Saturday, January 19, 2013

Exam Debriefing

Alright, now that I've had a few days off, I'd like to take a few moments to review the course of the last week.

I spent some of my off time in late December and a lot of time in January, particularly last week, studying for exams. I had hoped to get more reading done during the course of the semester, but in the end I only finished two textbooks: Modern Military Strategy by Elinor Sloan for Strategic Theory, and Intelligence Power in Peace and War by Michael Herman for Strategic Intelligence. The exam for Strategic Theory was scheduled for Monday, 14th January, and the exam for Strategic Intelligence was scheduled for Wednesday, 16th January. Let's start with Strategic Theory.

* * *

As I've mentioned previously, I read a number of the books on the recommended reading list before I arrived in Aberdeen. Strategic Theory focused on the following topics:

  • Strategic Thinkers
  • The Military Instrument
  • The Strategic Environment
  • Democratic Peace Theory
  • Limited War
  • Alliances
  • Arms Control
  • Deterrence
  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Military Intervention
  • Economic Sanctions

    The exam would consist of ten questions, of which I would have to answer three in three hours. As the questions are worded differently each year, I had to insulate myself against both exam topics and exam wording. I decided to prepare five topics. My strongest topics going in were unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency, so those were obvious choices. From there, I decided to fall back on some of the reading I did over the Summer, and add arms control and deterrence to the list. Finally, owing in part to my undergraduate background in ancient history, I prepared alliances with the idea that I might be able to draw on my limited knowledge of the Peloponnesian War. Alliances was my outlier, with my ultimate intention being to write on counterinsurgency, then on unconventional warfare, and then to choose between arms control and deterrence based upon which question was worded better on the exam sheet.

    Working alternately alone and with a few of my fellow Strategists, I reviewed the Director's slide decks on the topics in question, and a bit of Sloan. I also reread Colin Gray's chapter on space warfare from Another Bloody Century; Gray's chapter on small wars (unconventional warfare/counterinsurgency) from Modern Strategy; and the entire six part, three hour 1981 Reith Lecture series "The Two-Edged Sword by Professor Laurence Martin. I wrote these into a note sheet, and then recopied and rewrote it three or four times.

    The exam consisted of the following questions:

    1. Examine the argument that it is misguided to have democratic peace theory as the theoretical cornerstone for Western international security policy.
    2. What must always be done to sustain the efficacy of any deterrence-based strategic doctrine?
    3. Why is the concept of limited war beyond precise definition, and how does this impact on the conduct of such war?
    4. Undertake a strategic audit of the value of alliance membership for states seeking to enhance national security.
    5. What is arms control supposed to deliver to national security and how well has it done it?
    6. Define military intervention, and consider the challenges facing states when implementing such action in faraway places.
    7. To what extent is post-Cold War unconventional war really so unique when contrasted with the guerrilla war and terrorism of the Cold War period?
    8. Assess how well counter-insurgency theory and practice have moved with the times.
    9. 'There is no such thing as 'smart' and also effective economic sanctions.' Discuss.
    10. Debate the argument that Realist dominance of strategic theory delivers more harm than good to international security.

    As I mentioned previously, I wrote on question 8 (counterinsurgency), then on question 7 (unconventional warfare), and finally on question 5 (arms control). In my first essay, I argued that theory and practice have remained relatively unchanged since the days of the Roman Empire, and used examples from Roman Britain, Algeria, Dhofar, Afghanistan, and Iraq to support my argument. I made a similar argument about guerrilla warfare, noting that Mao and Guevara are still read as sources, though I provided the caveat that with the collapse of Soviet and Chinese support for revolutions, some older factors had reasserted themselves. I'm less comfortable with having actually answered question five, but the point that I tried to get across (illustrating liberally from that lecture series by Sir Laurence Martin) was that arms control has a role to play, but that it is not a panacea. I had at least one and as many as four citations per page, and was comfortable overall with my performance. I'm hoping for a 19.

    It started snowing on Monday morning, and it snowed more during the exam - a lot more.

    * * *

    Strategic Intelligence was a bit of a different story. I've found intelligence fascinating for a long time, but I didn't have the academic background going into the course that I had for Strategic Theory. The topics addressed in Strategic Intelligence were:

  • Introduction to Strategic Intelligence
  • The Intelligence Cycle
  • Intelligence Agencies of the World
  • Great Thinkers of Intelligence
  • Types of Intelligence
  • World War One
  • World War Two
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The Six Day War
  • The Farewell Case
  • Intelligence and the Iraq War

    As you can see, most of these were case studies. By contrast, the sample exam consisted of the following questions: 1. Does the intelligence cycle contribute much to our understanding of what secret intelligence is about?
    2. Is intelligence the 'missing dimension' of politics and strategy? If so, what does this actually mean?
    3. Assess the thoughts of, at least, two great thinkers and what they say about intelligence.
    4. Is intelligence collection by technological means more effective than by human means?
    5. Critically assess the contention that intelligence can help win wars.
    6. Can commanders in the field achieve 'dominant battlefield awareness'?
    7. What lay behind the establishment of intelligence agencies in twentieth century?
    8. Is economic intelligence more important since the end of the Cold War or not?
    9. To what extent is the introduction of new laws important for intelligence communities?
    10. What did secret intelligence contribute to the politics of the Cold War?

