19 January 2024

The day after: A critical analysis of the US-UK strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen and its repercussions (Part I)

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The strikes were from fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles. More than a dozen Houthi targets were attacked by missiles fired from air, surface and sub-surface platforms which were chosen for their ability to degrade the Houthis’ war-waging capabilities.

In the wee hours of the morning of 12 January 2024, the United States in partnership with the United Kingdom launched a series of cruise missiles and airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen. The strikes were from fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles. More than a dozen Houthi targets were attacked by missiles fired from air, surface and sub-surface platforms which were chosen for their ability to degrade the Houthis’ war-waging capabilities. This map shows the Cyprus base and the location of the strikes:

Weapon platforms used. The bulk of the firepower came from US fighter jets. The US has an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea and air bases in the region. The US deployed 22 fixed-wing aircraft including F18s from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Day After: A Critical Analysis of the US-UK Strikes Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen and its Repercussions (Part II)

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The commander of US Navy Central Command, Vice Adm. Bradley Cooper, said that the US assesses 55 nations that have direct connections to the ships that have come under fire.

From mid-November 2023 onwards the Houthis started increasing attacks in the Red Sea. The US and its coalition partners kept on warning the Houthis to stop the attacks. The Houthis continued to push the envelope further in the escalation ladder. It had to culminate in the US-UK strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The US needed to respond militarily. It had warned the Houthis repeatedly over the last several months not to attack international shipping as these were intolerable. Rather than backing down, the Houthi attacks had gotten bolder. President Jo Biden said that the US administration needed to demonstrate both to the Houthis and also to the other maligned actors in the region that such behaviour is not acceptable and will prompt an American response.

There have been at least 27 Houthi attacks since November 19. The commander of US Navy Central Command, Vice Adm. Bradley Cooper, said that the US assesses 55 nations that have direct connections to the ships that have come under fire.

On October 19, 2023, one of the US Navy destroyers, USS Carney, intercepted four cruise missiles and 15 drones launched by the Houthis directed against Israel. On November 19, 2023, the Houthis turned their attention to commercial shipping, seizing a cargo ship, the Galaxy Leader, and diverting it to the port of Hodeidah. This remains their main success to date. On December 3, USS Carney, along with some commercial ships, were attacked in international waters with anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Yemen. Three commercial ships were struck, while Carney shot down three drones.

Israel and Hezbollah Are Headed Toward a New War | Opinion

Ilan Berman

Storm clouds are gathering on Israel's northern border. There, intensifying attacks by Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Shiite militia, and targeted Israeli killings of high-value militants, are heightening tensions and raising the specter of a new conflict between Israel and the group that ranks as Iran's chief terrorist proxy.

Israel isn't itching for such an escalation, despite what some pundits have contended. Israel's current offensive in Gaza is complex, resource-intensive, and still far from over, and there are real world constraints on the country's ability to fight a two-front war. For its part, and despite all of its bluster, Hezbollah has made clear that it won't initiate large scale hostilities—at least for now. That doesn't mean another Israeli-Hezbollah war won't happen, though. To the contrary, Israel and Hezbollah are inexorably headed toward conflict, for at least two reasons.

The first reason is economic. Hamas' Oct. 7 terror campaign led to the mass displacement of some 200,000 citizens from southern Israel. Less publicized, but likewise significant, has been a parallel exodus of more than 60,000 residents of Israel's north, who—fearful of the possibility of a similar onslaught by Hezbollah—have fled cities and communities in the Golan and Galilee. As a result, life in the northern third of the country has ground to a halt, and the societal, economic, and strategic costs of this paralysis are steadily mounting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week told visiting Biden administration envoy Amos Hochstein that allowing northern residents to "return to their homes and live in safety and security" is an overriding imperative—and one that requires a fundamental change in the current strategic status quo on the country's northern frontier. "We will not stop until this goal has been achieved," Netanyahu made clear.

Whether this can be accomplished diplomatically is uncertain at best, because it would require a major revision of the prevailing balance of power between the two parties. It's useful to remember that the last Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, in 2006, ended via United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which established a demilitarized zone in south Lebanon. Nevertheless, in the years since, Hezbollah militants have steadily crept closer to the border with Israel, establishing emplacements from where they can now hold Israel's northern communities at risk.

Israel’s Motion Offense

Jonathan Schanzer

It was not easy to read a book about Israel’s military excellence in the wake of the worst military and intelligence failure in the country’s history since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was also hard to ignore that the book was published by Harvard University, which has been at the center of an anti-Semitism scandal that drags on to this day.

But in the wake of the October 7 slaughter perpetrated by the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist organization, the story of Israel’s military innovations must not be forgotten. This is the country that made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) a staple on every battlefield. It’s the country that developed the rear-engine Merkava tank that has forever changed armored warfare. Israel developed the Trophy active protection system that has protected those tanks, as well as tanks operated by the United States’ soldiers. Similarly, the Israelis developed the helmet-mounted display used in the F-35 multirole fighter flown by the United States and other Western allies. The Israelis also developed the remarkable Iron Dome missile defense system that has knocked thousands of threatening rockets out of the sky.

In a sense, it is the success of these and other systems that paved the way for the Hamas assault. The Israelis had negated the group’s threat from the skies with Iron Dome. They negated the group’s ability to dig commando tunnels into Israel through technology deployed deep beneath the Gaza border. The complex yet streamlined system for gathering signals and geospatial intelligence in Gaza gave Israel yet another edge. But in the end, it was brute force and a long disinformation operation that enabled Hamas to invade southern Israel, slaughter more than 1,200 Israelis, and take another 240 of them hostage.

