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Robert Farley @drfarls
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Alright, so last week I promised to run a thread of all of the @UK_Patterson Security and Intelligence comps questions that I've asked since arriving here in 2005.
Turns out that was a lie; I only have the list since 2007. But nevertheless, let's proceed. These questions are kind of a running history of US national security policy since 2007, mediated by my own personal obsessions and intellectual tics.
It's important to understand that the question is only a prompt for the student to tell me what s/he knows. Students can answer in whatever way they feel appropriate, and are evaluated (in oral defense) on the strength of that answer.
And so "this is a stupid question" is indeed a potentially winning answer, although I don't know that I've ever quite seen it work. But maybe someday!
And so without further delay, let's begin.
118. (part i) Recent reports indicate that China’s military budget continues to increase at a rate larger than China’s economic growth. Some argue that China will commission a pair of aircraft carriers by 2020.
118. (part ii) What, if anything, does this tell us about Chinese military ambition? How ought the United States react to this development?
That was from 2007. In hindsight, not too bad in terms of predicting Chinese naval growth. And of course the question remains relevant.
117. (part i) In August, Israel successfully launched an airstrike against a Syrian facility suspected of housing nuclear material.
117. (part ii) It is thought by some that the United States may have supplied intelligence and electronic support for the attack. What implications does this attack have for world non-proliferation efforts?
Now the fun thing about this one is that the strike on the Box on the Euphrates was actually in September, not August. Don't remember if anyone called me out on that one.
116. Kenneth Waltz wrote “To say that militarily strong states are feeble because they cannot easily bring order to minor states is like saying that a pneumatic hammer is weak because it is not suitable for drilling decayed teeth.” Discuss.
I still ask this one now and again. Not many people have ever tried to answer it.
115. Pakistan is threatened with political instability and insecure border areas. What military options does the United States have in Pakistan? What events might force a US military response, and what would the character of that response be?
114. (part i) After a long period of decline, Russia seems to be reasserting itself militarily. Having withdrawn from the Conventional Force in Europe Treaty, Russia is threatening to disregard in Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
114. (part ii) What implications does this have for American military policy and procurement?

Whatever happened to that guy? @nktpnd @NarangVipin
113. What constitutes military primacy? What is its relationship with economic and social primacy? Does the United States currently enjoy military primacy? If so, is this primacy likely to extend into the future?
I still ask this one now and again, as well.
112. (part i) The Army, the Air Force, and the Navy each have a wish list; the Army wants Future Combat Systems, the Air Force the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, and the Navy the F-35, the Zumwalt class destroyer, and the Littoral Combat Ship.
112. (part ii) Make a case for giving two of the three services what they want, anticipating objections from the third.
Future Combat Systems!

That really takes me back.
111. (part i) Recent reports indicate that the People’s Liberation Army Navy will commission a medium sized conventional aircraft carrier around 2010 and a nuclear supercarrier in 2020.
111. (part ii) What, if anything, does this tell us about Chinese military ambition? How ought the United States react to this development?
Another Chinese CV question. How is it that this one (asked in 2008, I think) is less accurate than the once I asked in 2007? Is this when my cognitive decline began?
110. (part i) In the summer of 2006, Israel launched a punitive military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon, engaging in an air and ground campaign against military and infrastructure targets.
110. (part ii) Most commentators have suggested that Hezbollah’s resistance to this campaign was successful, and that Israel “lost” the war. Is this assessment correct? What does this campaign tell us about the utility of force in the 21st century?
109. (part i) The United Kingdom is debating whether to initiate plans to upgrade its force of nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Replacements for the current Royal Navy force would enter service beginning in 2024.
109. (part ii) Of what use are nuclear ballistic missile submarines to the United Kingdom? What factors ought the Parliament of the United Kingdom to consider when debating this question?
Why did I even ask this question? Nobody ever does the British questions. Ever. Nobody cares about UK defense policy.
108. Since February of this year, the United States has pursued the “Surge”, a policy of escalation in Iraq. Discuss this policy in the context of larger debates about counter-insurgency theory and the war in Iraq. What effect is the Surge likely to have? Is it a good idea?
Ooh a Surge question. This must still have been in 2007, obviously. Not the last Surge question I'll be asking...
107. (part i) In December 2006 Ethiopia, after some provocation, invaded Somalia and removed the ruling Islamic Courts Union from power in short order. The United States assisted Ethiopia with arms, intelligence, air support, and diplomacy.
