German overseas military operations - serious?

The German army and navy have significant overseas operations, patrolling in the coastlines of Lebanon and Somalia and peace keepers in Kosovo and Afghanistan, for example. The peacekeeping force in Afghanistan is even in a war-like situation.

It's an open secret that the past German governments have used troops commitments as a means to build up political capital because they want to get a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.

Untimely withdrawal of forces would cost political capital and this is likely why the politicians keep renewing those missions ... again and again ... for years ... eight years now for KFOR (Kosovo).

The interest in actually solving or defusing the conflicts seems to be rather limited. Diplomatic activity for this seems to be very limited, probably kept secret. Multinational institutions like NATO, EU and U.N. are held responsible for this work.

This is not the only hint that makes some people wonder how serious those commitments really are.
Troops are held away from combat as much as possible. Either geographically (as in Afghanistan) or by the choice of troop types (recon planes, patrol ships, advisers).

Finally, there's something that exposes a peace-like mindset and accordingly the lack of seriousness: Hostages in Afghanistan.
Our media reports captured soldiers of any nationality in Afghanistan as "hostages", not as "prisoners" or "prisoners of war". Well, that's the media.
But our politicians do obviously pay for the freedom of civilian hostages in Afghanistan, thereby encouraging thugs to take more hostages (many nations seem to do that).
This does not fit to any serious commitment of creating a lawful, peaceful Afghanistan.

German rulers sold their troops to England as mercenaries for the American war of independence in the 18th century. Today our politician sell our modern troops for imaginary political capital in their quest for a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.
Finally, there's also the motivation of our past three secretaries of defense that's called "prestige".

The German top politicians aren't serious about peacekeeping or defusing conflicts - they just want to contribute as much as the German public will tolerate.


National security and economy

I have already written about the sustainability of military power a while ago.

The sustainability is a very important criterion for long-term national security planning.
Economic power balances will shift over time, and just like the industrialization in the late 19th century turned Germany into a Great Power and the industrialization in the 1920's and 1930's turned Russia/Soviet Union into a much more potent power than grasped by contemporary analysts in the west.
We'll also see shifts in the next decades. China and India are obviously on the rise (but they'll have at least one economic crisis as well), while Europe and North America are on the decline (not measured in money, but measured in industrial capacity).

We have seen episodes in military history during which economic power in terms of money alone was sufficient for dominant military power. That was mostly related to mercenary armies and all such examples took place before the middle of the 19th century.
Since that time we've seen how the ability to produce the equipment and consumables for warfare in a war economy was the primary variable for military power.

Now look at the situation of our present western economies: We have lots of money and secured raw material supply, but huge chunks of our industrial capacities moved into non-allied countries of the world.

This won't be a problem for national defense affairs as long as we stay out of total wars and limit confrontations to small wars, preferably beating on economically and militarily ridiculously inferior nations like Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia and so on. As long as we do this, we'll only struggle with so-called asymmetric warfare challenges that do not threaten our sovereignty, and barely our interests.
But once we return to what we were best in during the 20th century - conventional warfare among industrialized nations - we'll recognize painfully that we gave away much of our war-relevant economic strength.

This is probably the point at which most readers think about how inferior possible challengers are in training, doctrine, expertise and the like. The present is always deceiving if you try to look 20 or more years ahead.

Think about the proud Royal Navy of August, 1889, showing its powerful fleet in front of Queen Victoria and German Emperor Wilhelm II at Spithead. The German navy was a mere coastal defense organization with marginal cruiser forces at that time, lesser in power than every one of the many RN fleets world-wide.
15 years later a technological revolution (Dreadnought all big gun battleship) - embraced by the Royal Navy as well as by many other navies - made the entire Royal Navy battlefleet (and all others) obsolete.
20 years later the Royal navy struggled in an attempt to keep its superiority over the German navy.
25 years later both navies were in war with each other.
27 year later the RN prevailed during the Battle of Jutland (at greater loss of personnel and material) despite its technological flaws (several secondary explosions in battle cruisers) . It did so because the economic superiority of the Entente alliance had enabled the RN to continue building the newest, most powerful battleships (super dreadnoughts; "R" and "Queen Elizabeth" classes with 15" guns) while the German navy had fewer of these in production, at lesser priority. But there were the submarines, and the RN was almost defeated by this mostly unanticipated factor...

