2009/12/31

GIZMODO: The True Odds of Airborne Terror Chart

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hat tip: http://gizmodo.com/5435954/the-true-odds-of-airborne-terror-chart

(I didn't fact-check the figures, but it looks about right. It's similar to rational risk assessments I've seen before.)

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2009/12/30

Forged documents...

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POLITICS: U.S. Intelligence Found Iran Nuke Document Was Forged
By Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (IPS) - U.S. intelligence has concluded that the document published recently by the Times of London, which purportedly describes an Iranian plan to do experiments on what the newspaper described as a "neutron initiator" for an atomic weapon, is a fabrication, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency official.

Philip Giraldi, who was a CIA counterterrorism official from 1976 to 1992, told IPS that intelligence sources say that the United States had nothing to do with forging the document, and that Israel is the primary suspect. The sources do not rule out a British role in the fabrication, however.

The Times of London story published Dec. 14 did not identify the source of the document. But it quoted "an Asian intelligence source" - a term some news media have used for Israeli intelligence officials - as confirming that his government believes Iran was working on a neutron initiator as recently as 2007.

The story of the purported Iranian document prompted a new round of expressions of U.S. and European support for tougher sanctions against Iran and reminders of Israel's threats to attack Iranian nuclear programme targets if diplomacy fails.
(...)

Stories like this remind me of many, many problems of modern policy and politics.

* Uncertainty. Even governments need to distrust sources, for disinformation is common.

* Tails wag the dog with information campaigns.

* It's often a good idea to ignore breaking stories and wait for weeks or months with the formation of an own opinion.

* Some parties are waging camapigns, using a salami slice tactic to erode opposition to their intent. Only interested parties with firm character and independent intent can provide a suitable counterforce.

* To be befriended with a power does not mean that it won't mislead you.

* Not all bad stories about the usual suspects are true.

* Don't trust papers, photos or videos. Everything that can be produced can be forged. You really need trustworthy agents to vet info - and I don't mean only intelligence officers. It's great intelligence collection to send personnel for international observer teams. Information and opinion multipliers (politicians, officials, journalists) need to build a reputation. The prospect of losing this reputation would need to be a personal loss of unacceptable proportions to them.

* Never ever even try to justify a war with "intelligence" reports, documents, photos or videos. The possibility of being fooled into mass killing is unacceptable.

* Forgeries need to be sanctioned. An attempt to fool another power into a war should be punished no less than an actual war of aggression. It should be a war crime and powers found guilty should be sanctioned harshly till the responsible individuals were adequately punished. That would be an ethical standard, of course. You would most often be unable to trust evidence about their guilt, after all.


The prevention of war is a honourable and important task of the national security agencies of states. This goes well beyond deterrence; it's also about suppressing warmongering as much as is legal in a free society.
Regrettably, many (most) people in national security-related jobs tend to have a political bias that makes it rather difficult to get involved in the political vicinity of usually leftist peace activists.

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2009/12/29

Great power games

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Something has changed in great power gaming rules.

I used to look like soccer with great powers kicking small power balls again and again until one great power had scored decisively or the game had ended.

Well, that somehow stopped to be true - we seemed to have a kind of rule change, and this seemed to have coincided with the writing of the United Nations Charter (albeit I see no direct link).

Today it's more like small powers kicking great power balls. And I don't mean insurgents kicking conventional militaries, I really mean small powers.


Some examples:

Cuba played and plays as if it was a great power in Latin America and Southern Africa.

Egypt played the U.S. and USSR to get the highest bidder for support.

Kosovo's UCK fooled NATO into waging its war against Yugoslavia

Afghanistan's government - supposed to be a Western puppet - plays Western powers to fight its war indefinitely.

- - - - -

On the other hand, the success ratio for the great power's games has been astonishingly poor since WW2. It's even poor if we ignore the many disastrous decolonialization wars.

France was able to exercise some influence and stabilize friendly governments of some former French colonies, and it did so with relatively little effort (no major war). That's probably the biggest success story.

The USSR and U.S. competed for influence in the Third World (especially in the context of decolonialization), but this influence was very often limited to symbolic gestures. Regimes pledges allegiance to capitalism or socialism, but the actual benefits for the great powers were usually marginal. Many such allies of the West were simply dictatorships that merely had to declare to be anti-socialist to get away with almost everything, including weak forms of fascism.
The only "benefit" in these games was the denial of access influence to the rival. The Eastern Bloc had no great raw material shortage (mostly coffee and other non-industrial commodities), so it couldn't have absorbed the raw material exports of the Third World even if it had been 100% "socialist". The West would likely have been able to import enough from slightly socialist Third World countries (as it indeed did) even without any competition for influence efforts of his own.



The UK's great power games were little more than keeping close relations with former colonies, shadowing the U.S. and recapturing a group of island that a small power had dared to grab in expectation of no reaction. Oh, and of course there was also the political disaster of the Suez crisis.
It's not exactly obvious what kind of real benefits Britain gained by its great power status post-WW2.

The PR China has had a great power status for a while - and achieved little more than protection of its supposedly communist regime against a counter-revolution.


Luxembourg and Singapore are tiny, yet rich states. What is it exactly that creates the drive for being a great power and playing great power games? Are politicians and journalists bored?

Maybe the great powers should learn to anticipate their action's effects by reading the new rule book?



edit:
A few hours later the Sic Semper Tyrrannis blog published a text on Yemen, including this very fitting quote:

The Yemenis are crafty folk. In the Cold War they were adept at getting free money and weapons from the USSR, USA, Saudi Arabia, and East Germany. They hired the French, Taiwanese and Italians to do odd jobs for them using other peoples' money.

Salih is particularly good at that. He delights in "screwing" the big guys by playing on their fears.

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2009/12/28

Kunduz affair, RumINT and the leaked report

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The Financial Times Deutschland has published a good article about the dysfunctional inner workings of the BMVg (German ministry of defence) in the past four years. The FTD doesn't deserve much praise for it; they should ask themselves "WHY DIDN'T THEY INFORM THE PUBLIC PROPERLY AS LONG AS Mr. JUNG WAS IN OFFICE??".

