KoW on top leadership qualification

Francis Grice on KoW:

That's an interesting and somewhat funny blog post on the importance of matching skills and tasks at top leadership positions (and elsewhere, too). He in turn referred to another article which flew below my radar.

Traditional hierarchic organisations narrow down towards the top like a pyramid. The complexities of the various tasks exceed the education and training of the top leadership. This would likely even be the case if they had been educated towards top leadership tasks as were monarchs in earlier times. Even monarchs with their decades of top notch training and education rarely performed very well. Today's world is much more demanding.
The orthodox approach is thus to have staffs with diverse skills and a top leadership that's willing to draw on the staffs' advice and smart enough to understand it.

Grice scratches on the surface of an alternative: Why not exchange top leadership when the tasks change?
Or, less unusual, why not demand that top leadership is primarily about assigning specific tasks and specific powers to competent people for specific challenges? The other top leadership's job would then be to keep an eye on the whole and to steer a course through the whole of the challenges, a job for which nobody is fully qualified.

This is of course not totally new, but Western military and political establishments weren't exposed to any extreme challenges for decades and appear to exhibit a degree of incompetence that's deeply irritating (this ranges from terror hysteria over economic policies to ridiculously inept military operations such as Atalanta).

Sadly, erosion of skill and lack of strong characters in the political and military staffs might be part of the problem. There's a reason why Grice was talking about academics as alternative to in-office leaders, not about staff geniuses.

S Ortmann


  1. History is a good teacher of war. One of my favorite quotes, "history repeats itself because nobody was listening the first time" - unknown

    In the Atalanta post what do you mean by eradicated and destroyed (including population)?
    "Well, some captives held by the pirates complicate the affair, but those are (AFAIK) mostly not Europeans and all you need to do is make clear that the village will be eradicated without further warning by bombs if piracy continues or captives weren't freed.
    Finally, it may end in dead captives - and a village that was destroyed (including population)."

  2. That was about PsyOps.
    In case they thought it was a bluff and called it, it would be possible to drop leaflets warning of impending doom and then destroy the village for real.
    One village gone - evacuated or not - and the mess would end for good even if the initial raid and threat did not leave enough of an impression.

    Lieber kurz und schmerzhaft als lang und quälend.
    (Better quick and painful than long and agonising.)

    The relevant thing about Atalanta was that patrolling was nonsense, piracy needs to be rooted out on land. Our politicians were too incompetent or too uninterested and careless. They'd rather waste thousands of couple relationships with long patrols that fail to achieve a decisive success than to get serious. "Serious" means in this context to either call out the piracy thing as irrelevant or to act decisively against it.

  3. might that not get in front of the international court of justice?

  4. I don't think so. You need to lose a war or lose government office to be drawn to that one.

    Besides, there was an effort in UNSC to allow land action against pirates (not sure if it succeeded) and bombarding a settlement may be OK if the civilians were warned and able to leave in time.

    It would be damn difficult to do land warfare legally if that wasn't possible.

  5. Oh, yes. Lots of solutions. Non democratic, I'm affraid. Doesn't the Catholic Church work a little like that? Or Venice - the Council of Ten. Even the Soviets one could say.

    I think what is missing in politics today - BADLY! - is feedback. Incompetence doesn't get you fired (gets you into Brussels. LOL). Writing unconstitutional laws doesn't get you jailed. Loosing wars doesn't get you killed. Running up 100s of billions in deficit doesn't get you lynched. No ramifications.

    Can't agree on academics. They're the worst of the bunch!

  6. About operation Atalanta.
    If you look at european ships doing anti-piracy patrols in the Indian ocean you will find out that practically all operational ships - with exceptions like what are now considered capital ships - have been there, are there and will go back there.
    It's the european area of operation.
    And if you check what the US Navy it's doing, you will see that their main area of operation is in the Pacific- over 60% of their capabilities are there.
    Deducing from the remainder the small presence in hot areas like the Gulf and Med practically nothing remains. The US navy has concentrated itself with blocking China in the Pacific and due to this has emptied other areas. This is the reason why navies of allied european contries had to take over secondary areas.
    Somali pirates are absolutely irelevant but anti-piracy fight supplies the reason for their massive presence in the Indian ocean.
    Eliminating somali pirates is extremly easy as you said but it's of absolutely of no use. They represent nothing. But you have to say something about the long range deployment of european navies. To give a reason.
    Talking about the fact that US Navy has redeployed in the Pacific against PRC and due to this europeans had to take over the areas emptied by the americans doesn't fit the current political and diplomatic discourse.
    Fighting pirates is as good a reason as any other to justify far away deployments. Of course it looks rather ridiculous but it doesn't matter.

