forces with a range of urban specialists, whether licit or (as we would suggest that they also do) semi-licit or illicit ones. [88] Quote from, Rommel, Rommel and His Art of War, 133–34. [89] Urbanisation Seminar Game, NATO Defence College, Rome, Sept. 28–Oct. 7, 2017. [90] “China Is Trying to Turn Itself Into a Country of 19 Super-Regions,” Economist, June 23, 2018, https://www.economist.com/china/2018/06/23/china-is-trying-to-turn-itself-into-a-country-of-19-super-regions?frsc=dg%7Ce. [91] Clausewitz was not the first to repeat this sentiment, but his formulation of it is especially adroitly put, “the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.” See, Clausewitz, On War, 84. This category of mistake, however, is by far the most common in contemporary Western strategy. On which point also see, Betz and Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win.” [92] Land Operations, 5–2. [93] Carlos Marighella, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla (1969), 4. A version of this manual can be read here: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marighella-carlos/1969/06/minimanual-urban-guerrilla/index.htm. [94] What the Battle for Mosul Teaches the Force, Mosul Study Group, no. 17-24 U, U.S. Army, September 2017, 36, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/Primer-on-Urban-Operation/Documents/Mosul-Public-Release1.pdf. [95] Interview by authors with a British Army officer who was part of an advisory team in Iraq during Mosul operations, Brecon, Wales, March 2018. [96] These are discussed in greater detail in, David Betz, “World of Wallcraft: The Contemporary Resurgence of Fortification Strategies,” Infinity Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 2018): 18–22. [97] Technical data and a video of the Balpro system may be seen on the company’s website: “Force Protection Balpro Protector – Fast Fortification System,” Kenno, http://www.kenno-shield.com/balpro/force-protection-balpro-products/. [98] Maj. Gen. Rick Burr, “Future War in Cities: Australian Thoughts,” Multi-Domain Battle in Megacities Conference, Fort Hamilton, NY, April 3­–4, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ah1ogq_mHw&list=PLx2Zn7hPXT7d1zDzuqt00NOsI4ZzyTXUu&index=6. [99] Urban Warfare Study Day at British Army, Land Warfare Centre, Warminster, July 10, 2018. [100] Alan Boyle, “NASA and FAA Cast a Wide Net to Get Set for Revolution in Urban Air Mobility,” GeekWire, Nov. 2, 2018, https://www.geekwire.com/2018/nasa-faa-cast-wide-net-get-ready-revolution-urban-air-mobility/. [101] David Reid, “Domino’s Delivers World’s First Ever Pizza by Drone’, CNBC, Nov. 16,  2016. [102] A related thought suggests it be treated as an organism. See, John Spencer and John Amble, “A Better Approach to Urban Operations: Treat Cities Like Human Bodies,” Modern War Institute, Sept. 13, 2017, https://mwi.usma.edu/better-approach-urban-operations-treat-cities-like-human-bodies/. [103] On which point, see, Betz and Stanford-Tuck, “Teaching Your Enemy to Win,” 16–22. [104] Martin Coward, Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009), 15. [105] A point treated with great perspicacity recently in, John Spencer, “The Destructive Age of Urban Warfare; or, How to Kill a City and How to Protect it,” Modern War Institute, March 28, 2019, https://mwi.usma.edu/destructive-age-urban-warfare-kill-city-protect/. [106] Storr, The Human Face of War, 199. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1948 [post_author] => 279 [post_date] => 2019-10-03 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-03 09:00:03 [post_content] =>

In Response to "How to Think About Nuclear Crises"

Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long In their article in the February 2019 issue of the Texas National Security Review, Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald make a cogent argument that all nuclear crises are not created equal.[1] We agree with their basic thesis: There really are different sorts of nuclear crises, which have different risk and signaling profiles. We also concur that the existence of a variety of political and military dynamics within nuclear crises implies that we should exercise caution when interpreting the results of cross-sectional statistical analysis. If crises are not in fact all the same, then quantitative estimates of variable effects have a murkier meaning.[2] We should not be surprised that, to date, multiple studies have produced different results. Nevertheless, the article also highlights an alternate hypothesis for nuclear scholarship’s inconsistent findings about crisis outcomes and dynamics: Nuclear crises are intrinsically hard to interpret. The balance of resolve between adversaries — one of the most important variables in any crisis — is influenced by many factors and is basically impossible to code ex ante. The two variables identified as critical by Bell and Macdonald for determining the shape of a crisis — the nuclear balance and the controllability of escalation — are only somewhat more tractable to interpretation. The consequence is that nuclear crises are prone to ambiguity, with coding challenges and case interpretations often resolved in favor of the analyst’s pre-existing models of the world. In short, nuclear crises suffer from an especially pernicious interdependence between fact and theory.[3] To the extent that this problem can be ameliorated — although it cannot be resolved entirely — the solution is to employ the best possible conceptual and measurement standards for each key variable. Below we provide best practices for coding the nuclear balance, with particular focus on Bell and Macdonald’s interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We argue that, following much of the extant literature, Bell and Macdonald make interpretive choices that unintentionally truncate the history that underlies their coding of the nuclear balance in this case. In our view, they incorrectly conclude that the United States had no military incentives to use nuclear weapons first in 1962. Below, we analyze their interpretation of the Cuba crisis by examining two indicators that might be used to establish the nuclear balance: the operational capabilities of both sides and the perceptions of key U.S. policymakers. We conclude by drawing out some broader implications of the crisis for their conceptual framework, offering a friendly amendment. What Were the Operational Capabilities on Both Sides in 1962? Bell and Macdonald’s characterization of the nuclear balance in the Cuban Missile Crisis is a central part of their argument, as it is their sole empirical example of a crisis that “was not characterized by incentives for deliberate first nuclear use.” They base this assertion on a brief overview of the balance of U.S. and Soviet strategic forces in 1962, followed by a claim that “[t]he U.S. government did not know where all of the Soviet warheads were located, and there were concerns that U.S. forces were too inaccurate to successfully target the Soviet arsenal.”[4] Yet, any calculation of the incentives for deliberate first use must be based on the full context of the military balance. This hinges on the operational capabilities of both sides in the crisis, which includes a concept of operations of a first strike as well as the ability of both sides to execute nuclear operations. The available evidence on operational capabilities suggests that a U.S. first strike would have been likely to eliminate much, if not all, of the Soviet nuclear forces capable of striking the United States, as we summarize briefly below. Any concept of operations for a U.S. first strike would have been unlikely to rely solely, or even primarily, on relatively inaccurate ballistic missiles, as Bell and Macdonald imply. In a sketch of such an attack drafted by National Security Council staffer Carl Kaysen and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Harry Rowen during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the strike would have been delivered by a U.S. bomber force rather than with missiles. As Kaysen and Rowen describe, all Soviet nuclear forces of the time were “soft” targets, so U.S. nuclear bombers would have been more than accurate enough to destroy them. Moreover, a carefully planned bomber attack could have exploited the limitations of Soviet air defense in detecting low flying aircraft, enabling a successful surprise attack.[5] Kaysen would retrospectively note that U.S. missiles, which were inaccurate but armed with multi-megaton warheads, could also have been included in an attack, concluding, “we had a highly confident first strike.”[6] Kaysen’s confidence was based on his understanding of the relative ability of both sides to conduct nuclear operations. In terms of targeting intelligence, while the United States may not have known where all Soviet nuclear warheads were, it had detailed knowledge of the location of Soviet long-range delivery systems. This intelligence came from a host of sources, including satellite reconnaissance and human sources. U.S. intelligence also understood the low readiness of Soviet nuclear forces.[7] As Kaysen would later note, “By this time we knew that there were no goddamn missiles to speak of, we knew that there were only 6 or 7 operational ones and 3 or 4 more in the test sites and so on. As for the Soviet bombers, they were in a very low state of alert.”[8] Of course, Kaysen’s assessment of the balance of forces in 1961 might have been overly optimistic or no longer true a year later during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, other contemporary analysts concurred. Andrew Marshall, who had access to the closely held targeting intelligence of this period, subsequently described the Soviet nuclear force, particularly its bombers, as “sitting ducks.”[9] James Schlesinger, writing about four months before the crisis, noted, “During the next four or five years, because of nuclear dominance, the credibility of an American first-strike remains high.”[10] The authors of the comprehensive History of the Strategic Arms Competition, drawing on a variety of highly classified U.S. sources, reach a similar conclusion:
[T]he Soviet strategic situation in 1962 might thus have been judged little short of desperate. A well-timed U.S. first strike, employing then-available ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] and SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] forces as well as bombers, could have seemed threatening to the survival of most of the Soviet Union’s own intercontinental strategic forces. Furthermore, there was the distinct, if small, probability that such an attack could have denied the Soviet Union the ability to inflict any significant retaliatory damage upon the United States.[11]
The Soviet nuclear-armed submarines of 1962 were likewise vulnerable to U.S. anti-submarine warfare, as they would have had to approach within a few hundred miles of the U.S. coast to launch their missiles. As early as 1959, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Nathan Twining testified that while “one or two isolated submarines” might reach the U.S. coast, in general, the United States had high confidence in its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.[12] The performance of these capabilities during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when multiple Soviet submarines were detected and some forced to surface, confirms their efficacy, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge in their description of an attack on a Soviet submarine during the crisis.[13] How Was the Nuclear Balance Perceived in 1962? Bell and Macdonald offer three data points for their argument that U.S. policymakers did not perceive meaningful American nuclear superiority during the Cuban Missile Crisis. First, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and other veterans of the Kennedy administration attested retrospectively that nuclear superiority did not play an important role in the Cuba crisis.[14] Second, President John F. Kennedy received a Joint Chiefs of Staff briefing on the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) — the U.S plan for strategic nuclear weapons employment — in 1961, which reported that Soviet retaliation should be expected under all circumstances, even after an American pre-emptive strike.[15] Third, the president expressed ambivalence about the nuclear balance on the first day of the Cuba crisis.[16] But this evidence is a combination of truncated, biased, and weak. The retrospective testimony of Kennedy administration alumni is highly dubious. McNamara, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and others were all highly motivated political actors, speaking two decades after the fact in the context of fierce nuclear policy debates on which they had taken highly public positions, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge in a footnote.[17] The problems with giving much weight to such statements are especially evident given the fact that, as Bell and Macdonald acknowledge,[18] these very same advisers made remarks during the Cuba crisis that were much more favorably disposed to the idea of American nuclear superiority.[19] The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefing to Kennedy on SIOP-62 is evidence, contrary to Bell and Macdonald’s interpretation, of American nuclear superiority in 1962. Bell and Macdonald make much of the briefing’s caution that “Under any circumstances—even a preemptive attack by the US—it would be expected that some portion of the Soviet long-range nuclear force would strike the United States.”[20] But interpreting this comment as evidence that the United States did not possess “politically meaningful damage limitation” capabilities makes sense only if one has already decided that the relevant standard for political meaning is a perfectly disarming strike.[21] Scott Sagan, in commenting on the briefing, underscores that “although the United States could expect to suffer some unspecified nuclear damage under any condition of war initiation, the Soviet Union would confront absolutely massive destruction regardless of whether it struck first or retaliated.”[22] Crucially, the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for maintaining a U.S. first-strike capability in a memorandum to McNamara commenting on his plans for strategic nuclear forces for fiscal years 1964­–68. This memorandum, sent shortly after the crisis, argues that the United States could not, in the future, entirely eliminate Soviet strategic forces. Yet, the memorandum continues: “The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a first-strike capability is both feasible and desirable, although the degree or level of attainment is a matter of judgment and depends upon the US reaction to a changing Soviet capability.”[23] In short, not only did the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude the United States had a meaningful first-strike capability in 1962, they believed such a capability could and should be maintained in the future. As for Kennedy’s personal views, it is important not just to consider isolated quotes during the Cuban crisis — after all, he made several comments that point in opposite directions.[24] One has to consider the political context of the Cuban affair writ large: the multi-year contest with the Soviets over the future of Berlin, and effectively, the NATO alliance. Moreover, Kennedy had deliberately built Western policy during the Berlin crisis on a foundation of nuclear superiority. NATO planning assumed that nuclear weapons would ultimately be used, and probably on a massive scale.[25] As Kennedy put it to French President Charles de Gaulle in June of 1961, “the advantage of striking first with nuclear weapons is so great that if [the] Soviets were to attack even without using such weapons, the U.S. could not afford to wait to use them.” In July, he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “he felt the critical point is to be able to use nuclear weapons at a crucial point before they use them.” In January of 1962, expecting the Berlin Crisis to heat up in the near future, he stressed the importance of operational military planning, and of thinking “hard about the ways and means of making decisions that might lead to nuclear war.” As he put it at that meeting, “the credibility of our nuclear deterrent is sufficient to hold our present positions throughout the world” even if American conventional military power “on the ground does not match what the communists can bring to bear.”[26] But the president recognized that this military strength was a wasting asset: The development of Soviet nuclear forces meant that the window of American nuclear superiority was closing. For this reason, Kennedy thought it important to bring the Berlin Crisis to a head as soon as possible, while the United States still possessed an edge. “It might be better to let a confrontation to develop over Berlin now rather than later,” he argued just two weeks before the Cuba crisis. After all, “the military balance was more favorable to us than it would be later on.”[27] Two months after the crisis, his views were little different. Reporting on a presidential trip to Strategic Air Command during which Kennedy was advised that “the really neat and clean way to get around all these complexities [about the precise state of the nuclear balance] was to strike first,” Bundy “said that of course the President had not reacted with any such comments, but Bundy’s clear implication was that the President felt that way.”[28] Broader Implications Our argument about the nuclear balance during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if correct, requires some friendly amendments to Bell and Macdonald’s framework for delineating types of nuclear crisis. Our discussion of the operational capabilities and policymaker perceptions during the Cuba crisis underscores that Bell and Macdonald’s first variable — “the strength of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis”[29] — probably ought to be unpacked into two separate variables: military incentives for a first strike, and political bargaining incentives for selective use. After all, whatever the exact nuclear balance was during 1962, the United States was certainly postured for asymmetric escalation. The salience of America’s posture is thrown into especially bold relief once the political context of the crisis is recognized: The Cuban affair was basically the climax of the superpower confrontation over Berlin, in which American force structure and planning was built around nuclear escalation. Indeed, this is how policymakers saw the Cuba crisis, where the fear of Soviet countermoves in Berlin hung as an ever-present cloud over discussions within the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.[30] According to Bell and Macdonald, either kind of incentive is sufficient to put a case into the “high” risk category for deliberate use. But in truth, political incentives to use nuclear weapons selectively — even if only against military targets — are ever present. They are just seldom triggered until matters have gone seriously awry on the battlefield. In short, we believe Bell and Macdonald were right to expend extra effort looking for military first-strike incentives, which add genuinely different sorts of risk to a crisis. We argue that operational capabilities and policymaker perceptions in the Cuba crisis show that such incentives are more common than generally credited. So, we would build on Bell and Macdonald’s central insight that different types of nuclear crisis have different signaling and risk profiles by modestly amending their framework. We suggest that there are three types of nuclear crisis: those with political bargaining incentives for selective nuclear use (Type A); those with risks of both selective use and non-rational uncontrolled escalation (Type B); and those with political risks, non-rational risks, and military incentives for a nuclear first strike (Type C). Type A crises essentially collapse Bell and Macdonald’s “staircase” and “stability-instability” models, and are relatively low risk.[31] Any proposed nuclear escalation amounts to a “threat to launch a disastrous war coolly and deliberately in response to some enemy transgression.”[32] Such threats are hard to make credible until military collapse has put a state’s entire international position at stake. Outcomes of Type A crises will be decided solely by the balance of resolve. We disagree with Bell and Macdonald’s argument that the conventional military balance can ever determine the outcome of a nuclear crisis, since any conventional victory stands only by dint of the losing side’s unwillingness to escalate. But the lower risks of a Type A crisis mean that signals of resolve are harder to send, and must occur through large and not particularly selective or subtle means — essentially, larger conventional and nuclear operations. Type B crises are similar to Bell and Macdonald’s “brinksmanship” model.[33] These have a significantly greater risk profile, since they also contain genuine risks of uncontrolled escalation in addition to political risks. Crisis outcomes remain dependent on the balance of resolve, but signaling is easier and can be much finer-grained than in Type A crises. The multiple opportunities for uncontrolled escalation mean that there are simply many more things a state can do at much lower levels of actual violence to manipulate the level of risk in a crisis. For instance, alerting nuclear forces will often not mean much in a Type A crisis (at least before the moment of conventional collapse), since there is no way things can get out of control. But alerting forces in a Type B crisis could set off a chain of events where states clash due to the interaction between each other’s rules of nuclear engagement, incentivize forces inadvertently threatened by conventional operations to fire, or misperceive each other’s actions. Any given military move will have more political meaning and will also be more dangerous. Type C crises are similar to Bell and Macdonald’s “firestorm” model.[34] These are the riskiest sorts of nuclear crisis, since there are military reasons for escalation as well as political and non-rational risks. Outcomes will be influenced both by the balance of resolve and the nuclear balance: either could give states incentives to manipulate risk. Such signals will be the easiest to send, and the finest-grained of any type of crisis. But because the risk level jumps so much with any given signal, the time in which states can bargain may be short.[35] In sum, Bell and Macdonald have made an important contribution to the study of nuclear escalation by delineating different types of crisis with different risk and signaling profiles. We believe they understate the importance of American nuclear superiority during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that these coding problems highlight some conceptual issues with their framework. In the end, though, our amendments appear to us relatively minor, further underscoring the importance of Bell and Macdonald’s research. We hope that they, and other scholars, will continue to build on these findings.   Brendan R. Green, Cincinnati, Ohio Austin Long, Arlington, Virginia  

