As the world changes, is the nuclear strategy landscape changing or staying remarkably consistent? We had a nice chat about such in lovely Hamburg, courtesy of the Nuclear Studies Research Initiative (NSRI). Don't miss this episode, featuring Fiona Cunningham of George Washington University, Francis Gavin of Johns Hopkins, Ulrich Kühn of the University of Hamburg, and Jane Vaynman of Temple University.
Have you heard of the 'For Country' caucus? In a political moment defined by acrimony above all else, this caucus brings together members of Congress who have served in the military — Democrats and Republicans. They meet regularly and work together on interests of common concern, including defense, but also beyond. And shortly after the president was impeached, on a week that might be the peak of partisan peevishness, four members of the caucus — Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Michael Waltz (R-FL) — sat down with Ryan to explain why they are still friends and what unites them.
How could symphonies inspire the Army to change the way it selects leaders? The answer might surprise you. Gen. James C. McConville, the Army's 40th chief of staff, has given his marching orders: The Army's top priority is people — more specifically, overhauling talent management. How will future leaders be assessed, selected, and promoted?
To understand the huge changes underway, Ryan spoke with Maj. Gen. J.P. McGee, who leads the Army's Talent Management Task Force. McGee gives us a deep look inside his team's efforts, to include a new battalion commander selection process that could lead to a cascade of personnel reforms. If you're in the Army, know anyone in the Army, or are interested in the power of personnel policies, you won't want to miss this.
For a transcript of this episode, please click here.
If you read War on the Rocks, you've noticed there's a lively debate over the state of wargaming in the Department of Defense. After senior leaders pushed for a renewed emphasis on wargaming several years ago, are these games any good? Are they doing what they need to be doing for the U.S. military? If not, who is at fault — the gaming community or the customers sitting in the five-sided building? To tackle these questions and more, we gathered a gifted group of gamesome and gallant gamers. Join Ryan's conversation with Ellie Bartels, ED McGrady, and Peter Perla.
Jon Compton, "The Obstacles on the Road to Better Analytical Wargaming"
Phillip Pournelle, "Can the Cycle of Research Save American Military Strategy?"
Peter Perla, Web Ewell, Christopher Ma, Justin Peachy, Jeremy Sepinksy, and Basil Tripsas, "Rolling the Iron Dice: From Analytical Wargaming to the Cycle of Research"
ED McGrady, "Getting the Story Right About Wargaming"
Elizabeth Bartels, "Getting the Most Out of Your Wargame: Practical Advice for Decision-Makers"
Robert Work and Paul Selva, "Revitalizing Wargaming is Necessary to be Prepared for Future Wars"
A few years ago, Ryan recorded a boozy interview with Max Brooks...and then never released it. Who knows why, but it's a fun conversation that you're sure to enjoy during this holiday week. Max is most famous as the author of World War Z, but he has a remarkably diverse collection of works, from The Harlem Hellfighters to some unusual episodes of GI Joe. This episode covers a lot of ground, from his body of work, his collaborations with the U.S. military, rum, and being a part of a famous family.
Since this episode was first recorded, Max has been a busy guy. He is one of the editors of
Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict and has a new horror novel coming out next year called Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, which is available for pre-order.
Ryan sat down for a conversation Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico to talk about an issue that matters a lot to them and should matter a lot to you: war powers. In her contribution to a new roundtable on war powers, Oona Hathaway has a perfect lede: “The U.S. Congress has not approved a use of force since 2002. And yet the United States certainly has not been at peace in the years since.”
Military operations all across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa are ongoing and expanding. As Hathaway writes elegantly they are all “grounded in capacious readings of Congress’ 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force.” Edward Corwin described the way foreign relations powers are divvied up in the constitution as an “invitation to struggle”. But — as the years since these aging authorizations have demonstrated — it’s not a fair fight, is it?
Don’t miss this episode, which pairs well with the new war powers roundtable in the Texas National Security Review.
