March 28, 2020

COVID 19: What we can learn from other countries

A handful of Asian countries, including South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, have been able to control their coronavirus outbreaks far more successfully than the U.S., which now has more cases than any other country

♦️Lesson 1: The playbook works

The standard playbook for a new infectious disease is to test the people who might be sick, trace their contacts to figure out who else they may have infected, test those people, and keep repeating that process.

South Korea's coronavirus response isn't some radical new innovation: They just followed that playbook especially well.
Widespread testing is particularly important with this strain of coronavirus because people can spread it before they start to feel sick. And it's important to do all of this early in the outbreak. The U.S. missed the boat on both of those priorities.

♦️ Lesson 2: Technology can help

Singapore used an aggressive form of cellphone tracking to pinpoint citizens at risk of infection, and Taiwan quickly made better use of databases it already had — two tech-based interventions that helped make that standard playbook work.

Better data would definitely help in the U.S., and though Singapore's location tracking is probably too Big Brother for most Americans, a more localized and more voluntary version could make a difference.

♦️Lesson 3: Messaging matters

〰️Public communication is one of the big things Italy — a leading example of what not to do — got wrong. President Trump has sent similarly mixed messages here, initially downplaying the virus and saying it would go away on its own before changing his tone as cases mounted.

〰️"Messaging is probably the biggest thing that's important to get right at this stage," said Claire Standley, an infectious-disease expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security.

Source: AXIOS

War and Warming

We include our friend Nathan Albright's article on the glaring contrast between real global security and the military dominance which U.S. elites keep choosing, instead, to pursue.  