This does not mean that Israel’s culture of military innovation is now no longer relevant. The opposite is true. The challenges and failures that Israel has endured are what historically inspired some of Israel’s most remarkable innovations.

The small population of Israel forced the country to adopt a reserve-center military force that continues to draw upon the human resources of men and women committed to Israel’s defense in ways not seen among other countries. The Israel Defense Forces are truly the "people’s army." And the morale of that army right now is soaring, despite the tough war it is fighting.

America’s Allies Shouldn’t Side With Hamas

Sarah Teich

U.S. officials have expressed support for Israel’s position that a ceasefire wherein Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip is not tenable but many of the United States’ traditional allies appear to disagree.

Canadian government officials have made vociferous statements in favour of an immediate and apparently unconditional ceasefire in Gaza. Australia, New Zealand, France, and others have likewise expressed support for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Canada's support for the ceasefire even garnered thanks directly from Ghazi Hamad, a senior leader of Hamas, in an interview late last year.

This represents a significant shift and a deterioration of support for Israel among the United States’ traditional allies.

The uninformed might be liable to believe that where there is smoke, there is fire – it might seem that, with a majority of nations expressing their support, calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire is the principled and necessary stance.

But this stance is wrong.

Hamas started this war on October 7 in the most vicious and brutal manner imaginable. An army of drugged-up Hamas fighters invaded Israeli towns and killed, pillaged, and raped civilians, including men, women, children, and the elderly. Hamas murdered approximately 1,200 people in the rampage, and violently abducted over 200 back to the Gaza strip. Numerous Israeli and Jewish women were subjected to sexual violence. The details of the accounts are horrific. It was the single most brutal massacre against Jewish people since the Holocaust.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Hamas leadership stated, proudly and publicly, that they will not respect a ceasefire with Israel, and that they will continue to massacre Israeli civilians, as they did on October 7, “again and again”.

Iran admits carrying out deadly strike on Pakistan territory

Paul Adams and Caroline Davies

Officials in Islamabad said two children were killed and three others injured in the attack in Balochistan.

Iran's foreign minister said the operation targeted the militant group Jaish al-Adli, which he described as an "Iranian terrorist group" in Pakistan.

As a result the Pakistan's government recalled its ambassador to Iran and has blocked Tehran's envoy from returning.

The Balochistan attack comes after Iran attacked targets in Iraq and Syria earlier this week.

Islamabad said the attack was "illegal" and warned of "serious consequences".

However Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, speaking in Davos, insisted that no Pakistani citizens had been targeted, only members of Jaish al-Adl.

"We only targeted Iranian terrorists on the soil of Pakistan," Mr Amir-Abdollahian said.

He added he had spoken to his Pakistani counterpart and "assured him that we do respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan and Iraq".

The latest air strike comes at a time of growing tension across the Middle East, with war raging between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.

Tehran says it does not want to get involved in a wider conflict. But groups in its so-called "Axis of Resistance", which include the Houthi militants in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various groups in Syria and Iraq, have been carrying out attacks on Israel and its allies to show solidarity with the Palestinians. The US and UK have launched air strikes on the Houthis after they attacked commercial shipping.

Making Sound Strategy: Back to the Basics of Ends, Ways, and Means

Giles oon 


In introducing the concept of soundness, we must first be clear about what we mean when we describe a strategy as ‘sound’, and how soundness differs from efficacy. A strategy’s effectiveness, as Smith notes, “can be evaluated according to one unimpeachable criterion: namely, did you succeed in achieving your objectives?”[iii]. Efficacy can thus only be assessed in retrospect; the strategy must be implemented and the resultant plans carried through to completion (or at least nearly so) before we can determine whether it is effective. Soundness, on the other hand, can be assessed in advance. A sound strategy is one that has the component parts in place such that it stands a chance of proving effective once implemented. A useful analogy is that of a racing yacht – an effective yacht is one that wins, something that can only be judged once the race has finished; a sound yacht is one that has a rudder, a decent sail, and is watertight. We know before the race even starts that the leaky yacht with a torn sail, or the one that has lost its rudder, cannot possibly be effective. The yacht simply isn’t sound and thus stands no realistic prospect of success.

So too with strategy, although we need to work harder to identify the component parts. For that we can turn to Arthur Lykke and his ‘ends, ways and means’ framework. First proposed in 1989[iv], it has since become the dominant formulation for understanding and describing strategy in the American and British armies[v] and, while by no means uncontested, is almost certainly the most widely accepted conceptualization of strategy within the field of strategic studies. Even the great Colin Gray, towards the end of his life, seems to have accepted ends, ways and means (plus assumptions) as the component parts of his famous bridge[vi]. Ends, ways and means therefore provide a useful checklist of components that need to be identifiable in any given strategy for us to establish that it is sound. To wit: does it have clearly defined and plausibly achievable military objectives, or ends; does it have (to use Lykke’s phrasing) military strategic concepts, or ways, that can plausibly achieve those ends; and are there sufficient military resources, or means, to plausibly achieve the objectives using the chosen concepts. We should note that the concepts and resources needn’t guarantee success, not least because, as everyone’s favourite Prussian reminds us, “chance [is] the very last thing war lacks.”[vii] Likewise the objectives need not be definitely achievable – that can only be revealed once the strategy is turned into action. For a strategy to be sound, it is merely enough to identify that all three components could plausibly lead to success.