About 100,000 Germans - officers, journalists, lobbyists, officials and others with interest in military affairs - knew about the irresponsible situation in the BMVg. The general public wasn't informed in time. There's a similar lack of press aggressiveness hurting our nation in regard to our federal economic policy. Merkel gets away with having several extremely lousy and at best worthless ministers.

Anyway; I'd like to point out one especially worrying detail that fits well to FTD's story:

RumINT says that the OEF/ISAF leadership in AFG (McChrystal) pays much attention to a quite questionable tool of damage control in regard to civilian/non-combattant/illegal target casualties: They mobilize local/regional Afghan puppet officials who quickly deny such casualties or declare them to have been Taliban fighters.
RumINT further tells that this approach was given as advice to the Germans and that this tactic was employed in regard to the Kunduz bombing affair.


A certain German MilBlog with hawkish tendencies has been repeating the claim that the Afghans around Kunduz were happy about the air attack and that Afghan officials had declared all casualties to be guilty of being TB or supporting them.

Well, the leaked Kunduz air attack report (if it's the real one) seems to confirm this assertion. There's still a very uneasy feeling, though.

The Afghan national authorities in the Kunduz area are all dominated by the local majority (non-Pashtuns) and said majority is quite at odds with the Pashtuns (which seem to conspire with the TB). It's obvious that the regional authorities - and likewise the police, army and many civilians who appeared to celebrate the attack - do not represent all 'Afghans' of the area.

The worries about popular reactions to the attack centre on the idea that the casualties might motivate additional 'accidental guerrillas'. Well, there's nothing less meaningful in regard to this worry than the opinion of said authorities, army soldiers, policemen and non-Pashtun civilians.

The reaction of the Pashtun populace is of interest - and neither said hawkish blog nor the leaked report give any meaningful info about it.

Let's jump back to the rumoured McChrystal PR tactic; it's meant to disinform and to cover up (IF RumINT is right).

The leaked report - which was not meant for the public - looks as if it got a full treatment with said alleged McChrystal PR tactic. There are statements by officials on several pages (even conflicting ones for completeness' sake), but there's no real indication of negative reactions.

That fits very well to the poor BMVg culture of the last years - and is a damning omen for the future. Let's hope that the new German SecDef reverses the corrupted system and enables the officer corps to turn back to a much more honest, effective mode of operation.

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2009/12/22

Opportunities

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Much has been written about manoeuvre and attrition tactics. The emphasis of military theory usually seemed to be on firepower and movement in regard to this topic. I'd like to present one specific perspective; a look at "opportunities".

- - - - -

The manoeuverist tactician seeks to dislocate an enemy strength before he engages the enemy in final close combat. A classic example is a flank attack or even encirclement in which at least a strong frontal disposition of the enemy is being de-valued.

The attritionist tactician seeks to first weaken the enemy (preferably by stand-off fires) before he engages in final combat. A classic example were the preparation bombardments of enemy defences in WW2 and during the 1991 Gulf War.

Both seek an unfair advantage. The Manoeuverist invests in movement, the Attritionist invests in ammunition. Both styles can be mixed and both styles have their utility - the discussion that rages since at the latest the early 80's (rather 40's) was merely about the proper mix of both.

A different perspective tells much more, though.
The Manoeuverist seeks to exploit opportunities while the Attritionist creates opportunities.

This shows clearly why the attritionist method is the more expensive approach and at the same time much less demanding in regard to command quality.

Those who seek to exploit opportunities as they arise succeeds the most against less competent, slower enemies and he needs to put a premium on rapid understanding and exploitation of the situation. He cannot plan days ahead - opportunities are fleeting and only the quick leaders (with quick units) can exploit them in time.

The attritionist method does not place such a premium on command quality and quick forces; it's focused on firepower and logistics (to feed the firing units) instead. That works fine if you've got the material strength, a vulnerable opponent and most important: An opponent who doesn't exploit weak spots of the attritionist before the firepower has taken too much toll.


I wrote it before; it's all about the right mix. This right mix is even more difficult to achieve than mastery in either extreme, though. You need both the Attritionist's strengths (firepower, logistics) AND the Manoeuverist's strength (quickness) to master the 'golden' middle road.

- - - - -


That's of course a huge challenge. It's very difficult to train for excellence in both approaches and to unite both mind sets and keep them in the right balance (timing!).

Modern army training involves neither much firing nor much manoeuvering in comparison to wartime efforts. There's not enough effort being invested into maximising quickness, for example.
A warship's crew has several drills per day to minimise their reaction times in regard to certain hazards or even mere alarms. How often do brigades and battalions train to break contact rapidly, to relocate and execute a hasty attack (seriously 'hasty', as in less than an hour!!)? Some training is done, yet not till the achievement of real minimum lags.

Recent reports from Afghanistan tell about opportunities for defeating enemies being missed because about a dozen permissions were necessary and not all were available in time. That's attritionist bureaucracy at work.

Long story short: Western armies are powerful, but there's nevertheless a huge potential for improvements of their tactical and operational competence.

That's - admittedly - a trivial remark. We' haven't been in a major modern war for decades, after all. How could we be fit for one? That combination is pretty much impossible.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/20

Goodbye Michael Forster, Goodbye Geopowers

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Michael Forster, the author of the most successful German MilBlog geopowers, has died today.

I loved our discussions. He will be badly missed by many people.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/19

The oil well affair

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I encounter many sources the same news; some Iranian combatants have allegedly seized an oil well in Iraqi territory.

That's interesting news; most news sources who report that accepted the Iraqi version of the story by 100%, about 95% didn't even mention an Iranian side of the story. That's quite a slant, considering how difficult it is to really *know* about who's right and if any side is *right* at all.


The anti-Iran bias isn't the most interesting part, of course.

First two historical examples:

(1) Remember the March 2008 Basra operation where the Iraqi security force took control of the city? That was a signal event; it turned the Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki into a strong politician and signaled that the government was about to assume control of the country.
The previous loss of power in the city by British and Iraqi government forces turned out to be more of an opportunity than a problem.

