The Defense Strategy of the Late Roman Empire – Arther Ferrill

Synopsis:

Defense strategy in the Roman Empire following the Crisis of the Third Century evolved considerably from the earlier preclusive security apparatus of Hadrian – which emphasized a synthesis of passive and active defense along mostly static lines of effort. Arther Ferrill credits the Emperor Constantine with the transition from the preclusive ideal to a novel defense-in-depth approach, which offered weakened frontier defenses in favor of large mobile field armies. This new model Roman army allowed more centralized control for the Emperor – as well as greater personal security – but with a vastly less controlled border region for the Empire.

Excerpts:

“Such obvious advantages, reflecting organization of war-making capacity far beyond that of Rome’s potential opponents, gave the Roman armies a psychological edge, a superiority in morale, often sufficient in itself to deter hostile military action. In the great days of the second century, with an army of about 300,000, the Romans defended an empire of some 50,000,000 people living in the Mediterranean basin.

“More than anything else Roman grand strategy in the High Roman Empire was based on the tactical superiority of the Roman army against all potential foes. To that extent the famous walls and fortresses can be misleading. The army, not the walls or forts, defended the frontiers.

“Roman grand strategy of the second century was predicated on political stability – preclusive security requires the presence of the legions on the frontiers. Civil war and rebellion, especially when they became endemic, diverted legions from the frontiers to the interior, creating marvelous opportunities for enemies across the border. That is what happened in the third century.

“The big change in Roman grand strategy came with Constantine the Great. As Zosimus claimed in the passage quoted above, Constantine organized a large mobile field army (probably 100,000 or more), stationed centrally, by withdrawing units from the frontiers, leaving them in a weakened condition. Zosimus saw this modification of traditional Roman grand strategy as catastrophic, an interpretation endorsed by Gibbon.

“The worst feature of the defense-in-depth is that inevitably the central mobile army will become an elite force and the frontier defenders merely second rate actors in defense policy. Troops that are not expected to defeat the enemy can hardly be blamed for wanting to avoid him altogether.

*All excerpts have been taken from Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, Thames and Hudson Inc.

Oil, and the Evolution of Islamism in the Middle East – Michael A. Palmer

Synopsis:

Michael A. Palmer chronicles the rise of twentieth century Islamism – i.e. the militant politicized form of Islam – in his book the The Last Crusade, and finds its origins in the myriad failures of Arab nationalism. According to Palmer, local nationalism was inspired by European geopolitics in the region, and Islamism by the waning of such nationalism following episodes of Arab weakness vis-à-vis the West – particularly concerning Israel.

Excerpts:

“The Americans gained their first penetration into the Middle East oil market in 1928, although at the cost of abandoning its Open Door principle. On July 31, 1928, British, Dutch, French, and American oil companies signed the famous ‘Red Line Agreement,’ establishing a cartel controlling oil exploration and production in the region.

“From 1920 to 1939 oil production had increased dramatically, by 900 percent, largely because of American involvement. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain had joined Persia as major producers. In 1920 the United States produced about 95 percent of the world’s oil; by 1939 that number had fallen to about 86 percent.

“Nixon shaped a policy that would avoid committing American forces, most especially ground troops. His Nixon Doctrine turned responsibility for regional defense to local states. In Indochina this policy became known as ‘Vietnamization’; in the Persian Gulf it took the form of the ‘Twin Pillars,’ or a reliance on Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“After 1975 no one viewed Lebanon as a template for sectarian coexistence. The Lebanese experiences also marked the shift in the nature of terrorists acts – from those employed by a ‘national liberation front’ organization, such as the PLO, to those employed by Islamic fundamentalists.

“Arafat had supported Hussein and the invasion of Kuwait, and with the Iraqis’ collapse the Palestinians were persona non grata in many of the gulf states, especially Kuwait. The first Intifada, which had begun in 1987, came to an abrupt end in 1991.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Last Crusade: Americanism and the Islamic Reformation, Potomac Books, Inc.

The Relation of Diplomacy to War – Antoine-Henri Jomini

Synopsis:

The American military has long been bewitched operationally and strategically by Antoine-Henri Jomini’s formulaic approach to warfare. The universality of the Jominian consciousness is so well established other strategic schools usually operate beside it – or as a passing veneer above its perpetual architecture. Likewise, Jomini’s geopolitical and diplomatic wisdom is usually less pronounced – but does offer some strategic bull’s-eyes.

Excerpts:

“War is always to be conducted according to the great principles of the art; but great discretion must be exercised in the nature of the operations to be undertaken, which should depend upon the circumstances of the case.

“In an offensive movement, scrupulous care must be exercised not to arouse the jealousy of any other state which might come to the aid of the enemy. It is a part of the duty of a statesman to foresee this chance, and to obviate it by making proper explanations and giving proper guarantees to other states.

