Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The revolution in military affairs brought about by nuclear weapons has largely been viewed by the American military through a technical lens as a technological revolution and not as a conceptual revolution in terms of war and its political aims. However, nuclear weapons revolutionized our conception of war, derived from Clausewitz, as a continuation of politics by other means because of their tremendous power and destructiveness which are a quantum order of magnitude above those of conventional arms. However, the realization by policymakers of their ability to potentially reach Clausewitz' level of absolute war through the use of nuclear weapons led to the limitation of their use as instruments of policy. This essay addresses Clausewitz's conception of war as an act of opposing forces and the use of nuclear weapons in this context as an irrational act. This results in the aversion to use nuclear weapons as a rational instrument of political power because of their very potential to reach absolute war.

Clausewitz stated that "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." Force was defined as physical force whose is objective is to impose one's will on the enemy, and "there is no logical limit to the application of that force." Because force is interactive, each side forces the other to follow suit leading to extremes. This is the first case of interaction and the first extreme.

The aim of war is to disarm the enemy and the worst condition that you may impose is to leave him defenseless or likely so. Likewise, the enemy will be trying to disarm you as waging war applies to both sides. Again, there is interaction leading to a second extreme.

The interaction of opposing forces are in relation to one another, that is, to overcome the enemy you must use greater force than he has the power to resist. In response, the enemy in turn will increase his own power. This is another case of interaction that will lead to a third extreme.

Clausewitz then observes that in practice modifications exist that will prevent these extremes from being reached. These modifications include (1) war is not an isolated act and arises out of the context of relations among the warring parties; (2) war does not consist of a single blow or a set of simultaneous blows; (3) in war the result is never final. These practical restraints limit the efforts expended giving rise to the political element of the war.

The advent of nuclear weapons clearly changed this calculus of force between opposing sides. Ever since August 1945, when the only two nuclear devices ever used in warfare destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people have been awed and confounded by the power their weapons unleashed. As the technology of both weapons and delivery systems progressed and improved, in particular thermonuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, people became increasingly alienated from their own products and armed forces. Outside of the halls of governments, and in some respects within them as well, nuclear weapons by the citizenry at large were seen as a necessary evil at best. For example, during the 1950s and 1960s, American movies portrayed the popularly believed consequences of nuclear radiation, whether it being a deranged 50-foot man, giant ants, or the world shifting on its axis. The 1970s and 1980s were marked by the rise of a vast and vocal anti-nuclear movement, parti-cularly in the West, which viewed nuclear weapons as totally irrational and the consequences of their use as catastrophic to mankind.

Within the political and military realm, the advent of nuclear weapons led to profound conceptual changes as well. Due to their destructiveness, politico-military terms such as 'victory' became in a sense 'non-words' and became circumscribed by war-avoidance theories such as deterrence and mutual assured destruction (MAD). MAD in a Clausewitzian sense is irrational because governments do not pursue policies or prevent the enemy from going to war by assuring their own destruction but, rather, to impose their will upon the enemy by force. Throughout history, nations and their military establishments have recognized victory as the object of war. This was expressed in their military doctrines: if we wage war, it is for the policy objective of imposing our will on the enemy and when we do so, we call it a victory. In a nuclear war context, victory is now seen as militarily unattainable and hence as a politically irrational goal. It is unattainable because in trying to overcome the enemy's resistance to our force, we are destroyed by the enemy's opposing effort. In such a nuclear war we arrive at Clausewitz's extremes without modifying effects because the military means we have available, nuclear weapons, to achieve political objectives such as the destruction of the armed forces of the enemy, the physical occupation of his territory and the subjugation of his people, are incompatible with one another. These ends-means are incompatible because the use of nuclear weapons in a large-scale war (1) do not leave anything of use other than a nuclear wasteland, and (2) using the US-Soviet experience as an example, after the Soviet Union acquired a second-strike capability, its physical destruction by the United States was no longer possible because a US nuclear strike would entail a Soviet counterblow leading to the destruction of the US as well. If on the other hand we seek to moderate our war aims to limit the degree of military effort expended we are incurring greater political risk of escalation for less and less returns, for as Raymond Aron noted by limiting the violence in war we also limit the extent of our victory. Thus if we seek to maximize our victory which is our political goal, we must maximize our military effort against the enemy, who in turn will seek to maximize his efforts against ours. This interaction will escalate ultimately leading to our mutual destruction. In this context nuclear war is clearly not the continuation of politics by other means but rather the end of politics by absolute means. In Clause-witzian terms, once extremes are reached we are no longer in the realm of rational politics but in a war of extreme effort without the modifying effects of political reason and choice.

