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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: Category: general
Jun 30, 2022

Mike Kofman joins the show again to update us on the war in Ukraine. In this episode (which was recorded shortly before Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island), he explains that by focusing on the limited territorial exchanges in the Donbass, we might be missing the bigger strategic picture. Kofman argues that the Donbass is not the territory of greatest significance in this war. Instead, he points to Kherson, which he views as much more important in terms of future battles as well as its larger strategic and economic value. Mike and Ryan also tackle a host of other topics from Russian withdrawals of ammunition from stocks in Belarus, to Russian and Ukrainian struggles in mobilizing personnel, to the mirage of capabilities-based analysis. He closes with some thoughts on what defeat could look like for Ukraine.

Jun 13, 2022

This is not an optimistic episode. Michael Kofman speculates that the war might be in its most dangerous phase. Why is that? Ukraine's casualties and shortages in munitions are beginning to show as Russia is gaining some operational advantages in the Donbass. Further, Russia's efforts to fill its manpower gaps have been partially successful without relying primarily on conscripts and conducting a large mobilization. Ryan and Mike speculate that, in the end, this war will be decided by the country that can endure the longest, in terms of their economies, logistics, materiel, and political will. And Ukraine's endurance is tied up closely with the will of the West to continue backing Ukraine with arms and other supplies in a war that could continue to drag on for months, if not years.

May 30, 2022

It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of the Center for a New American Security and Gian Gentile of RAND. Do not miss this vivid discussion.

May 24, 2022

Michael Kofman sat down with Ryan again to sort through how the war in Ukraine is proceeding, with a focus on the Donbass, where Ukraine and Russia are concentrating their forces. Beyond the battlefields, Kofman ponders the future of the Russian armed forces and reports what he learned at a recent conference in Poland.

May 14, 2022

Russia's stumbling war was launched almost three months ago. As Russian and Ukrainian forces battle on, how should we understand the state of play? Michael Kofman joins Ryan again to discuss the war on the ground, in the air, and at sea; Ukraine's ability to get Western weaponry into the fight; the crushing economic realities on both sides; how Vladimir Putin's Victory Day speech was the dog that didn't bark; Russia's stark mobilization constraints; and why a sliver of an island named after a snake has played such a prominent role in the conflict. Ryan puts an important question to Michael as Russia faces the real possibility of defeat: Under what circumstance would Putin use nuclear weapons?

May 12, 2022

Did that title get your attention? It got Ryan's attention too when it came out of Steve Blank's mouth. If you're a War on the Rocks reader/listener, you've probably heard of him before. A successful entrepreneur, businessman, and veteran, Steve was one of the key architects of Hacking for Defense and, most recently, the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. And he is decidedly not optimistic about the state of U.S. defense innovation. In fact, he worries that the Defense Department's inability to innovate quickly and at scale might lead to defeat in a war against China. 

What about all these new entrants into the defense marketplace? Can the U.S. Defense Department be reformed before a catastrophe? And what are the stakes? Our guest answers these questions and more. And don't miss his tour de force presentation, "The Secret History of Silicon Valley."

Apr 27, 2022

Our friend Michael Kofman popped in for another conversation with Ryan about where things stand in the Russo-Ukrainian War. He gives a wide-ranging assessment of Russia's unfavorable position as it musters an offensive in the Donbass that might be the last one that the Russian military is capable of launching before it is a spent force. From Ukraine's advanced Western kit to holdouts in Mariupol to the naval state of play to Russia's dire manpower shortages, Mike and Ryan discuss it all. Mike also gets into the nitty gritty on Russian infantry manning levels. 

Apr 22, 2022

This is the national security podcast crossover of the century! Or at least of the year...ok maybe of Spring 2022! For this special episode, Doyle Hodges of TNSR and “Horns of a Dilemma” hosts Zack Cooper, Melanie Marlowe, and Chris Preble of “Net Assessment.” They try to sort through relations between Moscow and Beijing in this time of war, as well as a whole bunch of related issues. And yes, they engage in the airing of grievances, a “Net Assessment” tradition. Make sure you subscribe to their podcasts, which are a part of the War on the Rocks family.

Apr 13, 2022

A veteran State Department official and scholar, Derek Chollet is serving as counselor to the secretary of state. He sat down with Ryan to discuss the various challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. Don't miss their wide-ranging conversation on the diplomacy that preceded the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the diplomacy that continues to keep Western allies on the same page, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the difficulties of balancing an increasingly competitive strategy in the Indo-Pacific while dealing with a brutal war in Europe.

Apr 11, 2022

Michael Kofman joined Ryan once more to update us all on the war in Ukraine. In this episode, Kofman explains how and why Russia is refocusing on the east of Ukraine, what the war in Syria revealed about shortcomings in Russian air force, and what Ukrainian forces need in terms of weaponry and supply to win this war. The two also discuss Russian war crimes and their relation to the Russian military’s internal culture of violence and hazing as well as Vladimir Putin’s framing of this war of “de-nazification.” The conversation ended with Kofman explaining Moscow’s big military manpower decision, which you may have missed, and how it connects to Putin’s difficult strategic position.

Mar 31, 2022

President Joe Biden recently made headlines when he described India as being “somewhat shaky” on the issue of punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution sat down with Ryan to explain why India is taking a quieter and less aggressive tact as it navigates this international crisis. The answers to the question in the title are far more interesting and complicated than you might think. Join Ryan and Tanvi for this wide-ranging conversation, which touches not only on India’s relations with Russia, but how this all fits in with its relations with China and Ukraine.