The UK's advantage in that conflict was that it still controlled the maritime access to world raw material markets. NATO countries are in the same lucky position today.

But no one in the UK would have suspected that within less than a generation the proud Royal Navy would be in such a dire situation against a navy that was at that time still a minor force. But the foundations were already laid by 1889, as Germany's economy was growing rapidly (being an industrialization late-comer) especially in the steel industry sector.

By the way - did you also read about armour-quality steel shortages due to the little conflict in Iraq? The few thousand armoured cars needed for that conflict apparently stretched the U.S. armour steel production capacity to its limits.

Don't take it as written in stone that NATO nations will have superior war economies for major wars in the future.



India's cultural power

I have for my pleasure a client of Metacafe, a service comparable to YouTube. The search function on their website is the worst ever and the service has some other drawbacks, but the client downloads videos and other content in the background when my computer runs and some of it is indeed worth a look or just outright funny.
One of the categories that are downloaded is the image category, and there's been a huge trend in the past months at least; Bollywood celebrities.
The Indians (those in South Asia...) have a very different taste concerning women beauty (round face, larger eyes, thicker lips), while their male celebrities remind me a bit of young George Clooney, a bit darkened.
Anyway; having noticed this I looked a bit around in the Internet and real world and it seems as if India's population is becoming more extrovert about its culture.

Cultural power is easily misunderstood or ignored, but cultural influence is in fact a great power.
Let's use Germany as an example. Once the every family had a house or flat for itself again years after 1945, (Western) Germany proceeded to gain some wealth. But it lacked a model to use the wealth and adopted the US American model. Well, not completely, but in large part. The influence was obvious - it's quite impossible to feel more connected or allied to a nation that's very foreign to you than to one that's culturally very close (and not offensive against your nation).

China might expand in terms of industrial production like no other country, but India seems to expand its cultural influence like no other country. China isn't doing any progress in this field because Hong Kong Chinese already seem to have spread most of Chinese culture that's attractive to foreign nations in the past decades.

What might be the result of growing Indian cultural power? It'll certainly progress in economic and military power as well, so there's a potent mixture.

Indians are still present in some African nations (former English colonies), but I'm not aware if they have trader networks there like the Lebanese and Chinese. So it might be that India's influence in Africa won't match the one of China.

It's living in conflict with its Western neighbour Pakistan (which is kind of allied with China anyway) while its Eastern neighbour Myanmar doesn't seem to be very important in the long term. South East Asia otherwise is rather in the Chinese influence zone.

Indian emigrants might influence Australia a lot in the future, but that applies to China as well.

Indian cultural/political/economic ties with Europe and North America might be most interesting. India has a lot of inhabitants that look almost like Caucasians, which might simplify a convergence.
Indian emigrants in the USA, UK and Canada could help to exercise cultural influence.

By the way; the U.S. model of culture has definitely reached its peak long ago - it's not safe to assume that the U.S. American cultural influence in the world will remain as strong as today forever.

Maybe the most relevant consequence of India's rise is that an industry-depleted USA might lose its influence in Europe in the next decades while India and Europe converge? This could be very relevant, as a triple alliance Russia-PR China-India seems not to be feasible due to Indian-Chinese conflicts and rivalry.

India might drift into the "Western" camp and have much closer ties to Europe than we can imagine today.

East Asian security challenges and Europe

In theory and practice most of Europe and all of Northern America are allied. It's been common in history that an alliance shares threats and foes, but this time the partners are so far away from each other and have so different stances in the world that it's more complicated.