In Response to a Critique

Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald We thank Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long for their positive assessment of our work and for engaging with our argument so constructively.[36] Their contribution represents exactly the sort of productive scholarly debate we were hoping to provoke. As we stated in our article, we intended our work to be only an initial effort to think through the heterogeneity of nuclear crises, and we are delighted that Green and Long have taken seriously our suggestion for scholars to continue to think in more detail about the ways in which nuclear crises differ from one another. Their arguments are characteristically insightful, offer a range of interesting and important arguments and suggestions, and have forced us to think harder about a number of aspects of our argument. In this reply, we briefly lay out the argument we made in our article before responding to Green and Long’s suggestion that we underestimate the incentives to launch a nuclear first-strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis and their proposal of an alternative typology for understanding nuclear crises. Our Argument In our article, we offer a framework for thinking through the heterogeneity of nuclear crises.[37] While the existing literature on such crises assumes that they all follow a certain logic (although there is disagreement on what that logic is), we identify factors that might lead nuclear crises to differ from one another in consequential ways. In particular, we argue that two factors — whether incentives are present for nuclear first use and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved — lead to fundamentally different sorts of crises. These two variables generate four possible “ideal type” models of nuclear crises: “staircase” crises (characterized by high first-use incentives and high controllability), “brinkmanship” crises (low first-use incentives and low controllability), “stability-instability” crises (low first-use incentives and high controllability), and “firestorm” crises (high first-use incentives and low controllability). Each of these ideal types exhibits distinctive dynamics and offers different answers to important questions, such as, how likely is nuclear escalation, and how might it occur? How feasible is signaling within a crisis? What factors determine success? For example, crises exhibiting high incentives for nuclear first use combined with low crisis controllability — firestorm crises — are particularly volatile, and the most dangerous of all four models in terms of likelihood of nuclear war. These are the crises that statesmen should avoid except under the direst circumstances or for the highest stakes. By contrast, where incentives for the first use of nuclear weapons are low and there is high crisis controllability — the stability-instability model — the risk of nuclear use is lowest. When incentives for nuclear first use are low and crisis controllability is also low — brinkmanship crises — or when incentives for first use are high and crisis controllability is also high — the staircase model — there is a moderate risk of nuclear use, although through two quite different processes. For the brinkmanship model, low levels of crisis controllability combined with few incentives for nuclear first use mean that escalation to the nuclear level would likely only happen inadvertently and through a process of uncontrolled, rather than deliberate, escalation. On the other hand, high levels of crisis controllability combined with high incentives for nuclear first use — characteristic of the staircase model — mean that escalation would more likely occur through a careful, deliberate process. First-Use Incentives in the Cuban Missile Crisis First, Green and Long address the extent of incentives for launching a nuclear first strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In short, they argue that there were substantial military incentives for America to strike first during the crisis and that these were understood and appreciated by American leaders.[38] While space constraints meant that our analysis of the nuclear balance in the Cuban Missile Crisis was briefer than we would have liked, we certainly agree that the United States possessed nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union during the crisis.[39] The debate between us and Green and Long is, therefore, primarily over whether the nuclear balance that we (more or less) agree existed in 1962 was sufficiently lopsided as to offer meaningful incentives for nuclear first use, and whether it was perceived as such by the leaders involved. In this, we do have somewhat different interpretations of how much weight to assign to particular pieces of evidence. For example, we believe that the retrospective assessment of key participants does have evidentiary value, although we acknowledge (as we did in our article) the biases of such assessments in this case. Given the rapidly shifting nuclear balance, we place less weight on President John F. Kennedy’s statements in years prior to the crisis than on those he made during the crisis itself,[40] which were more consistently skeptical of the benefits associated with U.S. nuclear superiority at a time when the stakes were at their highest.[41] We also place somewhat less weight than Green and Long on the 1961 analysis of Carl Kaysen, given doubts about whether his report had much of an effect on operational planning.[42] And finally, we put less weight on the Joint Chiefs of Staff document from 1962 cited by Green and Long in support of their argument, given that it acknowledges the U.S. inability to eliminate Soviet strategic nuclear forces — thus highlighting the dangers of a U.S. nuclear first strike — as well as focuses on future force planning in the aftermath of the crisis. We would also note that our assessment that U.S. nuclear superiority in the Cuban Missile Crisis did not obviously translate into politically meaningful incentives for first use is in line with standard interpretations of this case, including among scholars that Green and Long cite. For Marc Trachtenberg, for example, “[t]he American ability to ‘limit damage’ by destroying an enemy’s strategic forces did not seem, in American eyes, to carry much political weight” during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[43] Similarly, the relative lack of incentives for rational first use in the crisis motivated Thomas Schelling’s assessment that only an “unforeseeable and unpredictable” process could have led to nuclear use in the crisis.[44] Regardless of whether participants in the Cuban Missile Crisis understood the advantages (or lack thereof) associated with nuclear superiority, in some ways, our disagreement with Green and Long is more of a conceptual one: where to draw the threshold at which a state’s level of nuclear superiority (and corresponding ability to limit retaliatory damage) should be deemed “politically meaningful,” i.e., sufficiently lopsided to offer incentives for first use. This is a topic about which there is certainly room for legitimate disagreement. “Political relevance” is a tricky concept, which reinforces Green and Long’s broader argument that “nuclear crises are intrinsically hard to interpret” — a point with which we agree.[45] But Green and Long seem to view any ability to limit retaliatory damage as politically meaningful, since they argue that a nuclear balance that would have likely left a number of American cities destroyed (and potentially more), even in the aftermath of a U.S. first strike, nonetheless provided strong military incentives for first use. By contrast, our view is that the threshold should be somewhat higher than this, though lower than Green and Long’s characterization of our position: We do not, in fact, think that the relevant standard for political meaning “is a perfectly disarming strike.” Part of our motivation in wanting a threshold higher than “any damage limitation capability” is that it increases the utility of the typology we offer by allowing us to draw the line in such a way that a substantial number of empirical cases exist on either side of that threshold. Green and Long, by contrast, seem more satisfied to draw the line in such a way that cases exhibiting very different incentives for first use — a crisis with North Korea today compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example — would both be classified on the same side of the threshold.[46] Green and Long’s approach would ignore the important differences between these cases by treating both crises as exhibiting strong incentives for nuclear first use. This would be akin to producing a meteorological map that rarely shows rain because the forecaster judges the relevant threshold to be “catastrophic flooding.” There is nothing fundamentally incorrect about making such a choice, but it is not necessarily the most helpful approach to shedding light on the empirical variation we observe in the historical record. An Alternative Typology of Nuclear Crises Second, Green and Long offer an alternative typology for understanding the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Green and Long argue that there are three types of crisis: “those with political bargaining incentives for selective nuclear use (Type A); those with risks of both selective use and non-rational uncontrolled escalation (Type B); and those with political risks, non-rational risks, and military incentives for a nuclear first strike (Type C).” This is an interesting proposal and we have no fundamental objections to their typology.[47] After all, one can categorize the same phenomenon in different ways, and different typologies may be useful for different purposes. Space constraints inevitably prevent Green and Long from offering a full justification for their typology, and we would certainly encourage them to offer a more fleshed out articulation of it and its merits. Their initial discussion of the different types of signals that states can send within different types of crises is especially productive and goes beyond the relatively simple discussion of the feasibility of signaling that we included in our article. We offer two critiques that might be helpful as they (and others) continue to consider the relative merits of these two typologies and build upon them. First, it is not clear how different their proposed typology is from the one we offer. At times, for example, Green and Long suggest that their typology simply divides up the same conceptual space we identify using our two variables, but does so differently. For example, they argue that they are essentially collapsing two of our quadrants (stability-instability crises and staircase crises) into Type A crises, while Type B crises are similar to our brinkmanship crises and Type C crises are similar to our firestorm crises. If so, their typology does not really suggest a fundamentally different understanding of how nuclear crises vary, but merely of where the most interesting variation occurs within the conceptual space we identify. The key question, then, in determining the relative merits of the two typologies, is whether there is important variation between the two categories that Green and Long collapse. We continue to think the distinctions between stability-instability crises and staircase crises are important. Although both types of crises are relatively controllable and have limited risk of what Green and Long call “non-rational uncontrolled escalation,” they have very different risks when it comes to nuclear use: lower in stability-instability crises and higher in staircase crises. The factors that determine success in stability-instability crises — primarily the conventional military balance due to the very low risk of nuclear escalation — do not necessarily determine success in staircase crises, in which the nuclear balance may matter. As a result, we think that collapsing these two categories is not necessarily a helpful analytical move. Second, to the extent that their typology differs from our own, it does so in ways that are not necessarily helpful in shedding light on the variation across nuclear crises that we observe. In particular, separating incentives for first use into “political bargaining incentives” and “military incentives” is an intriguing proposal but we are not yet fully persuaded of its merits. Given that one of Green and Long’s goals is to increase the clarity of the typology we offer, and given that they acknowledge the difficulties of coding the nuclear balance, demanding even more fine-grained assessments in order to divide incentives for first use into two separate (but conceptually highly connected) components may be a lot to ask of analysts. Moreover, given Green and Long’s assertion that “political incentives to use nuclear weapons selectively…are ever present,” their argument in fact implies (as mentioned above) that political incentives for first use are not a source of interesting variation within nuclear crises. We disagree with this conclusion substantively, but it is worth noting that it also has important conceptual implications for Green and Long’s typology: It means that their three types of crises all exhibit political incentives for nuclear first use. If this is the case, then political incentives for nuclear first use simply fall out of the analysis. In effect, crises without political incentives for nuclear first use are simply ruled out by definition. This analytic move renders portions of their argument tautologous. For example, they argue that the conventional balance cannot “ever determine the outcome of a nuclear crisis,” but this is only because they assume that there are always political incentives to use nuclear weapons first, and thus, “any conventional victory stands only by dint of the losing side’s unwillingness to escalate.” More broadly, this approach seems to us at least somewhat epistemologically problematic. In our view, it is better to be conceptually open to the existence of certain types of crises and then discover that such crises do not occur empirically, than it is to rule them out by definition and risk discovering later that such crises have, in fact, taken place. In sum, while we are not fully persuaded by Green and Long’s critiques, we are extremely grateful for their insightful, thorough, and constructive engagement with our article and look forward to their future work on these issues. We hope that they, along with other scholars, will continue to explore the ways in which nuclear crises differ from one another, and the implications of such differences for crisis dynamics.   Mark S. Bell, Minneapolis, Minnesota Julia Macdonald, Denver, Colorado   [post_title] => Contrasting Views on How to Code a Nuclear Crisis [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => contrasting-views-on-how-to-code-a-nuclear-crisis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-24 16:41:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-24 20:41:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1948 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => In this issue’s correspondence section, Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long offer up an alternative way to code nuclear crises in response to Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald's article in the February 2019 issue of TNSR. Bell and Macdonald, in turn, offer a response to Green and Long's critique. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => [style] => framing [type] => Framing [style_label] => The Foundation [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 279 [1] => 138 [2] => 258 [3] => 259 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 2 (February 2019): 40–64, http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/1944. [2] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 42, 63. [3] For an excellent treatment of this problem in the international relations context, see Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 154–72. [4] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [5] See Memorandum for General Maxwell Taylor from Carl Kaysen, “Strategic Air Planning and Berlin,” Sept. 5, 1961, from National Archives, Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB56/BerlinC1.pdf. [6] Marc Trachtenberg, David Rosenberg, and Stephen Van Evera, “An Interview with Carl Kaysen,” MIT Security Studies Program (1988), 9, http://web.mit.edu/SSP/publications/working_papers/Kaysen%20working%20paper.pdf. [7] Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce, and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015): 44–46, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.958150. [8] “An Interview with Carl Kaysen,” 9. [9] Quoted in Long and Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike,” 46. [10] James R. Schlesinger, “Some Notes on Deterrence in Western Europe,” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, June 30, 1962), 8. [11] Ernest R. May, John D. Steinbruner, and Thomas M. Wolfe, History of the Strategic Arms Competition 1945–1972, v.1 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1981), 475. [12] Quoted in Scott Sagan, “SIOP-62: The Nuclear War Plan Briefing to President Kennedy,” International Security 12, no. 1 (Summer 1987): 34, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538916. [13] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 56. See also, May, Steinbruner, and Wolfe, History of the Strategic Arms Competition, 475; and Owen Coté, The Third Battle: Innovation in the US Navy’s Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2003), 42. [14] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55, 59. [15] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [16] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [17] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 59, fn 96. For more on Bundy, see, e.g., McGeorge Bundy et al., “Nuclear Weapons and the Atlantic Alliance,” Foreign Affairs 60, no. 4 (Spring 1982): 753–68, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1982-03-01/nuclear-weapons-and-atlantic-alliance. [18] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [19] Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 88. [20] Sagan, “SIOP-62,” 50. [21] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [22] Sagan, “SIOP-62,” 36, and esp. n. 49. [23] Joint Chiefs of Staff Memorandum 907-62 to McNamara, Nov. 20, 1962, in Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1961-1963, Vol. 8, 387–89, quotation on 388, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v08/d109. [24] For example, consider his remark, just after the peak of the crisis, that “My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons,” before strongly implying massive U.S. preemption would be preferable to tactical use. See ExComm Meeting, Oct. 29, 1962, in Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 657. [25] For excellent accounts of Kennedy’s Berlin policy and his views on nuclear superiority, which we draw upon heavily, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), chap. 8; Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), chaps. 2–3. [26] Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 292, 293, 294, 295. [27] Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 353, 351. [28] Legere memorandum for the record of the White House daily staff meeting, Dec. 10, 1962, National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman's Staff Group December 1962-January 1963; quoted in FRUS 1961-1963, Vol. 8, 436. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v08/d118. [29] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 43. [30] See, e.g., Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 353, n. 3. [31] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 47–49. [32] Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 97. [33] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 49. [34] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 46, 49–50. [35] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 102. [36] This work was supported by U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD (PASCC) award FA7000-19-2-0008. The opinions, findings, views, conclusions or recommendations contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of USAFA, DTRA or the U.S. Government. [37] Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 2 (February 2019): 40-64, http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/1944. For additional applications of our framework, see Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “Toward Deterrence: The Upside of the Trump-Kim Summit,” War on the Rocks, June 15, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/toward-deterrence-the-upside-of-the-trump-kim-summit/; Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “How Dangerous Was Kargil? Nuclear Crises in Comparative Perspective,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 135–48, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1626691. [38] One minor correction to Green and Long’s argument: The Cuban Missile Crisis is not the “sole empirical example” in our article of a crisis characterized by a lack of incentives for first use. In the article we also argue that the 2017 Doklam Crisis between India and China lacked strong incentives for first use, and we suspect there are plenty more crises of this sort in the historical record. Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 60–61. [39] Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 55. [40] The quote from the crisis that Green and Long cite does not really support their argument. Green and Long state: “consider [Kennedy’s] remark, just after the peak of the crisis, that ‘My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons,’ before strongly implying massive U.S. preemption would be preferable to tactical use.” In fact, consider the full quote: “My guess is, well, everybody sort of figures that, in extremis, everybody would use nuclear weapons. The decision to use any kind of a nuclear weapon, even the tactical ones, presents such a risk of it getting out of control so quickly.” Kennedy then trails off but “appears to agree” with an unidentified participant who states, “But Cuba's so small compared to the world.” This suggests that Kennedy was expressing deep skepticism of any sort of nuclear use remaining limited, as well as doubts about the merits of taking such risks over Cuba, rather than making any sort of clear comparison between the merits of tactical use and massive pre-emption as Green and Long suggest. Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 657. [41] For a recent analysis of Kennedy’s behavior during the Cuban Missile Crisis that concludes that he was deeply skeptical of the benefits of nuclear superiority during the crisis, see James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 29–37. [42] For example, see Francis Gavin’s assessment that “little was done with” Kaysen’s plan, a claim which echoes Marc Trachtenberg’s earlier assessment that “it is hard to tell, however, what effect [Kaysen’s analysis] had, and in particular whether, by the end of the year, the Air Force was prepared in operational terms to launch an attack of this sort.” Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 38; Marc Trachtenberg, History and Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 225. [43] Marc Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security 10, no. 1 (Summer 1985), 162, http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2538793. [44] Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 97. [45] Indeed, at the risk of adding even more complexity, the relevant threshold likely varies with the stakes of the crisis: Leaders are likely to view lesser damage limitation capabilities as politically relevant when the stakes are higher than they are when the stakes involved are lower. [46] For discussion of the North Korean case, see Bell and Macdonald, “Toward Deterrence,” and Bell and Macdonald, “How to Think About Nuclear Crises,” 61–62. [47] We do, however, suggest that our labels offer somewhat more joie de vivre than the alphabetic labels that Green and Long offer. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1862 [post_author] => 102 [post_date] => 2019-09-10 05:00:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-10 09:00:14 [post_content] => Policymaking is a discipline, a craft, and a profession. Policymakers apply specialized knowledge — about other countries, politics, diplomacy, conflict, economics, public health, and more — to the practical solution of public problems. Effective policymaking is difficult. The “hardware” of policymaking — the tools and structures of government that frame the possibilities for useful work — are obviously important. Less obvious is that policy performance in practice often rests more on the “software” of public problem-solving: the way people size up problems, design actions, and implement policy. In other words, the quality of the policymaking. Like policymaking, engineering is a discipline, a craft, and a profession. Engineers learn how to apply specialized knowledge — about chemistry, physics, biology, hydraulics, electricity, and more — to the solution of practical problems. Effective engineering is similarly difficult. People work hard to learn how to practice it with professional skill. But, unlike the methods taught for engineering, the software of policy work is rarely recognized or studied. It is not adequately taught. There is no canon or norms of professional practice. American policymaking is less about deliberate engineering, and is more about improvised guesswork and bureaucratized habits. My experience is as a historian who studies the details of policy episodes and the related staff work, but also as a former official who has analyzed a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues at all three levels of American government, including federal work from different bureaucratic perspectives in five presidential administrations from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. From this historical and contemporary vantage point, I am struck (and a bit depressed) that the quality of U.S. policy engineering is actually much, much worse in recent decades than it was throughout much of the 20th century. This is not a partisan observation — the decline spans both Republican and Democratic administrations. I am not alone in my observations. Francis Fukuyama recently concluded that, “[T]he overall quality of the American government has been deteriorating steadily for more than a generation,” notably since the 1970s. In the United States, “the apparently irreversible increase in the scope of government has masked a large decay in its quality.”[1] This worried assessment is echoed by other nonpartisan and longtime scholars who have studied the workings of American government.[2] The 2003 National Commission on Public Service observed,
The notion of public service, once a noble calling proudly pursued by the most talented Americans of every generation, draws an indifferent response from today’s young people and repels many of the country’s leading private citizens. … The system has evolved not by plan or considered analysis but by accretion over time, politically inspired tinkering, and neglect. … The need to improve performance is urgent and compelling.[3]
And they wrote that as the American occupation of Iraq was just beginning. In this article, I offer hypotheses to help explain why American policymaking has declined, and why it was so much more effective in the mid-20th century than it is today. I offer a brief sketch of how American education about policy work evolved over the past hundred years, and I argue that the key software qualities that made for effective policy engineering neither came out of the academy nor migrated back into it. I then outline a template for doing and teaching policy engineering. I break the engineering methods down into three interacting sets of analytical judgments: about assessment, design, and implementation. In teaching, I lean away from new, cumbersome standalone degree programs and toward more flexible forms of education that can pair more easily with many subject-matter specializations. I emphasize the value of practicing methods in detailed and more lifelike case studies. I stress the significance of an organizational culture that prizes written staff work of the quality that used to be routine but has now degraded into bureaucratic or opinionated dross. Many former officials share such concerns, as will become apparent.[4] My suggestions use a relatively simple template, making it easy for people to learn and use it. But, as in engineering, knowing the steps for good policy design is much simpler than implementing them in professional practice. That is why in-depth case work in training and a strong organizational culture in practice are so important, and so difficult. Of course, some will point to dysfunction in the hardware of American politics and policy as a cause of the decline in policymaking prowess. But whatever the other issues, surely part of the solution to improving American policymaking must include better performance in analyzing, crafting, and implementing solutions to public problems.

