Category Archives: Geopolitics

Of Guns At Home, And Guns Abroad

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box-cutters-rifle-drone_575

Box cutters (top) were banned from aircraft after 9/11, and Reapers (bottom) were sent around the world to hunt down terrorists. But homegrown terrorists have easy access to AK-47s (middle). (Photo illustration by Mark Thompson, U.S. ATF, USAF)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)” By Mark Thompson

“The gun and terrorism issues show markedly different approaches to vexing problems.

Congress demands the Pentagon hunt down and kill every terrorist—and adds billions to its budget to do just that. But it refuses to lift a (trigger) finger to curb domestic terror like that which occurred Sept. 30 in Las Vegas. These mass firearm murders have become an itch that must be scratched.”


“My father hunted deer with his 30.06 deep in the woods of Maine, and taught me and my brothers how to shoot. I helped teach my two sons to shoot in the wilds of New Hampshire. But when you combine all-but-unrestricted access to near-automatic firearms with suicidal shooters, there needs to be a reckoning.

I embrace the Second Amendment, and I don’t want guns banned. I think I am like most Americans in this regard.

Congress has become increasingly pusillanimous during my nearly 40 years in Washington. Despite talk, they have refused to cut the deficit, reform entitlement programs, or fix the zany tax code. This week, we entered our 17th year of war in Afghanistan without lawmakers declaring war. So why should we expect them to do anything about their constituents slaughtering other constituents?

As a reporter for nearly 50 years, I’m pretty much of a First Amendment absolutist. OK: no shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, but that’s about it. That’s barred because—get this—it could lead to people getting hurt, or maybe even killed, in a stampede. But you can’t mow down innocent people by shouting vile epithets at them from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel.

Why are my staunch Second Amendment-backer friends so opposed to even the most common-sense measures to curb the gun violence in our midst? Do we really need semi-automatic weapons, huge magazines, suppressors—more commonly known as silencers—or “bump stocks,” a legal firearm option used in the Nevada massacre that all but turns semi-automatic weapons into machine guns?

Walmart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s leading firearm retailers, apparently stopped selling bump stocks following the massacre. That’s sure to impress 58 families. And Congress hasn’t ruled out doing something about bump stocks. Such courage! Even the National Rifle Association broke its typical silence following such shootings to acknowledge such faux machine-gun devices might warrant restrictions. That’s a tentative, but tiny, step in the right direction.

Believing in the fundamental right to bear arms is a long way from the lust for personal firepower that has grown in this country since I was a kid. Why do so many gun advocates and their NRA allies have such a Pavlovian response to any suggestion that the nation needs to get a handle on this scourge? The notion that additional restrictions will inexorably lead to confiscations or bans is a black-and-white mindset in a gray world.

There are 89 guns in this country for every 100 people (No. 2 is Yemen, currently waging civil war, at 55). But 3 percent of American adults own half those guns (78 percent of Americans don’t own a firearm). Americans also possess an estimated 48 percent of the globe’s 650 million guns in civilian hands (that makes the Pentagon, which accounts for about 37% of global defense spending, look like a relative bargain).

One 2015 accounting noted that all of the nation’s wars killed 1,396,733 Americans…while 1,516,863—9 percent more—have been killed by guns, just since 1968. A Gallup survey earlier this year showed that 55 percent of Americans wanted tougher gun-control laws, with only 10 percent wanting them loosened. But that 10 percent, bolstered by more than $4 million in NRA campaign contributions to congressional candidates since 1998, has given the gun lobby unparalleled clout on Capitol Hill.

That’s led to some bizarre etymological debates. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas sheriff, was asked if Stephen Paddock’s 58 murders were an act terrorism. “No, not at this point,” he said. “We believe it was a local individual.” That suggests the post-9/11 fear-mongering has worked, and that one must be an “other” to be a terrorist. A pathetic man can rake 22,000 people from high up in a nearby hotel, killing 58 and wounding nearly 500 more…and none (in charge) dare call it terrorism?

Some of my anti-gun friends say the Second Amendment was the Founding Fathers’ original sin. No, that’s not right either. A sound and fair Second Amendment makes sense for a nation spawned by those shrugging off the yoke of tyranny by force of arms.

But Second Amendment backers also have to acknowledge that the Founding Fathers had no inkling of modern firearms, and the NRA’s death grip on Congress. If the recent conservative embrace of “originalism” in interpreting the Constitution and its amendments means anything, it means that the Founders were familiar with Brown Bess muskets and Pennsylvania rifles, not AK-47s and the NRA.

The nation rightly goes to great lengths to prevent its men and woman in uniform from dying on the battlefield. U.S. taxpayers spent $50 billion on 25,000 Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles that the Pentagon rushed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many by air, to shield U.S. troops from $100 roadside bombs. The flip side of that fact is just as critical: we will spend billions—no, make that trillions—to track down a relatively few terrorists no matter where on the globe they’re hiding. We hurl $2.4 billion B-2 bombers and grim MQ-9 Reapers around the world, along with the cream of our young, to find them and wipe them out.

But our federal government won’t do a damn thing to halt homegrown mass murder. Both terrorists and murderers are vile scum, but what accounts for our skewed priorities?

An annual “Survey of American Fears” (is this a great country, or what?) by California’s Chapman University helps put this into perspective. Government corruption ranked #1 (60.6 percent of those surveyed said they were “afraid or very afraid” of it) in 2016. Terrorism was #2, cited by 41 percent, slightly higher than the 38.5 percent who feared “government restrictions on firearms and ammunition.” Interestingly, in light of that concern, “people I love dying” ranked 6th, at 38.1 percent, edging out the 35.5 percent who feared “The Affordable Health Care Act/Obamacare.”

Experts say fears can be irrational because our brains have evolved to make speedy judgments, fueled by emotion, that may have made sense in the past but no longer do. “Our biases reflect the choices that kept our ancestors alive,” neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz has written. “But we have yet to evolve similarly effective responses to statistics, media coverage, and fear-mongering politicians.”