by Nathan Albright
March 11, 2020
On June 5th, 2019, senior intelligence analyst Rod Schoonover spoke before a House Intelligence hearing on National Security and Climate Change. "The Earth's climate is unequivocally undergoing a long-term warming trend as established by decades of scientific measurements from multiple independent lines of evidence," said Schoonover. "We expect that climate change will affect US national security interests through multiple, concurrent, and compounded ways. Global often diffuse perturbations are almost certain to ripple across political, social, economic, and human security domains worldwide. These include economic damage, threats to human health, energy security, and food security. We expect no country to be immune to the effects of climate change for 20 years." Shortly after delivering his remarks, Schoonover resigned his position and wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times in which he revealed that the Trump administration had tried to censor his remarks, telling him in a private memo to excise large sections of his talk and suggesting edits for the rest. The administration's condescending and sarcastic notes on Schoonover's testimony, which can be read in the unclassified document released by the Center for Climate and Security, include the assertion that "a consensus of peer reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth."
The Trump administration's campaign to suppress information about climate change is widely known (while researching for this article I continually found links which a few years ago led to government documents about climate change but now redirected me to error messages and blank pages), but what may come as a surprise to many readers is the forceful pushback this administration has received from the Pentagon. Just a few months before the House Intelligence Hearing, fifty-eight former US military and national security officials signed a letter to the President imploring him to recognize the grave "threat to US national security" posed by climate change. "It is dangerous to have national security analysis conform to politics," reads the letter endorsed by military generals, intelligence experts, and chiefs of staff whose tenures stretch across the past four administrations, "climate change is real, it is happening now, it is driven by humans, and it is accelerating."
In just the past three years, countless senior officials from the Intelligence Community (IC) and Department of Defense (DOD) have voiced growing concerns about the security implications of a changing climate, including former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General David L. Goldfein, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen Wilson, Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel, Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, Secretary of the Air Force, Heather A. Wilson, and Commander of United States European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti. In Schoonover's Op-Ed for the New York Times, he explained the Pentagon's widespread concern: "Two words that national security professionals abhor are uncertainty and surprise, and there's no question that the changing climate promises ample amounts of both."
The link between climate science and the military stretches back at least as far as the 1950's, long before climate change was politicized. Oceanographer Roger Revelle, one of the first scientists to conduct research on global warming, oversaw nuclear testing on the Bikini Islands in his early career as a Naval Officer, and later secured funding for climate research by expressing concerns to congress about the Soviet capacity to weaponize the weather. Other experts in climate science echoed Revelle's concerns about falling behind the Soviets and reiterated the connection to nuclear weapons in the 1959 founding document of the National Institute for Atmospheric Research, writing, "man's activities in consuming fossil fuels during the past hundred years, and in detonating nuclear weapons during the past decade have been on a scale sufficient to make it worthwhile to examine the effects these activities have had upon the atmosphere."
More recently, while climate change has been debated as a partisan issue in Washington, nonpartisan security experts at the DOD have quietly researched and written volumes on climate change and its implications for global security. In the words of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, "the only department in ... Washington that is clearly and completely seized with the idea that climate change is real is the Department of Defense."
This is at least in part due to the threats to military infrastructure. The January 2019 DOD Report on Effects of a Changing Climate lists 79 military installations at risk of serious disruptions to operations in the near future due to drought (for instance, at Joint Base Anacostia Bolling in D.C. and Pearl Harbor, HI), desertification (at the central US drone command center, Creech Air Force base in Nevada), wildfires (at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California), thawing permafrost (at training centers in Greeley, Alaska), and flooding (at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia). "It is relevant to point out," the authors of the report note, "that 'future' in this analysis means only 20 years in the future." In a recent interview with the Center for Investigative Reporting, former Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus warned, "everything you read, all the science that you see is that we have underestimated the speed at which this is going to happen… If we don't do something to reverse or slow the sea level rise, the largest navy base in the world, Norfolk, will go underwater. It will disappear. And it will disappear within the lifetimes of people alive today."
But threats to infrastructure are only the beginning of concerns expressed by top US security officials, who frequently refer to climate change as a "threat-multiplier." Reviewing publicly available Pentagon documents from the past few years reveals an overwhelming list of concerns surrounding the climate crisis from Intelligence and Defense officials. Climate disruptions already documented include an increase in soldiers falling ill or dying from heat stroke during training exercises, difficulties executing military operations, as well as a reduction in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions because of more "no-go flight days." Concerns for the near and medium term future are considerably more drastic, including: expanded ranges for diseases and disease vectors; overwhelming humanitarian situations from concurrent natural disasters; large regions becoming uninhabitable from drought or unbearable heat; opening of new territories like the arctic (when asked what inspired a revision of the DOD's Arctic Strategy in 2014, then Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer said, "the damn thing melted."); conflict with Russia and China over resources newly exposed by melt; broader widespread resource conflicts; inter-state tensions over unilateral attempts to engineer the climate; and increased potential for extreme, sudden shifts in the climate.
In 2016, then Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, detailed these risks in a report titled Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change. While "climate-change related disruptions are well underway," he wrote, "over 20 years, the net effects of climate change on the patterns of global human movement and statelessness could be dramatic, perhaps unprecedented. If unanticipated, they could overwhelm government infrastructure and resources." He warned that the world could be facing "large-scale political instability" linked to climate change, and that, "in the most dramatic cases, state authority may collapse partially or entirely."
In August, 2019 the Army War College released its own analysis of these risks, lamenting the "often rancorous and politically charged" nature of climate change discourse, and found that "as an organization that is, by law, non-partisan, the Department of Defense is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change induced global security challenges." The study, titled Implications of Climate Change for the US Army, warns that "the effects of a warming climate with more extreme weather are astonishingly far-reaching," and delves deeper into the "climate change complications in just one country," Bangladesh. The authors remind us that Bangladesh, a country with eight times the population of Syria where recent drought conditions sparked a civil war with international consequences, exists as the result of a war between India and Pakistan, two major military powers which now possess nuclear capabilities. "As seas rise and huge areas of Bangladesh become uninhabitable, where will tens of millions of displaced Bangladeshis go? How will this large-scale displacement affect global security in a region with nearly 40% of the world's population and several antagonistic nuclear powers?"
The Army War College's example gets to the heart of the Pentagon's climate fears: human migration. In his 2017 book Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, investigative journalist Todd Miller details the explosion of government fears over migration that has taken place in the past few decades. "There were 16 border fences when the Berlin wall fell in 1988," Miller writes, "now there are more than 70 across the globe," including, "Turkey's new 'smart border' with Syria, which [has] a tower every 1,000 feet with a three-language alarm system and 'automated firing zones' supported by hovering zeppelin drones."
Miller suggests that an article in The Atlantic from 1994, The Coming Anarchy has had an outsized influence on shaping government migration policy over this period. The essay by Robert Kaplan is, as Miller puts it, "a bizarre mixture of rancid Malthusian nativism and cutting-edge forecast of ecological collapse," in which Kaplan describes with equal parts horror and disdain "hordes" of wandering, unemployed youth in West African shantytowns and other parts of the Global South as they join gangs and destabilize regions with no regard for rule of law. "There are far too many millions" Kaplan warns, looking towards the approaching 21st century, "whose raw energies and desires will overwhelm the visions of the elites, remaking the future into something frighteningly new." Kaplan's grim vision of the future was quickly embraced as prophecy at the highest level of US government, faxed by the undersecretary of state Tim Wirth to every U.S. embassy worldwide, and praised by President Clinton who called Kaplan a "[beacon] for new sensitivity to environmental security." That same year, Miller notes, "the US Army Corps of Engineers was using rust-colored landing mats from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars to build the first border wall in Nogales, Arizona," part of the Clinton administration's new "Prevention Through Deterrence" immigration policy. The following year, Border Patrol agents carried out "mock mass-migration scenarios in Arizona where agents erected cyclone fence corrals into which they 'herded' people for emergency processing, then loaded them onto bus convoys that transported them to mass detention centers."
In the years since Kaplan's essay, a number of dystopian futures of a similar genre have been put forth by security experts and think tanks urging governments to brace themselves for the impacts of the climate crisis. Unlike scientific bodies such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which are extremely hesitant to venture too far into predictions of the future lest they be accused of a single miscalculation, those in the business of national security are quick to explore every foreseeable outcome of a crisis, lest they fail to be prepared for a single possibility. The combination of the unflinching gaze at the realities of the climate crisis and the utter lack of faith in humanity that marks these documents makes for a haunting read.
In 2003, a Pentagon think tank released a report called An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security. The report, which would later be the inspiration for the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, considered a world in which a rapidly worsening climate crisis prompts wealthy nations like the US to "build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving resources for themselves," a scenario which, "may lead to finger-pointing and blame, as the wealthier nations tend to use more energy and emit more greenhouse gasses such as CO2 into the atmosphere." The authors end on a note of American exceptionalism, hypothesizing that "while the US itself will be relatively better off and with more adaptive capacity, it will find itself in a world where Europe will be struggling internally, large numbers of refugees washing up on its shores and Asia in serious crisis over food and water. Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life."
In 2007, two Washington think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for New American Security, put together a more comprehensive set of predictions in a report ominously titled The Age of Consequences. The team that worked on the document was made up of several top Pentagon officials including former Chief of Staff to the President John Podesta, former National Security Advisor to the Vice President Leon Fuerth (both of whom would later sign the recent letter to Trump), former CIA Director James Woolsey, and a number of other "nationally recognized leaders in the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security." The report looked at three warming scenarios "within the range of scientific plausibility," from "expected" to "severe" to "catastrophic." The "expected" scenario, which the authors define as "the least we ought to prepare for," is based on a 1.3°C average global temperature increase by 2040, and involves "heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity," and "increased disease proliferation." The "severe" scenario describes a 2.6°C warmer world by 2040 in which "massive non-linear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events." In the third, "catastrophic" scenario, the authors contemplate a world 5.6°C warmer by 2100:
"The scale of the potential consequences associated with climate change —particularly in more dire and distant scenarios —made it difficult to grasp the extent and magnitude of the possible changes ahead. Even among our creative and determined group of seasoned observers, it was extraordinarily challenging to contemplate revolutionary global change of this magnitude. Global temperature increases of more than 3°C and sea level rises measured in meters (a potential future examined in scenario three) pose such a dramatically new global paradigm that it is virtually impossible to contemplate all the aspects of national and international life that would be inevitably affected. As one participant noted, 'unchecked climate change equals the world depicted by Mad Max, only hotter, with no beaches, and perhaps with even more chaos.' While such a characterization may seem extreme, a careful and thorough examination of all the many potential consequences associated with global climate change is profoundly disquieting. The collapse and chaos associated with extreme climate change futures would destabilize virtually every aspect of modern life. The only comparable experience for many in the group was considering what the aftermath of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange might have entailed during the height of the Cold War."

