Small Wars Journal

Latest Issue of the U.S. Army War College’s Parameters Now Online

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 10:34am

U.S. Army War College’s Parameters- Winter 2016-17 Vol. 46, No. 4

Special Commentary

The Army's Identity Crisis by Gates Brown

Toward Strategic Solvency

Ensuring Effective Military Voice by William E. Rapp

The Crisis of American Military Primacy and the Search for Strategic Solvency  by Hal Brands and Eric Edelman

Are Our Strategic Models Flawed?

Faith in War: The American Roots of Global Conflict by Gregory A. Daddis

Solving America's Gray-Zone Puzzle by Isaiah Wilson III and Scott Smitson

Strategic Uncertainty, the Third Offset, and US Grand Strategy by Ionut C. Popescu

Ends + Ways + Means = (Bad) Strategy by Jeffrey W. Meiser

Regional Issues in Asia

Turning It Up to Eleven: Belligerent Rhetoric in North Korea's Propaganda by Mason Richey

Foreign Military Education as PLA Soft Power by John S. Van Oudenaren and Benjamin E. Fisher


The "Parameters" article "Solving America's Gray-Zone Puzzle," by Isiah Wilson III and Scott Smitson, in part, suggests that the U.S./the West accept full responsibility for the contemporary threats to, and the current undermining of, the international system:


The regime governing and determining the degree of stability and peace in the international system of nation-states was built upon the principle of nonintervention into the internal affairs of sovereign territorially defined nation-states as well as the inviolability of a state’s territorial borders short of self-defense or United Nations Security Council mandate. Particularly since the end of the Cold War in 1991, alternative norms and principles -- which not only provide rationales for foreign intervention into the internal affairs of a sovereign state but also increasingly mandated and required such intervention against states on behalf of national or individual human security concerns -- have competed with these governing principles. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s intervention in Libya, during the Arab Spring, epitomized this tension.

The United States, by leading the Westphalian international system both in word and more importantly in action, has had a significantly disruptive impact on the stability of the world system -- either directly through the negative externalities caused by military intervention -- or indirectly by providing the justifications (and precedent) used by gray-zone states to rationalize their own military interventions. Russia routinely uses this logic to defend its role in Crimea and in the ongoing conflict in Syria.


Bottom Line:

Post-the Old Cold War, it appears that the U.S./the West -- and re: its desire to transform the entire Rest of the World more along our (alien and profane) modern western political, economic, social and value lines -- determined that the principles of (a) nonintervention into the internal affairs of sovereign territorially defined nation-states and (b) the inviolability of a state’s territorial borders; that these such principles were no longer compatible with our post-Old Cold War "expansionist," and "internationalist," needs and interests.

Thus, and accordingly for all intensive purposes, these such principles were generally ignored and/or blatantly violated by the U.S./the West post-the Old Cold War. (As we would expect that they would have been similarly ignored and/or blatantly violated by the Soviets/the communists if they, instead of the U.S./the West, had won the Old Cold War. Yes?)

And, once these principles became ignored and blatantly violated by the Westphalian "international system" leader (to wit: U.S./the West -- who at this point was playing "offense"), then they could -- logically it would seem -- be ignored and/or blatantly violated by those other entities (both great nations and small, and both state and non-state actors) who were, thus threatened by U.S./the West, forced into playing "defense."

Herein, and in this exact light, to understand our authors' statement below:


The Pentagon’s top gray-zone threat concerns -- the 4 + 1 revisionist states of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as the non-state threat of violent global extremist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State -- are not simply happenstance.


Bill C.

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 10:19am

These two -- apparently opposed(?) -- "Parameters" articles appear to outline the question of our time; this being, (a) why do we need a larger military if (b) the application of our military has not proven useful in helping the U.S. achieve its strategic objective?

Article No. One: "The Crisis of American Military Primacy and the Search for Strategic Solvency" by Hal Brands and Eric Edelman


"This military dominance has constituted the hard-power backbone of an ambitious global strategy. After the Cold War, US policymakers committed to averting a return to the unstable multipolarity of earlier eras and to perpetuating the more favorable unipolar order. They committed to fostering a global environment in which liberal values and an open international economy could flourish and in which international scourges such as rogue states, nuclear proliferation, and catastrophic terrorism would be suppressed. And because they saw military force as the ultima ratio regum, they understood the centrality of military preponderance.  Washington would need the military power to underwrite world- wide alliance commitments and preserve substantial overmatch versus any potential great-power rival. The United States must be able to answer the sharpest challenges to the international system, such as Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 or jihadist extremism today. Finally, because prevailing global norms reflect hard-power realities, America would need superiority to assure its own values remain ascendant. Saying US strategy and the international order required “strengths beyond challenge” was impolitic, but it was not inaccurate."

Article No. Two: "Faith in War: The American Roots of Global Conflict" by Gregory A. Daddis


"In truth, much of America’s deployment of military power during the last 50 years, even back to the early twentieth century, rested on a set of absolute beliefs, convictions amounting to a sort of secular fundamentalism. Policymakers and citizens alike possess an enduring faith that the United States, via its military forces, has the power to transform societies abroad. While less religious in its call to arms than militant Islamic extremism, the devotion to reforming the world order in the American image still has strong theological underpinnings. ... Such devotionals suggest many Americans feel war is not a necessary evil; it is simply necessary. This obligation to wage war rests on the conviction that nearly all American interventions abroad are both politically and morally justifiable. Even when questions are raised about legitimacy, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Americans’ faith in the transformative capacities of US military power is hardly dented. Thus, at the close of 2015, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham could argue proper military strategy would enable the United States not only to destroy the Islamic State quickly but also to do so while “creating conditions that can prevent it, or a threat like it, from ever re-emerging.” These aspirations rested on little evidence that the United States could achieve such far-reaching goals in a region stubbornly resistant to American influence."