American people with interest in foreign or defense policy often consider the PR China as the next big opponent. The USA have security treaties with East Asian countries in addition to their NATO obligations. The result is that an invasion of Taiwan or South Korea would for Americans almost be like a declaration of war on the USA.
For most Europeans, it would rather be a severe disruption of international trade and an event that would be handled through the United Nation's institutions.

This difference is quite important and should be understood by Americans. I know about no security pact between any of the European nations and any of the East Asian nations. It's the other end of the world for Europeans, where some industrial consumer goods come from and to where some of our businessmen go for investments.

The only European country with really strong security interests in East Asia is the semi-Asian Russia.

Sven Ortmann


Iraq War developments

Probably the only benefit that I had when I changed from an analogous satellite to digital terrestrial TV receiver some weeks ago is that I can now see CNN International. I'd prefer BBC World, but well. CNN International has the hilarious Daily Show with John Stewart, and I'm a fan of this satirical humour since I saw it in youtube.
Recently I continued to see the Late Edition or how that political show is called, and a Republican Senator highlighted a story about Shi'ites in Iraq turning against the Mahdi army (Al Sadr's militia). This and what happened previously in the Al Anbar province where Iraqi tribes (including an influential smuggler tribe) turned against AQ was presented as signs for a positive development in Iraq.

Well, I understand the principle of divide et impera, but splitting an inhomogenous nation into even more opposing factions does not look to me like a winning strategy. It increases the intensity of the conflict, even if away from the occupying/foreign forces in Iraq.

I pointed out much earlier that in my opinion the Iraq conflict is a defeat for the U.S. anyways, but even if the costs of the conflict were ignored, those developments barely qualify as breaks. What do people like this Senator expect those Iraqi factions to do?
- continue eternal conflict. No success, just fuel in a civil war fire.
- both become peaceful after showing their different strengths. Right, and I'm the pope.
- one overwhelms another, is strengthened by the success and turns on other forces, probably foreign ones. Not nice.
- one overwhelms the other and does not use the newly-gained power for anything. Sounds like some people would believe this.

In the case of the Mahdi army the citizen themselves got annoyed by criminal militiamen and probably not a tribe or other militia. But if the Mahdi army loses territory and followers, other powers which are so far probably not influential at all will replace it.

The only success for the foreign forces in Iraq could be the creation of a true Iraqi state as William S. Lind, a respected national security analyst in the USA, points out in his blog. A state that successfully claims the monopoly of force.
Such a state is not in sight as the state's servants appear to be usually more loyal to their faction than to the central state. Further dividing the Iraqi society into even more opposing groups might weaken unfriendly groups, but it does not promote the creation of a properly functioning Iraqi state, powerful enough and with loyal personnel to end the civil war.

The recent actions against Blackwater are probably a well-orchestrated move to give the Iraqi government more popular support, legitimacy and authority in Iraq as well as a move to discipline out-of-control para-military contractors.
This might be part of a strategy aimed at strengthening the central state. This strategy might involve weakening only opposing militias instead of overpowering all militias. The increasing diplomacy between U.S. officers and tribal representatives in Iraq hints at this.

In this case we could forget about the creation of an Iraqi state to Western standards and instead expect that it will become something that resembles rather Lebanon before the Lebanese state was doomed by the Israeli invasion of 1982.
I don't see any long-term advantages in an unstable, Lebanon-like Iraq. It's too sad that this is quite the most promising scenario for Iraq today. Maybe the warmongers will wish sometime in the future that Saddam returns and rules Iraq with an iron fist in isolation as he did before 2003.

Sven Ortmann


"Leader of the free world"

"Anführer der freien Welt" ("leader of the free world"), I remember this.
The U.S. presidents were called like that in Germany. I remember this well, I heard it a lot in the 1980's and 1990's. Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton.
No matter if Clinton had blowjobs or sex - he was called the leader of the free world.
Sometimes this was changed to "Leader of the Western world", but everybody meant the same.

