War College

War College

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A weekly look at the weapons systems and tactics that both endanger the world and keep it safe.

Episodes

No, the Trump transition isn’t endangering U.S. nukes. Here’s what to really worry about  

On Jan. 9, 2017, Gizmodo ran a story titled “Trump Just Dismissed the People in Charge of Maintaining Our Nuclear Arsenal.” The article published claims from unnamed members of the National Nuclear Security Administration who said the incoming president had ordered them to clear out their desks before his inauguration. People on Twitter traded speculation about what an empty NNSA might mean for America’s nuclear security come Jan. 21. Within several hours, however, Gizmodo updated the story, changed the title (to “Trump Is Letting Go the People in Charge of Maintaining Our Nuclear Arsenal”) and issued a correction. The situation, it seemed, was not as dire as everyone suspected. During the first few hours after the stories publication, U.S. Naval War College professor and nuclear policy expert Tom Nichols took to Twitter to calm everyone down. He urged caution in the face of panic, reminded people that the NNSA wasn’t a very old agency, its role in nuclear security unclear and that transitions are always messy. But that doesn’t mean he’s not worried about the President-elect’s plans for America’s nuclear arsenal. This week on War College, we sit down with Tom Nichols to discuss the Gizmodo story, the NNSA and Trump’s nuclear ambitions. For Nichols, when it comes to Trump you never know until he takes action. When it comes to nukes, even minor actions can have dire consequences. by Matthew Gault edited and produced by Bethel Habte

Tracking America’s ‘shadow wars’  

Right now, America is fighting a war in Afghanistan – the longest in its history – a war against the Islamic State in the Middle East, a war against Islamic radicals in Pakistan, several different operations in and around the Horn of Africa and – if you ask the Houthi rebels – a war in Yemen. That’s a short list. Today on War College, we sit down with freelance journalist and independent researcher Joseph Trevithick, who has spent the better part of the last year compiling a list of all the military operations America is fighting overseas. He uses the Freedom of Information Act and a spreadsheet to keep everything straight. As of this recording, his list of American military operations is up to 190. The nature of these conflicts is often small-scale and powered by special operations forces and drones. Trevithick says most of these operations aren’t secret, it’s just that they’re complicated and often, through legal loopholes, avoid Congressional oversight.

Churchill – the ‘glowworm’ who changed the fate of modern Europe  

At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill lost his reelection bid for Prime Minister of England. The British Bulldog was down, but not out. He worried of a coming conflict with Stalin and the growing Soviet Empire, and he wanted the world to listen. On this week’s War College, author Lord Alan Watson argues that two speeches Churchill gave after the war laid the intellectual groundwork for Western geopolitical thought during the Cold War. More than that, he says they saved the world. His new book – Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World tells the story of the former Prime Minister’s post-war career and how his legacy shaped the West. Without Churchill, Watson argues, there would be no European Union, no NATO and no peace.

ICYMI: The drone that almost killed bin Laden  

Months before 9/11, U.S. Air Force captain Scott Swanson patrolled the skies over Afghanistan with a Predator drone. Swanson and his team were hunting Osama bin Laden. And they found him. But this was months before the new drones could fire missiles, and the pilots could only watch as bin Laden walked away. On Jan 23, 2001 – just three days into George W. Bush’s presidency – a Predator drone test fired a Hellfire missile for the first time. A new age of war had begun. Swanson is the first human to use a Predator-fired Hellfire missile to take a life. From a trailer truck in a garage behind CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Swanson loosed a missile from a drone roughly 7,000 miles away in Kandahar. The missile struck its target – a pickup truck outside a building that intelligence said was hiding Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. The missile hit and killed two of Omar’s bodyguards. This week on War College, we replay our conversation with Swanson. He walks us through the early years of the drone program, how it changed him, and how it changed the world. (Corrects distance from Langley to Kandahar from 2,500 miles to 7,000 miles in fourth paragraph)

ICYMI: In Russia, 'fake news' is the norm  

America’s 2016 election was plagued by fake news. Online, it’s easy to fake authority, and millions of Americans fall for the stories. It may seem new to Americans, but Russians have lived with a strange, conspiracy-driven media for years.