107. (part ii) Does this, rather than Operation Iraqi Freedom, represent the true model for future US military intervention? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I can't remember if anyone actually answered this question. Obviously things went south...
106. Consider the relationship between diplomacy and force. How does the use of force constitute diplomatic activity? Indeed, is it fair to say that some adversaries “only understand the language of force?”
Your basic messaging question here. I think I've used this one a few times over the years.
105. (part i) Upon entering office, President Obama will face an economic crisis and a huge budget deficit. At the same time, the United States remains embroiled in two wars, and faces the prospect of rising peer challengers in Russia and China.
105. (part ii) How would you advise President Obama regarding the state of the defense budget? Are there any specific projects you would advocate cutting?
Well, when you phrase it that way it does kind of sound like 2008 sucked.
104.In the aftermath of the war between Russia and Georgia, many have called for the “fast tracking” of Ukrainian entry into NATO. Weigh the pros and cons of this argument; is such a move wise?
Oh hey. Can't remember if anyone answered this one. But I think it's good.
102. The Mumbai terrorist attacks have shocked India and the world. If India determines that Pakistan was involved in the attacks, what measures might it take in response? What measures should India take in response?
Back at it! And somehow missed 103.
101. (part i) At the 2008 Fall Conference, journalist David Axe responded to a question about the appropriate role of the West in the Darfur Crisis by saying “screw Darfur.” What is the theoretical foundation of this argument? Do you find it compelling? Why or why not?
And yes, this actually happened.
100. President Dmitri Medvedev has recently threatened to deploy conventionally armed ballistic missiles to the Polish border in response to a proposed American missile defense complex. What’s at stake in this confrontation? How should the United States respond to this threat?
Oh, the Dmitri questions are so bittersweet...
99. (part i) The time frame for developing new advanced weapon systems can now be measured in decades. Many defense analysts, however, have argued that we now live in an age of uncertain and unpredictable threats.
99. (part ii) What are the implications of this apparent contradiction for military procurement, doctrine, and grand strategy?
That's a pretty good one, although I haven't used it very often recently.
98. The United States has occupied Afghanistan for just over seven years. What factors will determine when and how the United States leaves Afghanistan? How much longer do you think US forces will remain in Afghanistan in substantial numbers?
Obviously this one has required some editing over the years.
97.(part i) What is the strategic importance of the ongoing transformation in military affairs?
97. (part ii) Will the changes in technology cited by transformation advocates have an enduring impact on how states conceive of security and war, or do these changes simply represent a shift in degree rather than in kind?
I could still use that one, I think. Although it's getting a little long in the tooth at this point.
96. (part i) What future do nuclear weapons have? President Obama has argued that global nuclear disarmament is a realizable, if distant, goal.
96. (part ii) Others have suggested that nuclear weapons should be retained for deterrence, while still others have called for more robust nuclear weapon options. Which of these views is most sound, and why?
Fascinating how we've sort of given up on the level of optimism we had even a few years ago on nuclear disarmament. But then the optimism was likely misplaced in any case.
95. (part i) Critics of the 2010 QDR have argued that it fails in its mandate to set forth a strategic plan for the next twenty years. Evaluate this argument.
95. (part ii) Is it wise to spend time thinking about the medium term while in the midst of two wars? Is it possible to conduct strategic planning with a twenty year time frame?
Yeah, QDR. Nobody misses the QDR, but for teaching purposes I liked it better than the alphabet soup of strategy docs we have today.
94.(part i) The Obama administration has begun moving forward on a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
94. (part ii) The military response to this has been inconsistent, with some arguing that the repeal will have no great effect, and others warning of serious disruptions in military culture. Evaluate these arguments.
I don't remember that many students tackled that one.
93.(part i) President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia has made wide-ranging claims regarding the reconstruction of Russia’s military.
93. (part ii) In the wake of the South Ossetia War, what should Russia’s defense priorities be? How will the global economic downturn affect Russia’s ability to restructure and modernize its armed forces?
The "how should another country think about its military spending" questions are always fun.
92.Evaluate the new strategy laid out by President Obama for the war in Afghanistan. How does it differ from previous policy, and why? How and when will we know whether the new strategy is effective?
Yeah. Anyway.