“…if the principles of strategy are always the same, it is different with the political part of war, which is modified by the tone of communities, by localities, and by the characters of men at the head of states and armies.

“All history teaches that no enemy is so insignificant as to be despised and neglected by any power, however formidable.

“The love of conquest, however, was not the only motive with Napoleon: his personal position, and his context with England, urged him to enterprises the aim of which was to make him supreme.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Art of War, BiblioBazaar.

Keeping a World Intact – George F. Kennan

Synopsis:

George Kennan’s book Russia and the West chronicles early Soviet international politics under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin as well as Joseph Stalin. Russian diplomacy vis-à-vis the West is the emphasis, and Kennan offers keen analysis concerning Soviet intentionality. In his final chapter “Keeping a World Intact” Kennan endeavors to harmonize points of friction with geopolitical realism to construct a workable American/Soviet diplomatic model for the Cold War.

Excerpts:

“Stalin was a dangerous man to the end; and almost to the end, he remained unchallenged in his authority. But the men around him served him, throughout those final years, in a sullen, guarded silence, expecting nothing and waiting only for the hand of Time to take him.

“By this opposition to the very institutions of the West, the Russian Communists offered to the will of the Western peoples a species of defiance for which they have had no patent other than their own unlimited intellectual arrogance.

“Russian governments have always been difficult governments to do business with. This is nothing new in kind – if anything is new about it – it is only a matter of degree.

“People who have only enemies don’t know what complications are; for that, you have to have friends; and these, the Soviet government, thank God, now has.

“The first to go, in my opinion, should be self-idealization and the search for absolutes in world affairs: for absolute security, absolute amity, absolute harmony. We are a strong nation, wielding great power. We cannot help wielding this power. It comes to us by virtue of our sheer size and strength, whether we wish it or not.

*All excerpts have been taken from Russia and the West: Under Lenin and Stalin, Mentor Book.

Afterword on Strategy – Richard Hart Sinnreich

Synopsis:

In the afterword of his authoritative book on successful military strategies throughout history, Richard Hart Sinnreich synthesizes the most enduring lessons learned. He concludes the successful application of strategy to be most dependent on the identification of individual strategic genius, as well as what may be described as learning institutions – which are adaptive, and anticipatory of novel strategic thinking.

Excerpts:

“Not all strategic failures reflect overextension. They are equally likely – perhaps more likely – to reflect mistaken theories of success.

“Above all, strategic success is hostage to the willingness of political and military leaders to read and heed the evidence of the battlefield even at the price of jettisoning cherished assumptions.

“To be successful, long-term strategy requires both an accurate prompting diagnosis and the discipline to conform action to intention over time. Its greatest risk is target fixation – the failure to honor the evidence of the evolving environment when it begins to refute assumptions on which the strategy rested.

“Weak states, like weak armies, may prevail for a time over stronger but less clever adversaries. But unless cleverness can be translated into effective military power, a stronger contestant sooner or later will prevail absent a failure of political will.

“In the end, sustaining the nation’s determination to prevail is the crucial hallmark of any successful military strategy.

*All excerpts have been taken from Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press.

Leonard Wood and the American Occupation of Cuba – Lester D. Langley

Synopsis:

The grand design behind the American occupation of Cuba was to remake Cuban society into a cultural mirror image of the United States. White Progressive middle-class America was the model which arch Progressive Leonard Wood adopted for his system of governance. Ultimately, most of Wood’s reforms had a waning existence following his departure as centuries old Cuban culture reasserted itself. In his book on America’s early twentieth century armed interventions in the Caribbean, Lester Langley chronicles the political/military dynamics of the American occupation of Cuba.

Excerpts:

“When the vice-president of the provisional government, Domingo Mendez Capote, arrived in Washington in May 1898 to ascertain American policy, he learned that Cuban and Spanish conservatives were already pressing the Americans to remain after the Spanish surrender.

“The American military in Cuba was, by 1901, a skeletal force, its numbers drastically reduced since Wood became military governor in December 1899. Following the war, the Americans had paid off the Cuban rebels (at roughly seventy-five dollars per man) and created a Rural Guard, presumably apolitical, that undertook the task of policing the countryside and maintaining order in the towns.

“Preparation of Cuba for independence meant, of course, an educational system worthy of a young republic… The model curriculum, written by an officer on the governor’s staff, was patterned on the ‘Ohio Plan’ and emphasized preparation for citizenship and the acquisition of skills or the learning of a trade. Hispanic tradition was intentionally denigrated.

“Wood was convinced that filth explained Cuba’s epidemics of yellow fever, though an eccentric Cuban scientist (of Scottish ancestry), Dr. Carlos Findlay, argued correctly that the culprit was the mosquito. Wood’s vigorous sanitary campaign nonetheless probably helped to control another Cuban scourge, typhoid.