Policymaking: Hardware vs. Software

The software of substantive public problem-solving overlaps with the formal procedures of government, but it is really a different subject. The software of policy is about how policies are crafted within a given set of processes and constraints. Software includes methods or routines for the way the substantive work is done, at the level of the individual professional and the institution. At every stage, the software includes organizational cultures for getting and evaluating information, for doing analysis, and for recording what is being done. By contrast, the tools and structures that frame the possibilities for useful work may be described as the hardware of policymaking. Explanations for failures of policy tend to focus on the structure of government. While hardware constraints are real, in my experience, problems often have at least as much to do with bad software. Good software is also one of the few defenses against bad hardware. For instance, amid all the public controversies about law in America, the United States still does reasonably well upholding the rule of law and the administration of justice. Why? One reason is because the American legal profession has established very strong norms about what constitutes appropriate legal reasoning and quality legal research and writing. This is software. [quote id="1"] Such norms are no sure cure for partisanship, caprice, incompetence, and corruption. But, in the American legal world, generally accepted norms for legal research and writing do help constrain excesses, clarify arguments and evidence, and expose sloppy work. They provide a common vocabulary for evaluation and analysis. In American public policy design, however, there are no comparable norms that distinguish professional craft. There is no commonly understood set of habits that routinely force out necessary questions and naturally highlight gaps in information or analysis. Good software, rigorous training, and strong organizational culture can decisively improve performance. One of the more interesting social-science experiments ever conducted for policy work, the University of Pennsylvania and U.C.-Berkeley’s “Good Judgment Project” led by Philip Tetlock, Barbara Mellers, and Don Moore, funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, ran from 2011 to 2015. It included work from more than 25,000 forecasters making more than a million predictions about world developments. The study’s basic conclusions: “First, talented generalists often outperform specialists in making forecasts. Second, carefully crafted training can enhance predictive acumen. And third, well-run teams can outperform individuals.”[5] Consider that an illustration of what is possible in just one facet of work.

Preparing to Make Policy

Bad policymaking is almost unavoidable when policymakers undertake complex and difficult work without adequate training or preparation. Unfortunately, a lack of adequate training or preparation seems to be the norm among American policymakers today. Why? I offer three premises: First, general training among senior and mid-level policy professionals is radically insufficient to prepare them to do action-focused analysis and assessment, high-quality written policy design work, and adaptive, people-centered implementation. Usually this training simply does not exist. Second, whatever the talents of individual politicians or officials or commentators, they will remain idiosyncratic unless the craft is institutionalized in a canon of professional education and the related ideas are better understood. Third, even if certain professional or graduate schools (e.g., in public policy, law, political science, or economics) had an effective canon of this kind, which I believe they do not, such programs — as currently configured — simply will not reach, or are effectively unavailable, to the large majority of people who will find themselves actually filling most senior and mid-level policy jobs. Modern American political history offers support for these premises, as I outline below. As this sketch reveals, the best practices that made the software of American policymaking successful in the mid-20th century neither came out of the academy nor migrated back into it. They were never adequately turned into canonical methods, “carefully crafted training,” or an organizational culture of well-run analytical teams.

