Digging the grave

Counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare has a dirty side; most of it is about controlling the population. Census, ID cards, checkpoints, databases and the like are more important for COIN than aircraft and tanks. They serve to control the population, to suppress their support for insurgents and to identify insurgents in the mass of the people.

But COIN waged by industrialized nations like the USA leads inevitably to attempts to improve the ability to control the people with technological means. Projects like this exceed everything that George Orwell was able to imagine for his novel "1984".

This means that the Western societies are in a dilemma - they can develop technologies for their military (especially for small wars) for small benefits in wars abroad. But at the same time they construct the tool set for the greatest imaginable internal intelligence apparatus - tools that can be used to turn our free states into totalitarian states without any chance of uprising.

We do already install cameras into our cities to watch public places and develop software to make better use of them. Face recognition software becomes able to identify people, databases intended to search for terrorists by tracking people can easily be converted for a search on dissidents.

Terrorism is a very small threat in comparison to historical threats - insurgents in distant places are no threat at all to us, at our home. They only threaten our troops who occupy their country/support the local puppet regimes.

But our reaction to these small threats includes digging our own grave by preparing for an authoritarian or even dictatorial regime at home.

Sven Ortmann



Buzzwords have sometimes important functions; they can focus a crowd on a common topic.

"Communist" for example; maybe some would dispute that it's a buzzword, but in fact it was used for decades to describe socialists, not communists. Among others. After a while it was used on everyone who was disliked - social democrats in developing countries, for example.
The Western nations simplified the Cold War into a struggle "against communists" to make it easier to rally their people for this struggle. Simplification means loss of complexity, of information. Sometimes you're simply wrong with a simplified approach.

Quite the same happened in the last years. Suddenly the term "terrorist" became applicable on movements that were called "guerrillas" before 2001. Third world dictators just needed to pledge they'd fight communists to ensure Western support during the Cold War - today they seem to be required to pledge to fight terrorists.

But the people learned from their experience, so the term "terrorist" isn't nearly as loosely in use as during the Cold War (the Rhodesian Apartheid regime called their fight against the black population a part of the west's struggle against communism - I don't know about a modern anti-terrorism counterpart yet).

An accepted definition for terrorism would help, though. So far the United Nations weren't able to agree on one despite intense efforts. Some (Non-western and Western, democratic and dictatorial) nations feared that their actions fell under proposed definitions of terrorism.

Much less reserved is the use of another degrading buzzword; islamo-fascism/islamo-fascist. Somehow "we" never agreed on all Arabs or all Muslims as our enemies, so "we" obviously needed to identify an ideology as our enemy and the power behind those terrorists that attacked us. The result was "islamo-fascist". I believe I read that the first time around 2002, and it has become quite widespread in the meantime. It's in fact almost thirty years old. To date, it's still highly unusual in Germany. Very good online translation programs don't even know it.

So let's have a look at this word "islamo-fascism"...

"islamo-..." - OK, nobody would deny that AQ is an Islamic terror group/movement/network/ideology/whatever.

"...-fascist" - I never understood that. There's nothing fascistic in the modern Islamic terrorism.

Reminder; fascism is not particularly anti-semitic, that was nazism, a variant of fascism. Fascism was not much more anti-semitic as was common in Europe during the 1920's (Mussolini, for example, didn't do much about the few Jews in Italy for the first 15 years of his rule).

So why this constructed relation to fascism? I guess because almost nobody denies that fascism is bad, so connecting Islamic extremists to fascism serves the purpose to clarify they're bad, without further explanation.
Anyway - "islamo-fascist" is simply misleading. It might help to mobilize simple-minded people to sacrifice in average some hundred dollars wealth per year for a global fight, but it does not help in that fight in any other way. It distracts.

Buzzwords in use to sell new gadgets to forces contribute to waste of financial resources - buzzwords in use to degrade opposing people manipulate our stance to foreign politics (sometimes even internal politics) and can lead to much worse effects.

We should keep our languages accurate and correct - and resist stupid buzzwords that were designed to manipulate the weak-minded. The truth is either motivating enough or any further motivation through manipulation does only harm us.

About this blog

Hello readers,

the statistic about visits is developing quite well and it encourages me to continue the blog.

Furthermore, I'd like to inform you about some details here;

I've got several topics in preparation. But I prefer to let those texts rest and mature for days or weeks to improve them again and again before I release them. So you can count on me adding more entries, even when I don't do so for some days.

The other detail is that I'm thinking about moving to another service provider for more comfortable appearance of the blog, more like the quality standard of the national security blogs. I don't see here any advertisements even when I'm not logged in because my filters work well, but I know that some readers get annoyed and distracted by ads. If I move sometime I'd transfer all texts and establish a link here to the new site.
I have experimented at the beginning with a more colorful design for this blog, but feedback indicated that the blog was too difficult to read then. Somehow I cannot get it right with the limited options here.

I'd also like to point out that everyone is invited to comment - the comment function isn't in much use to date, but comments can infuse a lot of life into a blog and I'd really appreciate some more feedback on the content.


Sven Ortmann


No major war in Europe in the next ten years (?)

Military history is just like general history an excellent tool for learning. You cannot make enough personal experiences to match what history offers you.

History offers valuable lessons for our strategic situation today. We feel extremely safe from threats of conventional war in Europe, and see no conflicts that could lead to such a conflict any time soon. Finally, we don't believe that any other power could challenge us in Europe - after all, we would have nukes for the worst case that our conventional forces fail.

