Monthly Archives: July 2010

Extending the Fist of Friendship

By Jacob Tremblay, Center for Strategic Research

Over the past 50 years leaders of Burma’s military junta have shown little inclination to reach out to the international community, and have taken very few concrete steps to make contact with the outside world.  On the few occasions they have done so, it appears that they reached the decision that a specific act of engagement would rebound to their advantage immediately.   On July 25th Burma’s nominal head of state, Senior General Than Shwe, headed to India with his wife and several high ranking officers for a multi-day goodwill visit.  The timing of this trip merits close inspection as it is sandwiched between a  recent visit to Burma by Chinese delegation and the first election in 20 years which will occur shortly after Than Shwe returns home.

 For its part, India views Burma as an integral part of the “Look East Policy” of engagement with the nations of South East Asia.  Burma is, to India, a fitting recipient of FDI largess especially for infrastructure projects that work to bind regional economies together.  Expectations are that India will put up the capital for all joint endeavors.  A secondary Indian motive of welcoming Than Shwe is to ensure that Burma doesn’t drift too far into China’s arms, especially after the loss of the Shwe Gas Fields’ contract to Chinese bidders, despite a sizable equity stake in the field.

Thus far the two sides have announced further co-operation in areas of mutual interest such as preventing terrorists from establishing safehavens on either side of their shared border and joint development of a road to promote interstate commerce.  All these agreements will further consolidate Than Shwe’s power,  allowing him more bargaining chips in the post election period.  In advance of the election, by promoting development and stifling both real terrorist threats as well as the legitimate grievances of ethnics, Than Shwe ensures that more civilians and soldiers will owe him their livelihoods.  At the same time this will compromise the maneuverability of those opposed to Shwe’s favored platforms.

Thailand is the last major player bordering Burma that has yet to receive high level attention, so will there be one last photo op before the Burmese elections?  This would be a international PR coup for Than Shwe with one caveat.  Any issues that Shwe would raise with Thailand simply aren’t pressing enough for Abhisit to divert attention from the home-front.  In fact the unrest in Bangkok compliments Burma’s tune as the traditional voice of ASEAN has fallen silent to deal with echoes of its own militaristic past.

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Uganda Bombings Take Precedence at AU Summit

By Susan Stipanovich, Center for Strategic Research

The 15th African Union Summit is currently taking place, from the 19th to the 27th of July in Uganda.  The summit is being held in Munyonyo, about 12 kilometers south of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, which was the site of twin bombings at viewings of the World Cup two weeks ago on the 11th of July.  Though the theme of the summit focused on health and development, reports emerging from the conference indicate that the recent bombings have taken precedence in the discussion for the diplomats in attendance.  A moment of silence was observed in honor of those killed by the attacks, which were credited to the Islamist extremist group Al Shabaab, based in Somalia.  The attacks have led to speculation about the strength of Al Shabaab, who have never before committed an attack outside of Somalia. 

African Union Leaders at the Uganda Summit Some argue that the attack was planned and carried out under weakness, but many reports and observations imply otherwise.  It is widely believed by experts in the field that Al Shabaab’s greatest advantage is the weak Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, which has failed to provide viable governance and protection for Somali citizens. 

 “The recent bombings in Kampala have changed things greatly. We have just witnessed AU leadership during the opening of the summit today paying more attention on terrorism coming (from) Somalia,” Adris Piebalgs, European Union commissioner for development said.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke at the summit, saying the United States “recognizes that ending the threat of al-Shabaab to the world will take more than just law enforcement. That is why we are working closely with the AU to support the African Union’s mission in Somalia … we pledge to maintain our support.” 

Perhaps the unfortunate attacks will raise awareness and action towards the growing threat of terrorism emerging from the Horn of Africa, a front in the ‘War on Terror’ that has received little mainstream attention. 

 For more on this, see:

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The End of History…

The Unceremonious Last Moments of the First Quasi-Official Vietnamese Military History Blog, Quan Su Vn

By Dr. Lewis M. Stern

Quan Su VN, a Vietnamese military history blog, came on line sometime back in 2007.   During the first quarter of this year (2010) the Vietnamese began restricting access to the website (, imposing stricter guidelines for blogging on sensitive issues and giving warnings to some of the more active participants in controversial discussions that had characterized the last two years of dialogue on this blogosphere.  The Vietnamese have now controlled access to the entire website and only registered members can enter it.  An application is now required from anyone who wishes to participate, and if given access, are then closely vetted by MND monitors responsive to ministerial authority.    Read more…

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Unity of Command and Unity of Effort in Complex Operations: Implications for Leadership

By Josh Jones, Research Specialist, Center for Complex Operations

Responsibility is a cornerstone of military leadership.  I do not remember where I first heard the saying, “you can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility,” but today it is a touchstone of my own leadership approach.  The predominant focus for officers and non-commissioned officers alike is the responsibility for the accomplishment of the mission, safety and welfare of one’s people.