A more recent study, published by an Australian think tank in 2019, references The Age of Consequences and gives some updated context, noting that if we account for "long-term carbon-cycle feedbacks," the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement would lead to 5°C of warming by 2100. The paper, titled Existential Climate-Related Security Risk, opens by citing an Australian Senate report which found that climate change "threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development," and warns that this threat is "near to mid-term." The authors note that the World Bank considers 4°C of warming potentially "beyond adaptation." "It is clear," the report concludes, that to protect human civilization, "a massive global mobilization of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate. This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilization."
Make no mistake, the most level-headed assessments of the climate crisis are predicting that the coming decades will see hundreds of millions of new climate refugees added to the tens of millions already displaced by the crisis. Once we accept the unavoidable, seismic changes that the climate crisis promises for the coming decades, we are faced with two worldviews. In the first, after coming to terms with the crisis, people work together and pool resources to support one another – a process that would require addressing massive disparities in wealth and power. The second, preferred by elites, involves a hardening of inequality in which those who already have excess upon excess decide to further horde resources and  label anyone in need a "security threat" in order to justify elaborate, systematic violence. The vast majority of humanity would benefit from the first view while a small handful are currently profiting from the second, including the world's largest weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, nearly all of which help fund the think tanks envisioning a future that falls to pieces without them.
In Storming The Wall, Todd Miller travels with a number of climate refugees on their harrowing migration journeys. He finds that a "border in the anthropocene era" typically consists of "young unarmed farmers with failing harvests encountering expanding and highly privatized border regimes of surveillance, guns, and prisons." In sharp contrast to the reports from security officials, he argues that countries should be taking in climate refugees in proportion to their historic responsibility for emissions – this would mean the US would take in 27% of refugees, the EU 25%, China 11%, and so on. "Instead," he points out, "these are the places with the largest military budgets. And these are the countries that today are erecting towering border walls." Meanwhile, those living in the 48 so-called "least developed countries," are 5 times as likely to die from a climate-related disaster while accounting for less than 1% of global emissions. "The true climate war," Miller writes, "is not between people in different communities fighting each other for scarce resources. It is between those in power and the grassroots; between a suicidal status quo and the hope for sustainable transformation. The militarized border is but one of many weapons deployed by those in power." It's only in this context that we can start to see what the seemingly opposed climate denial and climate obsession of elites have in common:  both are about maintaining the status quo – either through insisting on an alternate reality or deploying military force in anticipation of threats to established power.
Miller tells the story of a small group who, overwhelmed by the growing impact of global warming in their lives, decide to walk over 1,000 miles on a "people's pilgrimage" to the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. He follows two of the pilgrims, Yeb and A.G., brothers from the Philippines who, in 2013, saw Typhoon Haiyan devastate their home. A.G. narrowly survived the "category 6" storm that some described as a "260-kilometer-wide tornado," and personally carried the corpses of 78 members of his community during recovery efforts. Yeb, who was a climate negotiator for the Philippines at the time, ended up losing his job after an emotional outburst at the Warsaw Climate Summit while he awaited word from his family. At the beginning of the 60-day journey, they said they were overwhelmed by the "really, really vicious" challenges the world faced, but as they walked they found comfort in each new person who offered some form of hospitality on their journey. It was interactions with "real people," they said, who welcomed them and offered them beds, that gave them hope.
When they arrived in Paris, they found the city's preparations for hosting the climate summit had been thrown into chaos by the now notorious November 13th terror attacks. That week, "the climate justice movement met the militarized counter-terror apparatus." While the government invoked a state of emergency to ban all climate demonstrations outside the summit, Miller points out that nearby, Milipol, a military tech expo, was allowed to proceed as planned even though it involved over 24,000 attendees walking between vendors to learn about and handle weapons. The expo was filled with drones, armored cars, border walls, displays of "mannequins dressed in body armor, with gas masks and assault rifles," and vendors warning against "people who pretend they are refugees."
Miller writes that witnessing both Milipol and the people's pilgrimage illuminated the difference between climate justice and climate security: "the innate belief in the goodness of others." "What we most need is grassroots solidarity and cross border hospitality, even with all its messiness" said Yeb, "this movement must be strengthened and built despite our world leaders." That week at the summit, where the Paris Climate Accord would be drafted, despite a government ban on public assembly, 11,000 people flooded the streets facing tear gas and police clubs, and over 600,000 others around the world marched in support. "Solidarity is not an option," said Yeb, as he completed his journey and risked arrest joining the demonstrations for climate justice, "it is our only chance."