Mar 27, 2022

With Moscow’s announcement that the core aim of its invasion of Ukraine is now just to secure the Donbass, the conflict has entered a new phase. Michael Kofman of CNA joins Ryan once again, for the fifth week in a row, to help us parse through events on the battlefield. They discuss the resilience of Ukrainian society, stalled fronts, the air war, tactical adaptations, the effects of Western armaments, drones, the maritime picture, where Russian munitions are falling short, why Michael doesn't think Russia will use chemical weapons, why the Battle of Kyiv is not likely to happen, the emergence of the suburban guerrilla, and the ability of Ukrainian forces to continue to turn back Russian offenses and possibly even go on the offensive themselves.

 

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Mar 21, 2022

Michael Kofman joins Ryan once again to help us understand the Russo-Ukrainian War as its fourth week unfolds. They cover a lot of ground: Mike updates us on the three fronts — where Russian forces are making progress and where they are not — and how the stalling campaign might drive Moscow to dramatically change its war aims. He also explains why it’s hard to gauge the condition of Ukrainian forces, how Putin’s stated aim of Ukraine’s ‘demilitarization’ is playing out in terms of strikes against Ukraine’s industrial base, and what role Belarusian forces might (but probably won’t) play in the conflict. Mike and Ryan also discuss the effects of sanctions on the Russian military industrial base, detentions of senior Russian security officials, how long Russian military manpower can last, the role of elite infantry units in this campaign, and the chilling repressive apparatus that seems to be taking shape in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine. Kofman provides a bracing warning: this war can still get worse in terms of the human cost as it transforms into war of attrition.

Mar 14, 2022

Michael Kofman joins Ryan for the third week in a row to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine. He breaks down the state-of-play on three fronts — southern, eastern, and northern — as well as the air war. When will Russian forces become exhausted and require a pause? How does this relate to negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow? How should we understand the risks of war under the nuclear shadow and under what scenarios might Putin turn to his nuclear arsenal? Kofman tackles these questions and more.

Mar 7, 2022
Russia bungled its invasion plan but is nonetheless making progress in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. But can the Russian military stay combat effective? What lessons can we learn from the war so far? What role is urban warfare playing in this fight? What do the troubles faced by the Russian military and security services in Ukraine portend for the regime of Vladimir Putin? And what exactly is going on with that long column of Russian forces north of Kyiv? In our last episode, Michael Kofman sat down with Ryan to break down the first few days of the war. In this episode, he brings us up to speed and breaks down the state-of-play.
Feb 28, 2022

People all over the world are watching Russia's assault on Ukraine unfold in real time through social media, giving us a gritty and vivid view of 21st-century combat. But how complete of a picture does this give us? How is the war actually unfolding? Why has Russia seemingly stumbled in the first few days of its invasion? Does this mean Ukraine can hold out? Michael Kofman of CNA sat down with Ryan to give some preliminary answers to these questions.

Keep in mind this was recorded on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 27, and events are changing quickly. Some of what Kofman predicted in terms of more Russian forces entering the fight already seemed to already be underway as we completed post-production for this episode.

Feb 1, 2022

The armed services are modernizing across the board, perhaps most importantly in the closely related areas of talent development, education, and data. Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos of the U.S. Air Force, Brig. Gen. Charles Lombardo of the U.S. Army, and former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Al Schaffer joined Ryan to discuss how these changes might unfold.

Special thanks to iFest and Sae Schatz for making this event possible.

Jan 4, 2022

Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, had Ryan Evans over for a discussion on the service he leads. As rising great powers and transformative technologies reshape warfare, presenting marines with new challenges, how should the Marine Corps adapt? From talent management to force transformation, listen to their wide-ranging conversation about what the service needs to become in order remain a top-tier fighting force.

You can find a full transcript for this episode, as well as reading and listening here: https://warontherocks.com/2022/01/general-berger-on-the-marine-corps-of-the-future

May 12, 2021

Eric Schmidt of Google fame and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work join the show to talk about their work leading the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its final report earlier this year. They tackle a huge range of questions, to include when Ryan can finally replace his editors with an algorithm. 

 

Enjoy the show! And read the Final Report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

Apr 19, 2021

Will we remember early 2021 as a key escalatory moment in offensive cyber operations? Three top experts join us to unpack the implications of two major recent cyber operations — the SolarWinds hack attributed to Russia and the Microsoft Exchange hack by China. What does it all mean? What should the United States do? What should it have done differently? Dmitri Alperovitch, Erica Borghard, and Jason Healey tackle these questions and more.

 

Further reading: 

Dmitri Alperovitch and Ian Ward, "How Should the U.S. Respond to the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange Hacks?" Lawfare

Erica Borghard and Jacquelyn Schneider, "Want to tell Russia to stop hacking U.S. systems? Here’s what works — and what doesn’t," Monkey Cage

Jason Healey and Robert Jervis, "The Escalation Inversion and Other Oddities of Situational Cyber Stability," Texas National Security Review

Michael Poznansky, "Covert Action, Espionage, and the Intelligence Contest in Cyberspace," War on the Rocks

Jan 20, 2021

After four...strange years, what can we expect from the Biden administration on the intelligence front? From key appointments to the strategic context, from insurrection to counter-intelligence, our guests have you covered. Carmen Medina, David Priess, and Mark Stout join Ryan for this episode

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. 

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