It should not be surprising that the long awaited release in December 2014 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation did not bring a conclusive end to the debate over the use of torture or enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States.[1] To be sure, John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, acknowledged that the report correctly identified numerous and significant problems with the CIA’s handling of detainees and interrogations in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Brennan was also emphatic in stating his own belief that “enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to continue to play a leadership role in the world.” But Brennan also restated the CIA’s long-held objection to the SSCI report’s “unqualified assertions that the overall detention and interrogation program did not produce unique intelligence that led terrorist plots to be disrupted, terrorists to be captured, or lives to be saved.”[2]

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Recently, there has been a spate of books dealing with the issue of strategy and its utility. Lawrence Freedman, Colin Gray, Hew Strachan, and Hal Brands have all weighed in with recent works on the tensions between what strategic theory discusses and the practical difficulties in achieving successful results through its use.[1] The growing attention to the ‘praxis’ of strategy points to the mounting sense of failure implicit in the return of Western military forces to Iraq (including some from states originally opposed to operations there in 2003). Since 2001, the illusive and shadowy warriors of Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been increasingly in the news and popular media.[2] These military forces are frequently touted as key enablers to address the complex problems presented by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. Thus, Grant Martin, himself a Special Operations veteran now working at the U.S. Army’s Special Warfare school delivers a timely and informative article on the value that such capabilities bring to states engaged in conflict.

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In a timely article, John Mitton seeks to show how the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan has hampered NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan and contributed to its failure. The author is careful in noting that while the rivalry is not the only reason for failure, it certainly is a factor. The author also cites many noted regional specialists who also have argued that the Indo-Pakistani rivalry has played a role in determining the outcome of the current war in Afghanistan.[1] In that sense, the author is correct in considering such regional factors to explain the failures in Afghanistan. The article also raises many more interesting questions worth exploring. In this review, I summarize the argument and findings, point out its strengths and weaknesses, and highlight the possible directions future research in this area could take, given the article’s conclusions.

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Counterinsurgency coverPerhaps only Douglas Porch, with his encyclopedic knowledge of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) and his broader military expertise, could have written this book. Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War is a magisterial examination across time and space of the history of COIN. It is intended to dispel the myths propagated around it as a kinder, gentler form of warfare waged for the benefit of all involved. An eminent military historian, Porch is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has been writing about revolution, insurgency, expeditionary warfare, military empire building, the role of the military in domestic politics, great power war, and related issues for more than 40 years.

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Political Science Quarterly coverTwo years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, as the Barack Obama administration contends with a drawdown in Afghanistan, significant new scholarship is reengaging persistent questions about both conflicts. Stephen Benedict Dyson and Renanah Miles share a concern with some of the conventional wisdom that has emerged over the years, and they offer sharply focused and emphatic correctives. While they tell different kinds of stories and take distinctive approaches, together they suggest a levels-of-analysis dilemma that puts their contributions in perspective. After summarizing the core arguments of each article, this review will consider that dilemma along with a few substantive and evidentiary questions.

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International Security coverWill the international community be able to build consolidated democratic regimes in Afghanistan or Iraq in the context of decade-long military interventions in those nations? In “Forced to be Free?” Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten argue persuasively that if foreign nations intervene in a state simply to impose a new leader on that state, democracy is unlikely to flourish regardless of whether the intervening state is democratic or autocratic. Active efforts to impose democracy by force are unlikely to succeed unless they take place in the context of domestic conditions that facilitate democratization. Many scholars have made similar arguments in the past, but this effort stands out because it presents a novel data set of cases of foreign-imposed regime change that goes back to 1816. It also is one of the first studies of this issue that takes into account the problem of selection effects and which can offer an informed answer to the question of whether democracy promotion by force fails because of the intent and/or actions of the intervener or because interveners choose tough cases in which to try to build democratic regimes. While the article represents an excellent contribution to this important debate, a broader conception of foreign-imposed regime change might lead to somewhat different interpretations than those presented in this work.

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Alliance Formation in Civil Wars coverOver the last decade much of the best work in comparative politics and international relations has focused on explaining the onset and termination of civil wars. In her new book, Alliance Formation in Civil Wars, Fotini Christia seeks to explain the constant shifts in alliances that characterize these conflicts. With a combination of theoretical richness, quantitative analysis, and extensive fieldwork in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Christia has produced an important and innovative book that will surely have an important influence on the field of civil war studies and international conflict.

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Competing accounts of why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 have shaped U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, debates about force sizing and doctrines on counterinsurgency, and academic research on the dynamics of armed conflict. Nevertheless, few scholars have attempted to test these competing accounts against one another systematically. “Testing the Surge”[1] approached this issue by combining declassified, geocoded data on violent events with information about local-level military behavior gained from an original series of seventy structured interviews with Coalition officers. This evidence allowed us to leverage the substantial variation in violence patterns across Iraq in order to evaluate causal claims. We argued that the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 involves a synergistic interaction between the Surge and the Sunni Awakening: both were necessary but neither was sufficient, while other explanations (including the dynamics of sectarian cleansing) cannot account for local or national violence trends.

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Coalitions of Convenience cover

Sarah Kreps has made a superb contribution to the burgeoning academic literature on the causes of military intervention. This literature reflects the enormity of the task social scientists face in comprehending world affairs.

This enormity stems from the many choices social scientists have to make in order to investigate reality. Unlike physicists, they do not start with a single universe inhabited by objects that obey physical laws and have no independent ideas or social institutions of their own. They confront a universe in which objects have minds of their own, behave interactively through various social networks and institutions, and may or may not act in line with material forces. On top of all that, social scientists inhabit the universe they examine. They are studying themselves. They belong to specific countries and favor certain ideas and institutions. Should they focus on the United States or on other countries? Should they privilege the causal power of ideas, power or institutions? Should they look at the world from an individual, country, or systemic level of analysis?

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American Force coverThe community of national security scholars benefits whenever Richard K. Betts publishes a new article or book, because his work is consistently well researched, gracefully written, thoughtful, and provocative. I find this work to be no exception and said so on the jacket cover when the book was published. The distinguished reviewers gathered here agree that Betts has produced another worthy volume, although some are disappointed at what they see as an overly shrill tone in some chapters. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is that Betts emerges as an avowed dove—sort of—after a long history of sounding rather hawkish (although never extreme). Betts in fact refers to himself in the preface as a Cold War hawk, now converted into a post-Cold War dove—even if, he tells us, this “recent dovishness is of a crusty sort” (xi).
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