Nathan Albright lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York, and co-edits "The Flood,"

The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines Between War and Peace

The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines Between War and Peace. Oscar Jonsson. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 2019.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the coercive annexation of the Crimea, and the ongoing support of proxy groups in Eastern Ukraine have induced seizures in western military thought, especially in the United States. Knee-jerk reactions hit upon slick-sounding diagnoses like the gray zone, the Gerasimov Doctrine, and even prescriptions based on new rules that reject historical continuity itself.

These ideas are more the products of panic than informed reflection. Fortunately Oscar Jonsson’s new book, The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines Between War and Peace is not. Jonsson, the Director of the Stockholm Free World Forum,has packed this slim volume with a potent antidote. Based on his field research in Moscow, he takes the all-too-novel approach of examining what Russians themselves think, say, and write about war in the 21st century.

Jonsson’s thesis is that the Russian government and armed forces believe there has been a change in the nature of war with the advent of the information revolution. Specifically, information warfare is now so potent that it can achieve political goals commensurate with war without recourse to military means. The resulting book offers an efficient overview of trends in Russian military thought since the collapse of the Soviet Union paired with detailed examinations of the two major subjects that have defined those trends: information warfare and color revolutions.


Jonsson traces Russian military thought from Lenin to the present, focusing on official government documents, speeches, and scholarly articles written by civilian and military defense officials. Then he provides two topical deep dives on information warfare and color revolutions. The content is organized on two tracks: the views of political leadership and the views of military leadership. This keeps the chapters organized, with Jonsson using callbacks and highlighting connections to prevent too much bifurcation.

The survey demonstrates how Russians see war and peace not as a binary but as a spectrum. The extensive use of subversive information and propaganda, or what some call political warfare, is also not new. A. A. Svechin, in his 1926 book Strategy, explicitly stated the value of these means: “This political goal, namely splitting a hostile state into individual political fragments, involves a study of the domestic situation.”[1] Such methods fall in line with the Marxist-Leninist ideas of Svechin’s time, of course; this revolutionary Russian tradition of offensive political warfare, as Svechin labeled it, has not died out. But Svechin saw such means as suited for infecting the opponent with disunity in preparation for eventual defeat by Russian military forces. Modern Russian thinkers, by contrast, see a vastly expanded role for these methods.

Jonsson finds plenty of evidence for this thesis, as the Russian documents he uses explicitly discuss whether or not there has been a change in the nature or—more commonly in these sources—the “essence” of war. Most of them, at some point, agree there has been such a change. Moreover, many of the writers who pioneered thinking on information warfare in the 1990s (a trend that triggered similar examinations in the U.S. military) are still active and discussing current events like Euromaidan and the war in Ukraine. By presenting these thinkers and their ideas in chronological order, Jonsson makes it easy to follow their evolution.

To evaluate whether or not the nature of war has changed, Russian thinkers lean heavily on Clausewitz’s definition of war, which is unsurprising since Lenin also adopted it. The debate in Russia regarding his definition revolves around whether or not it needs to be updated to reflect that non-military means can be used alongside—or in lieu of—military means. That debate is a result of a conflation of the word violence with organized, military force. The Russians see the classical definition of war as meaning the open use of organized, uniformed military forces. Clausewitz’s definition requires the use of organized violence, but leaves open questions about the particular organizations that can employ it.

Jonsson expertly leavens the presentation of documents and articles examined after the collapse of the Soviet Union with connections to major milestones in the Russian Federation’s foreign policy—the Chechen Wars, the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Russian parliamentary elections of 2011—that they believe were corrupted by interference from the United States, and the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. However, the presentation of article excerpts and concepts in a chronological manner makes for dry reading, even with Jonsson’s analysis woven in. This is, in my opinion, a necessary evil; medicine does not exist to taste good. Readers who are only casually interested in the details of Russian military thought or unused to academic prose, though, may be left wishing for a spoonful of sugar.

Russian military vehicles on their way to South Ossetia, August 9, 2008. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

The book reveals that Russian officials—both political and military—have engaged in a lively and complex debate about what war is, its nature and its role in international politics. These are not the staid, anodyne, article-shaped press releases penned by the staffs of most U.S. officials and then published under their names. They are deep, philosophical discussions of meaning that reflect real engagement with the subject matter.


