RealClearDefense Articles

Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character

John Waters - September 19, 2020
Admiral James Stavridis could have written a book about leadership.  He was educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, spending nearly 40 years leading sailors and troops all across the globe.  He has been Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and continues to serve as director on the boards of various corporate and charitable organizations. But his most recent book, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character (Penguin Press, 2019), is about character, not leadership. "I like to think about leadership as a big door that swings on a very small hinge, and...

Will Russia Further Lower Its Nuclear Weapons Use Threshold?

Mark B. Schneider - September 19, 2020
In August 2020, noted Russian journalist Pavel Felgenhauer warned, “The Kremlin is constantly playing the deterrence game by trying to scare the West. But this situation has two dangerous ramifications. First, the nuclear threshold is becoming lower: in any serious skirmish, the Russian Navy would either need to go nuclear or risk being sunk. And second, while the Russian leadership believes it has surpassed the West militarily thanks to its dazzling superweapons, Moscow's threshold for employing military force in conflict situations may also drop further.” Indeed, Putin’s...

China Flies 18 Warplanes Near Taiwan During U.S. Envoy’s Visit

Huizhong Wu - September 19, 2020
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China’s military sent 18 planes including fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait in an unusually large show of force Friday as a U.S. envoy held a day of closed-door meetings on the self-governing island claimed by China. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, who handles the economic growth, energy and the environment portfolio, held talks with Taiwan’s minister of economic affairs and vice premier. He also met with business leaders over lunch and was to dine with President Tsai Ing-wen later Friday. In response to Krach’s visit, the Eastern Theater...

Over 300 Afghan Translators and Family Killed While Serving the U.S.

Janis Shinwari served for 8 years as an interpreter with the Army Rangers, 82nd Airborne, and Marines. He came to the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa in 2013 and founded No One Left Behind. He became a U.S. citizen on June 29th, 2020. Janis Shinwari In the nineteen years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Afghan interpreters have assisted and protected American servicemembers fighting in their home country. Yet their safety has always been an afterthought.  Now, in its effort to withdraw from Afghanistan, the United States is failing its moral obligation to resettle them,...


After 20 Years, Let the NNSA Stand on Its Own

Franklin C. Miller & Tim Morrison - September 18, 2020
On September 17th, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the current partnership between the Departments of Defense and Energy concerning the U.S. nuclear deterrent.  While the three Administration witnesses are highly professional public servants and have labored mightily to ensure the U.S. has the nuclear capabilities it needs in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world; what the witnesses did not address is the 800 kiloton elephant in the room: the 20 year experiment to create a semi-autonomous nuclear weapons production complex within the Department of Energy...

On the Ground With No Support: Why America’s Special Operations Forces Need a Dedicated Armed Overwatch Fleet

Wes J. Bryant - September 18, 2020
June 2014 – Baghdad.   We were treading a thin line, and we all knew it. I was the senior enlisted joint terminal attack controller for the 300-member special operations task force sent to Iraq to quell the rising threat of ISIS—the famed “crisis response force” dispatched to safeguard Baghdad and Erbil and ensure the protection of the U.S. Embassy. In came America to save the day . . . except, that wasn’t exactly the case. The reality during those first weeks on the ground was that the response force was a sitting duck—just waiting for a repeat of...

Asking the Right Question As China Rises

Bonnie Kristian - September 18, 2020
China is building its military, a recent Pentagon report to Congress argued, with the goal of becoming a "world-class" force over the next three decades. Beijing “has not defined exactly what it means by its ambition to have a world-class military,” said Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, in remarks timed for the report's publication. "Within the context of China's national strategy, however, China will likely aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to, and in many cases superior to, the United States' military or that...

Joint SOF Should Drive ABMS Requirements

Ethan Brown - September 17, 2020
While modernizing command and control architecture certainly affects all aspects of the defense department, the special operations forces enterprise, which operates at the forward-most stages of conflict, needs this capability as much as any component. Special Operations should vector away from the counter-terror paradigm of warfighting and re-align itself for great powers competition, which requires a command and control capability that enables both the initial introduction of special operations, as well as supports the facilitation of mass conventional forces into denied operational...


The Top Ten Statements Regarding Jihadist Use of Cyberspace

James Van de Velde - September 16, 2020
10. The internet has helped terrorists more than it has hurt them. The Islamic State and al Qaeda, at least in their current levels of individuals and power, would not exist without the internet. (Can you imagine if, say the air, land, sea domain were helping the Islamic State more than those of us opposing it?) 9. Good counterterrorism cyberspace operations must include the delivery via cyberspace of narratives that advance liberal democracy, given that Islamist terrorist groups come from closed, self-reinforcing totalitarian echo chambers. No counterterrorism, counter-cyberspace...

We Have Reached a Tipping Point in U.S. Civil-Military Relations

Gregory D. Foster - September 16, 2020
Wisdom and courage, I have found, oft go hand in hand, as do their malevolent twins, ignorance and cowardice. And so it is, at this particularly fraught moment in time, that two observations commonly attributed to Plato come to mind. The first, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something”; the second, “When men speak ill of thee, live so as nobody may believe them.” Whether Plato actually uttered such words is less material than the insight they convey. For they serve today to challenge uniformed members of the U.S....