(2) Remember the Checkpoint Charlie face-off between U.S. and Soviet tanks in October '61 (or a history book text about it)? That face-off served demonstrated who was at power in Berlin; the occupying powers, not the German governments (especially not the Eastern German one).

Jump back to today, a stupid oil well somewhere in the Middle East:

The affair is a great opportunity for the Iraqi state to demonstrate sovereignty by addressing it on its own (and a great chance for the U.S. to finalize the nation re-building by staying invisible and mute on the issue!). Photos of how an Iraqi battalion f(of unidentified ethnicity) faces the Iranians with no foreign troops in sight would be a huge boost for Iraq's sovereignty.

The affair might also serve as a unifying moment - an external threat is always great to rally your people behind the government. It's of course questionable to what extent that works in the deeply divided Iraqi society. Maybe it helps at least to reduce the tensions between Arabs and Kurds a bit.

The whole affair is a huge opportunity for Iraq's government.
Now let's hope that the Western powers involved in the region don't do anything stupid.

Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/18

Field fortifications: Angle bastion, Parfox and the MG4(2)

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The German infantry squad of the 30's and WW2 was built around a multi-role machine gun (medium machine gun, MMG); the MG34 or MG42 or another machine gun if the unit was poorly equipped with an old or captured machine gun. The other guns were mostly bolt action rifles, K98 - with a practical rate of fire of about 15 rpm under training conditions. Submachine guns were quite rare until mid-war and didn't influence the infantry doctrine very much. The result was that the machine gun made up about 80% of the squad's firepower. Squad fire tactics had to ensure a maximum exploitation of its potential.

Now think of the combination one 80% firepower weapon plus almost a dozen 2% firepower weapons. It was obviously necessary to site the machine gun for the best possible field of fire to avoid fatal quasi-dead angles.

This consequence of a specific squad TO&E defined infantry tactics, especially tactics in regard to field fortifications. It became imperative that the machine gun had a great angle of fire. A restricted field of fire (like only 90%) was only tolerable in the context of a platoon position, not in the context of a lone squad position.

The introduction of the G3 battle rifle (7.62x51mm, 20 cartridges magazine, about 30 rpm practical rate of fire with single shots) didn't change the German practice very much because the MG3 (a modified MG42) was still the centerpiece of the squad. Many of the Wehrmacht's quite proven infantry tactics were re-introduced during the late 50's.

The Bundeswehr adopted the maxim "Wirkung vor Deckung!" (effect over cover; effect of fires is supposed to be more important than cover) and placed a strong emphasis on a great field of view and fire. That was in regard to the infantry - again in part a consequence of having only one machine gun in the squad (despite its reduced share of the squad's firepower).

- - - - -

The U.S.Army developed the parapet fire position for infantry during the Vietnam War and had pretty much proved its potential superiority in 70's experiments (summary here).


A frontal parapet provided frontal cover, reduced the suppressive fire effect on the defender and in net effect reduced defender casualties greatly ("Parfox" position). The effect was further increased as thermal sights became common main battle tank equipment during the 1980's and all-round defensive positions were easily identifiable due to their lack of cover and concealment against frontal observation. The parapet/flanking fire design also turned around the theory behind ambush reaction drills, but that's another story.

This parapet defence uses a centuries-old principle that was especially visible in the late 15th century Italian invention of the angle bastion (Renaissance age).


This fortress design protected the defensive guns from direct fire by setting them up for flanking fire only. One tower's (or bastion's) guns were defending the neighbouring tower/bastion with flank fire. The guns were meanwhile protected against frontal fire by strong walls.

The disadvantage of such a (pure) parapet defence is that positions depend on each other. That's obviously a very risky affair if you've got only one machine gun. The Americans introduced the M249 SAW light machine gun and were able to field two per squad - a necessity for the effective use of parapet defences on the squad level.

The German army (Heer) doesn't place nearly as much emphasis on flanking fires with frontal parapet (although both elements are in some use) because it sticked in theory to "Wirkung vor Deckung!".

It has finally and belatedly moved from a single MG3 per squad to the 80's concept of two 5.56mm MG4s per squad.
The development of a 7.62mm MG4 version and recent small own and allied wars experiences may change that again, though.


Variations of the Parfox position are often preferable and this is one of many reasons why the Bundeswehr's maxim "Wirkung vor Deckung" needs to be ditched in favour of a less simplistic understanding of infantry survivability, suppression and firepower.

It's probably even too late for a simple update with Parfox - we have likely missed an entire generation of field fortification tactics and are likely in serious need for a large step ahead in order to compensate for the increased performance of sensors and accuracy of support fires, but that's a blog post for another day*.

Sven Ortmann

*: I broke the field fortifications stuff into manageable pieces because there's really too much to write about for a single post.
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2009/12/16

How to get killed in combat against competent enemies

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These two videos contain short episodes of German ISAF soldiers in firefights in Northern Afghanistan. I don't want to especially single out individuals or the Bundeswehr, but I'll use these videos to illustrate a point:

This is how you get killed in combat against competent enemies. The Taliban are NOT competent enemies. They're the bottom-of-the-barrel enemies; capable only of the most simple forms of combat with low performance. The talk about increased competence and "adaptive" TB is a joke in comparison to modern warfare of the European or East Asian league.

A competent enemy would have killed several of these soldiers with aimed fire because they exposed themselves in a small arms fire fight for several seconds at a predictable place. That's survivable in face of enemy scoped rifle riflemen (almost) only if the latter are not interested in killing. Body armour and medics didn't change that.
Let's not even mention what a competent enemy mortar team with European 1930's training and equipment could 'achieve' if it joined the TB!

- - - - -

There's of course the "benefit of the doubt" faction that insists that such short video clips don't show anything. Well, the short clips are terrible enough. A 5.56mm AR with 3.5x scope and a bipod 7.62mm iron sights machine gun were firing. That was either stupid or the enemy was assumed to be in their effective range. That in turn means that these soldiers' exposure time was enough to allow for an aimed 80-95% probability of kill shot at their heads by a WW2 quality sniper or a trained man with a cheap hunting rifle. They were lucky that the TB are fifth class shots.

There's a reason why the wars between modern armies yielded six to eight digit KIA figures instead of mere three or four digit KIA figures.