One important concept from Russian thinking is the idea of controlled chaos, a phrase used throughout Russian writings on war. It refers to the sowing of disorder and dissension in a target country through information, intelligence, diplomatic, or other means, including violence. Russian thinkers believe such controlled chaos is in most cases preparation for further action such as invasions that then achieve political goals. Others think controlled chaos can achieve policy goals without any further action.

This idea has parallels in Sunni jihad strategic theory, specifically The Management of Savagery by Abu Bakr Naji, which greatly influenced the Islamic State. For Naji, the sowing of controlled chaos does not just create an opportunity but also encourages capitulation and support to the entity strong enough to impose order and stability. The case of the Islamic State demonstrates this strategic logic as it attempted to be both agent of and solution to chaos in Syria and Iraq.[2]

This is not to say that Russia and the Islamic State are the same, or even that they have similar motivations for the sowing of chaos and disorder. But the fact that they both see chaos as a means and an opportunity rather than a problem is notable. Where Russia does see chaos as a problem is when it is imposed by someone else. Russian writers take it as a fact that any event in any country that does not conform to Russian interests is a clever American conspiracy to manipulate events.

Jonsson also illuminates how the Russian conception of information warfare consists of two parts: information-technical and information-psychological.[3] The former maps roughly to information-related capabilities that revolve around technology: electronic warfare, cyber warfare, signals intelligence, etc. The latter involves the influence of people through deception, disinformation, psychological warfare, and other means of changing minds. There is no such division in U.S. doctrine, where all of these capabilities and more are jumbled together under the titles “information warfare,” “information operations,” or “operations in the information environment” depending on time and service.


It is important to remember, however, that Russia’s focus on information warfare reflects not only its belief in its potential, but also its fear of its power. The outsized role of information in Russian military thought is a symptom of deep-seated nervousness that with free information comes domestic political revolution. It is not just that Russian writers worry a domestic political revolution would occur, but also that it would succeed. This Russian fear of western values goes back at least as far as Peter the Great, whose reforms drew conservative ire from the Russian nobility and at least one aborted coup attempt.

The United States is not the only one guilty of misunderstanding others. The U.S. and other western countries tend to see instability and chaos as inherently bad and as a problem to be solved. The Russians see it as an opportunity, and they think the United States thinks the same way.[4] This leads them to see American conspiracies in every global crisis and respond in kind to these hallucinated attacks.

The United States, for example, views funding for pro-democracy groups as benign, while Russian leaders see it as malign. Conversely, some things the U.S. see as an attack the Russians see as a response. For example, Americans view Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election as an attack. Russian leaders, however, view it as a response to American interference in the Russian parliamentary elections of 2011 and subsequent protests that lasted into 2012, which they believe then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally directed and orchestrated.[5] The fact that neither of those things is true is less important than the fact that Russian leaders believe them to be true.

The American Embassy in Moscow. (Mladen Antonov/AFP)


Jonsson’s thesis is convincing: the Russians clearly believe the nature of war has changed. There is a strong consensus that war can now be made without recourse to organized military means and that policy goals can now be achieved by offensive political warfare. The Russians themselves, though, fail to make the case. They uniformly interpret Clausewitz’s definition of war as resting on the use of military forces for political goals. However, Clausewitz’s definition does not require formal military force, just violence. The writers covered in this book have a habit of conflating the definitions of violence, organized violence, and military force all as one and the same when in fact they mean different things This is ironic, since Russia does not shy away from employing violence in peace or in war, whether it be through proxies in a high-intensity conflict like Ukraine or through assassinations in countries like the United Kingdom. The subtitle of the book is therefore well-chosen. Clausewitz defines war as the pursuit of political goals with the addition of violent means. There have always been other means of achieving political goals, and those means are used in peace and in war. War, though, features the use of violence alongside those other means, and that violence can take many forms, not just the military one.

They are right, however, that those other means—especially informational means, including information-technical and information-psychological—have more potential and are therefore more potent than they have been in the past. Information warfare has evolved beyond a susceptibility to antibodies like censorship; such means of state control of information will only work for so long. This offers strategic actors both opportunities and threats and Russia, perhaps more so than the United States, intends to seize the former and forestall the latter. Jonsson’s book should be at the top of the reading list to understand Russia’s view of them.

Brett A. Friedman is a wargame analyst, an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and an Associate Editor for The Strategy Bridge. He is the editor of 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy and the author of On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle. The views expressed are the author's and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

B v2.jpeg

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.

Header Image: Peter the Great, Vladimir Lenin, and Vladimir Putin (Wikimedia and Saatchi Art)


[1] Trans. Kokoshin, Andrei A. Ed. Kent D. Lee. Svechin, A. A. Strategy. Minneapolis: Eastview Information Services, 1992, Page 94.

[2] For more on Sunni jihad strategic logic see “Mujahideen: The Strategic Tradition of Sunni Jihadism,” Small Wars Journal:

[3] Jonsson, 20.

[4] Jonsson, 141.

[5] Jonsson, 132.

What Compelled the Roman Way of Warfare? #Reviewing Killing for the Republic

Killing for the Republic: Citizen Soldiers and the Roman Way of War. Steele Brand. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

Ever since Abel went for shepherding and Cain for farming—and then founding cities after murdering Abel—the human race has divided over the superior virtuousness of the agrarian versus the urban lifestyle. But the Bible’s first word about cities is hardly its last; eventually, there’s even divine favor for the city of Jerusalem.[1] By the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is deliberately seeking out cities in a way that would horrify the Hesiod-imitating Virgil of the Georgics, intent on praising the pious farmer who harkens back to the Saturnine Golden Age, before “anyone had heard…the clanging of a sword on the hard anvil.”

