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Loren DeJonge Schulman

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Book Review Roundtable: Building Militaries in Fragile States

Book Review Roundtable: Building Militaries in Fragile States

In our latest roundtable, our contributors review Mara Karlin's book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States.

Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy

Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy

In this roundtable, we asked our chair, Van Jackson, to write a prompt essay on the future of progressive foreign policy, and had each of our contributors respond.

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1. Introduction: The Pitfalls of Seeking Security on the Cheap

By Jason Fritz   In the years since the United States deployed massive amounts of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in the early to late 2000s, it has changed tactics, relying upon local security forces to fight its enemies abroad in order to avoid the costs of large-scale military commitments. The United States provides security assistance on every continent except Antarctica, and to every country in the bottom quartile of fragile states, except for Eritrea and Syria.[1] Support to these local forces takes many forms, from simple train-and-equip missions, to acting in an advisory role, to training and educating foreign armies, to institutional and ministerial reform. The U.S. government has invested heavily in building the military capacity of fragile states because it is much cheaper to support developing militaries than it is for the United States to stabilize these countries itself. Yet, these efforts have produced mixed results at best. Mara Karlin, in her excellent new book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, proposes to explain under what conditions efforts to build partner capacity succeed and fail when the United States is attempting to stabilize a fragile state undergoing civil conflict — specifically, conflict that challenges the government’s monopoly on the use of force. Offering an elegant and parsimonious model, Karlin argues that there are two overarching variables that help a partner military achieve sustainable control over the state: the nature of U.S. involvement and the external threat environment. The former is determined by how the United States organizes the foreign military (for internal or external defense), the U.S. role in selecting key partner military leaders, and the ability of the United States to limit its involvement to assistance only and not become a party to the conflict. The external threat environment describes the role of external actors in the conflict. According to Karlin’s model, building a partner’s military capacity is more likely to be successful — measured as the partner’s monopoly of force within its borders — when American involvement is greater and the role of antagonistic external actors is decreased. Thus, when U.S. involvement is low and external antagonism is high, building partner capacity is expected to be a complete failure. The remaining two combinations lead to two different varieties of partial failure: When there is limited antagonistic influence but U.S. efforts are not fully engaged, insufficient progress is made toward securing a monopoly of force for the local government. Conversely, heavy U.S. involvement alongside significant external antagonism result in a spoiler effect where both actors — the United States and and the external antagonistic actor — cancel out the effect of the other. Karlin draws her empirical evidence from a number of historical case studies, relying on unique archival research and interviews. The exemplar case of building partner capacity is Greece in the late 1940s, an intervention in which U.S. military officers wielded great power over the personnel decisions and force structuring in the Greek military as a condition of assistance. Coupled with limited external support for the communist rebels, the U.S. assistance was extremely effective in defeating the insurgency. Alternatively, complete failure in such efforts is exemplified by U.S. intervention in South Vietnam in the late 1950s. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem refused to allow American interference in military leadership decisions. Instead, his paranoia led him to only appoint officers whose personal loyalty to him was unquestionable. American advisors continued to structure, equip, and train the South Vietnamese military to face external threats, while the insurgency — increasingly backed by North Vietnam — surged to unmanageable levels of capability. The assistance mission was a disaster, leading the United States to become more and more involved with direct military action, the consequences of which need no further discussion here. Karlin illustrates her model’s predictions of partial failure by examining two assistance programs in Lebanon. The first example was during Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1980s, when the United States was significantly involved in leadership decisions and force structuring in the country but was ultimately defeated by the destabilizing effects of proxy forces supported by Israel, Iran, and Syria. In this case, antagonistic external actors were able to overcome American attempts to improve the Lebanese military. The second example is from the subsequent U.S. efforts in the late 2000s after the withdrawal of the Syrian military from Lebanon. In this example, there were fewer outside actors pushing against U.S. efforts, but America failed to affect leadership decisions in the Lebanese military, which was unable to gain or maintain control over all of the state’s territory. Karlin’s model is not meant to apply to cases where the United States is a direct co-combatant in a civil conflict. As she notes, these are rare events, most notably Vietnam (post-1961), Afghanistan (post-2001), and Iraq (post-2003). Karlin explains, “the nature of U.S. programs to strengthen militaries during a massive occupation is harder to disentangle given the numerous other variables that exist.”[2] Nor is her model meant to apply to assistance that is focused on external defense. The measure of success in Karlin’s model is the ability to control the state’s territory, an outcome which does not apply in cases of state-on-state conflict. How Much Involvement Is Enough, and for Whom? In addition to the great explanatory power that Karlin’s two-dimensional model provides and the key questions she raises for any policymaker considering embarking on a partner capacity mission, her study provides a great starting point for a suite of additional studies, including exploring how much assistance is enough and how the recipient country’s legitimacy affects U.S. effectiveness. First, given that assistance recipients are often concerned about how much U.S. involvement to accept, it would be invaluable to explore how much U.S. involvement is enough — and no more. There is ample research on the reticence of countries receiving U.S. assistance in appearing to be clients of the American hegemon,[3] a point made by each of the reviewers below. A government seen as too cozy with the United States could easily be viewed as not legitimate by its people, endangering its ability to expand and maintain control over the entirety of the state. Understanding the effective limits of U.S. involvement — and how much antagonistic external meddling can be tolerated — is also important to the United States as it would help frame the challenges for individual assistance programs and create expectations about costs for decision-makers, Congress, and the public. It is also important to set expectations with partner governments so they can gauge how much involvement to expect, which, if communicated well, could limit accusations of clientelism to a foreign power. A second potential path for future research is the addition of a third dimension to Karlin’s model, also discussed by Walter Ladwig below: the recipient government’s legitimacy. While measuring legitimacy remains a squishy endeavor, the reality is that some governments cannot be helped regardless of how much involvement the United States may offer or how little outside assistance insurgencies receive. Autocratic regimes that undertake coup-proofing measures with their military will not accept American influence on leadership decisions no matter what the United States does: the weakness of their military is essential in maintaining their rule. Karlin’s case study in South Vietnam illustrates just this; however, Karlin identified the American advisors as the explanatory variable, not the very nature of Diem’s rule, which precluded any serious U.S. involvement. Moreover, in fragile states the government is often created by divvying public goods among warlords or other powerful elites, who would otherwise be in conflict with one another, in order to create a coalition.[4] Such coalitions are sensitive to changes in the power dynamics resulting from U.S. involvement. Replacing key military leaders may make the military a more capable force, but it degrades the political power structures that undergird the existence of the government. Assistance in this case is doomed to fail, as is the case in Afghanistan. And while some governments may or may not engage in coup-proofing or in efforts to maintain shaky political coalitions, their actions nevertheless prevent them from building legitimacy despite U.S. involvement in leadership decisions and force structuring. Such actions typically entail political exclusion or repression, both of which were on display in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. Instances where the recipient government seeking stability may be a major source of fragility warrant the inclusion of a third dimension that considers the nature and actions of the recipient government. The Unlikelihood of Success Karlin, an exceptional academic who was also a senior official in the Department of Defense, examines security assistance deftly, with the rigor of a scholar and the practicality of a practitioner. The three reviewers in this roundtable — Walter Ladwig, Tommy Ross, and Loren DeJonge Shulman — each express agreement with Karlin’s model, but remain skeptical in the entire endeavor of building partner militaries. They focus on different points of failure for these missions, but think policymakers would be well served if America’s leaders in the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom analyzed each case according to the questions posed in Karlin’s conclusion. However, if policymakers were to rigorously analyze each mission as Karlin suggests, the reviewers are skeptical that U.S. partners would be up to the task, that the U.S. government is organized to build partner militaries, or that exogenous forces can be adequately deterred. In any of these cases, they expect the United States to be more likely to fail in these missions than not. Ladwig focuses his review on the recipient government and its propensity to accept outside involvement. He cites a number of studies that identify the partner government itself as the greatest obstacle to achieving state control and subsequent stability. Ladwig identifies that the country offering assistance and the recipient governments may have differing objectives that preclude the unity of effort necessary for deep outside involvement. Additionally, Ladwig points out that because assistance is an inherently political act, it may upset the political coalitions of the state, using the second Lebanon case as an example. Ultimately, Ladwig argues that although Karlin’s book is an excellent start, additional dimensions should also be explored when considering what makes for a successful foray into building partner capacity. Ross and DeJonge Schulman both acknowledge that building partner capacity has become America’s default response to fragile states, largely because it is cheaper than direct combat involvement. However, they also question whether the U.S. government is organized to conduct such assistance operations effectively. Ross notes that within the military, foreign assistance is marginalized — the U.S. government has invested little to create the capacity to conduct partner capacity missions at a scale commensurate with demand. Similarly, DeJonge Schulman doubts the ability of policymakers to fully analyze any specific mission adequately, per Karlin’s conclusion, in an environment where the operational tempo often precludes obtaining a rigorous understanding of the political conditions in the country in question. Furthermore, she is concerned about the existence of expertise at the country level, something that is necessary in order for the United States to make deep involvement effective (a point also made by Ross). Finally, Ross focuses in on the role of external actors more deeply. In his analysis, Karlin’s model treats antagonistic external actors as exogenous to the internal conflict and U.S. influence. This is undoubtedly for the sake of parsimony. But Ross argues that U.S. actions can both limit and inspire external actions, a point that is underexplored in Karlin’s model and case analysis. He notes that the United States has “an underdeveloped suite of tools available to confront the activities of adversarial actors in a third country” and that U.S. planners may not be aware of the few tools that do exist. Ross ultimately proposes this as an additional area of exploration in future research. Each of the reviewers acknowledges that assistance to foreign militaries has been a key aspect of U.S. security efforts in fragile states for nearly 20 years, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. And yet, the United States has not had a great record in using that assistance to create stability in states of great strategic interest, particularly in the Middle East and throughout Africa. Karlin’s book provides a practical analytical path to predict the success of such assistance efforts. While scholars can enjoy the elegant model she presents and the lines of research the model uncovers, policymakers would be well advised to read and abide by the principles she lays out.   Jason Fritz is a senior research analyst and project manager in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Advanced Academic Programs.  

2. The Politics of Security Assistance to Fragile States

By Walter C. Ladwig III   Reflecting the change in U.S. security strategy from direct intervention in internal conflicts to working “by, with, and through” local partners to manage internal security challenges, in recent years there has been a marked increase in the academic literature on security force assistance. Mara Karlin’s recent book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, makes a significant contribution to this growing field of study, as well as our understanding of the conditions necessary for American military assistance programs to achieve their objectives. Specifically, the book seeks to understand when, why, and under what circumstances U.S. programs to strengthen partner militaries for internal defense have succeeded. Both during the Cold War and today, military assistance has been a key tool in America’s diplomatic tool kit, yet as Karlin notes, “the U.S. track record for building militaries in fragile state is uneven at best.”[5] What accounts for this outcome? Blending a scholar’s detachment with the real-world insights of a senior Pentagon official, Karlin concludes that the limited impact of most security assistance programs is the result of a failure to properly conceive of the true scope of the undertaking. All too often, the task of strengthening a partner’s military is seen as a narrow technical undertaking focused on the provision of equipment and training. When these efforts fail to achieve the desired results, the answer is to simply provide more equipment and more training. Instead, Building Militaries in Fragile States contends that training and equipment on their own will only contribute marginally to military effectiveness if the armed forces receiving assistance suffer from poor organization and dysfunctional leadership. Consequently, Karlin argues that efforts to transform the recipient military, rather than simply supplying it with material and instruction, are the hallmark of efficacious security assistance missions. Success in this endeavor will be determined by the actions taken by the United States as well as by those of external powers that seek to destabilize the fragile state. In particular, efforts to strengthen the militaries of fragile states will succeed in achieving a monopoly on violence within the country’s borders when the following conditions are met: 1) American officials involve themselves in the partner’s “sensitive military matters,” such as the appointment of senior personnel and the organizational structure of the armed forces; and 2) The efforts of hostile external powers to bolster insurgents or undermine the fragile state are deterred or moderated. Conversely, when the United States shies away from trying to influence a state’s higher-level defense policies and antagonistic external actors run rampant, security assistance missions are poised for catastrophic failure. Karlin tests the explanatory power of this two-variable formulation by examining four case studies: U.S. involvement in the Greek Civil War (1947–1949); assistance to the armed forces of South Vietnam between 1956 and 1960; and two distinct efforts to strengthen the Lebanese army, from 1982 to 1984 (Lebanon I) and again from 2005 to 2009 (Lebanon II). She utilizes extensive archival research and copious interviews with senior policymakers to provide an impressive depth of insight into American efforts in each of the cases. In the most successful of the four assistance efforts examined in Karlin’s book, the Joint U.S. Military Assistance and Planning Group under Gen. James Van Fleet exercised considerable influence over the personnel policy and structure of the Greek armed forces. This occurred alongside internecine struggles in the communist world that led Yugoslavia to cut off support for the Communist Party of Greece (Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδας) and deny their guerrillas sanctuary. The end result was a Greek military that was highly capable of carrying out the foreign internal defense mission and wielded uncontested sovereignty throughout the country’s territory. Vietnam sits at the opposite end of the spectrum where the U.S. Military Assistance Group under Gen. Samuel “Hanging Sam” Williams steadfastly focused on the technical aspects of rendering assistance to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and purposely avoided attempts to influence personnel policy or organizational structures of the South Vietnamese military. Moreover, a misplaced focus on preparing South Vietnam’s army for interstate warfare did little to develop its capacity to respond to North Vietnam’s increasing support for armed guerrillas in the south. The failure of this early security assistance effort set the stage for the subsequent U.S. intervention to bolster a succession of fledgling governments in Saigon. The two cases out of Lebanon demonstrate partial failures, with American efforts to reform the local armed forces countered by external support for opposition armed groups in one case (Lebanon I), and America’s failure to capitalize on the diminishing role of antagonistic external actors by intrusively intervening in the sensitive military affairs of the country generating sub-optimal results in the other (Lebanon II). Not all Countries Are Interested in Cooperation The real strength of Karlin’s contribution is in advancing an analytical framework that focuses on the agency and the actions of the supporting and opposing external powers. In this manner, politics takes center stage in determining the efficacy of security assistance efforts, rather than more mundane technical aspects of the undertaking. Karlin makes a convincing case that American policymakers tend to err by viewing the task of building partner militaries narrowly through the lens of training and equipping the forces, rather than engaging with broader questions of organizational structure and leadership that are so critical to enhancing military effectiveness.[6] In calling for security assistance efforts to be conceived more broadly, Building Militaries in Fragile States makes an important argument. At the same time, however, in privileging the politics and agency of external actors this approach neglects those same factors when it comes to the local partner. Although governments of weak states are sometimes portrayed as being puppets or pawns of major powers, they often prove to be savvy and strategic political actors who can, at times, succeed in advancing their own interests at the expense of their more powerful partners. Consequently, the mere willingness on the part of the United States to involve itself in a partner state’s sensitive military affairs is only part of the issue. The local partner’s willingness to allow such an intrusion and to accept American guidance is just as important, if not more so. The history of U.S. efforts to train and equip foreign militaries suggests that such compliance cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, there is a strand of literature dating back to the 1970s that identifies America’s partner governments as the principal obstacle to developing local militaries for internal security missions.[7] Although willing to accept U.S. military aid and training, local governments can be resistant to undertaking the kinds of transformational re-organizations that would improve military effectiveness, in part, because they often mistrust their own military. Governments that do not exercise a monopoly on violence within their territory and need significant external assistance to build military capacity typically suffer from a myriad of problems, like economic stagnation, incompetence, lack of legitimacy, abusive treatment of the population, or all of the above. The particular terrorist or insurgent group motivating U.S. involvement in a country’s internal security may be just one potential threat to the local regime’s hold on power, with additional challenges posed by rival elites or even the armed forces themselves. These different threat perceptions can lead the United States and a partner government to have different policy priorities, which can, in turn, undermine the effectiveness of U.S. security assistance. Consequently, advice to streamline the military chain of command or to appoint senior leaders on the basis of ability rather than political allegiance makes sense in terms of improving military effectiveness, but such actions can also appear reckless, if not downright suicidal, to the government in question. Instead, savvy leaders will ensure that the military is too divided to mount a coup, employ patronage to buy off rival elites, and centralize power in the hands of trusted loyalists, all of which is likely to diminish military effectiveness.[8] The potential for divergent preferences is amply illustrated in Karlin’s “Lebanon II” case, where the United States wanted the Lebanese government to be able to exert control over all of its territory, but the administration in Beirut prioritized maintaining its modus vivendi with Hezbollah over exercising complete sovereignty. When attempting to build military capacity in a fragile state, how likely is it that Washington’s preferences and those of a partner government will diverge? Available evidence suggests this will be a fairly common occurrence. As Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker have noted, many of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan, are plagued by corruption, dalliances with terrorist groups, or gross human rights abuses, while other U.S. partners are among the most significant sources of foreign fighters for the so-called Islamic State.[9] Barbara Elias’ study of the demands the United States made to the Iraqi and Afghan governments it was supporting in counterinsurgency efforts found that 50 percent of American requests for military reforms in Iraq went unfulfilled and that the Afghan government’s compliance rate with U.S. suggestions regarding its military strategy was below 25 percent.[10] Indeed, in these two cases local partners pursued domestic policies that subverted U.S. security objectives. An inability to restrain Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian agenda, for example, prevented the military gains from the 2007 surge from being translated into positive political outcomes and laid the foundation for the rise of the Islamic State. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s use of patronage politics was seen as a form of corruption, undercutting public support for the very government that U.S. and NATO forces were trying to assist. As commander of the U.S. military advisory group, Gen. Van Fleet was clearly right to push the Greek government to cashier ineffective senior officers, restructure its armed forces, and adjust its military doctrines. It is less clear, however, that the United States will often find a government as receptive as the Greeks were to their patron’s interventions. Not only did Van Fleet forge a close working relationship with his counterparts, as Karlin recounts, “the Greek government sought to wholly cooperate with the Americans.”[11] It goes far beyond the remit of Karlin’s book to determine why the Greek government was so willing to countenance American intrusion in sensitive military affairs, however, perceptions of the communist insurgency as the primary threat to the regime, coupled with a trust in the loyalty of the armed forces and unity among Greek elites would seem to be likely explanations. In any event, the situation was far different in South Vietnam where — despite the worsening internal security situation — the Diem government took active steps to limit the effectiveness of the army and ensured that the primary target of the intelligence services was not the growing insurgency, but rather non-communist political dissidents. Why? Because the army and political rivals were seen to be as great a threat to South Vietnam’s government as the Viet Cong. Even if Gen. Williams and his group of military advisors had wished to involve themselves in South Vietnam’s sensitive military affairs, would a government that had tightly centralized control over all aspects of defense, security, and economic policy in the office of the president readily welcome the council of American interlocutors? The rich historical detail in the Vietnam case study suggests that Ngo Dinh Diem would have exerted significant energy to thwart such efforts, as he did in fact do in the early 1960s.[12] It may be the case that some future American partners will be as welcoming as the Greeks, however, the history of U.S. security assistance efforts in Vietnam and Lebanon reviewed in this book should disabuse anyone of the expectation that unconditional cooperation will be the norm. Questions About U.S. Partners In the conclusion, Karlin outlines eight questions a policymaker should consider before initiating an effort to strengthen the military of a fragile state. Pondering these issues before commencing any security assistance mission will indeed help ensure that such an undertaking takes account of broader political military matters affecting military effectiveness, rather than concentrating narrowly on training and equipping foreign forces. The majority of these questions, however, focus on either the U.S. government or the antagonistic external actor. As the preceding discussion indicates, it is necessary to subject the local partner to the same type of scrutiny. What does the partner government see as its primary security threat? Does it trust the armed forces or see them as a potential rival? Is enhancing the military’s effectiveness a key goal for the local regime? Will American involvement in sensitive military affairs be welcomed or resisted? If the answers to these questions point to significant divergences in priorities or preferences between the United States and a partner, should the United States attempt to compel changes in the local government’s behavior through rewards or punishments or should it simply walk away? The answer to this latter question will vary from situation to situation, nevertheless, policymakers should give it real consideration before rendering security assistance to a fragile state. That such issues go beyond Karlin’s analytical framework is not a critique of Building Militaries in Fragile States, but rather an indication of the multi-dimensional challenges posed by security force assistance. Building effective military organizations can be difficult enough in one’s own state. These challenges are only compounded when seeking to enhance the effectiveness of another country’s armed forces. Mara Karlin makes an extremely valuable contribution to the growing literature on security force assistance by articulating a two-dimensional framework that can help assess when an effort to build a partner’s military is likely to be successful. Well written, deeply researched, and incorporating the perspectives of both a scholar and a practitioner, Building Militaries in Fragile States should be widely read by those in the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and on Capitol Hill who fund, execute, and oversee America’s extensive military assistance programs.   Walter C. Ladwig III is an associate professor of international relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and the author of The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017).  