- - - - -

How to do it better:

(1) Don't get into such a situation: A wall needs firing slits and observation (peri)scopes. You don't shoot over a wall like that - that's Russian Roulette.

(2) Don't get into such a situation, again: Infantry does neither fight nor secure on open terrain. That's AFV terrain.

(3) Do not use a firing position repeatedly. A patient marksman would wait for you to pop up again and kill you.

(4) Don't use a position that exposes your silhouette in front of a very different background. Seriously, that's ZDV 3/11 basics.

(5) Prefer a firing position behind a net. Yes, it's even possible to erect one as temporary concealment in a ten-minute firefight. Think of an umbrella - such tools have been used successfully in past wars!

(6) Stay behind cover if you don't intend to shoot immediately. That's the same as with the firearm safety.

(7) Use a periscope to observe from behind cover.

(8) Expose yourself only for a very short period (~3 sec).

(9) Don't stick to a known position for long. Support fires can kill you. OK, TB mortar teams are obviously not competent enough, but you don't want to be the first to know about their first competent team.

(10) Move only with concealment or cover if in a firefight. Use smoke. Suppressive fires are unreliable.

(11) Assume an enemy sniper to be in range if nearby comrades are firing.

(12) Keep in mind that a firing position close to a solid object (as a stone wall, paved road or metal) may be hit by ricochets in addition to direct hits.

In other words; be invisible almost all the time! Visible = target = offering your life at a bargain price to the enemy.

Finally, there should never be a lone platoon or squad; tactical movements should always happen in pairs or trios. That provides the option of an effective counter-attack if one part is being pinned down. It does also make the situation much more difficult and risky for the enemy. Your leaders should be competent enough to enable such a dispersed movement.

- - - - -

Seconds. The videos showed seconds only and I felt compelled to mention a dozen points! Other nationalities' ISAF/OEF videos aren't much better either.

- - - - -

I hope that we don't learn completely wrong lessons from these "small wars". There was no such incompetent and forgiving enemy as the Taliban in European military history 1914-2009.
There's no reason why our soldiers could ever expect such an incompetent enemy in the core constitutional mission of the Bundeswehr; national and alliance defence.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/14

Thanks to Wikileaks for the Kunduz air strike report

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Wikileaks proves its worth again and published an incomplete version of the investigative committee report on the Kunduz air strike affair plus additional material yesterday (100% German):




I didn't read it yet, it's really fresh news.

Maybe we'll get more informed news about the affair in the next weeks.
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2009/12/13

(Extended) Protectivism

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I read recently a '85 book of Richard E. Simpkin in which he (among many other mil topics) coined continental Europe's then-new stance as "protectivist".

He defined protectivism as
a policy in which resort to armed force is rejected as an active instrument of policy but accepted as a means of protecting a country's existing territory and territorial waters against armed force.

He made it quite clear that he considered this as an advance of civilization and I agree with him (mostly).

Protectivism is an interesting attitude (non-threatening, but ready to defend), but his definition lacks the elements of breaking a naval blockade and collective (alliance) defence. Such an extended protectivism fits perfectly to the 40's Charter of the United Nations.

It's regrettable that many European governments were seduced to use their military power for more purposes than the mentioned ones. It involved us into other nation's businesses and problems without noticeable long-term benefits.

Continental Europe did a step back on the civilisation ladder.

- - - - -

The two probably most serious modern examples for a critique of the (extended) protectivism might be the Kosovo War and the 1991 Gulf War ("Desert Storm").

Let me describe my position by a discussion of these examples:

(1) Kosovo Air War

I was actually pro-war at that time, a stance which I gave up after the sheer incompetence of NATO Air War Strategy at that time became obvious.

The horror stories about Serb behaviour in Kosovo were in great part propaganda, often misleading or outright lies. The principal Albanian guerrilla force, UCK, was already recognized as a terrorist organization in Germany at that time.
There was a war going on, and this guerrilla war was probably going on because the Albanians knew that there was a threshold for NATO intervention that they needed to achieve in order to "win". They basically provoked atrocities in order to gain decisive NATO support. The prospect of intervention actually increased the probability of atrocities.
The UN had not legalised an attack on Yugoslavia, and the West had its troubles to bridge its hypocrisy (the German constitutional court bended the law in my opinion when it denied that the Kosovo Air War was a war of aggression).

What would have been different without the air war, with a strict (extended) protectivist policy?

Yugoslavia would likely have experienced a protracted guerrilla and terror war in Kosovo. That might have become normal messy or extra messy, we don't know. Kosovo would still be part of Yugoslavia, we wouldn't have been stuck with thousands of troops in there for a decade and we would have had one example of strategic/operational air war incompetence, airborne sensor unreliability and battle damage assessment problems less.

(2) Desert Storm

Saddam Hussein didn't want to invade Saudi-Arabia, his troops didn't kill Kuwaiti babies and many other horror stores were mere propaganda lies as well.
His invasion of Kuwait a.k.a. alleged "19th province of Iraq" was a simple grab for Kuwaiti oil.
This means that the world was able to ruin his entire plan with a 100% oil embargo till he showed readiness to withdraw (less maybe one of two disputed islands). A ten year arms embargo would have turned his military into a huge museum of obsolete and ill-maintained hardware.


An alliance between Arab nations (most notably Egypt) in combination with the threat of Turkey and Iran in his back would have sufficed to keep him away from Saudi oil fields (by force or by deterrence) even if there was no Saudi-U.S. alliance (which would allow even a protectivist policy to defend Saudi-Arabia). The Iraqi army didn't exactly excel in desert and mobile warfare anyway.

We would have suffered from an oil price spike in the early 1990's instead of in the mid 00's. We might have our crude oil addiction under control by now.

The strengthened ties among Arabs would certainly have irritated Israel and thus its lobby, though.

- - - - -

These two scenarios were mere scenarios, of course. No-one knows what exactly would have happened. This lack of knowledge is neither to the advantage of the hawkish position nor to the advantage of the dovish position.


I for one are quite confident that a protectivist policy suffices for national security. I'm equally confident that it would have kept us out of many messes (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo) and ridiculous missions for show (OEF-HOA, UNIFIL) we've stumbled into with more aggressive policies.