Box cutters were turned into blades of mass destruction on Sept. 11, 2001. They were used by 19 Islamic terrorists to hijack four airliners and kill 2,977 innocents. Forty-eight hours later, before post-9/11 flights resumed, the U.S. government barred them from U.S. commercial aircraft.

No one asked that the handy tool be banned elsewhere. In fact, I just bought a nifty ceramic-bladed model to help me slice up all the Amazon boxes that arrive at my house each week. But banning box cutters from commercial air travel was a necessary step in dealing with the violence they enabled.

The same logic needs to apply to guns. Of course tighter restrictions won’t end firearm violence. But few want to abolish the Second Amendment. They just want reasonable, responsible restrictions to curb the carnage. Such limitations, well beyond banning bump stocks, are coming. The only question is how many more will have to die first.”

Photo of Mark Thompson

By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst

Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/military-industrial-circus/2017/of-guns-at-home-and-guns.html

 

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How to Manage Risk for Your Global Business

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Global Business Risk

Image:  STRATFOR

“STRATFOR” By Brett Boyd

“The global economy is a fascinating ecosystem to both study and participate in. 

There are entirely new challenges to be faced and business competencies required to compete and win in today’s economy, many of which have very little to do with the product or service that companies deliver to their customers.”


“The term ‘globalization,’ while important, has an academic connotation that tends to underplay the very real and tactical implications for what it means to operate a business in 2017.

Stratfor has enjoyed a unique vantage point for observing the internationalization of business interests over the past 20 years.  While there have always been international companies — Ford has been selling cars around the world since opening operations in Canada in 1904 and Europe shortly thereafter; ExxonMobil’s predecessor Standard Oil began international operations in China in the 1890s; and investment firms have traded globally for centuries — virtually all companies are now impacted by international events to some extent.  Even companies that only operate domestically in the United States, for example, are influenced by global dynamics to a far greater extent than they were 20 years ago.  Spikes or depressions in non-related commodities prices can cascade into shipping and transportation costs.  Political upheaval in far-away places can impact labor costs for essential subcomponents controlled by suppliers.  Default on large debt instruments by countries in “emerging” markets can impact domestic interest rates and investments.

However, more and more companies are taking the further step to actually operate in these international markets.  This can manifest as selling products in new markets, opening offices to develop international capacity in fields such as software development, or developing supplier, product or distribution relationships.  In some cases, companies’ international exposure is limited to individual travel; in other cases it requires management of buildings, physical infrastructure and supply chains around the world.  The risks associated with each type of operations are different, but all international operations incur some degree of risk. Even Europe, often considered a relatively risk-free region for new investments, has significant political, economic, and security risks that must be understood.

Not all risks associated with international operations are equal.  The degree of risk is determined both by location and activity. International expansion into Nigeria entails different risks than would a similar program in France.  Neither is inherently better or worse, but the political, economic and security risks are different and must be understood and mitigated accordingly. Thoughtful risk management entails a balance between the economic potential of an opportunity and the costs required to mitigate the risks associated with that opportunity.  Companies understand that they get paid for risk, to some extent, and that it is possible to conduct operations anywhere in the world. But there are places where the costs of risk management outweigh the economic potential of the opportunity.

Framework-Based Risk Assessment

Stratfor has helped investors and corporate executives evaluate and manage risks associated with international operations for decades.  We have developed a market-assessment framework to help our clients evaluate international opportunities – whether they are in moderate-risk locations such as Europe or in higher-risk locations around the world.  This framework includes four primary areas of evaluation: political, economic, infrastructure, and security.  In some cases, we will also look at demographics or other factors that impact the attractiveness of an international market for sales or hiring opportunities, but these four areas are at the center of the majority of our risk assessment efforts.

Political.  Political risks involve local political decisions that could affect the viability of an investment or business interest.  These risks can range from broad election-based shifts  in a country’s political direction, to more specific regulatory moves that could adversely affect an industry or type of company.  We have seen organizations who woke up one morning to find that the effective tax rate for their operations in a country doubled, changing the country business unit from an extremely profitable operation to one that was losing money and potentially needed to be divested.  The challenge with political risk is that it needs to be understood on a forward-looking basis, as these risks are better avoided than worked through.  If a company plans to buy a business in Eastern Europe it is helpful to understand the current political environment, but that is only the beginning of a responsible country assessment.  What that company really needs is to understand the most likely political trajectory for that country over the next 10 years. Though this is difficult, and never error-free, it is possible.

Economic.  Companies tend to excel at evaluating specific opportunity risks, but in our experience, are less proficient at evaluating the environmental or macroeconomic conditions that can also impact performance. A company looking to buy a company in Southeast Asia, for example, may completely understand the risks associated with that company – equipment replacement needs, product shortcomings and balance sheet issues, for example.  That same company may miss the fact that the regional food-based commodities economy is under extreme pressure from other actors in the South China Sea, which could lead to significant operational risk that will be outside of their ability to control.  In our experience, although investors are better at evaluating these types of risks, they remain challenging nonetheless.  Economic risks range from currency issues (which are often political), to workforce availability, to the overall economic trajectory of a country and the cascading impact that can have on all companies operating in that market.

Infrastructure.  First-world companies sometimes take for granted the availability of functional infrastructure, especially when considering opportunities in developing economies.  Ports, roads and airports constitute critical supply chain and transportation nodes required for the success of a multinational enterprise.  Healthcare and education systems can be considered important parts of national infrastructure, especially for companies that plan to operate, hire, and sell products in a region for decades. Telecommunications infrastructure is one of the most commonly under-appreciated infrastructure sectors, as gaps in telephone and internet connectivity are often not as obvious as shortcomings in ports and roads.

Security.  Security risks are one of the most obvious areas of concern that companies evaluate, especially when they put people in less-developed “emerging” or “frontier” markets.  Companies tend to inherently understand that there are security risks involved in sending employees to the Middle East, for example.  The complexity comes from the need to do something about it; aside from telling our people not to go, how do we manage risk when we need to send a team member to a high-risk country?  Stratfor evaluates security threats in terms of crime, terrorism, espionage, and business continuity, with the aim of helping our clients implement the right levels of protective measures to allow successful operations anywhere in the world.  Industrial espionage and information security risks are specific areas where we have found that most companies understand that there are risks, but few have appropriate mitigating strategies in place.  Travel to China, for example, is extremely important for many different types of businesses, and there are relatively simple measures companies can put in place to mitigate common information security risks.

