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Category: Case Studies

June 4, 2019

Thucydides’ Other “Traps”: The United States, China, and the Prospect of “Inevitable” War

The notion of a “Thucydides Trap” that will ensnare China and the United States in a 21st century conflict—much as the rising power of Athens alarmed Sparta and made war “inevitable” between the Aegean superpowers of the 5th century BCE—has received global attention since entering the international relations lexicon 6 years ago. Scholars, journalists, bloggers, and politicians in many countries, notably China, have embraced this beguiling metaphor, coined by Harvard political science professor Graham Allison, as a framework for examining the likelihood of a Sino-American war.

Feb. 24, 2017

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Negotiations: A Case Study

On July 16, 1945, the United States conducted the world’s first nuclear explosive test in Alamagordo, New Mexico. The test went off as planned; a nuclear chain reaction, in the form of an explosion, could be created. Less than a month later, nuclear weapons were used to support Allied efforts to end World War II.

Sept. 8, 2016

Fifty Shades of Friction Combat Climate, B-52 Crews, and the Vietnam War

“Four elements make up the climate of war: danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance,” wrote Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal On War. He observed that collectively, those four elements comprised the notion of friction, which he defined as “the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.” Friction has disrupted the implementation of war plans since the dawn of civilization, and despite efforts to minimize its effects, it will continue to do so.

March 15, 2016

Violating Reality: The Lavelle Affair, Nixon, and the Parsing of the Truth

On December 20, 2010, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) denied the Pentagon’s request, endorsed by President Barack Obama, to advance posthumously Air Force Maj Gen John D. Lavelle to the retired list in the rank of general.1 Thirty-eight years earlier, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen John D. Ryan had fired the four-star Lavelle as the Seventh Air Force commander in Saigon for allegedly conducting unauthorized airstrikes against North Vietnam and ordering the falsification of mission reports. Senate hearings in September 1972 deemed Lavelle guilty of both offenses, resulting in his demotion to major general following retirement. Yet a careful reading of documentary and taped evidence, much of it recently discovered and not available at the time of the original Senate hearings, reveals that General Lavelle neither violated the rules of engagement (ROE) that prescribed America’s air war at the time of his dismissal nor falsified mission reports. Accordingly, Lavelle should have his rank restored, and the so-called Lavelle affair should serve as a cautionary tale for political and military leaders alike who question the proper conduct of “civil-military relations” in the complex and often confounding era of modern limited war.

Dec. 1, 2012

The International Atomic Energy Agency's Decision to Find Iran in Non-Compliance, 2002-2006

On August 14, 2002, at a press conference in Washington, DC, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian opposition group, drew worldwide attention when it publicly accused Iran of clandestinely developing nuclear weapons. Alireza Jafarzadeh, then-U.S. media spokesperson for the NCRI, described two “top secret” nuclear facilities being constructed in Iran at Natanz and Arak under the guise of front companies involved in the procurement of nuclear material and equipment. Noting that media attention had focused on Iran’s publicly declared civilian facilities, Jafarzadeh claimed that “in reality, there are many secret nuclear programs at work in Iran without knowledge of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” the international body responsible for verifying and assuring compliance with safeguards obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Sept. 1, 2012

The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-1992

On the morning of September 28, 1991, then-Colonel Frank Klotz witnessed an historic moment at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. As he and other senior officers from the base bomber and missile units watched, the crews for the B-1 strategic bombers that had been on alert that day climbed into their cockpits, started the planes, and taxied one after another away from the alert aircraft parking area. That scene was repeated at all 11 Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases in the United States. By the end of the day, there were no U.S. bombers on alert for the first time in over 30 years.

Dec. 1, 2011

U.S. Ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention

On October 1, 1990, two months after Iraq’s surprise invasion and annexation of Kuwait had put the United States and other members of the international community on a collision course with the Saddam Hussein regime, President George H.W. Bush spoke to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. He described Iraq’s brutal aggression against its neighbor as “a throwback to another era, a dark relic from a dark time.” Noting that Saddam Hussein had waged a “genocidal poison gas war” against Iraq’s restive Kurdish minority during the 1980s, President Bush hinted that if it ultimately proved necessary to liberate Kuwait by force, the United States and its allies could face Iraqi attacks with chemical weapons—highly toxic chemicals designed to incapacitate or kill.

April 1, 2010

The Origins of Nunn-Lugar and Cooperative Threat Reduction

In a 1999 interview, Ashton Carter, a key figure in helping to create and implement the threat reduction program initiated by Senators Sam Nunn (D–GA) and Richard Lugar (R–IN), recalled four visits between 1994 and 1996 to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base in Pervomaysk, Ukraine. Planted in the soil of this base were the most powerful rockets mankind has ever made, armed with hundreds of hydrogen bombs and aimed at the United States. In turn, Pervomaysk was itself the target of similar American missiles and weapons. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, the missiles deployed at Pervomaysk by the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and the silos that housed them were destroyed.

Jan. 1, 2010

U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty

As President George W. Bush made these remarks in a speech at the National Defense University (NDU) on May 1, 2001, National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation, and Homeland Defense Robert Joseph listened attentively. Within just 4 months of taking office, President Bush was articulating one of his key national security priorities: setting the conditions for the United States to move full steam ahead on developing, testing, and eventually deploying a wide range of missile defense technologies and systems—a priority that in all likelihood would mean U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Oct. 1, 2009

President Nixon’s Decision to Renounce the U.S. Offensive Biological Weapons Program

The nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union was a prominent feature of the Cold War. A lesser known but equally dangerous element of the superpower competition involved biological weapons (BW), living microorganisms that cause fatal or incapacitating diseases in humans, animals, or plants. By the late 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union had both acquired advanced BW capabilities. The U.S. biological weapons complex, operated by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, consisted of a research and development laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland, an open-air testing site at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and a production facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas that manufactured biological warfare agents and loaded them into bomblets, bombs, and spray tanks.