3. To Remind You of My Love: Reforming the Impulsive Affection of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Militaries

By Loren DeJonge Schulman   The movie Downfall, about the final days of Adolf Hitler, contains a scene that has been turned into countless memes with various subtitles. In the original, Hitler learns that the defeat of Germany is imminent and explodes at his senior generals. My favorite meme is titled, “Hitler Learns About Sequestration”: The madman is informed of the imminence of the enormous budget cut and laments the loss of military superiority, crying “What are we going to do, build partner capacity?”[13] In her recent book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, Mara Karlin explores America’s history with capacity building missions and considers how it fits a world of limited defense resources. In the eyes of policymakers I have worked with, efforts to build partner capacity lie somewhere between a magical antidote to all of America’s security problems and an inevitable — and less expensive — back-up date. Respected leaders have hailed building the security capacity of U.S. allies and partners as “a key and enduring test of America’s global leadership in the 21st century,”[14] consistent with its history and ideological underpinnings. Put more bluntly, Karlin notes up front that “[t]he United States faces a long-term decline in defense spending going forward” and “U.S. direct military intervention [to bolster fragile states] is politically unacceptable.” Thus, America needs a way to pursue its security interests on the cheap, and “building partner militaries is one key way to do so.”[15] Karlin goes on to make the case that the United States needs to learn from how it has pursued this form of security assistance in the past and examine what factors contribute to and take away from its mid-term success. Her takeaways are clear and approachable: “If the United States gets deeply involved in a partner state’s sensitive military affairs and if antagonist external actors play a diminishing role, then the partner state military is more likely to establish internal defense.[16] Her checklist of questions for policymakers to consider before they engage in such operations in the future are sensible and to the point: What is the purpose of the program, what is the potential for the United States holding influence over the partner military, and how unified is the U.S. vision of the program?[17] Policymakers reading Karlin’s book may feel reassured that this is the how-to guide for intelligently building partner militaries that they have been waiting for, and it is, no doubt, the best and simplest advice I have seen in the literature. Just Say "No" However, having spent many of the same years as Karlin in the Pentagon and Situation Room considering how to support partner militaries and how to establish a U.S. policy framework for doing so, I have an alternative takeaway from Karlin’s sophisticated research and analysis: Don’t do it. Don’t build partner military capacity in vulnerable states. Don’t even think about it unless you are willing to spend an immense amount of time directly involved in a foreign military’s most sensitive decisions. And don’t do it unless you are painfully honest about the goals of the program. However, if you must engage in such an effort, policymakers should lower their expectations substantially regarding the scope and timeframe that the U.S. program is expected to have. Karlin is candid about the high barriers to success in her recommended approach and explores in detail how the United States does not typically pursue capacity-building missions how it ought to: with leaders who are highly invested and who give the necessary time to establish deep involvement in the effort. She takes it as a given, however, that these programs will continue and, thus, should be radically altered or pursued with much less optimistic outlooks than in the past — a logical assessment. But having seen firsthand how policymakers initiate and oversee such programs, I have grown deeply skeptical that they can ever set themselves up for success. Rather than seeing it as a simple handbook, I would rather policymakers view Karlin’s research as a cautionary tale with a high price tag. Karlin’s lead finding is that programs that aim to build partner militaries in fragile states require that the United States get deeply involved in the partner’s sensitive military affairs — this includes who is appointed within the security apparatus, what those leaders do, how they organize, and more.[18] Intimate involvement, time commitment, deep and ongoing participation by the right senior U.S. personnel, these are all prerequisites to an effective program based on her analysis of the case studies. The cases themselves make for compelling storytelling and Karlin’s extensive personal experience in the policy field shines through in the nuances she identifies as critical learning points for her readers. The importance of persistent, intensive, and even intrusive participation by the United States in these programs is clear in each chapter. The problem is that such commitment is effectively what U.S. policymakers are hoping to avoid by pursuing such capacity-building programs. “Building partner capacity ... remains important. Whenever possible,” the 2012 Defense Strategy reads, “we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our strategy objectives.”[19] While policymakers are drawn to capacity-building missions as a way to avoid putting U.S. forces at risk, in my experience, they are also attracted to solutions that minimize their own intellectual and calendar resources. Put bluntly: Policymakers often like capacity building because it feels like a press release-worthy way to kick the “risk can” down the road without a lot of wrangling on their part. What Karlin proposes is not easily delegable by senior policymakers, diplomats, and service-members in the way that a standard train-and-equip program typically is. Nor would it be a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Such efforts, particularly if America were to engage in personnel management of the partner country, would regularly demand uncomfortable conversations and negotiations. That may be possible, but serious policymakers should ask themselves if such efforts are realistic or reasonable. U.S. security sector assistance programs are already hindered by inadequate investment in or distribution of relevant expertise. When such expertise is available, personnel rotations limit the necessary investment in in building relationships and intimate familiarity with the partner government that Karlin’s suggestions would require.[20] Recent reforms — such as the decades-late security force assistance brigades and the regionally aligned forces model introduced by the Army in 2013[21] — make a small dent in an overwhelming demand for expert personnel, yet they were strongly resisted by the institutional military. Under Karlin’s approach, leaders and forces with regional expertise would be under even higher demand because of the high level of sophistication needed to engage partner countries on all elements of their leadership, force structure, and operations. She acknowledges this approach is unsettling because it smacks of colonialism.[22] It also requires a partner country with the willingness to tolerate inevitable tensions in this relationship. Karlin writes that “healthy skepticism about the U.S. ability to do all these things is warranted.”[23] Yet, understanding what is required to produce a successful capacity-building mission is often at odds with how the United States goes about deciding to build partner militaries. While such programs have a thousand fathers and mothers, in my experience in government, they are often born out of a crisis in which the U.S. government feels under pressure to do something — anything — to assist or respond, but not overly commit or risk U.S. personnel. In such instances, U.S. senior policymakers expediting these decisions are not spending a lot of time trying to understand the scope of their overall commitment, the long-term costs, and the availability of the right personnel. Nor are they even designing long-term goals. Too often, deputies around the table in the Situation Room are clamoring to just announce some kind of program and show a transport plane offloading brigades and pallets to remind the partner of America’s love. Swimming Against the Tide Karlin is, of course, right that the U.S. government can and should do better. Her checklist of questions that senior policymakers must ask before initiating such a program is well aligned with the presidential policy directive on U.S. security sector assistance developed over many years (including by the author of this review) in the Obama administration.[24] In producing this document, many earnest wonks, such as myself, attempted to apply a systematic logic to initiating, overseeing, evaluating, and ending capacity-building programs — starting with understanding why, exactly, anyone would want to embark on one given the mixed track record. Karlin establishes the broad desired outcome of such missions as the partner state having a more enforced and sustainable monopoly on violence — a logical and sound proposal.[25] Realistically, although they do not always admit to it, policymakers consider several reasons for initiating such programs, from building capacity as Karlin proposes, to maintaining and strengthening U.S. access and influence, to enhancing U.S.-partner interoperability, to promoting partner support for U.S. interests.[26] Such objectives may align in implementing a capacity-building effort or may wildly diverge as time goes on. They may also contradict with the objectives of other national security institutions at the outset — typically, the Department of State seeks a long-term, placating effort while the Department of Defense drives a short-term, self-interested program. Policymakers may also lean too heavily on near-term objectives that suit urgent U.S. security interests. Or they may demand the kind of long-term attention that is rare in U.S. foreign policy contexts. While Karlin — and the drafters of the security assistance policy directive — are right to insist on unity of vision at the outset, it must be acknowledged that in practice that does not often happen in U.S. security sector assistance today.[27] Karlin closes her book by stating that there are times when it will not be possible to transform a partner’s security sector, and in such cases, the United States should either pursue train-and-equip programs while significantly lowering expectations or avoid such programs altogether.[28] This is necessary medicine. But the rhetoric around building partner capacity and the urgent need for more train-and-equip programs across the globe over the last two decades suggests this will not be an easy pill to swallow. While I am hopeful Karlin’s lessons on the real need for humility in any effort to transform another state will sink in, I recall the eagerness and desperation that surrounded initiating these programs and expanding them over the last two decades. Every year I served in government, the combatant commanders complained to the president or the secretary of defense that they needed to train-and-equip partners more and that the State Department was getting in the way.[29] Every month, a partner complained that U.S. efforts were too slow, too underwhelming, too unrelated to their security needs, too bureaucratic. Every year, the solution to these challenges was more, faster, and even more yet — rarely with a consideration of why and to what end. Few considered that there was a reason why the U.S. government built in hurdles to sharing weapons systems and tactical knowledge with other countries. I remain concerned that the United States will not lower its expectations and raise its standards for these capacity-building missions, but rather will drive an increasingly hectic pace. Karlin offers thoughtful ideas for future research that deserve attention, to which I would add two.[30] First, in her book she emphasizes the need for the United States to carefully and regularly consider under what conditions it might become a co-combatant with a partner military to address the original security challenge. Reading this book in light of U.S. operations in Yemen and Niger made me wonder: Where does one cross the line from typical assistance to co-combatancy?[31] U.S. advise and accompany missions surely come close. Put another way, what is the line between providing enablers — logistics, intelligence, fuel — and co-combatancy? And most importantly, does traditional American security assistance, often aimed at short-term U.S. security interests, in any way incentivize these steps toward co-combatancy? Secondly, it’s worth exploring whether some of the most desirable elements of building partner capacity — its relative low cost and small U.S. footprint — have lent themselves to a commensurate level of oversight at both the executive and legislative levels. Each branch has pursued more effective monitoring and evaluation efforts, though it’s yet unclear whether this has resulted in fundamental changes to these programs. The true test will be, to paraphrase my old boss Bob Gates, when, if ever, America stops a program due to low return on investment.[32] Building partner military capacity is, at its heart, an optimistic mission set, filled with the American can-do spirit that, with hard work, things can get markedly better. This optimism is well intended, but should be governed by experience. Karlin’s book provides those lessons and adds enormously to a literature on capacity building that is far too small, given the place of this mission in U.S. security strategy. With her personal experience, relatable storytelling, and blunt assessments, her study punches above its concise and readable weight in a way that is approachable to policymakers and vital to scholars.   Loren DeJonge Schulman is the deputy director of studies at the Center for a New American Security. She held senior staff positions at the White House National Security Council and Department of Defense.  

4. When Building Militaries Goes Wrong: A Look at Yemen

By Tommy Ross   In September 2014, thousands of Houthi insurgents poured into the streets of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, winning a decisive victory over the Yemeni military they had fought for years in the country’s northern provinces. Up to that point, Yemen’s government and military had been challenged on two main fronts: by Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the north and by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists to the east. As the Houthis swept through Sanaa, the United States government — the Yemeni military’s chief backer — saw its strategy against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s valued proxies and al Qaeda’s most effective offshoot crumble in the wreckage. Yemen’s collapse left the United States scrambling to pick up the pieces: Yemen represented a battleground against two threats — al Qaeda and Iran — that topped America’s list of national security priorities. Seeing few other options, the United States quickly cast its lot with a coalition of Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, that were mounting a military campaign against the Houthis that is ongoing. In shifting its efforts from building the capacity of the Yemeni military to providing aid and operational support to the Saudi-led coalition, the United States remained engaged, but at a cost to both its objectives and its principles:[33] The coalition’s poor tactics and disregard for civilian lives have “exacerbated the terrible conditions of Yemen’s civil war, characterized as the ‘worst humanitarian disaster’ in nearly 50 years.”[34] America had invested robustly in Yemen’s military leading up to its collapse: Yemen had become the leading recipient of the Defense Department’s “1206” counterterrorism capacity-building assistance program.[35] U.S. security assistance programs collectively spent over half a billion dollars to enhance Yemen’s military capacity in the five years (Fiscal Years 2010–2014) leading up to the Houthi victory.[36] The U.S. government had also pursued robust diplomatic engagement with Yemeni leaders to drive its national political dialogue and urge military restructuring, so much so that the U.S. ambassador during the period, Gerald Feierstein, was commonly referred to as “Sheikh Feierstein” in Yemeni political circles[37]. And the United States maintained a substantial military presence in Yemen, with over 100 troops based in the country to pursue counter-terrorism operations and train Yemeni forces.[38] On paper, the U.S. effort in Yemen seemed sound: It invested substantial capacity-building resources, sustained diplomatic attention to, and military engagement with, key Yemeni counterparts, maintained consistent effort over several years, and even sought to ground its approach in a whole-of-government strategy that designed military assistance in concert with civilian capacity-building and humanitarian aid initiatives.[39] And yet, the Yemeni military floundered, unable to make meaningful gains against al Qaeda before succumbing to the Houthi advance. So what went wrong? Building Militaries in Fragile States, the excellent new volume by Mara Karlin, offers an important analytical lens through which to view efforts like the U.S. military capacity-building initiative in Yemen, as well as a framework to help policymakers avoid similar outcomes in the future. It examines historical cases studies — in post-World War II Greece, 1950s South Vietnam, and two separate periods of engagement in Lebanon — to draw lessons about where U.S. assistance initiatives have failed, what elements have been vital ingredients of success, and what lessons may be most relevant to future initiatives. “When, why, and under what circumstances,” her book asks, “have U.S. efforts to build partner militaries for internal defense succeeded?”[40] The timeliness and relevance of such a book should be immediately apparent but, in an era of growing unilateralist sentiments and declining aid budgets, perhaps it deserves emphasizing. Even as U.S. national security strategies have shifted focus toward lofty ideas about prevailing in great-power competitions with China and Russia through the development of break-through technologies and the adoption of new ways of warfighting, the fact remains that partner military capacity-building is the go-to strategic option for confronting myriad national security threats around the world. Some form of capacity building occupies a central position in U.S. approaches to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region of Africa, and al Shabaab in Somalia, as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Iranian proxies in Yemen. It is an essential element in the U.S. strategy in Ukraine, and plays an important role in countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea region. In fact, it is hard to find a single going concern in the current U.S. security landscape in which capacity building does not feature prominently. And this picture represents a trend, not an aberration. As Karlin notes,
the United States will surely continue attempting to strengthen partner militaries. The increasingly decentralized international environment and America’s weakening global economic position coupled with the proliferation of fragile states and transnational threats will further ensure its reliance on this approach.[41]
And yet, despite America’s strategic dependence on capacity-building, there is scant evidence that it understands how to do it effectively. Numerous recent studies have highlighted the mixed track record of U.S. capacity-building initiatives, and many have underscored substantial gaps in the policies, doctrine, and best practices shaping these initiatives.[42] “The theory on strengthening partner militaries in weak states,” as Karlin puts it, “can best be described as an ‘undeveloped’ concept whose history is less positive than its vision.”[43] Karlin’s work makes a valuable contribution toward strengthening the underpinnings of this theory. She argues that two factors will most determine the success or failure of a capacity-building effort: “if the United States gets deeply involved in the partner state’s sensitive military affairs, and if antagonistic external actors play a diminishing role, then the partner state military is more likely to establish internal defense.”[44] Unquestionably, other variables — level of effort, duration and consistency, partner stability, program execution — will influence an initiative’s outcome, but Karlin’s two factors are indeed critical, and deserve closer scrutiny. The Politics of Building Military Capacity One of the more important insights of Karlin’s work is that building military capacity is fundamentally a political activity: “by emphasizing training and equipment and by distancing itself from key political issues,” the United States “wastes time, effort, and resources.”[45] In her view, the remedy is for America to become “deeply involved in the partner state military’s sensitive affairs — influencing personnel and organization.” One might conceive of this deep political engagement along two lines: exerting influence on individual partner decisions, such as those relating to personnel assignments, and exhorting or facilitating systemic reforms of the institutional processes, policies, and structures that organize a partner’s defense enterprise. Karlin’s strong emphasis is on the former, and she carefully documents how U.S. involvement in personnel decisions shaped the outcomes of interventions in Greece, South Vietnam, and Lebanon. For anyone who has observed the success of U.S. military initiatives fluctuate as top leaders in key roles have changed, her observation is intuitively compelling. Yet, a heavy-handed focus on personnel decisions brings risk. As Karlin herself acknowledges, “Such involvement is rife with colonial undertones,” adding that “Sovereign backlash and resentment on the part of the partner state over the intrusive U.S. role may be a challenge.”[46] Her account of the selection of Gen. Alexander Papagos to lead Greece’s military offers one such example, illustrated by his refusal to accept the job unless the United States committed to taking a diminished role in Greek affairs. Moreover, when the United States is overly involved in personnel decisions, a partner’s responsibility for and accountability to its own chain of command can be undermined, as top leaders risk being seen as U.S. puppets. These risks should not suggest that America avoid opining on personnel assignments, but its approach must be carefully calibrated based on the broader context of the relationship. Perhaps a more promising area for the kind of deep engagement Karlin advocates is institutional reform. As her study highlights, institutional reform played a key role in each case study she presents: The United States drove force restructuring, supported operational planning, provided professional military education, and built systemic logistics capacity as ways of building the capabilities of defense institutions to steer, support, and sustain military operations in the field. Bad decisions about how to approach institutional reforms were as consequential in South Vietnam and Lebanon as were good decisions in Greece. While Karlin often challenges the conceptual foundations and practical outcomes of security sector reform, her views on the importance of organizational considerations converge with lessons emerging from the community of practitioners over the last several years. Practitioners have increasingly recognized the importance of strong political institutions to the success of capacity-building. For example, the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness asserted that, for aid recipients, “The capacity to plan, manage, implement, and account for results of policies and programmes, is critical” to achieving aid objectives — a principle confirmed three years later in the Accra Agenda for Action.[47] The U.S. Department of Defense has embraced institutional capacity-building as a key element of its own capacity-building activities, at least in theory, in recently issued policy and doctrine.[48] Yet, while some progress has been made in expanding U.S. attention to strengthening institutions in practice, as a discipline, it remains at the margins of the government’s security sector capacity-building activities. Indeed, the failure to invest in strengthening institutions was a key contributor to the failure of broader capacity-building efforts in Yemen, an example that illustrates the distinction between influencing sensitive military decisions and driving institutional reform. Without question, the United States engaged on personnel issues, persistently advocating for the removal of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s family members, who remained in key defense posts. However, while America welcomed institutional reform efforts to the military made by Saleh’s successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, it avoided providing any substantial technical support for those reforms. Moreover, the focus on ousting undesirable personnel crowded out necessary institutional reforms, such as addressing “retirement and rotation of generals, the ghost soldier issue [wherein personnel rosters were inflated with imaginary soldiers to facilitate corruption], and the balancing of units in terms of both size and equipment,” leaving Yemen’s military “a side-lined shell of an institution.”[49] When it comes to institutional capacity building and influencing partner decision making alike, the United States is unlikely to achieve successful outcomes through phone calls and fly-in meetings. Rather, as Karlin’s case studies demonstrate, boots on the ground are essential. A 400-person strong Joint U.S. Military Advisory and Planning Group oversaw engagement in Greece; in South Vietnam, a Military Assistance Advisory Group of nearly 350 personnel was augmented by a Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission of another 350 personnel; in Lebanon, over 100 military personnel were deployed in support of capacity-building efforts at their 1983 peak. The U.S. military conducted the mid-2000s effort in Lebanon, on the other hand, with only a small permanent detachment and without a dedicated senior officer overseeing the effort, leading to a limited effort with limited impact. This history underscores a key question: How should the United States organize and deploy personnel to guide high-priority capacity-building missions? Currently, outside of contingency environments, the U.S. approach is incoherent and insufficient. The military is neither structured nor paced to meet the demands of deep engagement with partner militaries. Among military services, only the U.S. Army has organized itself to maintain a meaningful contingent dedicated to capacity-building missions despite a consistent global demand. Other services meet requirements on an ad hoc basis with personnel who generally lack training for the mission. Even the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades are poorly suited to address the institutional concerns Karlin prioritizes. They are composed of junior personnel with limited exposure to institutional processes, and are designed to carry out tactical-level, small unit training activities. Reconsidering how the military is structured to meet demands of high-stakes capacity-building efforts should be an urgent priority for the Defense Department. Military forces have been stretched in recent years by the demands of sustaining two contingency operations while downsizing, and services have sought to streamline their structures rather than take on what they view as new missions or responsibilities. Yet, as discussed above, the capacity-building mission is not new and it is not going away. Approaching this mission with ad hoc force-management decisions and insufficient training is a recipe for repeated failure. Mitigating the Effects of Outside Actors Karlin also postulates that the success of a capacity-building effort will depend on diminishing external influences, and makes a convincing argument about the importance of this variable in examining her four case studies. This is a point so intuitive as to be almost self-evident: Who could argue that the degree to which U.S. capacity-building efforts are successful will vary according to the degree to which other actors seek to impede them? And yet, it is a point routinely neglected in the planning and execution of capacity-building initiatives. It is tempting to regard the activity of external actors as a variable beyond America’s control. Indeed, Karlin’s case studies present little evidence of any actions by America that decreased outside influences, though in some instances U.S. actions may have provoked deeper third-party involvement. Yet, given the importance of this variable in shaping capacity-building outcomes, the United States can hardly afford to ignore it. No case better illustrates this imperative than Yemen, where America’s inability to mitigate the influence of third-party actors, including both allies and antagonists, has condemned capacity-building efforts to failure. Iran has been able to maintain steady support for its Houthi allies that has been robust enough to help them beat back the Yemeni military and withstand the onslaught of the Gulf coalition. Meanwhile, prior to the state’s collapse, the U.S. government was never able to effectively coordinate the efforts of other donors and stakeholders with similar objectives, particularly Saudi Arabia. That challenge has become even more acute as the Saudis have undertaken a sustained, and sometimes indiscriminate, military campaign with the help of U.S. equipment and logistical support. Unfortunately, Yemen looks more like the rule than the exception. The U.S. security assistance enterprise is poorly positioned to address the activities of third-party actors, for two reasons. First, it has historically neglected to invest in understanding the identities, motivations, and tactics of external actors. And second, it lacks sufficient tools to shape their behavior. Security assistance efforts, historically, have often been planned and executed without adequately assessing the context in which they are to be implemented, to their great detriment. As the Defense Department has recently begun to acknowledge, it is essential that capacity-building efforts begin with detailed assessments of the partner’s security environment, including a political economy analysis that identifies external influences and how they operate. Such analysis should not only assess potentially antagonistic influences, but also perceived allies. It is often the case that perceived allies can undermine a capacity-building effort through miscoordination and misunderstanding as much as an antagonist can through more nefarious means. Grounding capacity-building initiatives in detailed assessments of the partner’s security environment creates opportunities to build mitigation measures that address external influences into the initiative’s design. Such measures might range from donor coordination strategies to ensure actors with shared interests are on the same page, to concerted efforts to drive out antagonists. Identifying and addressing these concerns from an initiative’s inception will substantially improve its prospects for overcoming the challenges Karlin’s book identifies. A more challenging question is how to diminish antagonistic influences once they are understood. The United States has an underdeveloped suite of tools available to confront the activities of adversarial actors in a third country. Moreover, planners of capacity-building initiatives may lack access to or awareness of those tools that do exist. Karlin’s conclusions thus point to an important area for further research: namely, what strategies for mitigating antagonistic external influences have the potential to be successful, what tools are needed to support those strategies, and how can they be integrated into the planning of capacity-building initiatives? Conclusion Conditions for building military capacity in a fragile state are rarely ideal, and often cannot be overcome. Karlin’s book offers a useful framework for approaching these initiatives in a way that identifies potential challenges from the outset and addresses some of the most common spoilers. Moreover, it suggests the United States would profit from being cautious about engaging in capacity-building missions at all. When there is little room to exert the necessary influence over a partner, for example, Karlin counsels, “the United States must either recognize that it is pursuing light security sector reform or avoid launching such programs altogether.”[50] Likewise, there is great wisdom in recognizing when positive conditions have changed, cutting one’s losses, and walking away. Two of Karlin’s case studies — 1950s South Vietnam and 1980s Lebanon — serve as cautionary tales of the risk to American lives posed by an inability to acknowledge failure and an insistence in doubling down. One important contribution of Karlin’s work is to offer a straightforward litmus test to help policymakers assess whether and when it is wise to walk away. Her two leading variables should be posed as questions to policymakers: Is the United States able to sufficiently influence partner military decisions and institutional reforms, and can it sufficiently mitigate the hazards posed by external actors? To these can be added Karlin’s warning to avoid being drawn in as a co-belligerent. There are sometimes good strategic reasons to overlook these tests, but they should at least provoke a reassessment of policy. One wonders what it will take to prompt such a reassessment in Yemen. The United States has become a co-belligerent there in a deeply troubling way, enabling massive human rights violations with little apparent ability to influence operational plans or tactics. It remains in close cooperation with Saudi Arabia despite strong evidence pointing to the Saudi leadership’s involvement in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,[51] continuing indications of widespread civilian casualties caused by coalition operations,[52] and congressional exhortations that such support be terminated.[53] The deep engagement Karlin’s book advocates is implausible in Yemen, and external actors are prevalent, diverse, and, in many ways, antagonistic to U.S. interests. As is so often the case, a chorus of voices would meet any policy reassessment with an impassioned warning of threats from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran that might be left behind were America to extricate itself from the conflict. Yet, at some point, as Karlin persistently argues, policies must factor in actual results. And surely the results of the current U.S. policy approach in Yemen cry out for another way.   Tommy Ross is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Cooperation at the Pentagon and was the senior defense and intelligence adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He has also held other senior positions in the House and Senate.   Image: U.S. Africa Command [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: Building Militaries in Fragile States [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-building-militaries-in-fragile-states [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-27 14:46:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-27 18:46:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=1261 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In our latest roundtable, our contributors review Mara Karlin's book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 162 [1] => 239 [2] => 226 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Fragile States Index: The Fund for Peace,” Fund for Peace, accessed March 14, 2019, http://fundforpeace.org/. See the “Security Assistance Monitor: A Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Security and Defense Assistance,” at http://www.securityassistance.org/, accessed 14 March 2019. [2] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 17. [3] David A. Lake, The Statebuilder's Dilemma: On the Limits of Foreign Intervention (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016). Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 1–2, (2018): 89-142, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745. [4] Jesse Driscoll, Warlords and Coalition Politics in Post-Soviet States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [5] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 1. [6] For recent works linking these factors and others to military effectiveness, see Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.); Risa Brooks and Elizabeth Stanley, eds., Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007); Caitlin Talmadge, The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); Austin Long, The Soul of Armies: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Military Culture in the US and UK (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016); Vipin Narang and Caitlin Talmadge, “Civil-military Pathologies and Defeat in War: Tests Using New Data,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 62, no. 7 (August 2018): 1379–1405, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022002716684627; Dan Reiter and William A. Wagstaff, “Leadership and Military Effectiveness,” Foreign Policy Analysis 14, no. 4 (October 2018): 490–511, https://doi.org/10.1093/fpa/orx003. [7] Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977); D. Michael Shafer, Deadly Paradigms: The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988); Benjamin Schwarz, American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador: The Frustrations of Reform and Illusions of Nation Building (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1991); William E. Odom, On Internal War: American and Soviet Approaches to Third World Clients and Insurgents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991); Walter C. Ladwig, III, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relationships in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [8] Daniel L. Byman, “Friends Like These: Counterinsurgency and the War on Terrorism,” International Security 31, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 79–115, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4137517. [9] Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 1–2 (2018): 89–142, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745. [10] Barbara Elias, “The Big Problem of Small Allies: New Data and Theory on Defiant Local Counterinsurgency Partners in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Security Studies 27, no. 2 (2018): 249, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1386935. [11] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 36. [12] For more on Ngo Dinh Diem’s difficult relationship with his American patrons, see Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). [13] “Hitler Finds Out About Sequestration,” Youtube, Fiscal Cliff, Nov. 28, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zCDDYVTjLI. [14] Robert M. Gates, “Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,” Nixon Center, Washington, DC, Feb. 24, 2019, http://archive.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1425. [15] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 4. [16] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States,12. [17] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 201. [18] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 198. [19] “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” Department of Defense, January 2012, http://archive.defense.gov/news/defense_strategic_guidance.pdf. [20] Noah B. Cooper, “Will the Army’s New Advisory Brigades Get Manning and Intel Right?” War on the Rocks, Sept. 5, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/will-the-armys-new-advisory-brigades-get-manning-and-intel-right/. [21] Brian Hamilton, “Army Moves Closer to Establishing First Security Force Assistance Brigade,” U.S. Army, May 18, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/187991/army_moves_closer_to_establishing_first_security_force_assistance_brigade. [22] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 199. [23] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 200. [24] “Presidential Policy Directive 23: U.S. Security Sector Assistance Policy [Fact Sheet],” White House, 2013, https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=747214. [25] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 11. [26] Dafna H. Rand and Stephen Tankel, “Security Cooperation & Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment,” Center for a New American Security, August 2015, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. [27] Ilan Goldenberg, Alice Hunt Friend, Stephen Tankel, and Nicholas A. Heras, “Remodeling Partner Capacity: Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Counterterrorism Security Assistance,” Center for a New American Security, November 2016, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report-RemodelingPartnerCapacity-Final.pdf?mtime=20161107141028. [28] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 202. [29] Thomas K. Livingston, “Building the Capacity of Partner States through Security Force Assistance,” Congressional Research Service, May 5, 2011, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41817.pdf. [30] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 197. [31] Loren DeJonge Schulman, “Washington Is Never Quite Sure Where It Is at War,” Atlantic, Nov. 1, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/11/niger-aumf-war-terrorism/544652/. [32] Robert M. Gates, “Speech as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,” American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, May 24, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1570. [33] Nicholas Niarchos, “How the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse,” New Yorker, Jan. 22, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/22/how-the-us-is-making-the-war-in-yemen-worse. [34] Melissa Dalton and Hijah Shah, “U.S. Support for Saudi Military Operations in Yemen,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 23, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-support-saudi-military-operations-yemen. [35] Nina Serafino, “Security Assistance Reform: ‘Section 1206’ Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, RS22855, Dec. 8, 2014, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22855.pdf. [36] “Security Aid Pivot Table: Yemen, 2010-2014,” Security Assistance Monitor, http://securityassistance.org/data/program/military/Yemen/2010/2014/all/Global/. [37] Tom Finn, “A New President and an ‘American Sheikh’ Deal With Post-Saleh Yemen,” Time, Feb. 29, 2012, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2107926-1,00.html. [38] See Jane Ferguson, “U.S. Military Picks, Trains Yemeni Fighters,” CNN, July 14, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/07/13/yemen.training/index.html. See also Eric Schmitt, “Out of Yemen, U.S. is Hobbled in Terror Fight,” New York Times, March 22, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/us/politics/out-of-yemen-us-is-hobbled-in-terror-fight.html. [39] “Uncertain Political and Security Situation Challenges U.S. Efforts to Implement a Comprehensive Strategy in Yemen,” Government Accountability Office, GAO-12-432R, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.gao.gov/assets/590/588955.pdf. [40] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 1. [41] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 9. [42] See, for example, Dafna Rand and Stephen Tankel, “Security Cooperation and Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment,” Center for a New American Security, August 2015, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. See also Rose Jackson, “Untangling the Web: A Blueprint for Reforming American Security Sector Assistance,” Open Society Foundations, January 2017, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. [43] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 10. [44] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 12, emphasis removed. [45] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 193. [46] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 199. [47] The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, 2005, and The Accra Agenda for Action, 2009 are available at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation: http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/34428351.pdf. [48] See, for example, “Department of Defense Directive 5205.82: Defense Institution Building,” United States Department of Defense, issued Jan. 27, 2016 and updated May 3, 2017, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/520582p.pdf. See also, “Joint Publication 3-20: Security Cooperation,” United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, May 23, 2017, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_20_20172305.pdf. [49] Florence Gaub, “Whatever Happened to Yemen’s Military?” European Institute for Security Studies, Issue Brief 9, April 2015, https://www.iss.europa.eu/sites/default/files/EUISSFiles/Brief_9_Yemen.pdf. [50] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 202. [51] Mark Mazetti, “Years Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi,” New York Times, Feb. 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/us/politics/khashoggi-mohammed-bin-salman.html. [52] Lee Keath, “Civilian death toll in Yemen mounting despite US assurances,” Associated Press, Nov. 10, 2018, https://www.apnews.com/24ee4b33373a41d389e2599c5aa7bbfa. [53] See Catie Edmondson and Charlie Savage, “House Votes to Halt Aid to Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/us/politics/yemen-war-saudi-arabia.html. See also Scott Detrow, “Senate Votes To End U.S. Support for War in Yemen, Rebuking Trump and Saudi Arabia,” NPR, Dec. 12, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/12/12/676152310/senate-poised-to-vote-to-end-u-s-military-support-for-war-in-yemen. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Table of Contents [contents] => 1. "Introduction: The Pitfalls of Seeking Security on the Cheap," by Jason Fritz 2. "The Politics of Security Assistance to Fragile States," by Walter C. Ladwig, III 3. "To Remind You of My Love: Reforming the Impulsive Affection of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Militaries," by Loren DeJonge Schulman 4. "When Building Militaries Goes Wrong: A Look at Yemen," by Tommy Ross ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 802 [post_author] => 238 [post_date] => 2018-12-04 14:14:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-04 19:14:59 [post_content] => *Editor's Note: We have also published a roundtable on the future of conservative foreign policy that you can find here.

