On Egypt and news media

I watch some foreign TV news stations, and am increasingly appalled by how conceited some people/nationalities are. The Egyptian crisis is about Egypt and at most other Arab countries, not about any Western country. We're pretty unimportant bystanders, all of us Westerners.

The most ridiculous thing I heard was the assertion that Egyptians are waiting for "leadership" by a certain Western country. Seriously, they probably waited for leadership by El Baradei, but certainly not by some distant and not exactly decisively influential country! It might be news to some, but that country ain't the only democracy, and Egypt and the Arab world are quite likely to watch to European countries like France or the UK for examples of democracy. Both have a long track record of developing and living in democracy (even though they call it constitutional monarchy and republic) and both have historical ties with the Arab world.

Almost as appalling is the behaviour of some Westerners who treat the Egyptian crisis selfishly as an event which will affect primarily us. To overthrow Mubarak is in their opinion a bad thing if that means the slightest disadvantage or even only uncertainty to us. Despicable pundits, fear-mongers.

Finally the third appalling thing about "news" about Egypt; the assertion that the revolution in Egypt is going towards an Iranian model (and will probably breed terror against us, although that is not exactly how the Iranian revolution played out).
It's in theory an acceptable idea, but the facts (as publicly known) simply point at an entirely different direction and it's simply appalling that people earn money by spouting such horror scenarios on global TV.

The Muslim Brotherhood was not involved in the early protests overtly - the beginning of the protest  movement was the achievement of the hopeless youth of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation. It is not connected to AQ in Egypt. It does not endorse violence. It did even join the protests against the anti-Christian violence a few weeks ago. It's the Egyptian version of a conservative party. Guess what? German conservatives call their parties "Christian [...]" and still aren't the Spanish inquisition.
Nevertheless, some pundits are moronic enough to just read "Muslim" and think "AQ-like". Yes, the state of some mass media outlets is that sad. It's even worse, for I watched an international TV news station which has a better reputation for its programming than its national brethren.


Native American shields

I did recently compile a list of infantry innovations of the inter-war and WW2 period and came up with the idea of creating a complete list, spanning the whole documented history of at least Europe.

Minutes later I gave up, for that's a subject for a doctoral thesis - not for a private project.

It did nevertheless remind me of how poorly we are informed about  Europe's pre-historic period. The equipment of the Alps glacier mummy "Ötzi" came as a huge surprise to modern people when it was discovered a few years ago. He carried no dedicated warrior equipment, though (copper-bladed axe, dagger, longbow, quiver and arrows came close, but were still dual-use items).

The best look into stone-age warfare is probably a look at what we know about native Americans from both Americas in the 16th to 19th century. Much of their equipment was organic and will thus decay just like almost all stone-age equipment in Europe already did. The Maori/Polynesians, Australian Aborigines and Micronesians/Melanesians are also excellent sources.

Native American shields are of especially high interest to me, not the least because I don't know about stone age shields in Europe (the oldest ones I know about are examples from bronze age Greece and the rather ceremonial Northern European Yetholm-type shields.
Native American war shields were both a warrior's (dubious) protection and a very spiritual thing. 

Such an item could change the whole idea of how pre-historic combat looked like in Europe. Shields would make less sense if the dominant weapon were javelins, while they would make perfect sense if bows or melee weapons were dominant, for example.



Historical speed of advance in offensives

by Captain Thomas T. Smith

I believe he missed some more extreme examples*, but this old (1990) Infantry Magazine article of 1990 is nevertheless worthy of a recommendation.

*: From June 22nd to 26th, von Manstein advanced over 320km with his 56. Panzer Korps in order to capture important Duna river bridges. Several Soviet divisions were overwhelmed in the process.


Australia's Fighting Dogs

Photo essay "Australia's Fighting Dogs".

This reminds me of another famous photo.



Will Egyptian M1 Abrams tanks roll over demonstrators?

Germany was 'not amused' when news surfaced in the 90's that the Turkish army was using former East German military equipment (including APCs) against Kurds in its civil war.

The reason was that Germany largely prohibits arms exports into crisis regions (with few cabinet-level waivers). We still manage to export a huge load of arms every year, of course.

The U.S. could 'potentially' become embarrassed by seeing Egyptian M1 Abrams tanks or their predecessors, the M60 Patton tank (both of U.S. origin)  rolling over demonstrators in Cairo very soon.

The M1 and the M60 are the most numerous and afaik also the best-maintained main battle tanks of the Egyptian army, after all.

This could produce a lot of ugly pictures and could raise additional eyebrows over the Western policy towards Arab autocrats.

The good thing about it is that this event is rather unlikely, since many army 4x4 APC crews have already shown solidarity with the demonstrators, yelling "We are all brothers!". The Egyptian army's loyalty to the Mubarak regime seems to be questionable at the junior leadership levels right now.


edit: I saw already a press photo of an abandoned M60 (in the streets of either Suez or Cairo).

edit2: I saw a first photo of a column of M1s in the streets, but apparently again not opposing the crowd as most likely intended by Mubarak.

Foreign policy and autocrats

If we bet on the stability of authoritarian states, we will be right most of the time, but wrong at the crucial time.

History is made when the weather suddenly changes -- by deviations from the normal course of events. The challenge for American diplomacy is not to wait for shifts in favor of human rights and democracy before scrambling to appear to support them. It is not to wait until a dictator is half-way out the door before you condemn his abuses, freeze his assets, and demand free elections. It is to promote change in repressive states before it appears inevitable. If you think there is only a 10 percent chance that Egypt's post-Mubarak transition will usher in a government that answers to its people, or that in the next few years the Burmese military junta might compromise with the democratic opposition, or that a popular movement might successfully challenge political repression in Iran, then why not do what you can to help raise the odds to 20 or 30 percent?

By Tom Malinowski, Foreign Policy, January 25, 2011

German foreign policy seems to have an erratic behaviour in regard to demanding better governance and/or democracy in public. Sometimes delegations travel to a dictatorship and say nothing, sometimes they demand/propose democracy.
It looks to me as if the system behind it is actually bartering, as if German foreign politicians barter for the permission to criticize the host - and as if they don't criticize without such a permission.