In dramatic curtsey to the pastoral ideal, Marie Antoinette of Versailles liked to play shepherdess. Meanwhile, the sometime American diplomat to the French Court, Thomas Jefferson, thundered denouncements against that “modern Carthage,” commercial Great Britain, but waxed eloquent about Virginia farmers: “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God…whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for genuine and substantial virtue.”  When Ram Trucks debuted its 2013 Super Bowl commercial set to Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer,” the now American commercial powerhouse paused, thrilled by the romantic feels of Jeffersonian pietas.

Of course, between the city and the farm runs the sharp iron edge, and not just of the plow. “Soldiers walk the weird wall at the edge of civilization,” Reed Robert Bonadonna wrote a few years ago in Soldiers and Civilization. The presence of soldiers is an admission of weakness. It is also a projection of strength. When former farmer Cain built up the walls of his city, it was a defense mechanism against those who might now come seeking to kill him. Sporting a cow on his shield, the mythical tied-to-the-land Italian Turnus was no match for the Vulcan-armed Trojan Aeneas, and yet the historical Spartan victors of the Peloponnesian War were fatally weakened by their systemic agricultural reliance on enslaved Helots. Soldiers are not self-sustaining. Eventually, Spartan and Athenian warrior descendants alike fell before the pila of the Roman legion, and the scutum and gladius of the Roman citizen-soldier in his triumphant spread of (perhaps still) the world’s greatest empire.

That would more properly be the Roman farmer citizen-soldier, as Steele Brand argues in his new monograph, Killing for the Republic: Citizen Soldiers and the Roman Way of War: “What drove Rome to greatness was a devotion to the creative act of hard labor...[T]oil on the family farm fostered the civic virtue that made Roman men good soldiers and better citizens.”[2] While still a republic, Rome built its empire through the virtues of its agrarian-based citizens and thanks to a political system characterized by the pursuit of liberty through divided sovereignty and participatory citizenship. The foundational element was a valorized civic mindedness, nourished by religious rituals, civic monuments, a commitment to family honor and communal glory, and that agrarian lifestyle. The latter habituated Roman citizens to the essential need of fulfilling their duty. Rome successfully cultivated martial virtues among the populace so that ordinary citizens could pursue their duty toward family and patria while also earning individual glory, but without threatening the delicate balance required to preserve the republican state.

Any polity can field an army through compulsion or other violent means. What matters more is what makes your average person choose to stay on the battlefield. Brand argues the Roman Republic motivated its soldiers by publicly honoring at all times the initiative, strength, discipline, perseverance, courage, and loyalty of individual citizens. Moreover, it was this combination of public and private values, flexible political institutions, and a tailored upbringing that gradually culminated in the superiority of the Roman legion against the arguably technically superior Macedonian phalanx at Pydna. Brand calls the entirety of this system “civic militarism,” defined as “self defense writ large for the state.”[3]


To understand how civic militarism formed the link between Rome’s republican spirit and the Roman citizen-soldier, Brand traces how the “constitutional and cultural evolution of Rome affected the battlefield tactics” in five pivotal battles spanning over 250 years, in similar style to Victor Davis Hanson and John Keegan.[4] But he seems to chooses these battles based on whom Rome was fighting against: from facing the Gauls and Samnites at Sentinum in 295 BC; the proxy of three Carthaginian armies at New Carthage in modern Spain in 209 BC; the Macedonians at Pydna, 168 BC; to eventually fellow Romans at Mutina and Philippi, in 43 and 42 BC, respectively, thereby guaranteeing the collapse of the Republic in the wake of Julius Caesar’s assassination. If Rome built its greatness through its civic militarism and agrarian citizen soldiers, it may very well have excavated its demise through the same. But if the success of the republican citizen soldier led to idolizing the model even while the actual soldiers were becoming professional warriors at odds with civilian political institutions, then that model, still revered in American rhetoric, needs some archeological examination.

What ought America to take from the Roman citizen-soldier model, and what is best left behind? From Homer and Heraclitus stretches the argument that the encounter with war denotes both the root of ethics and the birth of literature, and so defines a nation, not the least through the stories it tells about itself. Himself an increasingly rare example of a historian who has gone to war, in this case Afghanistan in 2012, the better to understand this relationship, Brand echoes the sentiment: “At the center of this life cycle [of governments] are civil-military relations because the soul of any state is most clearly defined when it decides what it is willing to kill and die for.”[5] Somehow, despite the expectation of civic virtue being cemented into every Roman institution, Roman soldiers chose to kill each other at Philippi. And so the Roman Empire, with its Neros, Caligulas, and Diocletians, came.