1. Prompt Essay: Wagering on a Progressive versus Liberal Theory of National Security

By Van Jackson Progressives are in search of a collective voice on foreign policy and national security.[1] As one senior Democratic Senate staffer confided to me over the summer, “I keep asking, ‘What is a progressive national security policy? Are we a bunch of progressives on education, healthcare, etc., who happen to do foreign policy and it should look the same no matter who’s in charge? Or do we have a distinctly progressive outlook on the world that we’re trying to implement as practitioners?’” Until recently, the left has been unable to reliably answer these questions and it’s understandable why. For one thing, the progressive movement is intellectually diverse. Self-identified progressives range from committed socialists to left-leaning neoliberals and — at the extreme edges of the movement — both hardcore pacifists and anti-fascist militants. Progressives have considerable differences of opinion about capitalism, using force to achieve political ends, and America’s role in the world. In general, the progressive voice has also historically been muted when it comes to foreign policy, which has partly to do with its modest resourcing and representation. Since the Cold War, the Democratic Party has been captured by the politics of “third way” liberalism.[2] At home, it vacillated between Roosevelt-era, New Deal-style social welfare politics and an alliance with unfettered capitalism, increasingly favoring the latter over time. Abroad, the “third way” amounted to sustaining the once taken-for-granted and now much-contested “liberal international order” — essentially a foreign policy premised on U.S. military superiority underwriting a series of global institutional, economic, and human rights commitments. At most, these “third way” positions only ever partly reflected the priorities of political progressives. The left’s chronic under-representation within the Democratic Party extends to its presence in the “ideas industry” as well.[3] Authentically progressive ideas are scarce in the Washington think tank landscape, and progressive mega-donors tend to finance domestic policies and projects, not foreign policy.[4] Constrained in all these ways, progressives have failed to articulate their own “theory of security” — a term of art referring to how their preferred pattern of foreign policy decisions defines and realizes U.S. interests. The lack of one, as Vox reporter Zach Beauchamp concluded, has meant that “foreign policy debate tends to be conducted between the center and the right.”[5] Indeed, the inadequacies of U.S. foreign policy traditions may exist because progressives have a history of rarely showing up analytically to foreign policy fights. But while these limitations have prevented the left from cohering around a clear theory of progressive national security, it’s possible to tease one out of the progressive worldview all the same, and that progressive vision partially accommodates America’s default position of liberal internationalism: Regional balances of power and alliances still matter, and there is a role for both the U.S. military and international institutions. But the progressive theory of security also makes its own analytical wagers, requiring alterations in key areas of the national security agenda — namely re-scoping the size and shape of the U.S. military, emphasizing political and democratic alliances, rebalancing how international institutions work, and pursuing mutual threat reduction where circumstances allow. Saving Liberal Internationalism from Itself America’s traditional theory of security consists in a mix of realist and neoliberal beliefs: military superiority, alliances, economic interdependence through global capitalism, and international institutions to legitimate and sustain the entire enterprise.[6] By pursuing all of the above — it’s typically conceived of as a package deal — the United States is able to keep open a stable international trading system, maintain balances of power in key regions of the world, and minimize the prospect of arms races and interstate wars.[7] Democrats and Republicans have assigned greater or lesser weight to different elements within this formula, but both parties have upheld the basic meta strategy over time. Progressive principles are not entirely hostile to this theory of security. Despite its intellectual diversity, the progressive movement has a common core emphasizing the pursuit of a more just world through democracy, greater economic equality, and human rights protections, as well as opposition to imperialism and authoritarianism.[8] Progressives are also conditional advocates for the rule of law and international institutions. As leftist author Michael Walzer has argued, “We still need global regulation by social-democratic versions of the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization…”[9] More controversially, there are strongly ingrained biases against the military in some quarters of the left.[10] “Anti-militarism” is an emotionally loaded and imprecise term, but it translates into inherent skepticism about the value of both military spending and the use of force abroad. Taken together, these principled positions and attitudes logically require alterations to America’s longstanding theory of security, but not a wholesale rejection of it. From Military Superiority to Military Sufficiency The traditional realist foundation of U.S. national security has been military superiority — ensuring the U.S. military can “deter or defeat all potential future adversaries.”[11] This theory presumes that the capability to prevail in any plausible conflict is necessary for the United States to make credible threats against adversaries and credible reassurances to allies.[12] Military superiority also sustains regional balances of power, ensuring that no other state in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East can exercise hegemony or control of their region. Even in a progressive government disinclined to call on the Pentagon to solve problems, the U.S. military will need to be capable of projecting power into key regions, making credible threats, and achieving political objectives with force and minimal casualties if called on to do so. But a force structure sufficient to meet these purposes might be achieved without the endlessly increasing requirements of military superiority. A standard of military sufficiency — as opposed to superiority — is both analytically plausible and more morally congruent with progressive principles for several reasons. First, the U.S. military is traditionally sized to win in temporally overlapping wars in different regions, but the Pentagon’s force planners have assumed very little help from local allies in those fights — this fact is obvious from the massive size of the U.S. military. Yet, looking across the globe today, there is no plausible conflict that would ensnare only (or even primarily) the United States. And in any case, progressives have a consistent track record of opposing unilateral wars of choice. Second, the idea that it takes military superiority to prevent other states from dominating their regions involves some dubious assumptions about the ability of military power to prevent other countries from exercising international political influence. Stopping others from controlling a region does not mean the United States must be able to exercise regional control itself. As such, there is a case for making America’s security more entwined — not less — with the security of regions of interest by making U.S. force structure more networked with trusted allies and partners. This could meaningfully reduce the defense budget, and the only real risk it would entail is in the assumption that friends will provide significant contributions to a fight involving U.S. forces. It also potentially makes the dirty business of war a more democratic and less imperious endeavor by wagering that “multilateralizing” force structure to a degree tamps down on the tendency to opt into ill-advised conflicts. Military sufficiency potentially ties the hands of future presidents, making them less able to launch unilateral wars, and simultaneously increases the likelihood that any conflict involving large numbers of U.S. troops will be multilateral and cooperative. It would also befit the analytical claim — which some on the left already make[13] — that the world is less dangerous than the Pentagon supposes, implying that a posture of military sufficiency would not hazard any great geopolitical risks. Preserving Democratic Alliances In liberal internationalism, alliances are a means by which the United States deters aggression against its allies. They also make it possible for the United States to reliably project military power into key regions, and serve as a unique means of exerting influence in world politics. Not only do alliances act as mechanisms of risk management by controlling the aggression of allies under threat, they have also been a means of preventing nuclear proliferation.[14] The default theory of security bets that these advantages of alliances far outweigh the calculable downsides. Progressive principles are not necessarily at odds with the traditional reasons for the United States upholding military alliances. In fact, a wide range of progressive thinkers writing on foreign policy have also endorsed sustaining U.S. alliances,[15] though with some qualifications. Progressives are quick to emphasize political — not just military — commitments at the state and sub-state level, and take a very circumspect view of allying with illiberal actors.[16] The idea that “[w]e should act abroad only with those who share our commitments and then, only in ways consistent with those commitments”[17] implies solidarity with democratic countries that see their alliance with the United States as a source of security. But it is likewise a rejection of “[p]olitical and military support for tyrannical, predatory, and corrupt regimes.”[18] Because one of the principal threats to U.S. security in the progressive view is the spread of authoritarianism and fascism,[19] the United States must keep faith with democratically-elected governments that rely on an alliance with the United States for their security. That includes NATO as an institution, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. But where allies turn autocratic or become incubators for fascism — such as Turkey or Hungary (both NATO members) — a commitment to the individual country will have to be tenuous, as a matter of principle. An illiberal state’s membership in an alliance institution will not prevent U.S. policy from promoting solidarity with anti-authoritarian forces within that country. NATO will not be a shield that implicitly permits the growth of illiberal, reactionary politics in Europe. Alliances are also crucial to a progressive theory of security to the extent the United States seeks to divest itself of the military superiority imperative. As argued above, moving to a concept of military sufficiency without simply becoming isolationist (which itself would be anti-progressive) requires maintaining allies. It would be logically untenable to seek international solidarity with likeminded countries and peoples abroad while destroying alliance architectures around the world — one action would undermine the other. And where the abdication of an alliance is likely to lead to nuclear proliferation, conflict, or the spread of fascism, the alliance may have to stay in place as a short-term exception to the rule. But even then, the principle of supporting only democratic actors remains. In sum, then, the progressive theory of security requires fidelity only to democratic alliances, and any expansion of the U.S. alliance network is likely to emphasize political support first and military support last, if at all. Reforming International Institutions U.S. foreign policy debates routinely center on the merits of sustaining the mélange of international institutions that constitute the “post-war” or “liberal international” order: the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization, among many others. These institutions play an essential role in how U.S. liberal internationalism conceives of keeping America secure.[20] Collectively, they preserve a stable international trading system that facilitates conflict-deterring economic interdependence. The existence of international institutions also allows many (not all) nations around the world to escape the predations of international anarchy. The belief in reliable institutions lets many liberal-democratic states be liberal and democratic in their foreign policies — by focusing on trading relations and taking for granted the appearance of international stability. In the liberal internationalist theory of security, this partly explains why neither Europe nor Asia has experienced interstate wars in more than a generation — an architecture that combines U.S. military superiority and alliances with international institutions. It’s a package deal. The institutions part of that deal preserves a “capitalist peace”[21] through economic interdependence, and at the same time encourages many states to opt out of militaristic foreign policies. The left embraces international institutions in principle because they promote multilateralism, the rule of law, and can help attenuate conflict — all of which favor justice and egalitarianism. But some international institutions must be repurposed or reformed to serve a more democratic, and less corrupting, imperative. This is not just about justice for its own sake, but rather that justice, in the form of equality, lessens the likelihood of war. Progressives believe that yawning gaps in economic inequality are a structural cause of conflict. As Bernie Sanders remarked in 2017, “Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country. This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little…”[22] A progressive security policy would therefore bet significantly on international institutions, but in qualified ways that differ from default liberal internationalism. It would seek to essentially save capitalism from itself by regulating it. At the international level, this might translate into a more democratic distribution of voting rights or agenda-setting powers in international financial bodies — especially the World Bank and International Monetary Funds — and a more relaxed attitude toward economic protectionism in instances where fairness or just labor practices are called into question. Although anathema to the traditional liberal bargain, these steps would serve as a means of attenuating giant wealth transfers across borders, as well as the political corruption that often accompanies those transfers, as dictators around the world have learned to “play” globalization processes to enrich themselves.[23] Such regulations of capitalism might also dramatically elevate the importance of the International Labor Organization, a moribund body that for decades has promoted not labor but rather pro-market deregulation trends.[24] But the larger point is best summarized by Sanders: “[W]e have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right.” The progressive theory of security wagers on the same institutional arrangements that make up liberal internationalism, but argues for their reform, in order to address the inequality gap, transnational corruption, and authoritarianism, thus prioritizing long-term, systemic causes of conflict, even if it might risk the “capitalist peace” in the near term. Mutual Threat Reduction The final, and most distinct, element in the progressive theory of national security — one that’s absent from America’s default posture toward the world — is what might be called mutual threat reduction. If the progressive sensibility leads to the military being treated as a policy tool of last resort, progressives would have to prioritize the use of diplomacy to attenuate the threat landscape as a compensatory move. There is a defensible logic in this wager, because deterrence — managing threats by making threats — is not an end in itself but rather a means of buying time.[25] The ultimate success of deterrence derives from whether the time bought was used to ameliorate the conditions that gave rise to the need for deterrence in the first place. In the progressive view, diplomacy in the name of mutual threat reduction takes on concrete meaning: arms control, Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, and international regimes that regulate technology development, transfers, and use. These kinds of initiatives are not new to U.S. foreign policy, but the progressive theory elevates their importance, and justifies taking a certain amount of risk in pursuing them with greater gusto. Progressive principles commit the United States to doing the spade work necessary to discover whether real and potential adversaries are willing to restrain arms competitions or increase transparency into their military thinking, and to reciprocate when they do. Such a probe may require limited unilateral gestures from the United States. Advocates of realpolitik may see no reason to ever trust the intentions of an enemy or shrink U.S. advantages in military matters. But progressives should be willing to accept some amount of geopolitical risk — while stopping short of naiveté — in the name of, not only probing, but nudging the intentions of a threatening adversary toward the goal of mutual accommodation. In 2012, the Obama administration made a fleeting attempt at getting beyond mutually assured destruction with key competitors like Russia and China to reach a place of “mutually assured stability.”[26] The premise of that forgotten project — that recognized that probing and stimulating opportunities for threat reduction is an essential part of avoiding unnecessary future wars — would be renewed in a progressive security vision. More importantly, it would become a preferred starting point for evaluating all strategic issues, from North Korea to arms races in emerging technologies. Playing the Long Game There are significant continuities between the liberal internationalist theory of security and that of progressive internationalism. Nevertheless, the divergences are not trivial. The table below summarizes these distinctions. Table 1. Comparing Progressive and Liberal Internationalist Theories of Security [table id=10 /]   The progressive wager is not without risks. The process of changing American foreign policy in this way may jeopardize certain sources of stability that the progressive worldview takes for granted. But it also addresses long-term sources of recurring conflict that liberal internationalism ignores. Every theory of security amounts to a bet with distinct tradeoffs and risks. The progressive bet is that the American interest is best served by having a more peaceful world, and that’s only possible by pursuing greater justice and equity, and opposing tyranny wherever it arises.   Van Jackson is an associate editor at the Texas National Security Review, a senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He is the author of On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War (Cambridge University Press, 2018). The views expressed are solely those of the author.  