A Brief History of Preparing Policymakers

American education for public service “has differed from such education in most if not all other parts of the world.”[6] Outside of the Army and Navy, the notion of professional “careers” in public service did not emerge in America until the late 19th century. The passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 created the first national civil service in America and many states adopted similar reforms. These laws required competitive examinations for entry into public service — although the educational levels required were not high. Basic literacy and numeracy were desired, as was some knowledge of accounting and some constitutional history. A loosely defined field of “public administration” arose during the early 20th century. The impetus for it was a delayed reaction to the rapid urbanization of America, one of the great social upheavals in the history of the country. The field of public administration combined general administrative skills and knowledge (e.g., finance, accounting, personnel management), relevant technical knowledge (e.g., hydrology, criminology), and some knowledge about emerging social sciences. The Training School for Public Service, founded in 1911, was typical among pioneering public administration institutions. At first not associated with any university, it was instead part of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, founded in 1906. In 1931, the Training School in New York City broke up. Part of it went to Columbia University and part to the important Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, which was founded in 1924 with six public administration students. The Woodrow Wilson School was established at Princeton University in 1930. In Washington, DC, Robert Brookings founded a research institute and graduate school in the early 1920s, later reduced just to research. Between 1914 and 1930, several dozen institutions created small programs in public or municipal administration.[7] Diplomacy escaped all formal professionalization until early in the 20th century. Diplomats, as distinct from consuls, did not begin to have to pass examinations until the mid-1920s. “Then, as now, many of the higher diplomatic posts remained ‘spoils.’”[8] In the United States, expertise in statecraft was often equated with experience in the principles and practice of international law. To foster its study, the American Society of International Law was founded in 1906. Some indication of the society’s stature can be gathered from noting that its first president was Elihu Root (1906–24), who had been Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of war and then secretary of state. When Root stepped down, his place was taken by the then-secretary of state (and future chief justice of the Supreme Court), Charles Evans Hughes (1924–29). In those years, the society regularly held meetings at the White House and was addressed by the president. In addition to skill in the practice of international law, skill in foreign policy work was also often associated with the knowledge of international business. Familiarity with diplomatic history was a plus, as was knowledge of foreign languages, geography, and culture. The new law schools could well have become a broader base for training policymakers. But the formative ones, such as Harvard Law under Dean Christopher Langdell, sought to foster as their distinct intellectual identity a new science of legal thinking, its principles to be discovered through the study of cases. In this context, “administrative law” became a field within law schools, conceived of as an effort to decode the legal principles that guided court review of administrative decisions.[9] Very early, the public administration schools moved away from older styles of training in governing philosophies, political thought, and civic virtue, the kinds of educations urged by men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, or John Stuart Mill. Like the founders of American political science, these academic leaders thought such educational agendas were old-fashioned and too concerned with formal structures. Instead, the new leaders of these schools wanted to move beyond discussions of political philosophy and civic virtue. They wanted to build policies on the scientific study of social conditions and political behavior. They hoped that “scientific — ‘what is’ — studies would replace public-spirited — ‘what should be’ — studies.” Their argument was that by understanding the sociology of criminal behavior, the economics of labor unrest, the public health of cities, or the patterns of behavior among elected officials, there would be a scientific basis for action, and that this was better than just a lot of nostalgic, virtuous philosophizing.[10] This model for a school of public administration added some value. Various disciplines gathered valuable information about social conditions and theories about social behavior. Public administration was then informed by such knowledge. But neither the early schools, like Maxwell, nor the emerging discipline of “political science,” developed a canon for how best to apply scientific knowledge to higher-level policy design.[11] [quote id="2"] Political science was built up as a discipline to consider policymakers objectively, as objects of study. Such scientists view the behavior of policymakers much as entomologists view the behavior of insects. Neither set of scientists are necessarily concerned with giving “how to” advice to their subjects. In saying this, I am not trying to join a culture war decrying the relevance of social science. I simply observe the way such scientists tend to formulate their problems and questions, which then affects everything else. Much of the debate about relevance in those disciplines is a supply-side argument: that if they produced different scholarship, such work would be more influential. My argument in this article is different. It is a demand-side argument. It is that, as the software of policy work has deteriorated, the people doing policy work no longer do the analysis — or articulate the questions — to seek out and use relevant knowledge, whatever its source. I think it will be most impactful to fix the demand side of the problem. The Golden Age of American Policymaking Policy staff work of all kinds achieved a relative high point with the crises of the 1940s. The craft and discipline of policymaking was already surging because of the public responses to the Great Depression. But World War II produced a vast mobilization of talent to tackle a staggering array of military, economic, and governance problems. The Allied successes included extremely high-quality policy work on grand strategy, logistics, and problem-solving of every kind. The German and Japanese high commands were comparably deficient in all these respects.[12] Paul Kennedy calls this software advantage the “most important variable of all.” Analytically, he noticed “a support system, a culture of encouragement, efficient feedback loops, a capacity to learn from setbacks, an ability to get things done.” All of this could permit “the middlemen in this grinding conflict the freedom to experiment, to offer ideas and opinions, and to cross traditional institutional boundaries.”[13] From these tremendous accomplishments, I note five observations: First, no one should overly romanticize the often quarrelsome, wasteful, and chaotic world of Washington during these years. There were many mistakes, some of them deadly and disastrous. Nor did the skills come from a well-thought-through template of the kind proposed in this paper. They emerged piecemeal from vast and stressful experience, amid plenty of bureaucratic rivalry and confusion. Second, the experience arose from years of trial and error in managing the most challenging rival sets of claims and arguments on a global scale. With their long experience in doing this, including the challenges of managing resources, shipping, and manpower, the British staffing systems were the most evolved. British staffing practices were envied and then emulated by the Americans. Third, the relevant qualities did not, by and large, migrate from the American universities. Nor did the qualities migrate back to them. Fourth, the relevant qualities did emerge from some distinctive cultures and leaders. One big tributary was the very strong, decentralized problem-solving culture of American business in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.[14] In that era, the paradigmatic discipline of American business and industry was engineering, and the paradigmatic figure was that of the ingenious tinkerer who deeply understood both design and production and knew his way around the shop floor. Bill Knudsen at General Motors, who started his career in bicycle and auto parts, and as a builder of steam engines, was a typical and well-known exemplar. Another great tributary was the managerial culture inside the armed forces, fostered by specific individuals. The military leaders during the war who set the tone for the high-level staff work were strategic managers — men like George C. Marshall or the civilian resource manager, Ferdinand Eberstadt, rather than “warriors” like Douglas MacArthur. It was no accident that Marshall elevated his most trusted staffer and planner in 1942, Dwight Eisenhower, to top command. Marshall and Eisenhower had strong views about the organizational culture of effective policymaking. Underperforming staff officers or program managers were frequently relieved and reassigned. Fifth, the wartime and immediate postwar experience profoundly influenced organizational culture for another generation or so. A great many Americans had been drawn into the work of higher-level policy design on numerous topics. “One analyst referred to [the war] as the largest program in postdoctoral education for faculty in the nation’s history.” There was a similar impact on the nation’s lawyers.[15] The breadth of experience summed up by these five observations about policy culture and staff work carried over into postwar efforts. In 1947, as secretary of state, Marshall used his first national radio address to the American people to remind them that, “Problems which bear directly on the future of our civilization cannot be disposed of by general talk or vague formulae – by what Lincoln called ‘pernicious abstractions.’ They require concrete solutions for definite and extremely complicated questions.”[16] The military and business cultures of the United States in this period were intensely oriented toward practical problem-solving. They emphasized meticulous written staff work: unending flows of information and estimates, habitual preparation of meeting records or minutes, constant and focused debates about priorities and tradeoffs, and guidance directives drafted with concise precision that a lawyer would envy. The result, especially by 1943 and afterward, was marked in dozens of projects from the atom bomb to the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift. Any close study of such efforts reveals superior construction of large-scale, complex multi-instrument policy packages, including frequent adjustments. The point about constant adjustment and iteration is notable. Even in military technology, most of the key Allied innovations turned out to be second-generation innovations. In other words, they were not the airplanes or ships that were available or in production at the start of the war. Instead, they were new or improved models of every kind, several of which had not even been imagined before the war. They were developed with agility and on a massive scale by a number of agencies and scores of companies in response to ongoing lessons learned, lessons that were constantly, consciously being extracted and studied. It is difficult for those who have not pored through the archives to appreciate the scale and scope of this work, ranging from economic statecraft to amphibious operations to science policy. The extraordinary sets of official history volumes from World War II, familiar to historians of the period, give a sense for the work. They are also a striking illustration of the organizational culture that would produce such meticulous and admirable historical analyses. The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. The Microeconomic Turn The mid-20th-century academic paradigm of policymaking assumed a relatively neat separation between “policy” on the one hand (often equated with lawmaking) and “administration” on the other, presumably informed by good social science. By the 1960s, this older paradigm seemed more and more out of date. Although intellectuals recognized the huge intermediate space that was being filled by policymaking, academia had trouble figuring out how to teach it. Older public administration programs suffered an institutional identity crisis. The private foundations that had helped build up that field in the 1930s lost interest. The field of public administration fell into lower repute as compared with the rising social sciences. Partly in response, a new trend in public policy education took shape. The social sciences were developing new techniques for the systematic analysis of public policies using analytic models, many derived from economic theory, along with quantitative methods. The federal government was pouring money not only into the expansion of government services, but also into training programs. In 1958, the Government Employees Training Act became law, while grants from the Civil Service Commission helped to subsidize large numbers of mid-career students. Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School was transformed by a 1965 gift from Charles and Marie Robertson. In 1968, the University of Michigan converted its public administration institute into an institution for “public policy studies.” Also in 1968, Harvard scrapped its former school of public administration, established a new John F. Kennedy School of Government, and developed an entirely new academic program for it. During that same academic year, the University of California created a new Graduate School of Public Policy at its flagship Berkeley campus, awarding a new “public policy” degree to replace its earlier offering in public administration. [quote id="3"] Dedicating one of the new buildings at the Woodrow Wilson School in May 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that “the public servant today moves along paths of adventure where he is helpless without the tools of advanced learning.” He said the country would need “enormous new drafts of trained manpower into the public service.” A presidential task force recommended new programs to train these “enormous new drafts.” Foundations like Carnegie and Ford took on the role that the Social Science Research Council had played in an earlier generation. All this momentum produced one of the most significant changes in professional higher education of that generation. “At the heart of this shift [during the 1960s and early 1970s] was a growing faith in the power and prestige of economics as a field, a method, and even a science.” For instance, “in and around Robert McNamara’s Department of Defense, economists put into practice techniques of program analysis and benefit-cost measurement, which President Lyndon Johnson then forced on all domestic departments involved in building his Great Society.” One scholar involved in this shift recalled
visiting the office of a cabinet secretary in order to explain to him a several-hundred-page booklet on policy planning budget systems, one of the hallmark techniques of the era. He came upon the secretary fingering the booklet and asking, ‘What is this piece of shit?’ He had the pleasure of responding, ‘That piece of shit, sir, is what the president of the United States has directed that you introduce into your department.’[17]
The triumph of the RAND analysts, as some called it, put a lasting mark on education for public service. The core curriculum for that degree and similar foundational programs, like the one at Berkeley, then set a widely imitated paradigm which claimed that it taught “policy analysis.” Economic tools for analyzing policy were regarded as novel. They fostered evidentiary discussion of outcomes. And, because the tools came from “demanding social science disciplines,” they “helped give the curriculum of the fledgling public policy schools a certain kind of legitimacy in the academic world in which they were struggling for academic respect.”[18] “But left open, however,” one of the founding deans of such schools recalled,
were the answers to two further important questions: first, the extent to which schools of public policy intended to train individuals to participate effectively in the governmental process as policy makers as well as policy analysts; and if so, how individuals trained to be policy analysts, or policy makers … would relate to the political processes that were an inevitable part of policy making in a democratic society.[19]
Further, in the new curricula the definition of “policy analysis” was narrowed. In this paradigm, policy analysis teaching would focus on “economics, statistics, and quantitative analysis.” In such core curricula, at least half of the courses are in economics and statistics.[20] They focus especially on cost-benefit analysis and the microeconomic fields of behavioral economics, game theory, and operations research. Any student who masters this curriculum and the relevant statistics applications would be equipped to contribute to certain kinds of policy-related research. The student could model theories of action for certain kinds of public problems. But most policymaking challenges, and the related staff work, call upon different sets of skills. As a result, even as it triumphed in this part of academia, the microeconomic paradigm of policy analysis was passing out of fashion in much of government. In the world of foreign policy, the microeconomic paradigm never gained much traction to begin with, except in segments of development work.[21] Some studies have been done on the alumni of this kind of policy analysis education to see how well it worked for them in practice. The results seriously question the value of such core curricula. The alumni told the investigators that they wished they had learned more about topics like “policy design.”[22] While the study of policy analysis was taking its microeconomic turn, the study of “public administration” went through its crisis and advanced forward. It was revived as a field of “public management.” That field, fortunately, has continued to mature and advance.[23] Social Science and the Return of the Lawyers After World War II, law and lawyers became more and more powerful in establishing paradigms for domestic policymaking in the United States. In foreign policy, the story was very different. The older paradigm for expertise, that of international law, lost its dominant standing. No critic was more influential than the famous former diplomat George Kennan, who published a set of polemical lectures on “American Diplomacy” in 1951 attacking what he regarded as a legalist-moralist strain in American statecraft.[24] Kennan himself had no particular use for social science. He spent the rest of his life writing history and historical reflections. History and social science continue to be invaluable resources for evidence about trends and causes in social behavior. The gap remains in the application of this knowledge to the solution of practical problems. This is not because academics do bad work. Their work varies, as always. But, as I mentioned earlier, their work is fundamentally oriented to answering questions that are meaningful within their scholarly fields. These questions are very different from the kinds of questions actually encountered in the application of their knowledge to the solution of practical problems. There is a similar divide between the world of laboratory science disciplines and the world of engineering. Chemical engineering is not just applied chemistry. It is a distinctive discipline with canonical methods of its own. In the engineering disciplines, this point was grasped more than a hundred years ago. Law schools have become principal producers of the people who are actually going into the policy jobs. Lawyer-officials have ready gifts. They know how to make an argument. They are usually experienced writers. On a good day, they are relatively rigorous in attending to factual and legal detail. The tradeoff for these “generalist” skills, however, is a lack of much subject-matter or foreign expertise. Experienced as advocates who can pick evidence to defend a position, lawyers are not necessarily trained to weigh and sift positions on both sides. Experienced in being asked to decide what “can” be done, lawyers are not trained to analyze what “should” be done, even in policies having to do with policing or the administration of justice. They have no necessary experience in policy design, analysis, or implementation. Perhaps above all, a lawyerly cast to government tends to emphasize process over substance. Meetings proliferate. Sides are heard. The quality of written staff work takes second place.

The Teaching Problem and “Thick” Cases 

The World War II generation learned much about effective policy work, but never quite figured out how to teach it. Data for the microeconomic sort of policy analysis is also rarely connected to the data about implementation. Experts in program evaluation and experts in performance management became estranged, “a tale of two children who were brought up in the same house but were raised by different tribes and aren’t so friendly with one another.”[25] One part of the problem is that policy engineering is complicated. Assessing a policy situation is a classic problem of “thick description.” In academia, if readers will forgive me for lapsing momentarily into academic-speak, thick description
accurately describes observed social actions and assigns purpose and intentionality to these actions, by way of the researcher’s understanding and clear description of the context under which the social actions took place. Thick description captures the thoughts and feelings of participants as well as the often complex web of relationships among them. Thick description leads to thick interpretation, which in turn leads to thick meaning of the research findings. … Thick meaning of findings leads readers to a sense of verisimilitude, wherein they can cognitively and emotively ‘place’ themselves within the research context.[26]
For readers who got bogged down in that definition, the punch line is in the last sentence. Consider the Marshall Plan, for example. The simple memory of this might be that Americans wisely displayed exceptional generosity and foresight in committing a lot of money to help rebuild Europe. But that level of understanding barely begins to comprehend the qualities of the work involved in developing and implementing the European Recovery Program. The genius of the program is found in the details of the design, which are difficult to summarize quickly but include the way the plan involved the Europeans in working out the program designs and new ways to cooperate within Europe, the way the program set up and used local “counterpart” funds for acquisitions in each of the participating European countries, and the way it rallied wary U.S. congressmen with elements that appealed to the businessmen in their districts. Even at the level of higher strategy, the Marshall Plan reflected a choice of where to commit resources and energy — in this case, a massive commitment to Western Europe amid the simultaneous clamor for a commitment instead to America’s favored side in China’s civil war. Many public policy problems are like this, “thick” with successive stages of problem-solving, each with layers of analysis and context. Such thick problems are relatively resistant to social science generalizations. They also confound quests for generic forecasting. The problem has spawned an extensive literature about the craft of analyzing and sifting specific information, although in America much of this work is mainly known and taught among professional intelligence analysts.[27] All this is hard to translate to the classroom for a variety of reasons. First, many teachers do not have the requisite knowledge of policy-relevant details, because they have never been involved in the subject-matter specialization and because their scholarly disciplines do not usually expect (or even want) them to master such problem-solving skills. [quote id="4"] Second, hiring practitioners does not necessarily help. When ex-practitioners go into the classroom, they can often tell stories. They remember some of the details. Yet, they have no canon for how to teach about their experiences. One expert who surveyed courses in diplomacy all over America found that the differences were enormous. Across academics and practitioners alike, she concluded, “I could not find a common core.” Instead, what she found were courses that just elide the messy challenge of how to solve problems, especially if they involved other governments. Some courses focus on acquiring transnational expertise, “without distrusted national governments getting in the way.” Other courses dodge engagement by being aimed more at Americans who view the world as “a pathological mess” and just want protection from it. Then they focus on security studies, including intelligence, like the study of how to diagnose a disease, without attempting to teach about how to solve a foreign problem.[28] Third, college courses prefer “thin” cases that are easy to digest and understand in a single class before moving on to the next topic. The structure of a course usually leaves little time for students to delve very deeply into the details, personalities, and issues in any specific episode. To do so requires too much reading or assumes too much background knowledge. Students like stories. But, in the classroom, memorably thin descriptions and colorful anecdotes are preferred. Even classes that use a case method rarely devote multiple classes, much less weeks, to microexamination of a single case, however rich it may be. One popular solution to teaching about problem-solving is to stage a simulation. Yet, simulations in such simplified thin cases “devolve rather rapidly into theater.” International crisis simulations reinforce the notion of diplomacy as “an event or series of events, of crisis management or negotiations done in a matter of days.” To a veteran practitioner, “Diplomacy is to simulations as the practice of medicine is to the TV show ‘ER.’”[29] Another practice in contemporary teaching about policy work enjoins students to try writing “options” papers, modeled on policy memos. A typical policy memo in contemporary American government consists of some discussion of what is going on, something about process, and recommended talking points. If there is any policy analysis at all, it rarely advances much beyond op-ed style argument. As if to learn to imitate this mediocrity, students writing options papers are often urged to keep their papers short — op-ed length — supposedly so they can learn how to engage the attention of busy policymakers. The would-be experts thus learn to be experts by dumbing themselves down. Such training does not prepare students to engage professionally with the messy details of the policy instruments being used or the messy details of the local circumstances in which these concepts may actually be tested.

The Organizational Culture Problem

The usual focus in the study of organizational culture is on the culture of operators, of the “street-level bureaucracy,” as the title of one classic work put it.[30] These studies tend to neglect the organizational culture of higher-level policy work. Yet, it was just that part of organizational culture that was so essential in the software of the American organization for victory in World War II and its most effective public problem-solving in the postwar years. This part of the software is made up of formal and informal routines for activities that seem mundane, but are not. These cultural routines and habits define the way the key organizations distribute information about what is going on, including the ways top officials get their information every morning; comment upon or “clear” incoming reports or policy papers; delegate policy work; interact with “the field”; analyze issues for higher-level discussion and decision; resolve differences, either through written work or in meetings; record and brief about policy discussions and decisions; and critique their work. There are great variations in these practices. American practices are different than in other governments. They even vary greatly over time within the same agency. Two specific examples, both in the foreign policy world, illustrate this point. Through World War II and the postwar years, daily information about what was going on in the world was provided to top leaders by diplomatic and military reports, from the State Department and the armed services. Beginning in the 1960s, and evolving very slowly during the next 30 years, the CIA took over the job. The CIA became a systematic primary source of daily publications and briefings to tell top leaders what was going on in the world. The armed forces’ products quickly receded in importance and the quality deteriorated. By the 2000s, the State Department’s daily morning product had disappeared altogether and was abolished. Intelligence agencies have very particular strengths and weaknesses in what they follow and what they do. So, reliance on the intelligence agencies for the morning “papers” has very large effects on what policymakers see about the world. It also has very damaging effects on the incentives and quality surrounding diplomatic and military reporting. But this growing reliance on the daily worldview of the intelligence community (not necessarily drawing from foreign field presence or experience) was not the product of a conscious policy choice. It evolved incrementally, with little notice or reflection. Records of policy discussions provide another example of the variation of organizational cultures over time. Through the war and postwar years, careful records were usually kept for all high-level meetings among American officials. This is hard to do. It was not done mainly out of regard for historians, although that was a factor. It was done because such records were considered essential for good government. It forced reflection on what had been said or not said. It helped others stay current if they had a need to know what was going on. These habits were so thoroughly ingrained that even when President Eisenhower met one-on-one with his secretary of state, almost invariably one or both men would routinely prepare a written record of what they had just said to each other. The secret recording systems used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Richard Nixon were an extension of such habits, as dictabelts and tape machines made their way into offices. Henry Kissinger’s staff prepared excellent records of about 15,000 of his meetings and telephone calls. These routines remained relatively strong through the 1970s and even well into the 1980s, though they were starting to fade. It is now rare to find any good records kept of what is said at meetings among American officials. The quality of the records of meetings with foreigners has also deteriorated. The usual excuse given is the horror of leaks. But that horror was perfectly familiar to officials of the wartime and postwar generation as well. Though constantly irritated by leaks, those past officials thought that the net value of routines of good governance took precedence. The real reasons for the change are likely more banal. There was no conscious policy choice across the administrations to quit preparing good records. It is just hard to do it. Without a routinized discipline, it vanishes from the day-to-day culture. In the postwar period, detailed written estimates and policy staff work were the norm. Papers were subjected to constant peer review from colleagues who were similarly trained and experienced. Very busy officers were accustomed to writing and reading lengthy papers of this kind every day. Thousands of Americans acquired such experience. They could be found operating at the highest levels in Marshall Plan development (such as the famed economists Charles Kindleberger and Edward Mason), occupation governance (such as the young Kissinger), strategic planning, research and development (for example, Vannevar Bush’s team at the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development and later in the creation of the National Science Foundation), and much more. One pattern in the War Department culture was that responsibility for planning and responsibility for operations were inseparable. A planner had to be willing and able to convert his work into action.[31] Developing these habits, the Americans during the 1940s were strongly influenced, through common work in various Allied organizations, by long-established and relatively high-quality British processes for collective policy analysis and staff work. Eisenhower was both a product and exemplar of such Allied experience. Although the origins are almost forgotten, the 1947 creation of America’s National Security Council system was greatly influenced by the model of British systems, including the British War Cabinet system. Many of the Americans had come to know, imitate, and grudgingly admire those staffing methods. They consciously adapted analogous habits of systematic paper preparation, record-keeping, historical evaluation, peer commentary, lucid guidance, and collective decision-making. Eisenhower well understood this background about why the National Security Council was created and how it was originally expected to function. He was the last American president who did.[32] [quote id="5"] The Pentagon Papers on the decisions made during the Vietnam War, the subject of the 2017 film, “The Post,” were an anachronism in more than one way. As bad as the Vietnam decisions were, the policy papers were long, detailed, and rigorous. The Pentagon Papers were such a revelation because this underlying policy work, and the dilemmas being presented, were relatively lucid and self-revealing. Suppose contemporary officials actually opened up and read some of these documents about Vietnam today. Suppose they contrasted the quality of the memos written in the 1960s with the papers they have seen cross their desk more recently, say, on policy toward Afghanistan or Iraq. These officials might be a bit bewildered. In their own working lives, they may never have seen written staff analyses of this kind, work that was so commonplace 50 years ago.[33] The sheer existence of the Pentagon Papers project is another revealing symptom of a vanished organizational culture. This work of thoroughgoing historical reflection was done at the direct behest of Secretary of Defense McNamara, during the Johnson administration. Back then, this sort of high-quality review was not so strange. There were other searching, internal self-examinations, like the ones done after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or after the swine flu vaccine mess during the Ford administration. It is hard now to imagine the kind of American government that would even commission an internal study as meticulous as the Pentagon Papers, or the kind of studies the Kennedy and Ford administrations ordered to examine their own failures.[34] Outsiders — and even many insiders, especially the less-experienced ones — are unconscious of most of this software, and how much it varies. Historians rarely notice such things or compare contrasting routines over time. Although the details of such staffing practices have been extensively studied in Britain, I do not know of any comparable published work on these practices in the United States. One way to spot the decline in the quality of written policy work is to notice if the paper simply describes what is going on and then moves on to statements of what “we” want, with “talking points.” In this environment, PowerPoint slides replace prose analysis. As the quality of written staff work declines, fewer decisions can be made based off the paperwork. High-level meetings proliferate. They become a surrogate for good written analysis and advocacy. In such oral processes, delegation of analysis and action is more difficult. More and more policy work gets pulled up to the level of overworked principals, and their own ill-documented oral meetings. Meanwhile, senior agency officials turn more and more into functionaries. As they know their work or views are less meaningful, the trend reinforces the downward cycle. The older organizational culture naturally placed a high value on in-depth knowledge and analysis. In the CIA’s analytic world, for instance, Cold War-era estimates “could draw on a deep base of knowledge,” the 9/11 Commission observed in 2004. But,
[w]hen the Cold War ended, those investments could not easily be reallocated to new enemies. The cultural effects ran even deeper. In a more fluid international environment with uncertain, changing goals and interests, intelligence managers no longer felt they could afford such a patient, strategic approach to long-term accumulation of intellectual capital. A university culture with its versions of books and articles was giving way to the culture of the newsroom.[35]
With the disappearance of these organizational cultures, largely unnoticed, the software of policymaking that went with them also faded away about a generation ago. The deterioration in policymaking software has had a huge impact, as several recent policy episodes, including the Iraq War, have made clear. Yet, the present generation of policymakers and politicians are, understandably, not even aware of what has happened or how the government has changed.

