Temperatures are soaring, vacations are wrapping up, and many of you are realizing that you have only a couple of weeks left to rest and relax before the new national security school year begins after Labor Day! Luckily, your loyal Strategic Outpost columnists are happy to present our seventh (!!) annual list of what we think you should be reading, watching, and listening to as you navigate your way back to the real world from your last chance for sunburns, hangovers, and lost luggage! As we have in each of our previous summer reading lists, we’ve provided an eclectic blend of serious and not-so-serious recommendations that we think will pique your interest and set you up for being one of the smartest office pundits around. Enjoy!
War in Ukraine
Anything involving Michael Kofman. Whatever this impressive analyst at CNA has to say about the war in Ukraine is worth listening to. Kofman consistently provides penetrating insights about the conflict, expertly drawing upon his deep knowledge of the Russian military. We recommend listening to his frequent conversations with Ryan Evans on the War on the Rocks podcast, especially the most recent episode on the next phase of the war, and one from June that focuses on how both combatants are dealing with relentless battle and attrition. Also, check out his Twitter feed for excellent Kofman facts and analysis in real-time.
David Johnson’s articles. Given the tsunami of publications about the tragic war in Ukraine, it can be hard to separate the true gems from the ever-growing analytic clutter. While Kofman, the good folks at the Institute for the Study of War, and others continue to do excellent work on the day-to-day conduct of the war, Johnson adds unparalleled analysis of what it all means for the United States. Whether making the case for the continued relevance of tanks and modern armor, warning against the wrong lessons being learned, or reminding us of the grinding nature of long wars, Johnson has been unerringly on the mark. Don’t miss these, and anything else he writes on this topic!
The Future of Warfare
Connected Soldiers, by John Spencer. A deeply insightful memoir that is simultaneously a very personal account of small-unit leadership and an exploration of how nearly unlimited connectivity while at war may be undermining the bonds of battlefield comradeship that are so critical in combat. Spencer led soldiers during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and returned five years later to find his troops spending their free time checking social media and FaceTiming with loved ones instead of connecting with each other — and much later experienced connected warfare from the home front, as the spouse of a deployed soldier in 2018. Spencer readily acknowledges that he does not have all the answers, especially about how leaders can intentionally foster environments to promote the critical bonds of wartime cohesion that used to occur naturally. But he raises all the right questions, in a story that also stands as one of the best combat memoirs of the recent wars.
7 Seconds to Die, by John Antal. This small gem dissects the little-known second Nagorno-Karabakh war, which Antal calls “the first modern war primarily decided by unmanned weapons.” Loitering munitions, lethal drones, battlefield transparency, and the inability to protect forces from modern forms of attack all unexpectedly tipped the balance of this conflict to the underdog. Many of these dynamics are currently playing out at scale in Ukraine and have tremendous implications for the U.S. military and the future of warfighting — including the consequences of a newly-transparent battlefield, the urgent need to mask forces for survivability, and the vital importance of mission command in a dispersed and degraded environment.
“The Tactical Defense Becomes Dominant Again,” by T.X. Hammes. This National Defense University professor persuasively argues that the offense — long seen as the only decisive way to win a war — is now being replaced by the ascendency of the defense. Hammes suggests that the proliferation of new and relatively inexpensive technologies such as commercial drones and satellite imaging, together with the advent of AI applied to military problems, now provides huge defensive advantages to those seeking to rebuff an attacker. If he’s right, the U.S. military may need to shift much of its doctrine and investments that have long been prioritized for offensive operations to a whole new way of thinking that achieves victory by leveraging new defensive strengths to deny the goals of an adversary’s aggression.
Strategy and a Rising China
“What Makes a Power Great,” by Michael Mazarr. This provocative article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs reminds us that enduring power and influence in the world rely upon factors that may not always be obvious in the short term: strong national ambition, a culture of learning and innovation, and vibrant diversity and pluralism that can provide depth and resiliency. Mazarr offers a thoughtful corrective to those who view the United States as facing an inevitable decline. But he also stresses that retaining a competitive edge may require “nothing less than a new national project to reinvigorate its essential characteristics” —