Maldives Signals Tilt Toward China

Mimrah Abdul Ghafoor

President Mohamed Muizzu’s recent visit to China signals a significant shift in the Maldives’ foreign policy, one that is overtly tilted in favor of Beijing. The shift came amidst a visible fraying in India-Maldives relations in recent weeks.

In China, Muizzu expressed strong commitment to enhancing bilateral ties with Beijing. In addition to declaring that China would be the Maldives’ “closest development partner,” he committed to implementing a free trade agreement, and agreed to elevate bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” This was reinforced by the signing of 20 Memoranda of Understanding to foster cooperation between the two governments in a wide range of fields.

During his state visit to China spanning January 8-12, Muizzu met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang and held official talks. Earlier, he met with the regional leadership of Fujian province, where he attended the Invest Maldives Forum, aimed at bolstering business ties between the two countries.

This was Muizzu’s first state visit since assuming the presidency in November. His choice of Beijing as the first destination for a state visit signifies a notable shift from the traditional Maldivian presidential practice of heading to India for the maiden state visit. This departure from tradition is further underscored by the fact that before his trip to China, Muizzu had already undertaken an official visit to Turkey and attended COP28 in the United Arab Emirates. He is yet to visit New Delhi.

Muizzu’s visit to Beijing came amid escalating concerns in New Delhi, which perceives a gradual distancing from India by the Muizzu-led Progressive Alliance coalition government, which includes the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). This is a stark contrast to the foreign policy of the preceding Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-led administration under Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (2018-2023), which prioritized close bilateral ties with India.

Myanmar: Setbacks To Junta Mount As Operation 1027 Spreads – Analysis

Zachary Abuza

With a wine toast, six Myanmar army brigadier generals negotiated the orderly withdrawal of nearly 2,400 troops and over 1,000 dependents from Laukkaing on Jan. 4, with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

The junta submission to a member of the Three Brotherhood Alliance in Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan state was the largest surrender in the history of Myanmar’s military and the latest blow to the regime from the ethnic army trio’s 10-week-old Operation 1027.

A fellow alliance member, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), has continued their offensive capturing 13 towns along Highway 3.

The Arakan Army (AA), the third member of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, has continued their own offensive capturing several towns and over 100 small military encampments in Rakhine. In the latest, some 200 soldiers surrendered.

On Jan. 14, a spokesperson for the AA said it had conquered Paletwa, a port town in western Chin state that plays a vital trade and transport role with neighboring India and Bangladesh.

The fall of the river hub came six days after the AA attacked a naval base at the Chinese-invested Kyaukphyu special economic zone.

The Kachin Independence Army has joined their ally the TNLA in some assaults. They have quietly been moving in on the jade-mining center of Hpakant. Last week, they claimed to have shot down a MiG-17 helicopter.

The parallel Karenni Operation 1111 in Kayah State has seen significant gains, even though they have still not completed the liberation of the capital Loikaw.

Wary Over Taiwan’s Election, Beijing and Taipei Still Need Each Other

Donald Kirk

The victory of the pro-independence, pro-America candidate for president of Taiwan opens a new chapter in the prolonged saga of the struggle of the Chinese island province to remain safe and secure and separate from China.

Just because Lai Ching-te, already vice president of Taiwan and leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is poised to take over as president, however, does not mean Chinese President Xi Jinping will act quickly and dramatically to “reunify” Taiwan and the mainland, as he has vowed.

Xi likely will keep up what has become routine harassment and intimidation by air into the island’s air defense identification zone, and by sea, near and occasionally within its territorial waters. Equally important, he can ban critical Taiwan imports, notably electronic items, and restrict Taiwan investment, also primarily in electronics, in the mainland.

Xi may play those games knowing that a majority of Taiwan voters are wary of Lai’s talk of de facto independence. Long before running for president, Lai upset China by insisting that Taiwan, formally still named the “Republic of China,” was a sovereign entity and should declare itself as such. During the campaign, however, he aligned himself, however reluctantly, with outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, who has said firmly that Taiwan will endure as a totally self-governing province without inviting Chinese attack by declaring independence.

That shift in policy did not relieve the 33.5% of voters who supported Hou Yu-ih, leader of the old-time Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party, whose forces fled the mainland as Mao Zedong’s Red Army was roaring to victory in 1949. Another 26.5% cast their ballots for Ko Wen-je, a medical doctor who formed the Taiwan People’s Party.

America Can’t Surpass China’s Power in Asia

Kelly A. Grieco and Jennifer Kavanagh

By the end of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term, the United States faced a clear choice regarding its future role in Asia. As China grew more powerful—and assertive in its territorial claims—Washington could double down on costly efforts to try to maintain U.S. military primacy in the region. Or it could acknowledge that China will inevitably play a growing military role there and use its finite resources to balance Chinese power, seeking to prevent Chinese regional hegemony without sustaining its own.

Obama’s successors, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, both opted for the first approach. They have focused on achieving “overmatch” against China, as Mark Milley, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it in early 2023—retaining military preeminence as an overarching goal of U.S. Indo-Pacific policy. Biden’s strategy for achieving this goal has differed from that of his predecessors. Recognizing that the price of maintaining U.S. military dominance in the region was fast becoming politically and practically unsustainable, the Biden team sought to build a coalition of allies and partners to defray some of the costs. In the last three years, for example, the administration successfully gained access to additional military bases in the Philippines, established new trilateral intelligence-sharing mechanisms with South Korea and Japan, and forged the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom to provide the Australian navy nuclear-powered submarines.

