Today was the last day of my NPSIA Civil-Military Relations class. For the past few weeks, the students presented their papers, asking a variety of interesting questions about the civil-military dynamics around the world. The papers ranged from addressing 1st gen civ-mil questions--coup or no coup--to 2nd gen--why do democracies have trouble controlling their militaries--to 3rd gen--cooperation between civilians and military in the field. I learned a great deal about many places, so, of course, I popped the joyful balloon of learning with the crisis du jour:
The lack of civilian control of the military in the US might get us all killed.
We have an active general serving as National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, saying time is running out on North Korea. The last thing you want in a nuclear crisis with a country with vulnerable nuclear weapons is to tell them that they are in a "use them or lose them" situation. That would be bad enough, but the US and South Korea have started an exercise with hundreds of planes including a simulation of attacking North Korea. How will North Korea know this is not just this simulation is not actually the preparation or the start of a first strike?
Most of the civilian experts on this stuff that I am familiar with are very concerned about the combination of: fears of preemption, accidents, inadvertent escalation, and egos. Who are the civilians in this US government who can put the brakes on these kinds of exercises? Who can tell the President this exercise and McMaster's stances are BAD? Tillerson? Please, that amateur is not just the #worstsecstate but on his way out. He has no wisdom and no sway. Mattis? Has anyone seen Mattis lately? He is really well read, everyone says. Has he read Schelling? Jervis? Posen? The stuff on nuclear war near misses? Oh, and he is not really a civilian, as his mindset has not had a chance to change (tis the anniversary of this post). Oh and the key spots in State and the Office of the Secretary of Defense--Assistant Secretaries of State/Defense for East Asia--remain unfilled as far as I can tell.
Which makes Trump the primary civilian responsible for making sure that the US military does not make any moves that might cause North Korea to launch its weapons because its leaders fear that a preemptive strike is on its way or is imminent. I would never put "Trump" and "responsible" in the same sentence except as a question, and, yeah, we know the answer: not responsible.
So, I ended the semester scaring my students. I guess I should not have seen Krampus recently.