Even small companies that send employees overseas only for limited travel to seemingly low-risk places need to understand the environments in which they operate.

While some of the use cases mentioned above may seem tied to large investments, these factors are important for all organizations to understand.  Even small companies that send employees overseas only for limited travel to seemingly low-risk places need to understand the environments in which they operate.  Information and physical security considerations are important for small companies with individual international travelers, just as they are for large companies with significant international business interests.  Financial reward is often correlated in part with risk, and company executives understand that there are times where they need to incur risk in order to realize success.  Risk must be managed in a balanced fashion. Excessive risk aversion can lead to missed opportunities while ignoring risks can lead to disaster.

Companies that can understand and manage risk in a thoughtful, cost-efficient fashion tend to have an advantage over their competitors.  The most successful companies are those that go beyond understanding the present risk environment, and instead assess what it will look like in the next three to five years. This type of thinking facilitates the first-mover advantage, developing business infrastructure and relationships in a country before it becomes obvious that the risk environment there has improved.  Companies that lead in this fashion can be extremely successful, benefiting from the rush of competitors and capital that follow once the market understands that the risk environment has changed.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bret Boyd leads Stratfor’s enterprise business, which includes products and advisory services to support executives and fund managers operating in international markets. Prior to Stratfor, Mr. Boyd served in leadership roles at several high-growth companies and as an officer in the U.S. Special Operations Command. Mr. Boyd is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he studied international relations and systems engineering.

https://marcom.stratfor.com/horizons/how-manage-risk-your-global-business?utm_campaign=B2C_LL_Push&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=57066641&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8ZojjZwwtkstMewsmWkP8Ka0Uae7SVA2n4-z5r3EzwIA6p8rT0ZAq2nXraawnflbWG-FqIFKoGgOUilBnJh-YqhSWDDw&_hsmi=57066390

Jimmy Carter: “What I’ve Learned From North Korea’s Leaders”

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Jimmy Carter...In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Age

Image – AP – Former president Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang

“WASHINGTON POST” By Jimmy Carter

“Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found Kim Il  Sung and other leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.

The Pyongyang government believes its survival is at stake.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.


“As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community.

I have visited with people who were starving. Still today, millions suffer from famine and food insecurity and seem to be completely loyal to their top leader. They are probably the most isolated people on Earth and almost unanimously believe that their greatest threat is from a preemptory military attack by the United States.

The top priority of North Korea’s leaders is to preserve their regime and keep it as free as possible from outside control. They are largely immune from influence or pressure from outside. During the time of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, this immunity has also applied to China, whose leaders want to avoid a regime collapse in North Korea or having to contemplate a nuclear-armed Japan or South Korea.

Until now, severe economic sanctions have not prevented North Korea from developing a formidable and dedicated military force, including long-range nuclear missiles, utilizing a surprising level of scientific and technological capability. There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

There have been a number of suggestions for resolving this crisis, including military strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities, more severe economic punishment, the forging of a protective nuclear agreement between China and North Korea similar to those between the United States and South Korea and Japan, a real enforcement of the Non- Proliferation Treaty by all nuclear weapons states not to expand their arsenals, and ending annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

All of these options are intended to dissuade or deter the leadership of a nation with long-range nuclear weapons — and that believes its existence is threatened — from taking steps to defend itself. None of them offer an immediate way to end the present crisis, because the Pyongyang government believes its survival is at stake.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jimmy-carter-what-ive-learned-from-north-koreas-leaders/2017/10/04/a2851a9e-a7bb-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-c%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.126cb97e6a40

Why We Must Not Build Automated Weapons of War

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IRAQ-CONFLICT

A drone operator from the Mosul Brigade of the Iraqi Special Operations Force 2 releases a drone during a military operation to retake parts of Mosul from the Islamic State on Dec. 5, 2016. Achilleas Zavallis—AFP/Getty Images

“TIME MAGAZINE”

“Over 100 CEOs of artificial intelligence and robotics firms recently signed an open letter warning that their work could be repurposed to build lethal autonomous weapons — “killer robots.”

They argued that to build such weapons would be to open a “Pandora’s Box.” This could forever alter war.”


“Over 30 countries have or are developing armed drones, and with each successive generation, drones have more autonomy. Automation has long been used in weapons to help identify targets and maneuver missiles. But to date, humans have remained in control of deciding whether to use lethal force. Militaries have only used automated engagements in limited settings to defend against high-speed rockets and missiles. Advances in autonomous technology could change that. The same intelligence that allows self-driving cars to avoid pedestrians could allow future weapons that hunt and attack targets on their own.

For the past three years, countries have met through the United Nations to discuss lethal autonomous weapons. Over 60 non-governmental organizations have called for a treaty banning autonomous weapons. Yet most countries are hedging their bets. No major military powers have said they plan to build autonomous weapons, but few have taken them off the table.

There’s a certain irony in the CEOs of robotics and AIcompanies warning of the dangers of the very same technologies they themselves are building. They implore countries to “double their efforts” in international negotiations and warn that “we do not have long to act.” But if the situation is truly dire, couldn’t these companies slow their research to buy diplomats more time?

In reality, even if all of these companies stopped research, the field of AI would continue marching forward. The intelligence behind autonomous robots isn’t like stealth technology, which was created in secret defense labs and tightly controlled by the military. Autonomous technology is everywhere. Hobbyist drones that retail for a few hundred dollars can takeoff, land, follow moving objects and avoid obstacles all on their own. Elementary school students build robots in competitions. Even the Islamic State is getting in on the game, strapping bombs to small drones. There is no stopping AI. Robotics companies can’t easily band together to stop progress, because it only takes one company to break the agreement and advance the technology. Besides, to ask companies to stop research would be to ask them to forgo innovations that could generate profits and save lives.