I cannot remember having heard this later than 2001. I believe the cut was when people became irritated by Bush junior's preparations for a needless Iraq war. He wasn't leading the Western world, he was only trying to do so and failed.

I remember having read that Bush senior and Baker had gained a lot of political capital and prestige for the USA when they successfully assembled a coalition against Iraq in 1990. Everybody was impressed. I think it's a good description of the effects.
I also remember that the comparably laughable "coalition of the willing" of 2003 was commented as the opposite. The USA had spent their political capital for this weak coalition, almost all of it. The USA lost prestige by this war of aggression, not gained any.

But it's not only a foreign affairs story. I recently read a quote in which president Bush told someone that he had sent his general to tell the congress and his people about the Iraq war. His people would believe this general, not himself.
A leader who admits that the people don't follow him anymore.

This loss of leadership strength and political capital makes a unilateral foreign policy next to impossible for the USA, which is good news for everyone who doesn't like the approach anyways. The situation might change in 2009, but so far the world does not need to fear any further needless wars initiated in Washington since that government is simply bankrupt in foreign policy. Almost no-one believes or follows that government anymore, and the primitive civil war in Iraq has drained the US forces' strength so much that their generals are more concerned about how long it takes to recover than thinking about how much is left for additional parallel adventures.

It will depend on the next U.S. president how the international security architecture will work in 2009-2015.
Many options exist. Creation of competing alliances, multilateral approach in the United Nations, a slow recovery of the US' position, likely unsuccessful unilateral/bilateral actions...

Sven Ortmann


Conflict of loyalty

We've seen that several European partners that supported the US in Iraq and/or Afghanistan were not most reliable partners in a specific meaning. Some Americans consider this as a reason to excoriate them and claim they're poor allies or folded in face of AQ pressure.

Well, the situation is more complex.

The first really important background is that these partners were junior partners - the fate of their troops were bound to U.S. senior commanders. I cannot remember that the USA ever proved to be such a great partner that they accepted that their own troops were under control of an allied military in a combat mission. To accept this requires a lot of trust in the ability of the other officers and means basically that you give away a part of your force which shall protect your sovereignty.

The second problem behind the story is that the European people - Spanish, Germans, British, Poles, Italians - were not exposed to so much pro-war and anti-Iraq propaganda on TV and in print media as the U.S. population. This and different national interests yielded an anti-war majority in most European countries. Whenever European troops were committed to Iraq or Afghanistan the governments were not backed up by a strong majority of the population on the issue. In fact, the governments usually decided against the will of their population.

It's true that the Spanish government changed due to elections held not long after some terror strikes, but it's also true that the same government lied to its people, had no really good performance record and committed troops to a cabinet war without popular support. Spain wouldn't have been a democracy if there was no likeliness of a government change in such a situation.

Mr. Blair in the UK has ruined his political career by supporting the Iraq war against much of his cabinet and a strong majority of his people.

The German parliament recently allowed the Afghanistan combat mission (separate from the peace-keeping mission) to continue for another year. This covers the 100 special forces troops granted for Afghanistan, which were reported to not have been called upon by allied commanders since 2005. It's obviously a commitment on paper, a symbolic gesture. Even the value of this symbolic commitment is apparently enough to continue this farce to the benefit of international relations against the will of the majority of the people in Germany.

We were able to observe a distinct conflict of loyalty. Politicians that have more contact with and respect for their foreign politicians than with their own people decided to be rather loyal to foreigners than to those whose power they had lend.
In fact, the European states were too loyal to the USA in the recent conflicts, calling them disloyal is a poor joke.

This conflict of loyalty is grinding on the base of European democracies and might prove to be a long-term liability for the alliance. Our politicians should adhere to democratic traditions and not play cabinet wars against the will of our people.