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War on the Rocks


Discussions over drinks with security, defense, and foreign policy insiders and experts. The original War on the Rocks podcast series.

Discussions over drinks with security, defense, and foreign policy insiders and experts. The original War on the Rocks podcast series.


United States


Discussions over drinks with security, defense, and foreign policy insiders and experts. The original War on the Rocks podcast series.




The Task Force at the Bleeding Edge of the Marine Corps

Maj. Gen. Frank Donovan of the U.S. Marine Corps sat down with Ryan to discuss the recent mission and exercises of Task Force 61/2, from Greece and Turkey to the Baltic Sea. Aside from playing an important role during a delicate moment in European security affairs, this task force was kicking the tires on Force Design 2030, the future vision for the Marine Corps, which we've previously discussed with the commandant, Gen. David Berger.


Great Expectations? The Next Phase of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Michael Kofman joined Ryan for yet another conversation about the unfolding tragedy of the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this episode, they focus largely on the potential for a Ukrainian counter-offensive on Kherson. They also discuss Russia's repositioning of forces, continued (albeit smaller) Russian offensives in the east, the role of HIMARS, Russia's personnel strategy, and whether we can know if a Ukrainian victory is truly possible.


Shinzo Abe's Legacy in Japan and on the World Stage

Shinzo Abe, Japan's former prime minister, was gunned down by an assassin earlier this summer. He is credited with having paved the road to his country's far more more prominent role in global affairs. Mireya Solis of the Brookings Institution and Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations discuss Abe's story and legacy in this episode.


Ukraine's Window of Opportunity?

With military circles abuzz that Ukraine might be preparing to launch a counter-offensive against Russian-held Kherson, Michael Kofman of CNA's Russia team helps us parse the facts. What has been happening on the battlefield since our last episode? How are the two forces faring as they struggle with various problems in mobilizing manpower and equipment to the front? What are the four means by which Russia is trying to squeeze more military power out of its population short of a total...


Is the Most Important Battle of the War Coming?

Michael Kofman joins Ryan once again to discuss the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this episode, he discusses the looming battle for Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, two small cities near each other that are likely Russia's next effort after the fall of Severodonestk. He also revisits the idea of a Ukrainian counter-offensive to retake Kherson and the prospects for when, whether, and how that could unfold. Mike and Ryan also talk about Ukraine's challenges in mobilizing enough trained manpower at the...


Ukraine and Russia Grapple with Relentless Battle and Attrition

Mike Kofman joins the show again to update us on the war in Ukraine. In this episode (which was recorded shortly before Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island), he explains that by focusing on the limited territorial exchanges in the Donbass, we might be missing the bigger strategic picture. Kofman argues that the Donbass is not the territory of greatest significance in this war. Instead, he points to Kherson, which he views as much more important in terms of future battles as well as its...


The Most Dangerous Phase for Ukraine?

This is not an optimistic episode. Michael Kofman speculates that the war might be in its most dangerous phase. Why is that? Ukraine's casualties and shortages in munitions are beginning to show as Russia is gaining some operational advantages in the Donbass. Further, Russia's efforts to fill its manpower gaps have been partially successful without relying primarily on conscripts and conducting a large mobilization. Ryan and Mike speculate that, in the end, this war will be decided by the...


What the Experts Got Wrong (and Right) About Russian Military Power

It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of...


The Battlefields of the Donbass and Beyond

Michael Kofman sat down with Ryan again to sort through how the war in Ukraine is proceeding, with a focus on the Donbass, where Ukraine and Russia are concentrating their forces. Beyond the battlefields, Kofman ponders the future of the Russian armed forces and reports what he learned at a recent conference in Poland.


Counter-Attacks and Can-Kicking in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Russia's stumbling war was launched almost three months ago. As Russian and Ukrainian forces battle on, how should we understand the state of play? Michael Kofman joins Ryan again to discuss the war on the ground, in the air, and at sea; Ukraine's ability to get Western weaponry into the fight; the crushing economic realities on both sides; how Vladimir Putin's Victory Day speech was the dog that didn't bark; Russia's stark mobilization constraints; and why a sliver of an island named after...