These same dynamics make constraining autonomous weapons internationally very difficult. Asking countries to sign a treaty banning a weapon that doesn’t yet exist means asking them to forgo a potentially useful tool to defend against threats and save lives. Moreover, the same problem of cheaters applies in the international arena, but the stakes are higher. Instead of lost profits, a nation might lose a war. History suggests that even when the international community widely condemns a weapon as inhumane — like chemical weapons — some despots will use them anyway. Treaties alone won’t prevent rogue regimes and terrorists from building autonomous weapons. If autonomous weapons led to a decisive advantage in war, a treaty that disarmed only those who care for the rule of law would be the worst of all possible worlds.

The letter’s signers likely understand this, which may be why the letter doesn’t call for a ban, a notable departure from a similar letter two years ago. Instead, the signatories ask countries at the United Nations to “find a way to protect us from all these dangers.” Banning or regulating emerging weapons technologies is easier said than done, though. Nations have tried to ban crossbows, firearms, surprise attacks by submarines, aerial attacks on cities and, in World War I, poison gas. All have failed.

And yet: Nations held back from using poison gas on the battlefields of World War II. The Cold War saw treaties banning chemical and biological weapons, using the environment as a weapon and placing nuclear weapons in space or on the seabed. The United States and Soviet Union pulled back from neutron bombs and anti-satellite weapons even without formal treaties. Nuclear weapons have proliferated, but not as widely as many predicted. In more recent years, nations have passed bans on blinding lasers, land mines and cluster munitions.

Weapons are easier to ban when few countries have access to them, when they are widely seen as horrifying and when they provide little military benefits. It is extremely difficult to ban weapons that are seen as giving a decisive advantage, as nuclear weapons are. A major factor in what will happen with autonomous weapons, therefore, is how nations come to see the benefits and risks they pose.

Autonomous weapons pose a classic security dilemma for countries. All countries may be better off without them, but mutual restraint requires cooperation. Last year, nations agreed to create a more formal Group of Governmental Experts to study the issue. The group will convene in November and, once again, nations will attempt to halt a potentially dangerous technology before it is used in war.”

http://time.com/4948633/robots-artificial-intelligence-war/?iid=sr-link1

How the Vietnam War Broke the American Presidency

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Vietnam Broke the Presidency

WG600; Photos: Associated Press; Bettman Archive; Corbis; Fred W. McDarrah; Getty; Horst Faas; Kevin Schafer; Michael Ochs; PhotoQuest

“THE ATLANTIC”

The war undermined the country’s faith in its most respected institutions, particularly the military and the presidency. The military eventually recovered. The presidency never has.

[It] opened the credibility gap. What we’ve learned since has only widened it.”


“On April 30, 1975, when the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the Vietnam War, the most consequential event in American history since World War II, ended in failure. More than 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese had died in the conflict. America’s illusions of invincibility had been shattered, its moral confidence shaken.

It did not happen all at once, this radical diminution of trust. Over more than a decade, the accumulated weight of critical reporting about the war, the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and the declassification of military and intelligence reports tarnished the office. Nor did the process stop when that last chopper took off. New evidence of hypocrisy has continued to appear, an acidic drip, drip, drip on the image of the presidency. The three men who are most responsible for the war, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, each made the fateful decision to record their deliberations about it. The tapes they left behind—some of them still newly public, others long obscured by the sheer volume of the material—are extraordinary. They expose the presidents’ secret motives and fears, at once humanizing the men and deepening the disillusionment with the office they held.

For most of American history, that office conveyed authority, dignity, and some measure of majesty upon its occupant. The great presidents—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts—came to be viewed not merely as capable executives but as figures of myth: They were heroic, selfless, noble, godlike. Time has a way of burnishing reputations. But as late as the middle of the last century, Americans were inclined to view even incumbent presidents with reverence. Faith in the presidency may have reached its apogee soon after the Second World War. The public generally trusted Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower to be honest and well intentioned and to put the interests of the nation above their own.

It is no coincidence that the last president to inspire such trust was also the last president elected before the Vietnam War began in earnest. Kennedy’s charisma, and his military bona fides, encouraged Americans to believe in their young president as he confronted a complicated and dangerous world. His promise, in his inaugural address, that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty” reinforced Americans’ vision of their country as a muscular force for good around the globe.

As president, Kennedy immediately faced the challenge of how to use that power. He refused to send American troops to secure a pro-Western government in Laos. But after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and having been bullied by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at a summit in Vienna, he made a different calculation when it came to the continuing crisis in Vietnam, one influenced by domestic political concerns. Kennedy confided to an aide: “There are just so many concessions that one can make to the Communists in one year and survive politically.” With the Vietcong gathering strength in South Vietnam, he felt he had to act.
If not for his untimely death, Kennedy’s legacy might have been sullied while he was in office. Instead, not until the Pentagon Papers were published did Americans discover that he and his administration had harbored misgivings about the political and military progress in Vietnam but never shared their reservations with the public, even as they steadily increased America’s commitment of special forces and military “advisers.”In August 1963, disturbed by the authoritarian South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diêm’s failure to win over the populace or thwart the Communist insurgency, Kennedy approved a plan to encourage a cabal of dissident generals to overthrow Diêm’s regime. In November, rebel troops seized key installations in Saigon and promised Diêm and his ruthless brother Ngô Đình Nhu safe passage out of the country. As soon as the brothers surrendered, they were murdered by rebel leaders. South Vietnam plunged into chaos, and a bad situation got worse.On November 4, 1963, shortly after the coup, Kennedy recorded his thoughts about what he had allowed to happen. The Kennedy who speaks on this rarely heard tape is not the bold young man of the inaugural address, but a president consumed by doubt, even remorse. He rues having made such a crucial decision without adequate consideration.