The problem of genocides and other intolerable offenses remains. Genocides as in Biafra and Rwanda should probably constitute an exception to the rule of protectivism. The primary problem with this exception is that it's prone to be mis-used as in the Kosovo example. There's no substitute for a thorough observation of our governments, thorough fact-checking and persistent forceful demands for actual (not just imagined) evidence.

The scrutiny of a criminal legal action should be applied to all supposed "evidence". We shall never again misunderstand PowerPoint presentations, the word of our leaders, slowed-down videotapes or videotapes and aerial photography that are in dire need of context & verification for real evidence.


In short: We should have learned to not be fooled again by warmongering officials and we should have learned that going to war is very messy and a promising idea almost only for (collective) self-defence.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: Before someone offers the "Pacifism would not have stopped Hitler" line of argumentation: Don't blame a principle that wasn't applied for actual poor foreign policy. Extended protectivism could have stopped Hitler cold in 1938 by a simple French-British-Czechoslovak alliance.
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2009/12/12

The Greek fiscal "troubles" and Military

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The Greek State has an annual budget deficit of about 10% GDP (12.7% last year).

That's an astonishing figure and in clear violation of Maastricht Treaty rules (max. 3%). Rating agencies already reduced the creditworthiness of Greece from A- to BBB+. This leads automatically to higher interest rates in the future and thus an even worse fiscal situation.


Such a dire fiscal situation can only be overcome with a budget crunch or a state bankruptcy (which means that the budget would need to be balanced afterwards because they would get no fresh credit; which in turn requires a smaller budget crunch as well).

Military spending is a prime target for treasurers in need of cost cutting potential. That's especially true if the nation is part of the most powerful alliance ever, doesn't border on significant non-allied nations and has an above-average military budget level.

Greece's military spending is about 3 % GDP, about twice as much as necessary in comparison with allies. That's already less than the 2005 figure of 4.3%. I expect a military budget crunch down to about 1.5-2% GDP till 2015.

- - - - -

This makes me think that it's a good idea to have a look at the Greek military and what's about to go away.

Lower military budgets usually mean first and foremost cuts to ongoing procurement programs, less money for training and less or no pay increases. That would lower the overall level of modernity, readiness and morale.

They might drop their slightly obsolete warship HS Olympias, but that's not going to save much money as it's already laid up. ;)


Seriously; the Greek military will likely shrink a lot. Obsolete air and naval power elements will likely appear, and more modern elements have a slim chance of modernisation.

Their 53 F-4 Phantom II will most certainly disappear, some Elli class FFG will likely go away, some gunboats/corvettes are old enough to go away as well and the FREMM frigate procurement is highly questionable.

The inventory of Mirage 2000 and F-16C/D will most likely see rather few annual flying hours. Maybe the Greek do it the smart way and combine few annual flying hours per aircraft with enough (165-240) annual flying hours per pilot. That would keep the quantity of aircraft in inventory stable, but effectively shrink the air force. One or several squadrons of the Tactical Air Force Command could disappear.

The Greek Army has a surprising size if one looks at its formations (brigades, divisions) only. There's certainly much potential for deflation. A peace-time strength of about 100,000 personnel reveals that most of these units are necessarily small in peacetime; cadre formation to be filled during mobilisation.

The army might slim down, but a slow pace of modernisation, low training budgets and abstinence from political adventures like ISAF (no Greek troops as of today) may be the greatest limitations to their army in the next years.

- - - - -

What would this mean to NATO?
In my opinion it would mean almost nothing to NATO.

NATO doesn't need more Greek military power than Greece can afford, in fact it would be a good move to ask Greece to slim down its military in order to keep a healthy base for future needs instead of an underfunded, inflated body of low utility.

Their large and relatively expensive military is a leftover from their territorial conflicts with Turkey (Aegean islands, Cyprus). Greece was always militarily inferior to Turkey, though - the unaffordable military expenditures did not change this and became dysfunctional after the Cold War. The political conflict with Turkey has cooled down since the late 80's anyway.

Nobody asked me or will ask me about this, but my opinion is that the Greeks should drop to 1.5% GDP as budget and build a well-trained and well-equipped force with that budget.
They should build an overqualified force that's ready for quick growth (similar to the late 20's Reichswehr) with enough modern equipment to develop and maintain high-end skills.

Add to this a strong interest in experiments to bridge the experience gap between past and future conventional warfare.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: I assumed rational political behaviour. Most Greeks have a rather low opinion of their politicians (obviously for good reasons). Future Greek governments could do about anything, no matter rational or not.
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Small blog face-lift

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I face-lifted the old blog posts (grouped style, removal of several typos, addition of labels).

The labels are visible on the left.

* Military Hardware (86)
* Military Theory (70)
* Army (69)
* Other (54)
* Military History (45)
* Military Procurement (37)
* Military Technology (37)
* Air Force (34)
* Foreign Policy (34)
* War and Peace (34)
* Military and Economy (29)
* Navy (28)
* Regions (28)
* Civil Liberties (27)
* German Politics (24)
* Bundeswehr (23)
* Afghanistan War (22)
* NATO (22)
* Blog (12)
* Fun (11)
* Personnel (11)
* Grand Strategy (7)
* Iraq War (5)
* Logistics (4)
* South Ossetia War (4)

The "Military Theory" and "War and Peace" labels tend to lead to my favourite blog texts.

Well, feel free to explore the 'old' blog posts. Most of them were not written for a recent event. In fact, most of them could be 'new' blog posts as well.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/11

Globalisation and military history lessons learned

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The basic problems (and the basic advantages) of globalisation are widely known; more countries industrialise, compete with lower wages with established companies in industrialised countries and certain industries pretty much move from rich to newly rich countries.
The old Caucasian-Japanese oligopoly on wealth and the exploitation of most of this planet's natural resources is eroding.

That's in principle a good thing; wealth for everyone is a really old dream and this is obviously a part of the path to wealth for everyone. The problem is that the basis for the wealth of established rich countries is being eroded, and these countries need to find new sources for their wealth at a quite fast pace.
This pace needs to be that fast because every knowledge advance is short-lived nowadays. The newly industrialising countries build their economies on the basis of good education (and health) systems. This enables them to catch up with state-of-the-art in a few years and even to overtake in some areas of expertise.