But despite some successes, Biden’s overall progress toward building the needed coalition has been slow. The United States still lacks military access to critical parts of Asia, a strong U.S.-led security architecture, and enough well-armed allies and partners to sustain U.S. preeminence. Worse, there is no clear way to address these weaknesses. Asia’s maritime geography reduces the threat that countries in the region perceive China poses, fundamentally undermining Biden’s coalition-building project.

The Biden administration’s limited gains reflect an underlying reality that many in Washington would rather not face: U.S. military supremacy in Asia cannot be sustained over the long term. Rather than maintain an ill-fated pursuit of primacy, the United States should adopt a strategy that prioritizes balancing, not exceeding, Chinese power. Washington needs to focus more narrowly on safeguarding access to strategic locations—for example, the industrial centers of Japan and India—and key waterways. Washington must also try to shift some of its security burdens by helping allies and partners strengthen their self-defense capabilities. Finally, Washington needs to learn to better navigate the region’s many multilateral institutions to advance U.S. interests and influence instead of organizing engagement solely around U.S.-centered partnerships.

Why the United States Had to Strike Yemen

Joseph L. Votel

Last Thursday, military forces from the United States and the United Kingdom struck nearly thirty different locations across Western Yemen to degrade Houthi military capabilities and dissuade the rebel group from further attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. It will take a bit more time to assess the actual damage caused to Houthi radars, missiles, drone launch bases, and command and control facilities and even longer to determine a change in behavior by the Houthis.

Still, these strikes will unlikely have the full effect the International Coalition intended. That is why a follow-up round of strikes occurred the next day, and Operation Prosperity Guardian remains prepared for further military action.

The United States and its partners had no option but to conduct these strikes. Freedom of navigation and uninhibited flow of commerce through international waters are fundamental rights and long-standing US and international security interests. Not acting would be a reprehensible failure to enforce international norms and standards, one that would only encourage more bad behavior on the part of the Houthis and their primary backers – the Iranian regime.

These strikes came after a rather lengthy period of warnings, including a joint public statement by ten nations, as well as what was surely back-channel communications and threats to the Houthis and Iran. The United States and its partners deployed ships and other resources that effectively protected international shipping by destroying dozens of missiles, drones, and attack boats before they could reach their targets. Defensive measures are not enough.

It is not the first time we have had to do this. In October of 2016 – Houthis attempting to attack the USS Mason with coastal defense missiles felt the wrath of US strikes on radar sites that supported their attacks. Quick action by the US Navy brought this relatively short period of provocation to an end. It was easier to do then because the Houthis were not as capable or as well supplied by their principal benefactor – the Iranian regime. Still – over the next couple of years following those attacks, we saw Houthi mining in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah that threatened international aid ships and posed grave danger to commerce through the Bab al-Mandeb. These actions became significant discussion points in the UN-led negotiations to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen and bring the civil war raging across the country to an end.

The Decatur Option

Eliot A. Cohen

Months after the first salvos of missiles from Yemen’s Houthi militias, the United States and its allies have thrown back at them some 150 warheads, hitting dozens of targets. With the self-satisfaction that tends to characterize such nearly bloodless strikes came a great deal of approving talk from the Biden administration and commentators alike about “sending a message,” “restoring deterrence,” “avoiding escalation,” and, above all, “proportionality.”

It was all utterly un-strategic.

Those terms, coined and polished in political-science-seminar rooms during the Cold War, had some relevance to a world in which two nuclear-armed superpowers faced off in various corners of the world. Over more than half a century, they have turned into a kind of pixie dust that puzzled officials sprinkle over seemingly intractable problems. They play to America’s penchant for therapeutic bombing in lieu of truly effective uses of military power. They are intentionally antiseptic words, to replace the realities of fear and death. They are in some ways absurd. For example, the truly proportional response to the Houthis would be to fire some missiles at their oil tankers (they have none) that could be shot down at considerable expense by their advanced warships (of which they also have none).

The strikes on Yemen no doubt took out some radar sites, diminishing Houthi warning times for another round of bombing, and a few missile launchers and storage sites. They seem to have been designed not to kill people, even though it is human beings who make war, not things. They gave the wild-eyed Houthi leadership the opportunity to strut at having taken a punch from a declining superpower and, one may expect, to continue undeterred, firing more missiles at merchant vessels or trying to take some from speed boats. The strikes were avowedly a one-off, perhaps the first move in a game of tit-for-tat headed nowhere in particular. Better, therefore, to think through the problem properly.

The first strategic question, the French marshal Ferdinand Foch once said, is De quoi s’agit-il, or, roughly, “What is it all about?” What kind of conflict is this?

Iran ‘Escalates’ Middle East Tensions With Ballistic Missile Attack Near US Consulate in Iraq

James LaPorta and Nikhil Kumar

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRCG) claimed responsibility for ballistic missile attacks near the U.S. consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil Monday — a move described by a senior American intelligence official as an “escalation” in the conflict in the Middle East.

The IRCG, Iran’s most powerful military force, took responsibility for the attack on what it said were “espionage centers and gatherings of anti-Iranian terrorist groups” near Erbil, in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, according to Iranian state media.

There were no initial reports of American casualties, or damage to American facilities, a senior American intelligence official told The Messenger.