Over the weekend the coup in Saigon took place. It culminated three months of conversation … which divided the government here and in Saigon … I feel that we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it, beginning with our cable of … August in which we suggested the coup … I should not have given my consent to it without a roundtable conference … I was shocked by the death of Diêm and Nhu … The question now is whether the generals can stay together and build a stable government or whether … public opinion in Saigon … will turn on this government as repressive and undemocratic in the not-too-distant future.

Kennedy did not live to learn the answer to his question. He was murdered in Dallas 18 days later.

Lyndon Johnson inherited both the presidency and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Vietnam. As vice president, he had opposed the Diêm coup, and he now dreaded being drawn more deeply into the conflict. He hoped the South Vietnamese would “get off their butts and get out in those jungles and whip hell out of some Communists,” he told an aide. “And then I want ’em to leave me alone, because I’ve got some bigger things to do right here at home.” Yet, like Kennedy, he allowed political calculations to affect his approach to the war.

It was not until the 1990s that most of the Johnson recordings began to be processed, digitized, and made accessible to the public—they are still not fully transcribed, and some remain classified. But the 700 mesmerizing hours of tape that are available cast new light on the inner workings of his presidency. In public, Johnson confidently reassured the country that the war in Vietnam was going well. Privately, his frustrations and misgivings were on excruciating display. In May 1964, less than six months before the presidential election, Johnson confessed to National-Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy that he did not know what to do.

johnson: I just stayed awake last night thinking about this thing—the more I think of it, I don’t know what in the hell … It looks like to me we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don’t see what we can ever hope to get out of there with once we’re committed … I don’t think it’s worth fighting for and I don’t think we can get out. And it’s just the biggest damn mess I ever saw.

bundy: It is, it’s an awful mess …

johnson: I just thought about ordering those kids in there, and what in the hell am I ordering [them] out there for?

bundy: One thing that has occurred to me—

johnson: What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? … What is it worth to this country? …

bundy: Yup. Yup.

johnson: Now, of course, if you start running the Communists, they may just chase you right into your own kitchen.

bundy: Yup. That’s the trouble. And that is what the rest of that half of the world is going to think if this thing comes apart on us …

johnson: It’s damned easy to get in a war, but it’s going to be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you get in.

Johnson’s doubts about whether the war was winnable or worth fighting persisted throughout his presidency. But he could not countenance being seen as the first commander in chief to lose a war. In 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told the president that even if he committed more men, the chances of victory were no better than one in three. Johnson still decided to escalate.

As American casualties mounted and news filtered back home that the war was not going nearly as well as the White House had been claiming, the public’s faith in Johnson began to wane. Politicians and journalists described a “credibility gap”—the space between the president’s assertions and the facts on the ground. Skepticism eventually gave way to disillusionment with the presidency itself.Richard Nixon’s presidency carried that process of disillusionment much further. Nixon’s fondness for audio recordings is notorious. We rightly remember that it was transcripts revealing the president’s crude, cutthroat willingness to conceal his crimes that shocked the nation and forced him from office. But we often forget that the war and the Watergate scandal were inextricably intertwined. Before the White House Plumbers botched the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, they attempted to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, by stealing files from his psychiatrist’s office.

When audio of the Nixon tapes eventually became public in 1980—2,658 of the 3,400 hours are now accessible—Americans could hear for themselves just how cynically the president had approached the war. On tape, he is frequently ruthless, amoral, and self-interested. Nixon had promised peace with honor, but as he weighed the consequences of American withdrawal, chief among his concerns was the potential effect on his reelection in 1972 if Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Nixon and his national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger, returned to this worry again and again, including on May 29, 1971, in a conversation not released to the public until 1999:

kissinger: The only problem is to prevent the collapse in ’72 … If it’s got to go to the Communists, it’d be better to have it happen in the first six months of the new term than have it go on and on and on.

nixon: Sure.

kissinger: I’m being very cold-blooded about it.

nixon: I know exactly what we’re up to …

kissinger: But on the other hand, if Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam go down the drain in September ’72, then they’ll say you went into these … You spoiled so many lives, just to wind up where you could’ve been in the first year.

nixon: Yeah.

The revelations of the Nixon tapes destroyed his presidency and further eroded American faith in the office itself. The presidents of the post-Vietnam era have never managed to fully restore that faith, and lately, it seems, confidence in the chief executive is at a new low, even if tape recorders are no longer running in the Oval Office.

But we needn’t succumb to the cynicism often on display in the Vietnam recordings. The war may have robbed America of its innocence, but it also reminded us that the duty of citizens in a democracy is to be skeptical—not to worship our leaders, who have always been fallible, but to question their decisions, challenge their policies, and hold them accountable for their failures.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/how-americans-lost-faith-in-the-presidency/537897/

“Drone Warrior” – A Stunning First Hand Memoir

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After a careful review by the Intelligence Community for Publication, Drone Warrior has performed a stunning service, giving the reader a gut level feel for the U.S. War on Terror from a decorated soldier’s perspective. 

Those of us who served in Vietnam and similar conflicts since can totally relate to this masterpiece of  honesty.  

Brett Velicovich pulls no punches. The mental stress, teamwork, tragedy and after effects in this modern, technological killing process can be felt with every line.  The impact on the man himself and on those with whom he worked has not been spared in its detail and its effects. 

Having left the service, Brett is now involved in harnessing and controlling the technology for peaceful purposes like wildlife preservation and management.  Those of us who have made similar transitions applaud, commend and recommend the book and the man. 

Read it to become informed and consider the billions we are spending on this warfare today as well as the impact on our youth and our future. 

Drone Warrior

Leadership and the Myth of “Better Wars” From Vietnam to Afghanistan

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Diplomacy Better International Strategy

“WAR ON THE ROCKS” By Jon Askonas

‘The United States cannot afford to pretend that gurus will deliver rapid and satisfying victory.

Nor can America’s political leaders allow temporary success to distract them from the hard questions they must face about what America can hope to achieve in these wars, and whether the nation is willing to pay the cost.”