A Template for Policy Engineering: Assessment … Design … Implementation

“Design process” is a phrase that is foundational in engineering education, in which students are trained in how to apply knowledge to the solution of practical problems. One of the main purposes of an engineering design process is to generate better questions and focus them constructively. Such focused questions then drive more specific, in-depth assessment. Engineers are often taught a set of steps they must memorize, steps that are put on a card they carry in their wallet. The specific steps memorized by engineering trainees vary from textbook to textbook or teacher to teacher. Common formulas have five or seven steps. MIT’s fine course on “Engineering Innovation and Design” in its renowned Gordon Engineering Leadership Program has a 10-step design process.[36] “Design” has become a fashionable concept during the last ten years. Although the usages overlap, they vary in important ways. In the business world, “design thinking” has become a term synonymous with a search for greater creativity in thinking about what the firm is trying to do. A leader in this field is the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford’s d.school. Its guide to design thinking breaks down a process with five stages (with sub-methods for each): empathize (with the user), define (the challenge), ideate, prototype, and test.[37] At the end of the 2000s, reacting to a very difficult and complex set of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army decided it needed to add the concept of “design” to its basic field manual for “the operations process.” Officers now argue about what “Army design methodology” means in practice. At a minimum, it is the Army’s way of urging commanders who are confronting complex or unfamiliar problems to stop and think harder about what they are trying to do. Officers are urged to at least “give a bit of structure to those periodic conversations any commander has with his staff officers to improve his appreciation of the mission.” This should at least take the form of four questions, about what is going on, what exactly is the desired end state, what is the theory of strategic action to get that result, and how to act and speak to make good on that theory.[38] [quote id="6"] Meanwhile, within academia, some scholars of public management have pressed for a turn toward a “new” study of policy design, what they call “design 2.0.” These experts reject the stock analyses that just relate tools to outputs, a superficial “means-ends understanding of policy formulation.” Instead, they call attention to the multilayered and deeply context-dependent nature of modern policy design.[39] In the world of business schools, the field of “decision analysis” — a required part of the usual first-year MBA curriculum — consists substantially of teaching students how to assign number weights to values and probabilities and then work up equations that integrate the calculation of these variables.[40] It does not, however, actually teach a policy design framework. A process for policy work, which itself is often called a “design process,” is all about assessment, design, and implementation. [41] Assessments Assessments are judgments about circumstances. These appreciations are always a compound of assessments of reality, what we or “they” think is going on; assessments about values, what we or “they” care about; and preliminary assessments about action — what, if anything, might be done. In this context, the action judgment is simply the threshold cognitive judgment — can we do something about this? — that then influences how much attention we give to the problem. There are various heuristic aids to assessment: weighing alternative interpretations of available evidence, weighing alternative futures and scenarios, assigning probabilities, and more.[42] Good assessment has at least four elements: Design Design is the choreography of action. A more academic definition of policy design, developed by scholars working in Canada and Singapore, calls it: “an activity conducted by a range of policy actors at different levels of action in the hope of improving policymaking and policy outcomes through the accurate anticipation of the consequences of government actions and the articulation of specific courses of action to be followed to achieve different levels of policy goals and ambitions.” Such design work occurs “within the context of designing complete policy packages. … [So] each policy and program is a complex arrangement of ends and means-related goals, objectives, instruments, and calibrations that exists in a specific governance and temporal setting, and these contexts must be taken into account if effective program design is to result from design efforts.”[44] To put this a little more simply, the “design” part of a policy design process includes choices about: To offer a simple illustration of how such a framework could be applied, just consider one part, the “operational objectives,” in the Trump administration’s trade and tariff policy toward China. Are they to gain a trade deal that would more fairly recouple the American and Chinese economies? If so, what would be a concrete definition of success? Or the operational objectives could be the opposite — to decouple the two economies. Again, what would be a concrete, working definition of whether that objective had been attained? Or the operational objectives could be defined as a targeted increase in U.S. manufacturing employment, or as a reduction of U.S. bilateral current account deficits. And so on. Obviously, the analysis of these different operational objectives then open up quite different questions about the best theories of action and choreographies of what should be done. Yet, since at the moment (September 2019) no one can tell what the operational objectives are for the U.S. policy, the policy becomes inherently incoherent. Implementation Implementation is the final part of the policy work. It is attentive to local circumstances, the realities of the field, and the many stakeholders involved. At every stage, the software includes the organizational cultures for getting and evaluating information, for doing analysis, and for recording what is being done. As with the other elements, implementation is not separate from assessment and design. It interacts with them, as implementation informs ongoing reevaluation of everything else. [45] This whole template — conscious methods for assessment, design, and implementation — is itself just a kind of heuristic tool. As with the engineering trainees memorizing the steps on their wallet cards, such tools are both a discipline and a defense. They are a kind of analytical checklist that provide a bit more protection against so many insistent claims that divert and distract attention.

Policy Education Should Not Stand Alone

The wartime and postwar science adviser, public official, and longtime president of Harvard, James Conant, regarded Harvard’s public administration school, established in the late 1930s, as his greatest failure. He observed that two approaches had to be balanced. Such public affairs education should not, he thought, duplicate business schools by trying to build an entirely separate faculty. He thought such education should draw on the resources of the university as a whole. At the same time, Conant thought it was important to have a curriculum that did not emphasize a science of public administration separated from its policy content.[46] Colleges of arts and sciences, and the major professional schools (law, business, engineering, medicine) all turn out women and men who work on public policy. In fact, despite the growth of the policy schools, these older institutions empirically still contribute the great majority of the citizens who work on such problems, including at the higher levels of policymaking. Yet, none of those “regular” schools are, or can be, primarily interested in public policy or education for public service. Even at the leading policy schools, only a fraction of their graduates actually go into public service.[47] The challenge, then, is in how to offer a distinctive preparation for citizen involvement in public policy. Aside from the general education of citizens, the professionals who are most likely to identify a need for more professional training tend to be in government, including the military, foreign service, intelligence, and legislative staff; law, including as a possible addition to law school work; business, including as a possible addition to business school work; academia, including as a possible addition to PhD or MA programs; applied science, including engineering, public health, and medical practice; and nonprofit organizations. Many of the key jobholders already in government are primarily trained in specialized field and technical duties. Their often-admirable training does not include adequate preparation for policymaking challenges outside their traditional functional and managerial skillsets. Traditional graduate studies related to policy work tend to bifurcate into two very distinct tracks — a professional master’s degree program and an academic PhD program. Both of these programs serve important purposes, but they leave a major gap. The PhD students develop rigorous research skills to investigate theories in their fields, but are largely insulated from consideration of real-world policymaking.[48] Professional master’s students are exposed to some complexities and challenges of practice. The strength of these programs can be training in quantitative analytic methods, public administration, and advocacy. For various reasons, they do not provide rigorous training in the kind of strategic and design thinking needed for problem-solving, nor do they impart enough relevant substantive knowledge.[49] In addition, students are forced to make a fateful choice early in their studies. They can either pursue the law or master’s degree, which opens the path to the world of practice yet can mean foregoing a career in teaching and research. Or they can pursue the academic PhD and sharply steer away from training in practical problem-solving. An alternative approach would be to develop a relatively flexible curriculum. It would be conceived not as an alternative educational pathway, but as a broadening or extension of a core path that a student or professional has already chosen. Rather than forcing students to choose between a traditional “major” or career track and public service, the purpose of the curriculum would be to help students learn how to apply their core interest (and others they may discover) to public service. This complementary curriculum thus need not emphasize in-depth subject-matter education in particular regions of the world or in functional specialties like development, public health, cyberspace, or public order. The curriculum should instead be designed and delivered so that it can complement many such specializations. Such a curriculum could have at least three especially distinctive features: first, instruction and practice in analysis of detailed information and the assessment of situations. These assessments must grow out of a relatively deep ability to understand and imagine governance in unfamiliar institutions. Second, instruction and practice in a conscious policy design process: This process can teach students how to break down complex policy problems. Then they can learn how to unpack and identify critical questions or choices, using a common conceptual vocabulary. Finally, the curriculum could make extensive use of detailed case studies, both historical and contemporary, as projects in which students can develop a series of specific skills in working with situations of potential cooperation and conflict. These projects can be sustained over weeks, to give a sense of iterative change and adjustment. Some programs have tried such “policy task forces/workshops.”[50] [quote id="7"] The skills to develop in such extended exercises can include attention to the routine habits of effective staff work. They include familiarity with the role of budgeting in policymaking, crafting public statements, participation in policy debates, role-playing to understand the perspectives of others and gain experience with negotiation, and learning to orchestrate and evaluate the implementation of a policy. Such an educational initiative carries with it a major agenda for research. More and better “thick” case studies are needed, of the kind that are indispensable in other realms of professional education. The traditional scholarly disciplines have a specific understanding of what “case studies” mean for their investigations, but those case studies are rarely very useful for this kind of practical education. At some policy schools, such cases as exist have been prepared by professional “casewriters” who often do not have substantive training in the topic and whose work may not reflect the best scholarship or expert analysis. The range of possible studies of this kind is enormous. Such studies can bring “thick” problems and fateful choices to life.