2. Back to Basics: The Core Goals a “Progressive” Foreign Policy Must Address

By Heather Hurlburt Both supporters and opponents of what gets marketed as “progressive foreign policy” base their definitions of it on a series of tactical litmus tests. Progressive foreign policy, one typically hears, must oppose militarism, interventionism, and alliances with dictators. However, by using this narrow definition, progressive thinkers fall prey to an error that has swept across American foreign policy thinking more broadly. Successful national strategies typically flow not from tactical choices — the how — but rather from fundamental goals — the what for. Progressive foreign policy should be aimed at achieving core progressive goals for society: improving economic justice and social cohesion, defending democratic institutions and norms, and fostering a patriotism in which diverse identities belong and flourish. Rethinking U.S. Interests American foreign policy thinkers, overall, need to take a step back and consider what goals for society they seek to promote — and what dangers to society they seek to avert. Much of what has been published on the topic in recent months seems to assume that the interests protected and promoted through U.S. foreign policy are set and unchanging, as is the way in which they interact — or don’t — with what happens outside America’s borders. Essay after essay has failed to engage with the profound challenges facing institutions, norms, economic equality, community security, and social cohesion, not just in the United States but in many other societies as well.[27] Those assumptions are wrong. Two hundred and thirty-five years of America’s history have seen repeated shifts in the national consensus around what foreign policy was protecting Americans from, and how it was achieved, as well as pitched battles among ideological, financial, and other interests when a prior consensus fell apart. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton famously disputed which great European power posed the core threat to the new American experiment. Would the radicalism of the French Revolution (which Hamilton called the “caricature of human depravity”) prove a “debauching influence” on the United States? Or would the status quo of Britain’s political and economic dominance snuff out the unique character of American institutions, if not liberty itself?[28] Elites of the 1920s and 1930s were slow to focus on fascism as an existential threat, assuming that existing institutions and allies could handle revanchist new powers, whose goals might very well be exaggerated.[29] That elite indifference to foreign threats was replaced, after World War II, by a bipartisan consensus that the threat posed by global communism required not just a security response, but political, economic, and cultural ones as well. The decades that followed the Cold War have failed to produce a national consensus about the policies and messaging that connect security, economics, norms, and institutions. The Trump era has laid bare many weaknesses of U.S. foreign policy, and created some new ones. At the same time, elite American politics are scrambled, and definitions of foreign policy orthodoxies are up for grabs. Some progressives align with a bipartisan camp that sees great power competition as the paramount challenge.[30] Others give allegiance to a movement that conceives itself as anti-war or anti-militarist, and which sometimes crosses partisan lines to encompass notable conservative and libertarian thinkers, such as Andrew Bacevich. Curiously, neither camp engages deeply with the issues that are motivating younger progressive voters, as well as the civil society and activist groups that have seen the most growth and energy since 2016.[31] When those activists — and future office-holders from the left and center-left — engage with international issues, their focus is most likely to be climate change and a knot of interrelated issues surrounding poverty, insecurity, human rights, discrimination, and migration.[32] Opposing those competing strands of progressive thought are President Donald Trump and his “sovereigntist” allies. This group sees “globalism,” and a range of efforts aimed at “global governance, control, and domination,” as the main threats to “American sovereignty and our cherished independence.”[33] This sovereigntist, or nativist, approach posits a straight line between socio-economic dislocations at home and malevolent actors overseas. Progressives don’t have as clear a story of how developments they favor abroad impact communities at home. Nor have they built the intellectual or personnel connections between progressive approaches to domestic and foreign affairs. Those gaps undercut any ability to achieve policy ends. Writing about “weaponized interdependence,” Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman point out that, under conditions of contemporary globalization, “economic institutions, which were created to promote efficient market interactions, have become powerful sites of political control.”[34] This dynamic poses a threat to core domestic institutions and progressive priorities and inserts international affairs into what was once the domain of domestic policy experts alone. U.S. national security strategists ought to recognize as much, regardless of their ideological position. Progressives in particular ought to focus on three areas where those connections are vital: The prosperity and sustainability of American communities depend on choices the United States makes in the global economy, as well as at home; U.S. democratic institutions and norms are subject to a withering stress test driven, in part, by a rival autocratic model with global reach; and the project of constructing a cohesive American identity that thrives on diversity is under profound pressure from that rival autocratic model, aligned with profoundly regressive forces inside the U.S. A national security strategy that fails to evaluate policies on how they further these goals is not “progressive” — nor is it a particularly good strategy. Economic and Social Cohesion In the past, it was obvious to U.S. foreign policy thinkers when foreign powers posed a threat to American prosperity and way of life. Take, for example, Britain’s imperial system, with its chokehold on certain products and trade routes following American independence, or Soviet communism from the 1950s to the 1980s. But the belief in the unipolar moment in the 1990s — that no alternatives to American-style capitalism remained to challenge the United States following the end of the Cold War — got the foreign policy establishment out of the habit of connecting the construction of global economic arrangements to the realities of how Americans lived their lives at home. At the same time, economic globalization shifted control of Americans’ daily economic lives from the realm of domestic affairs to international affairs, as corporations consolidated away from regional headquarters, supply chains globalized, and the influence of financial markets dwarfed that of managers.  As long as the U.S. economy continues to perform well, it is tempting for foreign policy strategists to decide that the United States can keep its nose out of international economic affairs. But that view is ahistorical — successful foreign policies have always incorporated economic fundamentals, while foreign policy failures have often occurred because planners neglected to account for the resources needed to support their plans. Moreover, if the aim is to develop an expressly progressive foreign and security strategy, then there is no excuse for many recent strategic proposals that ignore the economic and social considerations that are fundamental concerns of progressivism.[35] A progressive American foreign policy should have three economic pillars: ensuring the basic health and sustainability of the U.S. economy, addressing inequality, and attacking absolute poverty both at home and abroad. (Progressives can debate the relative importance of the three.)  Grand strategists, then, need to have a clear understanding of the foundations of the U.S. economy that they are promoting. They must also be judged on whether their view of grand strategy has expanded to include climate, energy, and other challenges too — as my colleague Sharon Burke has argued.[36] Increasingly, too, as Van Jackson’s leading essay in this roundtable rightly emphasizes, progressive security strategists need to care about inequality. Strong social science evidence warns that inequality — and public perceptions of inequality — undermine faith in democratic institutions.[37] Over the last three decades, inequality has surged in the United States, in other industrialized economies, and in many emerging economies.[38] Economists cite multiple factors as possible contributors to this stubborn trend, including shifts in how capital moves and is accumulated, trade-driven downward pressure on wages, replacement of skilled and semi-skilled workers by automation, and the failure of national governments to implement redistributive and retraining policies to match the scale of changes in patterns of capital and trade movement.[39]  This dynamic of rising inequality affects the cohesion of the European Union and NATO, as well as the rise of populist authoritarianism, spanning from Brazil to Sweden to the Philippines. And it interacts with preexisting racial and gender prejudices to heighten volatility around policy areas that have a transnational component, from migration and refugees to international organizations to trade. America’s international economic policy choices have contributed to the rise of inequality through several of those factors, not just trade. This means, however, that the United States also has multiple levers to shift them in the future — if it is willing to use them, and if it is able to leave behind the current administration’s unilateral blustering in favor of strategic coordination with other countries that face the same societal pressures. Future administrations will face a weakened global economic architecture, giving them the freedom to integrate creative strategies into overall thinking, from the future of U.S.-E.U. trade to rejoining a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform process. The creative thinking is out there: Jennifer Harris has written thoughtfully on a renegotiated bargain with U.S. global business.[40] Climate thinkers have made a range of proposals for how existing international economic structures can speed progress toward a low-carbon economy.[41] Washington has now isolated itself from talks over WTO reforms, which seems to have had the regrettable effect that progressive policy thinkers are not engaging with the possibilities there as much as they might. Institutions and Norms Post-Cold War foreign policy has seen American institutions and norms as givens, neither challenged from abroad nor even affected by strategic choices. But in the history of the American experiment, that attitude is an anomaly. Thomas Jefferson saw an alliance with French republicanism as the preferable path to defend, and perhaps even spread, the American form of government; Alexander Hamilton saw the stability and spread of British structures as a better bet; George Washington preferred studied neutrality between London and Paris. (Jefferson thus inaugurated the grand American tradition of excessive optimism about regime change.) As has been typical ever since, actual U.S. foreign policy wound up being a little of each. Certainly, the early Cold Warriors saw the Soviet threat to U.S. institutions and norms, as well as those of U.S. allies, as a profound one. Anti-communism was the major driver for much of American foreign policy. It was used to justify initiatives from the moon shot to the Civil Rights Act. But it also led to McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy’s legacy may make it uncomfortable for progressives to assert that American democracy is under threat from without as well as within. Yet more progressives agree on the profound contemporary threat to U.S. democracy than one might expect. Consider two recent statements:
The return to rivalry was inevitable, if tragically so. It is rooted in a clash of social models — a free world and a neo-authoritarian world — that directly affects how people live. China and Russia are very different powers with different strategies, but they share the objective of targeting free and open societies to make the world a safer place for authoritarianism.[42] … [W]hat we are seeing now in the world is the rise of a new authoritarian axis. While the leaders who make up this axis may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, constant paranoia about foreign plots, and a belief that the leaders of government should be able use their positions of power to serve their own selfish financial interests.[43]
The first is from the center-left Brookings scholar (and contributor to this symposium) Thomas Wright; the second, from Sen. Bernie Sanders. But if a broad range of foreign policy thinkers — and 63 percent of Americans who identify as Democrat or Democratic-leaning[44] — agree on the threat that contemporary authoritarian states pose to U.S. institutions and the American way of life, they have not coalesced around a plan for what to do about it. Sanders calls for a variety of measures to fight economic and political corruption at home, including “reconceptualiz[ing] the global order,” participating in “an international movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people,” and standing for “unity and inclusion” in the face of “division and hatred.”[45] But Sanders’ October 2018 speech offered no specific policies aimed at shoring up NATO, building coalitions of pro-democracy forces, or combatting the challenges of cybersecurity, election meddling, and propaganda meant to heighten societal divisions. Wright, by contrast, calls for a “free world” strategy that seeks to deter Russia and other authoritarian meddlers by “focusing as much on measures short of general war — such as economic weapons and political interference — as on large-scale military buildups.”[46] But he skips over the possibility of strengthening and reforming American institutions so that they can better resist outside pressures, writing, “[T]he American system is too open to protect fully.”[47] The reality is that the United States will have to do a little of both: shoring up its institutions — and Americans’ trust in them — as well as developing more effective methods to push back against authoritarian regimes, including deploying the tools of an open society against authoritarian regimes. The peculiarities of the Trump administration’s Russia policy have delayed a number of commonsense bipartisan measures related to election security and broader cyber concerns, while think tanks that include leading Democrats have developed proposals for comprehensive public-private response strategies.[48] It is surprising to see how many so-called progressive national security strategies pass over the challenges to America’s democracy, Identity and Belonging Finally, as many commentators on the future of democracy have noted, one of the key battles at the moment is over identity and belonging.[49] The United States and other democratic societies are becoming internally divided in ways that spill into foreign affairs, repudiating notions of the state as a unified, monolithic entity. Cities are conducting foreign policy and are taking the lead in responding to progressive priorities like climate change.[50] But right-wing populists, authoritarians, and even white nationalists have built effective international cooperation — with profound consequences. In response, Wright wants to invigorate democratic alliances, ratcheting up pressure on non-democratic allies as need be. Sanders wants to build global popular movements.  But for either approach to succeed, the U.S. national security community itself is going to have to wrestle with issues of identity and belonging. Too many specialists avoid engaging on issues that connect international affairs with nasty domestic politics — from the prejudice and restrictions against Muslims with U.S. citizenship and those counted as key allies in the fight against terrorism, to U.S. foreign policy toward Central America and the crisis of family separation at U.S. borders, to the racialized resentments that simmer just beneath the surface of trade policy. But national security and foreign policy, as fields, can’t flourish apart from domestic policy. And the Trump administration’s rhetoric has shown that, where internationalists are reluctant to wade in and draw connections to Americans’ daily life, nativists will take their place. Finally, for avowedly progressive thinkers to fail to engage identity and diversity is unacceptable. The field of writers recognized as qualified to opine on national security strategy lacks the diversity of background, gender, age, and experience of the progressive electorate, or even of progressive officeholders. The strategies they have put forward fail uniformly to engage with the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that are core security concerns for large numbers of progressives — and likely driving motivators for the next generation of progressive leaders. Finding a synthesis between the best of what the tradition of grand strategy has to offer and the reality of the goals and members of contemporary American progressivism is the essential task for any progressive national security strategy.   Heather Hurlburt runs the New Models of Policy Change Initiative at New America. Her career at the intersection of politics and foreign policy includes stints in the White House, State Department, and Capitol Hill, as well as extensive experience in advocacy organizations.  

3. Principles for a Progressive Defense Policy

By Adam Mount Like other foreign policy doctrines, progressive internationalism is grounded in a set of moral principles. Progressive internationalists believe that the United States must represent a force for good in the world — not just good as Americans see it, but a kind of good that any reasonable society could accept for itself. Progressives grasp intuitively that global perceptions of U.S. actions are important to both their success and their moral acceptability. In practice, these principles oblige American foreign policy not only to support the capabilities of American citizens to lead lives that are healthy, fulfilling, and free, but to also do the same for foreign citizens. The best recent progressive foreign policy proposals are directly motivated by these principles: a global democratic movement to confront the ascendant nexus of transnational neofascism, authoritarianism, kleptocracy, and corruption;[51] a major investment in international development, global health, and diplomatic efforts;[52] trade policies intended to reduce global inequality;[53] and global environmental sustainability. It is not only a moral imperative but also the most effective means of securing America’s interests: Just as democracy, health, controlling inequality, and sustainability are important to a healthy polity, they are similarly important to creating a stable and peaceful world in which that polity can exist. The same principles can also underwrite a progressive defense strategy, though applying them to defense is less common. National defense needs the moral guidance and skepticism that progressive internationalism can offer. Progressives begin from the recognition that the threats America faces are generally neither existential in nature nor susceptible to resolution by military force.[54] In Washington, threat inflation is commonplace and there is an overwhelming tendency to defer to the advice or recommendations of military officials, even where there is little evidence that military force can resolve a given problem. Though the Department of Defense has abandoned its plan to concurrently fight two wars in two different theaters, other unrealistic maximalist standards have taken its place. Strategists commonly seek to expunge threats rather than to prevent their emergence or manage their consequences. The unrealistic requirement to operate freely any time, anywhere has replaced defense of the homeland and allied territory with defense of the forward deployed joint force. Waste is rampant and persistently immune to oversight. War is apparently endless. Force planning is disconnected from threat assessment. Preventive and diplomatic policies have given way to an overwhelming tendency to see military force as the primary means of addressing strategic challenges. In short, Washington has fallen to militarism.[55] The standard slogans of the left remain valuable: Progressives support diplomatic and preventive solutions over military mitigation, multilateralism over unilateralism, cooperative threat reduction, and arms control over arms racing. However, slogans are not enough. As they seek power in Congress and the White House, progressive internationalists must present a vision not just for national security but for the structure and function of the military in a world where U.S. hegemony is in relative decline. This vision must recognize not only the dangerous tendency of uncontrolled American militarism to crowd out domestic obligations, provoke arms races and instability, and erode American moral authority around the world; it must also plan and posture to meet America’s moral obligation to defend free peoples from war and to intervene in humanitarian disasters, including through the use of force when necessary and effective. A Military Without Militarism Progressives remain intensely concerned about the corrosive effects the national security state has had on the country’s ability to sustain a healthy domestic polity. In recent years, reflexive militarism has impeded the fiscal and democratic foundations needed to sustain a just society. Defense spending now approaches $700 billion, accounting for about 55 percent of all discretionary spending. Financing that spending with debt has exacerbated economic inequality by borrowing from the wealthy,[56] been used to justify an endless string of tax and domestic spending cuts, and deferred the costs to future generations. The sheer magnitude of the sum crowds out domestic efforts on education, federal health care and poverty alleviation, scientific research, environmental protection, non-defense foreign policy, and a wide range of other essential functions. In recent decades, Congress has deliberately cut these accounts to the bone — and then started to slice away bone. As a result, the United States is no longer able to meet its essential obligations to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens. Even these levels of spending are apparently not enough. Defense officials warn that the country’s “competitive military advantage has been eroding” and that America faces “a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory.”[57] The interminable wars in the Middle East are no closer to victory. Defense officials commonly warn that the United States is losing its technological edge. “The last decade,” Chairman Dunford said last year, has “threatened our ability to project power and we have lost our advantage in key warfighting areas.”[58] The Air Force says its needs to add more than 70 new squadrons, from 312 to 386; the Navy is requesting funding to grow from 286 to 355 ships; and the Army is seeking 80,000 new recruits for an increase of 11,500 more soldiers than in 2017.[59] The Department of Defense is purchasing new fleets of aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter aircraft, tankers, and trying to replace nearly the entire nuclear arsenal. No appropriation will ever be enough. The military has an obligation to attempt to maximize security to the greatest extent possible within the limits set by civilian leadership. However, successive administrations have avoided making hard choices about military strategy, and Congress has an abiding tendency to defer to the Defense Department on questions of force structure. As a result, the United States lacks a rational process to size its military. At the same time, the escalating cost of military hardware and appalling waste means that U.S. forces are spread increasingly thinly across the globe, exacerbating the perception that the United States is losing its competitive edge. A dysfunctional congressional process that reflexively privileges defense over other discretionary spending needs is only one of the alarming effects that militarism has had on American democracy. A progressive administration should endeavor to reverse the deleterious consequences of the militarization of American foreign policy, democracy, and civic life. Improving transparency of military missions and capabilities,[60] ending unitary nuclear launch authority,[61] restricting the transfer of military technology to civilian law enforcement, resisting the trend of appointing current and former officers to cabinet positions, sharply limiting electronic surveillance of U.S. and allied citizens, ending the treatment of immigrants as a military threat to be addressed with military methods, and reclaiming Congress’ responsibility to declare and authorize war are all steps that would help to restore democratic oversight of military policy. Rescinding the blank check 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force is a necessary first step.[62] A progressive internationalist administration should not only slow the growth of, combat waste in, and more carefully evaluate defense spending, it must also reduce defense spending — both as a proportion of the federal budget and in absolute terms. Consistent with their efforts to transform national healthcare, progressives should have no reluctance to ensuring that every American veteran can access mental and physical care, job services, housing, and a competent Veterans Administration.[63] Supporting American veterans is not only a solemn obligation but should be understood as an eliminable cost of war. A Moral Military The United States is fond of saying that its alliances are predicated on shared values and interests, but this was only ever selectively true. Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and Saudi Arabia are all in various stages of descent into authoritarianism, autocracy, or fascism. Unconditional support for these states corrodes America’s moral standing and devalues the word “ally.” A global effort to support democracies will require a revision of certain alliance commitments to ensure they do not contradict this or other American objectives. Serving as a force for good in the world means allying with those countries that similarly serve as a force for good, and resisting those that do not. A progressive administration should also examine not only the democratic values of alliance partners but also the strategic and humanitarian consequences of arms sales agreements that often accompany alliance commitments. Decades of wars in which U.S. soldiers and civilians were killed with American-made weapons led the Obama administration to issue new guidance to “take into account” the human rights and broader records of recipients when evaluating arms transfers. Yet the outrage of American-made munitions killing Yemeni civilians and causing an appalling famine demonstrates that these restrictions were not enough.[64] To decisively end U.S. complicity in such atrocities and persistent conflict, a progressive administration should establish binding — not just rhetorical or aspirational — restrictions on transfers to countries engaged in human rights abuses or other actions that run contrary to U.S. objectives. Serving as a force for good in the world means, at a minimum, ensuring that U.S. weapons are not used to perpetrate atrocities or assist repression. To serve as a moral military, U.S. procurement and operations must be subject to additional scrutiny. Continued technological superiority affords the United States a unique opportunity to set an example with respect to morally problematic weapons systems. The United States need not offer authoritarian or irresponsible regimes an excuse to brandish cluster munitions, landmines, remote piloted aircraft, or chemical and nuclear weapons, which should be subject to strict civilian oversight to ensure they are consistent with international standards of just conduct in war. Similarly, U.S. counterterror operations should also be subject to tighter standards to minimize civilian casualties to the absolute lowest level possible. Despite some significant efforts during the Obama administration and within the military, unintended casualties remain far too high.[65] The United States should be willing to accept additional vulnerability in order to further reduce civilian casualties. Any incidents that do take place should be disclosed and those responsible held to account. Declining relative power and defense budgets will oblige a progressive administration to prioritize U.S. military objectives and to revise or rescind those that can no longer be realistically met. The U.S. Armed Forces can best defend the rights of foreign citizens through humanitarian operations and deterrence of high-end threats to the high-end threats to free peoples. The military should be structured and resourced to accomplish both rapid mass atrocity response and deterrence operations and should be tasked and employed only when it can effectively accomplish defined objectives with the participation of the local population and using means consistent with the interests of those peoples as they themselves understand them. These missions entail a moral obligation to maintain a capable and ready foreign presence in South Korea, Japan, Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, and elsewhere to deter war and, if necessary, to act to defend these allies from aggression. Yet too often U.S. deployments do not reflect these core moral obligations and strategic interests. In an increasingly competitive world, in which America’s relative power is in decline, U.S. strategists cannot afford to expend credibility or raise tensions for actions that are purely symbolic or expressive. There are serious and persistent questions about America’s ability to have a positive effect in the Middle East and whether the benefits of counter-terror operations have outweighed their tendency to exacerbate the problem. Too many exercises are postured in ways that raise tensions or the risk of misperception. China’s encroachment into South China Sea and its coercion of its neighbors should be resisted, but where U.S. efforts stand little chance of success, or neighbors are reluctant to participate, they are ultimately futile. A Force for Stability Progressive internationalists are acutely aware that U.S. force structure and posture has too often indirectly undermined the security of the continental United States and its allies by posing an unnecessary threat to potential adversaries and fueling arms races. The principles that underwrite progressivism also require a commitment to military stability. A progressive administration should act to ensure that the U.S. Armed Forces serve as a force for stability in the world, rather than instability. When the United States forward deploys or stations hi-technology conventional military assets, it generates rational concerns in the capitals of potential adversaries about America’s intentions and its capabilities. Russia, China, and North Korea have difficulty detecting and discriminating between America’s conventional strike and intelligence forces, on the one hand, and logistical and civilian operations on the other. Furthermore, U.S. theater and global missile defense systems do possess a capability to limit retaliatory damage after a counterstrike attempt, even if U.S. leadership would never contemplate such a strike. U.S. capabilities often exceed what is necessary to defend U.S. allies and have contributed to Russian, Chinese, and North Korean efforts to enhance the number, survivability, and sophistication of their forces. To limit these risks, progressives should support a comprehensive research and policy program to identify ways to limit the stability risks of U.S. forward presence. If strategic stability is to have any meaning, the United States must seek to limit not only the threats adversaries pose to it, but also the threat that it poses to potential adversaries. At the same time, progressive internationalists must not fall prey to the fallacy that unilateral disarmament will necessarily lead adversaries to follow suit. Too many Americans believe the military exists to eliminate rather than manage sources of vulnerability, a view that has a tendency to cause the problems it aspires to solve. In fact, mutual vulnerability with Russia and China, and soon also with North Korea, is a strategic reality that cannot be solved with a new weapons system. The debate over the “third offset” illustrates these tendencies.[66] Conceived as a cost effective means of maintaining U.S. superiority over rising competitors by capitalizing on new technologies that “offset” adversary anti-access and area-denial capabilities, the effort was incapacitated by two fatal strategic flaws. First, the two previous offsets were conceived as means to fortify defensive capabilities against a numerically superior and potentially aggressive adversary. The “third offset” was intended to enable the United States to overcome static and defensive capabilities and project power into contested areas. Second, these defensive capabilities — cheap area-denial ballistic missiles, submarine, anti-space, and cyber capabilities — are, in fact, the “third offset” because they exploit cost-efficient technological advances to offset a qualitatively superior force. In short, “third offset” thinking places the United States in the highly undesirable position of attempting to overcome and overwhelm a highly effective offset strategy. You can’t offset an offset. As relative decline makes U.S. military superiority fiscally and operationally impractical, the United States will need a new standard for shaping its military requirements and conducting deterrence. Rather than minimize risk and maximize capability, military spending and future acquisition planning must be rigorously tied and tailored to threat assessments. As Van Jackson’s essay in this roundtable suggests, military sufficiency is a more achievable and, in many cases, more effective standard than military superiority. A defensive force posture is the most effective and sustainable means of defending both the United States and democratic societies around the world. As the United States loses the ability to operate unchallenged on the Chinese littorals and in the Russian periphery, it should, together with its allies, invest in systems capable of defending allied territory against aggression: cost-effective coastal defense missiles, denial of intrusions by special-operation forces, flexible and agile concentrations of high-end forces that can deploy rapidly to prepositioned equipment in theater, and other area-denial capabilities. Though the Armed Forces will have to retain expeditionary capabilities to prevail over attempts to isolate and deny access to allies or humanitarian catastrophes, the United States should put its money where money is currently most effective: These requirements are not nearly so high as those for maintaining military superiority.[67] Too much deterrence planning has emphasized escalation control and retaliation and forgotten that the most important determinant of deterrence success is the ability to defend and deny with conventional forces. In particular, progressives are intensely concerned about the risks, costs, and ethical implications of U.S. nuclear weapons policy. A commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament, and making sustained progress toward reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons, is imperative to retaining moral authority, to serving as an exemplar for allies and smaller powers contemplating their own nuclear programs, and to leading the way in the construction of a safer world. Progressive internationalists should push to structure and posture the U.S. nuclear arsenal for deterrence operations and abandon requirements for escalation control and nuclear warfighting.[68] The U.S. military must, in this view, eliminate peripheral systems in the arsenal that go beyond what’s needed for existential deterrence — specifically, the “supplementary” sea-launched cruise missile and a lower yield warhead for the Trident sea-launched ballistic missile proposed in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, but also perhaps the air-launched cruise missile. The case for nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles is also increasingly tenuous.[69] Progressive internationalists should vigorously pursue creative new concepts for arms control to address the risks of a range of new nuclear and nonnuclear technologies with Russia, China, and North Korea. Conclusion Each of the steps outlined above are likely to be controversial because they entail accepting an additional margin of vulnerability. In fact, the United States is vulnerable to adversary strategic forces, terrorism, climate change, instability due to migration, and the actions of other potential adversaries. The quest for perfect security is the product of anxiety and is bound to fail. A greater strength is required to admit America’s vulnerability than to deny it, to manage vulnerability than to act as though it can be eliminated. This task now falls to progressive internationalists. In short, a progressive internationalist administration would ensure that the United States military serves as a force for good in the world by protecting the security, welfare, and democratic rights of not only U.S. and allied citizens, but also other foreigners. The objective may seem familiar and intuitive when stated plainly, but the implications for policy are wide reaching and potentially transformative.   Adam Mount, Ph.D. (@ajmount) is Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists.  