Gentlemen Apparently Do Read Other Gentlemen’s Mail: Kim Jong Un’s Letters to President Trump

Robert Carlin - September 16, 2020
Let’s face it, the art of letter writing is forever lost. That is a tragedy. And equally tragic is the flip side of that worn, civilized coin. The ability to read correspondence has slipped from our grasp. Albeit, we can say, one tiny corner survives—diplomatic correspondence. Admittedly, that has always been a special art form, difficult to write and even more difficult for those on the outside to read. The recent revelation of the text of a couple of letters from DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to U.S. President Donald Trump could provide an important new window into North Korean...

Race and the Cold War in Africa

Sam Wilkins - September 16, 2020
Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War. Nancy Mitchell. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016. After the tragic and horrifying murder of George Floyd, questions of race in American foreign policy in general, and towards the African continent in particular, are under increased scrutiny. In Foreign Policy, Salih Booker passionately argued “America’s disdain for Black lives extends to Africa.”[1] Meanwhile, many African commentators have highlighted American hypocrisy around issues of human rights, while others fear that repressive authoritarian regimes,...


The Nuclear Weapons Council and Its Critical Role in Developing a Budget for Nuclear Warhead Activities

Patty-Jane Geller - September 16, 2020
Recent debates on nuclear modernization have focused on hot-button issues like nuclear testing and low-yield nuclear weapons. But one issue flying under the radar is the role the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) plays in developing the annual budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Recent legislative proposals would change both the council’s structure and its role in ways that could jeopardize the functionality of America’s nuclear enterprise and diminish the nuclear deterrent in the future. The United States is already late in embarking on a nuclear...

Defending Taiwan and Deterring China

Alan W. Dowd - September 15, 2020
“I believe the United States will fight to defend Taiwan if China invades Taiwan. In my opinion, it’s unthinkable that the United States would stand by and allow China to conquer Taiwan.” These are not the words of a wide-eyed Wilsonian or a neocon hawk. Rather, they come courtesy of John Mearsheimer, perhaps America's foremost realist foreign-policy scholar. If we accept Mearsheimer's assessment as a given—and there's no reason not to—the next step of the given would be trying to fend off such an attack or, even worse, trying to liberate a conquered Taiwan,...

Clausewitz, the Trinity, and the Utility of Hybrid War

Jarrod Brook - September 15, 2020
The binary idea of war and peace is increasingly being challenged by the notion that the current security environment reflects neither of these states. The acceleration and convergence of geopolitics, information, technology, data, and demographics has created a set of security challenges that increasingly blur the lines between these traditional concepts.[1] Competition is distorting the difference between war and peace, with states conducting military operations that employ blended tactics and operational approaches.[2] Attempts at explaining how militaries should operate in such an...

F-35s to UAE Necessitates U.S. Ensure Israel's QME

Michael Makovsky & Charles Wald - September 15, 2020
Today’s White House lawn ceremony for new peace agreements between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and Bahrain and Israel, marks the most important breakthrough in Middle East peace since Jordan’s 1994 treaty with Israel. Yet, the expected American sale of advanced F-35 fighters to the UAE, which the Trump administration reportedly offered to facilitate the peace deal, necessitates the United States upgrade Israel’s military capabilities to ensure its qualitative military edge. The UAE is an important U.S. partner, a stable, moderate Arab country that has fought against...


The Coronavirus and U.S. National Security: An Opportunity for Strategic Reassessment?

Jim Cook - September 14, 2020
In March 2020, President Trump declared the United States a nation “at war with an invisible enemy” that will have long-lasting economic, social, and security implications, even after the medical emergency is over.[1] His proclamation is reminiscent of the 9/11 terror attacks, where the nation was shocked by an unanticipated threat against the homeland. Those horrendous assaults transformed the country, and the U.S. soon embarked upon an almost two-decades-long Global War on Terrorism in response. Mr. Trump has lauded Americans as warriors and acknowledged their necessary...

Chinese Military Calls U.S. Biggest Threat to World Peace

Associated Press - September 14, 2020
BEIJING (AP) — China’s Defense Ministry on Sunday blasted a critical U.S. report on the country’s military ambitions, saying it is the U.S. instead that poses the biggest threat to the international order and world peace. The statement follows the Sept. 2 release of the annual Defense Department report to Congress on Chinese military developments and goals that it said would have “serious implications for U.S. national interests and the security of the international rules-based order.” Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian called the report a “wanton...

China as a Faltering Contender

Andrew A. Latham - September 14, 2020
The conventional wisdom has long been that, if there is to be a major war involving China and the U.S., it will be the result of either of a rising China initiating war to displace the failing U.S. hegemon, or a declining U.S. initiating a war to stymie a rising China.  But this ignores the possibility that systemic or hegemonic war between China and the U.S. may not have anything to do with a rising power. It ignores the possibility that such a war might be initiated by what I will call a faltering contender, a once-rising power whose ascent is running out of steam and whose leaders...

China’s Wolf-Warrior Tactics Are Here to Stay

Peter Jennings - September 14, 2020
What is China trying to achieve by its sudden lurch to a bullying, ‘wolf warrior’ global stance? For all the billions of dollars of intelligence hardware and software pointed at Beijing right now, the reality is that Xi Jinping’s strategic thinking is a black box. The leadership intent of the Chinese Communist Party must be glimpsed through opaque speeches, the coded signals of coercive behaviour and the increasingly unhinged statements of China’s diplomats and party-controlled media. Whatever Xi thinks he’s doing, the outcome is, on the face of it, disastrous...