Conclusion

There are obviously several major ways to explain the decline in government performance and the collapse in public trust in the U.S. government since the high-water marks of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Since the early 1960s, the government has tried to do much more — around the world and at home — and it is perceived to have usually fallen short, sometimes catastrophically so. It is not very useful to blame the anti-Washington discourse. Such scapegoating of Washington is not new. It is an old, old theme in American history. Nor do I blame incompetent delivery of basic services, which are still reasonably good in America. Part of the story is a record of policy failures: the tendency to react to events rather than drive them, poorly specified objectives, confusing guidance, reliance on weakly evidenced suppositions, little grasp of organizational capacities, inability to adapt organizations to new problems, overreliance on ill-managed contractors. These are all symptoms. They are symptoms of policies that are badly designed. Weak knowledge of the history of certain issues or even of the government’s own policy record, a superficial grasp of other communities or institutions, and a preoccupation with reactions to daily news: These, too, are symptoms. They are symptoms of a weakening capacity for in-depth professional assessment. Of course, the marked tendency to militarize policy, to rely on military instruments and military policymakers, is no cure. It is another symptom of the breakdown, as American policymaking is dumbed down and becomes praetorian. Some of these problems can be blamed on bad structures and on polarized, dysfunctional politics. But that’s not all of the story. As the immensely powerful Qing empire in China began to decay in the early 1800s, a leading scholar began calling for reform of the Confucian system that selected and trained the country’s administrative elite. He looked around and saw “everything was falling apart … the administration was contaminated and vile.” The scholar, Bao Shichen, “found himself drawn toward more practical kinds of scholarship that were not tested on the civil service exams.” Bao “would in time become one of the leading figures in a field known broadly as ‘statecraft’ scholarship, an informal movement of Confucians who were deeply concerned with real-world issues of administration and policy.”[51] Tragically, for Bao and many of his reformist allies, though their efforts made some headway, it was not enough. They could not reverse the decline of their empire. The United States government has plenty of problems too. Fortunately, it is not yet at the point the Qing dynasty reached. Americans can reflect on a proud heritage, not far in the past, when Americans were notorious across the world for their practical, can-do skills in everything from fixing cars to tackling apparently insurmountable problems, public as well as private. These seemingly bygone skills were not in their genes or in the air. They need not be consigned to wistful nostalgia. The skills were specific. They were cultural. And they are teachable.   Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, both at the University of Virginia. His books and essays focus on critical episodes in American and world history. A former civil rights attorney and career diplomat, he has served at all levels of American government. He was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and, before that, directed the Carter-Ford commission on federal election reform. He has also worked on international policy in each of the five administrations from Reagan through Obama.   Image: Nicepik [post_title] => To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => to-regain-policy-competence-the-software-of-american-public-problem-solving [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-09 12:37:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-09 16:37:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1862 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => American policymaking has declined over the past several decades, but it is something that can be regained. It is not ephemeral or lost to the mists of time. The skills needed to tackle public problem-solving are specific and cultural — and they are teachable. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The software of policy is about how policies are crafted within a given set of processes and constraints. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Very early, the public administration schools moved away from older styles of training in governing philosophies, political thought, and civic virtue, the kinds of educations urged by men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, or John Stuart Mill.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Many public policy problems are like this, “thick” with successive stages of problem-solving, each with layers of analysis and context.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => One pattern in the War Department culture was that responsibility for planning and responsibility for operations were inseparable. A planner had to be willing and able to convert his work into action. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A process for policy work, which itself is often called a “design process,” is all about assessment, design, and implementation.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Rather than forcing students to choose between a traditional “major” or career track and public service, the purpose of the curriculum would be to help students learn how to apply their core interest (and others they may discover) to public service. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 102 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), 469. [2] On other quality critiques, see, e.g., Donald Kettl, Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2016); and Paul Light, “A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop it,” Brookings Institution, July 2014, https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/Light_Cascade_of_Failures_Why_Govt_Fails.pdf. [3] Urgent Business for America: Revitalizing the Federal Government for the 21st Century, National Commission on Public Service, chaired by Paul Volcker (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2003), 1–2. [4] A group of former officials who are also educators, and have thus worked on both sides of the fence, recently joined me in publishing a “Statement on Education for Public Problem Solving,” posted at a website that also includes some suggestive scholarship. https://fsi.stanford.edu/publicproblemsolving/docs/statement-working-group-public-problem-solving. [5] Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Philip E. Tetlock, “Superforecasting: How to Upgrade Your Company’s Judgment,” Harvard Business Review, May 2016, 4, https://hbr.org/2016/05/superforecasting-how-to-upgrade-your-companys-judgment; see generally Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (New York: Broadway Books, 2015). [6] Alexander Keyssar and Ernest May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” in, For the People: Can We Fix Public Service? ed. John D. Donahue and Joseph S. Nye Jr. (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2003), 225. [7] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” 232. [8] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service in the History of the United States,” 230. [9] See William Chase, The American Law School and the Rise of Administrative Government (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 29–49. [10] “Scientific,” Ralph Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship: Leadership and Good Government in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2015), 102 (discussing the address of Harvard president A. Laurence Lovell to the new American Political Science Association in 1910). A perceptive Chinese political thinker of the early 20th century, Liang Qichao, much influenced by the work of John Dewey, was worried in 1919 about the trend in American political science toward “the omnipotence of science” amid a presumed social Darwinism of struggle among conflicting interests. Liang, trying to adapt Western ideas to his more Confucian sensibility, believed these trends were neglecting the older concentration on civic virtue and defining the public good. Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 104–05. [11] Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 101–30. Ketcham illustrates his argument with an appendix that offers a sharply observed history of the evolution of the Maxwell School at Syracuse (see pages 205–52). Both William Mosher, at Syracuse, and Charles Merriam, at the University of Chicago, produced early exemplary textbooks that tried to balance their social scientific observations of American public life with hortatory statements of their idealistic hopes for American government planning. Reviewers noted the “unresolved” tension between the specific science and the sermonizing idealism about how it should be applied in practice. Ketcham, Public-Spirited Citizenship, 226–27. [12] On the deficiencies of high-level German military staff work, especially on higher-level strategy, intelligence assessment, resource management, and logistics, see, e.g., Geoffrey Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000). [13] Paul Kennedy, Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War (New York: Random House, 2013), 362, 372. A similar argument is made by Richard Overy, in Why the Allies Won (New York: Norton, 1997), who does not delve as deeply into the software that made the structures he praises so functional. [14] See, for example, Thomas McCraw and William Childs, American Business since 1920: How It Worked, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2018), 26–28, 72–75 (emphasizing the decentralized management approaches of both Alfred Sloan at GM and Ferdinand Eberstadt in organizing war production). Explaining the “deindustrialization” of the 1970s and 1980s, they stress that, by then, “American management became more enamored with ‘financialization’ than with creating new products and services.” See page 232. [15] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service,” 233. [16] Marshall radio address, April 1947, quoted in Philip Zelikow, “George C. Marshall and the Moscow CFM Meeting of 1947,” Diplomacy and Statecraft 8 no. 2 (1997): 97, 116, https://doi.org/10.1080/09592299708406045. [17] Keyssar and May, “Education for Public Service,” 234; and Graham Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy: Reflections by a Founding Dean,” in, Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, ed. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert Goodin, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 64. See generally, telling this triumph of the microeconomic turn as a success story, Beryl Radin, Beyond Machiavelli: Policy Analysis Comes of Age (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2000). Radin’s conception of policy analysis is triumphantly exclusive. It seems to simply ignore the existence of lawyers, diplomats, and health care policy wonks, among the many categories of people who believe they do such work. [18] Allison, “Emergence,” 68. Allison recounts that he focused much of his agenda as dean on offsetting this curricular bias by building up the public management curriculum, fostering executive programs, and raising funds for problem-focused research centers. This work did help the school take off and become relatively successful. But, even from his account, it is not clear that he ever fully addressed the two questions that bothered him from the start. [19] Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy,” 65. [20] Such courses are currently 16 of the 30 credits in the Harvard Kennedy School’s first-year master in public policy core curriculum: “Degree Requirements,” Harvard Kennedy School, accessed Aug. 26, 2019, https://www.hks.harvard.edu/educational-programs/masters-programs/master-public-policy/degree-requirements. [21] As I saw firsthand when chairing part of the Harvard Kennedy School’s core curriculum during the 1990s, several of the founders of the Harvard Kennedy School were deeply dissatisfied with the way the school’s core curriculum had developed. They believed the school had succumbed to the desire of much of the faculty to join the “third best economics department in Cambridge.” Richard Neustadt quoted in Graham Allison, “Institution Builder,” in, Guardian of the Presidency: The Legacy of Richard E. Neustadt, ed. Matthew Dickinson and Elizabeth Neustadt (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 146–47. [22] For articles that focus on alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School, see, Carol Chetkovich, “What’s in a Sector? The Shifting Career Plans of Public Policy Students,” Public Administration Review 63 no. 6 (November 2003): 660–74, https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-6210.00330; and Mark Henderson and Carol Chetkovich, “Sectors and Skills: Career Trajectories and Training Needs of MPP Students,” Journal of Public Affairs Education 20 no. 2 (2014): 193–216, https://doi.org/10.1080/15236803.2014.12001782. [23] The modern field of public management has innovated and matured into a global movement, borrowing much from management innovations in the private sector. At the level of day-to-day job performance and integrity, federal bureaucrats seem to do at least as well as employees in private firms. See Donald Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2005); and Hal Rainey, Understanding and Managing Public Organizations, 5th ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014), chap. 14. [24] George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). [25] Donald F. Kettl, “Making Data Speak: Lessons for Using Numbers for Solving Public Policy Puzzles,” Governance 29 no. 4 (October 2016): 573–79, https://doi.org/10.1111/gove.12211; “a tale of two children,” Donald Moynihan quoted in Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, “Government’s Data-Driven Frenemies,” Governing, March 17, 2016, http://www.governing.com/columns/smart-mgmt/gov-performance-measurement-program-evaluator.html. [26] Joseph Ponterotto, “Brief Note on the Origins, Evolution, and Meaning of the Qualitative Research Concept Thick Description,” Qualitative Report 11 no. 3 (2006): 538, 543, https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol11/iss3/6/. [27] An introduction to this literature is available through the essays collected in Roger George and James Bruce, eds., Analyzing Intelligence: National Security Practitioners’ Perspectives, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014). [28] Donna Marie Oglesby, “Diplomacy Education Unzipped,” Foreign Service Journal (January/February 2015): 27, 28, https://www.afsa.org/diplomacy-education-unzipped. [29] Barbara Bodine (a retired diplomat and current director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy), “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event): A Practitioner’s Song,” Foreign Service Journal (January/February 2015): 21, 24. [30] E.g., Michael Lipsky, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services, 30th anniv. rev. ed. (New York: Russell Sage, 2010). For an example in the case of U.S. diplomats, see Kenneth Weisbrode, The Atlanticists: A Story of American Diplomacy, rev. ed. (Santa Ana, CA: Nortia Press, 2015). [31] See, for example, the detailed portrait in Ray Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division, in the Historical Series on the U.S. Army in World War II, subseries for the War Department (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1951). [32] The initial proposal for a national security council, in the Eberstadt Report, was modeled on the British War Cabinet system and the wartime State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee, which had also been modeled on British practice. Douglas Stuart, Creating the National Security State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 89. For background on the Roosevelt practice, see also, Matthew Dickinson, Bitter Harvest: FDR, Presidential Power and the Growth of the Presidential Branch (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Though this is mostly forgotten now, President Harry Truman was suspicious of the national security council proposal. He was suspicious precisely because he understood that it was modeled on the British War Cabinet and, like that system, was meant to dilute the power of the head of government and constrain him in a more deliberate, analytical, and collective decision-making system. [33] When national security officials of the Obama administration reflect on the best written policy work they encountered, the two standouts seem to have been the preparatory work done before the May 2011 Bin Laden raid into Pakistan and the policy support work on Iran that culminated in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. But I think those episodes stand out so much to them because the fine quality of that written policy work was not the norm. [34] As illustrations see, for example, the studies published in Richard Neustadt, Report to JFK: Skybolt in Perspective (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Richard Neustadt and Harvey Fineberg, The Swine Flu Affair: Decision Making on a Slippery Disease (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1978). [35] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), 91. I was the commission’s executive director. This particular passage of the report was drafted with the input of a former deputy director of the CIA and the former head of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, both of whom were on our staff. During the 2000s and 2010s, reacting to problems in analytic tradecraft, exemplified by the Iraq weapons of mass destruction catastrophe, the intelligence community built up a National Intelligence University, operated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The CIA has developed its Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis. The substance of the CIA’s analytic training has improved, although some of those involved in these innovations believe the intelligence community needs to make further significant progress. [36] The ten steps are: 1) identify needs (what’s the problem?); 2) information phase (what exists?); 3) stakeholder phase (what’s wanted and who wants it?); 4) planning/operational research (what’s realistic and what limits us?); 5) hazard analysis (what’s safe and what can go wrong?); 6) specifications (what’s required?); 7) creative design (ideation); 8) conceptual design (potential solutions); 9) prototype design (create a version of the proposed design); and 10) verification (does it work and, if not, redesign). From the version of MIT’s course 6.902 taught in Fall 2012 by Blade Kotelly and Joel Schindall and available through MIT OpenCourseWare. [37] See, e.g., “An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide,” Hasso Plattner Institute, accessed Aug. 26, 2019, https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/sandbox/groups/designresources/wiki/36873/attachments/74b3d/ModeGuideBOOTCAMP2010L.pdf. [38] “Field Manual 5-0: The Operations Process,” Department of the Army, March 2010; “ADP 5-0: The Operations Process,” Department of the Army, May 2012. The impetus for the “design” movement appears to have come from the Army’s Command and General Staff College and School for Advanced Military Studies, both at Fort Leavenworth. The quote and questions, paraphrased, are from Lt. Col. Celestino Perez, “A Practical Guide to Design,” Military Review, March-April 2011, 43–45, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/military-review/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20110430_art008.pdf; see also Heather Wolters, “Army Design Methodology: Commander’s Resource,” Department of the Army, Feb. 2012, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a558054.pdf. [39] One template for policy design, derived from domestic policy experience, offers a five-level framework: high-level abstraction, program-policy linkages, program-level operationalization, program implementation linkages, and specific measures. Michael Howlett, Ishani Mukherjee, and Jeremy Rayner, “Designing Effective Programs,” in, Handbook of Public Administration, 3rd ed., ed. James Perry and Robert Christensen (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015), Table 10.5, 196. See generally Michael Howlett, Ishani Mukherjee, and Jun Jie Woo, “From Tools to Toolkits in Policy Design Studies: The New Design Orientation Towards Policy Formulation Research,” Policy & Politics 43 no. 2 (April 2015): 291, 297-99, https://doi.org/10.1332/147084414X13992869118596. For more on this notion of “design 2.0” as a research agenda, see also Howlett and Mukherjee, “Policy Design: From Tools to Patches,” Canadian Public Administration 60 no. 1 (March 2017): 140–44, https://doi.org/10.1111/capa.12209. [40] See, e.g., Paul Goodwin and George Wright, Decision Analysis for Management Judgment, 5th ed. (New York: Wiley, 2014). [41] Earlier and different versions of this design framework were first tried out in Philip Zelikow, “Foreign Policy Engineering: From Theory to Practice and Back Again,” International Security 18 no. 4 (Spring 1994): 143–71, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2539180. This framework has been tried out in the classroom at Harvard and elsewhere. At Stanford, Jeremy Weinstein and Francis Fukuyama are developing an analogous framework in their teaching. [42] See, e.g., the illustrations catalogued in Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (New York: Henry Holt, 2009); and Steven Johnson, Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most (New York: Riverhead, 2018). [43] These four elements are a synthesis of methods suggested in Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers (New York: Macmillan, 1986), along with the way Neustadt, May, and I then developed and taught these ideas. See also Tetlock and Gardner, Superforecasting. I’m indebted to Michael Morell for discussions about the most basic elements of good assessment. See also the good discussion in Bodine, “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event),” 21–26. [44] Howlett, Mukherjee, and Rayner, “Designing Effective Programs,” 195. [45] For more on this emphasis on local, ground-level knowledge, see generally, written more in the context of domestic policymaking, Tara Dawson McGuinness and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The New Practice of Public Problem Solving,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2019, 27–33, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_new_practice_of_public_problem_solving. For some promising work on how to implement effective programs in the realm of state institution building, what they call “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation,” see Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock, Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). In more of a conflict/security context, see the pair of outstanding recent case study illustrations of analysis from the ground up, offered in Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) (the paperback edition has a valuable afterword reflecting on more recent U.S. efforts); and Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). [46] Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy,” 67; James Conant, My Several Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1970). [47] Such placement trends led to a major lawsuit against Princeton, in which the members of the Robertson family that had originally donated the funds to enlarge the Woodrow Wilson School sued because the school no longer seemed to be using the gift to educate students for public service. Part of the 2008 settlement required Princeton to sponsor a $50 million foundation dedicated to that mission. Tamar Lewin, “Princeton Settles Money Battle Over Gift,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/11/education/11princeton.html. [48] This depiction of the academic market failure draws in part from arguments developed by Jim Steinberg and Frank Gavin for the Carnegie International Policy Scholars program. The academic PhD programs suffer from another problem. Unlike the policy schools, which are often home to faculty from a variety of social science disciplines, and in some cases the natural sciences and engineering, PhD programs in international affairs are designed, taught, and administered in discipline-based departments, primarily political science. This arrangement may make sense for scholarly training in that discipline. But it is counterproductive for interdisciplinary policy training. That problem has been compounded by the long-term decline of area studies programs within political science departments. [49] The professional master’s degree programs, typically one to two years, focus on professional skills training for future practitioners. These degree programs are the core of most APPAM (Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management) and APSIA (Association of Professional Schools in International Affairs) schools. To the extent they have a canon, they too reflect the “microeconomic turn.” There are usually also courses that provide background information on international relations, current issues, and particular regions. As a nod to practical training, such schools frequently hire faculty as professors of practice and adjuncts who are current and former practitioners. They frequently draw from their experience to tell good policy stories and offer suggestive illustrations. This helps. But they then lack an established teachable canon for rigorous professional education. [50] There are some useful precedents in the “policy analysis exercises” used at some of the public policy schools. At Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Bodine describes policy task force/workshops as “more practical than the conventional academic approach and more conceptual, structural and historical than simulations or even case studies.” Each focuses on a single major ongoing policy issue. Students produce a set of detailed papers on each facet of it. Bodine, “Teaching Diplomacy as Process (Not Event),” 25. The CIA’s Kent School of Intelligence Analysis has had some success using an analogous approach in training intelligence analysts. [51] Stephen Platt, Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age (New York: Knopf, 2018), 233 (following the work of William Rowe). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 1 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1963 [post_author] => 311 [post_date] => 2019-10-10 05:00:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-10 09:00:28 [post_content] =>

The truth is that the jungle is neutral. It provides any amount of fresh water, and unlimited cover for friend as well as foe—an armed neutrality, if you like, but neutrality nevertheless. It is the attitude of mind that determines whether you go under or survive. ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ The jungle itself is neutral.[1]