“For a variety of reasons, Vietnam is in the news again. The 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive is coming up, Ken Burns has a new documentary out, and our re-commitment to Afghanistan has revived comparisons to Vietnam. It is, perhaps, more fundamentally the Vietnam War’s shape-shifting character and bitter ending that keep it alive. Every stage of the so-called War on Terror has involved relitigating Vietnam, as a metaphor, warning, and source of historical lessons. Much attention has been focused on how the United States stumbled into the “quagmire,” but students of America’s experience in the War on Terror have a lot to learn from the Vietnam War’s denouement under Gen. Creighton Abrams, Jr., and what it says about the hopes societies at war invest in their military leadership.

In the late 1990s, the historian Lewis Sorley wrote a book, A Better War, highlighting the progress the U.S. military in Vietnam, under Abrams, made after the Tet Offensive. The “better war” is Sorley’s shorthand for the notion that, first, Abrams transformed the American effort in Vietnam, fighting a better war than the previous commander, Gen. William Westmoreland, and, second, that Abrams was a latter-day Ulysses S. Grant who, disappointed by Washington’s fecklessness, “deserved” a better war. Abrams died in 1974 (the only Army chief of staff to die in office), before the fall of Saigon and before he could write a memoir, so Sorley effectively wrote one for him.

Sorley holds that Abrams’ transformation of Vietnam from Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy, big-unit war of attrition to a clear-and-hold, small-unit war of pacification routed the North Vietnamese, so that the U.S. military effectively had it in the bag by 1972, only to fail to back the South Vietnamese with materiel and airpower in 1975. Sorley’s historiography has some serious problems. More recently, Gregory Daddis has revisited Westmoreland’s role in Vietnam in Westmoreland’s War. Daddis finds a man who was neither the heartless body-counter nor the reluctant counter-insurgent that his detractors suggested. Daddis’ work contributes to a broader re-assessment of counter-insurgency in Vietnam prior to Abrams (and soon, during his command). Contrary to the reigning conventional wisdom, historians have increasingly highlighted the centrality of counter-insurgency to America’s Vietnam strategy from the beginning, even as that strategy was frustrated by political, military, and organizational realities. Westmoreland’s failures, such as they were, were not due to his personality or approach but due to the inherent complexity of the war in which he was engaged and the political and military constraints he faced.

While Sorley reflects on the way the war shifted form under Abrams’ command, he never reflects on the way it might have shifted before Abrams arrived. Abrams’ ability to avoid “the big unit war” and focus on small unit patrols was surely aided by the fact that the North Vietnamese were reluctant to engage in big-unit fighting for quite some time after having been decimated in the Tet Offensive. Sorley is in the awkward position of having written a biography of a victorious general in a war the United States lost. Sorley begins his thirteenth chapter – entitled “Victory” – with the claim that, “there came a time when the war was won. The fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won.”  For Sorley, there is no causal connection between the eventual loss of the war and the actions of the general who led it for the five years leading up to the end.

The problems with Sorley’s book are endemic to writing about Vietnam, and about counter-insurgencies in general. Involving shifting alliances of actors, multiple kinds of political constraints, and hazy relationships between coercion and results, success and failure in counter-insurgencies resist simple explanation and invite revisionism. It’s due to this complexity that serious students of the war can look at the same set of events and come to entirely paradoxical conclusions, such as that the war was unwinnable at any point, or could have been won before 1963, or was effectively won by 1972, or that the U.S. military focused (or even over-focused) on counter-insurgency from the beginning or from Abrams’ tenure, or avoided it like the plague in favor of conventional approaches. Sorley’s narrative fails to a great extent because he neglects to contend with the mind-numbing complexity of the war, putting success and failure on the shoulders of Abrams alone.

This should clue us in to an important lesson about the paradoxical danger of heroic leadership – a danger that haunts our country in the present. As you read his book, it’s striking how badly Sorley wants you to see Abrams as a personality. Every other person in the drama is a cardboard character. But Sorley presents Abrams as a larger-than-life counter-insurgent, a Lawrence of Indochina. His dialogue is colorful and stylized (he is apparently the only soldier in Vietnam who swears), with italics used to give you a sense of Abrams’ cadence. The contrast between the heroic Abrams and the milquetoast ensemble has little to do with the historical Abrams and everything to do with what Sorley needs for his story to make sense.

The man Sorley presents is a mythological archetype: the counter-insurgency guru. Abrams, readers are told, is a study in contrasts from “Westie,” the hapless, careerist, conventionally-minded general trying to win a war of attrition. Abrams is the sophisticated, worldly-wise, earnest counter-insurgent who really gets the war and the people, beloved by his men and the local populace alike. Where Westmoreland was a “corporation executive in uniform”, as Stanley Karnow put it, (complete with a degree from an advanced management course at Harvard Business School), Abrams was the earthy and decorated hero of Patton’s breakthrough at Bastogne and two-time recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. America was losing in Vietnam because Westmoreland had the wrong strategy, and started winning because Abrams had a better one. The war was lost because Congress didn’t see Abrams’ plans through.

We like to tell ourselves these kinds of myths, complete with a supporting cast of good guys and bad guys and an easy to grasp narrative arch. These myths make thorny, complex wars seem intelligible, and tell us that our failures have primarily been failures of military strategy and approach, solved by fighting “a better war” delivered by the best leaders we can find: Before, America had military and political leaders whose views on the war were too simplistic or whose ideas about societal engineering and nation-building were unrealistic. But now, we have been chastened by the horror of war and the realities on the ground, and have found an appropriately sober, savvy leader. The temptation of this myth is the belief that the sophistication and intelligence of our leadership will necessarily deliver victory.

In Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Americans turned to counter-insurgency gurus in whom they invested their hopes for “a better war” and an end to the conflict, in contrast to what is depicted as the uninspired performances of their predecessors (Westmoreland, Casey, and the rotating cast of Afghanistan commanders). Politically, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon needed Abrams, much as Bush needed Petraeus, and Obama needed McChrystal … until he did not and then he needed Petraeus again. The guru promises a fresh start and a new approach, and symbolizes a real commitment to winning the war. And the guru does usually boost flagging morale, help the military adjust to the conflict, apply principles of counter-insurgency and show some results. But we don’t like to talk about how much time a truly successful campaign would require or what often happens next. The guru achieves some meaningful level of success, enough for Washington to declare a victory of sorts and bring the troops home (against the guru’s advice). Defeat ensues, even if we refuse to call it such.

