2008/06/25

Piracy

Minimal tech-pirates are annoying Western nations off the Somali coast and the media is reporting on it.

Well, the typical reflex of politicians is like "We must do something about it!" and "Let's send some combat ships to hunt the pirates!"

I remember history accounts of many counter-piracy campaigns; combat fleets alone were never a solution, although they were always involved.

Pirates are most easily defeated by raids on their coastal bases, military history leaves no doubt about this.

Western combat ships (including a German frigate) have been there for months and collected a huge amount of intelligence about smuggling and piracy activities.
The problem should be easily solved once a Western nation is willing to do so (to raid some fishing villages, destroy the boats and seize weapons).

This annoyance doesn't deserve much attention. Let's focus our attention and energy on more relevant challenges.

Sven Ortmann

2008/06/24

Requests

Maybe I missed something and you could help.

1a)
When had a Western or Southern European NATO member country a significant (Brigade or larger) deployment exercise to the new NATO Eastern frontier (especially Baltics, Poland Eastern border, Romania Northern border)? Was there any such exercise since the last NATO enlargement 2004?

1b)
What was the largest (in terms of involved troops & vehicles outdoors) exercise or even experiment in NATO during this decade?

2)
Did any Western nation announce or even execute a plan to harden nuclear powerplants beyond pre-9/11 levels? A heavy freight plane with a compact, solid construction part (like a big electricity generator) and lots of fuel onboards should punch through the the old reinforced concrete shells of nuclear powerplants.
Was any government serious enough about protection against terrorism to actually prioritize protection over the interests of mediocre lobby like the electricity companies (hardening would create a public awareness that nuclear powerplants are probably a safety hazard)?

These were honest and serious questions, as I have the feeling that I must have missed something.
But there's a hidden critique as well, of course.

Sven Ortmann

2008/06/22

Eurosatory 2008

I'm back from the Eurosatory 2008 exhibition in Paris.
I arrived by Thalys train (supposed to be fast, but the average speed is a poor joke), somehow managed to find my way through the terrible public transport system, passed the peace demonstrators (not many) and finally realized how large the Parc d'Exposition Villepinte really is. The Eurosatory only occupied a small part, but it took me two days to see everything.

Almost everything related to ground forces was shown (95% final products, very few components).

I was deeply impressed by some sensor technology (scary stuff, especially the radars).

Mortar technology was almost absent. Most displayed vehicles were protected ones (very few MBTs).

I saw few novelties from the ammunition department. Killer drones are called "loitering munitions" today, but were rather rare as well.

The small arms novelties excited some people, but I didn't see any real advances. FNH is calling its P90 a submachine gun now, not PDW. Several FNH weapons had no comfortable resting position for the index finger on the trigger guard - poor ergonomics in my opinion.

Some small arms had terrible safety positioning. I wonder how soldiers shall use the safety in winter.

It was funny to experience how a sales representative excused a malfunction of his equipment (a switch was stuck) with "intense use" during five days in an exhibition in a warm, dry, friendly booth with a carpet.

Many anti-tank weapons (especially the unguided ones) were on display. Electronic aiming aids were proudly presented in several booths.
Ten years ago I assumed that fuel-air explosives / thermobaric weapons and flechettes would become the next target of anti-weapon activists and journalists. Well, it seems as if those rather agreed to focus on bomblets/DPICM instead (as they're finished with AP mines). That might be due to the low level of available information, few companies talk about such warheads. "Thermobaric" and "fuel-air explosives", that's "Russian", as I was told. We in the west produce "enhanced blast" warheads. Ahh...

The Metalstorm under-barrel grenade launcher doesn't look as crazy as many people believe. The cartridges were loadable in a normal way, just up to three in a row as if it was a tubular magazine. They expect to demonstrate the weapon with live firing this or next year, that will be interesting.

Milkor's famed OEG sight for 40mm grenade launchers is supposed to trick the brain somehow, but failed entirely to do so on me. I cannot aim at all with that sight.
That's not the first time that something optics-related fails to work for me, though. My brain seems to almost completely ignore my left eye even though it's as good as the right one.

Some companies promoted electronics-centric NCW concepts, one of these was Elbit. This was just another hint that the Israelis really, really took the NCW / RMA concepts seriously. Their defense industry seems to be more eager on it than the IDF itself, but there's more than just a rumour around that the 2006 Lebanon war disappointments were related to too much faith in technology.

A BAe representative confirmed one assumption that I have had and expressed since a long time.
It takes two to three minutes to turn around a M777 lightweight 155mm howitzer beyond its small traverse. This prevents a good responsiveness all-round. Assertions of airborne guys about their ability to secure an airfield for air-deployable reinforcements are not credible for this reason. The M777 is a 39 calibre barrel length gun (already out-ranged by 52 cal guns) and it needs eight guns minimum for a 360° coverage at response times of less than two minutes.
Sure, such equipment proves itself against Taleban and its users seem to like it. But did these users encounter any counter-artillery-capable opponents in the past 63 years? No.