- F. Spencer Chapman

  The urban environment is complex and difficult. Tactically, it strains communications, overloads sensory capability, and pushes the decision-making onus to the lowest level. Strategically, it is complex because tactical actions are amplified and the speed at which local and international audiences are informed has never been faster. American and British environmental doctrine emphasizes the significant operational challenges that this environment presents.[2] In truth, however, the urban setting is neutral. It affects all protagonists equally, even if it does not always appear to do so. In The Jungle is Neutral, the classic account of three years of behind-the-lines jungle fighting against the Japanese in Malaya during World War II, the British soldier F. Spencer Chapman attributed his success to the principle that the environment is intrinsically neither good nor bad but neutral. What is true for warfare in the jungle — an environment that inflicts its own demands every bit as severe as those of the city — ought to be true for urban warfare. And yet, although conflict in cities is more prevalent now than in the past on account of demographic trends and urbanization, the supposedly challenging nature of urban warfare — as opposed to warfare in other “simpler” environments — is contradicted by many historical and contemporary examples. There are obvious difficulties that fighting a war in an urban environment poses, but they are surmountable through a combination of realistic hard training, changes in command mindset — at the strategic and political level as much as at the tactical level — and technological innovation (in order of priority). In some ways, the urban environment is a rewarding one in which to fight because those best prepared to leverage the neutral environmental factors can use them to magnify their comparative strengths. There is no reason why professional, regular armed forces, such as predominate in the West, ought not to be the best prepared to fight in this domain. The factors that threaten an army’s equanimity when it comes to fighting in an urban environment are the same for all belligerents. They do not impact regular Western soldiers more than irregular, non-Western challengers, who are thought to be unaffected by, or even gain an advantage from, these factors. This thinking comes from an entrenched mindset that insists on the uniqueness of the urban environment and holds firmly to certain shibboleths about urban warfare that are equivocal, if not outright ahistoric. The better trained and better equipped soldier should be comfortable in the chaos of the city — or at any rate as comfortable as he or she would be in any other environment. This is true not only for confrontations between regular and irregular forces, but also for “near-peer” conflict. The advantages afforded to the better trained, equipped, supported, and mentally prepared soldier are magnified by this environment, which rewards tactical skill. The line that “the future of war is not the son of Desert Storm, but the stepchild of Chechnya and Somalia” is a staple of the literature on contemporary strategic affairs.[3] It was written by former United States Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak as part of a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London in 1996 in which he also coined the oft-quoted term “strategic corporal.” His overall argument was as follows: On account of the increasing interconnectedness of the world, the West will inevitably be drawn into “someone else’s wars” — which is to say, wars of choice that feature limited political commitment on the part of intervening forces.[4] Those wars will increasingly be centered in large, poorly governed urban areas, and will be fought against well-armed and capable opponents who will most likely be nonstate or quasi-nonstate actors. All of this will take place under the unblinking stare of the camera, bringing the local to the global stage and the global to the local stage. Together, these factors create a monster — like the mythical hundred-eyed Greek giant Argus Panoptes — that looms in the consciousness of generals and statesmen.[5] Seemingly grave tactical challenges are mixed with strategic unpredictability in a context of strict limitations on the use of force and acceptance of casualties. British doctrine describes the near future of war alliteratively as congested, cluttered, connected, contested, and constrained.[6] Likewise, the notable strategic thinker David Kilcullen goes for three related Cs: crowded, complex, and coastal.[7] There has developed a sort of orthodoxy, going back at least 20 years, which holds that population growth, urbanization, and interconnectedness — the driving forces of change in the global political economy — are pushing war into modes and contexts that conventional armed forces are finding, and will continue to find, vexingly difficult — in particular, the city. Whether this orthodoxy is correct is debatable. The strength of its grasp on the military mind and the defense policy establishment, however, is not. This paper is the joint effort of an academic and a professional soldier with 18 years of experience in infantry command, including multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. It uses an ethnographic approach, a technique that has been increasingly applied to contemporary defense policy and strategic studies.[8] It draws heavily on the subjective experience of practitioners with recent experience of urban warfighting, which we evaluate alongside a range of historical cases and extant doctrine from the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO. In this respect, this paper also employs the techniques of applied history, which we understand in the sense described by the naval historian Geoffrey Till as the illumination of the present and future through resonant historical examples, not “to point out lessons [per se], but to isolate things that need thinking about.”[9] We conducted fieldwork in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Israel between 2014 and 2017, which included lengthy visits to urban warfare training facilities, including observing and embedding in military exercises for periods of several days at a time. We also participated in numerous professional symposia on the subject, seminars, simulations, and wargames, mostly with the British Army (though nearly always with an international presence), as well as NATO. All told, we conducted over 40 interviews with veteran officers and noncommissioned officers, urban warfare trainers and course designers, doctrine authors, and subject-area specialists. This paper proceeds in five sections. In the first section, we seek to establish the fundamental characteristics of urban warfare, making reference to canonical works on the history of the city; specifically, works on war and the city. This includes, first and foremost, how the city’s connections with other urban conglomerations and the density of the civilian population causes a distinctive compression of the levels of war such that the tactical and political become inextricably entangled. In the second section, we use two historical examples — the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the British invasion of the River Plate during the Napoleonic Wars — to demonstrate that the problems of urban warfare are not new, as is often supposed or intimated. These examples serve as an important reminder to practitioners of the centuries of military and strategic wisdom accrued by their predecessors who faced similar dilemmas — and sometimes even solved them. In choosing the examples noted above, we focused only on cases that took place prior to World War I and are well-documented. We excluded numerous cases of besieged cities in which capitulation occurred after the exterior defenses were breached, or where a defending commander surrendered when a breach looked inevitable — a typical occurrence in early-modern European fortress warfare.[10] We also excluded cases where, although significant fighting continued on the streets after the outer defenses had failed, the historical accounts of said fighting were patchy and therefore there was little for us to say about it.[11] Our two examples were chosen because they superbly illustrate the rapid political, economic, and diplomatic impacts of urban warfare. Moreover, because they preceded the advent of the “information age,” which so preoccupies and confounds contemporary analysts, by about two millennia and two centuries, respectively, they serve as particularly apt correctives to the hype that often surrounds the topic of urban warfare today. In the third section, we show how a narrow view of the history of urban warfare, particularly one that is resolutely focused on the experience of one titanic and highly peculiar battle — Stalingrad — distorts perceptions of the problem at hand and its potential solutions. Other World War II battles, and a range of post-1945 conflicts up to the present day, call into serious question the validity of the “lessons” of Stalingrad, such as the tendency for commanders to lose control of the battle, the symbolic resonance of cities that causes politicians to invest greater strategic meaning in them than they ought, the permanent advantages of the defender, the high force ratios necessary to succeed, and the idea that superior weaponry, training, and mobility inevitably become less important or useful in city fighting. The fourth section shifts focus from diagnosis to prescription. Here, we suggest a rather prosaic, albeit fundamental, reform: the substantial upgrading of training protocols, urban warfare facilities, and tactical training systems to allow armed forces to better familiarize themselves with urban warfare, and to practice and experiment in convincing settings that can accommodate large combined-arms teams. The bulk of this section is based on extended visits to a range of such facilities in several countries, as well as interviews with training staff to identify the central problems and best practices. There is no equivalent scholarly research on this subject in the civil sphere, and we suspect, based on our research, in military circles either.[12] [quote id="1"] In the fifth section, we propose an approach to urban operations that we argue is in greater accordance with both the logic of projected force sizes, as compared with the current and imagined size of global megacities, and with our understanding of the best practices of military operations and leadership in all other environments — including simultaneity, tactical boldness, coordinated action of small units, and clarity of intent. The “strongest gang” model, as we call it, is a realistic solution to the problems of urban conflict that cannot be addressed by the current prevalent methods, which are too positively controlled, too manpower-intensive, too cautious, and cede too much initiative to objectively weaker and less capable opponents. In this section, we also discuss several potential contributions of technology to the successful conduct of 21st-century urban operations. Overall, we accept that the reality of demographics and geopolitics means that warfare will increasingly occur in urban environments. Nevertheless, we argue this is not, in itself, a development to be feared. If this represents a change, then it is one of degree not of fundamentals and is manageable with the right mindset — one that is sensitive to both opportunities and threats — and with bold and creative leadership.

The Challenges of Urban Warfare: Political and Tactical Entanglement

War is a “continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means,” wrote Clausewitz,[13] while politics, since the days of Plato’s ideal polis, has been wound up tightly with the affairs of the city. To impose political will upon a group of people through the use of force would seem to require that it be exercised where the people actually live, generate wealth, and conduct collective public life. It is, therefore, important to recognize that the fundamental problem of urban warfare, the one that pervades it from the heights of strategy to the minutiae of house-clearing, is the inextricability of the tactical from the political. Politics dictate what range of tactical options the practitioner can choose against which opponents in all contexts — this is a truism of war as applicable in cities as in rural areas, in cyberspace as well as outer space. For years now, there has been growing skepticism of the utility of the concept of “levels of war,” in which tactics nest hierarchically within operations, which nests within strategy, all of which are superseded by politics. This, essentially, is the essence of the aforementioned “strategic corporal” effect. There is an urge, therefore, to separate these levels for analytical purposes. But this would be a mistake. The urban environment has a tendency to amplify the negative effects of viewing the relationship between politics and tactics as hierarchical, discrete, and unidirectional. According to this manner of thinking, it is possible to rationalize isolating tactics from the study of policy — and sometimes strategy — because the latter two purportedly matter much more. Although there is certainly good cause to believe that, in the long term, great tactics cannot compensate for bad policy, tactics are both the base for and servant of strategy and ought not be left aside.[14] In cities, this is particularly true because the sheer density of people in a highly networked environment magnifies the degree to which politics and tactics are interwoven. Contemporary British doctrine, both in general as well as in regards to urban environments, illustrates this with its emphasis on the concept of “integrated action,” defined as the orchestration and execution of operations “in an interconnected world, where the consequences of military action are judged by an audience that extends from immediate participants to distant observers.”[15] The Limits of Avoiding the City For practically all of history, generals have loathed the prospect of fighting in cities and have sought to avoid it. Sun Tzu advised fighting in cities only if “absolutely necessary, as a last resort.”[16] For 2,500 years, generals have happily agreed with the strategic wisdom of this maxim, whether or not they have read ancient Chinese military philosophy. Even today, while decision-makers acknowledge that they are going to have to fight in an urban environment at some point, when left to their own devices in wargames and experiments, NATO generals elect to bypass cities without hesitation. Urban terrain poses a number of challenges for combat operations. Clausewitz described action in war as being like movement in a resistant medium. The elements that make up the atmosphere of war, he said, were danger, physical exertion, intelligence, and friction.[17] Each of these is supposedly intensified in the city. The profusion of places to hide in this multidimensional environment means engagement typically occurs at very short distances and fire fights are swift and brutal. The continuous high-level alertness required for close action, combined with extreme physical discomfort, is thought to hasten the onset of battle fatigue.[18] Command and control is bedeviled by communications problems caused by buildings that block both vision and radio signals. This, in turn, causes city battles to fragment rapidly into isolated and uncoordinated low-level fighting. If this kind of fighting is hard for professional soldiers who are trained in taking initiative, confident in their equipment, and physically prepared for the rigor involved, then how much harder is it for the less well-trained — or even untrained — conscript or amateur? Meanwhile, the presence of civilians in the urban environment adds a complicating element of friction that pervades every level, from tactics through strategy to policy. Indeed, Alice Hills, author of perhaps the most significant academic study on the challenges of urban warfare, describes the intractability of the problem as moral and normative in nature and therefore a particular concern for liberal states.[19] On the one hand, history suggests that there are conceivably many political, humanitarian, and legal reasons for even pacific liberal states to intervene in foreign cities, such as to conduct a strategic raid on specific facilities (e.g., weapons laboratories), to evacuate noncombatants, or to forestall genocide. (Imagine, for example, a raid on Radio Mille Collines, effectively the command-and-control system of the massacre of the Rwandan Tutsis.) On the other hand, such intervention risks becoming bogged down in a form of warfare that can exact a great toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. How can commanders maximize their forces’ military effectiveness, which is necessary given the high costs of keeping personnel and equipment in the field, while maintaining domestic and international support in a media-saturated environment, where that support is dependent in large part on keeping casualties and collateral damage below an indeterminate threshold of public acceptability?[20] The 1992–93 American-led U.N. intervention in Somalia remains a textbook example of this problem: It was a humanitarian operation initially that ended ignominiously as a small war following a vicious battle in the streets of Mogadishu in which two American helicopters were shot down, 18 American soldiers were killed, 72 were wounded, and a pilot was captured.[21] [quote id="2"] It is no wonder, then, that when at all feasible the most politically desirable operation is one that involves no troops on the ground at all, no matter what the terrain. The 1999 Kosovo War, which NATO conducted almost entirely from the air, epitomized this line of strategic reasoning. Wesley Clark, the commanding general of the campaign, wrote in his account of the war about the political wrangling that took place over conducting a ground offensive and the likely casualties that would ensue. He remarked,
there was no military answer to the problem of urban warfare in Belgrade. Or the determined resistance of the Serb population along the way. The northern approach included the classic invasion routes, which the Yugoslav military would be well prepared to defend. I knew that the political problems for NATO would be insuperable.[22]
Since the advent of the “War on Terror,” avoiding putting “boots on the ground” has been far more difficult from a tactical perspective, particularly after the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003. The appetite of all Western governments, including the United States, for the large-scale deployment of conventional forces has diminished markedly since the early days of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a case in point, Britain embarked more or less enthusiastically on the Iraq War, with Parliament voting 412 in favor and 149 against in 2003.[23] However, by August 2013, the Cameron government’s proposal to join American-led air strikes in Syria was defeated narrowly by a vote of 285 to 272. Even so, fully detaching from ongoing conflicts has proven extremely difficult. More recently, Western involvement in wars in the Middle East, and to a lesser extent Ukraine, has primarily involved airpower alongside special forces and small advisory teams in support of local forces — a far more politically palatable approach. The character of operations, however, has still been typified by the attack and defense of fortified locations, or urban areas that can be rapidly fortified (whether deliberately or as a by-product of combat), and operations that unfold over weeks and months, not hours and days. Ukrainian officers, for instance, characterized the months-long defense of the Donetsk Airport — a “serpentine grid of tunnels, bunkers, and underground communications systems” — against rebel forces of the Donbass Republic as a “mini-Stalingrad.”[24] In the Philippines, meanwhile, government forces needed five months to clear a force of about 1,000 Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf militants from Marawi, a town of 600,000 inhabitants that was significantly damaged in the process.[25] Undoubtedly, what primarily distinguishes cities from other theaters of conflict is the level to which they are intermingled with civilian life. But population centers can only be bypassed for so long in the hope of avoiding a military operation in the midst of a major concentration of noncombatants. At some point, one eventually gets to Baghdad or Mosul, or to Aleppo or Raqqa. Then what? The history of warfare is littered with instances of urban fighting. As the great historian of cities Lewis Mumford put it, war and the city are inextricable: “As soon as war had become one of the reasons for the city’s existence, the city’s own wealth and power made it a natural target.”[26] If you choose to fight “wars amongst the people,” as today’s wars have been described, then you must literally get among them.[27] In the mind of the contemporary Western politician, conflict in the urban environment — getting “amongst the people” — is synonymous with Stalingrad, and, as such, is beyond the public’s tolerance in terms of expenditure of “blood and treasure.” In order for the military to be able to present politicians with a full spectrum of credible and usable options, this assumption needs to be challenged. Currently it is based upon extant military doctrine — and, presumably, on the private advice of generals to policymakers — which says that urban conflict requires an approach that is reliant upon massive firepower and overwhelming manpower. But reports from practitioners at the tactical level and in training establishments, coupled with examples from military history, falsify this thesis. It is wrong — there is a different way.