“When McKinley or Root or Wood spoke of Cuba, their comments were laced with references to its ‘special importance’ or ‘strategic position’ in the American geopolitical scheme. Cuba was vital and vulnerable – vulnerable to European machinations.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, SR Books.

The Closing of the Muslim Mind – Robert R. Reilly

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Synopsis:

In his somewhat polemical book on early Islamic history Robert Reilly analyzes the dichotomous relationship between the Sunni theological schools of Mu’tazila and Ash’ari Islam. Mu’tazila held early primacy, and centered on rationalism as well as a sort of Monophysite understanding of the Godhead. By comparison, the Ash’arite school favored orthodoxy and dogmatism. Ultimately, Ash’arism triumphed, and historical counterfactuals abound relative to how Sunni Islam may have evolved had the Mu’tazila school prevailed.

Excerpts:

“In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads, along with their doctrine of predestination. The Abbasids had cause to embrace the Mu’tazilites, who succeeded to the Qadariyya position. The Mu’tazilites agreed with the Qadariyya that, without man’s freedom, God’s justice is unintelligible. To be held justly accountable for his acts, man must be free. The political implications of this position favored the Abbasid attempt to rein in the power of the ulema (Islamic jurisprudential scholars), whose monopoly on the interpretation of the Qur’an gave them great influence.

“The freedom to interpret revelation was based upon the Mu’tazilite teaching, shocking to the traditionalists, that the Qur’an was created in time. The standard orthodox belief was that the Qu’ran is uncreated and exists coeternally with Allah.

“The Mu’tazilites held that man’s freedom is a matter of God’s justice, as is reason’s ability to apprehend an objective moral order.

“How does reason lead man to the conclusion of God’s existence? It is through his observation of the ordered universe that man first comes to know that God exists, says ‘Abd al-Jabbar. As he sees that nothing in the world is its own cause, but is caused by something else, man arrives at the contingent nature of creation. From there, man reasons to the necessity of a Creator, an uncaused cause; otherwise one is caught in an infinite regress of contingent things, a logical impossibility. (This was a familiar argument from both Greek philosophy and Christian apologetics.) It is through the observation of nature – the ways in which the world seems to move according to certain laws – that man comes to know God. God’s laws are the laws of nature (tab’), which are also manifested in divine law, the shari’a.

“The Ash’arites were particularly offended by the Mu’tazilite claim that unaided reason could discern good and evil. They vehemently denied this, and said that the Mu’tazilites were undermining the need for scripture by saying all men had access to this knowledge. If this were so, what would be the need for the Qu’ran (even though the Mu’tazilites held that revelation was necessary for God to make His way clear to man)?

*All excerpts have been taken from The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, ISI Books.

Why Empire? – Douglas Porch

Synopsis:

Wars of Empire offers up historian Douglas Porch’s narrative and appraisal of the rise, zenith, as well as decline of the European colonial empires. The growth of the empires was often the outcome of individual devolution of command – owing to substantial geographic dispersion – or merchant adventurism. The empires were most commonly a significant financial burden for their home governments, and usually only offered international prestige as a product.

Excerpts:

“By demanding open markets free of government regulation or monopolistic restriction, traders like Jardine, Mattheson and Dent helped to transform the emerging imperial consciousness into an ideology that equated free trade with the spread of Western civilization and the rule of law. In this way, imperialism was a revival of the Roman concept of dominion as a moral and military ascendancy over inferior peoples.

“And while some individuals profited from colonial expansion, nations seldom did. In the last years of the nineteenth century the British Empire was a revenue drain. The French paid huge subsidies to garrison and develop their unproductive colonies which accounted for less than 10 per cent of French overseas trade by 1900… Colonies devoured metropolitan subsidies and generated large defence and administrative requirements, against a return of prestige and the distant promise of an economic pay-off.

“Benjamin Disraeli… attempted to elevate empire into a province of the national imagination and, in the process, transform the Tories into the party of empire, forging the link between empire and national greatness in the popular mind. Disraeli’s Crystal Palace speech of June 1872 offered the British electorate… a choice between the ‘Little England’ of the Liberals and an empire of liberty, truth and justice that would make Britain the envy of the world.

“The primary concerns of Continental powers were, by definition, European. Imperial conquest was an add-on, a leisure activity to be undertaken only when it did not jeopardize one’s fundamental interests at home. Any politician who thought about it for more than five minutes should have concluded that he would get little credit when imperial expansion succeeded, and all of the blame when an expedition encountered setbacks.

“Russian expansion was of an entirely different nature to that of other imperial nations. In the first place, it was continental not a maritime enterprise. It was a continuation of the defensive expansion of Muscovy, and such strategic concerns supplied the most coherent rationale… The most important support for Russian imperialism came from Pan-Slavism, but this was never a mass movement.