Was the death of the Roman Republic inevitable, initiating the death of the virtuous farmer citizen soldier? Or did the non-idealized, increasingly professionalized soldiers attached to individual commanders defending the Republic’s expanding periphery accelerate the need for formal imperial governance structures? Was this due to their increasing demands on state resources and partially fueled by the decreasing viability of those vaunted farms? Engaging in one of history’s most contested arguments, Brand insists the Republic could have been salvaged. He buttresses this claim with arguments marshalled from his ancient inspirations Livy, Polybius, Plutarch, and above all, Cicero. It’s a testament to Cicero’s rhetorical prowess that in citing his strategic oratory before and after Caesar’s assassination in March 44 and before Cicero’s own murder in 43 BC, the thoughtful historian Brand seems to ignore the philosophical weak point in Cicero’s argument.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (Wikimedia)

For the Republic to survive there needed to be Cicero’s “ideal statesman” who combined sapientia—wisdom through philosophic study, prudentia—cultural and political foresight through learned experience, and auctoritas—just and constitutional behavior, not to mention followers in the form of a capable army. Persuasion sometimes needs physical arms in order to win the day (hence Machiavelli’s later formulation about princely, armed prophets). Despite his pen’s mightiness, Cicero knew he was not that general. Brutus did not have the prudentia—his plan to save the Republic seemed to begin and end with his sword in Caesar’s side. Besides, as Plutarch intimates, Brutus’ turn to stoicism signaled an intellectual rejection of the physical limitations of specific political forms, such as a republic, in favor of universalizing philosophic ideas. The rise of the Academy was its own sword thrust in the intellectual heart of a viable ancient city-based polity. The venal Antony had no interest in philosophical ideas or constitutional restraint. And Octavian, well Octavian was Caesar Augustus, in waiting.

In other words, the failure of Cicero’s ideal statesman to come forward at the crucial moment exposes the tension that republics labor to conceal and that political science obstinately obscures. Despite the genuine insistence on liberty if not equality of citizens, at least the pre-modern republic relied on individuals with outsized talents in military and political matters to lead it and ensure its safety, not the least by consenting to abide humbly by its rules. Confusingly, the brilliance of these men and women seems to reside in atypical traits running counter to the tenor of their community. Thucydides’ Spartan Brasidas was more successful the more Athenian he acted, while in Brand’s Plutarch-based account, Quintus Fabius’ distinctly un-Roman strategy of attrition to conquer Hannibal enabled Scipio Africanus eventually to defeat the Carthaginians at Zama. (At one point, Plutarch’s Hannibal even observes that Fabius has beaten him at his own game, becoming “another Hannibal”.) Even today, Americans remain deeply divided over Tecumseh Sherman’s methods.

Meanwhile, shot through the accounts of these same ancient writers is the maddeningly unscientific role chance or fortune seems to play in bringing together or separating capable commanders and skilled soldiers on battlefields, not to mention bringing together a skilled general and prudent statesman in one body. Why did Cassius fail to see from his battlefield vantage point Brutus’ success as the first Battle of Philippi wound down, and kill himself? Why did Brutus “dither” so much, in Brand’s words, and then abandon his characteristic caution, “stirred to action” by anger and fear, repeating Pompey’s fatal mistake before Caesar at Pharsalus?[6] And why did Sulla spare the young Caesar’s life, despite killing as many of Marius’ relatives and supporters as he could find?

“The death of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi” painted in the Flemish School (ArtNet)

Perhaps, after all, the question of Rome and its farmer citizen-soldier is less if not at all about the supposed virtues of farming or the glories of cities, and more the fortunate interplay of strong political and private institutions, talented individuals civically educated towards preserving those institutions, the opportunity to test this endurance on the battlefield, and finally the sustained narrative “of the dream that is Rome,” to throw in Gladiator’s cinematic depiction of the puzzle. But Brand’s less vocalized insight is this: the average Roman soldier still must matter to Rome, because he predicates his soldiering on his citizenship, and his citizenship is energized by his having a stake in the republic. That is what his farm is—a stake in the political order. And that is what he fights for.

In a vicious cycle, the Roman soldier’s farm fails to sustain his family, and this requires him to take up soldiering for booty to supplement his income, enabling the state to deploy him ever further away in search of more booty, and preventing him from cultivating a farm to sustain his family. What comes to the fore in this relationship is the Roman Senate’s increasing reliance on its military commanders to provide meaning and materiel to its soldiers, and the soldier’s growing insistence that he means something politically in the regime. The Gracchi brothers’ agrarian reforms, in 131 and 121 BC, respectively, brought about partly to relieve real physical necessity on the part of military veterans, were also the Gracchi’s political strategy to garner populist support for their tenure as tribunes. Fanning the populist flames, in the name of “but for all the right reasons,” both brothers violated constitutional norms, leading, Plutarch writes, to the first political bloodshed in the Forum, which heralded the eventual social breakdown of the Sulla-Pompey-Caesar robber baron era. As uncomfortable as it might be today for many of us in the West, first in line demanding bread and circuses were the soldiers.

No doubt that influenced a more sober Jefferson, weighed down by the practical realities of governance, to acknowledge the necessity of encouraging non-agrarian activities like commerce and manufacturing in a young American nation, even while he established the military academy at West Point. And no doubt that influenced a young American republic, led by a former general, to embrace so enthusiastically the cause of civic education for political and military elites as absolutely necessary for the health and preservation of their republican experiment.

Rebecca Burgess is a research fellow in veterans studies and American institutions at the American Enterprise Institute.

Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

B v2.jpeg

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.