Nothing Fundamental Has Changed

It is hard to gainsay Hills’ conclusions, particularly with regards to the primacy of politics. And yet, while she is cautious not to overemphasize the novelty of the problems she describes, writing that the “characteristics and tactical constraints of urban operations have remained remarkably consistent over the past 60 years,” because she rejects a longer historical approach, she misses that this statement would have been just as true 2,000 years ago.[28] The challenges of urban warfare that confront this generation of soldiers and statesmen are, for the most part, not new. Even the challenges that might seem new, such as the prevalence of the media, are only superficially different or, at most, an amplified echo of the past. Two examples from history show that governments have long been drawn into faraway urban conflicts with nonstate actors, and found them hard to fight, for reasons including political interconnectedness, media influence, and tactical complexity. Consider first the following scene from Flavius Josephus’ The Jewish War, which recounts a critical battle in the siege of Jerusalem by Roman legions under the command of Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian in the year 70 AD:
Threatening death to any of the populace who would breathe a word about surrender, and butchering all who even spoke casually about peace, they attacked the Romans who had entered. Some confronted them in the streets, some assailed them from the houses; while others, rushing forth without the wall through the upper gates, so disconcerted the guards at the ramparts, that they sprang down from their towers and retreated to their camp. Loud cries arose from those within, who were surrounded by enemies on all sides, and from those without, in alarm for their comrades who had been left behind.   The Jews, constantly increasing in numbers, and possessing many advantages in their knowledge of the streets, wounded many of the enemy, and drove them before them by repeated charges; while the Romans continued to resist mainly from sheer necessity, as they could not escape in mass owing to the narrowness of the breach; and had not Titus brought up fresh succours, all who had entered would probably have been cut down. Stationing his archers at the end of the streets and taking post himself where the enemy was in greatest force, he kept them at bay with missiles. Domitius Sabinus, who in this engagement, as in others, showed himself a brave man, aiding his exertions. Caesar held his ground, plying his arrows incessantly, and checking the advance of the Jews, until the last of the soldiers had retired.[29]
That this battle involved swords and clubs rather than M-4s and AK-47s matters little — just replace “archers” and “arrows” with "close combat attack” and “armed aviation” and the scene has an obvious contemporary resonance. Moreover, the tactics of the Jewish rebels differed little from those of, say, Islamic State insurgents in the months-long battle for Mosul in Iraq. Zealots among Jerusalem’s defenders murdered all moderate Jewish leaders and burnt the city’s dry food supply, which would have fed the population for a year or two, on the logic that it would compel noncombatants to join the fight. In fact, it only compounded the tragedy. More Jews died of the starvation brought on by the zealots than were killed by the Romans in the collective punishment that followed the defeat of the revolt. The wider political complexity of the campaign and its distinct and immediate connections to politics in the Roman capital over 2,300 miles away are equally noteworthy.[30] At the time of the battle, Vespasian had been emperor for just one year and the defeat of a Roman army, especially one commanded by his son, would have greatly undermined his power. Also bear in mind that Flavius Josephus was not an objective historian but rather a hagiographer. Famously described as the “Jewish Benedict Arnold,” he was quite literally owned by Titus and was conscious of the need to preserve and advance the celebrity of his master.[31] Thus, one must read between the lines of this account to see that what it describes is a tactical blunder by Titus, who advanced his troops prematurely through a too-small breach, and was then rescued from disaster by a competent subordinate, in addition to artillery support. In the introduction to her final chapter, “The Logic of Urban Operations,” Hills writes that the most important reason for examining urban battles is that they have the potential to become a critical security issue in the 21st century on account of, inter alia, demographic trends, globalization, and powerful nonstate adversaries. Cities are, moreover, not just politically significant but also economically significant as “base points” in a global web of production and markets, which conflict would disrupt.[32] And yet, the idea that the impact of urban warfare is increasingly strong — whether by resonating powerfully in international politics, causing upheaval in global markets, or impacting the mood of distant populations — has been true for at least two centuries, possibly even two millennia. [quote id="3"] For instance, in late June of 1806, British forces under the command of Adm. Sir Home Popham landed at the Rio de la Plata, Argentina with the aim of capturing Buenos Aires and ultimately seizing one of the greatest and richest Spanish colonies in South America. It was not a strategically planned gambit. In fact, Popham had acted independently on his own judgment as a commander, having convinced himself that the people of the region were “groaning under the tyranny” of Spain and eager for liberation. He also considered it an opportunity to counter Allied setbacks in the European theater — notably Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.[33] But ministers in London, once they learned of the event, thought he had vastly exceeded his authority. Their fury, however, was largely assuaged by the initially agreeable results: A superior Spanish military force was quickly routed at the cost of a handful of British casualties and Buenos Aires was occupied. The then vast sum of $1,086,000 was sent back to Britain by frigate along with six wagon-loads of other booty — primarily Jesuit’s bark (a valuable antimalarial) and mercury. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was also seized from abandoned and surrendered Spanish armories. Financial markets in London soared in anticipation that the good times would continue to roll. Unfortunately, by the time that these treasures had arrived in Britain, and reinforcements had been dispatched, events had already turned decidedly for the worse. While the British certainly did plunder the assets of the deposed Spanish regime, they took some care not to “exasperate” the local population, as counter-insurgency doctrine has wisely advised for over a hundred years.[34] Thus, private property was untouched; the population, which was regarded as liberated rather than conquered, was protected; local government, courts, and tax authorities were permitted to continue as normal; and the place of the Catholic Church in society was left untouched. It was to little avail, however, for two reasons. First, the improvisational nature of the campaign caused even those locals who were happy to see the end of Spanish rule to doubt the long-term intentions of the British, which in turn caused political unrest. Second, Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, a Knight of the Order of Malta in the service of Spain, played upon the unpacified mood of the population to organize a powerful insurgency out of a ragbag of escaped regular soldiers, angry civilians, and thrill-seeking gauchos. The result was a bitter humiliation for Great Britain, which resulted in the court-martial of the officer in charge of operations. Ironically, this was not Popham, who escaped immediate blame by moving on before things came to a head, but Gen. John Whitelocke, who had arrived in May 1807 with a small army of 6,000 troops under orders to recover the worsening situation with another assault on Buenos Aires. The fighting in the capital and the surrounding area proved insurmountably difficult for the British, who discovered that the thick walls and flat roofs of the Spanish colonial urban landscape cut through by narrow alleys provided endless opportunities for ambushes. In scenes reminiscent of Titus’ premature foray into Jerusalem, British soldiers were assailed from the roofs by a great proportion of the population with hand grenades, musket fire, stones, and boiling water, while at nearly every major street corner they were attacked by Spanish cannons loaded with grape-shot, which were stationed behind deep ditches that were reinforced by sharpened stakes. The war has generally been forgotten by Britons, but not Argentinians, for whom it was a precursor to revolution and independent nation-building.[35] It was unquestionably a “hybrid” battle with a mix of regular and irregular modes of warfare.[36] It also included the exploitation of clan, tribal, and illicit networks in order to sustain the insurgent fighting forces. In the final battles on the streets of Buenos Aires, de Liniers achieved the operational and tactical feat of deploying the most primitive arms alongside what were then cutting-edge ones. This is to say nothing of the political complexity of the conflict, which was substantial and wide-ranging. Tactical decisions in the local contest between Spanish colonial rulers, indigenous people, and their British liberators-cum-conquerors resonated very quickly in the distant capitals of London, Madrid, and Paris. Likewise, the effect on financial markets was a powerful factor driving political and military decision-making. There was a media dimension as well: first, in the enthusiastic celebration of Popham — who was acutely conscious of his celebrity — and, second, in the public pillorying of Whitelocke. One of the main conclusions of important scholars like Hills is that, although tactics of urban warfare have changed little, the strategic context has evolved considerably as a result of globalization, demography, and urbanization. And yet, based on examples from history, it would seem that the strategic context has not actually changed in any fundamental way.

"Stalingraditis" and Other Urban Legends

To say that there is little in today’s world that has not been seen or dealt with in the past is not to say that there is nothing new at all. Likewise, to say that present-day strategists exaggerate how much they are affected by the connectedness, complexity, and sheer riskiness of the world relative to their forebears is not to say that they do not face challenges. It is, rather, that strategists today will be better able to deal with such challenges if they are clear-eyed about what is new and what is not, and what lessons can be generalized — so long as they do not sever themselves entirely from the experience and knowledge of the past. In a recent keynote speech on the past, present, and future of urban warfare, the British military historian Antony Beevor, author of numerous works on World War II, including the classic Stalingrad, detailed a number of lessons that can be gleaned from that battle. First, he argued, commanders lose control of the battle more rapidly in urban environments than they do in others — it is, according to Beevor, intrinsically more difficult terrain on which to fight than any other. Second, cities are imbued with a symbolic resonance that makes them dangerous objectives for politicians. This makes them wont to devote more resources to them than their strategic value merits. Third, the defender usually determines the tactics in cities — a key advantage, and one that normally accrues to irregular more so than regular forces. Fourth, fighting in cities consumes far more troops than planners usually imagine while the urban environment diminishes the advantages of superior conventional weaponry, mobility, and training.[37] Beevor concludes that “there is something pitiless about urban warfare.” All of these lessons, including particularly the last one, are surely true of Stalingrad, and, in one form or another, one finds them repeated in British, American, and NATO doctrine.[38] The trouble is, however, that none of these lessons are generalizable, and thus it can be misleading when they are treated as such. The Myth of Intrinsic Difficulty: Is Urban Terrain the Hardest? Beevor claims that the urban environment is intrinsically difficult. This difficulty, however, is neutral, manifesting differently, but with equal impact, upon all sides. It is perhaps truer to say that the urban environment is more difficult to fight in for a commander who is not down at the small-team level. But tactical and operational victories are made up of small-team successes. The commander in charge of a small team can, in real time, take advantage of the multiple approach routes, the variety of possible sources of fire support, and the opportunities for surprise that the environment presents. The closeness of the terrain often allows commanders at this level to get further forward than would otherwise be possible and thus leads to them making rapid decisions with better information. In the urban context, a main benefit of a high-tempo maneuver operation over a methodical firepower-driven one is that the former deprives the defenders of the time to fortify, particularly by employing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have proven a difficult challenge for attacking forces, as well as a serious impediment to post-war rebuilding efforts. For instance, in the recent fighting with Islamic State forces in Mosul, Iraq, it was discovered that a single hospital complex had been laced with approximately 1,500 IEDs.[39] In this context, maintaining operational tempo could allow the attacking commander to continue to make military gains and deny the enemy time to place such devices, so long as the political situation is amenable. Moreover, a less firepower-intensive approach is likely to be a factor in maintaining political will and public consent. Nevertheless, small-unit maneuvering in a dispersed manner within cities presents some obvious challenges. These include having fewer safe rear areas and fewer heavily protected routes for supply and reinforcement and medical evacuation. There are, however, technological changes that may significantly alleviate these concerns, as discussed below. [quote id="4"] It is frequently observed that one of the great advantages of operating in “uncluttered” places like deserts, as opposed to cluttered urban centers, is that, whereas the former presents a logistical challenge, the dearth of civilians is an advantage. A German general captured by the British during the North Africa campaign in World War II put it this way: Desert fighting was a “tactician’s paradise and the quartermaster’s nightmare.”[40] This is based, however, on something of a misapprehension — that in environments outside of towns and cities one is not operating among the people. Even in the Libyan deserts, on the tracts of the desolate Sahara, a military commander is still operating amid a civilian population that may exert a direct impact on his operations. One can see this, for example, in the memoirs of Vladimir Peniakoff, one of the most colorful officers of British military history, who was commander of “Popski’s Private Army” — a legendary desert reconnaissance and raiding force in North Africa. Peniakoff described the manner of his operations and planning in this way:
What I like to do is to go myself beforehand over the country and get the feel of the plains, the mountains, and the valleys; the sand, the rocks, and the mud; at the same time, I listen to the local gossip; find out who commands the enemy and what are his pastimes—who my friends are and how far they are prepared to help me and what are the presents that will please. Then, when I come back later with my men to carry out my evil schemes, I can let the plan take care of itself.[41]
In other words, while the presence of civilians in the city is indeed a factor that adds to the complexity of the operating environment, this is also the case in other environments, even ones that seem, at first glance, to be relatively uncluttered. Replace plains, mountains, and valleys with boulevards, streets, and alleys, or sand, rocks, and mud with apartment complexes, shopping malls, and industrial parks, and it does not fundamentally change Peniakoff’s admonition about how to plan and lead a military operation. Though the density of habitation may change, war remains a human endeavor that takes place among people.[42] When it comes to warfare on land, there is no unpeopled place where combat can occur without reference to noncombatants, as though in a gladiatorial ring where bloodied fighters are clearly sequestered from the onlookers.[43] Urban warfare is undoubtedly fraught with serious difficulties, but so too is warfare in every environment. Rote pronouncements of its supremely challenging nature are unhelpful. Rarely are the potential advantages of operating in an urban environment considered. When questioned on this, however, our interlocutors remarked on several such advantages. For one thing, civilian observation and digital connectedness could be an intelligence resource to friendly forces. For another, the wealth of possible routes into and around the city could enable small unit movements and offer plentiful cover and concealment. The relatively short range of engagements can lead to greater visibility of the enemy allowing precision and, therefore, a possible reduction in the need to use indirect fire and a concomitant reduction in collateral damage. Moreover, outflanking the enemy is easier, as is isolating enemy positions. In sporting terminology, it is easier to create the “one-on-ones” that afford the team’s best players the opportunities to use their skills to the team’s advantage. In addition, the presence of the media need not be seen as a bad thing, as it could allow commanders to focus world attention for information operations or deception purposes. Finally, the dependence of some adversaries on one or more urban areas for their own sustainment — logistics, popular support, and so on — are potential centers of gravity that can be attacked. The enormous logistical advantages of operating in proximity to working port facilities was noted frequently by those we interviewed and studied. Indeed, it is striking in speaking to and reading the accounts of commanders of many post-Cold War operations how little they highlight the difficulties of urban environments as compared to other complaints. Problems of logistics, as always, feature prominently. An Australian commander in the 2000 East Timor operation, for example, described how he had to have four transport ships run ashore on the beach at Suai, where engineers cut the hulls open with oxyacetylene torches so that desperately needed supplies could be removed with a front-end loader — a triumph of improvisation but hardly an ideal manner in which to operate.[44] For all the difficulties of operating in urban settings, as long as the city is still functioning to some degree, the opportunities for “living off the land” are significantly greater than in most other environments. Fuel, electricity, water, food, shelter, medical facilities, communications facilities, places where repairs can be done, and the equipment with which to do such repairs are abundant in metropolitan settings — and in short supply outside of them — precisely because of the densely interconnected nature of the city. Triumph of the Lack of Will? On the Symbolic Importance of Cities The evidence surrounding the symbolic importance of cities and its hold on the minds of politicians is also quite mixed. One of the major problems with using Stalingrad as a benchmark is that it was extremely unusual in the strength of its political symbolism. For Stalin and Hitler, both unbridled totalitarian autocrats, the battle was a proxy for a personal and ideological contest — a test not only of each other’s will but of the total national strength they could command. Thus, neither could contemplate retreat or surrender, causing both men to hurl division after division into the cauldron of fire. This has not been the case, however, in more recent urban battles. If Fallujah had been renamed George Bush-ville after the first battle there in 2004, or if Sadr City was renamed Barack Obama City after the Obama administration took over the Iraq War, then a comparison with Stalingrad would perhaps be a bit more apt. The fact is, though, that American and British urban operations in Iraq after 2003 were, on the whole, characterized by a decided lack of sustained political concern as politicians and military-strategic headquarters back home urged caution and retreat on local commanders for fear of costly entanglement. Towns and cities were thus repeatedly cleared, or at any rate temporarily pacified, only to be subsequently abandoned to insurgents. Clearly neither city held particular symbolic importance for the United States or Great Britain. Instead, lack of will has tended to be more typical of urban battles in recent years. It must be said that Britain lately has been more guilty of this than the United States. The reasons why are not terribly mysterious: As the junior partner in the expeditionary campaigns of the “War on Terror,” Britain’s political and military leadership has perceived that it has less skin in the game and less responsibility for the ultimate outcome.[45] The best example of this lack of will is the British occupation of Basra, Iraq, which is described frankly in a vignette in the most recent British Army doctrine. It shows that much of the United Kingdom’s difficulties in southern Iraq stemmed from a lack of political will and an excess of caution in London. In essence, they were quite willing to give up Basra to insurgent control more than once.[46] When looking for an example of how political equivocality and strategic lassitude can exert a baleful influence on tactics in urban operations, it is hard to beat what took place on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983: A truck packed with 12,000 pounds of TNT was driven by a Shiite commando into the headquarters of the 22nd Marine Amphib