The U.S. Military Might Be More Like Russia's Military Than You Think

Did that title get your attention? It got Ryan's attention too when it came out of Steve Blank's mouth. If you're a War on the Rocks reader/listener, you've probably heard of him before. A successful entrepreneur, businessman, and veteran, Steve was one of the key architects of Hacking for Defense and, most recently, the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. And he is decidedly not optimistic about the state of U.S. defense innovation. In fact, he worries that the Defense...


Ukraine's Military Advantage and Russia's Stark Choices

Our friend Michael Kofman popped in for another conversation with Ryan about where things stand in the Russo-Ukrainian War. He gives a wide-ranging assessment of Russia's unfavorable position as it musters an offensive in the Donbass that might be the last one that the Russian military is capable of launching before it is a spent force. From Ukraine's advanced Western kit to holdouts in Mariupol to the naval state of play to Russia's dire manpower shortages, Mike and Ryan discuss it all....


From Ukraine and Beyond: Unpacking the Sino-Russian Relationship

This is the national security podcast crossover of the century! Or at least of the year...ok maybe of Spring 2022! For this special episode, Doyle Hodges of TNSR and “Horns of a Dilemma” hosts Zack Cooper, Melanie Marlowe, and Chris Preble of “Net Assessment.” They try to sort through relations between Moscow and Beijing in this time of war, as well as a whole bunch of related issues. And yes, they engage in the airing of grievances, a “Net Assessment” tradition. Make sure you subscribe to...


A Conversation with the Counselor: Derek Chollet on Navigating the World

A veteran State Department official and scholar, Derek Chollet is serving as counselor to the secretary of state. He sat down with Ryan to discuss the various challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. Don't miss their wide-ranging conversation on the diplomacy that preceded the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the diplomacy that continues to keep Western allies on the same page, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the difficulties of balancing an increasingly competitive strategy in the...


Russia Downscales Its War, But Not in Brutality

Michael Kofman joined Ryan once more to update us all on the war in Ukraine. In this episode, Kofman explains how and why Russia is refocusing on the east of Ukraine, what the war in Syria revealed about shortcomings in Russian air force, and what Ukrainian forces need in terms of weaponry and supply to win this war. The two also discuss Russian war crimes and their relation to the Russian military’s internal culture of violence and hazing as well as Vladimir Putin’s framing of this war of...


Is India “Shaky” on Ukraine? It's Complicated

President Joe Biden recently made headlines when he described India as being “somewhat shaky” on the issue of punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution sat down with Ryan to explain why India is taking a quieter and less aggressive tact as it navigates this international crisis. The answers to the question in the title are far more interesting and complicated than you might think. Join Ryan and Tanvi for this wide-ranging conversation, which...


A New Phase of the Russo-Ukrainian War Begins

With Moscow’s announcement that the core aim of its invasion of Ukraine is now just to secure the Donbass, the conflict has entered a new phase. Michael Kofman of CNA joins Ryan once again, for the fifth week in a row, to help us parse through events on the battlefield. They discuss the resilience of Ukrainian society, stalled fronts, the air war, tactical adaptations, the effects of Western armaments, drones, the maritime picture, where Russian munitions are falling short, why Michael...


In the Fourth Week, Is Russia Revising its War Aims Amidst Attrition?

Michael Kofman joins Ryan once again to help us understand the Russo-Ukrainian War as its fourth week unfolds. They cover a lot of ground: Mike updates us on the three fronts — where Russian forces are making progress and where they are not — and how the stalling campaign might drive Moscow to dramatically change its war aims. He also explains why it’s hard to gauge the condition of Ukrainian forces, how Putin’s stated aim of Ukraine’s ‘demilitarization’ is playing out in terms of strikes...


Into the Third Week: Will Russian Forces Need to Pause?

Michael Kofman joins Ryan for the third week in a row to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine. He breaks down the state-of-play on three fronts — southern, eastern, and northern — as well as the air war. When will Russian forces become exhausted and require a pause? How does this relate to negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow? How should we understand the risks of war under the nuclear shadow and under what scenarios might Putin turn to his nuclear arsenal? Kofman tackles these questions and...


11 Days In: Russia's Invasion Stumbles Forward

Russia bungled its invasion plan but is nonetheless making progress in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. But can the Russian military stay combat effective? What lessons can we learn from the war so far? What role is urban warfare playing in this fight? What do the troubles faced by the Russian military and security services in Ukraine portend for the regime of Vladimir Putin? And what exactly is going on with that long column of Russian forces north of Kyiv? In our last episode,...