The German foreign policy does certainly not make the impression of a crusade for democracy and freedom. It creates in regard to democracy/freedom rather the impression of a PR stunt series for the domestic voters.

That's odd, for in most cases the only risk is the risk to damage German business interests. Such a trade-off between pushing for freedom and domestic business interests seems only ethical if - and only if - there's really almost nothing to be gained. A predictably ineffective push for freedom (it might even be counter-productive) weights indeed lightly enough to be outweighed by business interests.

The article "Whispering at Autocrats" makes the point that this expectation of ineffectiveness is probably wrong if a country is ripe for revolution or if an autocratic government is dependent on foreign powers playing along.

Both the U.S. and individual European countries have likely most often not enough weight to topple distant autocratic regimes through mere critique, but the potential is still there.
A united EU could push an autocratic regime off balance at times - especially if the ties are rather close (or short).

The U.S. - entangled in much of the world as it is - has probably created enough connections to be able to deal decisive blows to autocratic some regimes through soft power as well.

The current events should kick off a reappraisal of our foreign policy in regard to autocratic regimes.
A democratic world is no safer world and thus no national security policy achievement, but it's a better world.



Trajan on the revolts in Tunisia (?)

An excerpt from the letters of Pliny ( a correspondence between magistrate Pliny the Younger and the Roman emperor Trajan):

To the emperor Trajan

Pliny the Younger (?)
While I was making a progress in a different part of the province, a most destructive fire broke out at Nicomedia, which not only consumed several private houses, but also two public buildings; the town-house and the temple of Isis, though they stood on contrary sides of the street. The occasion of its spreading thus wide, was partly owing to the violence of the wind, and partly to the indolence of the people, who, it appears, stood fixed and idle spectators of this terrible calamity. The truth is, the city was not furnished with either engines, buckets, or any single instrument proper to extinguish fires: which I have now, however, given directions to be provided. You will consider, Sir, whether it may not be advisable to form a company of firemen, consisting only of one hundred and fifty members. I will take care none but firemen shall be admitted into it; and that the privileges granted them shall not be extended to any other purpose. As this corporate body will be restricted to so small a number of members, it will be easy to keep them under proper regulation.

Trajan to Pliny

You are of opinion it would be proper to establish a company of firemen in Nicomedia, agreeably to what has been practiced in several other cities. But it is to be remembered, that societies of this sort have greatly disturbed the peace of the province in general, and of those cities in particular. Whatever name we give them, and for whatever purpose they may be instituted, they will not fail to form themselves soon into political clubs. It will, therefore, be safer, to provide such equipment as is of service in extinguishing fires, enjoining the owners of houses to assist in preventing the mischief from spreading; and if it should be necessary, to call in the aid of the populace.
(my emphasis)

Many authors in newspapers, blogs and journals have linked the Arab revolts to social media services in the internet. The Egyptian government seems to agree so far as to cut the internet completely in Egypt yesterday. I'm a bit sceptical and see such services as mere and substitutable tools, but it reminded me of the above quoted ancient letter.

Maybe all forms of organisation - even online friends networks and the like - have an inherent potential for political purposes. Maybe modern dictatorships really need to suppress even such forms of organisations / "societies". This might put them at an even greater systemic disadvantage in comparison to open societies than otherwise.
On the other hand, the very same networks could prove to contribute to open society instability as well.

In the news: Wulff in Auschwitz

The German Federal president Wulff has held a speech in Auschwitz, Poland, and he did the usual thing: Remind us about what happened and the necessity to remember it and avoid anything similar in the future.

I have to credit him for not falling overtly into the stupid trap of collective guilt, theory but his speech can nevertheless be interpreted as if he did.

The speech was therefore largely a wasted opportunity.

Germans are not significantly different than humans of other nationality by being born as Germans. There's no reason why history should mean a special responsibility for later generations of only one of few nations instead of for all later generations of all nations: The responsibility to learn and adapt.

What that happened in the Third Reich are least likely to be repeated similarly in Germany. A repetition in other countries is much, much more likely. West Germans have spent the 60s and 70s in an effort to immunize themselves against repeating old mistakes, and the late 40's constitution of West Germany contributed to this with a legal basis which was largely defined in order to avoid earlier mistakes.
The efforts went so far that today's youth is already somewhat annoyed by the often-repeated history lessons. If there's any one country that is immune against repeating the old Nazi crap, then it's Germany.

So yes, we have a responsibility. That can and probably should be said. What should be said is that this "we" means mankind. All nationalities have the very same responsibility; they need to see the necessity to avoid such mistakes. Every nation should learn lessons from the global history of mankind, not just from its own history.

The idea that certain problems are somehow nation-specific is foolish - as foolish as a belief in the exceptionalism of the own country, a belief that the own country could not repeat certain mistakes of others. We're all just humans and all human-devised systems can err.

It's utterly self-evident for academics that an experiment or empiric data from one country is relevant world-wide. An economic crash in Malaysia feeds into economic research just as one in the U.S., for example. 

The nationalist view that people are vastly different because of different passports or ancestors and the past of one country should be more important than the past of another one is misleading. Those who restrict their learning from the past to learning about the history of the own country neglect the vast majority of available lessons.

- - - - -

Wulff should have exploited the opportunity and should have spoken to the whole world, making clear that the lesson of Auschwitz is a lesson for everyone. His "wir" (we) was too ambiguous.

Germans typically fail to learn much from other countries' history. The hyperinflation of 1923 is ingrained into our society's memory, but the modern hyperinflation in Zimbabwe is being ignored. Auschwitz is known by pretty much every adult German, but Pol Pot isn't.

Likewise, it's astonishing how much German military doctrine and thought (the latter behind closed doors) is very specifically and typically "German". This includes myself. I am still utterly unable to disguise as a Commonwealth guy or an American or a Japanese or even as a Russian in discussions about military history or doctrine. I am certainly well-read on the doctrines of half a dozen countries and the military history and past doctrines of more than a dozen countries. I'm still easily identified as one who has been coined by German military thought tradition.

I wonder how much potential for learning is being wasted by this nation-centric view on things.


P.S.: I wrote quite the same in one of the very first blog posts, but readership has multiplied by hundred since then. A repetition won't hurt.