Japan (late 19th century), Korea (late 20th) and the recoveries of Germany, Italy and Japan after WW2 show how quickly such a rise from poor to rich can happen with a good educational base; two generations for a newcomer and one generation for a comeback.


Several efforts can help industrialised countries to keep their absolute and even relative wealth:

(1) Containment: Slow down the transfer of technology and reduce the sale of investment goods.

(2) Provoke greater inefficiencies in newcomers (occupy their nation's potential with prestige projects, civil war or arms races).

(3) "more R&D"; invest yourself enough in R&D to stay ahead

(The list is longer, but these are in my opinion major strategies.)

The third effort is the conventional wisdom answer to the problem, but it's got its flaws (we wouldn't be bothered by globalisation if it wasn't flawed):
It's very difficult to stay ahead for a long time, as that's quite the same as a win series. You have bad luck sometimes, and you can't avoid that. The other problem is that it's a strategy with limited potential.

The maximum* useful R&D spending increase would be achieved at

+ additional pioneer advantages
- additional pioneer disadvantages
- additional R&D costs
= 0

"pioneer advantages"; this is related to a term from the economic innovation theory and means basically the oligopoly advantages of the technologically advanced few in this case.

"pioneer disadvantages"; well, not every innovation is only a blessing. Much goes wrong if you push hard for innovation!

There are diminishing returns of R&D investments (you don't multiply the outcome as much as you multiply your input). Pushing hard for additional technological advance means to reach beyond the low-hanging fruits. You put more effort into it and get less for it. The relation of advantages to disadvantages and obvious costs becomes worse.
At some point you reach the aforementioned equation; and further pressing for technological progress would only hurt you beyond that state. That's quite related to the famous (and equally misunderstood) Laffer curve, by the way.

You may have noticed that I treat R&D costs as a disadvantage. The mass media sounds differently if globalisation and research are being discussed; they equate more research with "better". Well, they simply assume that we didn't reach the equation yet. Their (probably correct) assumption is that the equation is none, that the calculation still leads to a positive value result.

R&D costs are nevertheless costs, and their use as synonym for their output does not change that costs are disadvantageous and you can have too many costs. A nation can invest too much in R&D!

I think the point is clear by now; the "more R&D" strategy has a limited potential - and it will likely yield only unsatisfactory results the more nations have become industrialised and attempt to lead the race by spending heavily on R&D.

- - - - -

Why did I write this in a "Defence and Freedom" blog?

I did so because the similarities to the military technology and art of war "races" are quite striking. The major strategies for preserving extraordinary national wealth in face of the globalisation are equivalents to strategies that were used for centuries (and especially in the 20th) in the military sector. The military sector may actually have lessons learned that may benefit the nation's grand strategy re: globalisation.


This is an extra example for the great value of military (history) research. The wealth of our nation(s) could depend on insights that were accumulated for war & peace.

War, the mother of all things: It's probably having an unexpected comeback - at least in the field of national strategy.


Oh, and let's not forget that strategy (1) and especially (2) are rather "not really nice" strategies that could lead to militarily relevant events!

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: This is just a quick look, far from complete. Nothing is truly complete if it's about globalisation, after all.

*: This omits the competition for resources with other promising effort. The real maximum useful R&D spending depends on the efficiency of the alternative efforts as well (and be lower). There are many more complicating factors to take into account that would exceed the format of a mere blog post!
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2009/12/10

Secrecy

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Secrecy is known to impair even intended communication. It slows down desired processes and increases the costs of classified development programs, for example.

An extreme example was the super-secret anti-tank rifle of the Polish Army in 1939. It was stored in containers, unknown even to battalion commanders and completely unknown to their intended users till months before the war. As a result, there was no good doctrine for their employment in place.


The rifle itself was technically interesting and impressive, but it was also ineffective when eventually the German Army attacked in autumn 1939 with a tank force that was still highly vulnerable to anti-tank rifles (few tanks had at least their frontal armour plating strong enough to resist those AP bullets).


Classification of information is almost futile in face of professional, well-funded spies. There was almost a consensus during the Cold War that the Russians had the blueprints of new Western weapon systems and aircraft by about the time of their introduction into service.

That lead even to the cancellation or avoidance of certain R&D efforts in cases of technology that was at least as useful to the Warsaw Pact as to us.


The idea that secrets have a kind of half-life time measured in hours (tactical secrets in combat) to a few years (blueprints) is a rather disillusioning one to many people. The obvious follow-on question to such a disillusionment is to ask why we don't declassify rather early in order to better avoid the disadvantages of secrecy.

That leads to the different treatment of field manuals in NATO; the British are quite strict (all field manuals classified, even the British Army Review is classified) and the Germans are quite secretive as well (all field manuals classified) while the U.S. Army on the other hand declassified hundreds of field manuals. Their FM 3-24 about COIN was declassified from the beginning, which fostered intense military and political debate on COIN with international experts.

The actual enemies were after all likely able to learn faster about such doctrines (and especially about how much the doctrine is really being followed) by experience than they could by translating and reading.

It's regrettable that Germany still lacks a Freedom of Information Act and a corresponding attitude towards information. A bit more information would probably help to kick start a competent debate on security policy issues and Bundeswehr reform in our mass media.
That's on the other hand probably why it doesn't happen. The last SecDef (Jung) barely informed the parliamentary committee, after all.

- - - - -

That alone wouldn't suffice for a full blog post over here, so let's go on with the creative, theoretical part:

Let's first make some assumption;
(1) The average duration till a breach of secrecy is known and the variance is small.
(2) Restricting publication has disadvantages.
(3) Restricting publication offers advantages only till the breach of secrecy.

This set of assumptions would mean that there's a trade-off between the risk of declassifying still secret info (due to the variance) and enjoying the advantages of open info.