The wealth of international defense-related publications that I saw at the exhibition came a bit as a surprise to me.
Several of those publications were of rather limited quality (mistakes, critical omissions, direct linking of articles and advertisements), though.

The exhibition was closed to the public. That had the nice effect of very few bullshit marketing messages.
Most representatives were reasonably well-informed (but some companies had their experts leave before the final day of the exhibition). Some became pretty curious due to intense questioning with background knowledge (one would assume that in an experts-only exhibition all visitors have a good background knowledge).

Btw, the French serve melted butter instead of tomato sauce to steak and frites...but the steak was great.

Sven Ortmann

2008/06/11

The German party landscape

I believe it's a good idea to tell foreigners a bit about the German party landscape, as it shaped and will continue to shape policy.

We had a 3-party system in the early decades of the BRD (FRG), and a 4-party system in the 80's due to the addition of the greens. Now we're at a 5-party system.
Smaller parties than these five are irrelevant on the federal level because no party can enter the Bundestag parliament with less than 5% of votes or at least several directly won district seats.

None of these five relevant parties is neonazi or fascist or nationalist.
The extreme right wing is scattered, with changing prominence of parties and their only relevant successes are below the federal level.

The parties are extremely important as the head of government (federal chancellor) is being elected or being replaced by the directly-elected parliament (congress).

CDU/CSU
(christ-democratic union / christ-social union), colour: black

One of the two largest parties, at this time strongest party on the federal level.
It considers itself as "Volkspartei" (people's party), and attempts to represent all Germans.
Part of the federal government together with its long-time competitor SPD.
Several chancellors (and the recent one) were of the CDU.
The CSU exists only in Bavaria and is the sister party of the CDU, which exists only outside of Bavaria. They are in practice a single party during federal elections and differ only slightly (but are always together in a government or opposition) after federal elections.
CSU is a bit more populist and right-wing than the CDU.

Positioning:
conservative, centre
A coalition with Die Linke is impossible.

SPD
(social-democratic party of Germany), colour: red

One of the two largest parties, at this time second-strongest (very much weakened recently) party on the federal level.
It considers itself as "Volkspartei" (people's party), and attempts to represent all Germans, although this is not being believed by the upper class.
Part of the federal government together with its long-time competitor CDU.
Several chancellors were SPD members.
The SPD is the oldest democratic party of Germany, it exists since the late 19th century and resisted Hitler (the conservative parties of 1933 didn't).
It turned away from a socialistic agenda (especially redistribution of wealth by redistribution of productive property) to what's being called a social-democratic agenda (redistribution of wealth by taxation and welfare) decades ago.
It moved towards the centre of the political spectrum in the 90's. This in turn caused a huge loss of members and voters recently in favour of the Die Linke.

Positioning:
Slightly left of centre, between Die Linke and CDU.
They deny any interest in joining coalitions with Die Linke, their new arch-enemy (due to fierce competition), but the confidence in this is generally low.

F.D.P.
(Free democratic party), colour: yellow

One of the old three parties, traditionally rather weak (5-10% mostly).
It considers itself s liberal party, and tends to favour the interests of the wealthier Germans. They're truly liberal in justice policy (voting against domestic spying and more empowered policy quite consistently), and secretary of justice is as well as secretary for foreign affairs a classic F.D.P. slot.
The F.D.P. had joined either CDU/CSU or SPD several time to provide additional MPs for a majority in the past, but this classic swinging enabler role was lost in the 90's as neither CDU/CSU nor SPD seem to be strong enough to create a coalition with F.D.P. only on the federal level in the future.

Positioning:
The F.D.P. isn't well-described in terms of left/right - they're liberals and could enter coalitions with all except Die Linke. The F.D.P. is actually very close to the greens, but in fierce competition and eager to look different. It's difficult to build a coalition that includes both liberals and greens.

Bündnis90/Die Grünen, short: Grüne
(alliance 90/the greens, short: greens), colour: green, of course

The green party was originally created in early 1980 and joined with the remains of the Eastern German civil rights movement in 1993.
The greens are a small party and would need at least two coalition partners.
The established parties denied that the greens would be fit for government in the 80's, but after some participation in state governments they finally joined the Schröder government (with SPD) in the late 90's.
The greens were green-liberal-progressive-pacifist early on, but lost the pacifism edge when the SPD-greens government participated in the 1999 Kosovo war with Tornado Wild Weasel planes. Their green agenda has been accepted by all other relevant parties as well, and they stayed in the Schröder government although the SPD secretary of interior Schily (SPD) had a tough law-and-order course after 9/11.