The next Great Game may be played for the North Pole  

Russia's aircraft carrier may be creaky, but its submarines are among the best in the business and they ply the currents beneath the Arctic at will - though not unchallenged. So, who's challenging Russia and what are the world's powers fighting over in the warming waters?

Going where Obama feared to tread in Syria – the Albright-Hadley plan  

Guest host and Reuters Diplomatic Correspondent Arshad Mohammed sits down with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, to discuss a report that amounts to a bipartisan rejection of President Barack Obama's decision to carefully limit U.S. military engagement in the nearly six-year civil war.

Read the story: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-report-idUSKBN13O2MS

 

ICYMI: The men who burned down the world: A conversation with Dan Carlin  

RE-RELEASE: Dan Carlin, who hosts the Common Sense and Hardcore History podcasts, joined us last year to discuss men and women who fundamentally change the worlds they are born into. Good may eventually come from what these "historical arsonists" do, but the price paid by their contemporaries is usually in blood.

The Kremlin had a plan - Donald Trump winning wasn't part of it  

While Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump had some good things to say about each other during the 2016 U.S. election cycle, Russia expert Mark Galeotti tells War College a victory for Trump wasn't part of the Kremlin's plan. So what was the real motivation behind Russia's interference?

The road to Ward 17  

Dean Yates' view into war and suffering left changed. That he knew. But just how profoundly didn't become clear until he retreated to a quieter life to the place where his wife grew up, in Tasmania.

ICYMI: Can NATO still put up a fight against Russia?  

THIS IS A REPEAT A SHOW FROM MARCH 3. With Vladimir Putin and the United States staring at each other like the gunfighters in the final scene in the "Good, the Bad and the Ugly," War College takes a fresh look at NATO. We wanted to know what kind of shape the nearly 70-year-old alliance is in.

The security threats both candidates are ignoring  

With Russia a wildcard, Islamic State on the run, budgets out of control and several Forever Wars, the next U.S. president will have their plate full.

Is the U.S. at war? Sorry, that's classified.  

If you don't know whether or not the U.S. is at war, you're not alone. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are engaged all over the world. In many places they're involved in "kinetic warfare," military jargon that means that bullets are flying. So, the United States is at war, right?

Will the recapture of Mosul lead to peace or a bloodbath?  

Mosul is as the Iraqi capital of the militant group Islamic State. Out of a population of between 1.5 million and 2 million, 4,000 to 8,000 are armed extremists. They now face a combined military force in the tens of thousands, backed up by some of the world's great military powers, including the United States.

What the hell happened to Britain's Royal Navy?  

To say the Britain's Royal Navy is legendary is probably to undersell it. There have been thousands of books - fiction and non-fiction - written about its victories during the Napoleonic wars. Its a bit much to expect any organization to keep up that kind of performance for centuries, but the Royal Navy did. That's what makes its current state so surprising. 

Inside America’s armed militias and the new civil war  

Depending on where you live, this story will either be shocking or old hat. But even if you have an armed "militia" operating near you, you probably don't realize just how developed these states within a state have become - and how far they've drifted from the majority of American society.

When the 'War on Drugs' got literal, and how it could end  

Drug cartel weaponry has gotten deadlier. In 2015, a Mexican army helicopter was shot down in the state of Jalisco. The local cartel used a rocket-propelled grenade to do it. And for years, drug gangs have worked on their navies, moving from cigarette boats to homemade submarines. They have air forces, as well, and fight pitched battles against the army in Mexico and other places. But things are changing.

An Islamic Reformation may be beside the point  

The separation of church and state is one of the fundamental tenets of the modern Western world, but that doesn't make it inevitable for all cultures. But does that mean that the Islamic world and the Western one are in an existential struggle? Or is that division even meaningful?

Why nuclear war looks inevitable  

Several developments have the potential to move the hands of the nuclear doom clock closer to midnight. 

One reason the U.S. isn't winning the 'War on Terror'  

In the 15 years since America first went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has reduced the number of troops on the ground and increased the number of unmanned robots picking off high value targets.

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