Army postal service scandal

There's currently a set of Bundeswehr scandals. The most outrageous accusation is about soldier's mail from Afghanistan that reached relatives either opened or opened AND emptied.

News is not exactly my focus, so I just provide a link to one of the very few German MilBlogs: The Afghanistan-Blog. This one is being maintained by a journalist. Journalists and politicians dominate the tiny German MilBlog scene, especially if we define the latter loosely.

By Boris Barschow

Germany had several small scandals concerning the postal and telecommunications secrecy, including one that engulfed the major telecommunications corporation. Maybe the accusations regarding the soldiers' mail is not accurate, but it won't hurt to push the awareness for the topic.



Bacevich's takedown of the military spending craze with Ike's help

Andrew J. Bacevich is apparently a sane conservative and one thing is for sure: He dislikes imperial foreign policy and wars of choice.

Atlantic Magazine
Jan/Feb 2011

Largely overlooked by most commentators was a second theme that Eisenhower had woven into his text. The essence of this theme was simplicity itself: spending on arms and armies is inherently undesirable. Even when seemingly necessary, it constitutes a misappropriation of scarce resources. By diverting social capital from productive to destructive purposes, war and the preparation for war deplete, rather than enhance, a nation’s strength. And while assertions of military necessity might camouflage the costs entailed, they can never negate them altogether.

I took me until a few years ago to recognize that anyone could seriously think otherwise. There are indeed people who believe that military spending boosts the economy overall. That is safely beyond the reach of my imagination - I had to encounter such people to consider the possibility that they may exist.

The whole idea of military spending = boosting the economy is outrageously illogical. Military spending does at the very best crowd out private consumption and reduces ceteris paribus the supply of qualified labour (especially engineers) for civilian products industries.



FP article on Wikileaks and the Iranian uranium deals

While You Were Reading About Ukrainian Nurses …
Real news was buried in WikiLeaks -- like this revealing cable on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

By Gary Sick, January 19th 2011, "Foreign Policy"


Based on their very candid discussions, the Turks saw Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "more flexible" on this issue than others inside the Iranian government but still under "huge pressure" from conservatives. Despite all the bad blood, the Iranians told the Turks that they would prefer to get the reactor fuel directly from the United States rather than from Russia and that they trusted the Americans more than the British. The Turks asked Ahmadinejad point blank if the core of the issue was psychological rather than substance. Ahmadinejad said that it was, yes, basically a matter of public perception.

The United States had never expected the Turkish-Brazilian effort to succeed, and when it did Washington simply turned up its nose in the most humiliating way and proceeded to enact more sanctions. The moral of this story: When it comes to a choice between negotiations and coercion, Washington refuses to take yes for an answer.

The willingness of President Barack Obama's administration to spurn such assistance is as disappointing as it is lamentable. Fortunately the Turks have persevered, refusing to take no for an answer.

It's no wonder that the U.S. gov hates the release of the cables before everyone but historians lost interest in them.



Why Finland was spared in 1944

I saw this today in a forum:

One of the enduring mysteries of World War II is why the Soviets decided to leave Finland alone but at much cost in blood and treasure they went all the way to Berlin until they finally occupied Hitler's bunker.

Territories ceded by Finland in 1944 (again)
It's not really a mystery; the reason is merely beyond the horizon of most of today's politicians and pundits.

The Finns had fought a limited war only and proved under most extreme circumstances that they were no threat: Stalin understood their message.

They could have brought Leningrad down, but they followed their policy and an earlier guarantee that Finland is no threat to Leningrad. Thus they marched to its outskirts and began to sit there for almost three years.

It was an example of smart and firm strategy, much better than anything ever reported from major WW2 warring powers.

Certain pundits of our time (some of which seriously called AQ or even the Taliban an "existential threat") would and could never be that smart and develop a strategy that sets limitations instead of brushing them aside. Finland would have been a Soviet Republic in 1944-1991 if it had followed people like certain loud-mouth pundits of today. Likewise, Stalin was smarter than them, too, for he was able to judge which country is a real threat and what's merely a border conflict.


The Most Advanced Amphibious Armor Vehicle in the World is...


(China Defense Blog)
Over the past 15 years the Chinese have introduced a steady stream of new amphibious armor, each with evolutionary improvements. In a classic "Tortoise vs Hare" race, the slow steady Chinese development has outpaced the US, leaving the USMC in the 1972-vintage AAV-7A1 amphibians for the foreseeable future. Like the Comanche and Crusader before it, the cancellation of the EFV, in development since the 1970s at a program cost of over $3 billion, marks another failure of US "leap ahead" acquisition strategy.
Truth hurts ... and it was utterly obvious in the 90's that AAAV/EFV was a crappy idea.



"...all they have to do is wait."


"I think we are on the timeline this year to have some real good news and make some significant progress," the Florida Republican said Monday in a conference call with reporters from Kabul. "But I think if you attach a date to it … you are really creating a difficult situation. The bad guys, the Taliban and even al-Qaida, must know all they have to do is wait."

I wonder whether these contra-timeline people ever think.

We want them to wait! Nothing could be more advantageous for the mission of ISAF than a Taliban force that's just waiting and thinking that waiting is all it needs to do to win!

So no, this is not at all about waiting or not. Maybe it's about confidence?

The Western-centric views of pundits, politicians and loudmouths blind them to an obvious fact: The Western troops are not the only enemies of the Taliban. They're probably not even their main enemy!

It's obvious that Western troops won't stay in substantial numbers in Afghanistan for decades; Afghanistan is simply too irrelevant and the 9/11 craze and thirst for revenge wears off even in the U.S..
The Afghans have no clue why Western troops in Afghanistan (almost none of them know about 9/11 according to polling) and North Americans/Europeans have no clue either (the majority seems to perceive the TB as the enemy when in fact the TB are merely the former hosts of the real enemy!).
The Western troops are going to leave eventually, and the Pashtu Taliban leadership surely understands that they will eventually need to prove their superiority over their Afghan opponents (Uzbeks, Tajiks) in order to regain official power.

The Western troops will most likely not win directly while they're in-country: The Taliban can tune their activity to a sustainable level, no matter how low or high. They can do it, we can at most force them to lower the level - an eradication or political victory is extremely unlikely.