91. The “COIN vs. Conventional” debate is currently roiling the US defense establishment. Characterize each position in the debate, and discuss what is at stake. Which side has the more compelling argument? What events might “prove” the case of one faction or the other?
Ended up using this one for a few years. Haven't done so recently, for obvious reasons.
90.(part i) The European Union deployed 3000 troops to Chad last year, and recently announced plans to deploy a naval task for to the Horn of Africa. What do these moves tells us about the future of EU defense capability?
90. (part ii) Do they herald a more substantial EU military presence on the world stage, or will we continue to see only small deployments in support of larger multilateral operations?
Rule: EU questions are always lame and no one ever likes them.
89.The United States accounts for about 50% of aggregate world defense spending. This has resulted in significant “hard power” for the United States. What elements of the US defense establishment can be said to contribute to “soft power”? Is the investment worth it?
Used this one (sometimes in lightly edited fashion) quite a few times.
88.Piracy off the Horn of Africa has substantially increased over the past year. What interest does the United States have in this development? What tools does the US have at its disposal in terms of solving the problem?
Ooh pirates! Everybody likes pirates.
87.(part i) Since 2001, the United States has taken several steps to reorganize and modernize its national security apparatus. Has this effort gone far enough, or too far?
87. (part ii) What additional steps would you recommend in order to reform the US national security establishment to face the threats of the post-Cold War world?
Your basic "too warm, too cold, just right" type question.
86.Last summer, the Defense Department decided to cancel further procurement of the F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft. Evaluate this decision in terms of both its political and military impact. Why was the F-22 canceled? How does the cancellation affect the US defense posture?
85. Last summer, President Obama determined that a proposed missile defense system would not be deployed to Poland and the Czech Republic. What were the major factors that led President Obama to make this decision? What are the likely consequences of the decision?
84. According to the United States and others, Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapon capability. How would the achievement of such capability change the strategic situation in the Middle East?
Hey, how did that ever work out?
83.Discuss the costs and benefits of a long-term NATO commitment to Afghanistan. How important is it that the US achieve its preferred objectives in Afghanistan, and what should those objectives be?
By the way still looking for a good answer to this one.
82. Outline the basic strategic dilemma in the Caucasus. How can shifts in the military situation drive a change in the diplomatic impasse over Nagorno-Karabakh?
This must have been after the first @UK_Patterson @ArmyWarCollege Nagorno-Karabakh sim...
81. Recent cuts have slashed the Royal Navy to its smallest size in modern history. What vulnerabilities, if any, does this open for the United Kingdom? What is the Royal Navy for, exactly?
Shame that @IBallantyn has never joined our program...
80. The F-35 Lightning II, once expected to provide the mainstay of many Western air forces, has suffered numerous procurement and cost overrun problems. What lessons should the United States take from the difficulties associated with the F-35 program?
This is the first real F-35 question, I think. Asked it many times...
79. The Obama administration has pursued a “reset” of relations with Russia. What security dividends, if any, has this reset paid? What costs has the reset incurred to the United States? How important to the US is a good relationship with Russia?
Another evergreen question! Just change "Obama" and roll...
78. Outline the pitfalls associated with the use of military force in response to North Korean provocations. How should the US and its allies (Japan and South Korea) evaluate the utility of force in their relationship with North Korea?
Used this one a bunch, as you'd expect.
Looks like 77 was a repeat.
76. (part i) Over the past ten years, the United States has substantially expanded and improved upon its diplomatic and military relationship with India.
76. (part ii) What are the American goals for this relationship? What do the Indians get out of it? Is the expanded commitment to India a good idea, or are there unforeseen pitfalls?
I believe that's our first India question!
75. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) continues to expand its capabilities. How does this expansion fit into China’s security framework? How should the United States react to the steady increase in Chinese naval power?
See, not everything is about aircraft carriers...
74. The upheavals of the “Arab Spring” continue to spread in the Middle East. What military tools does the United States possess that can influence these events? What strategic interests does the United States have in the course of these upheavals?
How did that Arab Spring thing work out?
73. In the last two months, Western powers have intervened in conflicts in both Libya and Ivory Coast. Compare and contrast these interventions from a military and political point of view. How and why have the nature and outcomes of the interventions differed?
I think this was about halfway through Libya, so before we had a firm conclusion.
72. Under the aegis of NATO, military operations to protect civilians continue in Libya. Please evaluate the costs and benefits of conducting a war under the control of a major international organization relative to a unilateral intervention.