Unity of command is a tenant of military operations that ensures responsibility.  The US Army Field Manual 3-0 Operations defines it as one of nine “Principles of War”: “For every objective, ensure unity of command under one responsible commander.”  This ensures that one person has ultimate responsibility for the objectives (and people) that fall under his or her purview, and at the same time, make clear to everyone who is ultimately responsible.

Unity of effort, though, may or may not be perfectly compatible with the responsibility that goes along with unity of command.  Unity of effort implies a lack of responsibility because one person is not ultimately in charge; rather, unity of effort requires coordination.  Either between the various US government agencies themselves or between US and international and local partners that are fundamentally necessary and important to achieving the civil-military goals associated with complex operations, coordination is as important as command.  As most practitioners and analysts of complex operations would attest, unity of effort is extremely challenging because there is no single, ultimate “responsible commander.”  If someone does not want to do something, he or she usually can figure out a way not to do it.  Following the definition for unity of command, Field Manual 3-0 states,   “Cooperation may produce coordination, but giving a single commander the required authority unifies action.  The joint, multinational, and interagency nature of unified action creates situations where the military commander does not directly control all elements in the AO [area of operations].  In the absence of command authority, commanders cooperate, negotiate, and build consensus to achieve unity of effort.” 

So, how do we balance unity of command and unity of effort in accomplishing the mission of complex operations?  How do we ensure responsibility in an environment where commanders and decision-makers do not have ultimate authority over all the people who are necessary to achieve their goals?  How do we train junior, mid-level, senior and non-commissioned officers to work in terms of “unity of effort” when the military ethos is primarily based on a “unity of command” framework?

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Confused Chickens Come Home to Roost

By Christopher J. Lamb, PhD, Director, Center for Strategic Research

This past month the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) announced that the term PSYOP, short for psychological operations, is being replaced by the term “military support to information operations” (MISO).  Stephen Walt writes amusingly in his July 7 blog for Foreign Policy that this is a classic George Carlin moment of euphemism trumping clarity.  Yes it is, but it also reflects a decade long lobbying effort from some PSYOP practitioners who are confused about the purpose of their own operations.   

 In 2003, after prolonged internal debate and review, the Pentagon approved the Information Operations Roadmap that focused PSYOP on “support to military endeavors in non-permissive or semi-permissive environments (i.e. when adversaries are part of the equation).”  Many PSYOP professionals refused to accept these constraints designed to draw a clear distinction between PSYOP and Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  They argued PSYOP could be benign and employed for a wide range of information purposes and that it could include friendly forces and populations. 

 In April, 2005, I was asked by senior PSYOP leaders in the Pentagon to comment on a proposal to change the name of PSYOP to something “more benign.”  These officials argued “PSYOP carries negative connotations that have persisted since WWII despite successful and honorable DoD PSYOP employments in numerous peacetime and conflict environments for the past 70 years.  Until the term PSYOP is changed, the problem of image will persist.”  In other words, they thought the problem was one of image rather than substance.  Here are excerpts from my response that attempts to clarify the real issue (using PA to refer to public affairs and PD for public diplomacy):

 …My major comment is that I would have to disagree with the underlying premise in the paper, which is the argument that the real problem is misperceptions about the nature of PSYOP that can be corrected with name changes….  In my view PSYOP is a real, substantive discipline that can be and should be distinguished from PA and PD.  It is not just “all true information” from different USG sources.  This is the key issue, one that the paper glosses over.  Let me try to make my case to you that PSYOP is substantively different from PA and PD. 

 PSYOP is distinguished from PA and PD by its purpose and its TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures].  The purpose of PSYOP is to support military operations, not promote American foreign policy.  It does the latter in support of the former, but the rock bottom reason we have military personnel conducting PSYOP is that other military personnel need their help, not because disseminating PA and PD in some environments is too dangerous and only military personnel are willing or asked to take those risks. 

 This is no minor issue.  Military operations are conducted primarily and ultimately to defeat enemies of the United States.  This means that in most, if not all situations, the purpose of PSYOP is to make military operations more effective, not look out for the interests of other parties.  Again, PSYOP may help others besides the US military, but this is incidental to their real purpose.  If you look at the professional literature on persuasive communications, most of the “ethics” discussion comes down to a question of whether you have the target audience’s best interests at heart.  PSYOP may provide information that is helpful to a target audience, but fundamentally it exists to further the interests of our military personnel and their endeavors, not those of the target audience.  This is why PSYOP is ethically suspect in PA and PD circles.  Both these disciplines can make a stronger claim to speaking in the interests of the audience; PD less than PA, but both much more so than PSYOP.  It is this real, substantive fact that makes PSYOP a problem for PA and PD, not just the label.  In short, the enduring image problem PSYOP has with PA and PD is related to its true nature, not just the edgy, manipulative implication of the PSYOP label itself.  (In fact, if you will forgive my saying so, I think we must keep the PSYOP name in the perhaps forlorn, even desperate hope that we can remind PSYOP personnel of their true calling!)