Traditional military terms such as victory, then, have become irrelevant in light of the awesome destructive potential of nuclear weapons. The reali-zation by policymakers of both military superpowers that their basic political and physical survival were threatened by nuclear war, led both of them to engage in a series of negotiations to limit the scope and boundary of the political and military operational environment in which the use of nuclear weapons is considered appropriate, if any. Ideally, their use is altogether eliminated. The various nuclear arms reduction treaties, test-ban treaties, and non-proliferation treaties, were products of this effort. It must be stated that this is not to say that nuclear weapons have no use per say. Lt. Col. Robert Chandler, in a thoughtful article, noted that "In both peace and war, nuclear weapons generate political effects."

Nuclear weapons by making the threat of absolute war real led policy makers to limit political goals and objectives sought through military operations. By nearly reaching a theoretical extreme policymakers recognized that there are limits to war as a continuation of politics by other means. There are some political ends that are not worth the means available to reach them. The use of nuclear weapons are an example of military means with little useful political ends.


. As a member of the former Strategic Air Command (SAC), and a B-52 crew- member having sat on nuclear alert, I often pondered the effect of nuclear weapons and nuclear war on our society and military.

. Carl von Clausewitz. On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 75. Italics in the original.

. Ibid., p. 77

. Ibid

. Ibid.

. Ibid., pp. 78-80.

. Kruglov, V. V., Lt. Col. "Is There a Law of Victory." Voennaya Mysl (Military Thought), January 1994, No.1, p. 34. (In Russian).

. Raymond Aron. On War: Atomic Weapons and Global Diplomacy, trans. Terence Kilmartin (London: Secker & Warburg, 1958), p. 106.

. Robert W. Chandler, Lt. Col. "Political Sufficiency of Nuclear Forces." Air University Review. Sep-Oct 1980, p. 62.

Monday, May 10, 2010

No to Elena Kagan

Dear President Obama:

I do not agree with your nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court. Whatever her qualifications may be, her stand against military recruiters and her vilification of the military in general, are ultimately major detriments to her nomination. I, as a retired military officer, cannot and will not support her based on her anti-military stances. The military only does what is allowed under the law. If someone does not like military policies, they should contact their representative--not spit on our soldiers.

Ms. Kagan has metaphorically spit on the military, especially in a time of war, and for this reason she should not sit on the US Supreme Court.

Respectfully yours,

Gonzalo I. Vergara, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why I Want to be a Strategist

In response to NDU Press tweet: The article “Developing Air Force Strategists,” will be in JFQ 58, read it here in advance of its publication: http://bit.ly/9QMSlf posted May 6, 12:24PM P.S.T., I am posting an essay which I wrote as a student at the US Army's Command and General Staff College a few years ago on the subject.

Now nothing can be more important than the work of
a soldier should be well done. But is war an art so
easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is
also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan ...
No tools will make a man a skilled workman or master
of defense, nor be of any use to him who has not
learned how to handle them, and has never bestowed
any attention upon them.


Nothing is more important than the work of a soldier should be well done, and nothing is more important than strategy which outlines the work needed to be done in the first place: to win the nation's wars. How to win the nation's wars is the purview of the strategist. Commanders without strategists are like bodies without brains, or as we say in Air Force slang 'all mach and no heading.' The role of the strategist is to provide the heading to the commander who will have control of the throttles.

I want to be a military strategist because, first I love my profession, the profession of arms, and I believe that I can best serve it in this capacity. I am of an intellectual nature and a seeker of truth: I want to understand war, to know war, to explore its every facet, so that if I am ever called to give advice or state my opinion on an given course of action, it will be based on fact and not mere supposition. Second, I truly enjoy pondering the problems of political statecraft and of the uses of the national instruments of power to achieve national aims. Military strategy is always subordinate to the political instrument because as Aristotle said that the science of strategy is subordinate to the greatest of sciences, political science. Strategists must be able to properly translate political guidance into military strategy so that our means equal our ends. This has been a problem for the United States in particular, for example in Vietnam, where we used a firepower strategy which alienated the people who we were there to support; it is hard to convince someone of the justice of your cause when you have just burned his house down.