4. Progressives Should Embrace the Politics of Defense

By Loren DeJonge Schulman In his essay on what a progressive national security agenda should look like, Van Jackson proposes to stretch the common progressive position of anti-militarism to a more realist platform of military “sufficiency.” In doing so, he brings attention to a serious gap in current defense politics. The stilted and superficial dialogue that passes for national security debate in American politics includes an active constituency for a “military first” (or military friendly) foreign policy, reflexively applying military tools to problems abroad and inflating defense spending. There is also a weaker constituency, most present outside government, for a “military last” or “anti-militarist” policy, which would cut defense spending and end wars with similar reflexivity. Outside the apolitical “blob” of Washington, there is little interest in publicly debating the prudence or effectiveness of these agendas. The left, regardless of its broader “theory of security,” could fill some of this vacuum — and it is better situated to do so than conventional wisdom might suggest.[70] Democrats Drowning at the Water’s Edge For the last two decades, there has been little political opportunity to question America’s role in the world. With some exception, relevant defense and security policies have been open to even less scrutiny. Questions about the ethical or effective application of force, the size of the defense budget, the success of a given military strategy, the utility of specific weapons platforms, and the return on investment from security cooperation are, at best, diversions. Anyone who attempts to challenge the status quo risks being greeted with political attacks about lacking patriotism or not supporting American troops.[71] But at a time of frequent missteps abroad on the part of the Trump administration, the space to question America’s foreign policy traditions may be widening. The inability to pose legitimate questions about security policy is a particular flavor of political correctness, and because of it, the Democratic Party has all but disappeared in defense policy and politics.[72] The last two years have seen more than a dozen pieces on the left’s lack of branded national security ideas.[73] Michael Walzer has attributed this gap to an intentional abstention: The default position of the left is that “the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy.”[74] Jackson highlights modest resourcing and under-representation as justifications for the left’s notable lack of a “theory of security” and the general subsuming of the debate under a big-tent “third way” liberalism. Traditional Democrats in the national security community (including me) have bristled at these criticisms, but would be hard-pressed to offer a distinctive and coherent political viewpoint. Some see the Democratic Party’s lack of a defined national security policy as something to celebrate. Declaring that politics “stops at the water’s edge” of national security is a winning Bingo option at any think tank event. But this dictum stifles debate about the national interest and the proper application of national resources. Consequently, there are moral and political questions on defense and interventions abroad that have no meaningful forum. This gap is particularly felt on Capitol Hill, where in the past security-minded Democrats have found political safe-harbor in a Republican-lite national security agenda — essentially blank-check support for Republicans on defense with, at most, a raised eyebrow from time to time. These policy positions require little analytical effort or political capital, and let Democrats occasionally posture as morally superior by emphasizing “non-military tools” of foreign policy. The opposite alternative of a more rigid pacifism and anti-militarism, though common in the grassroots progressive community, has no consistently organized political presence on the Hill and thus also escapes thorough interrogation.[75] For those outside the Beltway, opposition to all things military offers the refuge of principle without critical justification or analysis. For many Democrats, the Obama model was a strangely tolerable middle ground: a bipartisan budget mess made while a “responsible” president ramped up security interventions in enough secrecy to avoid nagging scrutiny or self-examination. Re-Politicizing Defense Despite the valiant efforts of some individuals, there is no political home for responsible defense debate, oversight, and accountability.[76] Yet, with determination, the left might find a real foothold in defense policy — without compromising progressive values. To be clear: There is substantial work to be done on figuring out what cohesive view of America’s role in the world the left can tolerate and advance. There is even greater work to be done on determining how to renew, reuse, and reform international institutions.[77] But any such agendas would be well served by embracing a set of principles that make clear-eyed debate and evaluation of defense policy and execution an asset, not an unforgiveable sin. Critical analysis of defense affairs is too often left to the technocratic and comparatively powerless “blob,” which can write a mean op-ed or tweet, but has limited ability to engage the American people on its will and interests. And although Congress has willfully declawed itself so that it cannot maintain meaningful oversight of national security,[78] its ability to stage and amplify policy debate for the American people is without parallel, and it has tremendous latent potential to restore greater balance in civil-military relations. Congress’s absence and the associated de-politicization of national security affairs is costly. For instance, the American public is deeply ambivalent about the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan and generally ignorant of the widespread activities of the war on terror.[79] This is unsurprising: Congress, too, is disaffected, often ignorant of where the U.S. military is even engaged,[80] and has made little headway into questioning or shaping this intervention. The most substantive and serious debate about executive war authorities and the effectiveness of U.S. counterterrorism strategy has resulted in little more than a reauthorization proposal that still failed to move forward.[81] Too many examples of political leaders’ stand-off or superficial approach to defense policy and execution abound. ilitary superiority is generally viewed as sacrosanct, placed on “so high a pedestal as to render real debate meaningless.”[82] That reverence infantilizes defense budget debates. Thanking troops for their service is a politicized ritual that divorces politicians and their constituents from the intent and costs of that service. With decisions on the needs of the U.S. military and sustaining legacy systems openly linked to the economies of congressional districts, it’s understandable that skeptics of utilizing military tools have been unwilling to evaluate their merits. These must all change. While, at its worst, the political right treats the use of force abroad as a metric of patriotism and the size of the force as the measure of one’s love of America, the political left ought to draw from its skepticism toward intervention and its faith in institutions to advance a more rational and accountable approach to national security. For years, Robert Farley has highlighted that “progressives consistently underestimate the importance of discussions about military doctrine and technology,”[83] taking what Michael Walzer calls “shortcuts”[84] in their critiques of defense policy that relieve them from contributing to key debates. Instead of excusing themselves, the left should instead propose legitimate questions about major shifts in force employment and development: Will it work? What are its goals? What is the U.S. national security apparatus learning? Why didn’t it work? Were U.S. objectives wrong? What did America change when it didn’t work? Will America do it again? What could be improved? What should America do now? Joining the Conversation Jackson’s notion of what a progressive “wager” on national security might look like in practice is useful, filling the gap between the “Republican-lite” default and the stubbornness of anti-militarism. But the left’s diversity of thought can accommodate a wider playing field of potential alternative approaches to security than even he proposes. A true pacifist movement on the Hill and on the campaign trail, dedicated to the advancement of non-military approaches but premised on analysis and logical arguments, would be a serious advancement in national security and should be welcomed by the most ardent military advocates. Likewise, a more prudent middle ground approach — one that is skeptical of, but open to, military might and intervention and demands a better return on investment of national security tools — should play a more prominent political role. The full range of the left’s national security spectrum should forcefully engage in oversight of the rationale for and quality of American forces and interventions abroad. The left should therefore consider adopting a series of principles on defense matters — including criteria for the use of force — that apply to the military-friendly and anti-militarist left alike. In practice, this means acknowledging that there are valid political positions on matters of defense that lie somewhere in between “yes, and” and “no never” and that trivializing them is harmful to America’s national security. There are alternatives to today’s counterterror strategy and it would not be an insult to the military to debate them. It’s entirely legitimate to study whether the military is equipped to face today’s threats without being accused of retreating from the world or starting with an artificial budget cut. It’s sensible to consider whether the planned growth of ground forces, a 350-ship Navy, or a 386-squadron Air Force are the right investments or political benchmarks.[85] These questions involve choices and values and should not be avoided under the umbrella of a supposed technocratic bipartisan agreement. Just as important, it’s essential that the left avoid becoming a caricature of itself that promotes simplistic and superficial positions that set rigid, unserious standards. The left may not agree on the size or purpose of the military, but it can agree America should strive for informed oversight and accountability. The bumper sticker of such principles is simple: Ask informed questions,[86] illuminate and demand accountability for failures, encourage fresh thinking, and bring the American people into the discussion without fear. That this is so simple is an embarrassment to the present state of the “debate.” In detail, these principles should include: The left — in all its forms — should embrace the necessity of active participation and serious debate beyond the water’s edge. That’s how to make national security more democratic, transparent, and therefore accountable. What could be more progressive than that?   Loren DeJonge Schulman is the Deputy Director of Studies and Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. She is the co-host of the national security podcast Bombshell and has held senior staff positions at the National Security Council and Department of Defense. The views expressed hers alone and not representative of her organization.  