That simple trade-off is the 'simple' answer. A more intricate one would consider the foreign espionage effort and therefore the foreign breach of secrecy as endogenous, not exogenous. This means it can be influenced.
It's possible to improve secrecy somewhat (at certain costs), but the more interesting approach is to influence the foreign espionage by setting the end of secrecy yourself.

Imagine this; a secret is set to be disclosed after five years. A foreign intelligence service can expect to get access to it after 4+/-1 years with an expensive espionage effort. They would most certainly try it if there was no date for disclosure set. Would they do it in the knowledge that they could only 'buy' one year improvement?
This adds another variable; their preference. How much is 1 month advance worth? Two months? A year?
One thing is very likely; they would be ready to spend more for getting an info at all than for getting it barely a few months earlier.

In the end, it might be possible to keep info secret for longer if you are ready to disclose them smartly and predictably.


This adds another advantage; you could declassify just 95% - the advantage of knowing the final 5% would probably too little to justify the expense of a full espionage effort. The final 5% could sometimes be important, sometimes trivial - that adds a risk premium into the opponent's decision.

A strategy of timed declassification of information could discourage much espionage by devaluing it. The end result might be even better than just a small extension of the period of secrecy.


This theoretical idea offers of course no definitive classification strategy.
The best strategy decision depends on many (more) variables - many of them likely even unknown to the intelligence agencies themselves. It may be that no timed declassification would ever extend the period of secrecy or discourage espionage. It may just be an odd, theoretical extreme that doesn't happen in practice.


Then again we don't really lack whistle-blowers who consider the existing (de)classification strategies as questionable. The lower levels of secrecy ("restricted", "NATO restricted", "VS-NfD") are obviously just a joke and keep almost nothing secret against professional spies. Even journalists often seem to work with leaked "confidential" documents.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/09

Sorry

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Several blog text drafts don't satisfy me (yet), some topics in the works are really big ones that need a lot of work, I'm busy, distracted and I'm researching a lot.

In short: I didn't publish much in the past days for several reasons, but that will change. Eventually.

I've already got about 50-60 future topics prepared as key words, and about ten as drafts. Some really big ones are in preparation. There's still a lot to do.


I'm not someone who follows fashions, but I'm conforming to one by pure chance. Several well-known MilBlogs have limited their blogging quantity in favour of quality during the past weeks. That's likely good news. We need more deliberation and more strategic thinking, less on-the-spot talking points commentary on security policy topics in NATO countries.

I myself don't feel compelled to attempt daily blogging or to cover every MilNews topic. Anything from 15-30 texts is a reasonable monthly output in this place and I write only if I like to.


Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/06

A comment, a reply and the discussion culture

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I commented recently on the Information Dissemination blog (a USN-centric blog, also linked in the left column) about the predictability of a coming military budget crunch in the context of a USN strategy formulated in the autumn of 2007.
A link to a blog post of mine from July 2007 was offered as evidence that the economic & fiscal problems were not unpredictable or invisible in autumn 2007 and the unsustainable strategy was therefore a poor one. A good one would have stood the test of an economic crisis that had already begun at the time of its creation.

This brought a visitor of ID, "Solomon" to one of two linked texts of mine on this blog and he left a comment.

I didn't publish the comment because it's not really appropriate, but he's obviously a first time visitor (not my single remaining regular troll) and his comment is of interest if seen from a certain angle.


This is the comment, with red text being my reply:
(Keep in mind; he commented a text that connected U.S. economic data with the crisis and the lacking affordability of the huge U.S. military expenditures.)

Comical. I came here from the ID blogsite and all I can say is that this is pure fantasy, conjecture, hubris and silliness rolled into one.

“pure fantasy” and your later quote “I have no problem with your facts or figures” - does that fit together?

The thought that a person from a country that DEPENDS on exports is attempting to deride US consumerism is laughable. The thought that a person who's nation is failing to live up to its international commitments militarily, yet attempts to chastise a nation that is not only pulling its own weight but the weight of that charity case of a nation is shameful.

Oh, I criticised the excessive trade of my own country as well. The key fact is that this is mostly intra-EU trade – U.S.-Germany trade is rather small; 7% of export and 4% of import in 2008. The U.S.'s trade imbalance is more a U.S.-East Asia affair while Germany's trade imbalance is mostly an intra-European affair – and thus pretty much irrelevant to the topic.
Besides; it's less of a failure to be creditor than to be debtor.


I have no problem with your facts or figures but for you to fail to realize that these trade imbalances helped to fuel the entire globe is shortsighted and an attempt to cherry pick facts.

I understand that the “consumer demand drives the economy” myth is very powerful in the U.S., but it's really just the kindergarten version of economic theory. Years of economic studies on a university have taught me enough to not fall prey to it.
There's nothing good to be found in running into debt again and again. I don't feel compelled to thank Americans for lending East Asian money to buy East Asian industrial products; that was as much an economic model as Madoff had a business model. The U.S. made at most the PRC bigger, which doesn't seem to have been in the U.S.' best interest.


Germany is a socialist nation that is not even meeting the defense budget mandated by the EU.

“socialist”, uh? Many Americans call almost everything “socialist”, so I'm not impressed. “Social democratic” would fit better, and I bet you don't know that the basic major social reforms in Germany were the product of a royalist-conservative chancellor and the "Soziale Marktwirtschaft" (social market economy) is a highly successful model developed by the conservatives (CDU/CSU) during the 50's and 60's.

Feel free to prove that there's a "defense budget mandated by the EU". It's impossible to prove that something doesn't exist (WMD anyone?), so the burden of proof is yours.


Next time you take a look at the US defense budget I recommend that you take a serious look at the personnel costs. Single mothers, 18 year olds with 5 family members etc and the associated costs are whats inflating our defense budget.

That's irrelevant. A business doesn't run better because its owner complains about the personnel structure. It will still go broke if its investments become too small and its debt too great. Your remark would have been slightly interesting if you had data to back it up and not phrased it as an argument (which it isn't).

But lastly I look forward to our efforts to reduce the budget that you so hate. EADS won't win the tanker .... the A400 will ultimately be canceled.... the Leopard MBT will finally be put to pasture and no more sales will be made....the Boxer will no longer be produced....the Eurofighter will end...