What is the proper role of retired general and flag officers in American politics? This is a question that has been debated for a long time, but things have heated up since the 2016 elections due to the prominent role of retired generals in that presidential campaign and in the Trump administration. Even more recently, retired Adm. Bill McRaven penned an op-ed that attracted the attention of many, but especially those who study civil-military relations. The premiere scholarly society focused on civil-military relations was in town over the weekend, so Ryan decided to have a few people over to War on the Rocks headquarters to sort through it all. He was joined by Risa Brooks, Peter Feaver, Jim Golby, and Alice Hunt Friend.
“Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’” This line, often attributed to Mark Twain (it wasn’t him) speaks to the thorny feelings that writers associate with those who shape their prose. Now that the War on the Rocks editorial team has grown so much, we thought this was a good opportunity for you to get to know our Washington-based editors a bit better: Doyle Hodges, Shane Mason, and Rebecca Zimmerman. This team combines career experience in the U.S. Navy, various think tanks, in the fields and headquarters of Afghanistan, to low-budget music tour vans. If you’re interested in their career trajectories, mentors who made a difference, how to be a civilian in a military dominated environment (or vice versa), the books and plays they love, hard-earned professional lessons, or just better knowing the people who wield the red pen, you’ll enjoy this one.
President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. special operations forces in advance of a Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria continues to roil the region. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations, Nick Danforth of the German Marshall Fund, and Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group join the show to help us understand why this happened, how it affected people on the ground, and what happens next in this long-running civil war. We also preview a WarCast with Aaron Stein of the Foreign Policy Research Institute on the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Further reading and listening:
Aaron Stein, "U.S. Officials Ignored Trump on Syria and Now We're All Paying the Price"
Sam Heller, "America In Search of an Un-Geneva for Syria"
Nick Danforth, Doug Ollivant, Elizabeth Saunders, and Ryan Evans, "Mayhem and Misadventures in the Middle East"
Maybe you've already heard about the Marine commandant's new planning guidance. Maybe you haven't. If you care about how strategy at the service level can work at its best, then you should take a close look. This episode digs into how tough questions from Congress, hard-hitting and public writing by servicemembers, and bold thinking by senior leaders all interacted to create an important document that will chart the way ahead for the Marine Corps.
The core of this episode is a conversation with Chris Brose, the former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the current head of strategy of Anduril Industries. Chris breaks down what's special about this document, what it gets right about the future of warfare and the rise of the defensive, and what the Army, Navy, and Air Force can learn from the Marine Corp's example. We also include a long segment from the last big speech by Gen. Robert Neller, the last commandant of the Marine Corps, which hinted where the service was going to go under Gen. David Berger, his successor. We also feature a clip from a recent episode of "Net Assessment," one of our other podcasts. And, finally, we close with some thoughts from Brose about life in the Senate, moving to the private sector, ethics and autonomy, and what Anduril -- a most interesting company -- is up to.
Every summer, the War on the Rocks crew travels to Beaver Creek, Colorado, where the Clements Center hosts its summer seminar -- an intimate gathering for PhD students, senior scholars, former policymakers, and a misanthropic editor and podcast host. In this episode, Alexandra Evans, Jim Goldgeier, Tanvi Madan, Doyle Hodges, and aforementioned misanthrope -- Ryan Evans -- fielded questions on international security from the junior scholars in attendance that they considered oft-ignored or ill-explored.
Ryan caught a flight with Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of the Air Force, who broke down how his service is preparing for a new era of great power competition. What is the Air Force of today doing to get ready? What will the Air Force of the future look like? With support from two bright Air Force officers studying at Maxwell Air Force Base -Lynn Haack and Stephen Bressett- he puts some meat on the bones of "multi-domain operations," where the U.S. military is ending up on Space Force, and how military power can enable and reinforce diplomacy. The chief closes with some kind words about War on the Rocks and the importance of public engagement by Air Force personnel.