5. The Free-World Strategy Progressives Need

By Thomas Wright Attempts to craft a foreign policy for the next progressive president must begin with a consideration of the international situation, not with general principles or domestic politics. To do otherwise runs a grave risk of formulating a policy that is wildly out of sync with the world as it is. Depending on the threat environment, a progressive foreign policy could emphasize many of the elements discussed in Van Jackson’s essay in this roundtable — universal institutions, multilateral cooperation, arms control — or rearmament, deterrence, and alliances. But it depends on the circumstances. Just consider the case of Britain’s postwar Labour government, which pursued left wing policies at home but built a nuclear weapon, helped to create NATO, and took a hardline anti-Soviet position. In assessing the international situation, the United States must ask whether and how world events impinge on vital American interests. Those interests are laid down in the preamble to the constitution, which states that the purpose of the United States is
to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.[89]
Foreign policy and national security are fundamentally about ensuring a healthy international system in which this free society can thrive and prosper. With every passing month, it is clear that the international situation is deteriorating rapidly. From Latin America, to Europe, to Asia, the world is seeing the rise of a neo-authoritarianism that seeks to roll back freedom where it currently resides and advance its own global reach. It is not monolithic and contains internal contradictions, but this authoritarian trend packs enough of a punch to qualify as a coherent alternative to a free and open society. It is able to take advantage of disruptive technological change and dislocations in the economies of democracies as well as severe political dysfunctions and polarization in U.S. domestic politics. This is much more than a geopolitical clash along the frontier of the South China Sea or Ukraine. It is a clash of societies that directly affects America’s domestic affairs, whether it is the health of democracy, the level of strife between various groups and cultures, the freedom of the media, the nature of capitalism, or the integrity of U.S. critical infrastructure. The rise of neo-authoritarianism is not the only thing going on of course. There are at least two other existential challenges facing America, as well as a myriad of significant problems. The first is a global economic model that remains prone to financial crisis and has major flaws — including allowing China’s unfair practices and facilitating massive corporate tax avoidance — that disadvantage modern democratic market economies. The second is climate change, which we now have reason to believe will result in catastrophic effects by 2040, well within the lifetime of most Americans.[90] In addition to these challenges, the United States faces a continuing threat from terrorist networks, North Korea, and Iran, among others. But the neo-authoritarian challenge is the greatest strategic problem America faces because it involves opponents of great capability and global reach with the intention of undermining the United States and with the ability to adapt and counter U.S. actions to remedy the situation. These facts distinguish this challenge from the problems of globalization and climate change. Dealing with it will require a level of public support and national action that necessitates it being at the center of American foreign policy. If it remains just one issue among many, the United States will fail in whatever objectives it sets out. The Rise of Neo-Authoritarian Great Powers After the Cold War, Western leaders, including almost everyone on the left, believed that Russia and China would converge on a single model of liberal order as they traded and engaged with the West. In this vision, all states would share the same challenges — like climate change, terrorism, economic volatility, and nuclear proliferation — that would eclipse old geopolitical differences. The expectations of convergence came to an end because Russian and Chinese leaders concluded that if the liberal order succeeded globally, it would pose an existential threat to their regimes. These leaders believed that the West was orchestrating color revolutions in their own societies. They worried that Western leaders would break any promise of support, as President Barack Obama did with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.[91] They feared the autonomy and power of the free press — as evidenced by the role the New York Times played in uncovering mass corruption among the Chinese political leadership in 2012 — and they worried about the role that social media and search engines might play in shaping the views of the youth in their countries.[92] To put this in the parlance of foreign policy, they felt more threatened by America’s soft power, or the power of its society, than by traditional military strength. They were not wrong — at least not from their perspective. Indeed, most progressives believed and hoped that soft power would sow the seeds of change overseas. This is a point worth remembering when U.S. officials or pundits talk about the importance of a whole of government approach and the power of example — it is precisely this characteristic of the Western system that worries Moscow and Beijing the most. With this diagnosis, China and Russia began to push back and sought to create a world safe for authoritarianism. That meant weakening the free press[93] and social media;[94] repressing non-governmental organizations;[95] establishing the means of influencing Western societies, including by interfering in their domestic politics and promoting division and discord;[96] coercing private companies into abiding by China’s wishes;[97] using corruption to gain leverage internationally;[98] and weakening the concept and means of operationalizing universal values.[99] There is a significant geopolitical dimension to the competition: China and Russia really do seek a sphere of influence in their respective regions and such ambitions are dangerous and destabilizing. But the competition is rooted in a clash of social models — a free world and a neo-authoritarian world — that directly affects how people live. This clash has spilled over into western societies and directly challenges the democratic way of life. None of the major protagonists in this competition seek a major conflict. And although one could occur inadvertently, the most likely scenario is one of a prolonged peacetime competition with measures short of war. The clash of free societies and neo-authoritarianism shapes almost everything else. It makes multilateral cooperation much more difficult. It makes military interventions much more costly. It makes the global economy more volatile. It damages democracy and tolerance while empowering kleptocrats and xenophobia. And if it continues unchecked, the result will be a world, and an America, that is much less free and prosperous than it is today. Possible Strategic Responses There are three possible responses to this neo-authoritarian challenge. The first is to hunker down and play defense. The second is to accommodate it, in the hope of cooperation. And, the third is to push back and compete with neo-authoritarian states diplomatically, politically, economically, and militarily. I. Playing defense The United States could focus exclusively on blunting the authoritarian challenge at home by securing voting machines, reforming election law, placing restrictions on investment in critical infrastructure, and working with social media companies to call out fake news and propaganda. The United States could go even further and help other countries to do the same. This would help, but it is not enough. New technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) may well be offense dominant. It is impossible to muster an effective defense that will stop all cyber attacks, prevent penetration of critical infrastructure, and render fake news worthless. Moreover, what needs to be defended is vast and diverse, encompassing the private and public sectors. Defense is not enough. America needs to think about deterrence — how to threaten sufficient costs that will change the calculus of its adversaries. Moreover, a purely defensive approach does not address how to think about the geopolitical dimension of the competition — should Russia and China be allowed a sphere of influence in their respective regions and is the United States competing with them to shape global rules and norms? This approach is also silent regarding countries that have become more authoritarian in recent years. II. Accommodate rivals In an important article, Peter Beinart recently wrote that progressives should not try to out-hawk the GOP on Russia, North Korea, or China. Instead, they should abandon U.S. primacy in favor of a system of spheres of influence in which China has much more of a say in East Asia, including Taiwan, and Russia in Eastern Europe.[100] Beinart’s argument is that the United States is overstretched and close to insolvent in its national power. Other versions of this argument have been made by academic realists, such as Barry Posen.[101] Beinart correctly understands that if Russia and China are to be bought off it will have to be with something more substantial than extra votes in Western institutions. But his strategy is badly mistaken. There would be no greater act of imperialism than sitting down with a hostile power to give away independent democracies against their will. What is progressive about that? A spheres-of-influence system will also run up against the same problem it always has — the lines of demarcation are never clear and it will be inherently unstable. Hardliners in Beijing and Moscow will see an opportunity and demand more. Also, why stop with Russia and China? Others will soon get the message that if they throw their weight around they too can have a claim on their own sphere. A spheres-of-influence system would make war much more likely than other approaches and it would gravely damage America’s vital interests. III. Responsible competition for the Free World The third option is that the United States should compete with authoritarian states to preserve and strengthen an international system that protects freedom and liberty at home.[102] This would entail moving away from universal concepts of international order and toward a free world model whereby America seeks to bolster democratic societies, to inoculate them against illiberal forces at home and abroad, and to deter revisionist powers. The primary drawback of this strategy is that it risks starting a new Cold War with China and Russia. However, it is only by pushing back and standing up for free and open societies that America can achieve some level of deterrence and establish a new equilibrium. Preemptive concessions to great power rivals would only beget more demands and would leave the United States in a vastly weaker position. Competing with neo-authoritarian states is the best way to ensure that free and open societies can survive and prosper and it also holds out the best prospect of peaceful relations with other great powers. A Free World Strategy in More Detail A free world strategy is not a re-run of the Cold War. Rather, America should seek to adopt a strategy of responsible competition that is cognizant of the differences between Russia and China, recognizes the need for continued cooperation on matters of mutual interest, like climate change, and avoids escalating to levels that would risk a major-power war. Space constraints prevent full elaboration of the strategy here but the key elements include the following: The Middle East is a particularly thorny problem that largely exists outside of this conceptual framework. Withdrawing from the region is tempting but carries with it an extremely high risk of contagion whereby problems in the region would worsen and threaten vital interests elsewhere. The collapse of Saudi Arabia or Jordan, or civil conflict in Turkey, would have a devastating impact — refugee flows could destroy the European Union, the Islamic State could return, and conflict could spread throughout the region and beyond. On the other hand, military engagement runs the risk of a forever war with high human costs that distracts from the primary strategic challenge facing America. There is no obvious answer. The least bad option is to continue to engage while being much tougher on America’s Gulf allies, including being willing to deploy leverage, such as ending arms sales. But, regardless of the side one comes down on, it is vital that decision-makers are honest about the horrible trade-off America faces and outline ways of mitigating the cost of their chosen strategy. If the United States decides to leave, it must deal with the contagion problem — how to prevent instability in one part of the region from spilling over. If it decides to stay, it has to deal with maintaining problematic allies. The Defense Budget Progressives need to familiarize themselves with the substantive debate surrounding the defense budget and move past misleading generalities that compare the overall size of the budget with that of other countries. Such comparisons are commonplace (e.g., the United States spends more on defense than the next seven major powers combined) and lead to a complacency about American power.[103] But, they are mistaken for three reasons: 1) Russia and China lie about their defense spending and conceal its true levels, 2) it is not the overall level of power that matters but the balance in particular contested theaters — the United States has to project power globally whereas Russia and China can concentrate on their regions — and 3) rapid technological change has the potential to enable China to leapfrog over the United States. Moreover, America should try to avoid allowing rival powers to believe they can engage in a fair fight with U.S forces — something that could weaken deterrence by giving a risk-tolerant rival reason to think that aggression may pay, especially in regions where they have disproportionately larger interests than they think the United States does. Moreover, most of defense spending is not flexible — the costs are committed too far into the future, whether it is procurement of new weapons systems or personnel. Immediate cuts would have to come out of current operations or research and development. Cutting operations to save money, rather than for strategic reasons, damages readiness and increases the risk of conflict. Cutting research and development means the United States would be at a serious disadvantage in competing with China. Experts on both sides of the aisle believe that the cuts to defense spending under the Budget Control Act (commonly known as the Sequester), included at the insistence of the Republican Party, did significant damage to the national defense.[104] One can certainly argue that the defense budget allocates resources inefficiently to deal with the challenges America faces. Should the United States really be building new aircraft carriers in an era when AI, precision missiles, or advanced submarines may render them almost useless? Surely it should be making the necessary investments in science and technology and human capital to compete. But the conversation on the budget must recognize that the United States faces a monumental task in reforming and improving its military for this new era. Adjustments need to be made over the long term and for strategic reasons. The focus must be on modernization, improving competitiveness and increasing capabilities so that the United States has the right kind of military for the coming challenges. How to do that is the needed debate. Dealing with the Global Economy and Climate Nothing in a free world strategy precludes taking action on other issues. In fact, it necessitates reforming the global economy since protecting against volatility and crisis and ensuring that the system works for all citizens are vital components of ensuring the free world succeeds and prospers. This could be accomplished by initiating a conversation with America’s allies that moves beyond market access and regulatory alignment to talk about shared concerns about globalization — inequality, the decoupling of labor and productivity, a financial system that is too big to fail, corporate tax avoidance, and China’s mercantilist model. Climate change is a global phenomenon by definition but the solutions to it must be implemented at the domestic level. To effectively address it, the United States and other major powers need a massive overhaul of their national economies. Thus far, Americans have shown insufficient will for an overhaul of the scale and scope required. And so, Democratic leaders have gravitated toward more modest approaches to get things started while Republicans have almost entirely ignored the problem. There is, of course, an international component, but much of this approach depends on American, Chinese, and Indian action — only if these societies transform their economies to dramatically cut emissions, can a solution be found. This raises one important question for U.S. national security strategy: Should the United States go easy on China to secure its cooperation on climate change? The answer is no. To do so would actually provide Beijing with leverage that it would be tempted to use. It would be wiser to ring-fence climate change and agree that, given that it is a matter of vital interest to all parties, cooperation should continue even if the major powers are competing on other fronts. The Politics of Foreign Policy Progressives were slow to realize the challenge posed by authoritarianism, particularly from Russia and China. During his presidency, Obama repeatedly dismissed Russia as a regional power and underestimated the threat it posed to the democratic process in 2016. Several Obama administration officials now acknowledge that they also failed to fully comprehend and respond to the competitive nature of the challenge from China.[105] It was commonplace for senior officials to talk about the arc of history and 21st-century politics as if the dangers of the 20th century had aged out, never to return. Progressives must reflect seriously upon these mistakes and remedy them ahead of a possible progressive administration in 2021. A free world strategy does this. It is consistent with progressive and democratic values but also represents an appropriate departure from Obama’s foreign policy. When pundits talk about the past — protecting the liberal international order created in the late 1940s — or obscure far away places, people can tune out. Progressives must talk about the future and relate it directly to people’s lived experience. They must tap into ongoing debates in free societies about technological change. The strategy proposed above allows for precisely that. It is a sad reality that Americans have been more frequently moved to action in foreign policy by perceived threats than by hopes of creating a better world. America should never exaggerate the problems it faces but neither should it ignore them where they exist. One of the advantages of a free world strategy is that it is an American strategy, not a partisan one. There is enough flexibility within the concept to allow progressives and conservatives to tailor it for their own goals. A progressive strategy may seek to build a free world that reduces inequality and put some limits on market forces, whereas a conservative strategy may seek to reduce regulation. Reasonable people can differ about the type of free world they want to build. In the immediate future, a free world strategy also allows Democrats to draw a stark contrast with Trump’s policies. The vast majority of Republicans believe in the free world but Trump does not. He prefers authoritarian strong men. He would erode key freedoms — such as freedom of the press — if he were politically stronger. In many ways, he sympathizes with the Russian and Chinese vision of international order. Trump is a reminder that this competition is not just between states; it is also within them. Many progressives may well prefer to do less in the world and retrench. That is not what this era requires of them. The United States will need to do more in some areas and less in others. Supporters of a free society — whether progressives, centrists, or conservatives — face an existential challenge that can only be met with an active and competitive foreign policy.   Thomas Wright is Director of the Center for the U.S. and Europe and a Senior Fellow in the Project in International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution. He is author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power.   Image: CGP Grey [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-the-future-of-progressive-foreign-policy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-16 17:58:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-16 22:58:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=802 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In this roundtable, we asked our chair, Van Jackson, to write a prompt essay on the future of progressive foreign policy, and had each of our contributors respond. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 848 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 238 [1] => 131 [2] => 239 [3] => 240 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Van Jackson, “Is the Left Ready to Handle National Security?” Politico Magazine, Sept. 11, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/11/left-national-security-foreign-policy-donald-trump-219744; Aziz Rana, “The Left’s Missing Foreign Policy,” n+1, March 8, 2018, https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/the-lefts-missing-foreign-policy/. [2] For an overview, see Anthony Giddens, The Third Way and Its Critics (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000). [3] Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). [4] Zack Beauchamp, “Why Democrats Have No Foreign Policy Ideas,” Vox, Sept. 7, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/5/16220054/democrats-foreign-policy-think-tanks. [5] Beauchamp, “Why Democrats Have No Foreign Policy Ideas.” [6] Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Liberal Order Is More than a Myth” Foreign Affairs, July 31, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2018-07-31/liberal-order-more-myth. [7] Lissner and Rapp-Hooper, “The Liberal Order is More Than a Myth”; G. John Ikenberry, “End of the Liberal International Order?” International Affairs 94, no. 1 (2018), 7–23, https://academic.oup.com/ia/article/94/1/7/4762691. [8] The most thorough statement on progressive foreign policy comes from Michael Walzer, A Foreign Policy for the Left (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018). [9] Walzer, A Foreign Policy for the Left, 48. [10] Daniel Bessner, “What Does Ocasio-Cortez Think about the South China Sea?” New York Times, Sept. 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/opinion/democratic-party-cortez-foreign-policy.html. [11] Van Jackson, “American Military Superiority and the Pacific Primacy Myth,” Survival 60, no. 2 (2018): 123, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2018.1448578. [12] Jackson, “American Military Superiority and the Pacific Primacy Myth.” [13] Bessner, “What Does Ocasio-Cortez Think about the South China Sea?[14] Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 7–48, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/myth-entangling-alliances-reassessing-security-risks-us-defense-pacts; Victor Cha, Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016). [15] Bernie Sanders, “A New Authoritarian Axis Demands a Progressive Front,” Guardian, Sept. 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/ng-interactive/2018/sep/13/bernie-sanders-international-progressive-front?CMP=twt_b-usopinion_c-us%3FCMP%3Dshare_btn_fb; Daniel Nexon, “Toward a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Sept. 4, 201,1 https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-09-04/toward-neo-progressive-foreign-policy; Peter Beinart, “Shield of the Republic: America Needs an Entirely New Foreign Policy for the Trump Age,” Atlantic, Sept. 16, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/shield-of-the-republic-a-democratic-foreign-policy-for-the-trump-age/570010/; Walzer, A Foreign Policy for the Left. [16] Daniel Nexon, “The Opposite of Neoconservatism Is Not Isolationism,” Lawyers, Guns, & Money, Sept. 25, 2018, http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2018/09/opposite-neoconservativism-not-isolationism. [17] Walzer, A Foreign Policy for the Left, 34. [18] Walzer, A Foreign Policy for the Left, 45. [19] Sanders, “A New Authoritarian Axis Demands a Progressive Front.” [20] Jeremy Suri, “Globalism Made America Great,” New Republic, Sept. 27, 2018, https://newrepublic.com/article/151404/globalism-helped-make-america-great. [21] Erik Gartzke, “The Capitalist Peace,” American Journal of Political Science 51, no. 1 (January 2007): 166–91, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4122913. [22] Alex Ward, “Read: Bernie Sanders’ Big Foreign Policy Speech,” Vox, Sept. 21, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/21/16345600/bernie-sanders-full-text-transcript-foreign-policy-speech-westminster. [23] Alex Cooley and John Heathershaw, Dictators without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017). [24] Guy Standing, “The ILO: An Agency for Globalization?” Development and Change 39, no. 3 (May 2008): 355–84, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7660.2008.00484.x. [25] Van Jackson, “Stop Confusing Deterrence with Strategy,” Diplomat, July 6, 2015, https://thediplomat.com/2015/07/stop-confusing-deterrence-with-strategy/. [26] Report on Mutual Assured Stability: Essential Components and Near Term Actions, International Security Advisory Board, (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 2012), https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/196789.pdf. [27] This essay is conceived as a response to a group of essays including, but not limited to: Peter Beinart, “Shield of the Republic,” Atlantic, Sept. 16, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/shield-of-the-republic-a-democratic-foreign-policy-for-the-trump-age/570010/; Daniel Bessner, “What Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Think About the South China Sea,” New York Times, Sept. 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/opinion/democratic-party-cortez-foreign-policy.html; Van Jackson, “Is the Left Ready to Handle National Security Policy?” POLITICO Magazine, Sept. 11, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/11/left-national-security-foreign-policy-donald-trump-219744; Dan Nexon, “Toward a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Sept. 4, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-09-04/toward-neo-progressive-foreign-policy. [28] “Alexander Hamilton on the French Revolution,” Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, accessed Oct. 15, 2018, http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/593. [29] Among the prominent apologists for fascism was the president of the American Political Science Association. Seva Gunitsky, “These Are Three Reasons that Fascism Spread in 1930s America and Might Spread Again Today,” Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/08/12/these-are-the-three-reasons-that-fascism-spread-in-1930s-america-and-might-spread-again-today/?utm_term=.e0767e987559. [30] Thomas J. Wright, All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the Twenty-first Century and the Future of American Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017). [31] While voters across the political spectrum displayed similar levels of concern about trade, and more than half of Democratic and Republican voters expressed concern about immigration and terrorism as issues for the 2018 midterms, only immigration landed in the top 10 concerns for Democrats, while all three did for Republicans — reflecting the intensity of Democrats’ concern around the environment and treatment of racial and sexual minorities, much lower priorities for Republicans. “Voter Enthusiasm at Record High in Nationalized Midterm Environment,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 26, 2018, http://www.people-press.org/2018/09/26/voter-enthusiasm-at-record-high-in-nationalized-midterm-environment/. [32] It is hard to overstate the divide between the progressive political space and the progressive security policy space. Essays specifically marketed as “progressive,” such as those by Beinart, Bessner, Jackson, and Nexon, mentioned above, miss the international dimensions of issues that progressives say are of most concern to them — jobs, justice and discrimination, and climate. For alternate perspectives that attract significant progressive attention and intellectual effort, but scant attention in grand strategy conversation, see, inter alia, the work of Bonnie Jenkins, at the panel, “Redefining National Security: Why and How,” Brookings, May 11, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/events/redefining-national-security-why-and-how/. Or consider how a mass mobilization organization such as Indivisible combines traditional and non-traditional security concerns in its advocacy: https://www.indivisible.org/resource/donald-trump-national-security-risk-here’s-current-trumpthreatlevel. [33] Alex Ward, “Read Trump’s Speech to the UN General Assembly,” Sept. 24, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/9/25/17901082/trump-un-2018-speech-full-text. [34] Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, “Weaponized Interdependence,” DRAFT prepared for International Studies Association Conference, April 4, 2018: 46, http://henryfarrell.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Weaponized-Interdependence-April-2018.pdf. [35] See, for example, Beinart, "Shield of the Republic”; Bessner, “What Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Think About the South China Sea"; Jackson, "Is the Left Ready to Handle National Security?"; and Wright, "The Return to Great-Power Rivalry Was Inevitable." [36] See Burke’s Phase Zero project, https://www.newamerica.org/resource-security/phase-zero-project/about/; and recent articles including: Sharon Burke, “A Climate for Conflict: Stories from Somalia,” New America, June 1, 2017, https://www.newamerica.org/resource-security/phase-zero-blog/climate-conflict-stories-somalia/. Her program also published the report, Ken Sofer, “The Slow Motion Crisis: The Destabilizing Effects of Climate Change in Turkey and Iraq Through 2050,” New America, May 16, 2017, https://www.newamerica.org/resource-security/policy-papers/relationship-between-climate-change-and-security/. [37] Terry Lynn Karl, “Economic Inequality and Democratic Instability,” Journal of Democracy 11, no. 1, (January 2000): 149–56,  https://muse.jhu.edu/article/17011/summary.; Kathy Cramer, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). [38] For the trends, see: The World Inequality Report 2018, World Inequality Lab, (2018), https://wir2018.wid.world/. A wide-ranging analysis is offered by Kemal Derviş and Zia Qureshi, “Brief: Income Distribution Within Countries: Rising Inequality,” Global Economy and Development at Brookings, (August 2016), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/income-inequality-within-countries_august-2016.pdf. [39] For the interconnections among automation and trade effects, see, inter alia, David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson, “The China Shock: Learning From Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade,” Annual Review of Economics, no. 8, (2016): 205–240, https://www.ddorn.net/papers/Autor-Dorn-Hanson-ChinaShock.pdf. For the finance side, see Gillian Tett, “Fixing Finance,” Foreign Affairs, (July/August 2012), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/fixing-finance?cid=soc-tw. [40] Jennifer Harris, “Making Trade Address Inequality,” Democracy Journal, no. 48 (Spring 2018), https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/48/making-trade-address-inequality/. [41] See, for example, Adrian Henry Macey, “How Trade Policies Can Support Global Efforts to Curb Climate Change, The Conversation, July 27, 2017, http://theconversation.com/how-trade-policies-can-support-global-efforts-to-curb-climate-change-81029. [42] Thomas Wright, “The Return to Great-Power Rivalry Was Inevitable,” Atlantic, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/liberal-international-order-free-world-trump-authoritarianism/569881/. [43] Bernie Sanders, “Building a Global Democratic Movement to Counter Authoritarianism,” Speech at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Oct. 9, 2018, https://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-speech-at-sais-building-a-global-democratic-movement-to-counter-authoritarianism. [44] Pew, “Key Opinion Findings on Trump, Putin and the Countries They Lead,” Pew Research Center, July 13, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/07/13/key-public-opinion-findings-on-trump-putin-and-the-countries-they-lead/. [45] Sanders, “Building a Global Democratic Movement to Counter Authoritarianism.” [46] Wright, “The Return to Great-Power Rivalry Was Inevitable.” [47] Wright, “The Return to Great-Power Rivalry Was Inevitable.” [48] “The ASD Policy Blueprint for Countering Authoritarian Interference in Democracies” from the German Marshall Fund, is perhaps the most comprehensive but not the only such policy document, co-authored by a key Hillary Clinton adviser, Laura Rosenberger, http://www.gmfus.org/publications/asd-policy-blueprint-countering-authoritarian-interference-democracies. [49] Observers tend to use “identity politics” to refer to the organizing efforts of different subgroups. Many use the term to refer primarily or exclusively to organizing among underprivileged groups. Francis Fukuyama offers a global critique in “Against Identity Politics,” Foreign Affairs, Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/americas/2018-08-14/against-identity-politics-tribalism-francis-fukuyama. On white identity politics, see Ashley Jardina, “White Identity Politics Isn’t Just About White Supremacy,” Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2017,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/08/16/white-identity-politics-isnt-just-about-white-supremacy-its-much-bigger/?utm_term=.64cd2f5a524e. [50] Domestically, the last two years have seen the creation of the “We Are Still In” climate coalition (https://www.wearestillin.com/) and increased focus on international affairs from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Internationally, forums have emerged, such as the European Union’s International Urban Cooperation, the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities, and the Global Covenant of Mayors. Sub-national entities are playing an expanded role in the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. [51] Bernie Sanders, “Building A Global Democratic Movement to Counter Authoritarianism,” Oct. 9, 2018, https://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-speech-at-sais-building-a-global-democratic-movement-to-counter-authoritarianism; Thomas Wright, “The Liberal International Order Must Be Replaced,” Atlantic, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/liberal-international-order-free-world-trump-authoritarianism/569881/; Dan Nexon, “Toward a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Sept. 4, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-09-04/toward-neo-progressive-foreign-policy; Kelly Magsamen, Max Bergmann, Michael Fuchs, and Trevor Sutton, “Securing a Democratic World,” Center for American Progress, Sept. 5, 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2018/09/05/457451/securing-democratic-world/. [52] Chris Murphy, “Rethinking the Battlefield,” Christ Murphy United States Senator for Conneticut, accessed Nov. 8, 2018, https://www.murphy.senate.gov/rethinking-the-battlefield. [53] Jennifer Harris, “Making Trade Address Inequality,” Democracy, March 12, 2018, https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/48/making-trade-address-inequality/. [54] Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen, “Clear and Present Safety,” Foreign Affairs, Feb. 21, 2012, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/2012-02-21/clear-and-present-safety. [55] Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, 2nd updated edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). [56] Rosella Capella Zielinski, “How U.S. Wars Abroad Increase Inequality At Home,” Foreign Affairs, Oct. 5, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-10-05/us-wars-abroad-increase-inequality-home. [57] Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, Department of Defense (January 2018):14, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [58] Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., “Posture Statement,” House Appropriations Committee Defense, June 15, 2017, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AP/AP02/20170615/106086/HHRG-115-AP02-Wstate-DunfordJ-20170615.pdf. [59] “Status of the Navy,” United States Navy, https://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=146; Gina Harkins, “355-Ship Navy Will Mean Extending Vessels Past Planned Lifespans: Admiral,” Military.com, Sept. 5, 2018, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/09/05/355-ship-navy-will-mean-extending-vessels-past-planned-lifespans-admiral.html; Oriana Pawlyk, “Air Force Wants to Surge Growth by More Than 70 New Squadrons,” Military.com, Sept. 17, 2018, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/09/17/air-force-wants-surge-growth-more-70-new-squadrons.html; Nafeesa Syeed and Chloe Whiteaker, “Army Buildup Confronts Headwinds of Tight Labor Market,” Stars and Stripes, March 13, 2018, https://www.stripes.com/news/army/army-buildup-confronts-headwinds-of-tight-labor-market-1.516499. [60] Loren DeJonge Schulman and Alice Friend, “The Pentagon’s Transparency Problem,” Foreign Affairs, May 2, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-05-02/pentagons-transparency-problem. [61] Bruce Blair, “Presidents Have Too Much Power over U.S. Nukes. Especially President Trump,” Washington Post, Aug. 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/presidents-have-too-much-power-over-us-nukes-especially-president-trump/2017/08/18/abd0041e-8363-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html. [62] Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess, “How Congress Can Take Back Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 7, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-11-07/how-congress-can-take-back-foreign-policy. [63] Phillip Carter, “What America Owes Its Veterans,” Foreign Affairs (September/October 2017), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2017-08-15/what-america-owes-its-veterans. [64] Chris Murphy, “We Must Demand Accountability for Saudi Arabia’s Behavior,” Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-must-demand-accountability-for-saudi-arabias-behavior/2018/10/15/b4b5ecc8-d0ac-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html. Former senior Obama administration officials have been instrumental in highlighting the failures of the previous policy and pushing for an end to support for the war. “Former Senior Obama Administration Officials Call For Halt to All U.S. Support for the War in Yemen,” National Security Action, Nov. 11, 2018, https://nationalsecurityaction.org/newsroom-blog/yemen-open-statement. [65] Margaret Sullivan, “Middle East Civilian Deaths Have Soared Under Trump. And the Media Mostly Shrug,” Washington Post, March 18, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/middle-east-civilian-deaths-have-soared-under-trump-and-the-media-mostly-shrug/2018/03/16/fc344968-2932-11e8-874b-d517e912f125_story.html. [66] Robert Work, “National Defense University Convocation,” Aug. 5, 2014, https://dod.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/605598/national-defense-university-convocation/; Robert Work, “The Third U.S. Offset Strategy and Its Implications for Partners and Allies,” Jan. 28, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/606641/the-third-us-offset-strategy-and-its-implications-for-partners-and-allies. [67] Andrew F. Krepinevich, “How to Deter China,” Foreign Affairs, Feb. 16, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-02-16/how-deter-china. [68] Bruce G Blair, with Jessica Sleight and Emma Claire Foley, The End of Nuclear Warfighting: Moving to a Deterrence-Only Posture (Princeton, NJ: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, September 2018), https://www.globalzero.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/anpr-180915-1736-1.pdf; Adam Mount, “The Case Against New Nuclear Weapons,” Center for American Progress, May 4, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2017/05/04/431833/case-new-nuclear-weapons/. [69] Jon Wolfsthal, “The Political and Military Vulnerability of America’s Land-Based Nuclear Missiles,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73, no. 3 (May 4, 2017): 150–53, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2017.1314996. [70] This essay was written at the close of the 2018 election cycle. While House Democrats, such as Congressman Adam Smith, have indicated a desire for a more robust national security oversight agenda, more time is needed to assess their success. Leo Shane III and Joe Gould, “The Military Could See Big Changes if Democrats Win Control of Congress,” Military Times, Oct. 23, 2018, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/10/23/the-military-could-see-big-changes-if-democrats-win-control-of-congress/. [71] “The Rhetorical Power of ‘Support Our Troops,’” Economist, Oct. 4, 2017, https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2017/10/04/the-rhetorical-power-of-support-our-troops; Paul Blumenthal, “Veterans Super PAC Funded by Jeff Bezos Pulls Ad that Attacked Democrat as Traitor Post-9/11,” Huffington Post, Oct. 25, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/brian-mast-lauren-baer-super-pac_us_5bd228b5e4b0a8f17ef5ca49. [72] For example, the “Better Deal” agenda put forward by then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gives little attention to national security matters: “A Better Deal,” Senate Democrats, https://www.democrats.senate.gov/abetterdeal [73] Zach Beauchamp, “Why Democrats Have No Foreign Policy Ideas,” Vox, Sept. 5, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/5/16220054/democrats-foreign-policy-think-tanks. [74] Michael Walzer, “A Foreign Policy for the Left,” Dissent Magazine (Spring 2014), https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/a-foreign-policy-for-the-left. [75] The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s “People’s Budget,” for example, offers some details in its Sustainable Defense proposal regarding modernizing forces for future threats, but is largely focused on non-defense activities: “The People’s Budget: A Progressive Path Forward FY 2019,” Congressional Progressive Caucus, https://cpc-grijalva.house.gov/uploads/Binder21.pdf. [76] For example, in his role on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain was both a forceful check on the Department of Defense and an energetic reformer, but few on either side of the aisle matched his enthusiasm and intolerance for BS: Joe Gould, “With McCain Gone, Who Will Watch the Pentagon,” Defense News, Aug. 31, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2018/08/31/with-mccain-gone-who-will-watch-the-pentagon/. Sens. Tim Kaine and Bob Corker have, after seventeen years, made minor headway in developing a revised Authorization for Use of Military Force — but even this watered down legislation has stalled: Scott R. Anderson and Molly E. Reynolds, “A Fast Track to Nowhere: ‘Expedited Procedures’ and the New AUMF Proposal,” Lawfare, April 19, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/fast-track-nowhere-expedited-procedures-and-new-aumf-proposal; Sens. Jeff Merkley, Mike Lee, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Murphy, among others, have likewise pushed their own replacements or restrictions on the current war authorization, to include restricting support for military operations in Yemen: “Sanders, Lee, Murphy Introduce War Powers Resolution to End Unauthorized U.S. Military Involvement in Yemen,” Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator for Vermont, Feb 28, 2018, https://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-lee-murphy-introduce-war-powers-resolution-to-end-unauthorized-us-military-involvement-in-yemen. [77] Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Day After Trump: American Grand Strategy and the New International Order,” Washington Quarterly 41, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 7–25, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2018.1445353. [78] Richard Fontaine and Vance Serchuk, “Congress Should Oversee America’s Wars, Not Just Authorize Them,” Lawfare, June 7, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/congress-should-oversee-americas-wars-not-just-authorize-them. [79] Tanisha M. Fazal and Sarah Kreps, “The United States’ Perpetual War in Afghanistan,” Foreign Affairs, Aug. 20, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/2018-08-20/united-states-perpetual-war-afghanistan?cid=soc-tw-rdr. [80] Daniella Diaz, “Key Senators Say They Didn’t Know the US Had Troops in Niger,” CNN, Oct. 23, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/23/politics/niger-troops-lawmakers/index.html [81] Anderson and Reynolds, “A Fast Track to Nowhere.” [82] Mara Karlin, “Policy Roundtable: The Pursuit of Military Superiority,” Texas National Security Review, June 26, 2018, https://tnsr.org/roundtable/policy-roundtable-the-pursuit-of-military-superiority/. [83] Robert Farley, “The LCS, Apple Pie, and Whatnot,” Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Jan. 4, 2011, http://lawyersgunsmon.wpengine.com/2011/01/the-lcs-apple-pie-and-what-not - comments. [84] Walzer, “A Foreign Policy for the Left.” [85] Susanna Blume, “Numbers Game: How the Air Force Is Following the Army and Navy’s Bad Example,” Defense News, Sept. 20, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/2018/09/20/numbers-game-how-the-air-force-is-following-the-army-and-navys-bad-example/. [86] Richard Fontaine and Vance Serchuk, “Congress Should Oversee America’s Wars, Not Just Authorize Them.” [87] Farley, “The LCS, Apple Pie, and Whatnot.” [88] Loren DeJonge Schulman and Alice Friend, “The Pentagon’s Transparency Problem,” Foreign Affairs, May 2, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-05-02/pentagons-transparency-problem. [89] U.S. Constitution, Preamble, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript. [90] “Global Warming of 1.5 ° C,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, October 2018, http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf. [91] On Russia’s fear of an America inspired color revolution, see Julia Ioffe, “What Putin Really Wants,” Atlantic, (January/February 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/putins-game/546548/. On China’s, see Gideon Rachman, “China’s Strange Fear of a Color Revolution,” Financial Times, Feb. 9, 2015, https://www.ft.com/content/9b5a2ed2-af96-11e4-b42e-00144feab7de. [92] David Barboza, “Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader,” New York Times, Oct. 25, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/business/global/family-of-wen-jiabao-holds-a-hidden-fortune-in-china.html?module=inline. [93] Darkened Screen: Constraints on Foreign Journalists in China, Pen America, Sept. 22, 2016, https://pen.org/sites/default/files/PEN_foreign_journalists_report_FINAL_online%5B1%5D.pdf; [94] Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media in China, Pen America, March 13, 2018, https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/PEN-America_Forbidden-Feeds-report-6.6.18.pdf. [95] “They Target My Human Rights Work as a Crime’: Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2016), Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 2017, https://www.nchrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/annual-report.pdf. [96] Peter Mattis, “Contrasting Russia and China’s Influence Operations,” War on The Rocks, Jan. 16, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/contrasting-chinas-russias-influence-operations/. [97] Peter Harrell, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Edoardo Saravalle, China’s Use of Coercive Economic Measures, The Center for a New America Security, (June 2018), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/chinas-use-of-coercive-economic-measures. [98] Christopher Balding, “Why Democracies Are Turning Against One Belt One Road,” Foreign Affairs, Oct. 24, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-10-24/why-democracies-are-turning-against-belt-and-road. [99] Theodore Piccone, China’s Long Game on Human Rights at the United Nations, Brookings Institution, (September 2018), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/FP_20181009_china_human_rights.pdf. [100] Peter Beinart, “Shield of the Republic: A New Democratic Foreign Policy,” Atlantic, Sept. 16, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/shield-of-the-republic-a-democratic-foreign-policy-for-the-trump-age/570010/. [101] See for instance, Barry Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015). [102] What is proposed here is a particular variant of a strategy of competing with China and Russia. This draws on Thomas Wright, All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and Future of American Power, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017); and Wright, “The Return to Great Power Competition Was Inevitable,” Atlantic, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/liberal-international-order-free-world-trump-authoritarianism/569881/. For examples of competitive strategies with a different emphasis see Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel, The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); and Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning,” Foreign Affairs, (February/ March 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-13/china-reckoning. [103] See for example, Daniel Bessner, “What Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Think About the South China Sea?” New York Times, Sept. 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/opinion/democratic-party-cortez-foreign-policy.html. [104] Jonathan Weissman and Ashley Parker, “Acceptance of Defense Cuts Signals Shift in GOP Focus,” New York Times, Feb. 24, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/us/politics/democrats-and-republicans-miscalculate-on-automatic-cuts.html. [105] Campbell and Ratner, “The China Reckoning.” See also Michael McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Table of Contents [contents] => 1. Prompt Essay: Wagering on a Progressive versus Liberal Theory of National Security, by Van Jackson 2. Back to Basics: The Core Goals a “Progressive” Foreign Policy Must Address, by Heather Hurlburt 3. Principles for a Progressive Defense Policy, by Adam Mount 4. Progressives Should Embrace the Politics of Defense, by Loren DeJonge Schulman 5. The Free-World Strategy Progressives Need, by Thomas Wright ) ) ) [post_count] => 2 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1261 [post_author] => 162 [post_date] => 2019-03-27 06:00:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-27 10:00:49 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: The Pitfalls of Seeking Security on the Cheap