Quite apart from their historical accomplishments, figures like Abrams, Petraeus, and McChrystal play a mythological role that is equally indispensable and dangerous. In each case, Americans want to believe that these dirty, grinding wars in which they have become mired have finally called forth a champion, who will fight a better war and deliver a victory. While this myth can be a valuable tool to mobilize political resources, it can also distract from what fighting these wars really takes: long spans of time and deep wells of commitment. A better set of operational tools is not enough. The right technique is not enoughA gentler approach is not enough. Over the last decade the U.S. national security establishment has had to relearn some hard truths. Improvement in counter-insurgency campaigns is usually incremental and tied to organizational learning and experience over time as much as top-down changes of doctrineElite politics has a more determinative effect than good governance reforms or better tactics. Changing the military leadership is no replacement for actually making the resource commitments or costly political compromises necessary to fight and win a counter-insurgency.

Advocates of counter-insurgency often point to the futility of military-first solutions, only to propose their replacement by a new, better set of what fundamentally remain military-first solutions, which fail to address the long-term political calculations that local and national elites are making. Sorley cannot accept that the “center of gravity” in Vietnam was not the security of the Vietnamese people or the North Vietnamese military infrastructure (as important as these were) but American, North Vietnamese, and South Vietnamese political leadership, over which Abrams had little to no influence.

And this is the irony of the mythological counter-insurgency guru: You might not be able to win a war like Vietnam without a guru like Abrams. But the guru’s personality, vigor and success also make it easier, and more attractive, to cut your losses in a politically acceptable fashion.”

https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/the-heroic-leader-and-the-better-war-from-vietnam-to-afghanistan/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jon Askonas is a predoctoral fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas-Austin and a DPhil candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford. His current research addresses the impact US Army policies in Vietnam had on knowledge production, learning on the ground, and battlefield effectiveness.

 

How to Destroy Afghanistan: Establish a Private Contractor Army

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“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By Molly Dunigan

” The Department of Defense already has a relatively large number of operational contractors working in Afghanistan (23,525 in total as of July 2017).

In recent weeks, two major players in the private security industry proposed that Trump administration officials privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to an unprecedented degree.

Erik Prince, former owner of the now-defunct firm Blackwater Worldwide, proposed a scheme that would entail the appointment of a viceroy to oversee operations in Afghanistan, and the use of “private military units” to fill in gaps left by departing U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Stephen Feinberg—owner of DynCorp International, which holds numerous major U.S. government security contracts at present—similarly proposed that the Trump administration privatize the military force in Afghanistan, though his conceptualization of such a force calls for it to be placed under CIA control.

Luckily, Defense Secretary Mattis reportedly has so far declined both offers. Research overwhelmingly indicates that replacing U.S. military personnel with contractors is not likely to be a militarily effective solution for the Afghanistan problem.

First, research has shown that security contractors tend to decrease military effectiveness when working alongside regular military units in large numbers, primarily due to coordination issues fed by convoluted command-and-control systems and resentment and misperception between the two types of forces. Coordination problems between the military and contractor forces lead contractors to have a negative impact on the military’s integration, responsiveness, and skill when the two groups are co-deployed in the field.

Second, while security contractors operating on their own—free from any alliance with an extensive force of friendly military troops—have been shown in some instances to increase operational effectiveness and achieve tactical and strategic goals, this has primarily occurred when they have been sent into an area without clear state support. In such cases, they can operate covertly and with “plausible deniability” for the state actor supporting them, which may allow for looser interpretations of the norms of international humanitarian law. In other words, contractors can be effective, but it may not always be pretty. Notably, current Department of Defense policy mandates compliance with standards of behavior may preclude such activities—but may also explicitly preclude some of what Prince is proposing.

Perhaps more relevant in this case is the fact that the tactical and strategic effectiveness of contractors who are operating without longer-term military support typically lasts only as long as the contract is in place. In Sierra Leone, in the late 1990s, paramilitary firm Executive Outcomes was successful in securing enough of the country to hold the first free elections in thirty years, but the peacefully-elected president was then ousted in a coup within eighty-nine days of the contract expiration.

Third, in a counterinsurgency effort such as Afghanistan, U.S. military policy focuses on establishing legitimacy with local civilians. The use of armed contractors has been shown to be risky in this regard: a survey of 152 U.S. troops showed in 2007 that 20 percent of them had at times witnessed armed contractors performing unnecessarily threatening, arrogant or belligerent actions in Iraq. Similarly, nearly 50 percent of a sample of 782 surveyed State Department personnel who had experience working alongside armed contractors in Iraq showed in 2008 that armed contractors did not display an understanding of—or sensitivity to—Iraqi people and their culture.

Both recruitment and retention are critical here. At key points during the contracting surge in the early years of the Iraq War, private security company vetting and hiring standards varied and were at times relaxed in order to hire a large number of contractors quickly. A company’s recruitment policy could therefore affect the quality of the force.

Moreover, the labor pool for highly skilled contractors is limited, and both retention of such skilled personnel and their overall effectiveness could be hindered by deployment-related health effects: a 2013 study indicated that 25 percent of a large, multinational sample of contractors screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a rate higher than among civilians (6 percent have PTSD) or even U.S. service members (8–20 percent). Even more troubling, 23 percent of those who were deployed overseas at the time of the 2013 survey had probable PTSD, and most were not being treated for it. In contrast to the numerous mental-health resources available to members of the U.S. military, very few (if any) resources are available to help private contractors struggling with deployment-related mental health problems, and seeking help is highly stigmatized across this population. Research has found that untreated mental-health problems reduce productivity and attentiveness—setting the stage for decreased effectiveness and even the potential for harm in an operational environment if left untreated.