Header Image: “Cicero Denounces Catiline,” fresco by Cesare Maccari (Wikimedai)


[1] The biblical turn towards favoring cities and the arts and civilization they entail seems highlighted by the events in the two books of Samuel, whereby the shepherd David becomes king of the Israelites, conquers the Jebusite (Canaanite) stronghold of Jerusalem, and establishes it not only as his political center and capital city but also makes it the religious center for the Israelites. With 66 chapters dedicated to him, David is one of the most referenced individuals in the Bible and is frequently spoken of as beloved by God. After Babylonian forces destroy Jerusalem and Cyrus the Great retains the Jews in exile, the consistent refrain (most notably, the entirety of the Lamentations of Jeremiah) is grief and regret for the destruction of the city. After the Babylonian exile, the Israelites notably rebuild the city of Jerusalem. See, in general, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Lamentations.

[2] Steele Brand, Killing for the Republic: Citizen Soldiers and the Roman Way of War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019) 39.

[3] Brand, Killing for the Republic, XIII.

[4] Brand, Killing for the Republic, XII.

[5] Brand, Killing for the Republic, XVI.

[6] Brand, Killing for the Republic, 302.

Assessing the G20 Virtual Summit

March 27, 2020

Leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) countries, representing 85 percent of the global economy, met by videoconference on March 26 to discuss the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic disruptions. This year’s G20 host, Saudi Arabia, issued a 20-paragraph communiqué on behalf of the group following the call. In it, leaders committed to doing “whatever it takes” to overcome the pandemic and laid out a number of individual and collective actions to address the health crisis, bolster the global economy, and assist countries in distress. However, the statement lacked concrete proposals, and questions remain about the extent to which major economies are committed to following through with a concerted international response to the crisis.

Q1: Did the G20 live up to its billing as the premier forum for international economic cooperation?

A1: No, certainly by comparison with the G20’s forceful role in the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Leaders’ commitment in the March 26 communiqué to do “whatever it takes” to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic was a useful statement of shared purpose. However, the communiqué essentially recounted and endorsed what national governments and central banks are already doing individually through aggressive fiscal and monetary policy. Despite early press reports suggesting injection of a new $5 trillion in spending, this figure was merely an aggregation of existing measures by G20 countries. Nor did leaders provide any new framing of the economic challenges posed by the health crisis or offer guidance to policymakers—whether in individual countries or in international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank—on additional measures needed.

Q2: Where specifically did the G20 communiqué fall short?

A2: The communiqué’s language on the health dimensions of the crisis largely repeats prior commitments to strengthen capacities to respond to potential infectious disease outbreaks, increase epidemic preparedness spending, and assess gaps in pandemic preparedness. There is good news in the tasking of the World Health Organization (WHO) to report on gaps in pandemic preparedness to a joint meeting of finance and health ministers, building on existing WHO work to foster such dialogues. That future meeting will bring together officials in charge of the health response with those in charge of the economic and financial response, recognizing the reality that sustainably addressing the economic fallout will depend on addressing its root cause , the pandemic itself. A further positive outcome would entail sustained investment in health-security preparedness, addressing a gap that long predates the current crisis.

Engagement with the international financial institutions is another area where the virtual meeting made progress but failed to inspire with specific commitments. On the eve of the virtual meeting, the heads of the IMF and World Bank issued a statement asking “all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA [International Development Association] countries that request forbearance.” While G20 leaders made no such commitment, they did announce a forthcoming “action plan” to deliver international financial assistance, at least opening the door to future bilateral debt relief. Other proposals, including calls for a fresh allocation of the IMF’s “special drawing rights,” were not mentioned in the communiqué but could be forthcoming.

The brief section of the communiqué on trade contained few new commitments and several caveats. It began with the phrase, “Consistent with the needs of our citizens,” which is code in such documents for individual countries to do whatever serves their national interests. The trade language also implicitly gave license to countries to impose restrictions on exports of medical supplies, food, and other critical supplies provided these are justified as “emergency measures” that are targeted and temporary. There was no explicit commitment to avoid protectionism or reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade.

Energy is another area of missed opportunity. The G20 includes the three largest energy producers in the world: Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States. Two of the three have been openly sparring, pushing energy prices to record lows. While a specific commitment to cut back on production was not likely to be forthcoming, the absence of any language on energy suggests that the scope for cooperative approaches in the G20 is limited.

Q3: What do the outcomes of the G20 meeting say about the current effectiveness of multilateral cooperation?

A3: Unlike the early G20 leaders’ communiqués during the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, the G20’s March 26 statement fails to convey a spirit of robust internationalism and multilateral cooperation. It is short on new actions and commitments. Despite the aggressive fiscal and monetary policy responses by individual countries, the sum of the parts is less than the whole.

The limited results reflect various fissures in the G20. Most important are the tensions between the group’s two largest members, the United States and China. In 2008-2009, Washington and Beijing were able to overcome their differences and find common cause in responding forcefully to the global financial crisis. With recent disputes over trade, technology, and other issues already casting a shadow over the relationship, a war of words between Washington and Beijing over the origins of the current pandemic has effectively undermined any residual willingness of the two sides to work together.

The U.S.-China differences have also driven a further wedge between Washington and its closest allies. The G20 communiqué came a day after G7 foreign ministers could not agree on a joint statement because of reported U.S. insistence on labeling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus,” which other G7 countries saw as unnecessarily antagonistic to China.

Until these fissures among major economies are healed, multilateral cooperation to address the pandemic and its associated economic disruptions is likely to continue to fall short.

Matthew P. Goodman is senior vice president and runs the economics program at CSIS. Stephanie Segal is a senior fellow in the same program. Mark Sobel is U.S. chair of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) and senior adviser to CSIS.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.