By Jason Fritz   In the years since the United States deployed massive amounts of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in the early to late 2000s, it has changed tactics, relying upon local security forces to fight its enemies abroad in order to avoid the costs of large-scale military commitments. The United States provides security assistance on every continent except Antarctica, and to every country in the bottom quartile of fragile states, except for Eritrea and Syria.[1] Support to these local forces takes many forms, from simple train-and-equip missions, to acting in an advisory role, to training and educating foreign armies, to institutional and ministerial reform. The U.S. government has invested heavily in building the military capacity of fragile states because it is much cheaper to support developing militaries than it is for the United States to stabilize these countries itself. Yet, these efforts have produced mixed results at best. Mara Karlin, in her excellent new book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, proposes to explain under what conditions efforts to build partner capacity succeed and fail when the United States is attempting to stabilize a fragile state undergoing civil conflict — specifically, conflict that challenges the government’s monopoly on the use of force. Offering an elegant and parsimonious model, Karlin argues that there are two overarching variables that help a partner military achieve sustainable control over the state: the nature of U.S. involvement and the external threat environment. The former is determined by how the United States organizes the foreign military (for internal or external defense), the U.S. role in selecting key partner military leaders, and the ability of the United States to limit its involvement to assistance only and not become a party to the conflict. The external threat environment describes the role of external actors in the conflict. According to Karlin’s model, building a partner’s military capacity is more likely to be successful — measured as the partner’s monopoly of force within its borders — when American involvement is greater and the role of antagonistic external actors is decreased. Thus, when U.S. involvement is low and external antagonism is high, building partner capacity is expected to be a complete failure. The remaining two combinations lead to two different varieties of partial failure: When there is limited antagonistic influence but U.S. efforts are not fully engaged, insufficient progress is made toward securing a monopoly of force for the local government. Conversely, heavy U.S. involvement alongside significant external antagonism result in a spoiler effect where both actors — the United States and and the external antagonistic actor — cancel out the effect of the other. Karlin draws her empirical evidence from a number of historical case studies, relying on unique archival research and interviews. The exemplar case of building partner capacity is Greece in the late 1940s, an intervention in which U.S. military officers wielded great power over the personnel decisions and force structuring in the Greek military as a condition of assistance. Coupled with limited external support for the communist rebels, the U.S. assistance was extremely effective in defeating the insurgency. Alternatively, complete failure in such efforts is exemplified by U.S. intervention in South Vietnam in the late 1950s. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem refused to allow American interference in military leadership decisions. Instead, his paranoia led him to only appoint officers whose personal loyalty to him was unquestionable. American advisors continued to structure, equip, and train the South Vietnamese military to face external threats, while the insurgency — increasingly backed by North Vietnam — surged to unmanageable levels of capability. The assistance mission was a disaster, leading the United States to become more and more involved with direct military action, the consequences of which need no further discussion here. Karlin illustrates her model’s predictions of partial failure by examining two assistance programs in Lebanon. The first example was during Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1980s, when the United States was significantly involved in leadership decisions and force structuring in the country but was ultimately defeated by the destabilizing effects of proxy forces supported by Israel, Iran, and Syria. In this case, antagonistic external actors were able to overcome American attempts to improve the Lebanese military. The second example is from the subsequent U.S. efforts in the late 2000s after the withdrawal of the Syrian military from Lebanon. In this example, there were fewer outside actors pushing against U.S. efforts, but America failed to affect leadership decisions in the Lebanese military, which was unable to gain or maintain control over all of the state’s territory. Karlin’s model is not meant to apply to cases where the United States is a direct co-combatant in a civil conflict. As she notes, these are rare events, most notably Vietnam (post-1961), Afghanistan (post-2001), and Iraq (post-2003). Karlin explains, “the nature of U.S. programs to strengthen militaries during a massive occupation is harder to disentangle given the numerous other variables that exist.”[2] Nor is her model meant to apply to assistance that is focused on external defense. The measure of success in Karlin’s model is the ability to control the state’s territory, an outcome which does not apply in cases of state-on-state conflict. How Much Involvement Is Enough, and for Whom? In addition to the great explanatory power that Karlin’s two-dimensional model provides and the key questions she raises for any policymaker considering embarking on a partner capacity mission, her study provides a great starting point for a suite of additional studies, including exploring how much assistance is enough and how the recipient country’s legitimacy affects U.S. effectiveness. First, given that assistance recipients are often concerned about how much U.S. involvement to accept, it would be invaluable to explore how much U.S. involvement is enough — and no more. There is ample research on the reticence of countries receiving U.S. assistance in appearing to be clients of the American hegemon,[3] a point made by each of the reviewers below. A government seen as too cozy with the United States could easily be viewed as not legitimate by its people, endangering its ability to expand and maintain control over the entirety of the state. Understanding the effective limits of U.S. involvement — and how much antagonistic external meddling can be tolerated — is also important to the United States as it would help frame the challenges for individual assistance programs and create expectations about costs for decision-makers, Congress, and the public. It is also important to set expectations with partner governments so they can gauge how much involvement to expect, which, if communicated well, could limit accusations of clientelism to a foreign power. A second potential path for future research is the addition of a third dimension to Karlin’s model, also discussed by Walter Ladwig below: the recipient government’s legitimacy. While measuring legitimacy remains a squishy endeavor, the reality is that some governments cannot be helped regardless of how much involvement the United States may offer or how little outside assistance insurgencies receive. Autocratic regimes that undertake coup-proofing measures with their military will not accept American influence on leadership decisions no matter what the United States does: the weakness of their military is essential in maintaining their rule. Karlin’s case study in South Vietnam illustrates just this; however, Karlin identified the American advisors as the explanatory variable, not the very nature of Diem’s rule, which precluded any serious U.S. involvement. Moreover, in fragile states the government is often created by divvying public goods among warlords or other powerful elites, who would otherwise be in conflict with one another, in order to create a coalition.[4] Such coalitions are sensitive to changes in the power dynamics resulting from U.S. involvement. Replacing key military leaders may make the military a more capable force, but it degrades the political power structures that undergird the existence of the government. Assistance in this case is doomed to fail, as is the case in Afghanistan. And while some governments may or may not engage in coup-proofing or in efforts to maintain shaky political coalitions, their actions nevertheless prevent them from building legitimacy despite U.S. involvement in leadership decisions and force structuring. Such actions typically entail political exclusion or repression, both of which were on display in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. Instances where the recipient government seeking stability may be a major source of fragility warrant the inclusion of a third dimension that considers the nature and actions of the recipient government. The Unlikelihood of Success Karlin, an exceptional academic who was also a senior official in the Department of Defense, examines security assistance deftly, with the rigor of a scholar and the practicality of a practitioner. The three reviewers in this roundtable — Walter Ladwig, Tommy Ross, and Loren DeJonge Shulman — each express agreement with Karlin’s model, but remain skeptical in the entire endeavor of building partner militaries. They focus on different points of failure for these missions, but think policymakers would be well served if America’s leaders in the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom analyzed each case according to the questions posed in Karlin’s conclusion. However, if policymakers were to rigorously analyze each mission as Karlin suggests, the reviewers are skeptical that U.S. partners would be up to the task, that the U.S. government is organized to build partner militaries, or that exogenous forces can be adequately deterred. In any of these cases, they expect the United States to be more likely to fail in these missions than not. Ladwig focuses his review on the recipient government and its propensity to accept outside involvement. He cites a number of studies that identify the partner government itself as the greatest obstacle to achieving state control and subsequent stability. Ladwig identifies that the country offering assistance and the recipient governments may have differing objectives that preclude the unity of effort necessary for deep outside involvement. Additionally, Ladwig points out that because assistance is an inherently political act, it may upset the political coalitions of the state, using the second Lebanon case as an example. Ultimately, Ladwig argues that although Karlin’s book is an excellent start, additional dimensions should also be explored when considering what makes for a successful foray into building partner capacity. Ross and DeJonge Schulman both acknowledge that building partner capacity has become America’s default response to fragile states, largely because it is cheaper than direct combat involvement. However, they also question whether the U.S. government is organized to conduct such assistance operations effectively. Ross notes that within the military, foreign assistance is marginalized — the U.S. government has invested little to create the capacity to conduct partner capacity missions at a scale commensurate with demand. Similarly, DeJonge Schulman doubts the ability of policymakers to fully analyze any specific mission adequately, per Karlin’s conclusion, in an environment where the operational tempo often precludes obtaining a rigorous understanding of the political conditions in the country in question. Furthermore, she is concerned about the existence of expertise at the country level, something that is necessary in order for the United States to make deep involvement effective (a point also made by Ross). Finally, Ross focuses in on the role of external actors more deeply. In his analysis, Karlin’s model treats antagonistic external actors as exogenous to the internal conflict and U.S. influence. This is undoubtedly for the sake of parsimony. But Ross argues that U.S. actions can both limit and inspire external actions, a point that is underexplored in Karlin’s model and case analysis. He notes that the United States has “an underdeveloped suite of tools available to confront the activities of adversarial actors in a third country” and that U.S. planners may not be aware of the few tools that do exist. Ross ultimately proposes this as an additional area of exploration in future research. Each of the reviewers acknowledges that assistance to foreign militaries has been a key aspect of U.S. security efforts in fragile states for nearly 20 years, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. And yet, the United States has not had a great record in using that assistance to create stability in states of great strategic interest, particularly in the Middle East and throughout Africa. Karlin’s book provides a practical analytical path to predict the success of such assistance efforts. While scholars can enjoy the elegant model she presents and the lines of research the model uncovers, policymakers would be well advised to read and abide by the principles she lays out.   Jason Fritz is a senior research analyst and project manager in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Advanced Academic Programs.  

2. The Politics of Security Assistance to Fragile States

By Walter C. Ladwig III   Reflecting the change in U.S. security strategy from direct intervention in internal conflicts to working “by, with, and through” local partners to manage internal security challenges, in recent years there has been a marked increase in the academic literature on security force assistance. Mara Karlin’s recent book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, makes a significant contribution to this growing field of study, as well as our understanding of the conditions necessary for American military assistance programs to achieve their objectives. Specifically, the book seeks to understand when, why, and under what circumstances U.S. programs to strengthen partner militaries for internal defense have succeeded. Both during the Cold War and today, military assistance has been a key tool in America’s diplomatic tool kit, yet as Karlin notes, “the U.S. track record for building militaries in fragile state is uneven at best.”[5] What accounts for this outcome? Blending a scholar’s detachment with the real-world insights of a senior Pentagon official, Karlin concludes that the limited impact of most security assistance programs is the result of a failure to properly conceive of the true scope of the undertaking. All too often, the task of strengthening a partner’s military is seen as a narrow technical undertaking focused on the provision of equipment and training. When these efforts fail to achieve the desired results, the answer is to simply provide more equipment and more training. Instead, Building Militaries in Fragile States contends that training and equipment on their own will only contribute marginally to military effectiveness if the armed forces receiving assistance suffer from poor organization and dysfunctional leadership. Consequently, Karlin argues that efforts to transform the recipient military, rather than simply supplying it with material and instruction, are the hallmark of efficacious security assistance missions. Success in this endeavor will be determined by the actions taken by the United States as well as by those of external powers that seek to destabilize the fragile state. In particular, efforts to strengthen the militaries of fragile states will succeed in achieving a monopoly on violence within the country’s borders when the following conditions are met: 1) American officials involve themselves in the partner’s “sensitive military matters,” such as the appointment of senior personnel and the organizational structure of the armed forces; and 2) The efforts of hostile external powers to bolster insurgents or undermine the fragile state are deterred or moderated. Conversely, when the United States shies away from trying to influence a state’s higher-level defense policies and antagonistic external actors run rampant, security assistance missions are poised for catastrophic failure. Karlin tests the explanatory power of this two-variable formulation by examining four case studies: U.S. involvement in the Greek Civil War (1947–1949); assistance to the armed forces of South Vietnam between 1956 and 1960; and two distinct efforts to strengthen the Lebanese army, from 1982 to 1984 (Lebanon I) and again from 2005 to 2009 (Lebanon II). She utilizes extensive archival research and copious interviews with senior policymakers to provide an impressive depth of insight into American efforts in each of the cases. In the most successful of the four assistance efforts examined in Karlin’s book, the Joint U.S. Military Assistance and Planning Group under Gen. James Van Fleet exercised considerable influence over the personnel policy and structure of the Greek armed forces. This occurred alongside internecine struggles in the communist world that led Yugoslavia to cut off support for the Communist Party of Greece (Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδας) and deny their guerrillas sanctuary. The end result was a Greek military that was highly capable of carrying out the foreign internal defense mission and wielded uncontested sovereignty throughout the country’s territory. Vietnam sits at the opposite end of the spectrum where the U.S. Military Assistance Group under Gen. Samuel “Hanging Sam” Williams steadfastly focused on the technical aspects of rendering assistance to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and purposely avoided attempts to influence personnel policy or organizational structures of the South Vietnamese military. Moreover, a misplaced focus on preparing South Vietnam’s army for interstate warfare did little to develop its capacity to respond to North Vietnam’s increasing support for armed guerrillas in the south. The failure of this early security assistance effort set the stage for the subsequent U.S. intervention to bolster a succession of fledgling governments in Saigon. The two cases out of Lebanon demonstrate partial failures, with American efforts to reform the local armed forces countered by external support for opposition armed groups in one case (Lebanon I), and America’s failure to capitalize on the diminishing role of antagonistic external actors by intrusively intervening in the sensitive military affairs of the country generating sub-optimal results in the other (Lebanon II). Not all Countries Are Interested in Cooperation The real strength of Karlin’s contribution is in advancing an analytical framework that focuses on the agency and the actions of the supporting and opposing external powers. In this manner, politics takes center stage in determining the efficacy of security assistance efforts, rather than more mundane technical aspects of the undertaking. Karlin makes a convincing case that American policymakers tend to err by viewing the task of building partner militaries narrowly through the lens of training and equipping the forces, rather than engaging with broader questions of organizational structure and leadership that are so critical to enhancing military effectiveness.[6] In calling for security assistance efforts to be conceived more broadly, Building Militaries in Fragile States makes an important argument. At the same time, however, in privileging the politics and agency of external actors this approach neglects those same factors when it comes to the local partner. Although governments of weak states are sometimes portrayed as being puppets or pawns of major powers, they often prove to be savvy and strategic political actors who can, at times, succeed in advancing their own interests at the expense of their more powerful partners. Consequently, the mere willingness on the part of the United States to involve itself in a partner state’s sensitive military affairs is only part of the issue. The local partner’s willingness to allow such an intrusion and to accept American guidance is just as important, if not more so. The history of U.S. efforts to train and equip foreign militaries suggests that such compliance cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, there is a strand of literature dating back to the 1970s that identifies America’s partner governments as the principal obstacle to developing local militaries for internal security missions.[7] Although willing to accept U.S. military aid and training, local governments can be resistant to undertaking the kinds of transformational re-organizations that would improve military effectiveness, in part, because they often mistrust their own military. Governments that do not exercise a monopoly on violence within their territory and need significant external assistance to build military capacity typically suffer from a myriad of problems, like economic stagnation, incompetence, lack of legitimacy, abusive treatment of the population, or all of the above. The particular terrorist or insurgent group motivating U.S. involvement in a country’s internal security may be just one potential threat to the local regime’s hold on power, with additional challenges posed by rival elites or even the armed forces themselves. These different threat perceptions can lead the United States and a partner government to have different policy priorities, which can, in turn, undermine the effectiveness of U.S. security assistance. Consequently, advice to streamline the military chain of command or to appoint senior leaders on the basis of ability rather than political allegiance makes sense in terms of improving military effectiveness, but such actions can also appear reckless, if not downright suicidal, to the government in question. Instead, savvy leaders will ensure that the military is too divided to mount a coup, employ patronage to buy off rival elites, and centralize power in the hands of trusted loyalists, all of which is likely to diminish military effectiveness.[8] The potential for divergent preferences is amply illustrated in Karlin’s “Lebanon II” case, where the United States wanted the Lebanese government to be able to exert control over all of its territory, but the administration in Beirut prioritized maintaining its modus vivendi with Hezbollah over exercising complete sovereignty. When attempting to build military capacity in a fragile state, how likely is it that Washington’s preferences and those of a partner government will diverge? Available evidence suggests this will be a fairly common occurrence. As Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker have noted, many of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan, are plagued by corruption, dalliances with terrorist groups, or gross human rights abuses, while other U.S. partners are among the most significant sources of foreign fighters for the so-called Islamic State.[9] Barbara Elias’ study of the demands the United States made to the Iraqi and Afghan governments it was supporting in counterinsurgency efforts found that 50 percent of American requests for military reforms in Iraq went unfulfilled and that the Afghan government’s compliance rate with U.S. suggestions regarding its military strategy was below 25 percent.[10] Indeed, in these two cases local partners pursued domestic policies that subverted U.S. security objectives. An inability to restrain Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian agenda, for example, prevented the military gains from the 2007 surge from being translated into positive political outcomes and laid the foundation for the rise of the Islamic State. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s use of patronage politics was seen as a form of corruption, undercutting public support for the very government that U.S. and NATO forces were trying to assist. As commander of the U.S. military advisory group, Gen. Van Fleet was clearly right to push the Greek government to cashier ineffective senior officers, restructure its armed forces, and adjust its military doctrines. It is less clear, however, that the United States will often find a government as receptive as the Greeks were to their patron’s interventions. Not only did Van Fleet forge a close working relationship with his counterparts, as Karlin recounts, “the Greek government sought to wholly cooperate with the Americans.”[11] It goes far beyond the remit of Karlin’s book to determine why the Greek government was so willing to countenance American intrusion in sensitive military affairs, however, perceptions of the communist insurgency as the primary threat to the regime, coupled with a trust in the loyalty of the armed forces and unity among Greek elites would seem to be likely explanations. In any event, the situation was far different in South Vietnam where — despite the worsening internal security situation — the Diem government took active steps to limit the effectiveness of the army and ensured that the primary target of the intelligence services was not the growing insurgency, but rather non-communist political dissidents. Why? Because the army and political rivals were seen to be as great a threat to South Vietnam’s government as the Viet Cong. Even if Gen. Williams and his group of military advisors had wished to involve themselves in South Vietnam’s sensitive military affairs, would a government that had tightly centralized control over all aspects of defense, security, and economic policy in the office of the president readily welcome the council of American interlocutors? The rich historical detail in the Vietnam case study suggests that Ngo Dinh Diem would have exerted significant energy to thwart such efforts, as he did in fact do in the early 1960s.[12] It may be the case that some future American partners will be as welcoming as the Greeks, however, the history of U.S. security assistance efforts in Vietnam and Lebanon reviewed in this book should disabuse anyone of the expectation that unconditional cooperation will be the norm. Questions About U.S. Partners In the conclusion, Karlin outlines eight questions a policymaker should consider before initiating an effort to strengthen the military of a fragile state. Pondering these issues before commencing any security assistance mission will indeed help ensure that such an undertaking takes account of broader political military matters affecting military effectiveness, rather than concentrating narrowly on training and equipping foreign forces. The majority of these questions, however, focus on either the U.S. government or the antagonistic external actor. As the preceding discussion indicates, it is necessary to subject the local partner to the same type of scrutiny. What does the partner government see as its primary security threat? Does it trust the armed forces or see them as a potential rival? Is enhancing the military’s effectiveness a key goal for the local regime? Will American involvement in sensitive military affairs be welcomed or resisted? If the answers to these questions point to significant divergences in priorities or preferences between the United States and a partner, should the United States attempt to compel changes in the local government’s behavior through rewards or punishments or should it simply walk away? The answer to this latter question will vary from situation to situation, nevertheless, policymakers should give it real consideration before rendering security assistance to a fragile state. That such issues go beyond Karlin’s analytical framework is not a critique of Building Militaries in Fragile States, but rather an indication of the multi-dimensional challenges posed by security force assistance. Building effective military organizations can be difficult enough in one’s own state. These challenges are only compounded when seeking to enhance the effectiveness of another country’s armed forces. Mara Karlin makes an extremely valuable contribution to the growing literature on security force assistance by articulating a two-dimensional framework that can help assess when an effort to build a partner’s military is likely to be successful. Well written, deeply researched, and incorporating the perspectives of both a scholar and a practitioner, Building Militaries in Fragile States should be widely read by those in the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and on Capitol Hill who fund, execute, and oversee America’s extensive military assistance programs.   Walter C. Ladwig III is an associate professor of international relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and the author of The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017).  

3. To Remind You of My Love: Reforming the Impulsive Affection of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Militaries

By Loren DeJonge Schulman   The movie Downfall, about the final days of Adolf Hitler, contains a scene that has been turned into countless memes with various subtitles. In the original, Hitler learns that the defeat of Germany is imminent and explodes at his senior generals. My favorite meme is titled, “Hitler Learns About Sequestration”: The madman is informed of the imminence of the enormous budget cut and laments the loss of military superiority, crying “What are we going to do, build partner capacity?”[13] In her recent book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, Mara Karlin explores America’s history with capacity building missions and considers how it fits a world of limited defense resources. In the eyes of policymakers I have worked with, efforts to build partner capacity lie somewhere between a magical antidote to all of America’s security problems and an inevitable — and less expensive — back-up date. Respected leaders have hailed building the security capacity of U.S. allies and partners as “a key and enduring test of America’s global leadership in the 21st century,”[14] consistent with its history and ideological underpinnings. Put more bluntly, Karlin notes up front that “[t]he United States faces a long-term decline in defense spending going forward” and “U.S. direct military intervention [to bolster fragile states] is politically unacceptable.” Thus, America needs a way to pursue its security interests on the cheap, and “building partner militaries is one key way to do so.”[15] Karlin goes on to make the case that the United States needs to learn from how it has pursued this form of security assistance in the past and examine what factors contribute to and take away from its mid-term success. Her takeaways are clear and approachable: “If the United States gets deeply involved in a partner state’s sensitive military affairs and if antagonist external actors play a diminishing role, then the partner state military is more likely to establish internal defense.[16] Her checklist of questions for policymakers to consider before they engage in such operations in the future are sensible and to the point: What is the purpose of the program, what is the potential for the United States holding influence over the partner military, and how unified is the U.S. vision of the program?[17] Policymakers reading Karlin’s book may feel reassured that this is the how-to guide for intelligently building partner militaries that they have been waiting for, and it is, no doubt, the best and simplest advice I have seen in the literature. Just Say "No" However, having spent many of the same years as Karlin in the Pentagon and Situation Room considering how to support partner militaries and how to establish a U.S. policy framework for doing so, I have an alternative takeaway from Karlin’s sophisticated research and analysis: Don’t do it. Don’t build partner military capacity in vulnerable states. Don’t even think about it unless you are willing to spend an immense amount of time directly involved in a foreign military’s most sensitive decisions. And don’t do it unless you are painfully honest about the goals of the program. However, if you must engage in such an effort, policymakers should lower their expectations substantially regarding the scope and timeframe that the U.S. program is expected to have. Karlin is candid about the high barriers to success in her recommended approach and explores in detail how the United States does not typically pursue capacity-building missions how it ought to: with leaders who are highly invested and who give the necessary time to establish deep involvement in the effort. She takes it as a given, however, that these programs will continue and, thus, should be radically altered or pursued with much less optimistic outlooks than in the past — a logical assessment. But having seen firsthand how policymakers initiate and oversee such programs, I have grown deeply skeptical that they can ever set themselves up for success. Rather than seeing it as a simple handbook, I would rather policymakers view Karlin’s research as a cautionary tale with a high price tag. Karlin’s lead finding is that programs that aim to build partner militaries in fragile states require that the United States get deeply involved in the partner’s sensitive military affairs — this includes who is appointed within the security apparatus, what those leaders do, how they organize, and more.[18] Intimate involvement, time commitment, deep and ongoing participation by the right senior U.S. personnel, these are all prerequisites to an effective program based on her analysis of the case studies. The cases themselves make for compelling storytelling and Karlin’s extensive personal experience in the policy field shines through in the nuances she identifies as critical learning points for her readers. The importance of persistent, intensive, and even intrusive participation by the United States in these programs is clear in each chapter. The problem is that such commitment is effectively what U.S. policymakers are hoping to avoid by pursuing such capacity-building programs. “Building partner capacity ... remains important. Whenever possible,” the 2012 Defense Strategy reads, “we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our strategy objectives.”[19] While policymakers are drawn to capacity-building missions as a way to avoid putting U.S. forces at risk, in my experience, they are also attracted to solutions that minimize their own intellectual and calendar resources. Put bluntly: Policymakers often like capacity building because it feels like a press release-worthy way to kick the “risk can” down the road without a lot of wrangling on their part. What Karlin proposes is not easily delegable by senior policymakers, diplomats, and service-members in the way that a standard train-and-equip program typically is. Nor would it be a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Such efforts, particularly if America were to engage in personnel management of the partner country, would regularly demand uncomfortable conversations and negotiations. That may be possible, but serious policymakers should ask themselves if such efforts are realistic or reasonable. U.S. security sector assistance programs are already hindered by inadequate investment in or distribution of relevant expertise. When such expertise is available, personnel rotations limit the necessary investment in in building relationships and intimate familiarity with the partner government that Karlin’s suggestions would require.[20] Recent reforms — such as the decades-late security force assistance brigades and the regionally aligned forces model introduced by the Army in 2013[21] — make a small dent in an overwhelming demand for expert personnel, yet they were strongly resisted by the institutional military. Under Karlin’s approach, leaders and forces with regional expertise would be under even higher demand because of the high level of sophistication needed to engage partner countries on all elements of their leadership, force structure, and operations. She acknowledges this approach is unsettling because it smacks of colonialism.[22] It also requires a partner country with the willingness to tolerate inevitable tensions in this relationship. Karlin writes that “healthy skepticism about the U.S. ability to do all these things is warranted.”[23] Yet, understanding what is required to produce a successful capacity-building mission is often at odds with how the United States goes about deciding to build partner militaries. While such programs have a thousand fathers and mothers, in my experience in government, they are often born out of a crisis in which the U.S. government feels under pressure to do something — anything — to assist or respond, but not overly commit or risk U.S. personnel. In such instances, U.S. senior policymakers expediting these decisions are not spending a lot of time trying to understand the scope of their overall commitment, the long-term costs, and the availability of the right personnel. Nor are they even designing long-term goals. Too often, deputies around the table in the Situation Room are clamoring to just announce some kind of program and show a transport plane offloading brigades and pallets to remind the partner of America’s love. Swimming Against the Tide Karlin is, of course, right that the U.S. government can and should do better. Her checklist of questions that senior policymakers must ask before initiating such a program is well aligned with the presidential policy directive on U.S. security sector assistance developed over many years (including by the author of this review) in the Obama administration.[24] In producing this document, many earnest wonks, such as myself, attempted to apply a systematic logic to initiating, overseeing, evaluating, and ending capacity-building programs — starting with understanding why, exactly, anyone would want to embark on one given the mixed track record. Karlin establishes the broad desired outcome of such missions as the partner state having a more enforced and sustainable monopoly on violence — a logical and sound proposal.[25] Realistically, although they do not always admit to it, policymakers consider several reasons for initiating such programs, from building capacity as Karlin proposes, to maintaining and strengthening U.S. access and influence, to enhancing U.S.-partner interoperability, to promoting partner support for U.S. interests.[26] Such objectives may align in implementing a capacity-building effort or may wildly diverge as time goes on. They may also contradict with the objectives of other national security institutions at the outset — typically, the Department of State seeks a long-term, placating effort while the Department of Defense drives a short-term, self-interested program. Policymakers may also lean too heavily on near-term objectives that suit urgent U.S. security interests. Or they may demand the kind of long-term attention that is rare in U.S. foreign policy contexts. While Karlin — and the drafters of the security assistance policy directive — are right to insist on unity of vision at the outset, it must be acknowledged that in practice that does not often happen in U.S. security sector assistance today.[27] Karlin closes her book by stating that there are times when it will not be possible to transform a partner’s security sector, and in such cases, the United States should either pursue train-and-equip programs while significantly lowering expectations or avoid such programs altogether.[28] This is necessary medicine. But the rhetoric around building partner capacity and the urgent need for more train-and-equip programs across the globe over the last two decades suggests this will not be an easy pill to swallow. While I am hopeful Karlin’s lessons on the real need for humility in any effort to transform another state will sink in, I recall the eagerness and desperation that surrounded initiating these programs and expanding them over the last two decades. Every year I served in government, the combatant commanders complained to the president or the secretary of defense that they needed to train-and-equip partners more and that the State Department was getting in the way.[29] Every month, a partner complained that U.S. efforts were too slow, too underwhelming, too unrelated to their security needs, too bureaucratic. Every year, the solution to these challenges was more, faster, and even more yet — rarely with a consideration of why and to what end. Few considered that there was a reason why the U.S. government built in hurdles to sharing weapons systems and tactical knowledge with other countries. I remain concerned that the United States will not lower its expectations and raise its standards for these capacity-building missions, but rather will drive an increasingly hectic pace. Karlin offers thoughtful ideas for future research that deserve attention, to which I would add two.[30] First, in her book she emphasizes the need for the United States to carefully and regularly consider under what conditions it might become a co-combatant with a partner military to address the original security challenge. Reading this book in light of U.S. operations in Yemen and Niger made me wonder: Where does one cross the line from typical assistance to co-combatancy?[31] U.S. advise and accompany missions surely come close. Put another way, what is the line between providing enablers — logistics, intelligence, fuel — and co-combatancy? And most importantly, does traditional American security assistance, often aimed at short-term U.S. security interests, in any way incentivize these steps toward co-combatancy? Secondly, it’s worth exploring whether some of the most desirable elements of building partner capacity — its relative low cost and small U.S. footprint — have lent themselves to a commensurate level of oversight at both the executive and legislative levels. Each branch has pursued more effective monitoring and evaluation efforts, though it’s yet unclear whether this has resulted in fundamental changes to these programs. The true test will be, to paraphrase my old boss Bob Gates, when, if ever, America stops a program due to low return on investment.[32] Building partner military capacity is, at its heart, an optimistic mission set, filled with the American can-do spirit that, with hard work, things can get markedly better. This optimism is well intended, but should be governed by experience. Karlin’s book provides those lessons and adds enormously to a literature on capacity building that is far too small, given the place of this mission in U.S. security strategy. With her personal experience, relatable storytelling, and blunt assessments, her study punches above its concise and readable weight in a way that is approachable to policymakers and vital to scholars.   Loren DeJonge Schulman is the deputy director of studies at the Center for a New American Security. She held senior staff positions at the White House National Security Council and Department of Defense.  