None of these research findings bode well for the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan if contractors are used to replace U.S. troops in the country. While operational contractors are now an entrenched part of the Department of Defense’s “total force” and are here to stay, large-scale privatization of the U.S. force in Afghanistan is unlikely to be effective.”

Molly Dunigan is a senior political scientist and associate director of the Defense and Political Sciences Department at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a lecturer in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-destroy-afghanistan-establish-private-contractor-army-21886

 

 

$9.29 Billion In F-35 Fighter Contract Awards to Lockheed in July 2017

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F-35As at Luke Air Force Base

“BREAKING DEFENSE”

” [Friday, July 27 2017] – A $3.69 billion contract was awarded Lockheed Martin for 50 foreign F-35s and work on the Lot 11 LRIP.

Separately, Lockheed won an interim payment of $5.6 billion in early July to help pay for the 91 American F-35s jets in LRIP 11.”


“After the markets closed on a sleepy and rainy summer Friday afternoon, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was ousted and DHS Secretary John Kelly named to take his place, and, oh, by the way, a $3.69 billion contract was awarded Lockheed Martin for 50 foreign F-35s and work on the Lot 11 LRIP.

What’s in play here?

Most of the money, $2.2 billion, goes to buy one British F-35B, one Italian F-35A, eight Australian F-35As, eight Dutch F-35As, four Turkish F-35As, six Norwegian F-35As aircraft, and 22 F-35As for Foreign Military Sales customers.

The F-35 Joint Program Office said the Pentagon would continue to negotiate the 11th low rate initial production contract with Lockheed Martin and expected an agreement by the end of 2017. The full contract should be finished by the end of the year, the JPO said in a statement. At the same time, they said they are negotiating a separate deal with Pratt & Whitney for the F135 engines, which should be done about the same time.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/07/one-big-f-35-contract-2-8b-of-3-7b-for-foreign-planes/

The U.S. And North Korea – Warpath Paved With Rational Decisions?

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Stratfor U.S. and N. Korea War

“STRATFOR”

“Neither wants war; each side strongly prefers an alternative path to resolve the core issues underlying the crisis.

Yet their differing strategic imperatives and desired end states leave little room for compromise.

War is rarely the first option for countries trying to preserve or enhance their strategic positions. The United States and North Korea alike would rather avoid a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which would be complicated and costly for all parties involved.

As North Korea draws closer to achieving long-range missile capabilities, something it sees as a security guarantee, the United States faces mounting pressure to act. But as Washington tries to coerce North Korea to end its quest for more sophisticated arms, Pyongyang feels compelled to accelerate its nuclear weapons and missile development. Each country is merely acting to preserve its interests. But their interests are driving them closer to a physical confrontation.

The Rational Assumption

Geopolitics teaches us to assume rationality on the part of actors on the international stage. The assumption doesn’t suppose that individual leaders are somehow beyond the influence of emotion, misinformation or miscalculation. Rather it acknowledges the deeper forces at work, from the interactions of place and people that shape national characteristics and strategic culture to the systems and structures that develop in countries over time. No leader operates free of these constraints and compulsions. Though they still have leeway to shape their policies and actions, leaders, as individuals and as a collective group, do so within limits defined in large part by the environments in which they emerged. The rationality we assume from leaders is not universal; it is the product of their place and time under the influence of factors such as history, geography and economics.

The key, then, is to understand what guides the rationality of a country’s leadership, on an individual level and in the government as a whole. After all, no one individual rules a country, since no single person could extend power over an entire population without the help of intermediaries. And each layer of leadership adds another set of constraints to the exercise of power. Disagreements arise in governments and in the populations they preside over. But the forces that influence the options available to leaders are far larger than the concerns of the individual. It is an analyst’s job to understand and explain these factors, and a policymaker’s job to take them into account when considering how to achieve a desired outcome.

Even so, it is sometimes simpler in international relations to assume one’s adversaries are crazy. They don’t follow the desired path or react in the anticipated way, so they must be acting irrationally. If one makes the wrong assumptions of an adversary (or even of an ally), however, the response to a given action may be far from what was intended.

Of course, understanding the other side doesn’t guarantee the desired outcome, either. Irreconcilable differences in interests and perceptions of risk can get in the way of compromise. The most viable solution often is to constantly adjust one’s actions to manage these contradictions, even if they prove insurmountable. At times, though, the differences can be so intractable as to drive nations into conflict if each side’s pursuit of contrary interests leads to fear and insecurity for the other. Moves by one nation to constrain the threatening behavior it perceives from another then perpetuate the cycle of action and reaction. In the case of North Korea and the United States, the contradiction in their interests is growing ever starker as Pyongyang accelerates its nuclear weapons program and nears its goal of developing a missile capable of striking the continental United States.

As Pyongyang draws closer to the deliverable long-range nuclear weapon it has long pursued, Washington will be forced to decide whether to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and live with that reality or to take the necessary steps to disarm it.

A Mutual Misunderstanding

Misunderstandings, misapplied assumptions and mismatched goals have characterized relations between the United States and North Korea for decades. Washington expected — or at least hoped — that North Korea would collapse on its own under the force of economic and social pressures. The evaluation misjudged the country as the Asian equivalent of an Eastern Bloc state waiting for the Soviet Union’s demise to break free from the shackles of a foreign-imposed power structure. North Korea hasn’t collapsed. In fact, in times of trouble, its neighbors (and even the United States) have helped stabilize the government in Pyongyang for fear that the consequences of the country’s failure would be more dangerous than the risks entailed in its survival. North Korea, meanwhile, considered itself a fixture on the United States’ target list, a remnant of the Cold War that Washington was trying to toss on the ash heap of history.

The two have had many opportunities for some form of reconciliation over the years. Time and again, though, progress has run afoul of perceived threats, diverging commitments, changing priorities, domestic politics and even extraregional events. As Pyongyang draws closer to the deliverable long-range nuclear weapon it has long pursued, Washington will be forced to decide whether to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and live with that reality or to take the necessary steps to disarm it. The cost of action is high, but so is the perceived threat of inaction.”

STRATFOR – On a Warpath Paved With Rational Decisions