The attacks nonetheless constituted what the official described as an “escalation” in the conflict in the region amid the continuing war in Israel and Gaza.

The attacks in northern Iraq came shortly after news of IRCG attacks in Syria, where the Iranian group said it had struck what it described as “terrorist” targets in retaliation for recent suicide bombings inside Iran. The Islamic State terror group had claimed responsibility for those attacks.

"The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps… has identified locations of gathering places of commanders and main elements related to recent terrorist operations, in particular, ISIS, in the occupied territories of Syria and destroyed them by firing a number of ballistic missiles," the Guards' Sepah News website said, according to the AFP news agency.

The Houthis Have Backed Iran Into a Corner

Arash Azizi

Fridays are holy days of rest in the Middle East, but today the region braces itself for the awful possibility of broader conflict. Following repeated attacks on their warships, the United States and the United Kingdom have finally hit back at the Houthis, a Yemeni militia that holds power in the capital city of Sanaa and is recognized as the official Yemeni government by its main sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The attacks come after weeks of warning and a day after a United Nations Security Council resolution asked the Houthis to stop their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The recent skirmish has now heightened a fear that has preoccupied Middle Easterners since Hamas’s gruesome attacks on October 7 ushered in a new war with Israel: Could the war spread to an all-out conflagration involving Hamas’s main backer, Iran?

The leadership of the Islamic Republic has spent the past few months in a risky dance. On one hand, it affirms its full support for Hamas and reiterates its demand for the destruction of Israel. On the other, it works hard to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, knowing full well that it might not survive such a clash. For years, the Iranian regime thought that it had perfected this dance. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burnished a reputation as a shrewd strategist for his policy of “strategic patience”—dodging direct conflict with the U.S. or Israel while steadily improving the capabilities of the Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Yemeni militias that together form the Tehran-led Axis of Resistance.

But the past few years have seen Khamenei’s bluffs called several times. The United States killed the Iranian regime’s foremost military hero and commander of its Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, in January 2020. Khamenei promised a “harsh revenge” that never materialized. Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly operated on Iranian territory and has helped kill axis leaders in Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Many of the Iranian leader’s most ardent champions now openly criticize him as too cautious. From Tehran to Baghdad, such supporters are clamoring to be sent to Gaza to confront Israel directly. Yet even Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the jewel in the crown of Tehran’s axis, has been forced to give a very limited response to Israel. The much-anticipated speeches of Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, have become an object of ridicule in the last few months for combining harsh rhetoric with a lack of any concrete action. The axis supporters will now surely want a response to the attacks on Yemen. What can Tehran do?

Red Sea Attacks Demonstrate the Need to Modernize Our Surface Fleet

Seth Cropsey

The U.S.-led naval operation in the Red Sea may be strategically listless but, operationally, the U.S. Navy has demonstrated its combat skill. American sailors have defended themselves and merchant shipping against a range of anti-ship threats, including missiles, drones and fast boats.

The issue, however, is sustainment. The Middle East crisis has placed extreme stress on the fleet, particularly its personnel. As China menaces Taiwan, Russia savages Ukraine, and the Middle East threatens to slide into cataclysm, the U.S. must expand its surface fleet or risk being overstressed.

The Surface Navy is the unsung linchpin of American grand strategy. Supercarriers can deliver as much combat power as national air forces; nuclear-powered attack submarines can evade hostile reconnaissance, conduct intelligence activities, and penetrate enemy strike networks as a premier war-fighting tool. And the guided missile submarines of the “Silent Service,” armed with 154 land-attack cruise missiles, are the best-armed conventional assets in the world.

However, the surface fleet ties everything together. Absent its complement of surface combatants, the carrier is vulnerable to missile attack. Submarines can penetrate enemy defenses but cannot provide the presence of surface warships — nor can they, apart from the heavily-armed Ohio-class guided missile submarines (SSGNs) field the same number of strike implements, let alone organic air defenses.

The past four decades have seen a decline in surface fleet numbers and overall fleet size. In 1987, the Navy had nearly 600 ships, including 36 cruisers, 69 destroyers and 115 frigates, the latter crucial for escort and presence operations akin to the ongoing Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea and to executing strikes against the Houthi’s since last week. This number contracted to the mid-280s from 2005 onward, with a 279-ship nadir in 2009.

A World on Edge in 2024


Israel’s devastating war in Gaza, Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, America’s extraterritorial assassinations, and China’s aggressive expansionism all point to one conclusion: the global system that emerged after World War II is giving way to a world without order. But while the upheaval is undeniable – and being compounded by a reshuffling of trade and investment flows, rapid technological advances, and profound demographic shifts – what will emerge from it remains an open question.

The coming transition could be illuminated or even accelerated by the outcome of key elections this year, when 4.2 billion people will be eligible to vote in 76 countries, making 2024 the biggest election year in history. Elections will be held in eight of the world’s ten most populous countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States) – and the European Union.

This year’s raft of elections will serve as a gauge of the state of democracy globally. With autocracy on the rise, there is plenty of cause for concern. In fact, the new year kicked off with controversy-fueled elections in two democracies in the Global South: Bangladesh and Taiwan. In Bangladesh, the opposition boycotted the election altogether, calling it a sham, and as expected, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured a fourth consecutive term in office.

Bangladesh is not the only country where elections this year will bring no surprises. Russian President Vladimir Putin will undoubtedly be “elected” to another term. Assuming he completes it, he will have surpassed Soviet leader Josef Stalin as the longest-serving Russian ruler since Catherine the Great. In Pakistan, the election result is practically a moot point, since the military will ultimately remain in control.