Positioning:
The greens aren't well-described in terms of left/right - green, liberal.
They are open for any coalition except with Die Linke.

Die Linke
(the left), colour: red

Socialistic party. Die Linke was recently created by joining left-wing SPD deserters and the PDS (successor of the Eastern Germany socialist SED unitary party).
Die Linke is the current outcast at the federal level and also in the Western German states.
It's in a strong current upwards as it takes away voters and members of the SPD's left wing and attracts "Protestwähler" (protest voters). These protest voters are often neither left nor right, but often voted for the extreme right wing parties as they simply wanted to express their unease with the government. That's a potential of at least 5%.

Furthermore we have currently a national discussion about a growing gap between poor and rich citizens, morale failures of prominent rich citizens, unfair employment and stagnating real income of lower and middles classes that strengthens this party.

Die Linke is comparably volatile and strong in votes as greens and liberals, but it looks as if hey might establish themselves as similarly strong like SPD, ahead of greens and liberals and still significantly weaker than CDU. They united many voters in the West since the fusion, but their strongest base is in the East.

Die Linke is a socialist party, but has no chance to become strong enough to execute classic socialist policy, even if it was in a federal coalition with SPD only.

Positioning:
Far left, but in a democratic sense.

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Possible coalitions at German federal level:

CDU/CSU + SPD
("Große Koalition" = "great coalition", the recent governing coalition. They have few common ideas left and will not form another great coalition soon)

CDU/CSU + F.D.P. + greens
("Jamaica" coalition)

SPD + F.D.P. + greens
("Ampel" = "traffic lights" coalition)

SPD + Die Linke
("Rot/Rot" = "red/red" coalition, unlikely due to their conflict and a lack of votes)

CDU/CSU + F.D.P.
(a classic of the 3- and 4-party system time, but unlikely due to lack of votes)

CDU/CSU + greens
(2nd choice after the previous version, but unlikely due to lack of votes)

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Implications for national security policy:

CDU/CSU is most likely to participate in combat missions, followed by SPD and F.D.P.
The experiences since the 90's showed that the behaviour of the parties is not predictable when multi-national (combat) missions are proposed.
The coalition type had no real significant influence on the defence budgets in the past.

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I hope this showed that German federal politics are a bit complicated, especially in comparison to politics in countries like USA and UK. No federal government is a homogeneous entity, it's always a coalition. The parties have differing stances towards security policy topics and it's even conceivable that at times non-essential multinational missions might be involved in political trade-offs.

Sven Ortmann

2008/06/05

Secrecy of telecommunications and cameras at work

Germany had two successive scandals of very large and well-known companies in the past weeks.

The first one was about a large food discounter chain that paid external detectives to spy with cameras on the own personnel at work. The minutes were apparently very accurate, including completely private matters.
the company had some other publicity problems in the past years and is said to have a poor working atmosphere anyway.

We've become accustomed to have secretaries of the interior (the recent one and the previous one, Schäuble and Schily) who want(ed) the executive to keep an uncomfortable close eye on us, but this corporate spying was kind of new.


The second scandal was one level bigger at least.
Germany privatized (partially only) the national phone infrastructure company several years ago. It's now just another multinational company and you can buy shares at the stock market (which was no good idea in the past years).
This phone company had repeated troubles with news leaks in its top ranks some years ago. The competence of the top management was apparently not good enough to fix that problem with smart measures, so they resorted to hire a detective company to analyse phone connections of the board of directors and executive board.
They didn't spy on lowly collectors - the top management apparently spied on itself!

This came on top of a series of scandals involving well-known board of directors and executive board members in other companies (like one who evaded taxes).
Now we've got a quite ruined trust in the 'elites' of our economic system just at the time of a discussion about whether rich and poor diverge or not (nobody seems to think that they might converge). This helps the left wing (socialist) party "Die Linke" which takes away voters from the traditional left wing (social democrats) party "SPD". The effect is that future coalitions will become even more complicated and probably include three parties as a rule because only one combination of two parties could have a majority (that's the present coalition, and it seems to have stopped work).

Let's go back to the 'freedom' aspect in this; corporates spying on citizens.

It turns out that the present legal situation is much better suited to provide protecting rights to citizens against the state than against corporations.
Corporations won't start a dictatorship, but we deserve protection against such unwarranted spying nevertheless, and it looks as if this requires some changes in our laws.

Did I mention that our government seems to have stopped work? They aren't united on much any more, and our (irony!!!) responsible secretary of the interior seems to be content with a telling-off. That's in part because the telecom company in question is still partially owned by the state directly and indirectly about 31%) and because the supposedly responsible managers have already left the company.

Sven Ortmann