*All excerpts have been taken from Wars of Empire, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Nations in Arms – Daniel Moran

Synopsis:

Daniel Moran traverses the geostrategic landscape of the twentieth century Cold War era by keenly analyzing the Soviet policy of enabling wars of national liberation across the globe. Moran examines all of the major conflicts on every continent, and pieces together the root causes, political spectrum, as well as the tactical methodologies employed. Considering the scope of the narrative involved the book successfully blends brevity with wisdom.

Excerpts:

“Like ‘People’s Republic’, ‘National Liberation’ is a revolutionary slogan, designed to conceal sordid truths. It served to hurl back into the face of the oppressor the idea of the nation, which Europe invented, and the ideal of liberty, which the West cherishes above all others in politics, while deflecting attention from the methods and interests of the liberators themselves.

“Free societies have proved to be among the least common outcome of wars of national liberation; while such conflicts remain among the most worrisome in the eyes of professional soldiers called upon to fight them.

“The first theorist to note the historical preponderance of limited war, Carl von Clausewitz, did so at a time when most experts were convinced that the all-in conflagration of the Napoleonic era represented the perfection of earlier forms of fighting, from which there was no going back. Clausewitz, on the other hand, thought that wars fought to achieve the total defeat of an enemy would always be rare, for reasons arising from war’s character as a political instrument, and from the ‘friction’ that attended its use. War for limited objectives – a province, a concession, an apology, prestige – was the norm, and any strategic posture that failed to take this into account was likely to be discredited in the long run.

“The persistent complaint that Western armies since 1945 have fought for poorly defined goals is misleading if it is taken to mean that military and political objectives should automatically cohere, or that conditions in which they do not are always fraught with disaster. It is rather the case that war and politics, having briefly learned to speak something like the same language in the course of an all-encompassing global conflict, thereafter ceased to do so once the political stakes had shrunk to more normal proportions.

“Wars of national liberation are frequently represented as episodes of spontaneous combustion produced by pervasive misery and injustice: war as the product of revolution. Yet the opposite dynamic is equally apparent: revolution as a product of war, waged by a committed vanguard whose outlook does not command widespread support at the start, and who may obtain only grudging acquiescence even at the end… The line between political action and banditry, as Mao might have said, is one that mere persistence cannot erase.

*All excerpts have been taken from Wars of National Liberation, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Flashpoint: Taiwan – Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro

Synopsis:

The relationship between China and the United States in the 1980s as well as early 1990s spawned an internationalist strategic idealism in America toward China. However, in 1996 the United States was mugged by reality when the Taiwan Strait Crisis happened. The crisis acted as a prime mover for a return to realism in American foreign policy concerning its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – which has been further hastened in the last decade by the actions of Xi Jinping. This trend was still nascent in 1997 when the book The Coming Conflict with China was published, which dug into contemporary as well as historical points of friction between America and the CCP.

Excerpts:

“In his memoirs Kissinger reports that Secretary of State William Rogers objected to the Taiwan sentences on the grounds that they were an inaccurate description of the objective world. Not all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believe that Taiwan is a part of China, Rogers maintained.

“While the other Chinese provinces, including disputed regions traditionally controlled by China, have been within the Chinese realm for thousands of years, Taiwan did not become a part of the national territory until the seventeenth century. Until then the island had been considered a wild place of impenetrable mountains and a malarial coastline inhabited by unfriendly aborigines with whom the Chinese had little or no contact. Indeed, the first outsiders to settle in Taiwan were not Mainland Chinese but Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders and explorers who first established forts there in the 1620s, the entire island becoming a Dutch possession around the middle of the century.

“The greatest danger in this sense stems from the evolution of Taiwan itself. At the time that China embarked on its March 1996 exercise in intimidation, a few pundits identified the real issue as not so much Taiwanese independence but Taiwanese democracy. Genuine popular sovereignty on Taiwan threatened to undermine the authority of the dictatorship in Beijing.

“Once Taiwan has been reabsorbed into the Mainland, the major cause of Sino-American friction will have been removed. The solution of China’s Taiwan problem in this sense would be the solution of America’s China problem. But if China were to embark on a military offensive against Taiwan, the United States would have little choice except to intervene and to put American forces at risk. Like it or not, Americans are already engaged in the battle, committed to a peaceful solution – that is, a solution agreed to by the people of Taiwan.

“Without an American commitment to intervene in a Taiwan-China conflict, there would be very little standing in the way of Chinese domination of all of East Asia, and this fact is well understood from Australia to Tokyo. The form of an American intervention could vary depending on Taiwan’s specific need and the ferocity of China’s assault. But whatever form the American involvement took, any war on the Taiwan Strait would be the beginning of a new stage of conflict between China and the United States, a move from strategic posturing across the Pacific to a war that will profit absolutely nobody.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Coming Conflict with China, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.