The Western troops in AFG are primarily attempting to delay the almost inevitable showdown between indigenous factions till the supposedly pro-Western forces in the country are superior to the Taliban.
That looks like a stupid idea to me because both sides seem to become more powerful and the whole delay does primarily increase the odds that the showdown will be really, really brutal. The Afghan officials have furthermore no net incentive to work towards being officially "ready" to take on the Taliban on their own. Their insufficiency is the cause of a huge $$$ influx, after all!

In the end it's likely not about whether the Taliban are confident or not; it's about whether we get the conditions and timing of the showdown right.

The simplistic contra-timeline AND the simplistic pro-timeline people annoy the heck out of me with their primitive approaches to a conflict that's obviously well beyond their horizon.



Boba Fett / Chalcidian helmet crossover

This photo works its way through various blogs, and it's indeed an interesting piece of art: A blend of a famous "Star Wars" helmet and one of the classic Greek hoplite helmet patterns.

I think The Chalcidian pattern is closest, albeit the late Corinthian pattern is a good candidate as well.

Most blogs just call it a "Spartan" or "300" helmet design. That (admittedly impressive) movie has apparently left more of an impression than history books on classical warfare.

There Jason, I wrote about it sooner than you! ;-)


P.S.: Any Greek reader who's interested in helping me a bit for a blog post (related to modern Greek naval history)  please drop me a line at lastdingo@gmx.de .


The crap of the intertubes

I searched for responses to my blog postings
(happens, and can be quite interesting) and came across this page.

It's apparently one of the crappy copycat bot pages.
It took and copied my "Events in Tunisia" blog post that makes
next to no sense without the context of an earlier blog post.

Then it (or some other bot) added a shit load of bot comments
that make no sense at all. The "names" of the "commenting
persons" are all links to some stupid businesses.

It also copied my overfishing blog post already.

There's really a lot of crap in the intertubes.




Mankind is overfishing the seas - an unsustainable behaviour that pushes the ecosystems of the oceans to the verge of collapse; it also reduces the sustainable quantity of fish and sea fruit that can be harvested. The consumption of fish is growing even per capita word-wide - while mankind is growing rapidly towards seven billion individuals!

The problem has been publicly known for many years, but it doesn't get nearly the same attention as other nature issues such as global warming. It's nevertheless one of the top problems of mankind, not very much unlike soil erosion and salinisation of irrigated land.

A better management of the fishery industry with smarter quotas is certainly possible and likely part of a possible solution. We also need to stop the per capita consumption growth and probably also add to aquaculture capacity.

The overexploitation of the fishing areas near Somalia has been partially blamed for the rise of Somali piracy - an issue that has finally attracted Western interest (and more so than the huge fishery collapse thing). It shows how fishery issues can become actual security policy issues. Countries with a very important fishery sector such as Iceland have been aware of this for long; Iceland even waged a kind of offshore patrol ship ramming-war against the UK in a fight over fishery rights (Iceland won).

Maybe it would be smart to think a bit ahead, to reduce the conflict potential ahead of the actual conflict?

Western governments might contribute
* issue smart quotas for fishery and enforce them
* prohibit illegal fishing in overseas, and enforce it
* stop the growth of per capita sea fish consumption with a Pigovian tax similar to the taxation of tobacco and oil

That, of course, would require a somewhat rational, informed long-term policy. We would need to set a good example.
That's why this blog post has been tagged with my blog's humour tag "fun".



Anti-Terrorism laws have more lives than cats

Back in the 70's the leftist terrorists of the RAF began to challenge the West German state and society with acts of terror. This provoked several anti-terror laws well into the 1990's, which added powers for criminal investigations.

Some of these powers - especially the "Rasterfahndung" (dragnet investigation) - proved to be utterly and completely, 100% useless. That didn't lead to their extinction despite the fact that the RAF dissolved in 1998, though.

There was no use for such laws for a while, but terror was back in fashion by 2001. We could have assumed that the state already had the necessary anti-terror laws (and some unnecessary ones) - but that would have been naive. There was of course a push for additional legislation to empower the state (supposedly only) in his fight against terrorists.

Back in 2004, a national conference of judges passed a resolution to demand that such laws should be limited in time.

That doesn't seem to do the trick either, for one such law - the especially obscene so-called Patriot Act - was at least partially limited in time.

It's obvious that such laws mean a shift towards a police state. History shows that the existence of such laws does not satisfy the law&order fanatics; they want ever more competencies for criminal and intelligence investigations. History also provides evidence that such laws affect others than terrorists as well.
Such laws even seem to fail to expire when they were written as limited in time laws.
Finally, it looks as if no reversal of such laws takes place, ever.

In other words; we should do something about this, for else we're on a long-term path towards a police state.



Events in Tunisia

Yesterday I wrote about what could happen if Arab populations change their regimes - and hours later the Tunisian president gave way to popular pressure and said he won't rule beyond 2012.

"Defence and Freedom" to "real world":
Your timing sucks! ;)


Erdogan's new grand strategy for Turkey?

The Turkish prime minister Erdogan seems to work towards a Turkish-Arab union.

The Arab governments are apparently less inclined to such proposals than the Arab populations.

R.T. Erdogan, credit:Agência Brasil/Wilson Dias
Turkey's attempt to join the European Union for the economic advantage seems to be on hold because - let's be honest - the plan is unrealistic. The EU required Turkey to meet many democratization and modernisation demands. Turkey met most of those, and the democratization eroded the secular Turkish state's safeties against Islamist government take-overs. The (somewhat mildly) Islamist Erdogan government has been in power for a while and most likely long since understood that the EU membership project is delusional since Cyprus joined the EU. Cyprus can veto against Turkey's membership which it will certainly do as long as Turkish-protected North Cyprus remains a pressing issue. The Greeks are as far as I know not exactly pleased by the idea of Turkey in the EU as well.
Turkey has thus pretty much lost prospects for a further integration with the West.