Concerning PSYOP TTPs, on the emotion-reason continuum PSYOP will be found to use more emotion, and on occasion deception, than PD or PA can tolerate.  There is no way to hide this fact.  It is possible to get around the minor deception problem by insisting that when PSYOP deceives, it is doing deception, not PSYOP.  This is the same argument the IO Roadmap makes for PSYOP doing PD by the way.  It is still a bit disingenuous.  Some PSYOP messages by their very nature lead the target audiences to untrue conclusions or conclusions that are not wholly true, and many would see a small element of deception (as in misrepresentation) in those tactics just as you would in much Madison Avenue advertising.  Obviously PSYOP avoids blatant untruths that would be counterproductive and undermine PSYOP credibility with the target audience. ….Again, changing the name to fool the other USG persuasive communication disciplines will not work.  As for the MIST team, it works not because the name is changed (although that helps), but because it is a free resource to help the embassy do PA and PD tasks for which it is not properly staffed.  The price PSYOP pays for giving the free resource away is not just less PSYOP talent focused on PSYOP, but confusion in the ranks of PSYOP about what PSYOP really is.

If PSYOP is substantively different than PA and PD in ways that require distinctions to be made between these disciplines, a name change will not solve the problem we have.  In fact, it will make the problem worse.  You won’t fool the PA and PD guys.  They may take free PSYOP resources if sufficiently disguised, but they will remain convinced that PSYOP neither understands nor intends to stay true to its purpose (or in its lane).  As a result, we will get less of the very important coordination that we need.

In short, this issue has been long debated, and apparently those within the PSYOP community who wanted the name change have finally prevailed.  It is unfortunate on several levels, but that would be the subject of a longer blog.  Here I just wanted to clarify the real issue that is behind the name change and share the lament of PSYOP icons like Alfred Paddock, Jr. who argued against the name change in Joint Forces Quarterly (“Legitimizing Army Psychological Operations” (JFQ 56, 1st quarter 2010) and in the pages of the Small Wars Journal: PSYOP: On a Complete Change in Organization, Practice, and Doctrine.  As a previous NDU Press blogger noted (at, “For Paddock and many others, MISO is likely to be a no-go.”  Ditto on the no go on MISO!


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Uzbek Leader Islam Karimov’s Response to Ethnic Violence in Kyrgyzstan: An Act of Self-Preservation?

by Janey Myers, Research Intern to Mr. Michael Kofman, Program Manager, Center for Strategic Research

On June 10, 2010, violence broke out  in southern Kyrgyzstan following the removal in April of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Ethnic rioting targeted largely at the minority Uzbek population swept the south of the country and ravaged the cities of Osh and Jalalabad.  According to press reports, the Kyrgyz military, took part in targeting the Uzbeks, indicating Bishkek’s lack of control over the military in the south.  Many Uzbeks sought temporary refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s reaction to the conflict will have serious ramifications on Kyrgystan’s ability to stabilize and establish itself under a new government. Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov’s response to the violence in Kyrgyzstan  indicates his apprehension that Kyrgyz unrest could spill over into Uzbekistan, creating greater regional instability. Karimov’s strategy has been to stay out of the confrontation and maintain an authoritarian grasp over the domestic reaction to the conflict. Fearing an explosive Uzbek reaction to the violence in Kyrgyzstan, Karimov has restricted the information on Kyrgyz violence available to Uzbekistan’s population. Karimov clearly understands the danger posed to his government’s control over the hotly contested Fergana Valley should the Uzbek public retaliate to the Kyrgyz violence.  As a recent Eurasianet article  states, “Karimov seems to believe that anything that could lift the lid on the frustration and the fury of Uzbeks could ultimately boomerang on his own iron-fisted regime.” With Karimov hesitant to allow his government to address Kyrgyzstan’s internal problem and to help quell the unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan, interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva may find herself with less regional support than anticipated.

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Stuntin’ Like My Daddy: Kim Jung-un and the North Korean Succession

by Jennifer Ho, Research Intern to Visiting State Department Fellow, Ms. Ferial Saeed

Kim Jong-il is in ill health and the quest to groom a suitable successor dominates internal politics in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Of his three sons, Kim Jong-il chose the youngest, Kim Jong-un, to be his successor last year. His second son, Kim Jong-chol,  was deemed too “girlish” to rule and perhaps even more embarrassingly, his eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, also known as “Fat Bear,” was also passed over as a result of his great affection for (and a widely-publicized failed attempt to sneak into) Tokyo Disneyland.

Kim Jong-un is said to have a take-charge attitude reminiscent of his father, and though he is a member of parliament who frequently accompanies his father on inspection visits, the transition may not occur smoothly. His succession conflicts with the Confucian traditions espoused by Kim Jong-il which deem the eldest son to be the rightful heir. Additionally, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Sung-taek, and O Kuk-ryol, two top-level cronies, are caught in their own struggle to attract foreign investment to the DPRK, the results of which may also influence the transition.


From left to right: Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-chol, Kim Jong-un

The DPRK’s neighbors approach this leadership succession with apprehension – and rightly so – for it has great bearing on nuclear negotiations and consequently, regional and global security. So will Kim Jong-un assume command as planned – and in similar fashion to his father? How much stability can one expect to see in Northeast Asia upon Kim Jong-il’s passing?

Sit back, put your stunna shades on and hazard a guess.

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