But even true democracies are at risk of a rightward lurch in upcoming elections, continuing a trend seen in Finland (a freshly minted NATO member) and, most recently, in Argentina. While Poland bucked this trend, the upcoming European Parliament elections – the first since Brexit – appear likely to prolong it.

Four retired Marine generals on how to rebuild America’s crisis response force


The U.S. national security establishment has identified China as America’s “pacing threat” and has reoriented military capabilities toward that threat. So be it. But identifying a primary threat does not mean the United States does not also need a “911” force to deal with fast-developing crises.

Thoughtfully designed, such a force would also be able to contribute to a major war effort. If asked to design the ideal “911” force for our nation, we would build it with six distinct capabilities.

First, it would be an expeditionary force-in-readiness, capable of rapidly deploying to a crisis area by sea and air. The seaborne component would consist of forward-deployed amphibious forces, continuously on patrol in key areas around the world. They would be backed up by strategically positioned squadrons of prepositioning ships, which would be loaded with tailored supplies and equipment. Each maritime prepositioning squadron would be linked with trained and packaged fly-in forces that could quickly marry up with the equipment to form powerful and sustainable combat brigades. For reinforcements, additional amphibious ships located at our East Coast, West Coast and overseas bases could rapidly load customized combat forces to join the forward-deployed units. At the home bases of these forces, air-alert and air-contingency units would also be at the ready and prepared to augment the forward forces. Where appropriate, land prepositioning sites would be established and maintained to strengthen this force.

Second, it would be a force of balanced combined arms, optimized to operate in austere environments. Its aviation elements would be capable of operating from expeditionary airfields or would include vertical take-off and landing aircraft that did not require existing airfields at all. The amphibious ships coupled with the at-sea offload capabilities of the prepositioning ships would negate the initial requirement for an existing port and airfield.

Third, this expeditionary force would be capable of task-organizing for any mission, consisting of flexible forces that could easily converge and composite into larger combat formation. It would not be “purpose designed” for any specific or narrow role or mission, but would be a general purpose force.

Ukrainian M1 Abrams Tank Seen With Explosive Reactive Armor


AU.S.-supplied M1A1 Abrams tank in Ukrainian service appears to have been upgraded with explosive reactive armor. The addition of the explosive-filled bricks to the tank's hull, seen in recent video footage and imagery, provides it with extra protection against incoming anti-tank rounds and other weapons.

Visuals of the M1A1 in question began circulating on various social media platforms on January 14. However, The War Zone cannot independently verify exactly where and when the videos and images were captured.

In them, we see the tank sporting M-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles (ARAT) fitted to its hull, with most painted or otherwise covered to match its woodland camouflage, while nestled in a forested area. Various personnel can be seen surrounding the M1A1. As well as views of the explosive reactive armor, we also see close-up angles of the tank from above and inside its turret.

Explosive reactive tiles seen fixed to an M1A1 Abrams. 

Explosive reactive armor is designed to explode outward on contact with incoming projectiles, minimizing their impact on the tank's hull or turret underneath. Typically, it works best against penetrating anti-tank munitions like high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) and armor-piercing rounds, but can help counter other threats including drones.

Operational Art Reborn – Part Two

Chris Hughes

The first article outlined the theory and history of operational art, arguing that Russia failed to demonstrate proficiency in this vital component of conventional warfighting during its operations in Ukraine. This article will argue, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Ukraine has performed much more impressively. A firm grasp of the temporal element of operational art has characterised Ukrainian campaign design. Ukrainian commanders have demonstrated patience, generally sound timing for executing operational decisions and masterful sequencing to ensure that actions far removed in space achieve compounding effects upon their enemy. Of course, the Ukrainians are not without fault. Russia is too often portrayed as a bumbling colossus, but the two-dimensional characterisation of Ukraine as infallibly cunning, agile and adaptable also requires some qualification. That Ukraine’s errors are much harder to see, especially above the tactical level, speaks to the relative effectiveness of their influence operations and operational security. Perhaps the most consequential was the initial disposition of ground forces at the outset of the invasion.

Initial disposition of forces

While a detailed understanding of Ukrainian defensive plans eluded western observers in the lead-up to the invasion, it has become apparent in hindsight that Ukraine misjudged the true scope of the Russian plan. Despite western warnings, Ukraine appears to have downplayed the possibility that Putin would seek to subjugate the entire country and instead assessed that the primary objective was to complete the conquest of the Donbas. Ironically, Ukraine discounted Russian forces set to attack Kyiv from Belarus as a diversionary force due to their poor readiness. Consequently, Ukraine kept most of its most able manoeuvre brigades in the Donbas, thereby playing into Russia’s hands. This initial misreading of the Russian scheme of manoeuvre and the resulting disposition of forces at the outset has heavily shaped the course of the conflict since.

Principles and Pitfalls for the Budding Strategist

Cameron Ross 

The human devastation of war and its impact on national fortunes makes it a serious endeavor worthy of significant consideration. Yet, too often, officers mistakenly believe they will begin thinking strategically once they are in a role that requires it. Unfortunately, for most people, strategic thinking requires years of practice and application to hone and refine. Thankfully, many theorists have sought to identify principles or concepts that can help guide leaders as they prepare to direct wartime efforts. Junior officers wishing to begin sharpening their strategic thinking before they are thrust into a position that demands it would be well-served by devoting their efforts towards understanding those tenets that endure throughout time and serve as core elements of military strategy. They include remaining focused on the political ends and the desired peace, concentrating forces and effort, and economizing force.