Its standing in the Arab world and in Iran is on the other hand quite good, especially in regard to popular support instead of governmental support. The relationships are friendly (the relationship with Israel is cooling down in exchange) and Turkey seems to have compensated for its Ottoman Empire history of oppressing Arabs. Turkey also stands out as an example because of its economic boom during almost the whole period of Erdogan's government . The economic prosperity also seems to produce an improved assertiveness.

The good neighbour relations may turn into an actual alliance or union in the long term, especially if the Arab populations succeed to change their governments.

This is very relevant even for Germany for several reasons:

* Turkey is one of the most interesting countries in geostrategy because of its history, location and relations. 

* Turkey is (still) a NATO ally.

* Turkey is in political conflict with Germany's allies Greece and Cyprus.

* A Turkish-Arab alliance could not make do without a (new) nuclear power in its ranks if it is meant to provide defence against more than just Iran.

* A Turkey that drifts away from the West would be relevant in NATO planning for both Southern and Eastern frontier security.

* The significant Turkish-German minority in Germany. Turkish policies can influence Germany through this minority. Luckily, Erdogan has made a flip-flop a while ago and now seems to support the integration of this minority into German society instead of emphasizing its Turkish character.

Such a Turkish-Arab alliance/union could happen in a few years or in a few decades - or never. It really depends on what happens to the Arab governments. The political dissatisfaction in Syria and Egypt could bring the end to the current authoritarian governments in the Arab world, similar to what happened to the Warsaw Pact in 1980-1992.

No matter partial Islamophobia or not - we should most certainly be friendly to the project of a Turkish/Arab union once it develops. To oppose it and then see it happen nevertheless would be a really bad start and could lead to a simultaneous East-South challenge to European security.


Article about the militarization of foreign policy


Christopher J. Coyne
George Mason University - Department of Economics

January 7, 2011

This paper analyzes the political economy of the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy. The core argument is that in integrating the “3Ds” – defense, development, and diplomacy – policymakers have assigned responsibilities to military personnel which go well beyond their comparative advantage, requiring them to become social engineers tasked with constructing entire societies. Evidence from The U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual is presented to illustrate these excessive ambitions, and the tools of political economy are used to analyze some of the implications.

This can also be applied to ISAF participants in general.



Observations on a stand-alone grenade launcher

Have a look at the beginning of this video (I won't go into details about the room for tactical improvements).

The camera man needed 18 (!) seconds to ready his AG36 (M320) stand-alone grenade launcher (0:25-0:43) - and he was one of the few who were still functioning under stress at all !

I didn't see a better argument for under-barrel grenade launchers with other than iron sights yet. Likewise, this anecdote can be understood as an argument in favour of stand-alone grenade weapons that merit being treated as a primary weapon, such as a GM-94.


Populism and the tough political challenges of our time

Populism was once a good thing; it was about politicians actually making policies that the population liked. It was a fresh and welcome approach after dozens of generations of self-serving political leaders.

The description "populist" is rather derogatory today. Something has obviously changed.
Many populists turned out to be extremely ideological or otherwise unfit for public service. Populists don't appear to be able to master today's political challenges. Freedom-endangering extremists are often successful only in a populist mode.

Some countries in the Western world drift(ed) towards populism and/or ideology while others appear to follow different paths, including the path towards technocratic governments.

- - - - -

I've had some discussions about politics - both domestic and abroad - in which a simple model was very helpful for the explanation why I personally have an ambivalent stance towards populism:

There are popular AND effective answers.
All kinds of politicians tend to employ these. In fact, such solutions have already been employed almost without exception. Few if any good answers to our modern pressing problems fit into this category.

There are popular AND ineffective answers.
Populists use these to build and maintain their reputation. We need to replace these ineffective (often even harmful) answers with better ones, of course. Populists won't do this, ever.

There are unpopular AND effective answers.
This is where the solutions for the future can be found. Populists will avoid these answers, though. Technocrats like them and risk losing power because of the poor popularity.

There are unpopular AND ineffective answers.
Politicians only touch on these by accident. The least relevant category.

- - - - -

Populists can be very effective at reforming a nation real quick with popular answers to pressing problems and their effect will usually be advantageous, but still mixed. The best phase for this approach to politics is a phase of rapid development; the founding or rebuilding of a country, maybe also a rapid growth phase in transition to an industrialized country.

Mature, highly complex societies are unlikely to benefit from a populist approach to politics. These societies have already used up the popular/effective answers, need to get rid of ineffective answers of the past and need to pursue unpopular/effective answers.

The latter is really, really tough - especially so since charismatic technocrats aren't exactly commonplace.

A society can flee into the arms of a charismatic populist - male of female (*wink*) - in times of crisis. I am convinced that technocrats are usually a better choice for a mature and complex society.

Both populists AND technocrats can be dangerous for democracy, of course.

Central banks are a popular example for an extreme form of technocratic rule (economists lead the central bank with great independence, even with marginal democratic oversight). 
Generals as war secretaries (or nowadays so-called "secretary of defence") are another rather problematic example (as evidenced especially in developing countries).

Both need to be tamed in one or another way.



"How Facts Backfire"

Highly recommended: A Boston Globe article on research results about cognitive dissonance.

Bad policies due to cognitive dissonance is no special problem of democracies - all forms of government so far used fallible humans as decision-makers.

There are many interesting conclusions possible, though:

In the political realm, there's the partisan strategist view:
They could divide the electorate into partisans who would even buy into the most abhorrent lies and merely need to be fired up in order to mobilise them for the election.
The other group would be the "moderates", "independents" or simply uncommitted voters. This group can be won with arguments based in the real world.
In the end, doing good policy should still pay off, as both groups can easily be reached with that one. Only parties with a poor track record need to resort to lies in order to keep at least their partisan base in their boat.

There's also the citizen's or decision-maker's view:
First, you shouldn't be too fired up or ideological about anything in order to keep yourself ready for the absorption of facts. Then you need fact suppliers, and the cheapest ones are likely the extremists who are already motivated to offer information (lobbyists, political extremists, people with an agenda). You also need a people who filter out all the crap & lies that such partisans spew out. That should be the news media's job description.
In the end, you will hopefully receive plenty facts for a well-founded decision.