The only way to become a strategist is to study strategy, both theory and practice. An officer wishing to become a strategist must study politics, history, economics, and diplomacy in order to fully understand what in the words of Marshal Foch "De quoi s'agit il?" [What is the agitation all about?] The method of study is primarily one of self-study because what is taught formally at institutions is but a mere starting point. All strategists of renown, whether Napoleon, Moltke, Mahan to name a few have all been voracious readers of history for history is the laboratory of strategy and war.

The negative aspect of formally being a strategist, at least in the Air Force, is that you are limiting yourself professionally to rank no higher than of colonel and to be shuffled off to Air University into an academic setting. Indeed, the Air Force does not have a strategist identifier; it is not a formally recognized skill. While I agree that an academic setting is of value to a strategist and every strategist should have a tour in one, it is not where the action is. This means that you are going to be outside the planning organizations where your skills are most needed.

This is a major reason why at various times the United States has not been able to achieve the political goals that it set out to accomplish through military operations, for example in Bosnia, where we planned to control the fighting through the use of air-strikes; in a mountainous area and with the nature of the conflict, this was unrealistic and futile.

Without strategists, alas, we are bound to reap the harvest of the Quran's saying that "if you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there."

Monday, May 3, 2010

McCrystal's Strategy of Jus in Bello

General Stanley McCrystal's strategy of avoiding collateral damage is commendable for its limitation on unnecessary killing. However, some now argue that its restraints on military operations, particularly airpower, has handcuffed the availability and means to respond. The conclusion is that the initiative now rests with the enemy.

War is war... people die in wars. What is the moral imperative in war? On December 11, 2005, the Israli Supreme Court issued its opinion on the case of The Public Committee against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment v. The Government of Israel, The Prime Minister of Israel, The Minister of Defense, The Israel Defense Forces, The Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center and 24 others, HCJ 769/02 (Israel 2005). In my opinion, this is the most complete and thoughtful discussion on the issue of jus in bello that I've ever read.

Whether you agree with the holding of the opinion or not, its complete analysis of the issue and the internal logic of the framework used is well worth reading.

In the underlying case the specific issue before the Israeli Supreme Court was the following:

"The Government of Israel employs a policy of preventative strikes which cause the death of terrorists in Judea, Samaria, or the Gaza Strip. It fatally strikes these terrorists, who plan, launch, or commit terrorist attacks in Israel and in the area of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, against both civilians and soldiers. These strikes at times also harm innocent civilians. Does the State thus act illegally? That is the question posed before us."

The Israeli Supreme Court answered the question in the following manner:


61. The State of Israel is fighting against severe terrorism, which plagues it from the area. The means at Israel's disposal are limited. The State determined that preventative strikes upon terrorists in the area which cause their deaths are a necessary means from the military standpoint. These strikes at times cause harm and even death to innocent civilians. These preventative strikes, with all the military importance they entail, must be made within the framework of the law. The saying "when the cannons roar, the muses are silent" is well known. A similar idea was expressed by Cicero, who said: "during war, the laws are silent" (silent enim legis inter arma). Those sayings are regrettable. They reflect neither the existing law nor the desirable law (see Re. Application Under s.83.28 of the Criminal Code [2004] 2 S.C.R. 248, 260). It is when the cannons roar that we especially need the laws (see HCJ 168/91 Murkus v. The Minister of Defense, 45(1) PD 467, 470, hereinafter Murkus). Every struggle of the state – against terrorism or any other enemy – is conducted according to rules and law. There is always law which the state must comply with. There are no "black holes" (see JOHAN STEYN, DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW: SELECTED SPEECHES AND JUDGMENTS 195 (2004)). In this case, the law was determined by customary international law regarding conflicts of an international character. Indeed, the State's struggle against terrorism is not conducted "outside" of the law. It is conducted "inside" the law, with tools that the law places at the disposal of democratic states.

62. The State's fight against terrorism is the fight of the state against its enemies. It is also law's fight against those who rise up against it (see Kawasme, at p. 132). In one of the cases in which we examined the laws of armed conflict, I stated:

"This fighting is not taking place in a normative void. It is being conducted according to the rules of international law, which determine principles and rules for combat activity. The saying, 'when the cannons roar, the muses are silent,' is incorrect. Cicero’s aphorism, that laws are silent during war, does not reflect modern reality. . . . The reason at the foundation of this approach is not only the pragmatic consequence of the political and normative reality. Its roots lie much deeper. It is an expression of the difference between a democratic state fighting for its life and the fighting of terrorists rising up against it. The state fights in the name of the law and in the name of upholding the law. The terrorists fight against the law, while violating it. The war against terrorism is also law’s war against those who rise up against it. . . . Moreover, the State of Israel is a state whose values are Jewish and democratic. We established a law abiding state, which realizes its national objectives and the vision of generations, and does so while recognizing human rights in general, and human dignity specifically, and while upholding those rights. Between these — the realization of national objectives and the vision of generations, and human rights — there is harmony and fit, not contradiction and alienation" (Almandi, at p. 34; see also Murkus, at p. 470; HCJ 1730/96 Sabih v. The Commander of IDF Forces in the Judea and Samaria Area, 50(1) PD 353, 369).

