Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The EU and Political Realism

The blunt comments by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to the European Parliament on Wednesday highlighted the key differences between European and American economic perspectives, especially concerning the upcoming summit on reviving the world's economy. Initially shocked by the outburst, the leader's of the EU's major nations--Germany, Britain, and France--quickly reaffirmed their good diplomatic ties with the United States, largely ignoring Topolanek's remarks. The current crisis has demonstrated a realist/intergovernmental perspective, where every policy is a proxy for national governments, who are unitary rational actors that move towards their own security and economic national interests. These sovereign states derive their source of power from military security and collective economic and defense interests. The 27-nation bloc has already been hounded by the United States for not
"spending enough to stimulate demand."
No country or indiviudal has yet responded so forcefully to the criticism except for Topolanek; the fact that the major EU countries decided to continue to reaffirm positive diplomatic relations with the United States, largely ignoring President Obamas administrations' criticisms, tugs at the very core of the realist and intergovernmentalist principles of power politics.

Moreover, with President Obama moving to call on NATO allies to commit more troops to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and aiming to thrash out global economic reforms with the G20 next week, the EU bloc nations look to the United States, rather than the supranational organization of the European Union, to garner support. The only reaction to U.S. criticism has been Topolanek's remarks that,
"All of these steps, these combinations and permanency is the road to hell. We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the (EU) is the refusal to go this way."
To make an even a greater case for the weakness of the EU's supranational organization, after the hearing of Topolanek's speech a "no confidence vote" was issued Tuesday on the government in the Czech Republic, ousting Topolanek from his own parliament. Even the EU Commission feels that any reaction against the United States is
"not helpful ... to try to suggest that Americans and Europeans are coming with very different approaches to the crisis. On the contrary, what we are seeing is increased convergence."
The crisis has demonstrated that when put to a test the supranational body that is the European Union would rather release the bonds of collective interest, instead taking sides with or without the United States, hoping that each country can protect its own security and national interest before the interest of the continent. Prime Minister Tony Blair said it best, that British interest come
"first, second, and last."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Topoi

Military strategy...what is the first thing that comes to your head when you hear this phrase? Is it the double encirclement patterns of Hannibal and his army at the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C? Or are you thinking of nuclear deterrence in an age of weapons proliferation? To better explore these questions I employed a writing tool that allows consideration of a topic in multiple lenses.

The "Topoi" can elaborate on topic analysis: adding depth, contrast, valuation, form, and structure to topics ideas. The first thing I realized when applying the Topoi to "military strategy" was the paradox that exists when a military force whose mission is to establish order and unity, must achieve these goals through physical force and combat. When applying this paradox to valuation I discovered four surprising conclusions: Practically, military strategy is for for national defense, order, and streamlining communication in order carry out national policy and national military objectives. I asked myself, now why does a nation want to carry out national policy and national military objectives? For monetary and territorial gain, of course! So then ethics becomes a consideration. Are certain types of military strategy or national policy objectives unethical? Is nuclear proliferation, or mutual assured destruction (MAD), simply controversial because it is against the norm of conventional warfare or because these actions are considered unethical? To view these questions I had to view the social culture and historiography of the nation that is employing this type of military strategy. How is the culture of the military decision maker affected by the society that he is in? Is a general influenced by the education he receives, the philosophy of his nation concerning militarism? What about the historical milieu of his nation? When speaking of the general I could not help but want to know the relationship between the military and the political arena. Does the soldier, the general, the sailor, and the admiral's decision influence the political arena? If it does, why is this? Is this because the military is such a centralized part of the government? If not, why is this? Is this because the military has a separate political culture that is different fron the political perspectives of the government?

