2007/10/23

National security and economy

I have already written about the sustainability of military power a while ago.

The sustainability is a very important criterion for long-term national security planning.
Economic power balances will shift over time, and just like the industrialization in the late 19th century turned Germany into a Great Power and the industrialization in the 1920's and 1930's turned Russia/Soviet Union into a much more potent power than grasped by contemporary analysts in the west.
We'll also see shifts in the next decades. China and India are obviously on the rise (but they'll have at least one economic crisis as well), while Europe and North America are on the decline (not measured in money, but measured in industrial capacity).

We have seen episodes in military history during which economic power in terms of money alone was sufficient for dominant military power. That was mostly related to mercenary armies and all such examples took place before the middle of the 19th century.
Since that time we've seen how the ability to produce the equipment and consumables for warfare in a war economy was the primary variable for military power.

Now look at the situation of our present western economies: We have lots of money and secured raw material supply, but huge chunks of our industrial capacities moved into non-allied countries of the world.

This won't be a problem for national defense affairs as long as we stay out of total wars and limit confrontations to small wars, preferably beating on economically and militarily ridiculously inferior nations like Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia and so on. As long as we do this, we'll only struggle with so-called asymmetric warfare challenges that do not threaten our sovereignty, and barely our interests.
But once we return to what we were best in during the 20th century - conventional warfare among industrialized nations - we'll recognize painfully that we gave away much of our war-relevant economic strength.

This is probably the point at which most readers think about how inferior possible challengers are in training, doctrine, expertise and the like. The present is always deceiving if you try to look 20 or more years ahead.

Think about the proud Royal Navy of August, 1889, showing its powerful fleet in front of Queen Victoria and German Emperor Wilhelm II at Spithead. The German navy was a mere coastal defense organization with marginal cruiser forces at that time, lesser in power than every one of the many RN fleets world-wide.
15 years later a technological revolution (Dreadnought all big gun battleship) - embraced by the Royal Navy as well as by many other navies - made the entire Royal Navy battlefleet (and all others) obsolete.
20 years later the Royal navy struggled in an attempt to keep its superiority over the German navy.
25 years later both navies were in war with each other.
27 year later the RN prevailed during the Battle of Jutland (at greater loss of personnel and material) despite its technological flaws (several secondary explosions in battle cruisers) . It did so because the economic superiority of the Entente alliance had enabled the RN to continue building the newest, most powerful battleships (super dreadnoughts; "R" and "Queen Elizabeth" classes with 15" guns) while the German navy had fewer of these in production, at lesser priority. But there were the submarines, and the RN was almost defeated by this mostly unanticipated factor...

The UK's advantage in that conflict was that it still controlled the maritime access to world raw material markets. NATO countries are in the same lucky position today.

But no one in the UK would have suspected that within less than a generation the proud Royal Navy would be in such a dire situation against a navy that was at that time still a minor force. But the foundations were already laid by 1889, as Germany's economy was growing rapidly (being an industrialization late-comer) especially in the steel industry sector.

By the way - did you also read about armour-quality steel shortages due to the little conflict in Iraq? The few thousand armoured cars needed for that conflict apparently stretched the U.S. armour steel production capacity to its limits.

Don't take it as written in stone that NATO nations will have superior war economies for major wars in the future.

Sven Ortmann

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