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War on the Rocks

Great discussions with security, defense, and foreign policy experts recorded over drinks.
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Now displaying: 2020
Nov 23, 2020

For many people, terms like “piracy,” “stowaway,” and “kidnapped” conjure up romantic visions influenced by the literature of Robert Louis Stevenson or C.S. Forester. But as this episode’s guests tell us, these terms actually have deadly serious meanings without much romance and with a great deal of grim reality to them.

 

Doyle Hodges, executive editor of the Texas National Security Review, sits down with Ian Urbina, investigative reporter for the New York Times and author of, The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier, and Martina Vandenberg, president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, to discuss issues related to piracy, kidnapping, and stowaways on the high seas.

Nov 16, 2020

Rebecca Lissner, Mira Rapp-Hooper, and Stephen Wertheim join Doyle Hodges, executive editor of the Texas National Security Review, to share their views on American foreign policy and international order. They have recently published two books on the subject: An Open World: How America Can Win the Contest for Twenty First Century Order, by Rebecca and Mira, and Stephen’s Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy.

Nov 10, 2020

The successful military is the one that adapts and innovates. Dave Barno, Nora Benhahel, and Frank Hoffman join Ryan to talk about how the U.S. military changes, or fails to do so. They have two new books on the subject between them: Adaptation under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime, by Dave and Nora is out now. And Mars Adapting: Military Change During War, by Frank, will be out soon.

 

(This was recorded before the election results were projected)

Nov 2, 2020

In this episode, two members of Congress from two sides of the aisle came together to deliver a message of consensus on the future of the American military. And they did so on the eve of the most contentious presidential election in living memory. Looking for an escape from the drama? Interested in the revolutionary steps the United States needs to take to maintain its military edge? Listen to this episode with Rep. Jim Banks and Rep. Seth Moulton, who c0-chaired the Future of Defense Task Force. You can read the task force's final report (pdf) as well. 

Oct 30, 2020

A Most Terrible Weapon is a podcast about the dawn of the nuclear age, hosted by Usha Sahay and produced by War on the Rocks, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In each episode, Usha takes listeners on a journey into the early years of the Cold War, telling stories about the dilemmas nuclear weapons posed for American and Soviet leaders, and introducing a fascinating cast of characters who were all trying to prevent Armageddon in different ways. Along the way, Usha interviews scholars and other nuclear experts to help make sense of the many atomic mysteries that have yet to be solved.

 

How do you plan for the most destructive war the world has never seen before? After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American leaders had to figure out how - or whether - nuclear weapons would be used in the wars of the future. In the pilot episode of A Most Terrible Weapon, Usha looks at the very first nuclear war plans, the debates inside the Truman administration about whether the bomb could ever be used again, and a terrifying new development - the arrival of the hydrogen bomb. 

 

Featuring: Dr. Lynn Eden, Dr. Marc Trachtenberg, Dr. Alex Wellerstein

Aug 24, 2020

As a part of our exploration of national security learning, we had Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College and Mark Conversino of Air University on the show. Tune into this rich and wide-ranging conversation on what's right and wrong with professional military education in the Navy and Air Force. 

Aug 18, 2020

Soon-to-be retired Maj. Gen. William Mullen drops in on the pod to talk about the making of the Marine Corps' newest doctrine, Learning, and how he hopes it will change his beloved Corps. It's all about two words: lifelong learning.

Aug 10, 2020

David McCormick, the CEO of Bridgewater Associates — the world's largest hedge fund, dropped in on the pod to talk about how the United States can prepare itself to compete in a new era in which, more than ever, economic security is national security. Speaking from decades of experience at the highest levels of industry and government, McCormick lays out what America needs to do from policy to innovation to government reorganization to immigration to talent management and beyond. He also discusses the state of the global economy, the impact of COVID-19, and how America's economy could be reshaped to realize equality of opportunity. Want more? Don't miss his essay in the Texas National Security Review with co-authors Charles Luftig and James Cunningham: "Economic Might, National Security, and the Future of American Statecraft."

Aug 4, 2020

Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson chats with Ryan about how the Army is coping with COVID-19 — starting with the recruitment pipeline — and the challenges of modernization. He also tells us about his military journey: Jim started as a young man in the Army then later joined the Navy, and he retired as judge advocate general of that service. In the last few years, he was called back into public service as a civilian as Army general counsel. In March he was confirmed as and promoted to undersecretary of the Army. He then served briefly as acting secretary of the Navy. Listen to this episode and learn, among other things, why he thought a request to speak to Secretary of Defense James Mattis was a prank and why his first CO in the Navy (a certain John Allen Williams) left a plant in his bed. 

