Mike Lotus at the U.S. Army War College 2014 National Security Strategy Seminar

Army War College

I had the great good fortune to attend the U.S. Army War College 2014 National Security Strategy Seminar, which ran from June 2-6, 2014.

The War College runs an annual course for colonels and lieutenant colonels, personnel from the other branches, as well as officers from foreign armies. According to the Army War College website the resident class of 2014 included 385 students including: (1) 216 Army officers: Active, Reserve, Guard, (2) 64 Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard officers, all components, (3) 77 international officers/ fellows, and (4) 28 senior national security civilian professionals.

The final week of the year, civilians are invited to attend the National Security Strategy Seminar, which consists of lectures and participation in seminar discussions. The NSS is very well organized and professionally run.

The seminar I participated in is depicted in this photo:


Military officers who reach these ranks are, in my limited experience, an extremely impressive group. The participants in this seminar were no exception, with most having served multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. The opportunity to listen to them in the seminars, and to talk to them informally, was the most rewarding part of the event, for me. I also had fascinating conversations with officers from foreign militaries.

The seminar discussions touched on many subjects related to the security of the nation and the future of the U.S. military. Some recurring themes in the discussion were (1) the impact of shrinking military budgets on the capabilities of the US military, (2) concern about losing the corporate knowledge gained in over a decade of fighting and non-combat activities gained in over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, (3) concern about a disconnect between the military and the civilian population, (4) the over-use of the military, as the only part of the government that works, to solve all problems, to “hit the M button” instead of using the other DIME elements (diplomacy, information and economics), (5) discerning what the main threats in the future will be, and how to prepare for them, (6) making the professional transition from being executors of strategy and policy to originators of strategy and policy.

The concern about shrinking budgets and capabilities appeared to be the subject of greatest concern. Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the Commandant, gave a talk to the visiting civilians. He mentioned that he had decorated the Commandants quarters with pictures of the Army during the era after the Civil War and between the World Wars, both eras when it had to struggle with reduced budgets. The public seems to think that despite cuts in the budget the US military will still remain very powerful. The internal viewpoint I was hearing was that the US military was being reduced massively, akin to early periods of virtually starving the military.

(I of course antabusealco managed to weave America 3.0 into my interventions in the discussion.)

The lectures included a talk on the first day by Gen. Barry McCaffrey entitled “The Role of US Power in the World.” It was a good overview of threats facing the USA and it was a practiced presentation. However, Gen. McCaffrey had a habit of dropping politicians names, and being, to my ear anyway, overly obsequious about it. I did not see why that would have been necessary in the setting where he was speaking. I found it grating. Perhaps it is the norm. I hope not. The video is here.

The lecture on the second day was by Rachel Maddow. I was not sure what to expect. I do not watch her TV show, but I understand I would not agree with her on very much. However, she gave a good talk. She drew on her book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. The gist of her argument is that the American Founders intentionally made it difficult to engage the country in a war, and that it is now too easy for the political leadership to turn to the military to solve problems. Her regard for the military and her desire to see them only sent into danger after deep and due deliberation was clearly sincere. Generally, I agreed with her presentation. I added her book to my anti-library.

There was a choice of lectures on the second day, and I attended the lecture by Prof. John Troxell on the subject of Chinese Economic Power. Troxell was very good. It was interesting to contrast McCaffrey’s vision of China as a long term threat with Troxell’s vision of China as a nation and an economy so bound up with the USA, and with its own internal challenges, that open conflict would be too costly for China to initiate it. The video is here, and is worth a listen.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the last day of the event, due to professional obligations. I therefore missed a talk by Peter W. Singer. Video here, which I have not listened to yet.

I also very much enjoyed drinks at the hotel with other civilian participants in the evening, who were an remarkably talented, distinguished and interesting group of people.

Overall, this was an extraordinary and unique experience. My respect and regard for our military personnel, always deep, was deepened further by participation in this event.

I am grateful to my friend who nominated me, to my sponsor, an Army Reserve Lt. Col. and a police officer in civilian life, to the participants in the seminar, and to everyone at the Army War College who made this event possible.