Indeed, in the State's fight against international terrorism, it must act according to the rules of international law (see Michael Kirby, Australian Law – After 11 September 2001, 21 AUSTRALIAN BAR REVIEW 253 (2001)). These rules are based on balancing. They are not "all or nothing". I discussed that in Ajuri, stating:

"In this balancing, human rights cannot receive their full protection, as if there was no terrorism, and state security cannot receive its full protection, as if there were no human rights. A delicate and sensitive balancing is needed. That is the price of democracy. It is a dear price, which is worthwhile to pay. It maintains the strength of the state. It makes the State's struggle worthwhile (Ajuri, at p. 383).

Indeed, the struggle against terrorism has turned our democracy into a "defensive democracy" or a "militant democracy" (see ANDRAS SAJO, MILITANT DEMOCRACY (2004)). However, we cannot allow that struggle to deny our State its democratic character.

63. The question is not whether it is possible to defend ourselves against terrorism. Of course it is possible to do so, and at times it is even a duty to do so. The question is how we respond. On that issue, a balance is needed between security needs and individual rights. That balancing casts a heavy load upon those whose job is to provide security. Not every efficient means is also legal. The ends do not justify the means. The army must instruct itself according to the rules of the law. That balancing casts a heavy load upon the judges, who must determine – according to the existing law – what is permitted, and what forbidden. I discussed that in one case, stating:

"The role of decision has been placed at our door, and we must fulfill it. It is our duty to preserve the legality of government, even when the decisions are difficult. Even when the cannons roar and the muses are silent, the law exists, and acts, and determines what is permissible and what is forbidden; what is legal and what is illegal. As the law exists, so exists the Court, which determines what is permissible and what is forbidden, what is legal and what is illegal. Part of the public will be happy about our decision; the other part will oppose it. It may be that neither part will read our reasoning. But we will do our job" (HCJFH 2161/96 Sharif v. GOC Home Front Command, 50(4) PD 485, 491).

Indeed, decision of the petition before us is not easy;

"We are members of Israeli society. Although we are sometimes in an ivory tower, that tower is in the heart of Jerusalem, which is not infrequently hit by ruthless terrorism. We are aware of the killing and destruction wrought by the terrorism against the State and its citizens. As any other Israelis, we too recognize the need to defend the country and its citizens against terrorism's severe blow. We are aware that in the short term, this judgment will not make the State’s struggle against those rising up against her easier. That knowledge is difficult for us. But we are judges. When we sit in trial, we stand trial. We act according to our best conscience and understanding. Regarding the State’s struggle against the terror that rises up against her, we are convinced that at the end of the day, a struggle according to law (and while complying with the law) strengthens her and her spirit. There is no security without law. Satisfying the provisions of the law is a component of national security" (Beit Sourik, at p. 861).

64. In one case we decided the question whether the State is permitted to order its interrogators to employ special methods of interrogation which involve the use of force against terrorists, in a "ticking bomb" situation. We answered that question in the negative. In my judgment, I described the difficult security situation in which Israel finds itself, and added:

"We are aware that this judgment of ours does not make confronting that reality any easier. That is the fate of democracy, in whose eyes not all means are permitted, and to whom not all the methods used by her enemies are open. At times democracy fights with one hand tied behind her back. Despite that, democracy has the upper hand, since preserving the rule of law and recognition of individual liberties constitute an important component of her security stance. At the end of the day, they strengthen her and her spirit, and allow her to overcome her difficulties (HCJ 5100/94 The Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. The State of Israel, 53(4) PD 817, 845).

Let it be so.

The full opinion is found in:


Sunday, May 2, 2010

NSC 68


NSC-68 was a policy which sought to integrate all of the instruments of national power in pursuit of one overriding goal: the defeat of Soviet power. Though the tactics used in pursuit of this policy evolved, the guidance of NSC-68 remained the fundamental concept guiding American foreign policy. Ultimately, it was a successful precedent as a policy guide, for Soviet power did unravel as a result of unrelenting American pressure.


