Hardware & information

The Western World became great by emphasizing hardware; it developed production processes for the production of insane amounts of usable materials and tools.
The hardware-centric age of about 1860-1995 was followed by an information-centric time; the so-called information age.
We were suddenly able to increase stored and transmitted information (and to earn money with info) on a much greater scale than ever before. The leap was even greater than at the time of the invention of movable letters for printing.

The Western military organizations are still on the hardware & information trip.
That's a distortion and not optimal. Hardware and information are important, but we tend to exaggerate their relative importance.

On the importance of motivation

The hardware efforts give tools and weapons to the soldier while information offers him ways how to solve problems. Yet, will he do it? Will he solve problems or prepare himself?
One element is missing; motivation.

Motivation explains almost everything we do.

Money, for example, is a near-universal motivator. You give money to a clerk in order to motivate him to allow you to carry some wares out of his store for your personal use. Economy is about motivation. Money is about motivation and nothing else.

Likewise, the military is about motivation. It takes motivation to prepare for war, to keep the illusion of an organization alive and to make people fight despite the danger to their life.

Our motivational deficit

We are lacking in our appreciation of the importance of motivation. The problem is visible in many examples.
Politicians lack motivation to allow unrestricted warfare in Afghanistan (for good reasons), troops in Afghanistan lack motivation to go on more patrols in face of dangers and many armies cannot motivate enough fit and skilled people to volunteer for military service.
Once enthusiastic and well-motivated troops are being turned into routine activity bodies that obey rules and manuals. Independent thought and innovation are too often being stopped cold. Some armies even have the reputation of pushing all original thinkers into exile (out of service) till Colonel rank at the latest. That leaves only those whose motivation is focused on the personal career and on maintaining conformity with expectations.

The lack of emphasis on motivation may hurt us

In the end, it's of great importance that we get enough volunteers, motivate them to prepare well for war and motivate them to fight well in war.

A failure in any of these three elements could lead to failure in war just like a failure in information gathering/communication/processing or a failure in the procurement/supply/quality of tools, weapons and consumables of war. Even well-equipped, well-supplied, competent and well-informed army will fail if it lacks motivation to fight.

The poor emphasis on motivation also leads to underestimation of well-motivated enemies: An enemy poor in hardware and information but rich in motivation is usually underestimated badly.

Let's correct the distortion

We should relax our focus on hardware development and information management - and give motivation its proper place on the same level of importance as hardware and information.

This may turn ugly on many rules and organizations and it might even disrupt our understanding of the chain of command. We need to create more intrinsic, lasting motivation. The easiest way of doing this is probably to burn red tape and allow more free play - too much intrinsic motivation gets strangled by restrictions in authoritarian organizations. Additionally, we should increasingly encourage activities that go beyond duty. Training in a gym or studies of military history, for example.

The Bundeswehr faces a (relatively) new recruitment challenge. Too many politicians and officers still choose the lazy route of conscription to solve the problem instead of addressing serious attractiveness (motivation) deficits of the Bundeswehr. Nicer AFVs, helicopters and computers won't help much unless they can turn around the spirit in the organization (and communicate the new attractiveness to potential recruits).
It would require even more improvements to sustain a good reserve pool for the event of a major crisis.

Sven Ortmann


  1. I think the motivation problem might be a problem of too high a standard of living. Without the threat of imminent crushing poverty it's not nearly as easy to encourage someone to pick a career as intrinsically unpleasant as the military. Germans, even in the lower classes, have access to a comfortable standard of living without having to go risk their lives in a dangerous and unpleasant line of work. I doubt it's possible to solve the problem by making the military a more pleasant occupation, and pay would have to get quite high to attract the kind of motivated soldiers you're looking for.

  2. In Sweden we have much the same problem, and not much prospect of solving it.

    Even the most low-paying jobs have ample protection and attention from the unions. Meanwhile we have little hope of filling the positions in the new all-volunteer army (which will possibly be implemented if the curret government is re-elected).

    The US get their volunteers through a massive use of, er, "pro-patriotic" ads and incentitives such as free health-care and education, an approach which would be useless here as such welfare is already heavily subsidized.

    As to calls for patriotic duty thats not really practical, not in post-heroic societies such as Germany and Sweden anyway where overt calls to duty would be frowned upon.

    Under these conditions I see no replacement for a broad application of conscription (>50% each year), the alternatives are simply too expensive. Albeit perhaps a slightly hybrid form could be used where the latter stages are voluntary.