MJL NSS Certificate

13 thoughts on “Mike Lotus at the U.S. Army War College 2014 National Security Strategy Seminar”

  1. I am not nearly as concerned about China as I am about Islam. They have a terrible demographic problem coming along soon and they have a severe brain drain.

    Iran also has a severe demographic problem coming along but is more likely to attack its neighbors than China which has a going economy.

    For example . “Muslim birth rates are collapsing as literacy rises, that is, as the modern world intrudes upon traditional society. Islamic traditional society is so fragile that it crumbles as soon as women learn to read. ”

    More here . “It turns out that “Spengler” is actually David P. Goldman, who’s based in New York and who once headed global bond research for Bank of America. He’s also a highly regarded literary and music critic with a Ph.D in music theory. ”

    I hope the military is focused on more than budgets.

    Also: “Oh, and do you know which Western country has the highest birth rate? It’s Israel. If today’s global birthrates continue, by 2085 there will be more Israelis than Poles. By the end of this century, the Jewish state will have more young people — and thus be able to put a larger army on the battlefield — than Germany.”


  2. I am far more concerned about China. If they miscalculate and cause open warfare it will be a catastrophe. The Muslim terrorists are a bunch of brutal savages, but their destructive capacity is limited.

  3. “open conflict would be too costly for China to initiate it”: no doubt there were plenty of precedents for that logic in 1913.

  4. Dearieme, of course that’s right. But now the known risks include nuclear weapons. Deterrence should be much stronger.

  5. ” their destructive capacity is limited.”

    That ignores the role of Pakistan which may fall when we leave Afghanistan. China is far more stable than Pakistan.

  6. Chinese regional aggressiveness has had one big impact, and that is it has driven all its neighbors (except for the loony NKs) closer to America. There’s been a lot of news lately about China’s missile capability neutralizing our carrier and bomber advantage, but Vietnamese and Filipino fisherman well underneath the missiles are now causing more angst for the Chinese.

    It’s too bad that just as we seem to be getting out of the small wars business is when we need those skills most of all in East Asia.

  7. It does not ignore Pakistan. A bomb sneaked out of Pakistan is not on the same scale as what China could do. If Pakistan falls apart and its bomb get into terrorist hands, or its government changes to something more aggressively terrorist than it already is, that would be a very serious thing. But I have long said that Pakistan is a problem with potentially ruinous end games. I disagree that Iran is not rational. The Mullahs are thugs who want power. There are suicidal terrorists out there, but the government of Iran does not appear to harbor many of them. Islamic terrorism is a generational and transitional phenomenon that will end. The great power clash between the USA and China is systemic and will have to be managed for a long time.

  8. There are actually still a lot of educated people in Iran, male and female. I’m betting the populace will somehow keep the leadership in line as it seems to have done for the past couple decades.

    Iraq & Syria are probably Saudi Arabia are lost causes. We need to work on containment strategies to keep the nutjobs away from us.

    The best case for us with China is that declining economic prospects accelerate the centrifugal forces and Guangdong starts to peel away along with Indochina. After that, who cares what the north and interior do.

  9. “There are suicidal terrorists out there, but the government of Iran does not appear to harbor many of them.”

    I hope so. They are thugs and corrupt which is a civilizing force :)

    ” Guangdong starts to peel away along with Indochina. After that, who cares what the north and interior do.”

    Excellent point and one made by Stratfor chief, Friedman. I was very impressed by one of my medical students from China a few years ago and by my daughter’s friends from China. Anecdotes, for sure, but interesting to talk to. My student’s parents were well educated and her mother was a professor at Beijing U. Her father was a trained physicist but worked as an auto mechanic because he was a Christian. He could not get a job at the university.

  10. China, Islam Why does one have to be a big problem/risk and the other one, not?

    They both require the utmost care and attention. Which, btb, we have been giving to neither for the last few years.

    Not to mention a zillion other places and problems. The world is a big, complicated, and fundamentally dangerous place. We have to set priorities, of course, and in some cases careful watching from a distance may be what we should do, but it’s all potentially important.

  11. “They are thugs and corrupt which is a civilizing force :)”

    Yes. It is. There are worse things.

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