One aspect of NSC-68 that must be addressed is its ideological foundation. In many respects, there has never been an opponent that so markedly reflected the American mindset than the Soviet Union. It was a quintessential American enemy reflecting everything that Americans believed to be evil in the world: totalitarian, Godless, out to enslave the world, against the indi-vidual and where the state controlled what people thought. In every measure of American political and economic beliefs and values that we cherish, the Soviet Union was diametrically opposed to them. Never had the bad guys been so perfectly visible to us than the Soviets. As a policy, NSC-68 accurately reflected what America believed the Soviet Union to be and, therefore, was remarkable well-suited for the sometimes messianic nature of the American character, by not instituting a policy but rather embarking us on a crusade.

A second aspect is that structurally, NSC-68 was a brilliant policy, integrating all of the instruments of national power towards the defeat of the Soviet Union. Its political foundation was the containment strategy that George Kennan had outlined in his article in Foreign Affairs, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct. NSC-68 sought to unify the political aims of containment with the necessary military resources and forces, economic competition, and diplomatic strategy. As a result of these efforts, it predicted that Soviet communism will not be able to keep up under the strain of the competition; they were right!

Revisionist historians such as Walter Lacquer have criticized NSC-68 for its advocacy of military power to contain Soviet expansionism. They blame NSC-68 for laying the foundation towards massive military forces in peacetime, the military-industrial complex, and American military interventionism all over the world, accusing of giving rise to the national security state. I do not consider their theses entirely valid, though they have some merit, because NSC-68 expressed the values and beliefs of America par excellence, and as a crusade outlined a plan that most Americans would agree with.


Two central problems occurred in the implementation of NSC-68 as a national security policy. The first problem was that the Eisenhower Admin-istration wanted the results that NSC-68 called for, but due to fiscal considerations did not want to increase military spending to field the forces
necessary to implement the policy. They instead fell on the strategy of 'Massive Retaliation' as a cheaper substitute for the force levels required to implement NSC-68. As a result, the integrated strategy began to unravel because now the military instrument became the primary instrument to carry out the policy, the other instruments being subservient to the military.

The second problem arises, inclusive with the first one, and that is the advent of the Soviet Union as a nuclear power, particularly after it acquired thermonuclear weapons. The drafters of NSC-68 saw the advent of Soviet thermonuclear weapons as a threshold which, when crossed, would have an uncertain but negative impact on our abilities to contain Soviet power. For them it meant that the United States would be directly threatened by Soviet bombers, thus the Soviets would seemingly have the ability to do unto us what we intended to do to them. Their solution was to advocate a massive air defense effort to prevent the Soviets from threatening the United States. What they did not foresee was a future president relying on the threat of the use of nuclear weapons to contain even the most minor Soviet, or Soviet surrogate, incursions around the world. The problem really came to a head with the introduction of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which were capable of striking targets anywhere in the world. ICBMs directly threatened the physical security of the United States, and thus we could no longer seek to contain Soviet power through the integral use of the instruments of national power. The political and diplomatic instruments were now geared to
limiting the potential damage to the United States through treaties and arms control agreements with the Soviets. Additionally, the political instrument sought to contain our own military instrument rather than to combat Soviet expansionism.

Thus the military instrument became paramount due to the nuclear force structures we built to deter the Soviets from attacking us directly, and the conventional force structures we also built to maintain the utility of military instrument as a rational policy option. We spent trillions of dollars building two opposing force structures, and spent precious blood fighting in far away lands for what we perceived as communist totalitarianism on the march. This was the real impact of ideological lenses with which we viewed the world, for indeed it did give rise to a national security mentality that saw every manifestation of anti-American, and/or anti-Western sentiment in the world, as being directed from Moscow and as a zero-sum game where any perceived loss on my part is my enemy's gain and vice versa. What this meant in practical terms is that we made alliances and supported right-wing dictatorships, plotted the overthrow of governments, and tried to make other nations in our own image, as was the case in Vietnam.


In conclusion, NSC-68 was a logical expression of prevailing American attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Regardless of actual Soviet intentions, it sought to portray the Soviet Union as a direct threat to our way of life
and to seek the containment of Soviet power through the integration of all elements of our national power to do so. As a tribute to the people who drafted the document, it proved to be highly prescient of the actual events that occurred.

Courageous, untroubled, mocking, violent; that is
wisdom wishes us to be. Wisdom is like a woman -
who loves only a warrior.
F. Nietzsche

Saturday, May 1, 2010