It is these questions and the answers to these questions that make the "Topoi" such a useful tool. While some of the answers are quite clear, in that war is conducted when there is a need for nation-states to resolve disputes and all other diplomatic/economic avenues have been exhausted, others are slippery, and often come with ethical, political, and at times, spiritual strings attached. Military strategy is an excellent topic to explore The Topoi in terms of teasing ideas into conclusions, and it further provides the necessary medium of intellectual exchange for further considerations on other topics.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Commander Flakey

Pageflakes, a one-stop research aggregator, is a manageable and efficient resource for compiling information and data through its use of widgets, which add third party content and are executed within any HTML-based web page. Pageflakes offers everything from weather forecasts to military podcasts, sports scores to keeping track of your chores.

For the purposes of constructing an aggregator for military strategy, I have compiled a variety of research tools on my Pageflake including: news feeds, RSS content, social bookmarks, annotated bibliographical information, and information regarding the latest in military scholarship. My RSS Feeds and My Diigo Bookmarks make up the initial presentation of my Pageflake, which offer insight into the contemporary discussions on military thought, military principles, and military decision making. Some of the most valuable feeds include Armchair General, Internet Anthropologist, War News Updates, and the Fogg of War, which provide commentary on everything from fixing the defense budget, the War in Afghanistan, Middle East foreign policy, and actionable intelligence. I think of My RSS Feeds and My Diigo Bookmarks as the first line of offense in engaging the enemy that is the massive amounts of streaming information on contemporary political-military decision making. The ability to compile hundreds of content-streaming syndications onto one user-interface is the definition of efficiency in research. For example, this morning I was browsing My RSS feeds and I came across a pertinent topic that is already being discussed by military practitioners, as well as political lobbyists and congressmen. Armchair General's recognition of the problem with the defense budget and the defense acquisition process is first-rate and was a welcome intellectual introduction before I started to listen to the morning news regarding the very same topic. My Social Bookmarking Soulmate via Diigo, is presented at the bottom of the page. FruFruFourOne is a consistent reliable source for bookmarking everything from "flanking manuevers" to the "financial crisis" which helps supplment my knowledge of political-military decision making.

I have used the widgets Universal News Search and Universal Blog Search for assistance in gathering a more broad selection of pertinent research material. Inside each I have appointed the search terms "military strategy" and "war on terror," respectively. While the search engines are not as detailed or narrow as My RSS feeds they do offer a general overview of the happenings in foreign policy and global military operations. In comparable usefulness as My RSS feeds is My Zotero Bibliography, which consistency amazes me in its fluidity and efficiency. Citeline, combined with the functionality of Zotero allows users to transmit bibliographical and annotative information via an "exhibit," which is essentially a template website with user-altered bibliographical content. In My Zotero Bibliography I have exhibited 8 sources: each of which exemplifies different aspects of political-military decision making including principles of military strategy, philosophies of attrition and total war, decision making among military authorities, command and personality doctrines, and of course, weapons and materiel. The once tedious process of referencing an MLA handbook and annotating the sections through a word processor are now all but eliminated.

For my personal entertainment and enjoyment I have added a few news and business widgets, which keep me up to date with political and economic reports. A small sampling includes the Department of Defense's streaming website, FoxNews, and the Economist. I found a wonderful and exciting podcast that streams constantly, that is perfectly named, "Military History Podcast," which at this present time is streaming everything from "Democracy in Iraq" to the recent "Troop Surge."

The personalization is what initially drew me into the realm of Pageflakes, but what made me stay was the fact that after the initial giddiness from placing random news widgets on a plain white box was gone, I found that it was actually one of the most useful research tools that I have ever come across. When I started by saying the word "aggregator" I really mean the creation of my personal newspaper, one that does not give me the 'lifestyles' section if I do not want to read it. Rather, I get a heaping double dose of the front page and business sections, with audible content, and massive amounts of streaming commentary and hi-definition images. Pageflakes acts as a collective intelligence of my personalized information and research interests. To this end, my source for information is not FoxNews or CNN.com or the Economist, it is The General's Pageflake, a quasi-personification of my interests, my research and my sources.