There are also lessons for organisational reform, such as military reform.
Most readers will remember the roles of Guderian in Germany and Mitchell in the U.S.. They were champions for new concepts, kind of extremists.
It's a common opinion that such extreme pioneers are valuable, probably even the best thing if you want to have a very innovative organisation/military.
Well, the cognitive dissonance theory seems to suggest that this is not a good systematic approach. It seems to preach distrust against partisans and radicals.
A better organisational approach to innovation might be to establish an innovation core of uncommitted persons (generalists, not experts) who absorb and process filtered information in order to appraise innovations correctly. The highly committed people could feed them with information.

Overly committed partisans can occasionally be right, of course. But then there are also examples of people who preached the bayonet attack in 1914, declared all combat aircraft obsolete in face of missiles during the 60's and tanks during the 70's ...



The Il-10

There's still a fanbase for close air support aircraft that go into battle slow, low and with a large bomb-load. The A-1 Skyraider is usually cited as such an aircraft, and the more modern example is the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

The "slow and low" part leads more or less directly to a good endurance (persistence over the battlefield), good observation and identification possibilities even without expensive sensors and a good accuracy even with "dumb" (unguided) munitions.

A-1 Skyraider

Much of the nostalgia is actually about the use of propellers, which are more efficient at low speed and low altitude than turbofans - and propeller engines also offer a good potential for long endurance.

Both the Skyraider and the Thunderbolt II are U.S. aircraft, and I'd like to present another example of a very impressive ground attack aircraft that followed the "low and slow" recipe: The Ilyushin Il-10.

It was the successor of the famous Il-2, the most-produced combat aircraft ever.

The Il-10 was not only armoured to protect all vital components and crew against ground fire with machine guns, its integral armour was even capable of resisting 20mm HE shell hits!

The high degree of protection and a good armament (barrel weapons, internal bomb bay and external bombs) that even included cluster bombs with HEAT (shaped charge) warheads qualified it as a dangerous ground attack aircraft. The overall bomb load wasn't exceptionally high ("only" up to 600 kg), but reflected a practical and usual quantity. The range and endurance weren't exceptional either; the aircraft was rather meant for multiple sorties per day.

Well, why would I be so keen to present this historic aircraft?

Ground attack aircraft were in need of survivability against hostile fighters back in the Il-10's time.
The Germans of WW2 had to turn away from Ju 87 to their fighter model Fw 190 as primary ground attack aircraft (Fw 190 F series) because of the pressing need for air combat survivability. The result was a moderately effective, moderately protected ground attack aircraft that could double as interceptor (air combat against hostile fighters was to be avoided because of the armour weight, reduced armament and seemingly endless supply of hostile fighters). The use of a more dedicated ground attack aircraft (such as the Hs 129 B) would have imposed a requirement for escort fighters, which was less efficient.
Skyraider and Thunderbolt were never really survivable against fighters although they were capable of frustrating non-surprise attacks with tight turns. They were only employed in battle with air superiority.

The Il-10 solved this conflict by being an exceptional aircraft in ground attack AND a very dangerous opponent in air combat. This combination - not its relation t the Il-2 - should forever guarantee its fame and the fame of its developers.

Ilyushin Il-10

On the whole, the test results proved the soundness of the concept. The optimum combination of powerful offensive and defensive armament in an armoured attack aircraft with high speed and good agility not only allowed effective multiple missions to be flown, but permitted the Il-10 to engage all types of enemy fighters in combat. [...]
During a short lull at the front, Lieutenant Colonel O. Tomilin [...] trained his Il-10 pilots in ground attack. On his initiative a simulated aerial combat was staged to enable them to study air combat tactics. The 'opponent' of the new' attack aircraft was an La-5FN fighter [...]. The Il-10 was piloted by Captain A. Sirotkin and the La-5FN by Hero of the Soviet Union Captain V. Popkov, a well known ace with 37 victories to his credit. By the end of the war Popkov's score had increased to 41, and he was awarded with a second Golden Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union.
The mock combat took place at low and medium altitudes, both pilots turning and using complex manoeuvres. Only after sharp and energetic manoeuvring did the fighter manage to get close to the Il-10's tail. Conversely, the La-5FN was centred in the crosshairs of the Il-10 gunner's camera more than once. Immediately after landing Popkov said: 'It is a good attack aircraft, almost a fighter and a deserving rival for the La-5FN'.
It is interesting to compare the Il-10 with the Luftwaffe's Focke-Wulf Fw190, which was in widespread use as an attack aircraft by the end of the war. [...] Its speed at low altitude, where it is best compared with the attack aircraft, was 9.3 to 12.4mph (15 to 20km/h) higher. After its bombs had been dropped the Il-10 was barely inferior to its rival in horizontal manoeuvrability, although it was inferior vertically.

The German aviation industry had never managed to even come close to such a quality air combat-capable ground attack aircraft (the Hs 123 came close to it during the period of its short pre-war production run). The Luftwaffe was indeed lucky that the Soviet battlefield air defences proved to be feeble by comparison (beyond machine gun range) and allowed the employment of a lightly armoured fighter-bomber.




The new Chinese J-20 fighter prototype has been unveiled (unofficially) and was photographed and filmed a lot in the past days.

We already saw that the Russian developers of the PAK-FA / T-50 appeared to place a greater emphasis on agility than the U.S. F-22, and the J-20's developers seem to have done the same. The signs are a bit more subtle this time (the T-50 almost looked like a good old Russian 80's aerobatics fighter):
The fins below the tail (good for high angle of attack - only necessary while manoeuvring), the turbofan nozzles (apparently thrust vectoring in one more dimension than the F-22's) and the canards both point at a more agile fighter.

The sheer size on the other hand points at a large internal fuel volume (possibly also a large internal weapons bay) with correspondingly great range.
The latter reduces the necessity of tanker aircraft, which should be taken into account as reducing the overall cost of an air force. A good range also helps a lot to overcome operational problems and reduces the potential for friction (such as suddenly unavailable tankers).

The overall appearance suggests that the J-20 is meant to be at least a  low-observable (LO) combat aircraft ("fighter" is just an assumption), probably even meant to be less detectable than the T-50 (you cannot read everything from the shaping, but it really seems to point at frontal VLO and LO to the sides). 

I suspect that this aircraft will become operational in significant quantity rather late in this decade.