Two different Libya questions in the same cycle! I hope that all worked out.
71.The body of thought known as “counter-insurgency” theory has come under attack from inside and outside the military. Of what value is counter-insurgency theory? How sound are the critiques? To what extent should the US military devote time and resources to this body of work?
This was 2011, so even at this point we were fully in the backlash phase. I think this was also just after I had taught a course on COIN...
70. China’s first aircraft carrier has begun sea trials. Why would China want an aircraft carrier? How does such a vessel fit into China’s security framework? How should the United States react to the steady increase in Chinese naval power?
Yet another China CV question.
69. (part i) In mid-October, Kenyan forces invaded Somalia, reportedly in an effort to reduce border incursions from Al-Shabaab, a Somali militia. Although the United States appears supportive, it has avoided direct intervention.
69. (part ii) Examine the geopolitics of the situation, and discuss the tools that the United States might use to bring about desired outcomes in the conflict.
Well that question wasn't much fun.
68. In October, NATO operations against Libya were successfully concluded with the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Trace the course of the operation from inception to conclusion, and discuss the political and military implications of the operation for future action.
I suspect the answer to this might be different in 2018 than it was in 2012.
67. (part i) The failure of the “supercommittee” to agree on a set of budget cuts triggers major cuts to the US defense budget.
67. (part ii) Assuming that the mandated cuts ($500 billion over ten years) actually occur, discuss the likely impact within the US defense community, as well as in the international system.
Goddamn I'd almost forgotten about the existence of the supercommittee
66.Recent debate over the future of the US Army suggests that the Army faces no definitive opponents, and has no clear mission. Should cuts in the defense budget be disproportionately focused on the Army, to the benefit of the Air Force and Navy?
Ok so not gonna play this one up with my current employer #armystrong #goarmy
65. A recent op-ed in the New York Times suggested that the United States should “sell” Taiwan to the PRC in order to reduce US debt exposure. Discuss this argument from a national security point of view; would this be a “good deal” for the United States to take?
This is a damn fine question. And several people did their best to answer it.
64. The F-35 Lightning II program is increasingly over budget, and continues to suffer from technical problems. What lessons should the United States draw from this project in order to avoid similar problems in the future? Are such problems inevitable in a project of this size?
The F-35 is the gift to IR faculty that just keeps on giving.
63. The unmanned aerial vehicle campaign over Pakistan continues to evoke controversy. Evaluate the utility of the campaign from a grand strategic point of view. What values does the campaign further, and what are the tradeoffs associated with the attacks?
Was this my first drone question? In 2012? I guess I just never took drones very seriously.
62. (part i) The term “lawfare” has been used to describe the expansion of legal intervention in military affairs.
62. (part ii) To what extent do the laws of war represent a genuine constraint on the use of military force, and how ought the United States think about the expanding body of international law associated with the conduct of war?
As much as I'd love to credit the good people at @lawfareblog with this question, it's really from the esteemed Chucky Dunlap...
@lawfareblog 61. The role played by Special Operations Forces in US grand strategy appears to be steadily increasing. Why do policymakers find SOF appealing? What are the benefits and drawbacks of allowing them a larger role in US defense statecraft?
@lawfareblog And my first SOF question! Good lord I'm slow on the uptake.
@lawfareblog 60. In the face of looming defense austerity, the U.S. military services have begun to compete aggressively against one another. What should the balance be between air, land, and sea capabilities? Why?
@lawfareblog This didn't actually happen? But it might have?
59 is another repeat. Although apparently I've been using this question for a while.
58. (part i) The last two years have seen steady increase in tension between China and its maritime neighbors over several island chains.
58. (part ii) Why do these conflicts happen, and why have they increased in tempo over the past couple of years? What can the United States do to ameliorate such conflicts?
First SCS question! This was 2012 or 2013, if my guesstimate is right.
57. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has entered service. What are the implications of this development for Chinese relations with its neighbors? How should the growth of Chinese naval power affect U.S. grand strategy?
Every China CV question is basically the same question.
56. The unmanned aerial vehicle campaigns over Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen continue to evoke controversy. Evaluate these campaigns from strategic, legal, and moral viewpoints. What values does the campaign further, and what are the tradeoffs associated with the attacks?
Drones, droning on. *yawn*
55. (part i) The civil war in Syria shows no signs of abating. Why did the international community intervene in the Libyan civil war, while leaving the Syrian conflict largely alone?