EADS tanker – so what ... A400M; I hope you're right, but I doubt your clairvoyance...Leopard MBT – long out of service, Leopard 2 MBT – dispersed in Europe, had unlike M1 Abrams real export success (not only politically enforced export sales) and is in no worse shape than the M1 Abrams … Boxer – same as A400M … Eurofighter – planned production almost complete. That's fine, just as it's fine that the F-22 production run is complete.
I wonder what that has to do with my text, though.
I do also wonder what the mentioned programs (except the tanker) have to do with U.S. military spending.

You sound like someone who has become angry that his country got criticized and who wants to hit back with nation bashing. That's neither an impressive nor a persuasive kind of critique.


Once all that happens, then and only then do I want you to take a look at what defense spending means to even a socialist country like your own.
(?)

When Iran finally gets a missile and threatens not only Europe but Israel then talk.

Iran has “a missile”. I guess you meant “a nuclear warhead”. In that case Iran would be deterred by French and British nukes as well as by the vastly superior military power of its direct NATO neighbour Turkey – just as the Soviet Union was deterred. Iran is merely a small, regional power - it offers no reason for increases in any military budget.
I wonder why you seem to think that I would bother more (or as much) about a fictional threat to Israel than/as about a fictional threat to Europe. I do also wonder about it because Berlin is more than twice as far away from Tehran as is Tel Aviv while you sound as if the latter was less easily in Iranian range.

You did not read my blog much, of course. One of my recurring points is that I'm not easily scared. The Iranians don't scare me a bit, for example. I'm confident that a Franco-Anglo strike would flatten Tehran and Isfahan if an Iranian nuke hits an EU or European NATO country.

It's furthermore doubtful how Iran could be linked to a German defence budget and how the latter could be reasonably linked to the problem of the factual unsustainability of U.S. military spending.


I would prefer a policy that was protectionist, isolationist and left Europe, Africa and Asia to there own devices. We can take care of ourselves and don't need Euro-policy wonks interfering.

“their”, not “there”.
I would prefer a more introvert U.S. as well, so there's actual agreement. I actually don't feel defended by the U.S. - it's more like the aggressive troublemaker in a clique who always provokes others and gets into a fight with the result that the whole clique is associated with trouble making.
To observe UN rules in regard to inter-state conflicts is actually a North Atlantic treaty obligation of the U.S. - one that was violated severely.


His kind of response isn't exactly uncommon. The style is very distinctly U.S. American. I disagree with Germans, Brits, Italians, Frenchmen and Canadians often - but almost none of them ever behaves like this. I assume that it's a political-culture matter.

Especially remarkable is the fear. Extreme fear. Fear of their own fictions. Seriously, I've never encountered a single non-U.S. American who came close to the top 50 fear-driven Americans I've been in contact with. The closest one was an Israeli. What's up about this fear of everything?

I didn't notice this rule of fear before 9/11, but history tells us that it's not such a new phenomenon. Red scare, yellow scare, communist subversion scare, missile gap, domino theory - apparently even ceding control of the Panama Canal raised the fear factor.

Most scares were completely off, and some were badly exaggerated. A rational being would become skeptic about present and future fear fashions given that track record of past fear fashions.

Seriously, what's up with this fear of outlandish scenarios? I don't get it.

Spending more money on "defense" seems to make a country more fearful of external threats, not less (the empirical basis for this suspicion has only anecdotal value, of course).

Fear makes you spend more on "defense", which in turn makes you more sensitive to fears, which increases your fear, which leads to more "defense" spending ... is that how it works?

- - - - -

There's no way how such a style of discussion could be of value. It's simply an irritating waste of time.

A purposeful discussion needs to be fair (either no unfairness or symmetric unfairness), rational, informed (using facts, not myths) and inspired (ideas).

I understand that really influential people behave differently (at least behind closed doors in the really relevant discussions).
Nevertheless, the Internet has become part of the media; and the media's mission to inform the nation and to foster fruitful debate is acknowledged as an important pillar of democracy.

A terrible and unproductive style of discussion in the Internet constitutes a bad influence on politics and policy.
My usual response to such behaviour is to hit back by exposing it.



Sven Ortmann
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2009/12/01

"Natural", self-organised small units?

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Massively multiplayer online games typically allow individuals to spontaneously form, join, or leave a formal group called a guild. The design of the game encourages players to form such groups (...). Millions of people worldwide log on to the world’s largest online game (...). Indeed, online games are one of the largest collective human activities on the planet and hence of interest from the perspectives of global commerce, security, and even epidemiology. A seemingly unrelated social phenomenon that is also of great concern is urban gangs. Urban gangs have been gaining in popularity among young people both nationally and internationally. There are obvious differences in the settings and history of online guilds and offline gangs, however, the empirical data sets that we have compiled enable us to perform a unique comparative study of their respective grouping dynamics.

Specifically, we used detailed empirical data sets to show that the observed dynamics in two very distinct forms of human activity—one offline activity which is widely considered as a public threat and one online activity which is by contrast considered as relatively harmless—can be reproduced using the same, simple model of individuals seeking groups with complementary attributes; i.e., they want to form a team as opposed to seeking groups with similar attributes (homophilic kinship). Just as different ethnicities may have different types of gangs in the same city in terms of their number, size, and stability, the same holds for the different computer servers on which online players play a given game.

This study got me thinking about small unit organisation from a different angle; self organisation.


The conventional way to build a small unit uses a top-down approach - or even a 'management' approach in which someone completely unrelated to the unit (or even a software) assigns individuals to the unit.

We don't let small units self-organise bottom-up. Temporary small units based on the principle of volunteering are the closest thing to self-organizing small units afaik.


It seems that additional research into self-organising (sociology) at military universities would be well-justified. A "natural" organization or small unit might have significant advantages over one that was built by a bureaucracy. There seems to be a rather innate human predisposition for certain forms of self-organisation even in the modern, urban and Western youth.

Tribal warbands don't have the best reputation for military efficiency, but they have certain strengths nevertheless - and we don't have a ceteris paribus example for a comparison of efficiency between a self-organized military team and a bureaucratically created military team yet.
This area of research could become really, really interesting.


Sven Ortmann
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