The good news: It's most likely no problem for Europeans, as long as they don't meddle in East Asian affairs.

More for example here and here.



Reply to wish list


I asked for a wish list in November; here are my replies:
What are the foreign policy objectives that are driving the coming Defence review, and what will be the capability change that result?
I'll keep reporting the outcomes, but I am not sure about the actual driving factors other than budget squeeze and a huge perception inside the Bundeswehr that we have much room for improvement (especially in personnel affairs). A greater share of deployable personnel (especially infantry) for blue helmet and other smallish missions was assumed to be necessary and overdue, but ISAF has significantly reduced the enthusiasm in regard to such missions.

I'd like to see more articles about the German and European defense industry.
To be honest, there are already enough publications about the industry and de facto also by the industry. I drop my occasional text about programs going wrong (such as A400M), but I'm generally the wrong guy for news about the industry. Sorry.

I'd like to hear your analysis of the driving forces of defence policy in Germany in particular and more generally. When nearly 80% of the electorate wants to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, what is really motivating German foreign policy?
If I only knew...most likely the answer is closely related to political inertia and an exaggeration of relationships and reputation. German politicians aren't used to make a resolute stand on peripheral topics like ISAF. Party first, economy second, other domestic topics third.

I'd be interested to hear about German approaches to military intelligence over time, the formalization (or lack thereof) of MI in the decision making process and notable successes and failures.
Honestly, it's not my area of expertise. I'll remember your question when I come across a good source, though.

It's nevertheless quite well-known that the biggest historical failures were likely the wrong estimates about the Soviet Union in 1940-1945. The Red Army was first completely underestimated in its quantity and later on the Soviet arms production was overestimated by a factor of two or more. Guess what? The same people who did these wrong estimates later offered their service to the Western powers' intelligence services and were welcomed. We (NATO) kept overestimating the Soviet Union during the Cold War and now we're probably back to underestimating Russia.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the prospects for the Eurozone joint strike force, especially given the current financial problems.
There are multiple joint European (or at least multinational) paper tigers, such as Eurocorps and  a EU Battlegroup. I already planned to write about this in general. The short version is that I like multinational corps as peacetime formations, but dislike multinational divisions and brigades. My rationale is about the inner workings of an army and about budgets, it's not about foreign policy.

In several posts you wrote about motivating soldiers to do their work right and the three things any army drives on in combat: cohesion, cohesion, cohesion. I wonder if it is possible to evaluate the esprit de coprs in the Bundeswehr Heer and - if necessary - to propose some measures to improve the motivation of its combat units.
Sorry, I've left active service in the late 90's and think that occasional snippets are all that I should offer as comment on this specific topic. I have a certain antipathy against the "I don't want to be transferred every two years and I don't want organizational changes all the time" moods that seems to be quite prevalent in the active force nowadays. I need to learn much more about the issue before I write about it.

[...] a review of military intervention in german politics would be very interesting, esp. how the the "friedenspanzer" consensus of the early nineties drives policies and/or what politicans can and cannot say about the role of the military in foreign relations.

* Green/alternative energy: It still appears as if the design of new systems and concepts heavily lacks in (or even: ignores) taking into account a potentially very sharp increase of the oil price. Biofuel is not the answer, there's far too little of that available.

* Life/work model: Part-time soldiers (20h/week), optionally for "workers" with 2 jobs, and the military acting much more like a "normal employer". In other words, an attempt to remove the dust from the system. ;)
* The federal German government takes energy policy much more seriously than GWOT issues. The specific case of energy for vehicles is more a global and industry issue than a challenge for a single state, though. It seems tome as if we're moving towards a partial substitution of oil with batteries in vehicles and with natural gas and coal for the chemical industry.

* http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/04/modern-time-landwehr-for-germany.html

Can we consider robotics to be the new "internal combustion engine revolution" in military affairs ?

If so, what do you think would be the impact on future warfare ? I'm not only thinking about robotic "old world" weapon systems (like automated MGs, tanks or planes) but also new applications (small robots for urban warfare, robotic assistants, ground mapping, recon, industrial sabotage etc.)
We still need to fully catch up with the microelectronics hardware revolution. So far we have most likely next to no clue about modern high and peer vs. peer warfare because we had no such thing post-'44.

How about a draft unified European security and defence setup? What measures are already in place? What could/should it look like? How to get there, what steps are necessary?
I have a draft for a German security policy, in German and English text versions. This one will pretty much answer the European security policy topic as well.

I am more interested in the past that the future of German military thinking.

For instance I had a book in the 70s by Aubrey Dixon and Otto Heilbrunn, Communist Guerrilla Warfare.(Published 1955). It dealt with Soviet guerrilla activities after 1941 and includes a valuable piece (not complete) Warfare Against Bands, dated 6 May 1944 and signed by Jodl. Excellent piece, way ahead of its time.

It would be great if you could find the full version and lead a discussion of it here.
I'm trying to track this down, but I suspect it's a lot about the Jagdstreife/Jagdkommando concept anyway.

Germans military reforms starting with 1806 through 1940
Franco/Prussian War – tactical and strategic Lessons Learned
Innovation in WWI – how did Germany develop the ideas of stormtroopers, artillery -Bruchmuller innovations and aviation innovations with Boelcke and Richthofen
How did German industry create so many weapon innovations – ME 262, ME 163, V1, V2, Panther/Tiger Tanks, Bismarck,MG 42 in WWII
How did Germany during WWII find and create such warrior leaders as Michael Wittmann, Kurt Meyer, Joachim Peiper, Hans-Joachim Marseille, Eric Hartman, Adolf Galland and General von Manstein
1940, Battle of Sedan – Analysis of key tactical victory leading to victory in France
Rommel – great tactician but poor troop leader?
German military reforms; I touch on these subjects in multiple posts, as side remarks or background info.

1870/1871 war: Honestly, not much interested to date.

Innovation in WWI: There are books about this, and their authors don't agree. I wasn't there, can't help it. The aviation innovations were likely the result of having to develop anything because there was nothing yet. The infantry and artillery topics are covered in Gudmundsson's books.

Germany created so many innovations simply because it was a leading nation in chemistry, engineering and physics till WW2. It was quite inevitable. The downside was occasional over-engineering.

