Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 77

Hot topics abound, as usual. The causes of the Russian plane’s crash in Egypt last week have not yet been ascertained. But it seems that they give another reason for a dispute between the West and Russia. Media of the latter, says The Atlantic’s Brian Whitmore, even suggest a conspiracy masterminded by Western powers.

Time for presidential primaries’ debates. “Outsiders” are in the lead in the Republican field. We know something of Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas, but very little on Ben Carson’s. This FP article depicts the views of the retired surgeon’s foreign policy advisor.

The new President is likely to find a pretty confused situation (to say the least) in the Middle East. And American troops that have stepped up their commitment from training missions to direct engagement. This is one of the latest reports on anti-ISIS actions in Iraq and on the uneasy relations between US and Iraqi forces.

More on the background, but not necessarily less important. Micah Zenko makes the case for “Red Teams”. Having second opinions and fostering an organizational culture and set-up that accept dissent and promote skepticism can lead to overcome the worst cases of organizational myopia, and forcefully argues that US armed forces should do that in a new book. But, is it a cost-free strategy?

The brain drain is clearly not just an Italian problem. The US military is struggling to attract and then retain the best minds, not an easy thing when the bureaucratic constraints are cumbersome, note David Barno and Nora Bensahel.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 37

Happy new year from Venus in Arms! Whatever this year will bring, US defence and foreign policy decision will keep being decisive in shaping the world to come. This long essay of James Fallows discusses the “tragedy of the American military” as the outcome of a long-term process of separation of the armed forces from American society that led to the paradoxical outcome of making war less relevant for Americans, and at the same time more likely.

How’s the new US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter going to manage the defense apparatus in such critical times? Well, he might follow what Joshua Jones calls the Rolling Stones’ rule of leadership: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” That is: refine priorities, create better communications between civilian leaders and uniformed men in the Pentagon, build long-term relations with Allies and friends, improve the procurement process. Not easy tasks…

Where will conflicts be in 2015? French strategist Jean-Marie Guéhenno selects ten hot spots where violence might persist or rise this year. Apart from the usual suspects (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya), he’s pessimist about chances of peace in Africa (from DRC to Nigeria) and perhaps in Latin America too (oil prices might deeply affect Venezuela’s political stability).

On the brighter side, Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack on Slate argue that the world is not falling apart. While news always (inevitably) focus on what happens, and thus conflict and violence seem ubiquitous, numbers would show that violence – from homicides to mass killings – are on decline. At least in the “long run”.

If you still have time (a lot, in fact), the NSA released at the end of last year internal reports on activities documenting abuses as well. You can start from here.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 23

As news of the first case of Ebola outbreak on American soil (in Dallas) spread, some experts are evaluating if Ebola can be weaponized and used as a WMD. It seems that the recent discovery of files related to biological weapons development in an Islamic State’s recovered laptop brought attention back to WMD as a tool that can fall into the hands of “terror”.

Re-emerging threats might lead to further expansion of surveillance by security agencies. Activist and software geek Brad Templeton talks on a BigThink video interview about the NSA’s attempt to access to so-called quantum computer technology, which might expand the agency’s ability to break cryptography and manage big data.

Focus on the Middle East sometimes distracts from events happening elsewhere. “Close encounters” between Chinese and US aircrafts in the South China Sea are small but important hints that international politics is on the move in the Pacific.

Defense industry is always on the move, even with budget cuts affecting the several armed forces and leading to downsizing of programs (Italy to begin with). Still, the US military at least is always tuned to exploit new technologies, such as 3D printing, to improve the effectiveness and/or efficiency of some of its processes and programs.

Western prisoners in the hands of IS, not to forget other cases where kidnapping is a consolidated strategy for armed groups, are everyday news. Jumping back in history, it is insightful to read about the experience of the longest held American prisoner of war, John Downey, recluded in a Chinese prison for two decades after the Korean War.





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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 6

There would still be a lot to read about the Ukraine crisis. The general impression is that – with a few exceptions – time had the effect of sobering up comments (on both sides of the preference spectrum) and letting more nuanced analyses emerge. This is one by King’s College Anatol Lieven, pragmatic though far from optimistic.

For 100 years after the outbreak of WWI, debate on its causes had been one of the liveliest topics in academic, and sometimes even policy, debates. No wonder there is a small resurgence this year, in coincidence of the anniversary. The Economist’s blog on religion and public policy assesses the claim made by (very) few but influential thinkers arguing that the decline in faith was a driver of war. Perhaps small explanatory power in the traditional sense, but nonetheless interesting argument.

From 1914 to 1994 and  then 2014, it’s election time in South Africa. Given the weight of the country in collective memory as far as important elections go, it is important to look for “how” they take place, not just their result. Which is quite a given, with the ANC super-favorite. Mail & Guardian explains some tricks for tactical voting, so that the ANC wins, but not too much.

Robots matter (and will matter more). Michael Horowitz talks about the prospects for the US on robotics, not very good apparently. This might the last of a long series of pieces on the decline of American power, which is nonetheless in relatively good shape. Still, it’s worth reading: it might as well be that these new technologies, contrarily to the most that have been traditionally used in warfare, have a very short process of catch-up.

Relatedly, this is an article about banning the use of drones for hunting purposes in New Mexico. The article is very short and, one might say, slightly off-topic. Still, it sheds light on how technologies that can have “dual” (or more) uses are increasingly accessible and in need of clear regulation. With drones rapidly evolving and being commercialized, the regulatory problem is here to stay. And the impact of technological innovation on “agency” in the security realm deserves further and thorough scrutiny.

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