    Above all, I believe the most important thing is to keep the military grounded in the population so that it remains accountable and visible, while the populance retains a basis of insight in one of the states most important functions.

    Without this, the military will simply be forgotten as people go about their lives blissfully unaware of the dysfunctional state of the security apparatus... Until it has to be used and it is too late to do anything about it.

  3. Sven,

    I was thinking about what you wrote about the recruitment challenge the Bundeswher faces. Are there any mainstream political figures that have served in the military and ever bring up their service while discussing policy or while campaigning?

    I was just wondering how valued military service is culturally as witnessed by Germany's leaders.

  4. Military service is 99.9% irrelevant for a political career.

    It's possible to learn about their military background (if there's any) and one general is minister of the interior in one of the sixteen states, but that's it.

    A complete economic assessment that doesn't only look at money tells that no volunteer army recruited from citizens is more expensive than a conscription army. The hidden cost is the "forced" thing in it.

    I'm also very skeptical about the "grounded int eh society" thing, as conscripts make up only a tiny part of the Bundeswehr of today and conscientious objection isn't distributed evenly in the population.

    Finally, most Germans are entirely uninterested in the state of the Bundeswehr even though we've got these remains of conscription. They couldn't care less.
    I cannot remember a single page 1 newspaper story or TV news story about a Bundeswehr equipment scandal that was about product quality. There were probably some about costs, but none on quality.

    You're right on the different circumstances for recruitment in the U.S.
    The U.S. forces are the closest thing to a social society that they have, so there's some appeal in good health care and affordable college for everyone. We've got these opportunities for everyone, so that's no good recruitment argument (although the Bundeswehr does offer university studies for 12-year officer volunteers and that is advantageous).

  5. @Sven

    Conscription does indeed have a hidden cost, in that it takes peoples' time from them to do something that they don't necessarly want to do.

    In this it is a tax "in natura" on the population, and like most taxes it will only be borne willingly if applied to a majority of the population. If there is something people hate it is the feeling of being singled out.

    Additionally, as with all taxes there will come demands of accountability, and perhaps a greater scrutiny of military affairs. Those forced to do something they do not (perhaps initially, perhaps permanently) feel like doing will demand an explanation as to why they are doing it.

    Furthermore, a broad application (not like the 15% we have here at home, a number that I find wholly insufficient) exposes a wider share of the population to the idea of the military as a career, thereby encouraging a more varied uptake of officers.

    Look, I'm not saying conscription as it have been done in the past will necessarily be what is needed in the future. A 20:th Century style "factory" churning out cannon-fodder will do no-one any good.

    But *someone* has to do these things, if not now, then later, and I don't really think going all voluntary will get us there, as the raw incentitives (to compensate for the hidden tax demanded earlier) simply cannot be had without some very real tax increases.

    And we can no longer just raise an (useful) conscript army whenever we feel like it. So I think a permanent hybrid force will be called for with conscripts and professionals both doing their part.

    Now, the real problem may well be that the political sphere does not want to confront the electorate's, and their own, fuzzy logic on these matters. Where's the incentitive to do any heavy lifting when the U.S. is just a call away?

    No, much better to pretend everything's just dandy. And voluntary force with no soldiers in it can be pretty damn cheap!

  6. I don’t spend much time on these subjects these days so permit to ramble in half formed thoughts.

    One of the more interesting things Lester Grau discovered while poking around in the Red Army Archives was the fear of American morale, which they considered very high during the time of Reagan. Is this an accurate assessment on their part? It’s likely, but telling in other ways. Armies, like most large organizations, tend to see the society around them in their own reflection. Low morale in the organization means they think the entire country is “unharmonious”. “The society around us is us,” is how they see it with some justification, but in the case of America, not true at all. Our society was deeply divided during that time. However, Red Army morale was low and it was only natural that they made many assumptions based on this.

    The American army is unique not because of social benefits but because of the respect US society and its gives to this organization. Many local lads join the service, particularly combat branches, and only young women seem to do it for “benefits”. I’m not aware of many that take up the free education on discharge so this benefit is of dubious importance. In short, the military must create both the respect of its society and the pride that a young man can feel in belonging to this organization. Of course this doesn’t mean the respect is deserved or the pride is real, but as long as everyone believes it…

    If I was king of the EU I would make the military smaller, and base it on tough qualifications, not quotas. I’m betting you’d get enough recruits and officers of quality to build a framework of excellence. Service is important to many and an austere military will always interest young men. You have no real peer competitor today and it’s the best time to do it. Otherwise you might find yourself stuck with unmotivated draftees who only want it made easier, not better