55. (part ii) What are the prospects for international intervention in Syria, and what developments might trigger such intervention?
And I believe this is our first Syrian Civil War question! Might not be the last...
54. (part i) After a decade of growth, the U.S. defense budget has begun to retreat.
54. (part ii) Consider the domestic and international consequences of this retreat; how will a reduced U.S. defense profile affect the behavior of foreign countries (whether friend or foe)? What impact will defense cuts have in the U.S.?
Did this even end up being true? Or just something that people thought might be true at some point?
53. Some argue that AirSea Battle threatens to destabilize the Pacific, while others contend that it amounts to bureaucratic hot air. Discuss AirSea Battle in terms of U.S. grand strategy, the emerging politics of the Pacific Rim, and inter-organizational dynamics.
oh sweet baby jeebus an AirSea Battle question.

I'm baring my soul here, people.
52. With the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army is in search for mission and identity. How should the United States Army balance its responsibilities for conventional and unconventional warfare?
Again, I would like to apologize to my current employer for implying in any way that it was searching for anything.
51. With the acquisition of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, the Indian Navy now possesses a more formidable naval aviation arm than China. What is the relevance of Indian naval expansion, and should the United States encourage India’s maritime capabilities?
Oh, there's nothing in this world as satisfying as combining an aircraft carrier question with an India question.
50. Concerns over cyber-conflict have occupied an increasingly large space in the national security conversation over the past few years. How legitimate are these concerns? Are cyber-related concerns best handled by the bureaucracy of national defense, or of law enforcement?
Fine, let's have a cyber question.
49. Controversy has erupted over China’s declaration of a new air defense zone in the East China Sea. Discuss the likely logic behind declaring the zone, and evaluate the reactions of the major players. How will this declaration affect alliance politics in Northeast Asia?
I dunno. Not all that much?
48.The Nigerian military continues to struggle against Boko Haram without any real success. If the United States decides to become more involved, how should it proceed? Outline and discuss at least three options.
47. Discuss the strategic interests of the United States in the South China Sea. How deeply should the US become involved in the disputes between China and its maritime neighbors?
This is a good one. Still not answered to my satisfaction.
46. The United States is struggling to balance its hostility to Iran, ISIS, Russia, and the Syrian government. How did we get here, and is there anything we can do to get out?
No truth to the rumor that the Patterson faculty held an intervention after I asked this question.
45. The Russian seizure of several districts of Ukraine have left the rest of the country at the mercy of the Russian military. What steps can and should the United States take to deter further Russia action in the region?
I like that question, even today.
44. Given the increasing power of China and the return of an assertive Russia, would it be fair to say that the Intelligence Community became too narrowly focused on terrorist actors and ignored the rest of the world?
This is where we're starting to range into the @maxwellwise period at @UK_Patterson, and so some of the more intel focused questions belong to him. But often with editing in both directions.
43. In recent months President Obama seems to have “thrown the CIA under the bus” blaming them for not successfully forecasting events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and most recently the rise of ISIS. Is this fair blame? Was this a net assessment failure or simply a black swan?
42. Controversy has erupted over China’s efforts to construct “islands” in the South China Sea. Discuss the likely logic behind constructing the islands, and evaluate the reactions of the major regional players. How will these efforts affect the international politics of the SCS?
41. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pursued a more assertive international course that many previous Japanese leaders. Describe the opportunities and pitfalls ahead of Japan if it decides to undertake a more militant foreign policy.
Good to see Japan finally squeaking in there.
40.Given the apparent inability of NATO to manage its southern or eastern flanks, many have questioned the continued relevance of the organization. Does NATO have a future? What can it do, and what can’t it do?
A NATO Relevance question!
39.When it comes to foreign conflicts, how does the Obama Doctrine differ from the Bush Doctrine?
Well that seems kind of brief?
38. The Islamic State differentiates itself from Al-Qaeda in the media throughout many ways. What do you believe are the major differences between the two and what role does the media play with their overall strategy?
ISIS getting important during the next few.
37. Is the rise of ISIS due to its successes through social media and funding or is it due to Al-Qaeda’s failure as a vanguard?
36. Costly. Distracting. Self-perpetuating. Unresolvable. Do those 4 words describe the war on terrorism, the war on drugs, or both?
Well now that's a heck of a question. I think it belongs to Max, though, not me; still a great q.
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