Almost exactly one year ago, an Air Force colonel using a pseudonym -- 'Ned Stark' -- penned an article for War on the Rocks . This cri de coeur -- a call for major reforms to how the Air Force selects and promotes leaders -- quickly burned across the author's service. It fueled an important debate and even elicited a supportive response and job offer from none other than Gen. David L. Goldfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force. 'Stark' penned more articles for War on the Rocks and the Air Force Times in the year that followed. And now he is choosing to come out into the open and reveal his identity. Listen to his conversation with Ryan Evans on why he chose to join the public debate, the benefits and costs to using a pseudonym, the difficulties of hiding his identity, and the fundamentally important personnel and leadership issues at stake in the U.S. Air Force. Ned also talks about his future, the role of faith in his professional ethics, and what books have most influenced him.
It's time to rejuvenate America's national debate on grand strategy. And that's just what we try to do in this latest episode, which was recorded at the Michael J. Zak lecture series hosted by the Center for a New American Security. The debate got spirited! So who are these fresh voices? If you're an avid War on the Rocks listener and reader, you might already know some of them (because we are the freshest national security publication out there, amirite?): Rebecca Lissner (U.S. Naval War College, yes her opinions are hers and hers alone), Josh Shifrinson (Boston University), Kate Kizer (Win Without War), and Emma Ashford (Cato Institute).
Debates over civil-military relations have reached a fever pitch since the 2016 presidential campaign and the beginning of the Trump administration. Many have focused on the top-down questions: What role should retired generals play in our political system? What are the consequences of having so many former military leaders at the upper-most ranks of a presidential administration? Should we be worried about the state of civilian leadership in the Pentagon? But to put those in their right context, it is important to look at civil-military relations from the bottom-up. How are ethics taught to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines? What is the state of the profession of arms? What does it really mean for the American people to honor their troops? In this episode, we tackle many of these questions from the top-down and the bottom-up with a terrific panel of experts: Loren DeJonge Schulman of the Center for a New American Security, Alice Hunt Friend of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Steven Foster of the U.S. Army and one of the contributors to Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics.
With the last slivers of Syrian territory being wrested from the grasp of the Islamic State, where does the war against this tenacious terrorist organization go next? To understand where we came and where we are heading, we assembled a fantastic cast of experts that co-hosts Usha Sahay and Ryan Evans did their best to wrangle: Rasha al-Aqeedi of FRPI, Ryan Fishel of the U.S. Air Force, Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute, Haroro Ingram of Program on Extremism at GWU, Brett Reichert of the U.S. Army, and Aaron Stein of FPRI.
Our guests in this episode range from people who fought the self-proclaimed Caliphate on the ground and in the air to scholars, think tankers, and analysts.
The Middle East is the region that keeps on giving, and taking away. How has the American approach to the use of force evolved in Syria and Iraq? And what is the relationship between U.S. politics and these policies? How is Turkey preparing for the possible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria? What is Iraq's view of the region's conflicts? Is the Trump administration really taking the fight to Iran somehow? What of other great powers interests? Our guests tackle these questions and many more. We were joined -- over drinks of course -- by Doug Ollivant of New America and Mantid International,* Elizabeth Saunders of Georgetown University, and Nicholas Danforth of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Don't forget to check out the War on the Rocks membership program: https://warontherocks.com/membership
*Mantid does business in Iraq
About a year after the National Defense Strategy was launched, what progress has been made when it comes to America's edge against its great power rivals? And what role do great power partners, like India, have to play?
Over drinks at the Jefferson Hotel's Quill Bar (our old school recording location, as longtime listeners of the show will remember) Elbridge Colby, Tanvi Madan, Roger Zakheim, and Nina Kollars debate these questions and more.
Bad ideas. How much trouble do they cause in national security? How do they disrupt or hinder the protection and advancement of American interests? Where do they come from? How do they gain traction? Our friends at the Center for Strategic and International Studies decided to delve more deeply into these questions and more with their project, “Bad Ideas in National Security.” It features short articles from various thinkers on recently considered and not too obvious bad ideas in the defense and foreign policy space. In this episode of the War on the Rocks podcast, we dig into a selection of them with a stellar panel of experts. Also, Zack Cooper and I continue our self-indulgent feud on the great wargame controversy of 2016, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to our last episode.
You can read all the articles in the “Bad Ideas” series at the CSIS website.