2011/11/30

Let's assume...

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Let's assume the German public was interested in military reform.
Whom would it ask, who's an expert?

No "insiders" are trustworthy, for they have to be loyal to one party of any military reform debate, to the sitting minister of defence. A discussion with input only by them would be totally biased, thus you need to balance them at the very least with their untrustworthy counterparts from the other side.

We have almost no think tank culture, so we're being spared the experience of talking point propagandists from think tanks infesting our news.

As far as I can tell, the media tends to prefer retired generals (and only those who weren't 'fired') as experts in regard to military affairs. Its preference in regard to security policy is rather in favour of talking to foreign policy people.

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Quite frankly, I don't like this preference for retired generals. It has a systematic bias towards institutional conservatism. This will serve us ill if we'll ever have a substantial public discussion about a military reform that's not merely about conscription and various numbers. Any public discussion for example about whether air mechanisation is (was) worth buying so many so expensive helicopters or just a fragile pipe dream would almost inevitable be tilted towards conservative views of old men.

The problem is of course to get a public discussion going about such topics in the first place. It's simply not happening, while some fiscally comparable civilian projects were be a national discussion for years (think: Transrapid maglev train) - and the average Joe was just as poorly prepared to form an opinion about them as about military matters.

Yet, we should get it right if we ever manage to discuss such topics and have some actual democratic oversight of our forces with a very general participation.


Back to the old men.
Let's think of two men; one 'reformer' (pro-innovation) and one 'conservative' (contra-innovation).
The 'reformer' will be enthusiastic about a novelty in his 20's and 30's, work son getting his ideas recognised in his 30's and 40's and will either fail (and not become a general) or succeed (see his ideas in action and probably become a general).
Even IF the reformer makes it to general, he'll be in his 50's or 60's when interviewed by the media as expert. By that time the novel idea will be already be 20-40 years old and it would be the new status quo.
In other words; by the time of the interview even the reformer would be a conservative (and at most understand the drive of young officers for innovation), just like the other guy who was conservative all the way.

Eurocopter Tiger, source: "Stahlkocher" (Wikipedia)
Maybe the media needs to find other sources (maybe foreign experts who don't need to be loyal to any German institution or politician? Maybe more active service officers should write books? Maybe we need a journal about military topics that's not a PR front for ministry and industry nor a wanking stimulator for mil fanbois?) if it ever wants to inform the public well about a military reform.

That would of course first require some attention and even interest.
Luftmechanisierung / air mechanisation was a major German army experiment that was never publicly scrutinised (it was in my opinion rather a stupid excuse for 80's procurement plans during the 90's and dropped in all its ambitious parts once the funds were secured). There may have been a damage of several billion Euros due to our inability to scrutinise such military projects publicly.

S Ortmann
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9 comments:

  1. I nominate Sven Ortmann to be German minister of defence.

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  2. Such a journal would, ah, struggle for any viable audience, however desirable it is (also for information I suspect, but thats a much lesser problem)

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  3. Seconding what Anon said. I think that, unfortunately, the only way to successfully reform the military is to pick a capable man and give him enough power to implement his vision.

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  4. I've got a feeling that he was sarcastic. ;)

    Rising, surviving and achieving in politics requires a different skill set than mine. Sadly, I don't know anyone with the right qualification for that job.

    I've been in contact with another federal German ministry as part of projects (including meetings and small conferences in it) and my conclusion was that it should be completely razed in order to save taxpayer money...

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  5. You'd shaked them up well and have them running like a fine tuned machine as minister of defence, i was only being sarcastic to the extent that it would be hard for you to get to be a minister, but not at all sarcastic on your ablity to run the german military well, assuming people higher up didn't get in your way.

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  6. The problem is identical in every other social endeavour. The right people to understand and react through reforms to a change in the social/technical enviroment are not the ones who usually survive and advance in political/corporate medium.Different type of skills and personality are needed.
    You use extremly logical and rational arguments, but they are rather useless in political and - in a smaller measure - coporate enviroment.
    Of course in time of crisis society changes rapidly and the ones who adapt and survive make great personnel adjustments by changing large parts of the management class - be it military ,political in executive positions or economic.
    Also it is extremly difficult to identify the right ideas. A very recent example is the " Jeune École" which changed the french navy some 100 years ago. Results were dissapointing at the time. Their ideas proved valid with the advent of the guided missiles many decades after, but their mission to reform and strenghten the french navy proved a failure.
    So until a crisis hits - a military one for our discution - nothing notable will happen (Sociological factors at work )and in the end nobody knows what should happen in order to strenghten the armed forces ( technological facts).
    This is the normal social behaviour. Always has been.
    The most interesting example I think is the period before the first world war.
    All sides were extremly militarized societies and devoted enormous resorces for their military/industrial structures. Huge numbers of very smart people were involved, the future of the world and national survical were at stake. And yet all sides were completly wrong.Everyone of them. Their assumptions were wrong, their aproach regarding the difficulties ahead were wrong, nobody had a clue about what was usefull and efficent and what was not. Even the technological approach was completly wrong. In 1918 completly different equipments were considered vital then in 1914( trying to underline an idea, of course its debatable about battleships and so on but these are deatails I think).

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  7. divide the german military budget equaly amongst the populace.
    Let people with different ideas explain why the public should give it back,

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  8. You don't like Think Tanks? Well, at least you get a certain spectrum of opinions. Better than Generals, retired or not. And it's not like they will say anything out of line anyway. (Not that a lot of think tanks would). National security and the national interest are way too important to leave them to the professionals. Huge weakness of our political system: THe disconnect between "We, the People", the political caste, and the military caste, (and the economic caste, and the technical caste, and ...). Then of course it's not like as if the informed and mature citizen is a goal of this system.

    Agree with "teo".

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  9. What about playing fields for old and new officers where they can test concepts and ideas. The next step in wargaming could be to create fictional machines and test them (run them under best and worst estimate of capabilities). This would be fun, keep soldiers occupied and open the way for discussion. Yes, discussion, create some forums where people can discuss their new ideas. Essentially it would be creating a big workshop of different game-moding factions and some of the ideas are going to get traction through conviction of numbers of soldiers. Asking officers and generals tends to overlook that there are a lot more capable people in every military who have a valid point of view (because they risk their own skin, not just a promotion). So, I would introduce some military democracy to the procurements by the armed forces.

    Btw why was Luftmechanisierung not carried out with much cheaper aircrafts such as autogyros currently used in the Schiebel Camcopter S-100?

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