Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Weekend Reader: Strategic Fishing Vessels, Russian “invasion” of Ukraine & ISIS Articles Worth a Read

by Janine Davidson
A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014.  (Courtesy Reuters) A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

Fishing vessels have become pawns in the South China Sea. China is using fishing vessels strategically—by creating blockades and moving into contested waters—without the risk of culpability that accompanies military movement.  This tactic isn’t new—dating back to the 1990s—but it is ratcheting up tension in the South China Sea, where other states have very few options available and the fishermen themselves will potentially pay the price.

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A Model for Multinational Cooperation? Three C-17s, Twelve Nations, and the Strategic Airlift Capability Program

by Janine Davidson
Members of Joint Communications Support Element prepare to board a C-17 Globemaster II during Airfest 2010 at MacDill Air Force Base March 21, 2010.(Staff Sgt. Joseph L. Swafford Jr./Defense.gov) Members of Joint Communications Support Element prepare to board a C-17 Globemaster II during Airfest 2010 at MacDill Air Force Base March 21, 2010.(Staff Sgt. Joseph L. Swafford Jr./Defense.gov)

Terms like “military partnership” and “multilateral engagement” are used quite often in modern defense planning, but beyond periodic joint exercises it’s not always clear what sustained cooperation looks like. One promising, little-known example is the Strategic Airlift Capability program. This program, founded in 2008 between twelve NATO and NATO “Partnership for Peace” nations, allows countries without the individual means to purchase their own expensive jets, the ability to share the logistical and financial burden of rapid-response airlift – kind of like a  multinational military version of “Netjets.”

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Weekend Reader: The Islamic State, the Russian Aid Convoy, Militarizing Police, and the Life of Robin Williams

by Janine Davidson
Comedian Robin Williams signs autographs for servicemembers at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Dec. 17, 2007, during the second stop of the 2007 USO holiday tour. (Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Defense.gov) Comedian Robin Williams signs autographs for servicemembers at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Dec. 17, 2007, during the second stop of the 2007 USO holiday tour. (Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Defense.gov)

Who is the Islamic State? (or is it ISIS, ISIL, or something else?) Caerus Associates breaks down the origins and evolution of the Islamic State’s name in this handy reader, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Iraq and Syria.” For more reading on the strategic dilemma facing limited U.S. intervention in Iraq, check out my own piece on the Islamic State’s leveraging of the international community’s self-imposed boundaries.

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In Russian Aid Convoy Standoff, There Are Three Scenarios. Only One Is Good

by Janine Davidson
russia-convoy-putin A Russian convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine, behind a police escort, stops along a road near the city of Yelets, August 12, 2014. The convoy carrying tonnes of humanitarian aid left on Tuesday for eastern Ukraine, where government forces are closing in on pro-Russian rebels, but Kiev said it would not allow the vehicles to cross onto its territory. (Maxim Shemetov/Courtesy Reuters)

As of Wednesday morning, 280 Russian trucks are en route to the Ukrainian border supposedly to supply aid as part of a humanitarian mission run by the Red Cross.  Amidst accusations that the trucks are part of a Russian “Trojan Horse,” Ukraine is refusing to allow the trucks entry until they have been thoroughly inspected and verified by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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In Iraq/Syria Conflict, the Islamic State Leverages International Community’s Self-Imposed Boundaries

by Janine Davidson
isis-iraq A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, June 29, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s recent military action in northern Iraq to protect American personnel and provide humanitarian aid to civilians besieged by Islamic State (IS) forces has likely achieved its limited tactical effects.  Airstrikes have restricted IS’s freedom of maneuver on the ground, and provided a bit of space for Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who appear to be the last best hope to face IS on the ground.

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Weekend Reader: Remembering General Harold Greene; Air Strikes in Iraq

by Janine Davidson
harold-greene Then-Brig. Gen. Harold Greene speaks at Natick, Mass., on his last day of command of the Natick Soldier Systems Center on May 10, 2011. Maj. Gen. Greene, the two-star Army general who on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be killed in either of America's post-9/11 wars, was an engineer who rose through the ranks as an expert in developing and fielding the Army's war materiel. He was on his first deployment to a war zone. (U.S. Army/AP)

U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene is killed in an August 5 “green on blue” attack at an Afghan base that wounds fifteen others. He was a devoted officer and father who had given more than thirty years of service. Greene held a Ph.D. in material sciences and had been long recognized for his collaborative, effective style of leadership. As War on the Rocks notes, this marks the first wartime death of a general officer since the Vietnam War.

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These Captured Letters Reveal Al Qaeda’s How-To Manual

by Janine Davidson
al-qaeda-lessons A suspected al Qaeda militant holds his head as he stands with co-defendants behind bars at the state security court of appeals in Sanaa March 26, 2013. The court on Tuesday upheld jail sentences ranging from four to 10 years against 10 defendants convicted of having links to al Qaeda, the state Saba news agency reported. (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

The New York Times has published letters exchanged in mid-2012 between two senior Al Qaeda leaders, in which Abu Basir of the Arabian Peninsula tries to impart guidance to Abdelmalek Droukdal, leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Buried in Basir’s letters are a fascinating series of “lessons learned” by the aging terror network. I’ve highlighted four here:

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With Russian “Peacekeepers” Poised at Border, Putin Is Still Escalating

by Janine Davidson
ukraine-russia-war A member of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" guards the area as his colleagues deliver medicines and medical equipment captured from pro-Russian separatists to the staff (back) of a local hospital in the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasna August 4, 2014. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Courtesy Reuters)

According to The New York Times, this weekend has seen an immense build-up of Russian forces poised along the Ukrainian border. This comes at the same time that the Ukrainian military has launched its long-awaited assault on Donetsk, urging civilians to evacuate from the rebel-held “people’s republics.” The Ukrainian separatists are encircled and increasingly desperate; the pressure for Russia to act is mounting. As I wrote last week, the stage is being set for a Russian invasion under the guise of a “peacekeeping” operation. Vehicles arrayed just over the border reportedly bear the insignia of Russian peacekeeping forces.

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Weekend Reader: the WWI Centennial, the Future of War, and the A-10 Warthog

by Janine Davidson
wwi-centennial Yeoman Serjeant Bob Loughlin walks among the art installation "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" marking the anniversary of World War I at the Tower of London, July 28, 2014. The evolving installation by artist Paul Cummins will be formed of 888,246 ceramic poppies, to honor military fatalities during WWI. (Neil Hall/Courtesy Reuters)

World War I began July 28, 1914—100 years ago this week. The articles (and occasionally grasping historical parallels) have been coming fast and furious ever since. I especially recommend three. The Washington Post features an incredible gallery of WWI landscapes, then and now. Graham Allison in The Atlantic offers a clear-headed assessment of the similarities—and differences—between the conditions of 1914 and 2014. Finally, Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy breaks down the most significant lesson of WWI. He argues that historians focus too much on why the war began…and not enough why it lasted so long.

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Putin Appears to Be Angling for Invasion, Not De-Escalation

by Janine Davidson
putin-invasion-ukraine Russia's President Vladimir Putin (front C), accompanied by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (front L), walks to watch military exercises upon his arrival at the Kirillovsky firing ground in the Leningrad region, March 3, 2014. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Courtesy Reuters)

Europe’s announcement of sectorial sanctions against Russia is welcome news. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine should not go unanswered by the international community.  Over time, this latest round, which affects  military, financial, and oil sectors will surely bite.  Whether they will change Putin’s calculus in the short term, however, is far less certain.  In fact, Putin’s moves to date signal his intentions loud and clear. Far from seeking options for a face-saving de-escalation, Putin is posturing for more military intervention.

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