Jul 13, 2020

In this episode, Doyle Hodges, executive editor of the Texas National Security Review, chats wth three authors of recent fiction related to military security that explores questions of how technology, society, and the distance between people and violence affects our conception of war and security. Hodges is joined by Linda Nagata, author of The Last Good Man, a near-future science fiction novel that explores a private military company and what they are capable of doing when they use autonomous weaponry combined with surveillance; August Cole, co-author of Burn-In, a counter-terrorism story that looks at the way American society is going to be transformed by everyday automation and robotics; and Matt Gallagher, author of Empire City, which is an alternate dystopian history set in a contemporary America that won the Vietnam War.

Jun 24, 2020

Well, are they? Mira Rapp-Hooper, Paul Miller, and Emma Ashford dazzle us with a wide-ranging debate on America's alliances, in part through the lens of Mira's new book -- Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Peril of America’s Alliances.

May 14, 2020

There's a revolution coming in education that promises to empower lifelong learners in the national security space. In the first of a series of special episodes, pick apart the technological, organizational, and -- most importantly -- cultural issues at play. What does it all boil down to? What kind of learning should count and how can you make sure it counts? To understand all this, Ryan spoke with Sae Schatz, the Director of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative; retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Frank Kelley, vice president of Defense Acquisitions University; and Jason Tyzsko, the vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

May 12, 2020

How do Russia and China view cyber operations? How is the American view of cyber operations changing and is it changing fast enough? What do advances in scholarship have to tell us about how and why cyber operations matter? What cocktails do we miss the most? This conversation with Erica Borghard, Ben Buchanan, and Fiona Cunningham has something for everyone.

May 7, 2020

In this episode of the War on the Rocks podcast, Doyle Hodges, executive editor of the Texas National Security Review, sits down with Jessica Brandt, head of policy and research for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, and Camille Francois, chief innovation officer at Graphika, to discuss disinformation.

 

Disinformation has been prominent in the minds of many Americans since the 2016 election. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report on April 21 confirming Russian interference in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, in part through the use of disinformation campaigns. With the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a new growth in disinformation campaigns and a new set of challenges.

Apr 13, 2020

Long-time listeners might remember that Martin E. Dempsey, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a guest on our humble show back in early 2014. In the next phase of his career, Dempsey has become a writer or, as he prefers it, a storyteller. He has a book out — his second — called No Time For Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most From West Point To The West Wing. From its stories about Cold War Germany to working for President Obama, Ryan enjoyed the book a great deal. He spoke to Dempsey about the book and all sorts of other things in an extended conversation. 

Apr 6, 2020

As listeners of this podcast know, the Marine Corps is taking a new direction. The latest document to lay out this vision is Force Design 2030. The commandant, Gen. David H. Berger, aims to cut the size of the Marine Corps and let go of some legacy systems (most notably tanks) in order to -- in the words of a recent article in the Economist --- turn the Corps into "a commando-like infantry force with nimbler weapons: drone squadrons will double in number and rocket batteries will triple." In Berger's view, the Marine Corps must make these changes in order to work with the other armed services to deter the People's Republic of China, if necessary, or win a war against it.

 

Ryan spoke with Berger to get the inside story of these reforms, which he describes as being in their earliest phase. "This is not the end of the journey" he said, "but rather the beginning." And he calls upon more voices to chime in with criticism to ensure the Marine Corps is ready for the future of war. 

 

Further reading and listening:

Mar 23, 2020

As the world endures a pandemic, we look to a plague of the past: that which struck Athens early in the Peloponnesian War. And we do so with the aid of Neville Morley, professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Exeter. Where did the plague come from? How did it affect the war? How did it change Athenian society? We explore these questions and more in a fascinating extended conversation. Neville is the perfect guide for these matters, having written many books and articles on different aspects of ancient history and its modern influence, including Roman imperialism, ancient trade, and the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. 

 

Further reading: 

Mar 16, 2020

America has been at war since the fall of 2001. There is no end in sight in Afghanistan, Mesopotamia and the Levant, and beyond. What political and strategic disincentives have stalled Washington's ability to responsibly end its involvement in these wars under Republican and Democratic administrations? After spraying down our studio with grain alcohol to kill the virus afflicting the world (Everclear is the unofficial sponsor of this episode, as is an excellent northern Italian vineyard called Paltrinieri), we convened a great group to grapple with the forever wars: Paul Miller of Georgetown, Sarah Kreps of Cornell, and Will Ruger of the Charles Koch Institute and Foundation. 