Of course, understanding is only the beginning. Seasoned strategists well-versed in these principles and with ample practice in attempting to apply them in war have found reality to be far more messy and complex than most theorists suggest. The simple fact is that war is unwieldy. Even if leaders start with sound strategic thinking grounded in enduring principles, there are still numerous reasons why effectively carrying out strategy is so challenging in a wartime environment, including many that are entirely out of leaders’ control. Nevertheless, there are also recurring pitfalls that commonly plague strategists in marrying theory to practice—namely overreaching, confusing means for ends, and assuming a quick victory. Consequently, junior officers would do well to not only devote themselves to understanding the core principles but also the common mental traps and means for countering their pull. As such, this paper will provide an overview of both the principles and pitfalls for budding strategists who desire to grow in their thinking about the art of directing war. It seeks, if only slightly, to help light their way, ease their progress, and train their judgment for efforts that await them in the future.

Deterring War without Threatening War: Rehabilitating the West’s Risk-averse Approach to Deterrence

Antulio J. Echevarria II 

Shortly after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, defense scholars began asking why the West’s approach to deterrence had failed. Some critics claimed the West never had an official deterrence policy regarding Ukraine, or at least not a consistent one; others maintained the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took military force “off the table” too soon, relying too much on the coercive power of sanctions.[i] In truth, the West had both a deterrence policy and a supporting deterrence strategy vis-à-vis Ukraine. US President Joseph Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reinforced the policy and the strategy by repeatedly warning Russia’s President Vladimir Putin not to attack Ukraine. However, the West’s approach was too risk-averse to succeed against a major power armed with military capabilities comparable to NATO’s own. It attempted to deter war without threatening war, which in turn rendered it vulnerable to Russian deterrence. By attempting to minimize the risk of a major war, the West made the right call, even though it resulted in the failure of its own deterrence measures. The “value of the political object,” to borrow Clausewitz’s expression, did not warrant risking a potentially ruinous war.[ii] The question now is whether it is possible to rehabilitate the West’s approach to deterrence without requiring NATO to act as irresponsibly with military force as did Putin’s Russia.

This article does two things. First, it provides a detailed account of the deterrence policy and supporting strategy the United States and its NATO allies had in place to deter Russian aggression. Second, it offers a brief outline of a more consequentialist approach to deterrence, one Western leaders can adopt to rehabilitate their own risk-averse model, and thereby improve its prospects of success. A consequentialist model entails moving beyond the traditional “costs versus benefits” calculus to one based on “risks and consequences,” where costs are defined as expenditures and consequences are defined as effects or results, such as tipping the balance of power by adding new members to an alliance.

Traditionally, the way to deter an actor was to ensure the costs of an action exceeded the benefits, thereby dissuading the actor from taking the action. But the costs an actor was willing to pay and the benefits it hoped to gain were often unknown. A risk-consequence model, in contrast, seeks to dissuade an actor by increasing the likelihood an action will fail and the certainty that severe consequences will follow.

Trump Is Already Reshaping Geopolitics

Graham Allison

In the decade before the great financial crisis of 2008, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, became a virtual demigod in Washington. As U.S. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, famously advised, “If he’s alive or dead it doesn’t matter. If he’s dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him.”

During Greenspan’s two decades as chair, from 1987 to 2006, the Fed played a central role in a period of accelerated growth in the U.S. economy. Among the sources of Greenspan’s fame was what financial markets called the “Fed put.” (A “put” is a contract that gives the owner the right to sell an asset at a fixed price until a fixed date.) During Greenspan’s tenure, investors came to believe that however risky the new products that financial engineers were creating, if something went awry, the system could count on Greenspan’s Fed to come to the rescue and provide a floor below which stocks would not be allowed to fall. The bet paid off: when Wall Street’s mortgage-backed securities and derivatives led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, triggering the 2008 financial crisis that sparked the Great Recession, the U.S. Treasury and the Fed stepped in to prevent the economy from sliding into a second Great Depression.

That dynamic is worth recalling when considering the effect that the 2024 U.S. presidential election is already having on the decisions of countries around the world. Leaders are now beginning to wake up to the fact that a year from now, former U.S. President Donald Trump could actually be returning to the White House. Accordingly, some foreign governments are increasingly factoring into their relationship with the United States what may come to be known as the “Trump put”—delaying choices in the expectation that they will be able to negotiate better deals with Washington a year from now because Trump will effectively establish a floor on how bad things can get for them. Others, by contrast, are beginning to search for what might be called a “Trump hedge”—analyzing the ways in which his return will likely leave them with worse options and preparing accordingly.

Why the elites fear democracy


‘2024 is the Year of Elections and that’s a threat to democracy.’ If you had to sum up the ideology of Western elites in one headline, you’d struggle to beat that one – from a recent Bloomberg piece about the apparent horrors that await us in the next 12 months.

Bloomberg isn’t the only journalistic outlet chilled to the bone by what really should be a cause for celebration. Namely, that this year represents a historic high point for democracy. In 2024, almost half the world will go to the polls, with elections in at least 64 countries, plus the EU. In all, that’s more voters voting than in any year ever. The first big one is taking place in Taiwan as I type.

