Minimum political competence on war


Politicians decide about war and peace. They set the budgets of the military. They oversee the military, and members of parliament have to check the government's national security policy.

Their competence in national security issues is of utmost importance. It can wreck or save their nation.

I think of a six-week course on alliance and war politics for members of parliament, most cabinet members and some state secretaries.

Do I demand too much engagement on their part if I believe that such a qualification (or its equivalent) is necessary?

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Cabinet members are highly influential in national security matters; this concerns especially the minister of defence, the foreign minister, the interior minister, the minister of transport, economics minister, minister of finance and most of all the head of government and his/her first deputy.
The state secretaries of defence and foreign ministries also need a good qualification.
The members of parliament have the power to declare war and to decide on the federal budget - they should be competent as well.

Most of these people learn much on the job (a.k.a. "too late"), but I'm convinced that many theoretical and fundamental aspects are not being learned on the job (and members of parliament learn very little about alliance and defence politics if they aren't member of the respective committees).

Maybe it sounds arrogant to demand (in many cases) additional education for these democratically legitimated politicians. On the other hand: Would a six-week course be an unacceptable effort compared to the potentially extreme importance of their competence?

Maybe they ARE competent enough in alliance politics and war politics (I see little if any evidence for that, though). In that case I would recommend a six-week course in "how to inform voters about your competence".

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Anyway; this is just a blog - I use the opportunity to dream up a course.

Curriculum [days]:

(3) European military history
(1) treaties, U.N. charter and resolutions and other legal information
(3) Non-European military history
(1) national strategy
(2) 20th century and modern Eastern European and oriental security policies
(1) alliance theory and dynamics
(2) European alliance history
(2) crisis diplomacy history
(1) political decision-making; war or not war
(1) exercise / game on national security strategy

(1) defence budget; budgeting process, procurement system and overview
(1) military-industrial complex dynamics
(1) war economy and strategic logistics

(1) art of war overview
(2) land warfare - basics, 20th century and modern
(1) air warfare - 20th century and modern
(1) naval warfare - basics, 20th century and modern
(1) non-violent activities in war
(1) military geography and operational logistics
(1) military technology; history and representative systems
(1) political decision-making; war goals and conclusion of warfare
(1) fashions in military affairs

It may be a good idea to split this into six separate weeks, scattered over two years and with pleasant seminar locations. A seminar size of about 20 participants would be fine. That would require about five parallel courses to cover a typical parliament.

Many politicians are experienced in ideology and would only accept such a course if its neutrality and objectivity is for sure. Greens and socialists might still reject it, but that may be a question of labeling and word-of-mouth recommendation.

Sven Ortmann


  1. the fact that politicians and people in charge of countries probably didn't learn these facts until they were (as you said) on the job when it was simply too late and therefore make mistakes that cost lives

    that simple fact is so stupid that it isn't even funny!

  2. I whole-heartedly agree with you, Sven. The policy makers of a country must understand the topics they deal with intimately. In an ideal world, the constituents would choose someone with those credentials, but it doesn't always work out that way. Unfortunately, the political world contains many ideologues who would refuse to acknowledge facts and stick to their own ideals. But making sure our leaders have an understanding of the various subjects they must deal with creates a democracy that is also to an extent meritocratic. A democracy is fine and dandy, but if they people elect uneducated and incompetent leaders that the whole thing will be driven into the ground. A democratic-meritocracy is the way to go in my opinion.