 

Further reading:

Mar 9, 2020

Devour this deep dive into the dash to drop America's drawn-out duel in the domain of the Durrani (and different dynasties): Afghanistan. To help us understand what's transpired and the meaning of the new deal between the United States and the Taliban, Ryan was joined by Orzala NematLaurel Miller, and Vikram J. Singh -- all of whom have many years of experience with America's longest war.

 

For members, we have some bonus material (posted in the War Hall): Dr. Nemat tells us what a certain Hamid Karzai has been up to. Want to become a member? Click: https://warontherocks.com/membership/

 

Further reading and listening:

 

Feb 24, 2020

In front of a live audience and with red wine in hand, the War on the Rocks podcast closed out an important conference on civil-military affairs hosted by the Strategic Studies shop over at the School of Advanced International Studies. The guests of this awesome episode include Mara Karlin, Paula Thornhill, Loren DoJonge Shulman, and Nora Bensahel.

Further Reading and Watching:

Watch the conference

Paula Thornhill, Demystifying the American Military: Institutions Evolution and Challenges Since 1789 (Naval Institute Press, 2019)

David Barno and Nora Bensahel, Adaptation under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Feb 17, 2020

Is the U.S. military built and positioned to stop or — if necessary — win the next big war? What should the Navy and Marine Corps of the future look like? What's standing in the way? How can the United States step back from the Middle East and focus on the Pacific? What does The Wire have to teach us about Washington? Why does a member of Congress have a sword, a pull-up bar, and a bottle of Lagavulin 16 in his office? Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Chris Brose of Anduril Industries join Ryan for a wide-ranging conversation that tackles these questions and more. 

 

Further Reading, Listening, and Watching:

Feb 11, 2020

The Trump administration made big news recently — and it wasn’t about impeachment. On Jan. 31, the White House announced that it was cancelling the policy that prohibited using anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean peninsula. The subject has been a fraught issue since the early 1990s, when civil society began to respond to the tragic consequences — particularly in the developing world — of the proliferation of landmines. The Clinton administration was a motivating force behind the Ottawa Convention, which banned the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide, although it didn’t sign the treaty. The Bush administration argued that developing and deploying “smart mines,” that self-destruct after a period time, was consistent with U.S. national interests and humanitarian concerns. Under President Barack Obama, however, the United States committed to implement all of the elements of the Ottawa Convention except on the Korean peninsula, which poses a unique challenge to American defense planners.

To discuss the issue, Ryan Evans was joined by David E. Johnson of the RAND Corporation, Stephen Pomper of the International Crisis Group and formerly of the Obama administration, Luke O’Brien of War on the Rocks, and Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch.

Feb 3, 2020

Many of you have heard of the Doomsday Clock — a decades-old analogue clock meant to symbolize how close we are to nuclear catastrophe. However far we are from midnight, we are told, is how close we are to disaster. More recently, it is also meant to incorporate the risks of catastrophic climate change. It was started by many of the scientists responsible for the creation of the nuclear weapon. And it is, and has always been, run by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin just set the clock to 100 seconds to midnight — the closest it’s ever been. On Twitter, Ryan remarked that he didn’t think this exercise added much in the way of value. And so, a debate began. Ryan assembled a group to debate the Doomsday Clock (over Manhattans, appropriately). On one side, Miles Pomper of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Benjamin H. Friedman of Defense Priorities. On the other, Jon Wolfsthal and Sharon Squassoni, both of whom sit on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. And Ryan served as an admittedly biased moderator.

Jan 13, 2020

Islands have taken on a greater prominence when we talk about the risk of war, especially in Asia. In the Indo-Pacific, islands, reefs, and rocky outcroppings are increasingly an organizing principle for considering security issues. In this episode, Doyle Hodges hosts a conversation on the sidelines of the Bridging the Straits II conference held in Tokyo. Professor Michishita Narushige of the Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Professor Terry Roehrig of the US Naval War College, Darshana Baruah, a pre-doctoral researcher at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and Dr. Euan Graham, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia, discuss how the unique nature of islands influences Asia-Pacific security, ranging from the security concerns of small island nations in the Indian Ocean to China’s construction and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea, to territorial disputes between Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China over the possession of small--often uninhabitable or marginally economically viable--islands.

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