But such is the deep distrust of democracy among our supposedly enlightened elites, the prospect of billions of the world’s plebs being given the opportunity to steer their respective nations, all at once, is enough to make the professional opinion-havers of London, Paris or New York reach for their third glass of Sancerre.

‘Can democracy survive 2024?’, asks the Financial Times . You can almost hear those pearls being clutched. This week’s episode of The Today Podcast – the new audio companion to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme; because three hours every morning apparently isn’t enough for Nick Robinson – went for the similarly hysterical title, ‘Is democracy dying?’.

So what are the chattering classes so worried about? Well, when a certain kind of commentator declares something a ‘threat to democracy’ these days what they usually, really, mean is that it is a ‘threat to my political party and / or ideology’. Their biggest fear is not so much that democracy might be overthrown this year, but that some populist parties they dislike might get themselves elected.

That’s certainly the vibe you get from a recent piece in Foreign Policy, horrified that ‘right-wing populism is set to sweep the West in 2024’ and thus be a ‘disaster for liberal democracy’. Will it, though? Some right-wing upstarts certainly have illiberal tendencies, some are genuinely disreputable, but no viable contender for power in the West is campaigning to junk the franchise or the rule of law. Electorally, it’s a non-starter. They couldn’t achieve it even if they wanted to.

AUKUS in 2024

George Friedman

The trilateral security partnership comprising the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – known simply as AUKUS – is among the most interesting alliances in recent memory, and it has the potential to be among the most consequential in the world in 2024.

Uniting three countries that fought together in both world wars and a variety of lesser conflicts, AUKUS can be thought of as an offspring of the Five Eyes, a post-World War II intelligence-sharing initiative formed by the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand that is very much active even today. It is also what Winston Churchill had in mind when he wrote “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples,” which was as much a celebration of the nations the U.K. spawned as it was a history of nations themselves.

Implicit in the formation of the Five Eyes was that its members alone were to be trusted with one another’s secrets. This owes partly to the fact that they all share strategic interests – that because they are all maritime powers, theirs are the dominant interests in the world’s seas. (After all, it was the threat posed by German ships that helped draw the U.S. into World War II as it supplied and supported Britain.) But it also owes to something more: Although the Five Eyes is primarily a military alliance, its members generate nearly 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and they have similar cultural, political and commercial understandings.

AUKUS has a strategic purpose, of course. Originally billed as a mechanism to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, it will eventually involve enhanced intelligence sharing, indigenous military-industrial capabilities, tighter security operations and the joint development of new weapons. But in no uncertain terms, its objective is to contain China’s navy and prevent it from dominating any part of the Pacific.

AI Will Transform The Global Economy: Let’s Make Sure It Benefits Humanity – Analysis

Kristalina Georgieva

We are on the brink of a technological revolution that could jumpstart productivity, boost global growth and raise incomes around the world. Yet it could also replace jobs and deepen inequality.

The rapid advance of artificial intelligence has captivated the world, causing both excitement and alarm, and raising important questions about its potential impact on the global economy. The net effect is difficult to foresee, as AI will ripple through economies in complex ways. What we can say with some confidence is that we will need to come up with a set of policies to safely leverage the vast potential of AI for the benefit of humanity.

Reshaping the Nature of Work

In a new analysis, IMF staff examine the potential impact of AI on the global labor market. Many studies have predicted the likelihood that jobs will be replaced by AI. Yet we know that in many cases AI is likely to complement human work. The IMF analysis captures both these forces.

The findings are striking: almost 40 percent of global employment is exposed to AI. Historically, automation and information technology have tended to affect routine tasks, but one of the things that sets AI apart is its ability to impact high-skilled jobs. As a result, advanced economies face greater risks from AI—but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits—compared with emerging market and developing economies.

In advanced economies, about 60 percent of jobs may be impacted by AI. Roughly half the exposed jobs may benefit from AI integration, enhancing productivity. For the other half, AI applications may execute key tasks currently performed by humans, which could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages and reduced hiring. In the most extreme cases, some of these jobs may disappear.

‘Disaggregation’ Called the Future of Naval Warfare

Sean Carberry

It’s Dec. 7, 2031, and a pair of Australian Air Force battle management operators are casually chatting as they monitor the control center screens. Suddenly, 1,000 incoming targets appear. The operators sound the alarms, and the fleet in the harbor engages air defenses.

However, it’s no match for the incoming missiles, aircraft and electronic deception that overwhelm the defenses and sink the ships in the harbor. Reports come in from around the country indicating similar attacks.

While fictional, that scenario was informed by Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea that decimated the Ukrainian navy, said Rob Sutton, managing director of Mirragin RAS Consulting, during a November presentation at the 2023 Indo-Pacific Sea Power Conference in Sydney.

Ukraine learned from its 2014 losses, adapted in preparation for Russia’s 2022 invasion and achieved more effective sea denial, he said.

“This time they achieved it using uncrewed surface vessels, or USV, cobbled together from readily available equipment and ordnance,” he said. “The Ukrainian USV would navigate to their target using the Starlink internet service. … The use of USV enabled Ukraine to expand the area of sea denial because Russian warships found it increasingly risky to venture from the heavily guarded harbor at Sevastopol. Without a navy, innovation and adaptation had given Ukraine an edge.”

The concept of “adaptation battle” has been at play throughout the war, he continued. “Ukraine innovates; Russia responds. Russia acts; Ukraine adapts.”

The key adaptation Australia needs to make is to incorporate autonomous and robotic systems into its military and develop sovereign production capability, he said.