About the aces; it was the combination of early easy victories (= time for inexperienced men to learn. Some later aces were even freed from captivity when France fell in 1940), unlimited tours (fighter aces got vacations and periods as trainers, but they weren't recalled after 30 missions or similar as done by the U.S.) and long participation in the WW2. I personally am more impressed by how the Finns reached such a very high level in winter 1939/40 real quick.

Sedan '40 - I can only recommend Frieser's book on this because it's my primary source on the topic.

Rommel - great and extremely lucky tactician, great in self-promotion, unimpressive strategist. Rommel is highly regarded in the anglophone world, but chances are much better that I'll write about von Manstein  (operational art from corps to army group level) or Strachwitz (tactician below brigade level) than about Rommel.

I am interested in your thoughts on the importance of satellite and space systems for an all out war. With all the focus on high-tech, taking out a big part of the eye-in-the-sky, ordinance-guidance, satellite-navigation and communications would be very tempting.

Could a "medium sized nation" still be independent in these matters? Or is an alliance necessary?
How will this necessity (if it really is important) effect the political situation?

Should Europe go for anti-satellite weapons or should it avoid an arms race to avoid space junk making many satellite orbits unusable?
Or is blinding or electronically frying satellites a "safe" alternative to complete physical destruction of the enemies' satellites?

A space disaster where a lot of satellites (including civilian) are destroyed should be avoided and hopefully only reserved for some war of survival, but it would be most effective in the beginning of a war, so how do you decide when you have to start taking out satellites?
I'm not impressed by my sources about such space warfare things. It's very easy to keep much secret on these things because few people work on them and there are no relevant doctrine manuals to speak of. I have a suspicion that the European level of spending on satellites and related programs is about right.
Btw: http://wikileaks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/03/germany_planning_secret_satellite_recon

I would actually like to read an article on logistics, preferably that of the (light) infantry. Any thoughts you could spare would be appreciated.
Gefechtsfeld Mitteleuropa by Franz-Uhle Wettler (early 80's) was quite innovative in regard to light infantry logistics.
The Israelis are experimenting with Llamas as superior alternative to mules (mules still have an edge if you want to move heavy single loads, such as disassembled mountain guns and heavy mortars).
The Americans are still rejecting water filtration technologies in favour of carrying near-suicidal amounts of fresh water on patrols. I expect that they'll soon switch to some 10 y.o. water filtration tech, declare it to be a great and brand-new American invention and the next best thing to sliced bread.

Logistics in general; I try hard not to neglect this. I've even got a draft on this and read some literature specifically on operational logistics, but in the end I don't feel that I've got anything ready for the "publish" button.

(Further replies were already in the comments of the wish list blog post.)



Bureaucracies and national resources

Why was Ancient Egypt able to build huge pyramids, why was Ancient China capable of building the Great Wall(s) and impressive channels?

Compare this to the marginal performance of many Third World nations which struggle with much less impressive challenges unless they get outside help.

The answer is of course the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is almost a cuss word in developed countries, countries which got used to the benefits of bureaucracies and got used to hate bureaucracy excesses. Bureaucracies are nevertheless a necessity for a state which wants to harness its idle workforce and other idle resources for state services or great projects.

Most countries with an incapable state have much idle manpower; unemployed or underemployed men and women which could work a lot more at the price of some additional food (if it's manual work).
A modest increase in available food coupled with authority and coordination could suffice to revolutionise the state services and infrastructure of many poor countries, but this doesn't happen because their bureaucracies aren't effective.

- - - - -

The new Afghan state is such an incapable state. It's excessively corrupt, and this is largely so because of the great influx of foreign cash. Whoever decided to spend dollars in the country itself was obviously unaware about how to develop a country.

A country does not need foreign printed paper for physical development; it needs material imports. The right point for spending the dollars was the border. All ordered and accepted imports should have been paid for with dollars before they passed the Afghan border - avoiding that any money enters the country at all. There was no reason for paying Afghan workers in dollars at all, ever. The Afghan state should have paid them with food and/or indigenous currency instead - and both should have been raised with a bureaucracy.

Claims that Afghanistan isn't able to maintain an army of 600,000 men without foreign assistance because of its weak economy are ridiculous. Of course it has the economic potential! There are enough weapons and enough unemployed or underemployed men in the country. It's just missing the bureaucracy to do it. That's not a sustainability or economical problem - it's an administrative problem.

It was only turned into an impossible fiscal problem by the infusion of enough foreign currency into the country to drive the wages for mercenaries up way beyond the countries' ability to sustain the payment of a large army.

No foreign money influx + a need to raise a bureaucratic that's able to deliver food and indigenous money + lots of manpower working on infrastructure = win.

Meanwhile, Pakistan would likely have experienced a smaller influx of foreign money as well.

In fact, forcing the Afghans to harness their resources would have reduced the overall costs of the whole stupidity for the Westerners a lot.
A Western Army outpost needs some manpower for fortifications and a safe path up to its hill? No problem, let the local authorities send some workers asap. No need to spend a single dollar if the administration is capable and the host nation actually an ally.

- - - - -

Critique is easy, especially with the advantage of hindsight. I'll add a proposal for how to do it next time:

Spend money in stable states to arrange goods deliveries.
The goods deliveries begin at a slow pace, accelerate and then begin to dwindle again - all in a planned fashion with a strong commitment to no extension or enlargement of the program

The loss of goods to corruption (officials selling them for cash) or incompetence will be detected by third-party supervision (not the emotionally engaged aid workers) and lead to a 1:1 reduction of later deliveries as a predictable and enforced sanction mechanism against waste.

The young state (or community, tribe)  has to be forced to build an effective bureaucracy to harness its resources and the incoming goods in order to address problems, equip and sustain itself and to provide the necessary state services (gendarmerie, justice system, representation, basic education, preventive and basic health care).

Half of a decade should suffice to establish the bureaucracy, the basic services and to sustain at least the operating costs of the state entirely with domestic resources. There should be no follow-on program.

You think this would not have worked because they wouldn't have had an effective bureaucracy any way?
Well, it's better to have a cheap failure than an expensive failure that's the seed for future troubles.