There are two very disturbing lessons in military history that offer parallels to this situation.
I scratched on the surface of these lessons before, but they deserve a more thorough presentation.

I never truly believed the "nobody attacks us because of our nuclear weapons" ideology.
Air war theorists expected massive genocide from the air with gas bombs for the next war in the inter-war years (1919-1939) - but there was next to no poison gas usage in World War II. Hitler had the very first nerve gasses under his control and thereby a considerable advantage. But he never used any gas. Even not when the conventional attacks on England in 1940 failed or in more dire situations afterwards. No other power used gas in quantity on the battlefields or for bombing cities.
This means that there's an historical example that matches our expectations of 'WMD' dominance in the next European major war - and this example tells us that such expectations don't need to become reality.
We should (stay) prepare(d) for the case that some nation calls our nuclear deterrence bluff and not rely much on the nuclear deterrence.

The other remarkable and very irritating lesson of 20th century history is that you cannot plan your forces as much as five years in advance. To attempt it and stick to the plan leads to failure in case of real need for forces.
Germany had a 100,000 men military army in January, 1933. There was no military aviation allowed. And these troops were all volunteers, conscription was forbidden. There had been no training of reserve troops for many years by 1933 and the World War veterans weren't fit for combat service anymore.
Less than seven years later Germany had the most powerful army, a small but dangerous navy and an air force that was better prepared to support army operations than any other air force in the world. This rise of a phoenix shows how quickly a strategic situation can change.
Our policy would have a serious lag before it recognizes and reacts to such a challenge as did the policies of the European nations in the 1930's. The power which prepares for war in a specified time frame can more easily build up a modern and ready force than such a force can be maintained for decades.
The similarities between 1933 Germany and today's Russia are striking.
Mortified, defeated, survived economic crisis, shrunk military, authoritarian government, desire for national greatness, territories to reclaim, history of military strength even without major allies, arms limitations treaties in force...let them ally with PR China and they could grab Eastern European territories just like Germany was able to grab Saarland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Memel before appeasement was given up. Imagine a reunification of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. We'd quickly face a nation much stronger in population, geo-strategic means, economy, arms industry and military - and probably backed up by an allied China.

The feeling of complete security in Europe and the assumption that it would require decades to threaten us with conventional war is completely wrong. History's lesson is clear-cut: Such safety cannot exist, there are historical precedences for what it would take to create a conventional total war in as few as a couple years.


edit: Corrections about Reichswehr size were made.



The common picture of our (NATO) position in non-nuclear defence affairs seems to be that we're a bunch of great industrialized countries with huge, quite undefeatable militaries. Russia might recover, but not to old USSR strength. China will likely become more powerful and finally challenge the U.S. before 2050.

Well, first of all, we (the NATO) don't own the vast majority of shipbuilding capacity any more. That asset went away long ago towards East Asia, especially South Korea. The PR China expands its shipyard industry as well. That means if there will ever be an arms race or even mobilization on the seas, quantity production of modern ships could quickly change the balance. Remember what happened in World War 2 - the U.S. Navy multiplied its combat power with new ships in a couple of years ... wouldn't be possible any more (well, not for NATO).
Other classical defence industries like chemical industry, metal industry (steel production ... can't do without if you want to produce ammunition), electric/electronics industry and automotive industry don't have their undisputed centre in NATO nations any more as well.

The record of our navies is a mixed one - they accomplished their missions in the past decades with overwhelming power, but often displayed interesting carelessness, as for example inadequate alertness to threats (sea-skimming missiles seem to exploit lack of alertness especially well). The reaction to new technologies is slow, and ships are kept in service without major upgrade long after they're obsolete. Anti-shipping firepower is almost limited to air power and submarine torpedoes because SSMs (ship-to-ship missiles) are installed only in small quantities (no, four or eight is most common) on our combat ships. Our surface combat ships (even destroyers and cruisers) wouldn't be able to sink a late 19th century battleship because they have only small calibre guns and SSMs as anti-ship weapons - large-calibre torpedoes are almost entirely limited to submarines in the NATO.

Our armies fail to stand up to their reputation every time when they face light infantry opponents. No matter whether these are insurgents or conventional troops (as was the case in Korea and Vietnam). The NATO armies have mobilized strengths that are much smaller than the active personnel strengths in the 1930's. Russia displayed that it still takes a lot of infantry to defeat light infantry opponents in restricted terrain and to keep control over a restricted terrain area. All NATO armies combined could defend only a small fraction of NATO's European land borders at the intensity that was displayed in Chechnya.
Our abilities to bombard with air power and artillery and to manoeuvre with heavy mechanized forces is of little value against militia-like light infantry forces with their very unconventional logistical system.
The most disturbing fact is that the Korean War showed that even large nation's armies can be largely light infantry forces, holding ground in conventional war and succeed even in offensive actions.

Our air forces depend on mostly decades-old designs for air combat, air attack and air defence. It takes barely effective countermeasures to only two specific types of missiles (AIM-9 and AIM-120) to shatter our air superiority. These have been around for a long time and potential adversaries had enough time to develop effective countermeasures in secrecy.

The worst that can happen to defence planners is to be satisfied and to trust the ability of our forces. Long periods of peace (with limited wars) erode every force's preparedness for the worst case - defence of sovereignty in major war.