    I'd say western leadership is not so incompetent as it seems. Sometimes controversial/dirty/brutal actions - this according to current political ideology - have to be taken. It's much better to be seen as naive and soft then to be considered evil. Competitors will try to paint you as evil anyway, why should you help them ? The main effort in projecting public images is directed towards being seen as a victim and to avoid in any way the position of instigator or god forbiden ... the evil side.

    (If eliminating somali pirates would be considered usefull they would get sticks up their bottoms Qadaffi style in no time.)

    If you check other "incompetent actions " of western leadership is possible to see that many of those precise actions protect the interests of special groups and/or of the nations.

    One small example in the same general area of operation Atalanta
    The same "incompetents" did break Sudan and blocked chinese take over of the energy sector in that area without breaking a sweat or leaving media traces, except being naive idealists trying to oppose incompetently (because they are so naive and idealist) evil itself.
    They seem pretty competent to me I might say. And loyal to the interests of the societies they lead.

  7. Singapure built this armed Protector USV. Tow one behind each merchant and fishing vessel passing through and the pirates need a new job.

    I think teo is right that this mission isn't meant to end the piracy, but rather stay in the "looking-for-pirates-business" on this spot of world's waterways for a long time. I've no idea why, but it seems quite popular among all major and emerging navies. Perhaps they also like the khat?

    From a SLOC perspective you can block and guard the Persian Sea and the East African coast and secure a SLOC from Europe to Australia. You can also go on a short trip to the Arabian sea and ask the Indians and Pakistani to not kill each other (but I guess they are in the we-need-to-fight-each-other-business for a supporting electorate.) And Iran is nearby, likely a big target for a coming US intervention that requires thorough preparation because this country seems capable of fighting back.

    In my opinion the most important aspect is the ability to block the East African coast and Persian Gulf. This missions seems to be an attempt at developing methods to register the shipping there.

  8. What's an expansive RC toy supposed to do that six cheap, armed African mercenaries cannot do?

    Why such a belief in technological gadgets?

  9. "What's an expansive RC toy supposed to do that six cheap, armed African mercenaries cannot do?"

    Absolutely nothing. It's a simple discution. Few hungry somalis in dingies are irelevant. With their AKs.

    But european navies have to be present in the Indian Ocean.

    Just a simple example:

    If you have any idea about how many ships you need in order to have one permanently deployed/ allocated for a specific task then the number becomes far greater.
    Just by checking the list it's easy to understand it's not about famelic somalis in dingies.

    "In my opinion the most important aspect is the ability to block the East African coast and Persian Gulf. This missions seems to be an attempt at developing methods to register the shipping there."

    It seems to be the case. The US navy left the area - went to the Pacific for a much more important mission. Allied navies took over.

  10. As a personal opinion some comments about what might be considered as serious leadership and competence:

    Of course, after such analysis you have developments like Atalanta. But they are defined by stringent strategic needs. Reasons given to the masses have to be something simple that people might understand. People watch Oprah like shows, they don't read anything in general and magazines like the Diplomat in the least.
    It's not the competence of leadership which generates the level of public debates. The level of understanding of the people is the one which defines the level and complexity of public debates and communication. Something simple , easy tou nderstand and relate to, like subjects in an Oprah show - use this example because it is the barometer of the intelectual abilities of the people - has to be used. Like dangerous somali pirates . I really can't imagine an Oprah show with discutions about theMahan doctrine and the Roosevelt changes in naval matters. Can anyone else?

    About economic crisis it's pretty obvious that financial actives don't match real ones. It's something normal and simple mathematics demonstrates its cyclicity. Financial actives grow exponentially - money make " babies" which make again " babies" etc , its like in demography - while real actives usually grow arithmetically. So corrections are inevitable.

    What should we do to ease the pain of a correction is another matter of course. And it all becomes a little murky. Adding other issues like demography, resource deplition, ecology, social problems due to economic dislocations , we start to discover leadership has to choose between taking unpleasant decisions for many people. Not easy it seems.

  11. "The level of understanding of the people is the one which defines the level and complexity of public debates and communication."

    This does not really convince me, I'm pretty sure that the current generation in the west is better educated than the preceding one, at least if one considers median education levels. Of course 'understanding' is not the same as 'education', but the latter is certainly a proxy for 'understanding'. So I would tend to assume that people is greater now than before, and it are other factors that keep public debates simple.

    I put forth two suggestions as to what those factors are, somewhat related to each other: firstly, with the internet much debate has moved out of the traditional media where it used to be conducted (by way of proxies). Now much is handles by the individuals themselves, as for instance we are doing here.
    Secondly, shifting consumption away from traditional media has left its established format in disarray as it shrinks and tries to find new sources of revenue (ex: morning newspapers shrinking to a smaller format, MTV not showing music anymore).