    As you can see, the sample exam focused primarily on theory, which we covered early on before shifting into case studies. That left me a bit more nervous about the exam than I'd been with Strategic Theory, and without much time between exams to study for it. I'd finished reading Herman in late December, and part of my study strategy was to type up the chapter summaries so that I could review them. There was a lot of theory in Herman, and a lot of practical application of that theory, which helped to bridge the gap.

    The exam questions were as follows:

    1. Assess the usefulness of the intelligence cycle as a means of evaluating the role of secret intelligence.
    2. "Knowledge and foreknowledge of the world (Loch Johnson, 1996)." Is this a fair definition of intelligence?
    3. By comparing the writings of TWO great thinkers, discuss the justification for using intelligence.
    4. Analyse the salient issues and problems of collecting intelligence by both human sources and from technology.
    5. What are the difficulties involved in achieving 'dominant battlefield awareness'?
    6. To what extent can intelligence contribute to winning wars? Discuss using appropriate examples.
    7. Was the creation of intelligence agencies in the twentieth century a necessity, and if so, why?
    8. How important is economic intelligence?
    9. Can intelligence legitimately justify pre-emptive wars? Discuss using appropriate examples
    10. Evaluate the contention that in times of war, laws are as necessary as secret intelligence.
    11. To what extent was the Cold War period a 'golden age' of espionage?

    Since question 4 was a retread of the question I'd answered in my term paper, I wrote on that first. Second, I wrote on question 7, arguing that intelligence agencies were not a necessity, per se, but could have theoretically been left under the purview of the military (foreign intelligence) and law enforcement (security intelligence) from whence they arose in the first place, and to which they still have close ties. I was inspired in part by this article, which states in its opening paragraph:

    Intelligence reform is once again in the air, and this time the bogeyman is the "militarization" of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As Mark Safranski notes, there is something deeply bizarre about the idea that an organization created from the bones of a paramilitary covert action force (the Office of Strategic Services) and frequently involved in joint military ventures with special operations forces (like the Vietnam-era Phoenix Project) should be blamed for engaging in large-scale collaborative military ventures. The frequency with which observers call for the Agency to reject militarization and pursue the supposedly more pure activities of intelligence collection and analysis suggest a lack of historical knowledge of the CIA's paramilitary past.
    As Herman's second chapter summary states:

    Modern intelligence developed through "foreign armies" components of the military staffs which were formed from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Another origin was the growth of "special policing" in roughly the same period. Later came the twentieth-century expansion of intelligence collection and the development of specialized agencies for it. Anglo-Saxon countries then developed means of assessing foreign countries as a whole, and of intelligence community management.

    This evolution of intelligence has been part of much wider trends in the use of information, in government and outside it. As in all other arrangements for handling information, intelligence communities have some blurred edges. But they are reasonably coherent institutions for producing information and forecasts on foreign targets and internal security matters, linked to decision-taking but with some separation from it.
    I chose to conclude with question 5, and argued that "dominant battlespace awareness" is a myth. I cited "Effects-Based Operations" (EBO), a U.S. Air Force targeting system that was expanded to apply the intelligence and sensory capabilities of the "Revolution in Military Affairs"/post-Cold War military transformation; EBO has largely fallen from grace, and I cited General James Mattis' August 2008 memorandum on EBO.

    I'm confident that I did well; the question is whether I did better than my peers. I'm shooting for honor grad, and I don't want to lose my edge over one exam. Ultimately, though, I can only give it my best effort and be satisfied with that. I was joking about this with CN Vlad last night, and he said that he hopes that I graduate second in my class - I have some pretty great classmates.

    * * *

    The exams themselves were a lot more regimented than what I remember as an undergrad, or as a proctor as recently as Spring of 2012. Students were not allowed to retain their mobile phones, and all bags had to be left at the front of the room. Each desk was individually numbered, and a range of desks were assigned for each instructor's students, as the exam rooms were shared among several different classes. It was a lot more stringent than I'm accustomed to.

    The other thing that's a lot different is the amount of administration the exams have to go through. Each exam is reviewed and graded by the instructor who administered it - the Director and E, respectively. Then, a second reader reviews them - the Director is the secondary reader for E's class, and another instructor in the School of Politics and International Relations reads our exams from the Director's class. Once they've been reviewed twice, they're then packaged up and - get this - sent down to the Department of War Studies at King's College London. (KCL is sort of the Harvard/Oxford/Cambridge of the various flavors of conflict studies, while Aberdeen is closer to a distinguished state university.) Grades aren't official until the guy at KCL has finished with them, which should be in mid- to late-February. This is a quality assurance measure that, to the best of my knowledge, is completely absent from American universities.

    It's a fascinating difference, and aside from the extreme pain in my wrist after writing for three hours (Aberdeen) as opposed to an hour and a half or two hours (undergraduate), I feel like I'm better for the experience. Knowledge of the process should also help me to study more effectively during the second round of exams in a few months time.
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