4. When Building Militaries Goes Wrong: A Look at Yemen

By Tommy Ross   In September 2014, thousands of Houthi insurgents poured into the streets of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, winning a decisive victory over the Yemeni military they had fought for years in the country’s northern provinces. Up to that point, Yemen’s government and military had been challenged on two main fronts: by Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the north and by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists to the east. As the Houthis swept through Sanaa, the United States government — the Yemeni military’s chief backer — saw its strategy against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s valued proxies and al Qaeda’s most effective offshoot crumble in the wreckage. Yemen’s collapse left the United States scrambling to pick up the pieces: Yemen represented a battleground against two threats — al Qaeda and Iran — that topped America’s list of national security priorities. Seeing few other options, the United States quickly cast its lot with a coalition of Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, that were mounting a military campaign against the Houthis that is ongoing. In shifting its efforts from building the capacity of the Yemeni military to providing aid and operational support to the Saudi-led coalition, the United States remained engaged, but at a cost to both its objectives and its principles:[33] The coalition’s poor tactics and disregard for civilian lives have “exacerbated the terrible conditions of Yemen’s civil war, characterized as the ‘worst humanitarian disaster’ in nearly 50 years.”[34] America had invested robustly in Yemen’s military leading up to its collapse: Yemen had become the leading recipient of the Defense Department’s “1206” counterterrorism capacity-building assistance program.[35] U.S. security assistance programs collectively spent over half a billion dollars to enhance Yemen’s military capacity in the five years (Fiscal Years 2010–2014) leading up to the Houthi victory.[36] The U.S. government had also pursued robust diplomatic engagement with Yemeni leaders to drive its national political dialogue and urge military restructuring, so much so that the U.S. ambassador during the period, Gerald Feierstein, was commonly referred to as “Sheikh Feierstein” in Yemeni political circles[37]. And the United States maintained a substantial military presence in Yemen, with over 100 troops based in the country to pursue counter-terrorism operations and train Yemeni forces.[38] On paper, the U.S. effort in Yemen seemed sound: It invested substantial capacity-building resources, sustained diplomatic attention to, and military engagement with, key Yemeni counterparts, maintained consistent effort over several years, and even sought to ground its approach in a whole-of-government strategy that designed military assistance in concert with civilian capacity-building and humanitarian aid initiatives.[39] And yet, the Yemeni military floundered, unable to make meaningful gains against al Qaeda before succumbing to the Houthi advance. So what went wrong? Building Militaries in Fragile States, the excellent new volume by Mara Karlin, offers an important analytical lens through which to view efforts like the U.S. military capacity-building initiative in Yemen, as well as a framework to help policymakers avoid similar outcomes in the future. It examines historical cases studies — in post-World War II Greece, 1950s South Vietnam, and two separate periods of engagement in Lebanon — to draw lessons about where U.S. assistance initiatives have failed, what elements have been vital ingredients of success, and what lessons may be most relevant to future initiatives. “When, why, and under what circumstances,” her book asks, “have U.S. efforts to build partner militaries for internal defense succeeded?”[40] The timeliness and relevance of such a book should be immediately apparent but, in an era of growing unilateralist sentiments and declining aid budgets, perhaps it deserves emphasizing. Even as U.S. national security strategies have shifted focus toward lofty ideas about prevailing in great-power competitions with China and Russia through the development of break-through technologies and the adoption of new ways of warfighting, the fact remains that partner military capacity-building is the go-to strategic option for confronting myriad national security threats around the world. Some form of capacity building occupies a central position in U.S. approaches to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region of Africa, and al Shabaab in Somalia, as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Iranian proxies in Yemen. It is an essential element in the U.S. strategy in Ukraine, and plays an important role in countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea region. In fact, it is hard to find a single going concern in the current U.S. security landscape in which capacity building does not feature prominently. And this picture represents a trend, not an aberration. As Karlin notes,
the United States will surely continue attempting to strengthen partner militaries. The increasingly decentralized international environment and America’s weakening global economic position coupled with the proliferation of fragile states and transnational threats will further ensure its reliance on this approach.[41]
And yet, despite America’s strategic dependence on capacity-building, there is scant evidence that it understands how to do it effectively. Numerous recent studies have highlighted the mixed track record of U.S. capacity-building initiatives, and many have underscored substantial gaps in the policies, doctrine, and best practices shaping these initiatives.[42] “The theory on strengthening partner militaries in weak states,” as Karlin puts it, “can best be described as an ‘undeveloped’ concept whose history is less positive than its vision.”[43] Karlin’s work makes a valuable contribution toward strengthening the underpinnings of this theory. She argues that two factors will most determine the success or failure of a capacity-building effort: “if the United States gets deeply involved in the partner state’s sensitive military affairs, and if antagonistic external actors play a diminishing role, then the partner state military is more likely to establish internal defense.”[44] Unquestionably, other variables — level of effort, duration and consistency, partner stability, program execution — will influence an initiative’s outcome, but Karlin’s two factors are indeed critical, and deserve closer scrutiny. The Politics of Building Military Capacity One of the more important insights of Karlin’s work is that building military capacity is fundamentally a political activity: “by emphasizing training and equipment and by distancing itself from key political issues,” the United States “wastes time, effort, and resources.”[45] In her view, the remedy is for America to become “deeply involved in the partner state military’s sensitive affairs — influencing personnel and organization.” One might conceive of this deep political engagement along two lines: exerting influence on individual partner decisions, such as those relating to personnel assignments, and exhorting or facilitating systemic reforms of the institutional processes, policies, and structures that organize a partner’s defense enterprise. Karlin’s strong emphasis is on the former, and she carefully documents how U.S. involvement in personnel decisions shaped the outcomes of interventions in Greece, South Vietnam, and Lebanon. For anyone who has observed the success of U.S. military initiatives fluctuate as top leaders in key roles have changed, her observation is intuitively compelling. Yet, a heavy-handed focus on personnel decisions brings risk. As Karlin herself acknowledges, “Such involvement is rife with colonial undertones,” adding that “Sovereign backlash and resentment on the part of the partner state over the intrusive U.S. role may be a challenge.”[46] Her account of the selection of Gen. Alexander Papagos to lead Greece’s military offers one such example, illustrated by his refusal to accept the job unless the United States committed to taking a diminished role in Greek affairs. Moreover, when the United States is overly involved in personnel decisions, a partner’s responsibility for and accountability to its own chain of command can be undermined, as top leaders risk being seen as U.S. puppets. These risks should not suggest that America avoid opining on personnel assignments, but its approach must be carefully calibrated based on the broader context of the relationship. Perhaps a more promising area for the kind of deep engagement Karlin advocates is institutional reform. As her study highlights, institutional reform played a key role in each case study she presents: The United States drove force restructuring, supported operational planning, provided professional military education, and built systemic logistics capacity as ways of building the capabilities of defense institutions to steer, support, and sustain military operations in the field. Bad decisions about how to approach institutional reforms were as consequential in South Vietnam and Lebanon as were good decisions in Greece. While Karlin often challenges the conceptual foundations and practical outcomes of security sector reform, her views on the importance of organizational considerations converge with lessons emerging from the community of practitioners over the last several years. Practitioners have increasingly recognized the importance of strong political institutions to the success of capacity-building. For example, the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness asserted that, for aid recipients, “The capacity to plan, manage, implement, and account for results of policies and programmes, is critical” to achieving aid objectives — a principle confirmed three years later in the Accra Agenda for Action.[47] The U.S. Department of Defense has embraced institutional capacity-building as a key element of its own capacity-building activities, at least in theory, in recently issued policy and doctrine.[48] Yet, while some progress has been made in expanding U.S. attention to strengthening institutions in practice, as a discipline, it remains at the margins of the government’s security sector capacity-building activities. Indeed, the failure to invest in strengthening institutions was a key contributor to the failure of broader capacity-building efforts in Yemen, an example that illustrates the distinction between influencing sensitive military decisions and driving institutional reform. Without question, the United States engaged on personnel issues, persistently advocating for the removal of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s family members, who remained in key defense posts. However, while America welcomed institutional reform efforts to the military made by Saleh’s successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, it avoided providing any substantial technical support for those reforms. Moreover, the focus on ousting undesirable personnel crowded out necessary institutional reforms, such as addressing “retirement and rotation of generals, the ghost soldier issue [wherein personnel rosters were inflated with imaginary soldiers to facilitate corruption], and the balancing of units in terms of both size and equipment,” leaving Yemen’s military “a side-lined shell of an institution.”[49] When it comes to institutional capacity building and influencing partner decision making alike, the United States is unlikely to achieve successful outcomes through phone calls and fly-in meetings. Rather, as Karlin’s case studies demonstrate, boots on the ground are essential. A 400-person strong Joint U.S. Military Advisory and Planning Group oversaw engagement in Greece; in South Vietnam, a Military Assistance Advisory Group of nearly 350 personnel was augmented by a Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission of another 350 personnel; in Lebanon, over 100 military personnel were deployed in support of capacity-building efforts at their 1983 peak. The U.S. military conducted the mid-2000s effort in Lebanon, on the other hand, with only a small permanent detachment and without a dedicated senior officer overseeing the effort, leading to a limited effort with limited impact. This history underscores a key question: How should the United States organize and deploy personnel to guide high-priority capacity-building missions? Currently, outside of contingency environments, the U.S. approach is incoherent and insufficient. The military is neither structured nor paced to meet the demands of deep engagement with partner militaries. Among military services, only the U.S. Army has organized itself to maintain a meaningful contingent dedicated to capacity-building missions despite a consistent global demand. Other services meet requirements on an ad hoc basis with personnel who generally lack training for the mission. Even the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades are poorly suited to address the institutional concerns Karlin prioritizes. They are composed of junior personnel with limited exposure to institutional processes, and are designed to carry out tactical-level, small unit training activities. Reconsidering how the military is structured to meet demands of high-stakes capacity-building efforts should be an urgent priority for the Defense Department. Military forces have been stretched in recent years by the demands of sustaining two contingency operations while downsizing, and services have sought to streamline their structures rather than take on what they view as new missions or responsibilities. Yet, as discussed above, the capacity-building mission is not new and it is not going away. Approaching this mission with ad hoc force-management decisions and insufficient training is a recipe for repeated failure. Mitigating the Effects of Outside Actors Karlin also postulates that the success of a capacity-building effort will depend on diminishing external influences, and makes a convincing argument about the importance of this variable in examining her four case studies. This is a point so intuitive as to be almost self-evident: Who could argue that the degree to which U.S. capacity-building efforts are successful will vary according to the degree to which other actors seek to impede them? And yet, it is a point routinely neglected in the planning and execution of capacity-building initiatives. It is tempting to regard the activity of external actors as a variable beyond America’s control. Indeed, Karlin’s case studies present little evidence of any actions by America that decreased outside influences, though in some instances U.S. actions may have provoked deeper third-party involvement. Yet, given the importance of this variable in shaping capacity-building outcomes, the United States can hardly afford to ignore it. No case better illustrates this imperative than Yemen, where America’s inability to mitigate the influence of third-party actors, including both allies and antagonists, has condemned capacity-building efforts to failure. Iran has been able to maintain steady support for its Houthi allies that has been robust enough to help them beat back the Yemeni military and withstand the onslaught of the Gulf coalition. Meanwhile, prior to the state’s collapse, the U.S. government was never able to effectively coordinate the efforts of other donors and stakeholders with similar objectives, particularly Saudi Arabia. That challenge has become even more acute as the Saudis have undertaken a sustained, and sometimes indiscriminate, military campaign with the help of U.S. equipment and logistical support. Unfortunately, Yemen looks more like the rule than the exception. The U.S. security assistance enterprise is poorly positioned to address the activities of third-party actors, for two reasons. First, it has historically neglected to invest in understanding the identities, motivations, and tactics of external actors. And second, it lacks sufficient tools to shape their behavior. Security assistance efforts, historically, have often been planned and executed without adequately assessing the context in which they are to be implemented, to their great detriment. As the Defense Department has recently begun to acknowledge, it is essential that capacity-building efforts begin with detailed assessments of the partner’s security environment, including a political economy analysis that identifies external influences and how they operate. Such analysis should not only assess potentially antagonistic influences, but also perceived allies. It is often the case that perceived allies can undermine a capacity-building effort through miscoordination and misunderstanding as much as an antagonist can through more nefarious means. Grounding capacity-building initiatives in detailed assessments of the partner’s security environment creates opportunities to build mitigation measures that address external influences into the initiative’s design. Such measures might range from donor coordination strategies to ensure actors with shared interests are on the same page, to concerted efforts to drive out antagonists. Identifying and addressing these concerns from an initiative’s inception will substantially improve its prospects for overcoming the challenges Karlin’s book identifies. A more challenging question is how to diminish antagonistic influences once they are understood. The United States has an underdeveloped suite of tools available to confront the activities of adversarial actors in a third country. Moreover, planners of capacity-building initiatives may lack access to or awareness of those tools that do exist. Karlin’s conclusions thus point to an important area for further research: namely, what strategies for mitigating antagonistic external influences have the potential to be successful, what tools are needed to support those strategies, and how can they be integrated into the planning of capacity-building initiatives? Conclusion Conditions for building military capacity in a fragile state are rarely ideal, and often cannot be overcome. Karlin’s book offers a useful framework for approaching these initiatives in a way that identifies potential challenges from the outset and addresses some of the most common spoilers. Moreover, it suggests the United States would profit from being cautious about engaging in capacity-building missions at all. When there is little room to exert the necessary influence over a partner, for example, Karlin counsels, “the United States must either recognize that it is pursuing light security sector reform or avoid launching such programs altogether.”[50] Likewise, there is great wisdom in recognizing when positive conditions have changed, cutting one’s losses, and walking away. Two of Karlin’s case studies — 1950s South Vietnam and 1980s Lebanon — serve as cautionary tales of the risk to American lives posed by an inability to acknowledge failure and an insistence in doubling down. One important contribution of Karlin’s work is to offer a straightforward litmus test to help policymakers assess whether and when it is wise to walk away. Her two leading variables should be posed as questions to policymakers: Is the United States able to sufficiently influence partner military decisions and institutional reforms, and can it sufficiently mitigate the hazards posed by external actors? To these can be added Karlin’s warning to avoid being drawn in as a co-belligerent. There are sometimes good strategic reasons to overlook these tests, but they should at least provoke a reassessment of policy. One wonders what it will take to prompt such a reassessment in Yemen. The United States has become a co-belligerent there in a deeply troubling way, enabling massive human rights violations with little apparent ability to influence operational plans or tactics. It remains in close cooperation with Saudi Arabia despite strong evidence pointing to the Saudi leadership’s involvement in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,[51] continuing indications of widespread civilian casualties caused by coalition operations,[52] and congressional exhortations that such support be terminated.[53] The deep engagement Karlin’s book advocates is implausible in Yemen, and external actors are prevalent, diverse, and, in many ways, antagonistic to U.S. interests. As is so often the case, a chorus of voices would meet any policy reassessment with an impassioned warning of threats from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran that might be left behind were America to extricate itself from the conflict. Yet, at some point, as Karlin persistently argues, policies must factor in actual results. And surely the results of the current U.S. policy approach in Yemen cry out for another way.   Tommy Ross is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Cooperation at the Pentagon and was the senior defense and intelligence adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He has also held other senior positions in the House and Senate.   Image: U.S. Africa Command [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: Building Militaries in Fragile States [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-building-militaries-in-fragile-states [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-27 14:46:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-27 18:46:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=1261 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In our latest roundtable, our contributors review Mara Karlin's book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 162 [1] => 239 [2] => 226 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Fragile States Index: The Fund for Peace,” Fund for Peace, accessed March 14, 2019, http://fundforpeace.org/. See the “Security Assistance Monitor: A Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Security and Defense Assistance,” at http://www.securityassistance.org/, accessed 14 March 2019. [2] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 17. [3] David A. Lake, The Statebuilder's Dilemma: On the Limits of Foreign Intervention (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016). Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 1–2, (2018): 89-142, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745. [4] Jesse Driscoll, Warlords and Coalition Politics in Post-Soviet States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [5] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 1. [6] For recent works linking these factors and others to military effectiveness, see Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.); Risa Brooks and Elizabeth Stanley, eds., Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007); Caitlin Talmadge, The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); Austin Long, The Soul of Armies: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Military Culture in the US and UK (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016); Vipin Narang and Caitlin Talmadge, “Civil-military Pathologies and Defeat in War: Tests Using New Data,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 62, no. 7 (August 2018): 1379–1405, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022002716684627; Dan Reiter and William A. Wagstaff, “Leadership and Military Effectiveness,” Foreign Policy Analysis 14, no. 4 (October 2018): 490–511, https://doi.org/10.1093/fpa/orx003. [7] Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977); D. Michael Shafer, Deadly Paradigms: The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988); Benjamin Schwarz, American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador: The Frustrations of Reform and Illusions of Nation Building (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1991); William E. Odom, On Internal War: American and Soviet Approaches to Third World Clients and Insurgents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991); Walter C. Ladwig, III, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relationships in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [8] Daniel L. Byman, “Friends Like These: Counterinsurgency and the War on Terrorism,” International Security 31, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 79–115, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4137517. [9] Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 1–2 (2018): 89–142, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745. [10] Barbara Elias, “The Big Problem of Small Allies: New Data and Theory on Defiant Local Counterinsurgency Partners in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Security Studies 27, no. 2 (2018): 249, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1386935. [11] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 36. [12] For more on Ngo Dinh Diem’s difficult relationship with his American patrons, see Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). [13] “Hitler Finds Out About Sequestration,” Youtube, Fiscal Cliff, Nov. 28, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zCDDYVTjLI. [14] Robert M. Gates, “Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,” Nixon Center, Washington, DC, Feb. 24, 2019, http://archive.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1425. [15] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 4. [16] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States,12. [17] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 201. [18] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 198. [19] “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” Department of Defense, January 2012, http://archive.defense.gov/news/defense_strategic_guidance.pdf. [20] Noah B. Cooper, “Will the Army’s New Advisory Brigades Get Manning and Intel Right?” War on the Rocks, Sept. 5, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/will-the-armys-new-advisory-brigades-get-manning-and-intel-right/. [21] Brian Hamilton, “Army Moves Closer to Establishing First Security Force Assistance Brigade,” U.S. Army, May 18, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/187991/army_moves_closer_to_establishing_first_security_force_assistance_brigade. [22] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 199. [23] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 200. [24] “Presidential Policy Directive 23: U.S. Security Sector Assistance Policy [Fact Sheet],” White House, 2013, https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=747214. [25] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 11. [26] Dafna H. Rand and Stephen Tankel, “Security Cooperation & Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment,” Center for a New American Security, August 2015, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. [27] Ilan Goldenberg, Alice Hunt Friend, Stephen Tankel, and Nicholas A. Heras, “Remodeling Partner Capacity: Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Counterterrorism Security Assistance,” Center for a New American Security, November 2016, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report-RemodelingPartnerCapacity-Final.pdf?mtime=20161107141028. [28] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 202. [29] Thomas K. Livingston, “Building the Capacity of Partner States through Security Force Assistance,” Congressional Research Service, May 5, 2011, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41817.pdf. [30] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 197. [31] Loren DeJonge Schulman, “Washington Is Never Quite Sure Where It Is at War,” Atlantic, Nov. 1, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/11/niger-aumf-war-terrorism/544652/. [32] Robert M. Gates, “Speech as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,” American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, May 24, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1570. [33] Nicholas Niarchos, “How the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse,” New Yorker, Jan. 22, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/22/how-the-us-is-making-the-war-in-yemen-worse. [34] Melissa Dalton and Hijah Shah, “U.S. Support for Saudi Military Operations in Yemen,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 23, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-support-saudi-military-operations-yemen. [35] Nina Serafino, “Security Assistance Reform: ‘Section 1206’ Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, RS22855, Dec. 8, 2014, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22855.pdf. [36] “Security Aid Pivot Table: Yemen, 2010-2014,” Security Assistance Monitor, http://securityassistance.org/data/program/military/Yemen/2010/2014/all/Global/. [37] Tom Finn, “A New President and an ‘American Sheikh’ Deal With Post-Saleh Yemen,” Time, Feb. 29, 2012, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2107926-1,00.html. [38] See Jane Ferguson, “U.S. Military Picks, Trains Yemeni Fighters,” CNN, July 14, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/07/13/yemen.training/index.html. See also Eric Schmitt, “Out of Yemen, U.S. is Hobbled in Terror Fight,” New York Times, March 22, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/us/politics/out-of-yemen-us-is-hobbled-in-terror-fight.html. [39] “Uncertain Political and Security Situation Challenges U.S. Efforts to Implement a Comprehensive Strategy in Yemen,” Government Accountability Office, GAO-12-432R, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.gao.gov/assets/590/588955.pdf. [40] Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 1. [41] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 9. [42] See, for example, Dafna Rand and Stephen Tankel, “Security Cooperation and Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment,” Center for a New American Security, August 2015, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. See also Rose Jackson, “Untangling the Web: A Blueprint for Reforming American Security Sector Assistance,” Open Society Foundations, January 2017, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report_Security-Cooperation_FINAL.pdf?mtime=20160906081917. [43] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 10. [44] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 12, emphasis removed. [45] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 193. [46] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 199. [47] The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, 2005, and The Accra Agenda for Action, 2009 are available at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation: http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/34428351.pdf. [48] See, for example, “Department of Defense Directive 5205.82: Defense Institution Building,” United States Department of Defense, issued Jan. 27, 2016 and updated May 3, 2017, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/520582p.pdf. See also, “Joint Publication 3-20: Security Cooperation,” United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, May 23, 2017, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_20_20172305.pdf. [49] Florence Gaub, “Whatever Happened to Yemen’s Military?” European Institute for Security Studies, Issue Brief 9, April 2015, https://www.iss.europa.eu/sites/default/files/EUISSFiles/Brief_9_Yemen.pdf. [50] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 202. [51] Mark Mazetti, “Years Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi,” New York Times, Feb. 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/us/politics/khashoggi-mohammed-bin-salman.html. [52] Lee Keath, “Civilian death toll in Yemen mounting despite US assurances,” Associated Press, Nov. 10, 2018, https://www.apnews.com/24ee4b33373a41d389e2599c5aa7bbfa. [53] See Catie Edmondson and Charlie Savage, “House Votes to Halt Aid to Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/us/politics/yemen-war-saudi-arabia.html. See also Scott Detrow, “Senate Votes To End U.S. Support for War in Yemen, Rebuking Trump and Saudi Arabia,” NPR, Dec. 12, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/12/12/676152310/senate-poised-to-vote-to-end-u-s-military-support-for-war-in-yemen. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Table of Contents [contents] => 1. "Introduction: The Pitfalls of Seeking Security on the Cheap," by Jason Fritz 2. "The Politics of Security Assistance to Fragile States," by Walter C. Ladwig, III 3. "To Remind You of My Love: Reforming the Impulsive Affection of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Militaries," by Loren DeJonge Schulman 4. "When Building Militaries Goes Wrong: A Look at Yemen," by Tommy Ross ) ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 2 [max_num_pages] => 1 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => 1 [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => bf61281cd6d9d00f5b07e21255f0fa0c [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 1 [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )