The air war over Nagorno-Karabakh in autumn 2020 offers three broad takeaways (two material and one nonmaterial) for Singapore’s military planners as they fine-tune the city-state’s Island Air Defense (IAD) system going forward. The three lessons are: (1) an integrated air defense system is critical; (2) the role of electronic warfare should be accentuated; and (3) the human factor is key, and it underpins the other two factors. To be sure, these insights—which should be applicable to any state’s air defense—are hardly groundbreaking, for various other commentators have already made them—but only in relation to major powers such as the United States and medium powers in Western Europe. This analysis therefore adds to the discourse on the lessons of Nagorno-Karabakh 2020 by distilling what is pertinent from the war for Singapore.
Many airmen today have extensive counterinsurgency experience fighting on the ground, calling in airstrikes, and rescuing wounded troops from hostile insurgent strongholds. But there are no incoming aircraft to strafe their positions, or enemy artillery batteries hammering away at their trench lines day and night, or frontal assaults by infantry and armor. Supply is not an issue today, as American troops in the field benefit from secure routes of communication, supply, and support. Thus, few airmen today can comprehend the hardship their predecessors endured between December 1941 and April 1942 on Bataan, a tiny peninsula in the Philippines. Many will recognize the American struggle in the Philippines as the “Death March.” But that is only the aftermath of a desperate. In the end, a joint American–Filipino force was compelled to surrender, and that is the narrative we describe in this article.
That the West could build a state and military in its own image, from the outside-in and from the top-down, without an adequate—much less a deep—understanding of Afghan society and culture was a dangerous assumption. One might say this notion represents our most fundamental error, generative of many missteps. Perhaps the earliest strategic failure in Afghanistan was the distracting invasion of Iraq in 2003, a campaign that also suffered from a similar set of fundamental, faulty assumptions. Iraq was yet another intervention with no real planning it seems for the aftermath—for all the social and political variables that must be considered to mitigate chaos and prevent prolonged conflict. Just design the exquisite air and ground campaigns, shock and awe, and rebuild the infrastructure, re-engineer the society itself with our models as templates. There seems to be a pattern, a way of thinking, so deeply embedded one might call it cultural, upon which we need to reflect.
Book Review: Maxwell Taylor’s Cold War: From Berlin to Vietnam by Ingo Trauschweizer. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. 328 pp. ISBN: 978-0813177007.
As in pre–World War I (WWI) politics, the SCS is ripe for conflict, and de-spite all DIME efforts, the United States faces an impossible battle in securing peace because of fierce geographic, historical, and nationalistic roadblocks. Due to their resources and natural boundaries, the physical regions of the SCS (like those of pre-WWI Alsace-Lorraine before it) make control of its resources and security highly desirable to its neighbors. Historically, both areas possess parallel trajectories, beginning with golden ages, humiliating declines, and preconflict struggles. Finally, each period’s nationalistic culture fervently escalates tensions regardless of US diplomacy and military presence. If the United States properly understands its casted role, it will transition from prevention to preparation for the upcoming multinational conflict.
This article analyzes how an international peacekeeping operation (PKO) can support an intra-Afghan peace settlement by mitigating information and commitment problems and fostering compliance during the settlement’s implementation phase. To frame the information and commitment problems currently hindering an intra-Afghan settlement, the author briefly reviews noncooperative bargaining theory, its application to civil conflicts, and how PKOs can lessen mutual uncertainty and foster stability. Anchoring this research on Afghanistan, the author analyzes the first peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, the 1988–1990 United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP). UNGOMAP’s eventual failure to foster peace highlights Afghanistan’s complexities and the dangers of an insufficiently resourced PKO operating in a state without a viable, incentive-compatible settlement. The author applies these lessons to policy analysis, where he explores possible PKO options and their potential for incentivizing compliance with a future intra-Afghan deal. Though a viable PKO currently seems improbable given Afghanistan’s ongoing violence and the Taliban’s insistence on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces, future conditions may change, and the author highlights necessary prerequisites where a PKO may become possible. If designed properly, an Afghanistan PKO can fill a critical monitoring and verification capacity and bolster Afghanistan’s prospects for long-term stability.
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